You can’t start a fire without a spark: 4 ways Springsteen teaches you to write better copy

Bruce Springsteen selfie

As I write this, I’ve just finished reading Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, Born to Run.

He packs his book with so much detail and colour that it puts you right in the moment.

And I just couldn’t put it down.

It’s clear that Springsteen’s talent with words goes beyond just his songwriting.

A review of his book from the Independent says that Springsteen “pulls us into his life with the panache of a thriller writer”. Yet any writer can learn a few things from him.

So if you want to be a better copywriter (or any kind of writer), here are just a few leaves to take from the Boss’s book…

Harness the power of storytelling

Everyone loves a good story.

Stories draw us into the pictures they paint. They make us feel like we’re there watching the events unfold right before our eyes. Check out some of the lyrics to the song ‘Born to Run’

 

In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway nine,
Chrome wheeled, fuel injected, and steppin’ out over the line
H-Oh, Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we’re young
`Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run

 

You will find compelling imagery like the above throughout Springsteen’s back catalogue. His lyrics are also full of promise, hope, and empathy.

As revered copywriter, Joseph Sugarman, says in his book, The Adweek Copywriting Handbook, stories help create “an emotional relationship… that keeps the prospect riveted and listening”.

This in turn engages your audience and keeps them listening to what you have to say.

Springsteen is no salesman. Yet his stories certainly helped him shift a few million copies of his albums over the years.

The point is that, in copywriting terms, a story can build your customer’s desire to buy whatever you have to offer.  

Know your audience

People relate to Bruce Springsteen. He’s a working class guy from New Jersey who followed his dreams and became a star. He embodies the ‘American Dream’ in many ways.

For this reason people see him as authentic.

And he puts the people he grew up around in his small hometown at the centre of his stories. This is why many see him as “the Voice of Blue-Collar America”.

Going back to the previous point about the power of storytelling, Springsteen also knows that every good story has a hero.

From his confessions of love for the ‘Queen of the Supermarket’, to the story of the titular character in ‘Local Hero’, it’s clear that heroes play a huge role in his writing.

He may be rich and famous. Yet Springsteen maintains a keen insight into the hopes, dreams, and desires of his blue collar audience.

He knows what keeps them awake in the middle of the night.

And with that he knows how to write lyrics that resonate with them.

All good writers know how to tug on the reader’s heart strings. But this is an especially vital skill for any good copywriter.

Because without knowing what your customers want, you’ll be unable to persuade them to buy your product or service.

Use the present tense and the active voice

As I say earlier in this post, one of the great things about Springsteen’s autobiography is the way he adapts his familiar songwriting voice to prose on the page:  

 

When it rains, the moisture in the humid air blankets our town with the smell of damp coffee grounds wafting in […] I don’t like coffee but I like that smell.

 

Born to Run

The cover of the Born to Run autobiography
Credit: Bruce Springsteen

The use of the present tense and active voice play huge roles in putting the reader right in the moment.

You may never have been to Freehold, New Jersey. But when reading these words, you can see – and smell – it very clearly in your mind’s eye.

Both the active voice and the present tense make Springsteen’s word pictures more immediate. They help breathe life into the words on the page.

Every copywriter worth their salt knows these techniques. When describing the outcome of a future purchase in the present tense, you allow the reader to see it clearly for him or herself.

Adopt a ‘Human Touch’

Human Touch isn’t just the title of one of Springsteen’s lesser songs or albums. It also echoes the way Springsteen treats his fans as people, not as units, or things to exploit.

He always interacts with fans at his mammoth shows. He brings them on stage to dance with him. He poses for mid-concert selfies with them.

In everything Springsteen does, he shows deep respect and love for the people who buy his records or attend his concerts. In the age of social media, this type of customer engagement is vital to your marketing efforts.

A great way to engage with your audience is to adopt a conversational tone in your copywriting.

Writing with personality gives your business or brand a human voice and helps your readers to trust you more.  

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  1. […] all good copywriters, Trump and the Leavers know the power of storytelling. As another copywriter, Andy Maslen, points out in his book, Persuasive Copywriting, there are four […]

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