Volkswagen Golf pulled apart

Copywriting tip 4: What – your topic

Volkswagen Golf in pieces

What a fantastic image. And I chose it deliberately.

The second step of our homework – the four Ws – is What.

What do I know about the topic? What am I writing about?

The reason I chose the image? Because I want to pull the product, the service, the topic apart.

I don’t want to just know what’s good about it: I want to know what’s not so good – the bad stuff.

The marketing brief will tell me all the positives. What are the negatives?

Not that I’m going to write about the negatives, of course. But I need to know.

Laptop keyboard, coffee, pad and pen

Many years ago, I helped launch internet banking for a major bank.

The (marketing) brief to me? ‘Jon, it’s really simple’.

Yeah, right. I tried to do it myself, and it was painful.

I needed a CRN (what on earth is that?!).

A password I’d used in a branch 10 years ago when I opened the account? No idea.

So, I didn’t write about how easy it was.

Instead, we handed out packets of instant coffee, attached to a leaflet.

‘Make yourself a cuppa. This could take you 20 minutes. But you’ll never have to do it again’.

That came out of exploring and interrogating the product (service/topic).

The negative became an insight that drove the message. A more relevant (and supportable) one.

The Craft of Copywriting book cover

One of my favourite quotes about the ‘what’ is from Alastair Crompton’s The Craft of Copywriting:

‘Working without facts means the work can only be fiction.’

Should we just make things up? Definitely not. Stick to the facts.

As David Ogilvy once said:

‘I prefer the discipline of knowledge to the chaos of ignorance.’

A final quote, this time from Einstein:

‘I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.’

Be curious. Explore. Uncover.

Just like audiences, products and services are full of ideas.

Explore your topic until you’re absolutely sure what you’re writing about.

Nail your subject matter.

Then, we can move onto the next W: the ‘Why’.


This tip is based on my 30 Tips in 40 Minutes webinar.

Feel free to download a version of the slides and watch a video of the one-hour webinar.

Image source: Pixabay


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Jon Maxim

Jon is a multi-award winning copywriter. For over 30 years, he’s helped clients – large and small – develop engaging concepts, content and copy. For 25 of those years, he’s been teaching people how to do it themselves. His courses on copywriting, ideation and presentation skills are highly sought-after and highly effective. Jon lives in Sydney, Australia: but is often found on a plane, heading to where he’s most needed.