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.

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