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  • Writer's pictureKevin Lim

Copywriting breakdown: Why are “scammy” ads so damn effective?

Updated: Jul 7, 2021

Freelance Copywriter Singapore - Why are scammy ads so effective

Once upon a time, I used to complain about having my internet littered with ads for Ukrainian brides, supplement pills and obscure Chinese mobile games.

Before you ask – no, none of these interest me. (At least, not until I get more fluent at speaking Ukraninan.)

Then came targeted advertising.

As a freelance copywriter and entrepreneur who spends a considerable amount of time and money on online courses, I’ve now become a prime target for all sorts of advertisements, especially those of the “make money on the internet” variety.

Sometimes, ads I actually like would pop up. Like this:

Singapore Freelance Copywriter - Burger King Ad

About 90% of the time though, I’d be fed with scammy ads, like this:

Or this:

Heck, sometimes these scammy ads even compete with each other:

No kidding, this kid’s photo actually showed up twice on the same page. Apparently he isn’t sure about how much money he makes each day.

The funny thing about these “ridiculous ads”, is not only how bad they look and sound – but also how blatantly “copy and paste” they are. It’s obvious no skilful copywriting (or Adobe Illustrator-ing) was involved.

But yet, month after month, year after year… these ads kept coming. They looked and sounded exactly the same, with only the destination URL swopped out.

I asked myself some deeply thought-provoking questions,

“Haven’t they learnt their lesson?”

“Don’t they realise how obviously scammy they sound?”

“Hasn’t the lack of conversations proved how bad these ads are?”

Then it hit me.

The reason why these “copy and paste” ads keep appearing… is because they DO work.

So I Decided To Write A Blog Article About It.

While it’s definitely not my intent for anyone to use these “cheap” tactics on their own ads (which I’m convinced WILL work, with a very select audience), as copywriters and marketers, these ads are certainly worth studying, reverse engineering and reconstructing.

How To Write Highly Effective, Scammy Advertising Copy That Converts

First, let’s analyse a typical scammy ad.

Note: I’m not claiming that this particular advertisement is a scam (didn’t click on it so I won’t comment). Just using this as an example as it contains lots of interesting details that we can learn from.

The Headline

Headline: “How my 9 year old daughter built a $6,000 per month eCommerce Business in 29 days”

What’s happening: This headline combined 3 top notch scammy ad traits into one headline (a pretty impressive feat), namely:

  1. A promise of big money Now, I understand that the term “big money” is relative. But hear me out. This is where it’s important to understand “scammy ad guy’s” target market. And I can assure you, it’s not a C-level executive who earns $6,000 a week. It’s someone who probably earns a lot less than $6,000 a month, and would instantly be attracted to that number. (Especially if earning this $6,000 was easy, which bring us to the next point.)

  2. A fantastic(ally short) timeline to getting that money 29 days! Think about the target market this advertisement is geared toward – most likely, folks who earn well below $6,000 a month and who don’t really believe in the value of dedication, playing the long game or hard work. Because earning $6,000 a month isn’t an unreachable goal for most people (at some point in their lives, even if it’s many years ahead in their future), it’s important that the scammy ad points out that no, you won’t have to “work hard for the next 5 years, get a multiple raises and then earn $6,000” – you can get $6,000 a month NOW. Or at most, in 29 days.

  3. Make it sound stupidly easy to do Is there a reason why the headline specifically states that a 9-year-old girl built this amazing money-making business? You bet it is! Translated, this tells the ad’s target audience (whom we’ve already ascertained as “not too ambitious or hardworking, but would love to have more money rolling into their bank account without requiring too much effort”) that yes, if a 9-year-old girl can do it – YOU CAN DO IT TOO! Additional notes: => In other ads, you’ll see the “9-year-old girl” replaced with a “65-year-old grandma”, or some other individual that should not typically be expected to have much business or IT expertise. => Also, you’ll usually see little girls and old ladies used instead of boys and grandfathers – likely due to social norms – boys are expected to be good at computers, the same way old men supposed to have a better head for business than old ladies. It doesn’t matter whether or not these social “norms” are true, what’s important is that these first impressions stick in readers’ minders as they see these ads.

  4. Provide numbers (so it feels “real”) The amazing thing about numbers, is how “official” they make any message feel. Let’s compare these two headlines: Headline 1 “How my 9 year old daughter built a $6,000 per month eCommerce business in 29 days” Headline 2 “How my daughter makes a lot of money from her eCommerce business that she built in under a month” It’s astounding how much difference numbers can make, isn’t it? In this case, the effect is profound because we’ve removed 3 numbers from a single headline:

  • 9-year-old

  • $6,000

  • 29 days

Numbers make a difference in more than just headlines, their effect can be felt everywhere.

For example, testimonials that include figures can sound really authoritative.

“Kevin’s copywriting skills increased my leads by 500%. In the last 30 days, I’ve made an additional $25,000 in profits thanks to him!”

(By the way, in case you’re wondering why the testimonials featured on my don’t contain these mind-blowing figures and statements, despite me telling you how awesome they are at conveying expertise and authority – it’s because my featured testimonials are real. (100% genuine, 0% sexy. #StoryOfMyLife)

The Body Copy

Body copy: “Watch how we attract an UNSTOPPABLE flow of the PERFECT customers into her store every single day.”

This impressively scammy ad is only let down by really poor body copy. This is where scammy ads usually nail home their points and seal the deal – getting their hungry target audience to click for more information, enter their email address, register for a free seminar/webinar, or more.

Instead, the body copy in this ad limps along, focusing on the “wrong thing”.

What they did: The advertiser focused on telling readers how (inferred: with their system), the reader can start up their own ecommerce-based business too, with an unstoppable flow of “perfect” customers (i.e. this just means “paying customers”), every single day.

Now, if you were talking to an existing, struggling ecommerce business owner and promised all those things, you’d see heaps of excitement. Any struggling online store owner would love to get a lot more customers into their shop every day.

Where they went wrong: Remember this ad’s target audience? It isn’t online store owners. It’s “the person who wants to make lots of money without working or thinking too hard”. So really, what does this target person really want?

To make lots of money.

That’s it.

Let’s take a look at the body copy again.

“…attract an unstoppable flow of the perfect customer into her store every single day”.

Not a single word of that copy talked to any of the target audience’s wants or needs.

Did the advertiser lose a good portion of the interest they had initially build up after readers read past the headline? You bet.

An oversight like this loses advertisers clicks, emails and potential revenue.

Since this is a scammy ad though, let’s laugh it off and move on to cover a few points that other similar ads usually do with their body copy.

What’s Missing In This Ad (That’s Usually Present In Other Scammy Ads)

​Offer a “copy and paste” strategy

Also known as:

  • “Watch me as I [set up my store/system/money making machine right in front of you!]”

  • “Take a peek over my shoulder as I [show you the secret steps/teach you these inner circle strategies no one else knows!]”

  • “Use my step-by-step formula”

  • Or just blatantly, “Copy and paste, using our templates”

Scammy ads appeal to their target audience’s distain for hard work, creative thinking, studying and taking chances (on something that might not work), by offering a solution that’s so simple, you have a 100% chance of success!

Note: This ad does try to do this with a “Watch how we….” in its body copy, but it’s so badly done, it’s absolutely ineffective for conveying the “this is absolutely fool proof” message it wants to send to readers.

Bonus: Make it extra mega ultra impossible to fail by saying “We’ll do it for you.”

This is listed as a bonus because out of all the “must-have” points, this is the only one that not every scammy ad has.

To capture the even lazier, even less confident members of their target audience, some scammy advertisers go a step further and promise the most sure-fire path to success possible – they’ll build your business for you!

Such promised support can be anything from “business coaches” who will help you implement every step of their already simple “copy and paste system”, to entire IT and marketing teams will not only build your website for you – but take your leads and close your sales for you!

(Meanwhile, you’ll get 100% of the profits they made for you – how could any sane human being say no to that?)

There you have it. A simple, 6-step copywriting formula for crafting the perfect scammy ad headline and body copy.

Now take this evil knowledge, learn from it and please… use it to create amazing, killer advertisements that convert. (Without resorting to scammy tactics.)

Good luck!

p.s. If you’ve got awesome points to add, feel free to add your voice and expertise in the comments.



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