WAY West of Jewfish Creek
Dear Friend & Subscriber,
Today I am going to begin the process of teaching you how to write copy. Not ordinary copy. Not the kind of copy that is written by ad agencies. Not copy that is limp, boring, sodden and dull.
No. Today you are going to begin the process of learning how to write "killer" copy! Copy that drags in not thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions or even tens of millions of dollars; but rather, copy that has the potential of increasing sales for you (or your clients) that can add up to hundreds of millions of dollars!
All in all, I dare say this will be the most interesting and exciting newsletter you will ever read on this subject.
So, let's see if I can live up to that boast. Listen to this: In the last 30-days or so, my travel schedule went something like this:
|Los Angeles to Las Vegas
Las Vegas back to Los Angeles
Los Angeles to London
London to Brussels
Brussels back to London
London to New York
New York to St. Louis
St. Louis to Los Angeles
Los Angeles to Las Vegas
Las Vegas back to Los Angeles
In addition to (and in conjunction with) my travel schedule, I've been doing a little work: Currently, I'm in the process of putting together a couple of cable TV shows with Hal Morris and his daughter Debbie, I'm working on an account for a major health book publisher, I've conceptualized and created a brand new numismatic promotion, I'm working with some of the largest financial publishers on the planet, I'm working on a vitamin deal and a book publishing venture with Barbara Cartland (the Guinness Book of Records says she's the most prolific writer in the world) and, if Paulette's arithmetic is correct, something like 32 other major endeavors!
So what? What the hell does my travel and work schedule have to do with teaching you to write dynamite copy? Well, remember how I said I was going to make this the most exciting thing you've ever read on the subject? I did not say I was going to "fit it in" did I? No, I said this issue of the newsletter was going to be outstanding, didn't I? I didn't say you're going to have to settle for a "second class lesson" because I'm so busy, did I?
No. What I am saying is that no matter what, I intend to make this newsletter outstanding.
And that's how I feel about everything I write. Every ad. Every direct mail letter. Every TV commercial. Every radio commercial. Everything. And so, my friend, if you've been paying attention, you should have already guessed the most important thing you can have when it comes to writing great copy which is...
A "Fighter Pilot" Attitude!
Of all things that contribute to copywriting success (and success at any endeavor for that matter), the most important by far is attitude. An attitude that says that you will do (within the bounds of good taste and legality) anything that is necessary to make the work you are doing for yourself or your clients a success. No excuses. No missed deadlines. No half-assed work. No "throwing it together." No nothing except for your very best.
So much for ingredient #1. Now let's get into ingredient #2. Recently, I did a direct mail package for Brian Smith whose "Personal Finance" newsletter is the largest circulation hard money newsletter in the world. That package included an 8-page letter which took me five weeks to write to get to the point where I was satisfied with it. As a matter of fact, I did 23 drafts of the first page alone.
And thus, we have a prime example of ingredient #2 which simply is...
Most advertising is written by guys who think they are "creative." I am always amused (somewhat sourly) by copywriters who explain how they get their marketing inspirations while working in splendid isolation somewhere in the woods of New Hampshire or while tramping some lonely beach north of San Francisco or in some other God-forsaken place where there are no "people" around to interfere with the wondrous flow of their creative juices.
Oh gosh, it doesn't seem to work that way with me. I get insights and ideas from going out amongst the market. And what is the market? You know, it seems to me that the "market" is people. Want to know where I learned to sell? And, in fact, where anybody who really knows how to sell also learned how to do it? Most "creatives" would never guess because where I learned was...
In The World
Yes boys and girls, I've been a door-to-door salesman, an MP, a prison guard, a prison inmate, owner of several corporations (one employed 700 people), a publisher (of books, newsletters, etc.), a scuba diver, a fool, a fraud, a savior, an idiot, a hero, a parent, a lust-crazed salivating degenerate (I still am); I've worked with movie stars, morons, Machiavellian manipulators, saints, sinners and so forth and I say this unto ye:
"Do Not Ever Trust (Or Hire)
A Copywriter Who Is
Not Of This Earth!"
Whatever. Let us now, at long last, begin to get specific. I am now about to tell you the true story of how I wrote the most successful ad that was ever written. By reading this amazing little saga, you are going to learn several of those ingenious and essential ingredients that all of your ads must contain if you want them to be truly spectacularly successful.
Now for the story: Once upon a time, back in 1978, I met and began dating an exceptional and delightful young lady who lived in Santa Monica. At the time I met her she was one of those women who was so pretty it almost hurt your eyes to look at her face. She had an executive position with a company that produced custom-designed aquariums, a sparkling personality, a neat, sexy little body, a good sense of humor, many useful talents and skills, and, on top of all that, she was even a gourmet cook. Actually, all in all, to tell the truth, she was pretty much everything I ever wanted in a woman.
Or so I thought.
Unfortunately, my little Teresa (not her real name) also had a major problem with her self-esteem and, over the next few years, I noticed she would never let things get "too good." In other words, what she would do is, whenever we got dangerously close to financial or emotional prosperity, she would find some way to trash everything so we could get back to that morbid level of existence where she knew "we belonged."
There's a lot of people like that, both women and men, aren't there?
Whatever. In any case, this was really frustrating and, finally, after putting up with this nonsense for a lengthy period of time, I couldn't hack it anymore and Teresa and I drifted apart and I started dating other women. At first, this was really exciting. However, after a while, it got to be seriously depressing. You see, the women I started dating all looked good on the outside but, after I got to know them, many of them seemed to be mentally deranged, emotionally crippled, delirious with drugs or, perhaps, just plain airheaded.
So I went back to Teresa.
And I tried once again to make it work. I tried hard. No luck. Teresa still couldn't handle prosperity. Her inner miasma magnet was still in excellent working order and, once again, whenever things started getting too good, she would do something that would alter the course of our lives and head us right back in the direction of the nearest emotional swamp.
No good. After a few months, I once again gave up the struggle to make this contorted relationship work and, once again, Teresa and I split up.
But this time it was for keeps. I just couldn't bear the idea of ever getting back together with Teresa and cranking up the same old misery machine. I also couldn't bear the idea of dating another collection of women only to discover they were all losers, lame brains, or drug addicts.
So what did I do? Very simple. I did without.
Yes, good friends, it is sad but true: For months and months and months poor old pitiful, feeling-sorry-for-himself, semi-handsome Gary never had a date. Not one. I filled my life with work. And watching TV reruns of "My Mother the Car." And going to the movies. And taking long walks and thinking semi-profound thoughts on the meaning of life. And so on.
And, eventually, after starting work on a manuscript called "Gary's Guide to Creative Sexual Abstinence" and, after finding myself slaving over a chapter titled "14 Fun Things To Do With Rutabaga," I knew I was losing it. I knew I had to do something to change the direction of my life or else I was going to go crazy.
So guess what? I wrote an ad.
And, it is this ad that I consider to be the most successful ever written. And, also, the best one I could ever choose to use as a "teaching model" to dramatically illustrate some of the in-print selling techniques that I consider critical. And now, my friend, I'm going to ask you to do something. What I'd like is for you to get yourself a cold beer, a cup of coffee, a soft drink or whatever you feel like having and then settle down in a nice comfy bed or chair and open up that ad (it's enclosed with this letter) and then very carefully read every word of it before you continue reading this newsletter.
Please do it now.
O.K., have you finished reading the ad? If not, you have cheated yourself because the rest of this newsletter won't be as clear to you as it could be. On the other hand, if you have read the ad, I want to issue a word of caution. It is this: you were probably amused by that particular ad just as you are, I suspect, sometimes amused by this newsletter. That's fine. However, do not deceive yourself that, just because my writing sometimes has "entertainment value", that, at the same time, that same writing is not serious.
I'm always serious about my work! Serious as cancer. And, the ad you just read was, without question the most "serious" ad I've ever written. Think about it: Other than your health, what in the world could conceivably be more important, than finding the ideal mate with whom to spend the rest of your life?
And now, before I go into a somewhat clinical discussion of why that ad was so successful, I want to tell you just how successful that ad was in order that you can more fully appreciate just how important (and rewarding) it can be to get all the elements of an ad just right.
So how successful was that ad? Gosh, I thought you'd never ask!
First, even though it wasn't intended to be a "commercial" ad, it would appear that this "personal" ad may be destined to become a great financial success because, as I told you earlier, (in the "Hot Flash" pink sheet that was included in my newsletter promotion), seven rather interesting things have happened in connection with this ad. Namely:
||It has been featured on L.A.'s largest radio station (KABC) five times.
||I have had two offers to write a book about the ad.
||I have had two offers to make a movie about the ad.
||I have, as a result of this ad, been introduced to and have dated the absolute hottest women in Los Angeles.
||And, after tiring of the activities mentioned in item #4, I have, because of this ad, settled down with a wonderful, gorgeous redhead who is the love of my life and, in my opinion, the finest woman on planet earth.
||As I write this, I have just been asked if I will agree to a TV interview about the ad here in L.A. on channel 9.
||And finally, I am now getting paid to write an ad about the ad!
Well, it would appear that all that was just the beginning because, since back then, it would now seem that I am about to do my own (at least I'll own part of it) TV show built around that ad!
So, friends and neighbors, if I've got your attention, I now want to dissect the elements that made this ad such a great success and which must be present in any ad if it is destined to be a truly spectacular winner. Here are a few comments about some of these elements:
PASSION: Most ads and direct mail letters are written by people who do not appear to be excited about what they are writing. I'll never forget a certain insight I got out of a book called "The Writer's Handbook" that I read many years ago. To wit: "Most writers think their writing is far too dramatic when, in fact, it is not nearly dramatic enough."
As Claude Hopkins pointed out: "People will not be bored in print!"
Therefore, when you write an ad or DM promotion - go for it, damn it! Let your excitement and enthusiasm spill out all over the page. Don't hold back. Put that pen to the page and RAVE! Rave about your product, how great it is, how it will benefit the user, how it feels good, looks good, smells good, works good, how it makes you feel better, look better, how it will make you richer, healthier, thinner, more productive, more charming and so forth.
You know what new clients say to me all the time that is always wrong? It is this: "Yes, but my customers are different. They're not like those people who read the National Enquirer or buy stuff through the mail to look younger or lose weight or make a lot of money."
Everybody is like "those" people who read the National Enquirer.
I don't care if your market is lawyers, MD's, rocket scientists, architects, members of high society or whatever... they will respond to passion. Passion is the #1 most missing ingredient in advertising today. Everybody seems to be more concerned about offending a few losers than they are about selling a multitude of winners. Who the hell cares about that small percentage of cowards who have nothing but time on their hands and who write caustic (and unsigned) letters in response to almost every solicitation they receive? I know I don't. But you know what? There are hundreds of companies in direct response who give up millions of dollars in sales every year just so they won't offend a small percentage of scumbags who will never buy from them anyway.
Listen: When you write copy you should never lie, never over exaggerate, never use poor taste, never be vulgar, never insult your reader's intelligence but you should also...
Stop Worrying So Much
About Offending People
And Start Worrying More
About Selling Them!
You know, there were a lot of fat, ugly, "loser" women who didn't like my ad but, boy oh boy, you should see the ones that did like it. You see, when I wrote that ad,
I Didn't Worry About Offending The "Dogs"
Instead, I Concentrated On Selling The "Foxes."
DETAIL: Hardly anybody puts enough detail into their promotions. Remember this: People who are not interested in your product or service don't want to know anything about it but, those who are interested, want to know everything about it. Here is a good way to think about writing an ad: Imagine that there are 10 new cars coming out next month and that you have to spend $40,000 to buy one of those cars "sight unseen!" Imagine that you can't even see a picture of the cars! Now tell me, how much detail would you want included in the ads about those cars before you wrote your $40,000 check?
Would you be satisfied with a few vapid generalities like: "It really looks great and it gets good gas mileage too!"?
I bet not. I bet before you shelled out your forty grand you'd want to know that that car got 23/7 MPG in the city on Chevron Unleaded and 31/4 MPG on the highway. I bet you'd want to know the exact horsepower, how many coats of paint is has, how long exactly the warranty is good for, the tread design of the tires and so on.
Listen: This principle is true, no matter what the unit price! When people buy by mail, they are buying sight unseen and they want to know everything you can tell them, even if the article you are selling costs $4 instead of $40,000. So, a good rule to remember is...
When You Are Selling
By Mail They Want To
Know All You Can Tell!
Give it to them.
TRUTH ABOUT FLAW: All products and services have defects. So do people. All of us are flawed. (Even me). When I wrote my personal ad I didn't say I was 6'4", did I? I didn't say I was "superstud", did I? I revealed a lot of stuff that made it very clear that I am a very imperfect human being, didn't I? Well, you know what? When you admit to (and describe) your shortcomings it makes you more believable when you talk up your good points, doesn't it?
Face it: Your product or service has flaws also.
CLARITY: The hallmark of all good writing is clarity. You do not necessarily achieve clarity by throwing in a lot of details and being specific. Your ads can be very detailed and very specific without being clear. Clarity is achieved by writing in an idiom in which your audience is conditioned to understand. Most writers write as though they would never be able to guess what idiom most of the people in America understand - which is...
Listen: The phrase "I'm sick as a dog" may not be very original or very "creative" but it sure as hell is very clear, isn't it?
Pay attention; here is a thought that will surprise you:
Most Writing Today Does
Not Contain Enough Cliches!
Sick as a dog. Fat as a hog. Poor as a churchhouse. Pretty as a picture. Slow as molasses in January. Dumb as an ox. Hot as a firecracker. Crazy as a bed bug. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. And so on.
Like I said, maybe those phrases aren't original; maybe they aren't creative but...
They Sure As Hell
Are Clear As A Bell,
Here's an important little trick: Always read your copy aloud. By doing so, you will discover those little glitches and bottlenecks that slow down or stop the flow of your message.
Want to know an even better way to use that little trick? Once upon a time I used to live in Massillon, Ohio and I hung out in a place called Mike's Bar. Most of the people in Mike's were prospects for the kind of books and products I was selling back then. Stuff like books on how to collect government benefits you have coming and so on. So anyway, what I would do is take my ads down to Mike's Bar and read them to the guys there.
Now listen to this: If the response I got was, "Gee Gary, that sure is a good ad; you write real good!" then I knew I had a loser.
On the other hand, if my audience offered no comments about the ad whatsoever but instead asked...
"Gee, I'd Like To Have That Book.
Can You Get Me A Copy?"
Then, of course, I knew I had a winner.
But the worst response of all was, "Would you run that by me one more time? I'm not sure what you're getting at." You see, that meant I hadn't worked hard enough. It meant that my sentences and paragraphs were too long. That I wasn't writing in everyday English, that (usually) I hadn't bothered to read the ad aloud to myself before I read it to them.
Look, people aren't dumb, it's just that they can't be bothered to "demystify" what the hell you are trying to say.
And now for a "cliffhanger." I'm sorry but, at the moment, I'm running out of time, space, energy and what little sanity I have left. Therefore, I'm going to save the most important (by far!) technique of all for next month's letter where upon I will devote the entire issue to it.
Don't miss it!
|| Gary C. Halbert
||Say, how do you like this newsletter so far? It's not much like the Friday Report, is it? By the way, I'd love to get a letter or phone call from you and hear your comments. Would you be willing to do that for a bribe? How about if I enclose a picture of Paulette who is the best of the best of all those who answered my personal ad? Would you do it? What's that? You say you've got to see the picture first?
What a hardcase you are! O.K., you've got a deal; look inside the sealed envelope.
Copyright © 2003 Gary C. Halbert. All Rights Reserved.