Not Just for Creatives: Swipe Files

by | Feb 6, 2020 | Content Marketing, Copywriting, Digital Marketing

Swipe files are perfect for your marketing team.

When it comes to writing copy, as a marketer, few things matter more than if you can produce fine writing by deadline.

And sometimes, just thinking about how something should be worded–from social media posts to ad campaigns, and everything in between–is enough to frustrate you.

It would be nice if you had some sort of record of creative ideas that you could refer to for inspiration or to help get those creative juices flowing. But you don’t have to waste time searching through case studies of how your company solved problems in the past for inspiration.

You can just keep a swipe file.

A swipe file is more or less that record of creative ideas. More specifically, a swipe file is a compilation of ads that sell. You know these ads work. For example, if you think back to when CDs were the norm, a swipe file would be the collection of a band’s greatest hits.

As a marketer, one of your responsibilities is to draft copy. Keeping a swipe file can also provide you with protection from writer’s block by supplying you with a source of inspiration for words if you get stuck.

Let’s take a peek into a couple of ways to keep a swipe file.

Some Swipe File Strategies

The Art of Writing Advertising, by Denis Higgins details the diverse ways legendary copywriters of their day birthed fresh ideas. They used their swipe files.

An image that Higgins kept using in his book was a small box on a desk. This referred to the swipe file of prolific copywriter, Leo Burnett.

Burnett put interesting and/or unused ideas in there so he could refer to them later.

While Burnett deposited slips of paper in a small box on his desk, David Ogilvy sometimes used a pad of paper. Two different ways to build the same structure: a storehouse for creative ideas and inspiration.

The Art of Writing Advertising

There’s no one way to keep a swipe file. Modern techniques include using voice recording apps or dictating technology.

But if you use a swipe file just to repeat the same tired strategy you’ve used before with a different client, it’s not going to work. For example, because each company is different with unique circumstances, coming up with marketing solutions requires a fresh approach each time. What worked in the past for one business may not work for another.

Sometimes, swipe files are as simple as a sampling of different words and phrases you can use over and over again.

What else did you think Leo Burnett put in the small box on his desk if not words?

A Swipe File Full of Words

Words–in particular, coming up with the right ones–doesn’t come easily to some people. Even Ogilvy had problems writing. But having a swipe file that’s made up entirely of words you know are battle-tested can save you a lot of trouble on keyword research.

For example, such key phrases might include:

  1. Just for you
  2. Limited time offer
  3. Get it now before it expires!

These are copywriting power words that target the prospects and customers to make them feel like you’re talking to them, specifically. And the more specific you can get with a customer’s problem, the more those customers begin to see themselves reflected in the solutions you’re presenting.

Other suggestions for the contents of a swipe file include keeping e-mail messages or social media post samples that get you going. Look for specific storylines. And by “storylines,” I mean things that can be repeated.

For instance, check out this Twitter posting for SEMrush:

SEMrush Twitter Post

Here, you can see that SEMrush wasted no time and just lead with the benefits of keyword research. Leading with benefits–that’s a pattern. That’s a repeatable storyline.

Whether keeping a swipe file full of past marketing successes, words, or examples to be followed later, you can be assured that you won’t lack for originality if you use it as a guideline.

Other Kinds of Information to Save in a Swipe File

And yet, there are more things you can preserve in a swipe file other than words and patterns.

For you, as a marketer, the best way to keep a swipe file would probably be to keep it within a spreadsheet for quick reference and ease of organization.

Create columns for:

  • Anticipated publication date
  • Topic
  • Title
  • Content angles
  • Links to sources

If this sounds more like a content calendar, that’s because content calendars and swipe files can be sources for inspiration. For example, while a swipe file gives you ideas when you get stuck, a content calendar can contain ideas for what to do about specific content. For this occasion, it’d probably be good to have a column for notes.

And inspiration to fill in the cracks of the swipe file doesn’t just have to be proven ideas, either. Content opportunities surround you every day in your own life. For example, a humorous conversation you had with a coworker might spawn a blog post, or an experience with a client might give you an idea for a video series.

The key is recognizing when to nab these opportunities. Maintain a log, carry around a journal, notepad, or allocate a space on your phone, computer, etc. to write down your thoughts and experiences in the moment.


Keeping a swipe file will assure that you have a well to draw fresh content ideas from, as well as the confidence derived from content that proved effective in the past.

Looking for more copywriting insights? This post provides tips from 52 of the best copywriting books.

What do you use to keep track of your copywriting and content ideas? Does handwritten or digital work best for you? Message us in the chat below to tell us.

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MESH is a digital marketing agency that has pioneered Account-Based Marketing via our proprietary Outcome Driven Marketing (ODM) methodology. We keep our focus on tightly integrating (or MESHing) lead generation, inbound, and outbound methodologies. We help you understand the hidden levers that impact your customers’ buying decision process, develop the right marketing strategy for your unique business case, and effectively execute and measure all aspects of your Account-Based Marketing program.

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