Citations

Dealing with citations when you're a direct response copywriter

About 7 years ago, some intrepid copywriter had the brain fart of inserting medical research citations into their alternative health copy.

Citations are the superscripts which denote the specific study where the copywriter pulled the claim, statistics or benefit.

Looking back, it was a brilliant idea and in the cases where I tested, while sometimes conversions were suppressed, most of the time, it boosted conversions anywhere from 3 to 15%.

But at the time? I had strong doubts.

Why?

Because while superscripts made the copy more believable/credible because they’re implied proof element, they could also disrupt the flow of the reader.

Think about it:

Someone’s reading your copy and they want to know where you got the information for a specific claim, so their curiosity takes hold and now they’re off running down some research rabbit hole–INSTEAD of continuing to be persuaded by your compelling copy.

Of course, that would be bad and show up in suppressed conversions.

So over the years, while I know they work, I’ve tried to temper going too far overboard with citations.

But a recent experience has given me cause to change my perspective yet again.

You see, normally I insert somewhere between 5 and 10 citations in a sales letter or VSL just for show, documenting the studies where I pulled the claims.

But now I’ve decided on doing it with every single claim, benefit and statistic.

I’ve done this before when the client has specifically asked but like I said, I haven’t done it all the time for the sake of readability.

Why the change of course now?

In a word, lawyers.

In my experience, lawyers have been pretty incredulous with the research I uncover.

Actually, they’re blown away.

So much so, when some of them review the copy, if I don’t have a strong claim cited, they think they’ve caught me in some fib that I’m trying to sneak past them.

They’re eager to point it out to the client, thus earning their keep in the client’s eyes. 😉

However, when I produce the research documenting the claim, they’re still incredulous–and they read the research studies themselves to see if I’m doing any wordplay or copywriting trickery.

All in all, it’s a big waste of time on everybody’s part.

So lately, I’ve just decided stick ALL THE CITATIONS in the copy and let the chips fall where they may.

In weird a way, I consider the lawyers’ questions as a sort of backhanded flattery.

Like “This claim can’t really be true, can it?”

I know I’ve done good if they try to call me out.

But I’ve decided if I cite comprehensively, they can just follow the breadcrumbs back to the studies to see for themselves.

For instance, there is an incredible yet overlooked herb that I was recently writing about. I had discovered scientific research that clearly stated the herb outperformed its pharmaceutical counterpart for a specific ailment.

(If you write copy in the alt health space you know, that’s like hitting the jackpot.)

At the time, I didn’t insert the corresponding citation into the copy and I should have anticipated this… I got pushback from the lawyer when I submitted the copy.

This scenario has started happening more than I would like. I’ll uncover some great research and the lawyers push back and say something to the effect of “you can’t say this.”

Then I send over the links to the relevant research to back up the claim, and what do I get back?

Crickets.

So even though citations may disrupt the readability somewhat, I’m going to start inserting them next to every claim, benefit and statistic.

And it’s not any more work really. I’m doing the research anyway, right?

It’ll save a ton of time going back and forth with the lawyers.

And who knows? We may even get more of a boost in conversions. 😉

Now if you’ve got testing results which either confirms or contradicts what I’ve said, or even just a comment, I’d love to hear it.

Just go ahead and hit the reply.

Nil Obstat (“Let nothing stand in your way”),

–Matt

P.S. Years ago, I would analyze Eugene Schwartz ads for fun.

It’s a great copywriting exercise.

I bought some pdf of Eugene’s ads and I dissected them sentence by sentence, looking for what made them so persuasive.

In one exercise, I’d take a highlighter and highlight every single promise.

You’d be amazed at how many promises Eugene packed into a single full page ad.

Sometimes I counted as many as 25 different promises!

Now imagine, taking those 25 promises and inserting a superscript next to each one of them.

You can see how they could potentially disrupt the readability. Could prove intimidating.

But it could just as easily go the other way–providing overwhelming proof of the efficacy of the product.

So we’ll test and then we’ll know.