Copywriters don’t like talking about dialogue – and it’s because they rarely use it.

Street DialogueThat’s the conclusion I’ve come to after doing a few Google searches.

Type in ‘Copywriting Sentences’, ‘Copywriting Paragraphs’, ‘Copywriting Titles’ or ‘Copywriting Punctuation’ and you’ll find reams of helpful advice from copywriters across the globe.

Hammer in ‘Copywriting Dialogue’ and you’ll get a rather moth-eaten blog post I wrote in 2009 and little else in the way of advice.

Unless you count a job that suggests the successful applicant should ‘Maintain a proactive dialogue with business teams on 5ttgvydjyyyyyyyyyyyyik8,jxy5eesy7r8tesz78g

(Sorry. Jargon always makes me pass out from boredom.)

Do you use dialogue?

I put my hands up. I don’t use dialogue much when I write professionally.

I’ve racked my brain to think of the times I have. This is what I’ve come up with:

  • A magazine-style newsletter, when I incorporated dialogue into some features
  • Advertorial, which used interview dialogue
  • An advert, which I gave a short Q&A dialogue format
  • A website, also following a Q&A structure
  • FAQs.

That’s it.

Of course, copywriters use quotes all the time – in case studies, testimonials, press releases and elsewhere.

But these are one sided – monologue, not dialogue.

Where’s the dialogue gone?

The stupid thing is that I love writing dialogue more than anything else.

When I used to blog about the everyday lunacy in my then home borough of Hackney, there was nothing I prized more than spontaneous dialogue. It said a lot more about life in my area than any pen portrait could ever do.

I was reaching for a fag when a woman came up to me. She was wearing a black bikini-top, a fluorescent-pink pencil skirt, black boots and a white baseball cap. Her left eye was half gummed up.

“You got a light?”
“Yes, somewhere, here you go.”

A few steps on. Tapping on my arm.

“I’m not a beggar. But…”
“No, sorry.”
“… I’ve got 50p, and…”
“… I only need…”
“Oh, Jesus Christ, you people make me fucking sick.”

Sure, it’s not the most amazing dialogue in the world – but it strikes a chord in a way an essay on the borough’s drug, violence and poverty problems almost certainly wouldn’t.

Copywriters are good at dialogue

I don’t think I’m the only copywriter out there who likes writing dialogue.

Dozens of copywriters write novels and short stories in their spare time – and I’ll bet there’s not one without plenty of dialogue.


Why not use more dialogue in professional copywriting?

The more I think about it, the more opportunities I can see for using dialogue in marketing copy.

I posted about the phenomenon of Ulysses contracts a couple of days ago – they’re pacts we make with ourselves to keep our warring impulses under control.

We make them because of a kind of internal dialogue:

“Mmmm. Chocolate.”
“Put that chocolate down and walk backwards with your hands in the air.”
“Oh, c’mon. I’m only going to have a nibble.”
“Oh no you’re not you fat scumbag. You’re on a diet.”
“Says who?”
“Says me”
“But I am you?”
“You are?”
“Does that mean you’re me?”
“I don’t know. My head hurts. Shall we have some cake?”
“Mmm. Chocolate.”

Okay – that contract failed before it was agreed, but you get the idea. Why not use dialogue to reflect consumers’ own internal conversations?

But while I can see that dialogue can be used in lots of marketing copy, would it actually work? Would it sell anything?

Does dialogue sell?

I suppose the answer to this is ‘test, test, test’. Use dialogue in your copy and see whether it increases sales. If it does, test it against copy that doesn’t use dialogue.

I’ve a vague memory David Ogilvy came a cropper with some dialogue he used in a series of adverts. It was inspired by the Pickwick Papers, and it was a total failure.

But I suspect that’s because people find Dickens boring – not because they don’t respond to dialogue.

Do you agree?