How the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer Reels in Customers

copywriting lessons from the Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer
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The following is a guest post by Kyle McLean, a copywriter who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Feel free to get in touch with Kyle or Zak & Zu Marketing if you’d like to chat about copywriting, ads, content marketing, and more.

If you’re on the lookout for examples of good copywriting and advertising, look no further than the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer. For the uninitiated, this food catalog — which can be found in-store or online — pitches with flair new food offerings from around the globe to both loyal Trader Joe’s customers and new prospects. It entertains the reader while also instilling a fear of missing out (FOMO) should they NOT rush to their local branch and pick up, say, a jar of black truffle Alfredo sauce before it runs out.

With its delightful hooks, effective and consistent brand voice, and wonderful layering of detail, the Fearless Flyer is a golden example of how to pitch everyday products in an entertaining way and captivate your audience.

It’s clearly the work of a marketing master, but what makes it truly ring in the reader’s ears?

A closer look at the Fearless Flyer reveals a simple blueprint that marketers and business owners can follow for success in crafting their own ad copy.

In this article, I will break down the copywriting techniques used in the Fearless Flyer so you can use them to improve your copy and increase the number of responses and conversions from your customer base.

A winning formula

The key to the simple but effective Fearless Flyer is that it follows a hook-and-drag formula, which is my spin on an old concept. The idea is to hook your reader into a story and keep their interest long enough to drag them through it to your call to action (CTA) at the end.

It’s similar to how newspaper articles are written: The author starts with a strong headline, drops in a hook to get the reader engaged and committed, and then moves from the most compelling details (near the top) to possibly the least interesting: the factual/technical (placed near the bottom, once the reader is already hooked).

To craft a hook and drag the reader through to the finish line, the Fearless Flyer uses interesting facts from around the world, exciting sensory details, funny pop-culture references and jokes, and its brand’s position as a food authority. The writer mixes and matches these for variety so that sometimes one is the hook and sometimes one is the dragging element.

Then each ad finishes with the nuts and bolts, like price, size, and availability, along with a soft CTA such as “while inventory lasts” or even “we’ve seen these for $30 and more in ‘swanky’ retail establishments.”

Now that you get the big picture, let’s dive into the individual elements a bit further.

Oh, those hooks!

The hook is the first piece of the hook-and-drag formula. When writing ad copy, if you want to get the reader to take notice of your story, you need to start with a hook to pique their interest.

Let’s look at that in action with this ad for ice cream from the 2018 holiday guide:

Yule Log Ice Cream Ad

Good copywriting appeals to our emotions and tells a story. By beginning with details about the tradition/evolution of the Yule Log, rather than jumping straight to the features of the ice cream, it pulls you in. It’s clever, informative, and not the least bit salesy.

To implement this technique in your own ads, think about what story you could tell about the process or tradition of your product or industry? How did it come to be and why?

Not just relying on factual stories to pull you in, the Fearless Flyer also mixes it up with pop culture tie-ins for amusement, like in this Cultured Coconut Milk Nog ad which includes an AC/DC reference:

Cultured Coconut Milk Nog Ad

This angle is great, but it’s like swinging for a home run over a base hit. You may knock it over the fence sometimes, but you’ll strike out more often than playing it safe. If you can think of some clever tie-ins that are relevant, use them. Just be careful. As we’ll get into when we talk about the Trader Joe’s brand voice, not only can humor backfire if it falls flat or is offensive, it won’t work if it doesn’t fit your brand.

The hook in this next example plays on Trader Joe’s position as a food authority. Check out this ad for Blue Cheese and Mustard, Together at Last:

Blue Cheese and Mustard, Together at Last Ad

By telling a story from the perspective of a Trader Joe’s food taster, they build anticipation that the product will stand out for the consumer as much as it does for them.

Now let’s think about how you can use this technique. If you owned an auto parts store, you could use this strategy by starting your ad copy with an anecdote about how impressed your customers are by the grip of a tire or a personal tale about how you yourself avoided an accident thanks to the stopping ability of new brake pads. Tap into your customer’s problems and concerns and meet it with a story.

Be sure not to stretch for something over the top if it’s not necessary. Look at the hook for the Gingerbread Candle, which simply relies on telling a story that describes a wonderful experience that many people can relate to:

Gingerbread Candle Ad

If you’ve got a strong product, you should be able to craft something similar in your copy by focusing on its benefits.

As you can see from all of these examples, it’s important to start with a hook, and that hook should use effective storytelling to draw the reader in. Now that we’ve got the reader’s attention, let’s look at what makes it all tick.

Layers of detail

The next element at work here is the sprinkling in of product details that evoke the reader’s senses and round out the story. This is sometimes found at the start of an ad but more often appears in the body — where details help gently piece together the big picture in the reader’s mind and guide them into the final call-to-action.

Check out this ad for Fruit Fancies:

Fruit Fancies, They're Fruit and They're Fancy Ad

This ad almost entirely relies on the details of the product to bring the reader to the end. It begins with a story about how Fruit Fancies are made and why the fancy name should be justified, moves into different applications — such as on a wooden tray, holiday table, or hostess gift — and finishes with what you can pair it with — such as tea.

Do you get the feeling you know everything about this product by the end of such a short ad? I certainly do.

When it comes to your business, write out a list of every feature you can think of. Then write out a list of every application you can think of. Write down the story of the product. Finally, if it applies, write down what’s remarkable about the product. Now combine these details with any of the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, feel) and use them to tell a story about your product or service that will help you reader build affinity for it and then sail over to the final call to action to make the purchase.

Now that we’ve listed our details, let’s look at how brand voice holds everything together.

Effective and consistent brand voice

The Fearless Flyer is undoubtedly eye-catching. It looks nothing like the common newspaper ads many grocery stores rely on with bland stock photos of food and in-your-face red reduced-price notices running across the top.

Generic Grocery Store Ad

This is the only grocery store ad I know of (maybe there are some others) that people who are not bargain shopping will look at willingly.

But while a large part of that appeal is due to the cartoons and graphic design elements, the copywriting technique that makes this fun to read is its effective and consistent brand voice.

Your brand voice is the tone and wording in which you speak when you communicate to your customers. From their in-store chalkboard art, use of maritime bells instead of a paging system, and old-timey graphics, the brand voice here lines up well. It’s informal, friendly, and often tongue-in-cheek – in my opinion, as if it’s your local trader named Joe. Lively and funny, it encourages you to read more.

For the full effect of tongue-in-cheek humor, check out this ad for Oso Good! Argentine Honey:

Oso Good Aregentine Honey Ad

The play on words with Oso and the rhyme of “a whole lotta honey for not a lotta money” isn’t going to fly for other brands, but since this fits the tone and theme of Trader Joe’s, it soars.

When you think about your business, remember that you don’t have to be as clever as an ad like this. And that’s okay. The important thing is to take on an effective brand voice that’s fitting for your company’s marketing and customer base.

Think about your audience and your company’s image. You may sell medical supplies to educated doctors or market books to young children. How should your company talk to them? If you talk to your customers in a way that’s appealing, it will encourage them to read on through your ads as well.

However, it must be consistent, or it moves from an asset to a liability. Shifting tones will confuse your customers and weaken your message. To give yourself some guidance, consider writing up a series of guidelines for your communications. Then from every email to website page use it to bring flavor to your copywriting that makes it stick out and recognizable to your customers every time.

What did we learn?

In this article we took an in-depth look at the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer and the hook-and-drag formula that is the source of its storytelling power. We also explored possibilities of how to apply its techniques to different businesses to give you an idea of how to apply them to yours.

You don’t need to be as uber creative or have as unique a business as Trader Joe’s to benefit from these techniques. Apply them correctly, and they will pay off.

Have fun applying these effective copywriting tips to your business’s ads for increased responses and conversion.

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