How I Became the Don Draper of Personal Checks

don draper copywritingOkay…so the truth is I’m more like the Peggy Olson of personal checks. But that title just didn’t have the same kind of ring to it.

Don Draper, the main character in AMC’s hit show Mad Men, is an adman in the 1960s with a shady past.

He’s also become a pop-culture icon for people in advertising and marketing, because he can come up with a powerfully persuasive pitch for any product.

Now I don’t have same darkly disturbing back-story as Draper. And I don’t have my own office with a couch, an attractive secretary or a fully stocked bar. I sit in a cubicle with a coffee mug and dirty Tupperware containers, which I keep forgetting to bring home.

However, I used some of the same copywriting strategies you see implemented by the fictional advertising aces of Sterling Cooper Draper Price. I used them to help sell a typically boring product that people are using less and less these days.

Sales revenue on my employer’s website increased at least 50% each year after I started writing copy.

This is how it happened…

From Newsman to Adman

It was the spring of 2010, and I was working as a part-time entertainment reporter at a local newspaper after spending more than a year on unemployment. My previous employer shut down because of the tanking economy, leaving me jobless at one of the worst times in recent history.

Before that I was a local TV news producer. I’d really been hoping to  switch careers and jump over from journalism to the marketing world. For whatever reason I wasn’t able to break in.

Then my chance finally came with a shot at a copywriting gig with a printing company.

This time, instead of simply writing another cover letter and trying to explain how my experience in news would translate to marketing, I had the chance to actually show what I could do.

The exercise given to me involved writing a product description for a set of a competitor’s checks dubbed “Winter Refreshment,” featuring photography of things like hot chocolate and apple cider.

Here’s my very first piece of copy that got me the job:

“It’s funny how our fondest winter memories are full of warmth.

Sitting by the fireplace with a steamy cup of apple cider. Coming in from a snowball fight to a mug of hot cocoa topped with whipped cream. Enjoying some holiday cheer with close companions.

These are the moments we cherish.

Sometimes the seasonal distractions make it difficult to slow down and enjoy those special times.

Clearing the driveway after another snow storm. The hustle and bustle of holiday shopping. Stressing out over your taxes. Winter also brings its share of challenges.

That’s why we  want to remind you of what’s really important.

Our Winter Refreshment Personal Checks feature four beautiful designs displaying the delicious drinks we share with friends and family this time of year.

Every time you take out your checkbook, you’ll remember those warm memories.”

Not exactly award-winning.

I didn’t even include a call to action. At the time, I didn’t even know what that was!

But I had managed to hit on something important. It’s the same thing that Don Draper focuses on in his ad campaigns – Human Desire and Emotion.

3,000 Product Descriptions Later…

At first, I had no idea that writing personal check product descriptions would be my main responsibility. I would quickly find out that the plan was to create hundreds and hundreds of designs in attempt to have the largest personal check offering online.

For SEO purposes – original product descriptions were needed for every single one.

Not only that – but the same designs would also be used to create other products like address labels and side-tear checks.

I couldn’t write about the features and benefits of personal checks and labels in every product description. I couldn’t focus on price, because we weren’t the cheapest in the industry at all. Instead I would need to write about the designs themselves – over and over again.

Simply describing the designs probably would have helped us rank for specific keywords. But that’s not enough to really sell them to customers. They can obviously see what’s pictured on the checks themselves.

Checks are basically a commodity. You buy them when you need them, when you’re down to the last few in the checkbook. They are not an impulse buy. It’s usually not fun to shop for new checks. It’s more of a chore.

What I had to write about was the way people connected to the designs.

Who would want to buy these checks? Why would they want to buy these checks?

We weren’t selling checks or designs. We were selling the idea behind them.

What Would Don Draper Do?

For an excellent breakdown of Don Draper’s genius, I suggest you check out Sean Platt’s article on Copyblogger, What Don Draper Knows That You Don”t About Persausion and Success.  One Draper quotation Platt used really sums it all up.

“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness…”

There are many different ways to access the emotional part of a potential customer’s imagination and show them how something as basic as personal checks is connected to their happiness.

Here are several of the methods I use most often:

The Love Connection

Everyone wants to be loved. But what do personal checks have to do with that?

Using storytelling, I was able to take many check designs and relate them to things like romance and family.

A check design of flowers could illustrate the story of how a young woman got engaged. A style displaying autumn leaves could lend itself to a story of a mother watching her four-year-old’s fascination with the changing seasons.

“Walking through the park with my young daughter, I noticed her watching the changing leaves drift to the ground.

She knelt down and started examining each leaf individually.

Finding her favorite colors and shapes, she stuffed them in her pockets to take home.

I wished she could always look at the world with such a sense of wonder. But I knew there would be a time when simple things would no longer have the same magic about them.”

That copy connects with a parent’s love for a child and the longing to have her stay a child forever.

Relationships are an extremely important part of what makes us feel like we have happy and fulfilled lives. If your copywriting (and thus your product or service) can make that connection, people will have to have it.

The Inner Child

That description for checks with autumn leaves also touches on another emotional trigger – our desire for the freedom and happiness of childhood.

People want to feel young again. We still want to play. We still want to get up and watch cartoons and eat sugary cereal on Saturday morning.

Remind people of how it felt to be a care-free kid – like this description for Paint Splatter Checks.

paint splatter checks“Can you really tell the difference between most abstract art and kindergarten creations?

Think back if you can – back to the days when school was full of fun and experimentation. Your teacher brought out the finger paints so that you and your friends could let loose with a crazy collage of color.

Wet splatters of red and yellow, sloppy splashes of purple and green – some of it landed on your paper, some of it landed on the table, and some of it inevitably ended up on you and your classmates.

What you brought home that day was certainly a work of art to you and your family. But I’m willing to bet that your originality could have made Andy Warhol jealous, and even Vincent Van Gogh would’ve been impressed with your raw five year-old talent!”


What are “the good old days” anyway?

It can mean different things to different people. Yet we all have a connection with the material possessions, popular culture and way of life that made up our past.

Most of us would jump at the chance to relive the happy parts – because we feel like back then things were better.

From your old baseball card collection, to the homemade quilt your grandmother gave you. Things are connected to memories. Memories are connected to happiness.

quilt checks“A good quilt is like a trusted friend who’s always there to console you.

Maybe it’s because quilts can give new life to our favorite flannel shirts.

Maybe it’s because Grandma made one just for you. Maybe it’s because there’s a story behind every quilt ever made.

Whatever the reason, quilts have a human touch that keep you warmer than any store-bought bedspread, or boring blankets with sleeves advertised on TV. It’s just a backwards bathrobe by the way!”

Peace of Mind and Escape

One of the most common types of personal check design features scenic views of the outdoors.

It’s the same kind of stuff you see on calendars, desktop wallpapers and featured in the art we hang on our walls.

In this modern age, we yearn for a connection with nature. There’s something about it that brings solitude in a world where we too many of us spend most of the day staring at a screen.

We want to get away from all that. This is why we take vacations in the mountains and go to the beach and camp in the woods. We want to forget about the stress of everyday life.

mountain checks“Do you ever sit in front of the computer screen in your cubicle without touching the mouse just so you can watch your mountain screensaver?

Do you long to trade in the four walls surrounding you in your office for magnificent peaks that almost touch the clouds?

Using Snowcapped Mountain Personal Checks isn’t quite the same as really being there. But they will make it a little easier to hear nature’s beckoning call.”

Some of our best-selling check designs are in a category we dubbed Country Living. The photos and illustrations portray a simpler way of life away from the hustle-and-bustle of the city. That’s nostalgia and peace of mind rolled into one.

Individualism and Belonging

The idea behind creating so many different choices in personal checks was that we wanted to have something for everyone.

We wanted selections that are a reflection of a customer’s personality. Everyone is an original, and we all have a desire to show the rest of the world just how unique we are. People have a longing to express themselves in any way possible.

So why not with their personal checks?

At the same time – we also define ourselves by what “groups” we belong to.

You might be a hard-core hockey fan or a firefighter who is proud of the service he provides his community. You may be a Christian or a Buddhist, an athlete or an artist, a musician or a chef. Sometimes humans like to be labeled – as long as they agree with the labeling.

Here’s the rest of that Don Draper quotation on happiness:

“…And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.”

If it’s been said once -it’s been said one million times…

Don’t make your copywriting about your product. Make your copywriting about your prospects: their desires, their loved ones, their passions, their lives.

That’s the ultimate secret to Don Draper’s success and it’s what helped me go from news-writer to copywriter.

Kasey Steinbrinck is a co-founder of Copyjuice specializing in copywriting and content marketing. Contact him for a little help making your copy more effective.

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