For Sale: Dead Puppies


Old joke:

A guy has two daughters. One’s a perky little blonde – a cheerleader and a hopeless optimist. The other is a Goth: She’s dyed her hair black, painted her fingernails black, wears black lipstick, heavy black mascara and is a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist.

Wanting to show each of them a more balanced view of life, Dad hits upon an idea: He’ll give his little pessimist a pony – and he’ll present his optimistic daughter with a steaming pile of horse poop.

So when the little Goth comes home from school, Dad follows her to see how she’ll react to the pony he left for her in her bedroom. "Oh no – not a pony," shrieks the Goth. "This is terrible: I’m going to have to feed and water it every day, clean up after it every day – and someday, it’ll get sick and die!"

Shaking his head in bewilderment, Dad checks to see how his little optimist is reacting to the pile of manure in her bedroom. Sure enough – she’s dancing around, throwing manure in the air like confetti and shouting "Yippee! Yippee!"

Baffled at his daughter’s euphoria, the father has to ask: "I filled your room with manure – why are you so happy?!"

"Because with all this horse poop," says the little optimist, "there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!"

Meet Sad Sack

The other day, a guy – a real sad sack – left a post on my blog. Said he’s been a copywriter for decades but has not been very successful at it.

It’s not his fault, of course. It’s the world’s fault. More specifically, the direct response marketing world’s fault. And to get even more specific, it’s ultimately our prospects’ fault.

See, our Sad Sack realizes that prospects will not respond to a depressed, negative, cynical salesperson. After all – if you’re interested in buying, say, a new car, the last thing you want is to consider all the possible negatives of car ownership.

We want the salespeople we deal with to be upbeat – excited, even – about the products we’re contemplating buying and the benefits they bring to our lives. And since copywriters are salespeople in print, that means he’d have to become (horror of horrors) enthusiastic about the products he’s selling.

But enthusiastic sales copy – which our Sad Sack refers to as “hype” – is beneath him. He wouldn’t dream of lowering himself …

Frankly, there are so many things wrong about that post,
I couldn’t even begin to address them all …

For one thing, our Sad Sack – our holier-than-thou cynic holding himself out to be a writer – obviously has no idea what the word “hype” even means.

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines “hype” – hyperbole – as “ … a figure of speech that is an intentional exaggeration for emphasis or comic effect.”

Wikipedia says hype is “ … a figure of speech in which statements are exaggerated … and is not meant to be taken literally. Some examples include: ‘He has a brain the size of a pea.’ … ‘I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.’ … ‘If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times.’ …”

Assuming that as a writer, Sad Sack understands that words have meaning – it seems he is opposed to saying “I could eat a horse” unless you have substantiation proving beyond a doubt that you do, in fact, have the digestive capacity to process 1,200 pounds of horseflesh at one sitting.

But of course, that’s not what S.S. is saying. He’s saying that being enthusiastic about the benefits a product brings to people’s lives – writing high energy sales copy about those benefits – is somehow immoral.

Because he didn’t just fall off the turnip truck: He knows all too well that there are plenty of negatives associated with every product you can name.

And you know what? He is 100% correct.

  • Big Macs tastes great – but they’ll make you fat, raise your blood pressure and if you eat them every day, they will probably wind up killing you with a heart attack or stroke.
  • Porsche 911s are a blast to drive – but they don’t get great gas mileage, virtually guarantee you’ll get speeding tickets and could ultimately kill you in a fiery crash.
  • Single people who want a life partner may be the most deceptive marketers of all – spending a small fortune each year to mask their physical flaws and emotional insecurities.
  • Even puppies have a downside. Sure – they’re cute, funny, adorable … but they will chew your slippers, poop on the carpet, barf on the couch, hump your Aunt Tilly’s leg – and ultimately, of course, they all die.

When you buy a puppy, you are in reality, buying a series of crises followed by a future tragedy.

And yes, McDonalds, Porsche, potential significant others and the dog pound are all notorious for their failure to mention the downside in their advertising. Instead, they spend their ad budgets emphasizing every benefit and suppressing every drawback.

… Which, to our moralistic Sad Sack is totally unacceptable … completely beneath a person possessing his lofty ideals and high moral character.

Obituary writer needed

“And so,” said Sad Sack, “I guess I’ll just have to accept the fact that I’m not going to be very successful.”

To which, I was tempted to write …

“No, you’re not going to be a success. At least not in the sales biz.”

“If you, in your heart of hearts, hate being advertised to … if you incessantly bitch about the amount of junk mail you receive … if you hate spending your money on anything but the bare necessities … and if you assume that everyone with a product or service to sell is a scam artist …

“There is an excellent chance that you have chosen to pursue the wrong career.

“Don’t get me wrong – you can still make a decent living as a writer. But please – for Buddha’s sake – get out of the marketing game now. There are plenty of writing jobs for negative, cynical people.

“Sure: You may wind up writing obituaries for the rest of your life, but hey – at least you won’t starve!”

Free your mind and your arse will follow

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have ignored Sad Sack’s post. Because he makes a point that simply isn’t being made enough by copywriting coaches today.

See, like the optimist in the little story at the beginning of this article, those of us who have made it in this business tend to be very positive people. We’re optimists. We believe that the products we promote really do bring value to our prospects’ lives. That makes us happy – enthusiastic, even – when describing that value.

On balance though, we also understand that in today’s increasingly skeptical world, optimism and enthusiasm must have a foundation. Our sales copy must be credible; therefore based on real, provable, easily demonstrable facts.

So while it’s true that just about everybody can write and that just about anyone can learn the rules for creating fair-to-middlin’ sales copy, not everybody has the proper belief system, mindset or the temperament to be a successful salesperson in print.

But couldn’t the same be said for pretty much every field of human endeavor?

The simple truth is …

If you think you’re a victim, you will always be a victim.

If you search for reasons to be depressed or to quit trying, you will find them.

If you justify your failure by belittling – or worse: Blaming your failure on successful people, you will find plenty of people willing to exploit you by confirming your victimhood … by justifying your depression … by commending you for your failure to give it your all … and by helping you blame others for your failure.

A couple of years ago, a woman told me she could never make it in this biz because she was a female.

Years earlier, a guy told me he’d never make it because he was black.

Guess what? Neither one of them made it.

Meanwhile, my beloved friend, Carline Anglade-Cole – an African American female copywriter – is driving a Mercedes, living in a 6,500 square-foot mansion and making $800k a year.

Food for thought …

Yours for Bigger Winners, More Often,
Clayton Makepeace Signature
Clayton Makepeace
Publisher & Editor
THE TOTAL PACKAGE

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32 Responses to For Sale: Dead Puppies

  1. Stew Kelly says:

    I had a chuckle reading your post Clayton. I reminds me of the guy who found a brick of gold and started complaining it was too heavy and the bank was too far to carry it.

    I wouldn’t have responded to him either. People that make those kind of excuses would have come up with more…like how they would be the only exception in the world to what you were trying to say to them.

    Darwin had it right about those folks. Get them out of the “gene” (copywriting) pool before they breed more pessimism.

  2. “For Sale: Dead Puppies” = Best. subject. line. ever? It’s gotta be a contender … :)

    As for your post I completely agree … if people spent half the amount of time actually driving forward than they do making excuses they’d be that much closer to their goals.

    If you think you *aren’t* going to make it, you’re right.

    If you think you *are* going to make it, you’re also right.

    So if you’re right either way, you might as well make it then …? ;)

    Cheers

    Nick :o )

  3. Great post as always Clayton :)

    Best,
    Caleb

  4. Brian says:

    Attitude is 90% of this business… thanks for the reminder Clayton

  5. Gary Calvert says:

    I don’t think S.S. could make it as an obit writer, either… There’s a lot of hype that goes into making someones life seem richer and fuller than it actually was… What’s he gonna say? “Joe was a lecherous old sot who never gave a darn about anyone but himself”…
    Great stuff, as usual.

  6. Clayton,

    I found you and “the readhead” a few years ago. Since then, I’ve become a huge fan of yours. I even went on to buy your “Best Ads Ever” product (don’t remember exact name).

    “For Sale: Dead Puppies”. How can you NOT open an email with a subject like that?

    And that brilliant joke and story about pessimism and optimism?

    Brilliant. Absolutely remarkable stuff!

    No wonder your emails is one of the few I open and read and devour end-to-end in a hurry every single time.

    Cheers!

    - Ravi Jayagopal

  7. Sorry, meant “RedHead” :-)

    - Ravi Jayagopal

  8. Chu D. Obii says:

    Wise words sir. Clayton, and sound advise… thanks!!

  9. Danny Colon says:

    A few years ago, the ‘Sad Sack’ you described could have described me.

    I’m glad I finally woke up and figured out that ‘Me, Myself and I’ was the only reason why I had not made a successful life for myself.

    Great article, Clayton!

  10. Wes Hopper says:

    S.S. reminds me of a gal that I met a few years ago who was telling me how she’d set up the business that was her long time dream. She had every aspect of her business ready, but she was moaning that she didn’t have any customers. When I told her I knew exactly how to fix that she was very excited, that is until I told her that the seminar I was doing in 2 weeks cost money. Then she cussed me out royally for taking advantage of her (!!) and stalked away. Naturally her business cratered. People who hate to be sold have a real hard time selling, don’t they? She didn’t see the relationship between her reaction to me asking money for my knowledge and her inability to ask for money for hers.
    Oh well, I got a great story to use in my programs anyway.

  11. Chris says:

    Excellent post Clayton! Pessimism is one of my best secret weapons.

    Here’s how I use it: When I’m writing copy for a product or service, I first use my natural pessimism / scepticism to “rip it apart” and find as many faults as possible. Then I take each “fault” and re-write it from an optimistic point of view.

    This gives me 3 great results: a. I have now created a degree of empathy with my prospect, and b. (hopefully) turned prospective objections into selling points, which also gives me a nice addition to my featured bullets, and c. Having to find the positive from a negative personally gives me a much better outlook on life (being the natural pessimist I am!)

    In this way, pessimism can be a very valuable asset in a copywriters arsenal … Or perhaps not! ;o)

  12. Great article. Mindset is the biggest difference between those who become successful and those who don’t. If you think you can or cannot you are usually right.

    Our internal belief system is the greatest asset and greatest liability we have in this life. Learning to improve, manage and build the right ones leads to prosperity and happiness. Letting the world create them for us leads to a life of frustration.

  13. Jon says:

    I was talking to a 26 year-old electrician the other day. He grumbled about his job, he grumbled about the firm he works for, he grumbled that the office staff didn’t know how to get business and he grumbled that the economy wasn’t helping.

    When I asked why he didn’t set up on his own he told me it was pretty obvious that he was far too young and wouldn’t have credibility in the market.

    Funny old world eh?

    What’s REALLY FRIGHTENING is that we always see it in other people but, when we have a grumble, well our excuses are quite justified, aren’t they?

    I guess some people are meant to be successful and other people are meant to work for them!

    Funny old world eh?

  14. Dale says:

    I’ve heard the pessimist optimist story before. It’s amazing who succeeds and who doesn’t. Atitude means a lot. Someone with all the right resources, knowledge and brains often fails while someone who does everything wrong succeeds. Even old grouches who you think would drive away customers still run successful businesses.

    Like the positive girl who found the manure in her room sometimes a negative turns into a positive. Some stores will deliberately misspell a word on their signs and when someone stops to tell them about it, they often buy something.

    Like the negative girl you can’t always ignore the downside. When someone tries to convince me to do something I don’t want to do, they forget I’m acutely aware of the negative side.

    Great post Clayton. Some of us really need the encouragement to be more positive.

  15. Ken Ca|houn says:

    Thanks for the chuckle, and solid points… like somebody said, it’s during times of adversity that one’s character comes out, how one copes with things tells you more about yourself (and is a good time for personal growth).

    Hopefully during these tough times, everyone learns to see the silver lining, plant seeds for upcoming better times, and make their own ponies and puppies out of the poo that is our economy right now. The buck stops here, one’s success is completely in one’s own approach.

    In copy I like the ‘world is falling’ financial pitches because it creates empathy, magnifies the problem/agitate/solve and opens the door to well-positioned solutions.

    -k

  16. Will says:

    @Chief Clayton,
    What excuse does an African American have to complain that he/she can’t make in this business?
    Do they have to deal with “you have an accent, where are you from?”
    Are you calling from Congo even though I am a resident of this country USA?

    I deal with that “MOUNTAIN”all the time and so how do I plan to break into this business as a consultant?

    It is actually easier that I thought.

    1. Hire someone who is white or African American and promise him or her 1 percent of whatever business he/she brings in. I am going to explain to him or her that there is no liability or whatsoever involved. So if I am making a residual income on a campaign, then he or she get paid continually for a job done once.
    2.Get him or her to do all the heavy selling while I do the dirty work or behind the scene work.
    3.Once I have enough case studies, then I let my results do the selling.
    4.If my results can’t do the selling, then I go back to #1.

    If that don’t work, then I know that I have at least tried.

  17. Rodney Daut says:

    Clayton,

    I loved your article and I also love the subject line which made your email irresistible to open. I also agree with the gentleman above who said that S.S. wouldn’t make it as an obit writer either because you have to believe there’s something worthwhile to be said about each person who died.

    Rodney

  18. Asher says:

    As stated by an earlier commentor… how can I not check out: Dead Puppies for Sale? I just love how you can bring the dead to life.

    Great stuff, thanks for the reminder that we can all be where we wanna be as long as we believe it (which applies to negative stuff as well).

    Asher

  19. Roger Due says:

    Not only does the ‘right attitude’ apply to copywriting, but to everything in life. Sure there are challenges, but when approached with the right attitude and ACTION they can be stepping stones to greatness. Have you ever noticed how many people who eventually rise to the top started with the cards stacked against them?

    I remember a few years back seeing some presentations on, I believe it was ’60 Minutes’, about people with severe physical challenges that were more successful than most ‘normal’ people ever dream of. I don’t remember the details now, but one man was a quadriplegic with all sorts of additional challenges, yet he built a very successful company creating very useful products based upon some of the challenges he had to deal with. Very humbling. He wasn’t the only one with severe challenges who made significant contributions.

    Another ’60 Minutes’ presentation was about a failing school in Harlem years ago. Since all the students came from broken homes in an area where crime was prevalent, most educators didn’t expect much and certainly didn’t get much. But eventually one educator was presented with a ‘shut up or put up’ prospect and decided to take on the challenge. She assembled a group of teachers who were up to the challenges. She also told the students that, yes everyone knew that they came from overwhelming problems, BUT the minute they walked in the school door they were there to LEARN. The teachers were there to help them succeed. It took a little while, but eventually the magic of the ‘right attitude’ and willingness to take action worked.

    During one interview at this school the interviewer was shown a class where the students were learning the Japanese language. The interviewer asked “isn’t Japanese hard to learn?” The response: “the students haven’t been told that!”

    The end result of this change in approach was that this school started graduating more students with full scholarships to Ivy League Universities than the best prep school in town! And of course, a significant population was able to rise above their disastrous environment and become significant contributors to society and inspiration for others.

    So yes, you are absolutely right. Our ATTITUDE is very important.

    Let me recommend a wonderful book, “Infinite Possibilities” by Mike Dooley, that I am now reading. You can get it on Amazon. Very insightful. Thanks.

  20. Dana says:

    Clayton,
    Great post. Sad but true. How horrible it must be for these people to go through life not knowing, or maybe not admitting they are their own road block. The bad thing is, they try to keep you from succeeding, & then try to make you feel guilty for making more money, having more time, enjoying more vacations, just plain succeeding. I guess that’s why buildings have doors, phones hang up, & we can walk/drive, to get away from this environment as fast as possible when we find ourselves in these situations. Keep it coming.

  21. Wize Time says:

    What a great post especially with the doom and gloom we’ve been witnessing in the news! There must be a pony in there somewhere – it’s a good analogy for starting an internet business -

  22. David Mould says:

    Sad Sack just needs a writing career that he can believe in…such as a product tester/evaluator, where he can present negatives with positives, such as Consumer Reports, or a skeptic or debunking organization where he can go wild, finding all the negatives.

    Or maybe he could become a film or food critic. There are plenty of ways to turn a negative attitude into a valuable service…just not in copywriting.

  23. Len says:

    To Will (Comment # 16) — One great thing about this business is that you can overcome any accent in writing. If your written communications are good enough, it won’t matter whether you sound like you’re living in India, China, Russia, or Timbuktu. So keep working hard, and keep the faith! :)

  24. frann says:

    I have heard this pony story before, and it always makes me think… what did the person in charge of housekeeping think about this? And did the family all go round with clothes pegs on their noses for the rest of their lives? Or did they move out? :)

    Having said that, the Sad Sack story and its conclusion was very interesting. Thanks. [I'd love not to have to write copy, because i'm much more into code. You revealed why I shouldn't! Not that I'm a pessimist, but I'm no raging enthusiast, either.]

  25. David says:

    Loved the insights in this article. Reminds me of Plato’s famous statement, “What thou seest, that thou beest”…or more closely to what you said, “What thou beest, that thou seest”.

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  27. Walter Daniels says:

    This is partly in response to #11, as well as Clayton. Hype of the type that #11 talks about is dead, or dying. It tries to sell something as what it isn’t. If the real features can’t sell something, then you’re lying when you invert the faults.
    A worthwhile product, or service, has enough features to sell it, if presented properly.
    If it has so few that a copywriter has to make them up, or grossly exaggerate, is so poor it can’t sell for long. When I hire a copywriter, it’s to properly present the FAB. That’s the Features, Advantages and Benefits of the product. If all you do is, try to fool my potential customers, you destroy both of us.
    My customers, or clients, are my friends, not faceless strangers. I don’t sell chopped steak, as Grade One Steak. Especially if it’s a lower grade, as it usually is.
    Hype is making someone believe that buying the right Deodorant, attracts Beautiful Women. Good Advertising says. (In a Red Green Moment.) “If you can’t be Handsome, you can at least smell good.” Most men, will buy that idea, and only a few will fall for the Hype. Genuine Hype benefits no one. Good presentation is win-win, as it should be.

  28. John Forde says:

    So I just read a piece about “Sad Sack” in the Early to Rise ezine today… and felt compelled to log on to this site to find the original… which I did (obviously) via the search engine… only to scroll down to praise the article… and discover that I had already commented on it once before, nearly two summers ago.

    Anyway… great piece.

    This should be required reading for all new hires (NOT just copywriters) at any company that markets anything. “Antimarketerianism” is a rampant disease. It causes not just an aversion to making money and words that facilitate making money, but it also causes a certain smugness in that delusion.

    e.g. “So I guess I’ll just have to accept the fact that [I'm too good to be]/not going to be successful…” No, instead you’ll be the remora fish suckling off the results of the people who actually work to make the business profitable… that is, until you’re found out and gotten rid of… or kicked upstairs to become a marketing-averse, over-compensated office monkey. People who impede the progress of any organization to sell, in my opinion, should just stay home.

  29. Jump higher says:

    Awsome Post. I Only wish I had found your site earlier! This is my second comment after only reading 2 or 3 of your articles.

    Usually I don’t comment at all (with the exception of building backlinks of course) but there is so much good content on your site I feel that I have to thank you again.

    I am truly at a loss for words. I don’t even know where to begin I’ve subscribed to your list for the freebies and haven’t even read them yet because I keep running in to all of your powerful posts.

  30. Katrin says:

    Dear Mr Makepeace

    I felt free to “steal” and translate your very well written article for the german copywriter┬┤s blog “blog.profi-texter-forum.de”. Thanks a lot for this awesome post!

    Katrin Weber

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  32. Anne Grey says:

    I love this article! I’ve been a glass-half-empty kind of girl my whole life and this really speaks to me. The title is awesome and I love the life lesson here. Bravo, Clayton!

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