They make the rounds on Facebook and Twitter—Craigslist ads that make us laugh, and cry from laughing too much.
But are there lessons to be learned by would-be writers from the funny—and sometimes not-so-appropriate—word choices in the "Best of Craigslist" section? Indeed there are—seven, in fact.
Lesson #1: Great headlines are great beginnings. Wondering how to make the content you create a magnet for clicks? Compelling headlines have that power. Simple ones, such as "1,325 Pope Hats" work best when you’re discussing a single topic. They’re also great for search engine optimization (SEO). Now, you can get a bit fancier with your headlines. You can try writing ones that evoke an emotional response, such as "Oh my god. Oh. My. God," a lead-in for a clever ad for a very beat-up bike, or offer benefits to your reader, such as "Ninja Repellent/Entertainment center." Whichever avenue you choose, clicks await those with the power to craft an attention-grabbing headline.
Lesson #2: There’s nothing like a great story. The copy you write has to tell a story. And stories have a beginning, middle and end—just like this Craigslist ad for a BMW. Sure, the writer could have listed the car for sale without the back story, but the story keeps you reading. If your copy tells a story, your audience will thank you for not wasting their time (even if they just wasted five minutes of their work day reading it instead of filing TPS reports).
Lesson #3: Personality rules. Web copy doesn’t have to be a snooze, even if you’re creating copy for the simplest of items, like an LP record. When someone hands you the most ordinary of products, there are ways to add some pizzaz to the experience. You can even combine personality with story and get a double whammy like this ad for a bedroom dresser. I get the sense that the guy in this ad is a bit jaded, but it sure does make for great reading when you put some personality (and some sarcasm) behind a piece of furniture.
Lesson #4: Simplicity sells too. Your copy doesn’t have to be an epic, multipage story. It can be simple—a few sentences that get your reader in and out with point conveyed, like this ad about a lost shark or an offer for a free parachute. No fluff. Maybe a tad of story to evoke an emotional response. Simple headlines and short copy can be powerful tools in your copywriting toolbox as space and attention spans demand.
Lesson #5: There’s an allure in the odd. If your task is to craft copy for an off-the-beaten-path kind of product or company, Craigslist should be your training ground. Take a note from the playbook of this guy in search of some ducks to rent or borrow. Normally, that would be an odd request, but with a few sentences of rationale, he explains the need for the ducks. Okay, it’s still an odd request. But then there’s this guy with 1,500 live ladybugs. Who has 1,500 live ladybugs in their house? This guy. And you can see how a bit of story surrounding a seemingly odd proposition can bridge the gap from weird to perfectly reasonable.
Lesson #6: How-tos are hot reads. We’ve all had to write how-tos of some sort. Technical manuals, cheat sheets and simple guides for our clients—they can be downright boring without a bit of personality. Why not take a few notes from this "Port-a-Potty" technician on the art of creating the hot how-to? First, always address the obvious (some people just don’t get it). Second, dive into deeper issues that are less obvious but that your readers or users might encounter with extended product use. Finally, talk about the more subtle, yet equally important topics. Your users will emerge from your how-to with not just mad skills, but with new knowledge that helps them better use the product.
Lesson #7: Skip the English lesson. The one thing that "Best of Craigslist" ads can’t teach you is proper grammar and usage. While hilarious, odd and altogether entertaining, they’re not subject to an editor as most writers are. So use spell check first, and then get a second set of eyes on your copy before uploading. There’s nothing that kills a credible written argument quite as fast as a tpyo typo.
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