How to write powerful phrases in your copywriting

By Harry Posted 20 April, 2021

What phrases stay in your mind? Or do you even know how to write these sticky phrases? We all have them and they’re sometimes difficult to get rid of.

Like the chorus to a catchy song, our minds play these clusters of words on repeat like an mp3 player until something else grabs our attention.

In copywriting we call them sound bites, and they’re incredibly powerful. You’ll see them on billboards, homepages, landing pages, in emails, newspapers, magazines and just about in any other form of advertisement.

They’re sharp punchy phrases that prevent your words from fading into the mosaics of the language every other marketer is using.

If you’re a business owner, putting them in your advertising will make you stand out and build bridges for your audience to cross over.

And if you’re a copywriter, well, it’s another arrow in your quiver. Being able to create compelling phrases that emotionally resonate with people is not only part of your job description but is not something that a lot of copywriters can actually do.

This comes as no surprise. Conjuring up a magnetic sound bite is difficult. It requires the flair of creativity and the structure of order to produce something that is both compelling and comprehensible.

Not only will I show you how to craft a sound bite, I’ll also highlight when and how to use it. There isn’t a one size fits all rule here for you to follow. Instead, the rules I give should be seen as malleable parameters for you to bend with experimentation and intuition.

Follow these rules too strictly and you’ll have something that’s rigid. Stray too far from them and your message becomes rudderless. It’s down to your judgement on knowing when to break them, but that’s something you’ll overcome through practice.

Ready?

Alright, let’s get stuck in.

What is a sound bite?

Sound bites communicate the core of your idea in smooth language. In its purest sense, a sound bite is a literary device. Yes, I’m taking you back to school with this one. Remember learning about metaphors, similes, repetition… even anaphora? Probably not, so I’ll refresh your memory.

Literary devices are essentially poetic techniques used to make texts more exciting to read. They put a pulse in your writing that captivates the attention of your readers, pulling them closer to the heart of your message and away from the frivolous fringe.

There’s nothing worse than having an important message ignored because of poor delivery. It is the mark of failure as a copywriter.

Consumers today are in a lion’s den of noisy marketers, each competing for a piece of their memory. If you want your message to be heard above the ear-splitting barrage, it must be conveyed in such a way that will make their heads turn. Literary devices will help you do that.

Now it goes without saying, no amount of marketing will save a poor product. The modern-day consumer is savvy and it won’t take long for them to discover the paper over the cracks. But if you have something of real value to offer to consumers, then you must do it justice by using persuasive language that will compel people to purchase it from you. What you say is not enough but how you say it.

Take for example Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. Why do you think it became one of the most famous of the 20th century? True, the substance of his speech was compelling but it was his delivery that placed an important marker in the history books… all thanks to a nifty device called anaphora.

He used it to perfection and guess what, so can you. Once you understand the psychology behind anaphora, along with other devices, you will recognise the patterns that all profound marketing messages and famous speeches share.

More importantly, you’ll understand how to write your very own sound bite that will build rapport with your audience.

Anaphora

Anaphora is the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of successive sentences, phrases and clauses.

The effect:

✅ Adds rhythm

✅ Adds structure to sentences

✅ Makes a message more memorable

✅ Can appeal to the emotion by holding people’s attention to create a lasting impression

Examples

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family… Choose your future. Choose life. (Trainspotting)

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…’ (Martin Luther King)

Oh! That’s smart! Oh! That’s delicious! Oh! That’s quick! (Samsung)

First to bring broadband internet to your seat. First to give you access to your network in flight. First to let you follow your team at 35,000 feet. All for this one moment. (Lufthansa)

When to use it in your copy

Evoke emotion

We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills …” (Winston Churchill)

Message – We shall never give up.

Emphasise an important idea or concept

“As you know, we’ve got the iPod, the best music player in the world. We’ve got the iPod Nanos, brand new models, colors are back. We’ve got the amazing new iPod Shuffle.” (Steve Jobs)

Message – We have everything

Inject rhythm

See previous examples of anaphora.

Guidelines on how to write anaphora

Use sparingly: Overusing anaphora will kill your message because your copy will become painfully predictable. In fact, I would argue that it will do more harm than good, which is why you should use it sparingly.

Identify the most important message you want to communicate: Before writing your copy, ask yourself this: What message do I really want to hammer home? Once decided, then it’s time to get creative.

Choose a simple word or phrase: Avoid puffery and highfalutin language. Using words and phrases that nobody understands will only create confusion. Keep it simple and let the rhetorical device do all of the hard work.

Repeat 3 times: Three is the smallest number required to create a pattern. Repeating a word or phrase thrice strikes the perfect balance between emphasis and repetition. There are exceptions to this, so I would use this as a general rule of thumb.

Harry’s writing trick:

What I’m about to show you is going against the advice given in the previous paragraph… but remember when I told you it’s important to know when to break the rules? Yup. Here’s an example of how I did website copy for one of my clients, SB SEO.

Can you see what I’ve done here?

I ended the first two statements with the anaphoric phrase ‘we don’t’, creating the impression that a third was to follow, only then to break the pattern with ‘we do.’ By adding the element of surprise in my copy, I made my message more powerful, more engaging and more memorable.

Patterns are good because they can add rhythm to our copy but sometimes we need to break them to avoid sounding repetitive.

So what’s the takeaway point here? Look for opportunities to break the rules.

Epiphora/Epistrophe

Being the distant relative of anaphora, epiphora is the repetition of words and phrases at the end of successive clauses, sentences and phrases.

If you have an idea where you don’t want the reader to escape from a particular conclusion, use epiphora. It’ll make it more difficult for the reader to consider other alternatives, which is crucial to persuasion.

The effect:

✅ Creates a pattern in your copy

✅ Adds rhythm

✅ Emphasises important ideas or concepts

✅ Appeals to the emotions of readers

✅ Adds weight to your statements by making you seem confident

✅ Makes your writing more persuasive

Examples:

“The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war. We do not want a war. We do not now expect a war.(John F. Kennedy)

“I’m a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, she’s a Pepper, we’re a Pepper, wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too?” (Dr Pepper)

“The right thing says everything.” (Samsung)

When to use it in your copy                                                     

Evoke Emotion

“… that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

(Abraham Lincoln)

Message: Everything is about serving the best interests of the American people.

Emphasise an important idea or concept

“With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.” (Martin Luther King)

Message: We are in this together.

Insert rhythm

See previous examples of epiphora.

Guidelines on how to write epiphora

Use sparingly: Like any device, the more you use it, the less effect it has. Focus on the most important message you want to communicate and structure your writing around that.

Choose a simple word or phrase to insert at the end of the device: The best examples of epiphora repeat a simple statement over and over again. Make this word or phrase short, simple and straight to the point.

Limit repetition to only 3 times for quick, single-clause epiphoras:

If the ending statement reappears soon after another, it’s best to limit the repetition to three times to avoid sounding over-repetitive… unless you know exactly what you’re doing. It takes a skilled writer to find that balance

Insert the word “but” to emphasise a particular point: Epiphora works tremendously well with a carefully used “but.” You emphasise that there are no other options available, creating momentum in your argument. Aragorn in The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King used it effectively in his rallying cry:

“A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of the fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of woes and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight!”

Harry’s writing trick:

Epiphora gets bigger and stronger the longer you delay it

This will probably be most applicable to blog writing where you have the word count available to endear your reader. A great example is Obama’s Yes we can speech, where he slips this phrase in between paragraphs to emphasise the peoples’ ability to overcome the challenges that lay ahead.

“And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America – the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.”

“At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.”

“When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.”

“When the bombs fell on our harbour and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.”

“She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that ‘We Shall Overcome’. Yes we can.

Tricolon

 

What is it?

Three is the magic number in speech, writing and marketing.

Anything that’s placed in clusters of three is an example of a tricolon. These can be words, phrases or sentences.

Although the effects of a tricolon can vary, it can give a greater sense of finality and roundness to important statements

The effect

✅Injects rhythm

✅Varies the pace of your copy

✅Creates pithy and memorable phrases

✅Adds weight to your statements

✅Improves persuasion and humour

Examples

Tricolon can appear in a number of different ways. As a basic rule of thumb, keep your tricolons in parallel sentence structure to make the syllables roll off the tongue naturally. Let’s take a closer look.

Julius Ceasar

“I came. I saw. I conquered.”

Analysis: The formula here is very basic but very punchy (I + verb. I + verb. I + verb.)

President Dwight Eisenhower

Every gun that is madeevery warship launchedevery rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

Analysis: The repetition of ‘every’ at the beginning of each clause qualifies it as also being anaphora. However, by wrapping it in a cluster three, the speech carries more weight and more rhythm to make it more memorable.

Benjamin Franklin

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Analysis: I like this quite a lot actually. The tricolon adopts a slightly more unique sentence structure that makes it stand out more prominently. Notice how each sentence structure is parallel ( Verb + me + and I + verb) x3

Guidelines on how to write tricolon

Two words to make the pattern. Three to break it.

When we’re presented with two things, we’ll naturally find a way to connect the two together:

– 𝗖𝗮𝘁𝘀 & 𝗱𝗼𝗴𝘀: two most common pets

– 𝗘𝗮𝘁 & 𝗱𝗿𝗶𝗻𝗸: two forms of ingestion

What’s interesting is that our brains are always looking for a connection. So even when two things aren’t related, we’ll find a way to link the two together.

  • Tomatoes & blood: both are red
  • Sun & tapas: Spain
  • Whisky & rain: Scotland

So with the first two words, you’re establishing to the reader the direction you’re driving in. With the third, you’re doing an unexpected U-turn that creates an element of surprise in your copy.

  • The goodthe bad and the ugly
  • To beerwhisky and a bloody good time

Make the third thing longer

Tricolons sound better when the final part is longer.

  • Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents (this is a tv show)
  • Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

Here’s an example of a tricolon I used in an introduction to one of my client’s blog posts. Look closely at the parallel sentence structures and how the third ‘thing’ is a bit longer than the preceding two. It’s not exactly Shakespeare but it is a simple way to inject a bit of rhythm right off the mark.

When to use tricolon

Create captivating headlines/subheadings in your website copy

Three words was all Apple needed to communicate the iPad Air’s most defining characteristics. Can you spot another pattern?

Each adjective ends in ‘ful’ making the tricolon much easier to remember.

Inject rhythm

This often depends on how big or small the preceding sentences are but most of the time you can use a tricolon to add rhythm. Whenever writing out lists, I tend to mention only three elements to create this rhythm. This is especially effective when the previous sentences are short.

Example

Rhythm is everything. It’s engaging. It’s powerful. It connects words to emotionsmakes sentences more meaningful and pulls readers deeper into the copy.

Analysis:

The first 3 sentences are short and quicken the pace.

The last sentence is much longer, slows everything down and uses the rule of three to emphasise the importance of rhythm.

Add weight to your message

See example below.

Harry’s writing tricks:

Use italics in your third thing to punch up your message

Italics are a simple solution to creating a sense of vibrancy in your writing. Coating a word in italics adds emphasis to it or an argument you’re making. But using it with a tricolon can help add extra weight to your statement.

Let me give you an example. Below is an excerpt from some website copy for a client I have in commercial law (the site is not live yet):

Working under a partnership paves the way for bespoke yet exceptional legal advice that’s tailored to your needsyour objectives and your unique situation.

The tricolon injects rhythm and structure, leading readers smoothly from the beginning to the end of the sentence. But using the italics for the last three words leaves a stronger punch at the end, drawing more focus onto the fact that the service is completely bespoke.

Tip: The italics can make things sound slightly less repetitive when mirroring the different clauses: “…your needs, your objectives and your unique situation.” The effect comes from altering the tonality of your delivery.

Save it for the end of a paragraph

A good tricolon to use is clustering a small list in a sentence to either detail an argument or make your offer more compelling. When leaving it at the end of a paragraph, it creates a cementing effect where your point lingers in the reader’s mind for a while longer than it would if there were more sentences to follow.

Here’s an example I used for a client on their homepage.

Use tricolon as headers in your website copy

If you’re ever stumped for headline ideas, then try using a tricolon for structure. Choose the three most important elements of whatever it is you’re trying to communicate and summarise them succinctly within this tricolon. Remember, this is a headline so you want it to stand out and grab their attention. You can expand on the headline with the sub-heading.

I used one here when creating a UVP for a financial planner on their homepage:

Antithesis

Antithesis is when you put two opposing ideas together to create a strong contrast. It’s a neat literary device that can deliver a sense of finality to your arguments and statements, making what you say more persuasive.

The effect

✅ Improves persuasion

✅ Makes your statements more memorable

✅ Draws attention to a contrast

Examples

Nike

They talk. We play.

Armour

I don’t give up. I get up.

Ford

Talks inside. Shouts outside. New 2006 Fiesta

Neil Armstrong

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

Patrick Henry

United we stand. Divided we fall.

Guidelines on how to write Antithesis

The approach is relatively straightforward: begin with a simple statement – That’s one small step for man – then you attach an unexpected inversion – one giant leap for mankind.

Formula: X is Y, and not X is not Y.

You can flip almost any statement into an antithesis by simply adding its inversion. The question is why would you do this? Why would you point out that the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening?

The initial statement implies the latter and anyone could work this out for themselves. But there’s a greater sense of finality that comes with antithesis that adds weight to your statements. And this is what helps to drive persuasion in your ad copy.

When to use it in your copy

Create compelling headlines and slogans

Let’s dissect my favourite example of antithesis in ad copy.

They talk. We play. (Nike)

To add a bit of context, they have a photo of Lebron James in the background playing basketball.

With just 4 words, Nike have differentiated themselves from their competitors by claiming they’re

the real deal. It’s short, punchy and memorable. These qualities make the ad more compelling and

hard to forget.

Make your statements more memorable

See example above.

Create an important contrast

See example above.

Improve persuasion

Persuasion comes in many forms but through the use of antithesis you can make your statements sound more certain.

Concluding bonus tip

Now, I know there’s a lot to take in here and the idea that you’ll actively choose to use anaphora in your copy sounds contrived. And it is. However, once you start practising with these devices, over time you will find that they come naturally to you. That’s what’s happened to me and it will happen to you.

But if there is one takeaway tip I want you to remember it will be this…

Use parallel sentence structures in your sound bites!

If you’re stuck, use this rule. At the heart of many sound bites is the use of parallel sentence structures. Check below:

The good, the bad and the ugly. (Tricolon)

They Talk. We Play. (Antithesis)

“With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together…’ (Epiphora)

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family… Choose your future. Choose life. (Anaphora)

Notice how each device follows its own sentence structures? This is quite often where the rhythm is created and makes the delivery of these statements more compelling.

If you’re unsure of what device to follow in your copy, create sentences and clauses, mirror them and experiment with wordplay.

I do this all the time. If I see a statement that catches my attention, I’ll dissect it by looking for the patterns first and then see what happens when I insert different words. I promise you this is very easy to do.

Before you know it, you’ll know how to write sound bites to rivet the reader’s attention to your ad copy.