In this, the final in the hook series, let’s now put the money where the mouth is and case study our own Copywriting in Action Group Project. Since 2010 we’ve been co-writing a proposal book of biomimetic climate adaptation ideas toward a low emissions, sustainable and renewable future (biomimetics is the science of adapting designs from nature to solve modern problems). Earth, wind, fire and water are the elements of inspiration here. The book cover was recently re-designed to include wood (OF INGENUITY) to acknowledge our Asian neighbours.

Each story must also demonstrate human ingenuity in the face of crisis. The tone throughout all the stories must reflect the constructive optimism and big thinking that is essential to such ingenuity. While we could easily do an in depth analysis of the craft and techniques of copywriting employed to produce clear, concise and compelling communication that inspires our reader, but it all begins with the opening line. before we begin, here’s a snapshot of our target audience: an international panel of high profile decision makers who will determine which ideas get seed money for further development. Eight of Foreign Policy’s top 100 thinkers of 2010 ‘s global marketplace of ideas makes up this influential panel.

Story 1 – Wave Energy Converters

If 71% of the earth’s surface holds an unlimited power source, why not tap into it? There’s plenty of it. It’s clean. It’s crashing on our shores every day. And now we can harness the energy of the ocean’s currents into electricity.

It must fill us with a sense of wonder to be reminded that our planet is mostly water. And it’s amazing to think that wave energy can be converted into electricity. So much water and so much power supply without hurting our little blue planet. Inspiring this wonder and amazement in your reader from the get-go is a sure way to get them into the story with an open mind and a keen interest.

Story 2 – Medicinal plantation

The Moringa has been dubbed the “miracle tree for life” by rural Cambodians for generations. Little Wonder! It’s disease preventing, water purifying, organic fertilizing and even pesticiding qualities are just a few of a long list of Moringa’s multi-practical and multi-profitable possibilities.

To begin with, avoid hyperbole at all costs, it instantly raises doubt and mistrust in the mind of your reader. But if the hyperbole used (ground breaking) really means what it says, then say so, hence “nothing less than…” then you have disarm the reader’s defences.

Story 3 – Solar and wind powered hydroponic greenhouse for growing livestock feed.

Never again will you have to wait, pray or even dance for the rains to come. For as sure as there is sun and wind every day, you (and your livestock) can now be equally sure of a regular supply of stock feed. No matter what the climate dishes up.

We happened to be working on this story during a long and severe drought period with no end in sight. Empathy was instant. It wasn’t hard to have the farmers in mind and heart for this one. The opening line drew from literal experience. There was a lot of waiting and hoping for the rains to come. And the waiting was very painful and sadly, tragic in some cases. We then imagined what else one would do for rain to come. Praying was a sure thing. Waiting and praying would have probably been enough but here was an opportunity for that classic of all writerly techniques – the tricolon (list of three). We’re all familiar with rain dancing, so it made the perfect trifecta, and set the tone to set up a great news story in the rest of the introduction.

Story 4 – Solar paneled roads

What if we could travel on glass roads that are also power stations? What if these roads could sense danger and alert us with a warning sign? What if building these roads reduced land fill and rubbish from our oceans? And what if all this paid for itself?

More often than not, research offers clues, and even answers, to the most compelling opening lines. In this story, the “What if” idea was taken from an interview with Scott Brusaw, the solar road inventor. We just rewrote the “what ifs” to set up the propositions that would be expanded on in the substantiation stage of the Anatomy of Body Copy. You’ll also note the use of the tetracolon technique (list of four) to create a crescendo to the punchy fourth line.

Story 5 – Floating architecture

An enormous, slow-moving threat is making us question our relationship with water. For thousands of years we’ve been trying to control it. Dams, canals, irrigation systems and dykes have been milestones of innovation. Up until now.

A real sense of urgency was needed to begin this story. The creeping inevitability of rising sea levels had to be expressed in plain, visceral language that instantly tuned our reader to the key of foreboding. But once that was accomplished in the “hook line”,  it was important to avoid the usual doom and gloom scenario, and continue on with a conversation for possibility. History was a telling way of demonstrating our human ingenuity, with enough historic achievements to inspire us to step up and into action.

Story 6 – Geothermal mining

It’s right beneath our feet. Approximately four kilometres down is granite as old as the earth itself. Pump water through these hot dry rocks and thousands of years worth of base load energy steams to the surface. This is the great potential of geothermal energy.

Put your reader in the picture right from the start and they’ll be much more inclined to go with you for the journey (as long as every sentence that follows compels them on). In this story, we fed two birds with one seed. Not only is the reader involved by visualising self standing on a rock solid solution (to base-load energy), but also we explain how it’s mined clearly and concisely enough so that even a four year would understand. And that was precisely our aim.

Nothing is taken for granted when composing sentences that do precisely what you intend it to do. Of course, you need to know your intention, which the above examples reveal. Once you’re clear about your intention, then you have ideas, words and syntax from which to construct an accurate image. Think of yourself as a film director: he or she directs the action, camera moves, set design and music to evoke a specific emotion or perception from the audience. Cynics might call it manipulation (when it comes to advertising) but skeptics like myself call it story telling. And every good story teller hooks their audience in from start to finish.

24 Comments

  1. Helen says:

    It’s really helpful to see a range of different examples and how the principles can be applied

  2. Jessie L says:

    I particularly liked Story 6. So simple to understand and see in the mind’s eye.

  3. Rebecca L says:

    These are all great examples of how to meaningfully engage the reader and hook them in. Thinking experientially, using rhythm techniques to make the copy ‘sing’, and above all….making a genuine connection with the target audience that draws them into the dialogue and makes it their story.

  4. Katie says:

    Establishing ‘your intention’ is a really good place to start. Continually thinking of your target audience and your intention. I really enjoyed reading this three-part series. Very interesting and helpful advice!

  5. Anagha says:

    Having a clear intention and painting a picture in the reader’s mind can make them more willing to travel with you on the journey and stay there from the beginning to the end

  6. Interesting read. Clear writing, conducting prose. We are the conductors of what we write and what we want our readers to picture.

  7. Coreen says:

    I like the way you’ve explained the rationale behind these examples. It clearly shows how bricks of insight are laid to build up the hook (see what I tried to do there? ;)). On another note, I too am being much more mindful about the use of hyperbole.

  8. Leona Devaz says:

    I’m getting a clearer understanding of how fluid you need to be when copywriting. I particularly like the analogy of being a ‘film director’. That speaks volumes for me.

  9. michaelcxs says:

    These examples give me a solid understanding of the relationship between hook (arrest) and expanding on that in the intro! Excellent!

  10. Jen Keating says:

    The meaning of writing visually is becoming clearer. When discussing water by referring to “clean” and “crashing on our shores” the reader has a picture painted in their mind before the word has even been mentioned. If the writer can inspire a mental picture, trigger a memory of a smell or a sound, the how could the reader not be hooked?

  11. Ricky says:

    quite like the “Solar paneled roads” opening line. not only does it pose the ‘what if’it also uses an effective tricolon!

  12. Jennie says:

    It was helpful to see the creative process behind the other projects.
    Let’s crack ours!

  13. rebecca says:

    I like the idea of presenting our case as a “best possible truth” — it’s not manipulative or false, it’s a way of storytelling.

  14. Anna says:

    The examples are a great way to learn – can we have more?!

  15. Sophie says:

    Explaining the many different angles past groups projects have used, and explaining the creative reasoning behind each one has been very very helpful to read.

  16. Jeremy G says:

    As a junior marketer, I’ve developed a habit for writing hyperbole when trying to put content together. While I might believe the hyperbole to be true, my audience (being a reluctant one) generally doesn’t. Being able to write a hook that opens the reader’s mind to accept the message behind the hyperbole as truth is key for me.

  17. Johanna says:

    Great illustrative examples of how the key proposition of each of these projects was effectively and succinctly expressed through the headline and hook. We have a lot to live up to!

  18. Intentions, ideas, words and syntax can construct an accurate image.

  19. Caitlin says:

    Good to see the story behind of each of these articles. Many good tips to keep in mind when writing ourselves.

  20. You have managed to write about a topic that I find boring, interesting. Thanks for the tips.

  21. Natalia says:

    Nicholas, I like your analogy of copywriting of a film director, as without clear intention you would not know which direction to go or what ideas, words and images to use. So having clear intention is the key! I thought the examples provided from Elements of Ingenuity book were clever and interesting and it gave me a clearer understanding of copywriting techniques.

  22. mark thomas says:

    Understanding how to create a hook line is revealed clearly in part 3. First is the intention, that makes obvious sense, as without it you cannot connect with the idea’s, words, and images that form empathy that reaches each reader, bringing them into the reality that has been created.

  23. Jeff Hyde says:

    OK. Glad I read this one. I already knew that the Elements of Ingenuity book contained a collection of topics around a common theme. What is now clearer from these examples is the practical application of empathy, development thought processes, and use of copywriting techniques. These all worked well together (rather like swarm logic) producing some very well crafted opening lines.

  24. Elizabeth Raphael says:

    hi Nicholas,

    Enjoyed reading through the posts, and am now getting a better picture of hooks & opening lines & how to do that for the individual project.

    I really like what you have done to include wood on the front cover of Elements.

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