Copywriting hooks are mysterious. They come to you like lightning strikes, usually when you're engrossed with research.
It's many years since I read Donald Westlake's novel The Hook, but I remember the opening scenes. They made me laugh, and I identified with the main character.
In the opening scenes of The Hook, the protagonist, mid-list author Wayne Prentice, is trying to come up with the hook for his next book. He's worried, because his books aren't selling. His only option might be to create yet another name under which to write. Finding the hook for his new book obsesses him.
Those scenes immediately resonated with me, because unless a copywriter can come up with the hook for a project, he's got nothing. You can list features and benefits until your eyeballs bleed; it's all useless until you get your hook.
Research is the only way to find a hook. I call it "the click" - the lightning strike from heaven.
Unfortunately, you don't have the time to do in-depth research for most projects. That's when you need some tricks you can use to create hooks. Let's look at five.
1. Piggyback on something in the news.
This can be a brilliant strategy. You can piggyback on anything in the news that's even vaguely related to your product.
Blockbuster movies are useful, as are the big launches of major products. Several years ago a diet pill was released to much fanfare. If you were selling things in the weight loss area, you could piggyback onto the hype.
A couple of things to watch with news hooks...
News-related copy loses its punch when the news gets old.
Night turns to day, and news becomes old news, faster than you'd think. So never use a news hook for a marketing campaign which will be around for a while.
Consider unintended consequences.
What happens if the movie is a dud? Or the product launch is a disaster? Things can and do go wrong, so be cautious.
2. Intrigue, or arouse curiosity.
"All the world's gold came from collisions of dead stars, scientists say" - who knew? Almost no one, so I used this weird fact when I wrote copy for a jewelry chain over a decade ago. It worked brilliantly.
I call this the Ripley's Believe It Or Not hook. Come up with something intriguing, which suits the product, and you're good to go.
3. Promise an experience.
Steve Jobs did it with the iPad. He called it "magical and revolutionary":
"iPad is our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO.
You can't do this with every product; but if you can promise an experience, you've got your hook.
4. "... (something) or it's free."
Domino's Pizza no longer offers its "30 minutes or it's free" guarantee, but if you can make an offer like this with your product, it's a fantastic hook.
Tip: if everyone's making a free offer, it's no longer a hook. This happened with ebooks.
Initially, offering an ebook free for a few days was a real sales driver. By mid-2012, it stopped being useful as a hook.
However, this doesn't mean that you can't make "free" work for your product. It just means you'll need to give "free" a twist. Brainstorm.
5. Investigate Maslow's pyramid of needs: sex sells.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs can inspire all the hooks you'll ever need.
Look at the physiological needs at the base of the pyramid. They're all primal needs. An example: FUD - fear, uncertainty and doubt; they trade on basic survival needs. That said, I suggest that you steer clear of negativity in your copy. Negativity can hurt you - remember unintended consequences in our first tip, "news".
Sex is a primal need, so it sells. Brainstorm; you can usually find a way to create a primal-needs hook for a product.
Summing up: you've now got five ways to create hooks for your copywriting projects. Nothing beats in-depth research. When you don't have the luxury to do that, these tricks will help you to create hooks which make sales.