Are You Writing Irresistible Lies?

Stephen Marsh

What For Creative Ltd

I always think it’s interesting to look at how copywriters strike a balance between honesty and deceit.

Fragonard - The Swing. Do lies get any more irresistible?

On the one hand, good copy is honest, frank, and upfront. That doesn’t change. But, as copywriters, we’re routinely called upon to lie. How many times do you use ‘I’ or ‘We’ in copy, but really you’re speaking as the client? How often do you take on a different personality to get the right voice for a certain piece?

Part of our job is pretending to be somebody we’re not. But that’s okay.

Telling A Seductive Lie

The techniques that we use as copywriters are the same techniques that people use in their personal lives all the time. The way that we communicate with customers draws on the same social skill that we use to communicate with our family, friends, lovers.

When I first started out as a copywriter, I knew a girl called Lucy. She was a great friend and somebody I could always turn to, just a phone call away when I was overjoyed, heartbroken or just bored.

One day, the roles were reversed – she turned to me for support. That was unexpected.

She was inconsolable. I’d never heard anything like it. You see, Lucy was in love. His name was Alex and he was kind, and thoughtful, and honest.

Or so she thought.

In fact, he had been lying to her for all thirteen-and-a-half months of their relationship. He had lied about almost everything – his education, his high-flying job, his first girlfriend. He had even gone so far as to tell her these stories about a younger brother that, it later transpires, didn’t even exist.

As you can imagine, Lucy was devastated. Being terrible at dealing with situations like this, I went with my gut. I set about telling her that he was worthless, that the way he had acted was reprehensible, and that she was better off without him.

Lucy didn’t agree. She told me something that I’ll always remember – “I loved those lies more than anything.”

And, with some reluctance, I must admit that Alex was very good at what he did. He created a world that was rich with detail and incredibly enticing.

He had told a story from a fictional perspective, because that was the most attractive thing that he could do.

Lying Isn’t Always Bad For Copy

I think we can learn two different things from Lucy’s story.

First, it tells us that lies can be irresistibly attractive, as they were to her. With the freedom to make the quotes in your press release neater, or the copy on the blog post a more elegant version of events, it becomes easier to keep hold of readers from the first line to the last.

It also tells us that there are good times and bad times to lie! Although no customer is going to be upset if they find out the decision-making process detailed in a case-study is streamlined, it might be problematic to lie about the specifics of a product or service. Like Lucy, customers want to be absolutely sure of what they are getting!

Oh, and finally, it proves the seductiveness of lies, and the incredible way that fiction can be used to emphasise a point, or show it in a more memorable way.

Because – as I’m sure you’ve gathered – I’ve never known anybody called Lucy.


13th July 2012

Copywriting With Lies | Stephen Marsh Copywriter Blog

[…] recently published a blog post about lying in copywriting at the Pro Copywriters Network. Head over and read it for more on this […]

18th July 2012

Jackie Barrie

LOL. Love your last line.

On the other hand, I was tasked with editing a semi-biographical novel for a client. I changed some things to make the story flow better for the reader. He refused to accept the changes because “that’s not what really happened”. Sigh.

19th July 2012

Stephen Marsh

Hi Jackie

Thanks for your comment.

The point stands even more if we’re talking about fiction, or at least a medium where you are expected to dramatise!

Nothing worse than novels or movies where they haven’t taken a few liberties with the truth. It just doesn’t make for drama.

When it comes to fiction, even based on truth, I believe that simply stating the facts doesn’t do any story justice!

24th March 2015

Bryan Winchell

Nice blog post, Stephen.

I used to write in journalism and studied a bit of PR in college, but now just write fiction because well, it’s fun to lie…or is it, in the case of writng fiction, not a lie but a made-up world? Yet I love to bury truths about life in the middle of all these lies.

Anyway, I found this because I had this thought, “Is all copy writing a lie” and typed that into my search field and found this post. I am sure it’s A LOT more complicated to call what copy writers write as Either Truth Or Lies…because, well, because most of reality is more than either/or.

That said, I would imagine that copy writers with integrity struggle with this issue, especially if a client is offering you big bucks or great perks to write what they want. So I am interested in this dilema and am looking for more insight into that if anybody cares to share, or has read articles about it on line!

Anyway, appreciate you sharing this Stephen. I think you are a good writer and probably a great copy writer!

23rd February 2024

Why Microsoft’s Copywriters Need To Be Better Liars | Stephen Marsh Copywriter

[…] Of course, empathy isn’t always real. It’s slight of hand, a trick we use to make copy connect with people. In short, it’s one of the irresistible lies we tell. […]

23rd February 2024

Copywriting With Lies | Stephen Marsh Copywriter

[…] recently published a blog post about lying in copywriting at the Pro Copywriters Network. Head over and read it for more on this […]

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