What Jergens Hand Soap Can Teach You About Crafting Compelling Copy

Jergens Hand Soap

Want to be a better writer? Read. That’s a given. The more you read and comprehend what others have written, the more you can discern the good from the bad or various techniques that packed a punch.

But what should you read?

Should you read textbooks and manuals for some how-to tips? Should you read fiction and creative works to pick up better storytelling tricks? Should you read more poetry to learn timbre and pentameter?

I read product packaging… and you should too.

The labels and descriptions on all sorts of packaging can teach you a great deal about how to interest, compel and encourage readers to become buyers.

Pick up a stereo box from a store. What does the description say? How is it worded? Do you feel that it’s a good stereo to buy just from what you read? If you answer yes, then the copywriter who has penned the words of watts and woofers has effectively done a good job. Learn from that individual.

Let’s have a little fun with something close to home. Grab a bottle of hand soap. Jergens Sensations will do. Now take a look at the back label:

Energize your senses with the exotic infusion of crushed Green Tea and fresh, delicate Lemon Verbena.

That sounds nice – real nice. Why? What words are making the difference? How are they presented to you, oh reader with dirty hands? All the label is really saying is, “This product contains Green Tea and Lemon Verbena,” or something close to that.

What else is happening? Take a look at the choice of words: exotic, infusion, delicate – pretty mood-inspiring words, aren’t they?

That little piece of copy is selling you on a feeling. That label is telling you that these tempting scents are special, that they’ll wake you up and leave you feeling like you could run a mile. Just a sniff will do you right.

There’s more:

This rich, luxurious formula envelops your hands in a refreshing bouquet while gently cleansing your skin. Your hands are left feeling clean, soft and freshly scented.

Alright. They’re laying it on thick in that paragraph, but take a look at what’s being said, especially the last sentence. Passive language isn’t very strong at all in writing, and it’s a better idea to have some action going on, but the last words you’re left with after reading are key.

Why isn’t the first sentence important? Well, it is. There are some descriptive words, like rich and luxurious, and there are the benefits of this product, the gentle cleaning. (Fast Orange works great, but do you really want that scratchy pumice rubbed into your tender skin?)

Something else is important, too. The copy on the label presents an emotional feeling, a literal hand-washing story that leaves you with a true sense of “aaahhh.”

But the last sentence counts a great deal. Clean. Soft. Freshly scented. Those words tell you what you’ll get from this product. It’s the marketing promise, the end result.

In three sentences, this label has told you a story, played up your emotions, created a mood and told you exactly what the product delivers. No more, no less.

Can you do the same? Can you take mosquito repellant, for example, and make a consumer want to buy itin three sentences or less?

Go on. Take a shot at it in the comment section. Let’s see how compelling you can be.

About the Author: Want a refreshing bouquet of other great advice from James Chartrand that gently enriches your life? Check out Men with Pens, or just energize your senses immediately by subscribing to the MwP feed today.

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Reader Comments (45)

  1. says


    you’re dead on.
    I actually hate the fact that I analyze all this stuff now.

    And not to stray to far off the subject, but I noticed that one of the major hair shampoo manufacturers has the woman eating dark chocolate (and probably moaning like she’s having sex…) while whipping her hair around on a new commercial- obviously appealing to any senses they can.

    I’m sure it’s very successful. I felt like jumping my wife after it was over.

    She however, must not have been watching it.

  2. says

    You can really read anything. It doesn’t just have to be textbooks or anything like that. Just reading anything can help you become a better blogger altogether. You can see I got stuck on the reading part.

  3. says

    Rub your hands on your arms for the right reasons. NO-Squito, softens skin while repelling insects. Mosquitos may hate the scent, but it will make your spouse want to shuffle the kids to bed.

  4. says

    This is a pretty hilarious post! True, but funny. I like Writer Dad’s comment as well.

    Way to go with the Mosquito Repellant. Although sweet smelling repellant probably wouldn’t actually work against the mosquitos. :)

  5. says

    I’ve actually been doing this lately. It started when I was researching an article for my blog regarding deceptive product labels. But then I realized, hey, these guys are awesome writers. They get across in 20 words or less what I sometimes fail to do in 500. Truly amazing.

  6. Thann says

    Bug Off protects you from pesky mosquitoes, who may carry the West Nile virus, by forming an “invisible shield” that lasts for hours and hours. Toasting Marshmallows around the evening campfire, or relaxing at the lake, our non-greasy unscented formulae will shield you and your family from deadly pests.
    Bug Off, Protect your summer, Protect Yourself.

  7. Erica B says

    It’s a trick to find your insect repellent bottle for a product name without actually looking at the rest of the bottle!

    When you’re on the go, another stop is the last thing you need. Off Active insect repellent stays on your active body longer to keep you going strong. Never stop for bugs.

  8. says

    I think the Tabasco company had a brilliant commercial with the man who at food with their sauce and then a mosquito landed on him, flew away, and then the mosquito burst into flames. With that in mind…here is a man-ly insect repellent.

    You hate mosquitoes. You wish they would all DIE! Mos-killer lotion will take care of that problem in under 2 seconds.

    It buzzes around your face….
    It lands on skin…
    It screams bloody murder…
    It DIES…

    Revenge never sounded so sweet.

    [hey, it was fun to write.]

  9. says

    Writer Dad seriously had me on my way to the drugstore.

    I suck at this kind of writing so much, it’s hilarious. It’s all about translating a product into an experience, I think. That’s probably why I got into the relationship marketing gig, I can’t confine myself to three sentences to save my life. 😉

    Love the observation about cereal boxes, and absolutely, I must have spent hours and hours poring instensely over them.

  10. says

    Don’t spend another sleepless summer night held hostage in your home because somebody advertised a “All You Can Eat” buffet for the mosquito public.

    New “Skeeter-Beater” not only sends those blood-suckers packing, but also leaves your skin feeling cool and refreshed.

    No greasy film, no reeking after-smell, just a real repellent that works as hard as you do.

  11. says

    Oh, man, I was going to say I’m an inveterate cereal box reader! I totally annoy everyone around me with how much I blow a gasket about bad packaging and want to buy something in great packaging simply because the packaging is great… doesn’t matter whether I even need the item.

    Here’s my mosquito repellant copy:

    That pine scent that arises as you smooth Bugz-away on your skin is a warning to little bloodsuckers everywhere: STAY AWAY. Apply some confidence to your skin and spend more time outdoors with the ones you love.

  12. says

    The advertising that always gets me is in restaurants. Instead of pasta with cheese and nuts, it’s warm, tender artisan bowties with aromatic organic goat cheese mingling with toasted fall pine nuts. Works everytime to up my entree by $20 or so :)

  13. says

    With Kill The Bug, you’ll receive instant relief from annoying, itchy, distracting bugs. Just point and shoot, and instantly-bugs are terminated-GONE! Kill The Bug annihilates mosquitoes and bugs where they least expect it. Kill The Bug NOW and get on with your day. Hurry before it’s too late and the bugs WIN!

  14. says

    I’m with Michael; I’m all for reading cereal boxes, especially ones with the fun games. :-) Seriously though, now that I’ve gone through several of my washy-products, a few of them DO make themselves sound good enough to eat. Except for one. It tells me to lather and repeat. No rinsing. Just lathering and repeating. I thought that was pretty funny.

  15. says

    I share HowtoCope’s fascination with menu copy. My favorite is Carrow’s “country carved ham.”

    I’m still not sure what “city carved ham” would be, but it sure sounds less appetizing.

    I’m also waiting for the day I can find “urban fresh eggs.”

    And how is creamery buttery different from regular butter? Oh, the questions.

  16. says

    Wow! The brain behind those ad promo must be rich now. Kidding aside, I really admire advertising people who can think of short but strong promo statements. They must be really good in convincing others.

    One promo ad that I cannot forget is the one from LEVI’s that really suits their character and respected name – Quality never goes out of style!

  17. Brian Killian says

    I love the challenge of having to condense complex ideas into a few words, like writing Flash messages on a homepage. A lot of web writing is like that, you don’t have much screen real estate to work with a lot of the time. It’s really the work of the poet.

    Ah…the good ol days of cereal boxes!

  18. says

    Imagine relaxing over a summer lunch without waving away mosquitoes. OFF’s quick and soothing mist comfortably veils your skin for hours without stickiness. And, unlike messy candles and noisy bug zappers, OFF’s light, green fragrance will never compete with the enjoyment of your good food.

  19. Vaultboy says

    In answer to that challenge, here’s my attempt.

    Mosquito repellant: It doesn’t kill em’ dead, but the skeeters avoid you like it might. It’s like wearing a sign the insect can read which exclaims, “the buffet is closed!” No more irritations, and easy to apply!

  20. says

    I’m not sure I want to admit to all the time I’ve spent staring at the bottles of hair products lining my bathroom shelf, but it’s true, they sell what amounts to a mix of chemicals you’d find in some anti-freeze and convince you it will cure hereditary oiliness or revive hair that’s long dead.

    That happens to be a really nice hand soap, btw. :)

  21. BEAT THIS. says

    Live up your outdoor adventures freely with Shield Spray-On mosquito repellent!

    Shield Spray-On wards off pesky mosquitoes which may carry West Nile Virus, in addition to protecting your skin from irritation, itch, and swelling. Your day outside can be enjoyed without the annoyances of uninvited guests.


  22. says

    Thanks Pete!

    You know, I don’t think I’ve ever read a label that actually mentioned the symptoms of what you’re trying to cure/avoid.

    Can you imagine a kid’s cereal doing something like that?

    “Give your little anklebiters a shot of supercharged sugar frosted fake fruit bits and send them tearing out the door to wreck havoc at school while you relax and enjoy eight hours of tranquility and peace.”

    Wait a second.. I think I have to go buy some of that stuff :)

  23. says

    Have a carefree day in your own mosquito-free zone.

    Productname is a fresh smelling, easy to apply, long lasting non-greasy lotion.

    Now you can forget about mosquitos, you can enjoy the outdoors more.

  24. aakriti says

    Interesting co-relation between the copy & the reader’s senses!
    Thanks for highlighting something we usually don’t realise.

  25. says

    My mosquito repellent copy:

    NEVER BE BITTEN AGAIN. That’s right…just one application of Organic Mosquito Killer means you’ll be mosquito-free all night long — without poisoning yourself in the process. We guarantee it.

  26. says

    I love reading the sentences in the household products, stationery to learn the good and not so good points as well.
    It always amazes me on the power of words on psychology of selling.
    How cool this is…
    *James: Tks for sharing


  27. says

    Free yourself and your skin from mosquito bites. Clean scented, oil free Bug-Be-Gone goes on smooth and stops irritating insects in their tracks. Enjoy the freedom of the outdoors without unwanted souvenirs.

  28. says

    SkinSoSoft Clear and Smooth…skin unmarred by the mosquito.

    Surprisingly scentless…SkinSoSoft Clear quenches your thirsty surfaces while it sends a secret signal to repel those pests.

    Staying power…at dusk, out late, and even dawn you’ll find relief with SkinSoSoft.

  29. says

    Relax peacefully, dusk or dawn, worry-free. With the surprisingly invigorating scents of Serenity Outdoors, you will now have a sensible solution for an edible sunscreen and bug repellent. Incredibly smooth, irresistibly scented, child-safe, lasts all day.

  30. Kristina says

    Enjoy the gentle hospitality of a Southern summer night without the gnawing irritation of mosquitos and no-see-ems. One spritz of Freshair will leave your skin feeling smooth, clear, and protected, leaving you to discover that hidden pocket of time between the glare of day and the shadow of night, bug free.

    Great exercise. Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel the urge wash my hands.

  31. says

    While the kids are catching fireflies you can catch a break with Fresh Air Bug Relief. Win back your starlit summer nights with one spray of refreshing, non-toxic pest relief! Smell the fresh air and enjoy the bug-free peace and quiet all at once!

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