Don’t Fear Failure-Taking Risks In Copywriting

At a client luncheon, not so long ago, the discussion somehow swayed to what the client’s key learning was with over 20 years of experience. One of them said, “Failures teach you more than successes.” And the other one said, “Take risks.”

Somehow, both the thoughts were strong enough to stick. As I dwelled on them for long, I realised that the two expressions are actually linked. The only reason we avoid taking risks is that we worry we might fail. So, does experience teaches us to do otherwise? Well, probably.

Yet, we choose not to indulge in experiments until almost necessary. I understand the fear. I understand the caution. It’s rather how we are wired. The tendency to avoid risks has been explained in Evolutionary Psychology.

The Evolutionary Psychology Bell Curve

Evolutionary Psychology, sometimes called modern Darwinism, explains human behaviour towards risk-taking exits along a continuum. The theory says that a majority of people avoid taking risks until they are threatened.

Yet, the behaviour is mapped on a bell curve. Because there are two extremes that exist. First, the ones who just love taking risks and the others who just risk anything even on their deathbed.

Bell- Curve Representing Risk Taking Human Behaviour

Nonetheless, most of us prefer to stay in our comfort zone until pushed over the edge. And it is not just limited to copywriting. Parallels reflecting this behaviour are visible in all walks of life. We avoid proposing someone special fearing rejection. We won’t try a new restaurant fearing we won’t like the taste.

In the same way, we are comfortable with churning out similar copies that have sustained our client in the market, without risking something new. All under the fear that if the copy failed, our world will come crashing.

But the truth is that while going with the usual will provide sustenance, experimenting can make your brand or your client’s brand stand out.

Why Taking Risks Is Fruitful

There’s no denying that the fear of failure and rejection exists. And it is natural to be afraid. We fear our brand value, our credibility and all this makes us inclined towards caution. As a result, all creativity, exploration of new ideas and experimentation goes down the drain.

So, for copywriters, caution is more of a foe than a friend. Mind that I am not asking you to intentionally make mistakes. Rather, just step into the “beware” zone and try new approaches.


A risk-free copy will inform but not persuade. The risks you take make your copy unique. Exemplify the expressions. It is easier to stick to a template that is known to work. Even your customer will expect the information based on that template. But adding an undertone of persuasion to your copy can surprise them.


You may saunter through your work by sticking to the set-ways initially but soon the creative fanatic inside you will feel bored. If your copy is not able to inspire you, how do you hope to persuade your customers? Experimentation keeps the spark alive in your copy –both for your prospects as well as you.


While you would be busy fearing failure and letting go of that “risky-idea,” someone out there would actually be earning eminence from it. The traditional can never make you stand out. The new will. And your idea remains new as long as no one else comes up with it. So, don’t ponder over caution and experiment. Your copy may take your client’s brand to levels you may not have imagined.


Here are two examples that broke the norms. I chose these examples to show how experiments can be diverse. The idea is to break an existing pattern, an accepted idea. The idea could be an existing societal norm or an existing copywriting. It’s the risk, the change, the new thing that you get on the table that matters.

Dove Real Beauty Campaign

Dove launched its “Real Beauty” campaign in 2004. The main idea behind the campaign was to celebrate the unique beauty of all the women out there. It aimed at driving confidence rather than anxiety through the campaign. A variety of media including TV commercials, magazine spreads, talk shows, and a worldwide conversation via the Internet were used to spread the campaign.

One of the print ads in the campaign. Photos by Melanie Acevedo for Dove.

The campaign experimented with two existing norms. First of all, while top beauty soap brands were busy advertising the ideal spotless beauty, Dove turned the conversation towards accepting yourself the way you are.

Secondly, in a world where brands are busy roping top artists and celebrities to propagate their product, Dove used “real women” to advertise their cause.

And all this was based around one strong copy idea which had two words, “Real Beauty”

So was it a success? Of course, it was.

The campaign video received almost 13 million views from Dove’s YouTube channel alone. During that time, Unilever’s social media tracking had found a 92% positive sentiment globally.

The campaign struck a chord with the diverse population of 80 countries Dove works in. So much so, till date, the brand has stuck to this brand image.

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Are Bad For You Print Ad

Print Ad of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

I think the first look at the copy says it all, doesn’t it? The copywriter at Krispy Kreme Donuts broke the two most common norms that our breed follows. First of all, the headline of the copy said that the product is bad. How many times have you used any sort of negative connotation in your product copy, let alone in the heading?

Secondly, while we burn the midnight oil trying to make our copy as crisp as possible, the copywriter here used the long copy format.  In 1983, Ogilvy wrote, “I doubt if more than one campaign in a hundred contains a big idea.” We may have forgotten this, but this copywriter definitely remembered it.

The idea is to make your copy engaging and intriguing throughout the length of your copy. That’s where your talent as a copywriter counts. It is not in shortening the length of the copy to the minimum.

The Rationale

Even though I am all in for experimentation, one cannot ignore the logic. If you are trying something simply because you like it, or because you are passionate about it, you might want to rethink it.

Even if you are experimenting, there are certain logic checks that you must keep in mind. They are:

Know Your Audience

A copy with a casual tone works great among teenagers and young adults as it is #relatable. But the same tone will put off people seeking business-related product/service. Targeting your copy to the right people will drive smoother action than anything else.

It is a proven fact that 20% of your customer pool is responsible for 80% of your sale. It is also known as The Pareto Principle. Your task is just to clearly demarcate this 20% clearly and focus your copy towards them.

What Is In It For Me?

At the end of the day, the person reading your copy should not end up with the question, “So what should I do?” Be creative but don’t miss out what your customer is getting out of your product or service.

The Example

The customers of Krispy Kreme knew that doughnuts are unhealthy. That is not what they got out of the copy.

The final paragraph of the copy says,

“At Krispy Kreme, we think the key to life, by which we mean eating doughnuts, is balance. Sure, if you eat them morning, noon, and night and they are brought directly to your armchair, then that would be bad. But then if you’ve never felt the pleasure of eating a delicious fluffy original glazed doughnut hot off the line and, heaven forbid, you get struck by lightning, well surely that would be really bad. Really really bad.”

With this, the customer got a logic, an excuse to have doughnuts. A rationale to justify their liking for an unhealthy food item in the times where everyone around them was becoming too health conscious.

The Rule of One

We often get carried away in trying to sell our product/service so much that we want our customers to know all the benefits our product/service provides. Experiment in the way you say stuff, but don’t add everything to one copy. According to Mark Ford’s The Rule of One, focus your copy on only one central idea. Don’t let your copy confuse your customers.

Research To The T

You cannot keep throwing arrows in the dark. You need some guiding light. Even the Dove Real Beauty Campaign was based on The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report. The report revealed that only 2% of the women around the world would describe themselves as beautiful. Dove latched on the idea that women are unsatisfied with their looks due to the existing ideal beauty standards and so would love to demolish those standards.

So, you need a strong “why” behind doing what you are doing and this is where research becomes your backbone.

Don’t Forget To Proofread

You don’t want your awesome idea, your break-through concept and your amazing copy to get rejected simply because it had grammar errors and spelling mistakes. So, don’t get swayed by how cool you copy is and proofread it thoroughly before sending it out.

Better still, ask someone else to do it for you or do it after giving yourself a 10-minute break. Your proofreading will be much more thorough that way.

The Conclusion

If I haven’t said it enough already, don’t be scared to take risks. It is only when you experiment, you try out new things that you realise what really works and what doesn’t.

And in the end, always remember what Robert H. Schuller said,

“Success is never ending, failure is never final.”