5 Ways To Build A Killer Swipe File Of Winning Ads

In my last blog post,  I talked about what you need to do to really get good as a copywriter. And one of those tips was that you need to read one good ad per day.

I had a lot of people ask me…

“But Kevin, where do I find good ads?”

Well, good news. I’m going to answer that in this post.

1) Go to Google Adwords And “Stalk” Other Businesses.

This is killer. Basically what you do is go to Google and enter some key search terms related to the market you’re going after. So, for example, if you’re going after the fitness market, you’ll enter search terms like “How to lose weight” and Weight loss tips”.

You then enter them into Google and check out the ads on the side of the page. Chance are, over 2-3 weeks, if you see the same ads, then they’re probably making enough money to earn a profit.

Then you more than likely have a “control” on your hands. A control is basically a marketing piece that has been determined to get the highest response for the business.

2) Buy Other Products In Your Marketplace.

This is probably the best way to get an idea of “what’s working now” in a market. Just buy their product and wait and see what mail they send you.

Like the Adwords example above, if you see the same online sales page or mailing over and over again, then, chances are, you have a control in your hands.

Some good companies you should buy from include Agora, Rodale, and Boardroom. These companies spend millions of dollars per year testing direct mail and trying to beat other copywriter’s controls. Even if you’re not in their respective markets, you still need to be on their mailing lists.

3) Buy A “Swipe file” Of Winning Ads.

There are many places you can get past winning ads you can study. Some good places include GKIC.com and even Amazon.com. A good book to get is Million Dollar Mailings by Denny Hatch.

You can also purchase sales letter templates as well.   Here’s a book I just wrote that give away my 11-point sales letter template: Effortless Sales Letters.

4) Hit The Library.

Another strategy you can use is to go to your local library and look up the past 6-12 months of periodicals in your favorite niche. Go back and study them, and, if you see the same ad over and over again, then it’s more than likely a control.

For example, if you’re in the business opportunity niche, you’ll want to subscribe to Small Business Opportunity magazine. What are the big magazine or trade journals in your marketplace?

5) Subscribe To Newsletters.

Many companies will advertise in their print newsletters—both free and paid. This is a good place to look for ads you can “steal” and put in your swipe file.


I want to finish up this list with two very important points:

Critical Point 1:  Do not ignore marketing that’s not in your specific industry.

One of the biggest mistakes most people make is sticking with what everybody else is doing in their market. Frequently, some of the best ideas for copy come from what other industries are doing.

You’ll get a huge heads-up on your competition when you start collecting ads that are outside on your industry. I have a file cabinet full of ads from health and investing—niches I don’t plan on entering or writing for any time soon.

Critical Point 2:  Don’t discount non-controls.

These are marketing pieces that you only see once. You can still glean a lot of ideas from them.

I still collect ads that aren’t controls, but have a special section in my filing cabinet for ads that could be controls because they appeared over and over again.

Ads that only appear once don’t necessarily mean they “sucked” or didn’t make money for the prospect. Perhaps one ad only got a 6.2% response and didn’t beat the control that got a 6.3% response. The ad that lost is still a pretty darn good ad—and worth studying.

The only place I would ignore this point is with online advertising. Due to the ability to get traffic at the snap of a finger, it’s possible to test ads in a matter of days—or hours.

So I would wait and see if you see the same ad over the span of a couple weeks before adding it to your collection to make sure you have a winner.

Follow these steps, and you’ll have to go to Office Depot to get a new filing cabinet and it could sever your relationship with your mailman due to all the mail you’re getting.

But you’re getting an invaluable marketing education that’ll make the copy you write zero into your target market and motivate them to buy your product/service.

Secrets To Becoming A Darn Good Copywriter

I’ll occasionally get an email from a subscriber or customer asking how to get started in copywriting and how to get good fast. Of course, I’ll reply because I want to help people out, but I thought it was time to put everything in a blog post I can just refer to people who ask.

So here it is.

1) Read All The Classic Copywriting Books

Notice that I didn’t say “one or two” copywriting books. I said ALL of them. While there is a lot of information that will repeat when it comes to persuasion and sales, you’ll learn different tidbits here and there that’ll boost your ability to write copy like a pro.

I would read these in this order:

  • Scientific Advertising/My Life in Advertising – Claude Hopkins
  • Tested Advertising Methods – John Caples
  • Breakthrough Advertising – Eugene Schwartz
  • Ogilvy on Advertising – David Ogilvy
  • The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
  • Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion – Robert Cialdini

When I discovered copywriting in 2005, I went to amazon.com and bought all these books in one fell swoop. It only cost me about $100 bucks—money I barely had as a poor graduate student. But those books literally changed my life as they launched me into the world of freelance copywriting.

Now you may be thinking to yourself, “Hey Kevin, that’s a lot of reading!” Listen, if you want to really get good at this, you need to put in the necessary hours and time to learn the basics. If you read one of these books per week (that’s about 1-2 hours a day), you’ll get through this list in about a month.

So turn off the boob tube and start reading, bucko.

2) Read One Good Ad Per Day

This is something I started doing 8 years ago and never looked back. Of course, sometimes I miss a day, but I have pretty much stuck with this for the past several years.

You’ll pick up something in every ad you read that’ll stick in your subconscious and, when it comes time to write copy, you’ll be able to “pull it out” at the right time. I don’t know how many times I’ve been in the middle of writing an ad and, all of a sudden, I’ll get ideas drawn from an ad I read 2-3 years ago.

Your ability to sell your prospect when it comes to either selling your own product/service or other people’s products as a freelancer improves when you have as many “inputs” as possible…

…and this only comes when you read a LOT of ads.

But you have to make sure the ads you read are REALLY good. You’ll want to read from proven winners (or controls) that have actually made money. Not every campaign is going to work, and you don’t want to learn from someone else’s “dud” ad.

So you’ll want to start collecting winning ads from magazines, newspapers, and books. Regarding magazines, in general, if you see the same ad over and over again, then, chances are, they’re probably making money for the prospect. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be spending money on ads in the first place.

3) Handwrite Good Ads

This is a very painful exercise. Not only is it tedious, but you’ll find yourself suffering from writer’s cramp—as I did. But, rest assured, this one exercise could allow you to get good fast in no time.

This requires handwriting good ads. That’s right, with pencil and paper. This works because, via writing, you basically ingrain the way the copywriter uses his/her words, phrases their sentences, and slips in psychological triggers and techniques that motivates their prospect to take action right now.

This must be done with pencil and paper—not on a computer. I still do this once per week—usually on weekends. Consider this to be “weight training” for your copywriting skills. Sure, it’s not pleasant and you’ll get tired and exhausted, but you’ll come back stronger and better afterwards.

4) Just Write!

I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe once you start writing, you’ll start to get momentum and ideas will start coming to you.

Here’s what I do when I sit down to write copy and I don’t “feel like it” or have a block regarding what to write.

I set a timer for 10 minutes. I then sit down and start writing. When the 10 minutes is up, I then ask myself, “Do I feel like continuing, have the energy, etc. to keep writing?”

For me, there are optimum times during the day that I write. I am a morning person. But, invariably, when I start his 10 minute process, I feel like I have enough momentum to keep going.

Sometimes you just need to get the ball rolling, and the ideas will just come to you. However, it does help to have a framework from which to operate.

For example, I have ingrained 11 steps into my head regarding how to write a sales letter. This is something I’ve been doing for years, and it helps me organize my thoughts while I’m writing.
I also have templates/formulas for writing postcards, emails, newsletters…you name it.

Don’t Skimp On This Stuff!

Finally, this is something you cannot do just once and be done with it. These are habits you need to ingrain into yourself if you want to get good at writing copy.

I attended a seminar a month ago and Greg Renker, co-founder of infomercial giant Guthy-Renker, said he reads all of Joe Sugarman’s books every summer. I mean, the guy probably makes million dollars per year and could retire if he wanted to, but he’s still reading and learning.

Heck, I believe you need to get good at writing copy even if you don’t write copy yourself. That’s because you’ll be able to sell your product/service better. Because copywriting is basically a person-to-person sales pitch transferred to paper or video.

Do these 4 steps and you’ll get good in no time. Going through an organized course or having a mentor can accelerate your learning as well.

So what would you rather do—spend time improving your ability to sell your product/service and learn the most valuable skill in the world, or waste 2 hours playing Candy Crush or watching Jersey Shore?

The choice is yours.