3. Picture

Instead of the vague notion of “interest” in the AIDA formula, here we segue into painting a vivid picture for the reader. You’re fleshing out the premise, promise, and setting up the benefits of taking action now by using vibrant language that sticks in the mind.

The picture phase is all about using images, storytelling, and tangible language as a way to hold the reader’s emotional interest while you nudge them down the path to acceptance. It also keeps you focused on communicating the benefits associated with the features or facts that you need to get across.

The way to do this is to get prospects to imagine themselves enjoying the ultimate benefit or desired outcome. Then you get very specific about how your proposed solution or idea makes that benefit happen.

Advertising legend David Ogilvy was a master at using great headlines, fascinating pictures, and a caption to plant an initial image in the prospects head. Modern eye-tracking studies show that this layout continues to do well, even on the web.

The Man in the Hathaway Shirt is one of Ogilvy’s most famous (and most effective) campaigns, and it sold a ton of shirts for an obscure shirt maker who could barely afford Ogilvy’s fee. The same general premise is used today by
Dos Equis with their Most Interesting Man in the World campaign.

In this case, the story begins with that fascinating photo, and continues with Ogilvy’s words. The picture and headline got people to read, which then kicked in their own imaginations. The prospects then told themselves their own version of the story, powered by a desire for association with this fascinating character.

This is a crucial point, so let me repeat. The prospect has to tell themselves their own story based on the picture you create in their head with the elements of your landing page.

In his book True and False, celebrated playwright and screenwriter David Mamet gives an example from the world of film editing. When editing is done correctly, stories are told not by the director or actors, but in the mind of the viewer. It’s a great way to understand the picture phase of copywriting.

Shot A, a teakettle whistling; shot B, a young woman raises her head from a desk. The viewer is thus given the idea “rising to renewed labors.”

If shot A is a black-robed judge being handed an envelope, he opens it, and clears his throat; and shot B is the same as before—a woman raising her head from a desk—the audience creates the idea “hearing the verdict.”

The action of the woman is the same in each case, her snippet of film is the same. Nothing has changed except the juxtaposition of images, but that juxtaposition gives the audience a completely new idea.

Mamet is describing the theory of a guy named Eisenstein. The theory states that any technique that allows the viewer to tell themselves the story is vastly stronger and more effective than other approaches. It’s the same with great copy. Here’s a classic example.

The following is an excerpt from the direct-mail piece that generated an estimated $2 billion in revenue for The Wall Street Journal. I’ve seen adaptations and straight rip-offs dozens of times. Here’s how it starts:

Dear Reader:

On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college. They were very much alike, these two young men. Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both – as young college graduates are – were filled with ambitious dreams for the future.

Recently, these two men returned to college for their 25th reunion.

They were still very much alike. Both were happily married. Both had three children. And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same Midwestern manufacturing company after graduation, and were still there.

But there was a difference. One of the men was manager of a small department of that company. The other was its president.