What House Can Teach You About Writing Well


Most of the time, people assume one of two things about copywriters. Either we work four hours a week and lounge around in our PJ’s or we’re workaholics who have no free time to watch TV. Actually, we’re neither – we’ve probably got a very strong work ethic, but I take time out to watch my favourite shows – one of which being House.

House and Copywriting?

What can House teach you about copywriting? Being curmudgeonly can get you what you want? Antisocial is good? Perhaps it can teach you that cheating is good?

Actually, none of these. I’m not talking about the character House – I’m talking about the structure of the program.

With the exception of a very few episodes, House is a standalone mini story, with a larger overall story-arc. The premise set out at the beginning of the show is solved and the story progresses.
So what’s that got to do with copywriting and content?
Any copywriter worth their salt will tell you two things about content – there’s always an overall message (story arc) and that the premise laid out at the beginning of the article is solved.

Your Client’s Overall Message

Finding the overall message of content can be difficult – especially if your client doesn’t have a vision or mission statement to share with you. It’s important of course to ensure that if they don’t provide one, you consider using one that’s ‘stock’ – the expertise story arc, the knowledge is power story arc, or the quality story arc (or a blend of the three).

The expertise story arc – this ‘story arc’ for clients emphasises not the product the client is talking about, but the client themselves – it’s a subtle shift in focus, but if it’s a review site – though the body of the content is the review, it is the client opinion that is emphasised. Expertise story arcs are characterised the most by one clear view and opinion.

Knowledge is power story arc – the knowledge story arc is focussed on being the premier source of information. Articles are focussed around making sure the site is seen as the brand leader, not the client. A blend of knowledge/expertise is also common here.

Quality story arc – these story arcs are most often employed for a product or service – and can be backed most commonly by the expertise story arc. Quality is emphasised, and runs as a subject throughout all of the content. It’s pride in the brand rather than the brand itself that leads the site content. And it only really works when looking at sites that sell a lot. Blogs for these sites can be quality or expertise based – sharing knowledge might undermine the company’s position, but alternatively can support the understanding of sales, so it’s pretty much discretionary.

Solving the Premise

House always solves the puzzle laid out in front of him – and it can be argued that copywriters in specific circumstances can use the same methods. The two primary methods are trial and error (split testing) and solving the promise at the start of each article.
To do both, you need to look at where the content will be – for example, it’s very common to ‘split test’ sales pages, but you can’t do it as easily with blog content. But the best content could already be tested and filtered, for the client to share, further down the line. And the very best content offers exactly what the article title and intro suggest – even if it’s not what the client first expected (Bonus – make it what the client expects, so they’re not disappointed).

With a little work, you can be an expert diagnostician…sorry, copywriter.

The best copywriters know that good content has a payoff – and keeps an eye on the prize. Working with the best means your company can benefit from that.

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