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A Glossary of Copywriting and Advertising Terms

We copywriters, and all people in advertising for that matter, have our own jargon. Some of it is well-known and our clients understand what we're talking about. But there are a number of things they don't know. This brief glossary may help in providing definitions for some of the most common words and phrases that we use.


Time periods immediately before and after a television program, normally used as a commercial break between programs.


A paid, mediated, form of communication from an identifiable source, designed to persuade the receiver to take some action, now or in the future. (This definition is based on the following study: Richards, J. I., and Curran, C. M. (2002). Oracles on "Advertising": Searching for a Definition. Journal of Advertising, Summer, 31(2), 63-77.)

Advertising allowance

A premium provided to a consumer, on the condition of some later purchase.


One of the goals of brand advertising. Brand advertising doesn’t solicit immediate sales. Indeed, it is designed to form favorable impressions that will motivate consumers to visit or call the advertiser and consider buying their product or service. It is sometimes called "house" advertising. Awareness is basically and in the simplest terms, a way to make people aware of your brand, product or services. Many advertisers, in their hast to get sales, fail to use this great form of advertising. They do so at their own peril.


A detachable extension to the back of an envelope, having a perforated edge and special marketing information or an order form on it.


What your product or service does for the user. Benefits are not the same thing as features. A benefit is what the user, customer or clients will get as a result of using your product or service.

blind envelope

An envelope that does not give away the sender's identity or the message inside. It creates a degree of mystery that often causes the recipient to open it and see what's inside.


The main text found in publications we read, body copy is the text of the stories and articles. Body copy is not the headlines, subheads, captions, or pull-quotes.


A brand is what distinguishes you from your competitors. Branding (the verb) is when we, as copywriters and marketing experts, give your product or service or your company it's own unique feel, look and style. A brand sets you apart from all others.


The art of giving you and your product or service a brand. This takes special training and skill and should not be left to an amateur. Usually an advertising agency or senior copywriter handles this task. It is too advanced for anyone else to tackle.


This is a business reply device. It is often pre-stamped. It can be a faxback or one of several other elements.


Business Reply Envelope. Usually pre-paid and pre-addressed.


When a copywriter or ad agency asks for your budget, please give it. No, we're not trying to look under your skirt. We do not base our quote to you on your budget. We simply need to know how much of our time and services you can afford. When a copywriter asks for your budget, he or she wants to know how much you have set aside to pay for his or her services. We don't care about your entire advertising budget unless we're doing more than the copywriting. If your budget is very small, chances are we can't help you. So be honest when you give your budget.

call out

Text that explains or amplifies a portion of an illustration, usually accompanied by a line pointing to a particular area. You'll see these in catalogs. A callout is often text in a graphic bubble.

call to action

This is the "action" you want your reader, listener or visitor to take after reading your sales message. It can be to make a phone call, to fill out a form, to send a fax or fill out a reply device, among other things.



Items such as brochures, flyers and other material designed and written to help your main element make a sale. Collateral alone will not produce sales but will help by giving the reader more information than is provided in the main element (usually a sales letter) alone.


Copywriter's Rough

A visual that gives the client an idea of what his final copy will look like. Similar to a rough sketch, it gives the client a general idea of the copy text, its approximate length, and the basic conceptualization of the advertising idea or message. After the rough draft is approved by the creative team (the copywriter, art director, creative director, and assistants --- and sometimes by the client--- the actual copy will be written in greater detail. The copywriter's rough is simply a rough idea of the work the copywriter has done or will do. In the case of Web copy, I often put my new copy inside the client's old template. That gives him an idea of what it will actually look like when the new copy is "live." Not all copywriters provide a copywriter's rough and some, myself included, do so only for premium-paying clients.



A concept is merely an idea. It is the idea upon which an entire campaign will be developed. To be effective, the concept should be created by an expert or team of experts --- all advertising specialists.



Simply words. Copy in advertising is the text of an ad or sales letter or Web site. Copy is also called the sales message.

copywriting brief (creative brief)

I use a creative brief (as do most agencies) to get most of the information I need from a client. This helps to understand the client's target market, his goals and needs and everything about his business that will be useful in writing his sales message.


writing the verbal (written or spoken) elements of an advertisement.

competitive strategy

how an organisation chooses to compete within a market, with particular regard to the relative positioning and strategies of competitors.


The finished product. What the copywriter or creative director presents to the client as the final result of his or her creative work. It can be, for example, completed Web site copy or a sales letter.

direct marketing

an interactive system of marketing that uses one or more advertising media to effect a measurable response at any location, forming a basis for further developing an ongoing relationship between an organisation and its customers.

direct response marketing

advertising through mainstream advertising media that encourages direct action from the audience, for example, requests for more information, requests for a sales visit, or orders for goods.

Direct Mail

A direct marketing technique involving the delivery of promotional material to named individuals at their homes or organisational premises. It can be written to get leads or actual sales. A lead-generating sales letter, for example, will usually be much shorter.


For each product/service you sell, you need to describe every feature. Features of a toothbrush, for example, might include soft bristles, flexible head, etc. Features of a marketing consulting practice might include developing corporate identities, creating newspaper advertisements, developing a structured networking approach, etc.


Usually a secretary or clerk or receptionist. Whoever answers the phone or opens the mail. As a salesperson or copywriter, you must get your message through these gatekeepers and get to the man or woman who makes the decisions and writes the checks.


The headline, or head, is the large heading of your sales copy. It is written to make the reader want to read more. Some copywriters think a head should always begin with a verb. I think it all depends on what you're writing and there is no set rules for the creation of a good head.

Johnson box

This definition is taken from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Johnson Box is a box commonly found at the top of direct mail letters, containing the key message of the letter. The purpose of it is to draw the reader's attention to this key message first, and hopefully grab their attention, enticing them to read the rest of the letter.

A Johnson Box is very effective, but it lends a "sleazy" air to a letter, and so is considered inappropriate for letters that are intended to be formal or personal. [1]

It has also been adapted to the email format, having the additional benefit of allowing the most important message in the email to be visible in the preview pane of an email reader. [2]

The Johnson Box is named after direct marketer Frank Johnson, who is credited as having created the Johnson Box to improve response to his offers for American Heritage magazine. He does not claim credit for creating the device however, claiming to have only popularized it. [3]

The Johnson Box has since "evolved" by use. It is often used at the middle of the page, particularly to highlight a testimony or an important sentence from the writing. It is now even used to surround an order form at the bottom right of the page which re-iterates the benefit and offer.

Letter of Agreement

A legal contract. This is the agreement between the copywriter and the client. It is designed to protect both. All copywriters should use such an agreement. They will differ from copywriter to copywriter. But unless a copywriter has such an agreement, many unpleasant things can result.

lift letter

A second letter within a direct mail from an authoritative individual who endorses the product or service. I use these a lot when writing copy to sell magazine subscriptions, although they can be used in any mailing. I usually have them signed by the president of the company or someone other than the person signing the sales letter. This gives it authority.

lift memo

Like a lift letter, but produced in the style of a memo.


The terms under which a product or service is promoted. An offer is important. It can make or break your success in sales. A good, experienced copywriter will create an offer that is so enticing, few people can afford not to take advantage of it. It is the key to a good sales message.


(OTP) Obtaining a sale directly from a press release. This is hard to do and doesn't happen often. But a good copywriter can create such a press release, or OTP.

postscript or P.S.

Post script. An additional piece of text, separate from, and after the main body of text. (Source: IDM Marketing Guide 2006) Many studies find that the P.S. is the first item read. In many cases, this is true. It should add value to your offer.

prospect universe

All those (individuals or companies) making the mailer's potential customers, subscribers or contributors.

public domain

Anything that is in the public domain belongs to no one and everyone. For example, literature written decades ago and no longer under copyright is considered, in most cases, to be in the public domain.


Copy set apart from the body of the text, under the main headline, usually to explain or add detail to the headline's statement. On the Web, we usually use a different color for the sub-head.

tag line

A frequently repeated phrase or statement that captures the essence of a brand's promise to its stakeholders. It is typically configured with the institution's identity and presented in a consistent manner. When taglines are initially introduced they are often presented as a headline or leading statement in order to establish awareness. Taglines can be used throughout ongoing communication as a final closing statement in text or locked up with the institution's identity. Think of it as the final sign-off or summary statement to reinforce the brand's position and promise. "From here, it's possible" is Texas Tech's tagline. A tagline is also called a slogan and, in the U.K., a strapline. A tagline is often given at the end of a radio commercial to make a dramatic appeal. It is an important part of branding.


Many consider the corner card (another name for teaser copy) to be the most important element of a direct mail piece because it entices the recipient to open and read the package. The copywriter should be careful not to use misleading corner card copy that doesn't truthfully represent the contents of the envelope. Widely used corner cards include "Valuable coupons inside" and "Dated Material."


Unique Selling Proposition. It is what makes the product offer competitively strong and without direct comparison. You must know your USP is you expect to be successful in advertising and marketing. Your USP should not be something like, "We offer good service." After all, that could apply to anyone.

Unique Perceived Benefit / UPB

Now one of the central strongest mechanisms in the modern selling process, an extension and refinement of the product offer, based on detailed understanding of the prospect's personal and organizational needs.

value-based fees

A marketing consultant/copywriter who uses value-based fees charges for the value they give you, not by the hour, day, week or month. While they may have a per-project fee, that fee is still based on the value they'll provide and not the hours they work or the number of words or pages they write. What you pay is not a cost, it's an investment that has an expected return.

©2005 Susanna K. Hutcheson.