W-A-Y West of Jewfish Creek
Dear Friend & Subscriber,
In a recent (3/1/89) issue of DM NEWS, there is a letter from a young man named Calvin D. Black who says he just graduated from college and he wants to know how to go about becoming a wealthy direct mail/mail order entrepreneur.
DM NEWS had an answer for him: He got an info kit from the Direct Marketing Association and the meeting dates of his local chapter of that organization. DM NEWS also told him they hope to see him at a convention real soon.
The chances of meeting someone who will help you become a successful direct response entrepreneur at any kind of marketing convention is about the same as getting the Catholic Church to start passing out birth control pills. Listen: Many, if not most, of the readers of this newsletter are already expert in various aspects of direct marketing and already wealthy. However, for the moment, I'm going to pretend that none of you are (yet) as successful as you want to be. I'm going to pretend that all of you are just like Calvin Black and you either want to become a wealthy direct response entrepreneur or else you want to use direct response methods to punch up the profits of another, more conventional business.
Where do you start? What's the first step if you are at ground zero? Well, it sure as hell isn't to go to a marketing convention! No. The very first step is to become grounded in the basic and enduring principles that are the foundation of every successful direct marketing effort. And, the way you do this is by reading and re-reading the most important advertising book every written which is...
- by Claude Hopkins
Available from Crain Books
And, trust me on this: You should not read any other books until you have read Scientific Advertising at least twice and preferably, three or four times. In fact, David Ogilvy feels so strongly about this book that he says no one should be allowed to create advertising until he has read this book at least seven times.
I can't disagree. And the reason you should read this particular book several times, before you read anything else is, it will give you a hard-core, bedrock foundation of truth that will make it difficult for other authors who are "pretend experts" to lead you astray with their "silly notions" about what makes marketing work. Unfortunately, most people who write about (or teach) marketing aren't just wrong... they are dangerous. You see, most of these authors and/or teachers aren't players, they are simply B.S. artists who've managed to con their way through life without ever having to back their ideas with their own money and...
If A Man Ain't A Player,
He Can't Possibly
Understand The Game!
Check this out: Recently, I came across a book titled On the Art of Writing Copy by Herschell Gordon Lewis. It's a big hardback and, when I first saw it, I thought "Oh boy!" because it "looked" like it might contain a lot of valuable info. I guess I'll never know because, quite frankly, I found the book to be so silly, I couldn't force myself to read much of it. I did browse enough however, to grasp the idea that Mr. Lewis considers clarity supremely important. He's right; clarity is important. But I think Mr. Lewis is just a teeny confused on how to achieve it. Here's a direct quote from page 388:
The First Rule Of "If" Subdecree
"Logic stands behind the writer who makes an action condition for the buyer, since buyer-control is proper stroking: but to give this control to the seller through an "if" reference suggests seller superiority, which can provoke buyer antagonism."
Zowie, those are words to live by, aren't they? And the rest of the book is even more silly. It gets into stuff like "The Subjunctive Avoidance Commandment", and so much other nonsense it could win the Guinness World Record for incoherent babble. Mr. Lewis also goes to great lengths to criticize a lot of ads he's reprinted in his book and, once again, to a limited degree, he's right: The ads are awful. But mostly, they are short-copy, agency-created ads that truly aren't even worth the bother of analysis. It's sort of like someone trying to impress you by bragging about he can outrun a group of bedridden paraplegics.
Soon after reading (or trying to read) this stupid book, I came across a column written by Mr. Lewis in the June 1988 issue of Direct Marketing magazine wherein he informs his readers that everybody he knows, including himself, is writing better because of the invention of word processors. Can you imagine that? Here's a guy who fancies himself as a copywriter and yet...
He Doesn't Even Seem To Be Able
To Grasp The Difference Between
Writing And Typing!
Word processors may help you type better but there's no way in the world that staring dumbly at a CRT screen can help you in any way whatsoever when it comes to writing. World class copywriting (salesmanship-in-print) is not a bag of tricks nor can it be learned by memorizing a bunch of idiotic rules spewed out by a chaotic mind. No, you learn how to sell by doing it. And, if you want to be supreme in your efforts, you learn how to do it first in person and then you transfer your efforts to print.
I got to wondering: "Could I be wrong about this Herschell guy? Could he possibly be as much of a marketing moron as his book suggests?" I got to discussing this with some friends and clients of mine, Sam and Leslie Fishbein (they own Casey Fine Furniture in Denver) and they told me Herschell Lewis did two newspaper ads for them and the results were so dismal it was like the ads never ran!
Look, it doesn't feel especially good to me to spend so much time knocking down some clownish writer like Herschell Lewis. I'm sure he's had his successes and some satisfied clients. The law of averages says that if you toss enough ca-ca at a wall, surely some of it will stick. But damnit, pretend experts can be very hazardous to your bank account and so can their books and teachings. All this reminds me how Claude Hopkins (the greatest advertising man who ever lived) was once asked to examine some college textbooks on advertising and advise the publishers on how to improve them.
"Burn them!" he said.
He went on to point out that the publishers had no right to mislead beginners this way. He said that by the time the students were done studying these books, they'd be so damaged it would take six years or so to get them back to zero. And can you imagine what Claude Hopkins would've had to say about Herschell Lewis?
And here's a flash for the aforementioned Calvin Black:
Herschell Gordon Lewis Is Typical
Of Whom You Will Meet At
Beware, young man. You'd better be careful of what you read and to whom you listen because, if you are not first grounded in the bedrock fundamentals, you can end up bewildered, broke and hopelessly disillusioned. On the other hand (or, on the "sunshine side" of the ledger as Paul Harvey says) there are a few good books you can read safely (after you've read Scientific Advertising) that are written by real experts who also know what it's like to be a player. Books like these:
The Robert Collier Letter Book
- by Robert Collier
Available from Carl Galletti
The First Hundred Million
- by E. Haldeman-Julius
It's out-of-print so you may have to go
to the Library of Congress to read it.
I did and it was well worth the trip.
- by Eugene Schwartz
Available from Boardroom Books
How To Write A Good Advertisement
- by Vic Schwab
Available from the Wilshire Book Company
7 Steps To Freedom
- by Ben Suarez
Available from the Suarez Corporation
My Life In Advertising
- by Claude Hopkins
Available from Crain Books
There are a few more. But not many, and even this short list will keep you occupied for quite a spell. And what a wonderful journey of discovery you will have when you read these books! So many lightbulbs will be going off in your head, those around you will be making a mad dash for sunglasses! (Call Joe Sugarman.) And look, may I respectfully suggest that you get everything on advertising that I have written or recorded. This would include all my back issues, the BORON LETTERS, my seminar tapes, and so on. My office number is (213) 273-7053 and we're open from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. West Coast time and you are just plain nuts if you don't study all my stuff.
Does that sound self-serving to you? I suppose it is in a way. But counterbalance it with this: My income from my newsletter, my tapes, my seminars and so on is microscopic compared to what I make from doing what I teach. And often, I give the money from my teaching to charity.
No, I'm not altruistic. It's just that I already drag in enough money (actually, way more money than enough) to keep any sane man happy. And besides, I have a fire in my belly to teach the truth and to do what I can to "contain the damage" that is being done by so many marketing morons who pass themselves off as "experts".
Enough. Enough. Enough. Enough. Ok, now, let's say you've read all the material I've thus far recommended and you are now grounded in the basic realities of what makes marketing work. What's the next step? Simply this:
You Must Heighten Your Awareness
Of What's Working Now!
Hark unto me. Fundamentals never change but current variations of how to best use those fundamentals are something you must always stay on top of. In other words: It's not enough to know that everybody wants a bargain... you must also know what people currently consider a bargain. (My first electronic calculator, a Craig, cost me $265 but now I'd be reluctant to pay much over $15.)
And so forth. And here's how you keep current: You must immediately begin to systematically monitor all media that contains a lot of successful direct response advertising. This means you should leaf through every issue of the National Enquirer, Weekly World News and similar tabloids. You should religiously go through the Wall Street Journal, USA Today ("News McNuggets") and any other daily newspapers you come across that carry a lot of mail order ads. Go through Cosmopolitan, Popular Mechanics, Salesman's Opportunity, Success, and, in general, make a determined effort to ferret out and monitor as many publications as you find that seem to be working consistently for mail order entrepreneurs.
And buy as much stuff by mail as you can. Get on hundreds of mailing lists. Become a student of mail order catalogs like Sharper Image and DAK. Listen folks, what we are trying to do here is become immersed in what's working now. Here's something else: Hire yourself a kid to watch cable TV for you. Have that kid tape every direct response commercial he can find plus all those 1/2 hour "sellavision" shows.
Drench Yourself In This Stuff!
Onward. Let's go to step three. What you do now is you buy yourself about 2,000 3x5 index cards. And, on those cards, you start writing ideas that you got form all those books you've read and ideas from all that current stuff you are monitoring. You should also have several hundred headlines written on these cards.
Now, here's how your life begins to settle in: Every once in a while, you re-read from the classic books I have recommended. You constantly leaf through the publications I've recommended (plus others you've discovered yourself) and you constantly view those new sellavision tapes that kid (who is now brain damaged from all that cable TV he's been watching) keeps bringing you.
And you keep adding ideas and headlines (one to a card) to all those 3x5 index cards.
And, at least once a week, you shuffle through those 3x5 cards after all your "monitoring work". And every once in a while you say "Hmn? Look at that. Maybe that idea could be used over here? And hey, maybe I could modify that idea this guy is using in the Enquirer to sell Lucky Charms so it could be used to sell an investment course in the Wall Street Journal. Say, maybe that couponing technique to force distribution that Hopkins wrote about could be updated to help me force people into the store to buy my widgets. Hey, maybe..."
And so on. What you are looking for defies total classification. You're trying to find an idea you can juxtapose, a headline you can modify, a "trigger" that gives you the "aha experience", a "crossover" adaptation that can be switched from TV to print (or vice versa), an inspiration, a vision, a breakthrough concept, a... a... a...
Aw nuts. Maybe I can make it clearer by giving you a couple of multi-million dollar real life examples? Listen: Once upon a time, having grounded my sweet self in the true fundamentals of marketing, I was merrily going about the process of "heightening my awareness" when, among other things, I became aware that a small number of people were repeatedly running ads that sold books on how to get all the various government benefits (including social security) that all of us, as taxpayers, have coming.
Well, this got filed away in my subconscious and forgotten until one day I discovered I'd lost my social security card. When I went to the SS office in Akron, Ohio I was appalled. Most of the other people waiting in that office were elderly and they were treated like dirt! They were given numbers like victims in a concentration camp and made to wait hours and sometimes days for service. These people were hurting. Often, for an elderly person, a social security check means the difference between eating dog food or not. And yet, these miserable old timers were treated worse than dogs by sullen bureaucratic clerks who just didn't give a damn. Something needed to be done.
One day after that, I was visiting the offices of the Akron Beacon Journal on a totally unrelated matter when I happened to mention the plight of these SS victims. "You know," said the guy from the Journal, "we used to print this government form, REQUEST FOR STATEMENT OF EARNINGS, but we don't do it anymore."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Well," he said, "that form helps a person find out how much he's paid into social security and, whenever we reprint it, even if we bury it on page 74 or something, we still get like 26,520 replies."
"Geez," I said, "that works out to you getting a response from something like 17% of your entire circulation."
"Yep, that's true," he said. "People really seem to need this info and they don't seem to get satisfied when they contact the SS but our newspaper isn't equipped to handle that volume of mail."
Boy, oh boy. I knew someone who'd just love to handle that volume of mail and my "hmn machine" was working full tilt now. Hmn? Hmn? Hmn?
Hmn? Hmn? Hmn?
So I hired some people to collect every scrap of info put out by the SS and reduce it to a very simple, fast-reading, accurate book that gave the folks the real scoop on how to maximize the SS benefits they had coming. And I wrote an ad -- "How To Collect From Social Security At Any Age" -- and, at the bottom of the ad, I had two coupons instead of just one. You filled in the left-hand coupon (it was the REQUEST FOR STATEMENT OF EARNINGS) and sent it to us and we'd send it to the government and you'd find out, right to the penny, how much you had already paid in to social security. At the same time, you could fill in the coupon on the right side and send it to us with a small payment (only $3.00) and we'd send you our book that revealed how to get the most benefits from that money you paid in.
Do you see what happened here? I had grounded myself in the true fundamentals of marketing, I had heightened my awareness of what's working now and then...
My Unconscious Mind Connected The Dots!
But, the difference between me and all those non-player "pretend experts" was that, because I had done my homework and paid my dues, I connected the right dots!
And made a net profit of over a million dollars.
Another example: Another time, operating under the same dynamics "grounded and aware", it came to my attention that the new phenomena of computer letters was, on the average, enhancing direct mail response by 300%! Unfortunately, back then, I didn't have much money and the programming cost of creating a computer letter was enormous. Besides that, not very many people even knew how to do the programming. But one fine day, while "sharpening my awareness", I read about a little old lady who researched family names and, once her research was done, she would send a postcard to everyone in her county who had the last name she had just finished researching. In other words, all her postcards started out "Dear Mr. Halbert" or whatever.
And... and... and... AHA! Eureka! Zowie! My mental dot connector did its job and told me I could gather together the addresses of all the Joneses in the U.S., type a letter to them (once), offset print as many copies of that letter as there were Joneses, and it would look just like an individually typed personal or state-of-the-art computer letter.
The idea worked and brought in $21,900,000.
Think about it: 21 million dollars and change from one valid idea. So, the real first steps to becoming a wealthy direct mail/mail order entrepreneur are:
|Ground yourself in the fundamentals.
|Heighten your awareness of "What's Working Now".
|Capture ideas, headlines, techniques, thoughts, etc. on 3x5 index cards and review them (deal them out on your kitchen table or desk like you would a deck of cards) at least once a week.
And there's more. What I'm about to give you is the most important piece of advice you'll ever get concerning this subject. Do this: After you've "captured" what appears to be your first viable idea ("Hey, Marge, let's sell a report on the secrets of how to profit in L.A. real estate to everyone in the area who just got their real estate license!"), you sashay down to your local stationery store and buy 1,000 #10 white envelopes. You then scurry over to your local quickie printer and you have him print your address in black ink in the upper left hand corner of those envelopes. Then you get the names and addresses of 1,000 of the people who might be interested in your offer and you sit down and...
You Address Those Envelopes!
Not your spouse, your kids, your secretary -- you do it. And then, you go to your local post office and get 1,000 first-class postage stamps and you lick 'em and you stick 'em. Next, you sit down and, in one sitting, you write the best sales letter you can to those people. You describe what you have to offer and you ask them to buy it and send you money. And then, if you don't type yourself, you take that letter to a typist and have it typed and then go get it printed. And then, you sign all 1,000 letters and you fold them and you stuff them into the envelopes. Then you seal the envelopes and you take those letters to the post office and mail them.
What? Aren't we going to wait until you know how to write a good sales letter? Until you get things fine tuned a little? NO! NO! NO! NO! This is how you learn to write! You don't wait for anything! It is movement that produces expertise. Not meditation.
Come closer. Listen, I swear this is true: There is something that happens on a cellular level, something that indelibly imprints itself on your being, some kind of neural knowledge that can only be achieved by physically doing a mailing all by yourself.
Sound crazy? Too unsophisticated for a smart cookie like you? Consider this: I am probably responsible for more successful direct mail than anyone else in history. Just one of my letters is currently being mailed at the rate of 100,000 per day. My direct mail letters probably generate more money in any given month than most other "experts" are able to generate in a lifetime. I know more about how to make computer generated mail work, more about how to massage a database, more about how to extract meaningful data from a mathematical regression analysis, more about the results of different A/B split run tests etc., etc., etc. than anybody you'll ever meet in your entire lifetime and... and... and...
I Still Sit Down Several Times A Year And
I Become A "Kitchen Table Commando" And
I Personally Address Envelopes And
Fold Letters, Etcetera!
It's kind of ironic, isn't it? There sit the Herschells of this world, staring dumbly into a CRT screen mystically believing that a machine will somehow help them write better and there sits Gary at this kitchen table stuffing letters into envelopes just like a rank beginner and yet... and yet... and yet...
I Keep Producing Winner After Winner And
My Letters Drag In Tens Of Millions
Of Dollars, Year After Year!
How can this be? I don't even understand "The First Rule of If-Subjunctive" to say nothing of "The Comparative Conditional Declension Syndrome"!
Gary C. Halbert
I want to really help you "get" my message this month so, to that end, I'm going an extra step and I'm sending you a couple of instructive free gifts. One is a copy of that Social Security ad I told you about and then other is that letter I mentioned that dragged in over 20 million dollars. Read the letter especially carefully. It is, I believe, the most widely mailed letter in history. The idea for it was conceived in my mind when I read that article about the little old lady and then, I did what I've told you to do: I wrote the letter immediately and I addressed, stuffed, and stamped the envelopes myself. It didn't work (completely) right away but the "feedback" from that experience made me understand, on a "cellular" basis, what I needed to do and I kept modifying it (based on what my movement taught me) until I got it right.
|DM NEWS, in spite of what one staffer wrote to Calvin Black, is a very good publication and you should get it along with a few other direct response related periodicals (I'll name them another time) but only after you are grounded properly so you can't be so easily misinformed by very confused folks who are in love with their word processors.
And finally, when you tune in next month...
I'M GOING TO TEACH YOU THE REAL ART OF WRITING COPY!
Copyright © 2003 Gary C. Halbert. All Rights Reserved.