Evolution of a Copywriter

  • Why working with smaller businesses is a great way for you to get started as a new copywriter – and how it can mean big bucks for both you and your client …
  • 2 things every ad needs to accomplish in order to be successful – you nail them and you’ll have a potential winner on your hands …
  • Why the famous GoDaddy.com commercial from the 2005 Super Bowl – the one featuring the beautiful woman with the wardrobe malfunction – was a total failure – and how you can use the lessons learned to improve your advertising …
  • And much, Much MORE!

Dear Business Builder,

Today, I have a special treat for you – an interview with a great friend and fellow copywriter, Brad Petersen.

Brad and I have conspired on many promotions over the years – and I think so highly of him, I’ve actually had paid him $120,000 per year just to have him on-call to help me with promotions for my financial and health clients.

A while back, Brad and I spent an hour on the phone talking about the lessons he’s learned that can help you get bigger winners, more often.  I’m convinced that this journeyman copywriter’s insights will make you a ton of money.

Clayton Makepeace: Hi Brad. How are you?

Brad Petersen: Hi Clayton, I’m doing great, thanks. How about you?

Clayton: I’m doing very well, thank you. I appreciate you doing this with me.

Brad: No problem. I think it will be fun.

Clayton: Let’s drive right in. First, Brad, before talking about how you got into copywriting, tell me about your childhood, your family life, and your education experience.

Brad: Okay. I grew up in what I guess you would call a middle class family. I have two brothers and two sisters, so there was always something going on at our house.

My dad always had the entrepreneurial bug and pursued a few business ventures. Unfortunately, none of them were really successful and he ultimately pretty much gave up the entrepreneurial game and spent most of his career in the corporate world.

Despite that, I inherited the bug from my dad, as did my brother who is also in business for himself.

Clayton: What kind of entrepreneurial things was your dad involved in?

Brad: He owned an insurance agency at one time. He was involved in the development of a travel trailer park in Devore, California. We lived on the property while they were building it, and absolutely loved it. It was in the country, so there was lots of hiking, we had all sorts of pets, and I remember really enjoying living there.

He had a couple of other ventures, including a bookstore. He also talked about going into the mail order business and I remember reading Melvin Powers’ book, How to Get Rich in Mail Order when I was in college because of it – and that sort of gave me an introduction to the direct response business.

But, like I said, none of his ventures went big, so he wound up making his living in the corporate world. However, I seem to have inherited whatever it was that drove him to try to make it on his own.

My brother is the same way. He’s in the specialty food business. He has several of his own products and acts a sales agent for various specialty brands. My other brother has a regular job, but he has the itch to get out on his own. He just never found the right thing.

Clayton: Very interesting. Okay, so all of this was in Southern California?

Brad: Yes. I lived in San Bernardino until seventh grade, and then we moved to San Clemente, a really great beach town in south Orange County. I haven’t lived there in years, but I still love it. I left when I went away to college and wound up living in near where my wife grew up, in Torrance, California.

Clayton: Where did you go to college?

Brad: I went to Loyola Marymount University, a small Catholic college in L.A. I was a history major. I had always thought I’d be a writer – a journalist perhaps. Unfortunately, it never occurred to me that you could make a living writing advertising, so I didn’t find out about that until several years after college.

However, I did luck out with my first real job after college. After piddling around for a year or so, I got a job working for Robert Ringer, the author of the book Looking Out for #1 and a few other best-sellers. I’m a big fan of his and he ran an ad in Reason magazine looking for employees. I applied, and got the job.

At the time, he was publishing a financial newsletter called The Tortoise Report. He mostly promoted through the mail using long copy. So I saw the real live results for myself. My job was administrative. As I recall, I opened the subscription orders, entered them into the computer, sent out the welcome package, and so forth.

It was fun job. I worked with great people, and, of course, I was excited to be working for Robert Ringer. I still remember the first time I read Looking Out for #1 in college. I loved his writing style and his philosophy.

Clayton: Was this before Blanchard began publishing The Tortoise Report?

Brad: Yes – I lost my job when Blanchard bought The Tortoise Report and moved the whole operation to Louisiana.

Clayton: Sorry about that.

I remember Robert Ringer being on The Tonight Show. That was my first exposure to him, when he was on the book tour for Looking Out for #1.

Brad: Right.

Clayton: And his whole rationale is something I think that would be extremely helpful for copywriters to read.

Brad: Oh, absolutely.

Clayton: And businesspeople as well. The whole concept of rational selfishness.

Brad: And equally as important, I think, is his first book, Winning Through Intimidation.

Clayton: Yes.

Brad: The title apparently offends some people – though I think it’s kind of fun and interesting. However, the book is really about not letting yourself be intimidated by your circumstances, by other people, by people posing as experts, by people who want to keep you in your place or cheat you out what you’re owed.

Clayton: It was a brilliant title, because, you’re right, the book was about winning in spite of intimidation. But using the word "through" gave it an edge that really made people intrigued.

Brad: Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, he’s since updated and revised the book. It came out just in the last couple of years. And the new version is called To Be Intimidated or Not To Be Intimidated, which just doesn’t have the impact, I don’t think.

I think he tried to soften the title a bit – perhaps because he’s taken a beating from a lot of people who obviously never read any of his books. I don’t know how many times I’ve read or heard that Looking Out for #1 teaches you how to get ahead by screwing other people – which is simply absurd and indicates the person didn’t even read chapter one of the book.

But I don’t think softening the title is a good marketing technique.

Clayton: No.

Brad: And I think Robert must know that. He’s a brilliant marketer, knows what he’s doing, and really achieved phenomenal success marketing his books and the books of other people onto the best-seller list.

Clayton: Was he working with Dan Rosenthal when he did those great full-page newspaper ads for Winning Through Intimidation and Looking Out for #1?

Brad: I don’t believe so. I think that was all him. But I don’t for sure.

Clayton: Ringer was one of the first people to develop the idea of segmenting the nation’s newspapers into A, B and C groups based on responsiveness and creating a real marketing machine for his books using full-page newspaper ads.

: And both Jay Abraham and Dan Rosenthal – and myself – followed on that success and built major companies using Ringer’s principles.

Brad: Ringer’s success was phenomenal. And he did it with his own books and with books written by others. He made Doug Casey’s Crisis Investing a best-seller. Another one I recall was called Nice Girls Do, and it was a huge bestseller. And he did it all with full-page ads in The Wall Street Journal and other places that drove people to bookstores. Although I think he sold them through the mail as well, at least in the early days. And drove all these books to the top of the bestseller list.

Clayton: One of the concepts he introduced that I used with wonderful success at Security Rare Coin up in Minneapolis was that very idea. He would take a book. and write a full-page ad for it. Then he would go to B. Dalton and other national bookselling chains, and he would ask them to subsidize the cost of running the ad in return for putting their logo in the ad along with his response device.

And then in the ad, he would say, "Pick up this book now at your local Barnes & Noble bookseller," and he would even include a telephone number and an address for the local stores. But he’d also have a response device of some kind.

And it was brilliant, because all a retailer like Barnes & Nobles wants is store traffic. And if you can show that you’re generating a response with your ad and people are reading and responding to it through the mail, then that tells Barnes & Noble you’re getting eyeballs and a lot of people will come to their store to look for it and end up buying that plus other things.

So it was really wonderful. And we did that at Security Rare Coin with a book – 27 Forecasts for 1983, I think it was.

That’s interesting. I didn’t even know you worked for Robert Ringer.

Brad: It was a fun experience, and I picked up a little direct response experience. But unfortunately, I didn’t stay with direct response. After he sold the company to Blanchard, I went into sales for the next three years. Selling had its pros and cons. I wasn’t the best salesman in the world, but I did at least learn the principles of selling, which are so important for a copywriter to know.

And knowing those principles made the idea of salesmanship in print much more natural for me. I saw how it translated. When I was selling copiers and typewriters to people, I didn’t do it by trying to entertain them. I did it by selling them on the benefits of the product.

So when I got into advertising in 1988 and started reading Jay Abraham and Gary Halbert, the two big gurus at the time, it all made perfect sense because of my selling experience. I think it made my transition easier than it may be for some people who just don’t understand selling when they get started.

Clayton: So you met John Finn when selling office equipment?

Brad: Yes. For those who don’t know who John Finn is, he’s an agent/matchmaker who represents both copywriters and direct response companies and brings them together.

Anyway, I was out making cold calls, and I just happened to cold call his office one day. Interestingly, just minutes before I had also cold called Jay Abraham’s office, which was nearby.

I don’t believe Jay was a marketing guru at the time. As I recall, he was marketing subscriptions to financial newsletters for $19 a year. I believe Jay got to keep the $19 and the newsletter got the name. Then the newsletter made its money through renewals and back-end products. I was actually a customer of his, so I recognized the company and his name.

Anyway, a few minutes later I cold-called John and somehow realized he too was somehow tied into the financial newsletter business. So we talked about that, I mentioned having worked for Robert Ringer, and we became friendly. So I’d stop by his office when I was in the area and visited.

This was back in the mid-1980s – 1985 or 1986 – and John was mostly in the list business, but also dabbling as a copywriter’s agent. So he was the first to introduce me to this thing called copywriting. And after awhile I realized I might be able to make a living doing it.

So I decided to get out of selling and into advertising. The first thing I did was to get a job at an ad agency called Foote, Cone & Belding, working in the mailroom. Foote, Cone was actually the successor agency to Lord & Thomas, the agency that employed Claude Hopkins, and, briefly, John E. Kennedy – two of advertising’s all time greats.

Lord & Thomas was owned by Albert Lasker who made a fortune peddling the idea of advertising as “salesmanship in print” to his prospects and clients. He learned the idea from John E. Kennedy in the early 1900s and then he and Hopkins used it to make tens of millions of dollars for themselves back when a million dollars really meant something.

Anyway, when Lasker retired he also retired the name Lord & Thomas and the company became Foote, Cone & Belding after the three company executives who took over – Emerson Foote, Fairfax Cone, and Don Belding.

Unfortunately, by the time I worked there, nobody at FCB even knew who Claude Hopkins, Albert Lasker, or John E. Kennedy were. They, and all the great principles they taught, were mostly forgotten or simply dismissed as irrelevant to modern advertising.

However, I did find some great stuff in the archives down in the basement – old ads, copies of some of John E. Kennedy’s books and pamphlets, and some other goodies. I recall giving copies to Gary Halbert, to Jay, to John Finn and a few others. Now you can find some of that stuff on the internet, but at the time nobody had it, so it was pretty neat.

I had great fun at Foote, Cone. Working in the mail room was a blast – and stress-free, too. Unfortunately, it just didn’t pay the bills.

So I worked there for a little over a year and then got a call from a buddy of mine – another budding copywriter who I’d met through John Finn – who was working for Jay Abraham. He needed an assistant or something like that and offered me a job. So I went to work for Jay. I was a jack of all trades while working there, but did get some good experience editing various products for Jay – mostly transcripts of his marketing consultations if I remember correctly.

And you know him – the guy who hired me – it was Gary Walterscheid.

Clayton: Is that right?

Brad: Gary was Jay’s right-hand man for quite some time. Eventually, we both moved on, and I wound up working for one of your former employers, Craig Huey, at his ad agency Creative Direct Marketing Group here in Torrance. I went on there as a junior copywriter, making about ten bucks an hour, as I recall.

Clayton: Yeah. What other copywriters were working there at the time?

Brad: It was just Kent Komae and myself. Kent was the copy chief or the creative director. And he, of course, has gone on to become something of a superstar freelance copywriter himself.

Clayton: Just to give a little history for the people who are reading this, when I left the motion picture business in 1974, I answered an ad in the paper that was placed by a small mail list brokerage in Palos Verdes called Infomat. And they were looking to hire a copywriter to create a creative division in the company so they could do copy and graphics as well as just rent mailing lists. And the rationale at the time was that people will rent more lists from us if they have better copy to mail. That company became Creative Direct Marketing Group, the company Brad worked for.

Anyway, I auditioned for and received a job offer the day after I submitted my sample. And it was really where I began in copywriting. And Mike Engler, who was the owner’s roommate at the time, is the person who turned me on to all of the great works by John Caples, Ogilvy, Rosser Reeves, and the rest.

And so that was really my entrée to copywriting. I didn’t begin as a freelancer. And I really feel that the time I spent there was foundational. I didn’t make much money. My salary was $15,000 a year. But looking back, I should’ve probably paid the owner for the experience I got there.

But we started the creative division and built it up to a million dollars in sales prior to my leaving the company. And then in the years later, Brad, as I understand, Jim Rutz followed me there, Kent Komae, you. Are there any others?

Brad: I know Gary Walterscheid worked there at one time, but I don’t know of any others whose names are recognizable.

Clayton: I think I left in ’77 or ’78. So I left there at least 10 years before you were there.

Brad: I worked there in 1989. I was only a part-timer, working five hours a day, so I also did a little freelance work. After about a year I decided to make the leap and become a full-time freelancer, working out of my house. In fact, I worked at home up until about five years ago, when I got an office just so I could get away from the distractions of home life.

And it has worked out well. John Finn got me a few jobs in the early going, I lucked into some work, got some great referrals, and have managed to make a career of it. And of course, I met you though John back in 1995 or 1996, which gave my career a big boost.

Clayton: It sounds like you had a lot of really great early influences. Lucking into relationships with Jay Abraham and Gary Walterscheid early on was incredible. And then going to work for Foote, Cone, & Belding and discovering all that Kennedy stuff in the basement.

Brad: Oh yeah, it was great. I feel very fortunate.

Clayton: . I find it interesting that Gary Bencivenga started his advertising career working for David Ogilvy – the one guy in modern advertising who remembered and actually practiced much of what Kennedy, Hopkins, and Lasker taught so many years ago. Gary learned a lot of foundational things at Ogilvy & Mather. And Ogilvy was his springboard, and then he connected with Dan Rosenthal. It seems like your springboard was FCB, which was in the Lasker -Hopkins tradition, and then you moved on to Jay Abraham, who is a practitioner of those same principles.

Brad: Definitely. I should also mention that Gary Halbert had a tremendous influence on my thinking, as well. I met him through John Finn, as well, and read his newsletter and went to some of his seminars. I also met John Carlton through John Finn, and we became friends.

Clayton: There are probably three or four thousand readers of The Total Package who would give their right arm to wander in to a relationship with people like Robert Ringer, Jay Abraham, and, Gary Halbert. And yet it was just plain dumb luck for you. It just happened. That’s wonderful.

Brad: I guess I was in the right place at the right time. I’d have to say that cold calling John Finn was one of the luckiest things I’ve ever done.

Clayton: And that face to face selling experience was probably as helpful for your copywriting career as was learning the secrets of Kennedy, Lasker, and Hopkins. I often tell people who want to get into copywriting to get a night job as a salesperson. If you want to be a great copywriter, you’ve got to be a salesperson first.

Brad: That’s great advice.

Clayton: Copywriting isn’t about writing, it’s about sales. And you came to the industry with that kind of face-to-face, grind it out, overcome objections, old-fashioned salesmanship.

Brad: Right – though I don’t think that’s the best way to do it these days, but that’s the way we did it then. If I’d known how to write a good lead generation letter or about the importance of back-end sales and various other marketing principles I take for granted now, it would have done wonders for my sales career.

One of the most important things I learned is how difficult it is to make a sale. It’s not enough to just say who you are, what you’re offering, and how much it is. You have to show the prospect what’s in it for them if they buy your product or service. And you have to show why your product is better than everybody else’s.

Every salesman knows this – or learns it the hard way. And knowing this made me a much better copywriter. I didn’t waste any time with ads that just tried to get attention or tried to entertain people. I certainly never sold a copy machine by doing a dance routine for a prospect. So it wasn’t at all hard for me to accept that advertising is nothing more than “salesmanship in print” as John E. Kennedy described it..

Clayton: . How did you apply those lessons effectively when you began writing copy?

Brad: I knew going in that I had to make a strong case right there in my ad or sales letter for whatever product or service I was selling. I knew I had to give them very specific reasons to buy my product and back them up with proof.

When I sold copy machines, nobody really wanted a copier. They’re expensive, they take up space, they break down. But everyone wanted copies. So I wasn’t selling a copier. I was selling good copies at a reasonable price.

Sometimes, of course, I was also selling speedy copies – a feature – so they could get the benefit of employees spending less time standing at the copier and more time getting their work done.

Always I was finding ways to connect the benefits of the copier with the wants expressed by the customer. And I do the exact same thing when I write sales copy.

Clayton: I think that’s a wonderful insight into copywriting. A couple of months back I wrote an article for The Total Package talking about the fact that a lot of writers I work with wouldn’t know a benefit if it bit them on the butt. In other words, they’re selling the copy machine, not the copies . Like you said, nobody wants a copy machine. People want copies. People want reliability. People want to look like a hero to the boss, ’cause they saved him money. Those are the things that people want. Nobody wants a copy machine.

Brad: Absolutely. It’s not enough to say your machine makes 50 copies a minute. You’ve got to translate that into something worthwhile. Ask yourself, what does that mean to the prospect? It means that when he goes to the copy machine, he’s only going to be there for 30 seconds, and he’s going to get the job done faster, be more productive, get more done, look better in the eyes of his boss.

Clayton: Yeah, and to the boss it means he’s going to save X number of employee hours per year. And that’s what’s viable to him, so by asking him to make a $10,000 purchase, say, you could show him where he’s going to save $50,000 a year.

Brad: And that’s a heck of a lot better promise than “50 copies a minute.”

Clayton: So either by the college of hard knocks or instinctively, long before you met Jay Abraham or read John Caples or any of the other advertising greats, you had figured out the importance of selling benefits over features.

Brad: Definitely. It’s one of the first things any new salesman learns. That’s why I always tell new copywriters to read a few books on selling, even as they’re studying the great copywriting books.

Clayton: What are some of your favorites?

Brad: There are so many good ones. But some of my favorites are How to Master the Art of Selling by Tom Hopkins, How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger, How to Sell Anything to Anybody by Joe Girard, Secrets of Closing the Sale by Zig Ziglar, and The Five Great Rules of Selling by Percy Whiting. And a really great more recent book is Dan Kennedy’s No B.S. Sales Success. These books are such a rich source of valuable material you can use in copywriting.

When I first read those books, it made sense to me. So when I first read Claude Hopkins and John Caples and all the rest, it all came together. I understood what they meant and I bought into it. And it has served me well.

Clayton: Cool. Those are some wonderful recommendations. You know, we have eight or 12 books that we recommend to people, but I’m definitely gonna be adding Robert Ringer’s books as well as these others that you’ve just mentioned to our recommended reading list.

Now, I’d like to switch gears for a moment to talk more about the companies you’ve worked with. I know that in addition to the successes you’ve had among traditional direct response companies that I work with, you’ve also taken on some smaller, more traditional companies as clients. I’d like to hear more about that, because a lot of our younger copywriters, for a lot of them, working for small business to begin with is a great way to get started.

Brad: Okay. One of the nice things about small businesses is that there are so many opportunities simply because they’re doing almost nothing right marketing-wise. So even the most mediocre copy and the most mediocre marketing ideas can work like gangbusters compared to what they’re doing now. So you can really build your copywriting chops with those kinds of companies, while doing them a real service.

The challenge is getting them to hire you in the first place. So many of these guys have never used direct response and are really close minded to its benefits. They’ve always done everything the hard way, cold calling, running tombstone-style yellow pages and space ads – what I call name, rank, and serial number ads that tell me nothing other than their name, address, and phone number.

And they get their advice, often, from the yellow pages rep or the newspaper rep – guys who usually know next to nothing about effective advertising. But they represent themselves as experts, and these business guys believe it.

In addition to that, most small businesspeople – and most people in general – simply refuse to believe that long copy works. They think that everything has to be short and catchy and entertaining, because that’s what they saw on the Super Bowl. So they’re looking for ads that entertain and don’t really understand why your every ad needs to generate a trackable response.

Often they don’t even know if their ads generate a response. They have no idea whether they’re working or not. Nor have they ever tested any new ideas or new ads. Often the only reason they have any business at all is because they’ve been around a long time, they have a good location, or whatever. They don’t realize that their advertising isn’t producing a thing.

I’ll give you an excellent example of that. I have a friend who’s a successful builder of tract homes. One day he listened to another interview I did with Bob Serling, a savvy marketing strategist and copywriter in his own right. During the interview I mentioned the idea of tracking the results of your advertising and testing different ideas.

This idea really resonated with him because he was spending something like $600,000 or $700,000 a year on advertising – mostly on billboards and newspaper ads – but didn’t know if any of it was working or not.

So, after listening to my interview, my friend simply canceled all his advertising. I don’t necessarily recommend that kind of drastic action, by the way, but that’s what he did. And believe it or not, his sales weren’t affected in any way. He noticed no difference whatsoever – other than the additional several hundred thousand dollars a year that were now in his bank account instead of somebody else’s.

Clayton: Yeah.

Brad: The point is that his advertising was achieving absolutely nothing. And I think many businesspeople would be surprised to discover that the same is true of their advertising.

Clayton: Let me jump in for a second, because there are two things that went through my mind as you were saying that. The first has to do with accountability in advertising. I don’t know the exact number, but my guess is probably 80% of the money spent advertising today is spent in media and in campaigns in which there’s no way to know if the advertising was helpful or not. And your friend is the shining example of that, because he had no way to track the results of his advertising. He was wasting, over the period of many years, millions of dollars that came right off his bottom line, on ineffective advertising.

The second thing is what frequently happens to local businesspeople Put yourself in his shoes for a moment. You work hard all your life. You finally get a nest egg together and you achieve your dream of opening your own antique store on Main Street in a quaint little tourist town someplace. And you settle in. You get the store fully stocked. You open the doors. And you sit there, and nobody walks through the door.

And after a couple hours the door opens and someone walks through, and instead of a customer, it’s a representative of the local newspaper. And he wants you to buy an ad. And you talk to him and you figure, well, okay, maybe so. And you buy an ad, and he leaves. And then a couple hours later the door opens again and another guy walks in, and it’s the representative of the local cable television channel. And he wants to sell you ads. And a couple hours later the local yellow page person comes in. A couple hours later the account reps from the local TV and radio stations, show up. A billboard agency salesman comes by.

And in each case you tell them that you don’t have an ad, and in each case one of these salesmen says, ”Well, don’t worry, I’ll create one for you.” So now you’ve got a salesman for the medium that you’re spending money in who has no training, no experience, and no track record creating ads for you. And, as a result, thousands of people across this country who have achieved their dream and actually started their own businesses are sitting in their stores day by day watching their nest egg dwindle. And every one of the campaigns that they’re sold are campaigns that are not trackable. And so, like your friend, they’re terrified of canceling their advertising, thinking that that would erode whatever sales they are making.

Brad: Right.

Clayton: And all of this ties into this incredible scam that I want to draw you out on a little bit later, the Madison Avenue scam.

Brad: Okay. You know when it comes to the small businessmen I encounter, I see so many who pour everything into these businesses and then their advertising is lousy. And often they wind up going out of business – or never do anything close to the business they could be doing if they advertised properly.

Of course, when things go wrong, they’ll blame the medium instead of their execution. So you’ll hear countless small businesspeople pronounce that direct mail doesn’t work – but the reality is, the direct mail they sent out simply stunk. And often that’s because, as you said a minute ago, they’re taking advice from people with no experience, no track record, and no knowledge of direct mail principles. Perhaps more importantly, those people don’t have a stake in the success of the business, so it ultimately doesn’t effect them much if your advertising fails to produce.

That’s why I think it’s such a good idea to give any copywriter you hire a royalty of some kind that’s tied to the success of the promotions he or she does for your business.

Unfortunately, many of the businessmen I talk to don’t want to do that. They’ll happily pay a salesman a commission for every sale he makes. But when they hire a copywriter or marketing consultant, forget it. Yet that guy might just be the best salesperson your company ever hired. And if he’s able to bring your business an extra $1,000,000 in sales, why on earth would you begrudge him a $25,000 or $50,000 bonus? You’re getting $950,000 in revenue you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Even more importantly, when you offer a royalty or a commission, you incentivize the copywriter. If he knows that his compensation is tied to the success of your promo, he has an even bigger incentive to pull out all the stops to make your promotion the biggest winner possible.

Clayton: Absolutely. Furthermore, the best copywriters won’t even consider taking a job that doesn’t include a royalty.

Now, let’s talk specifically about one of your clients who’s not part of our usual direct response clientele.

Brad: Okay, sure. I lucked out with this particular client, mostly because he was softened up by Gary Halbert. He was a subscriber to Gary’s newsletter which, as you know, teaches the principles we’ve been talking about. So he had already bought into the idea of salesmanship in print, using long copy, preaching the product benefits, and all that good stuff.

Anyway, he called Gary looking for a writer and fortunately for me, Gary recommended me.

Jim – the client – wanted to get into the business of manufacturing and distributing pool cues. He’d been a pool player all his life, owned a successful pool and billiard store, and had previously owned some billiard rooms. He had a new line of low-priced, high quality cues that he wanted me to help him pitch to dealers.

At the time, there was no such thing as a long copy ad in the industry trade magazines. It was pictures of the cues, perhaps the endorsement of a famous pool player, and very few words.

I knew right off that convincing someone of the quality of our cues was going to take a little more than that – especially if we wanted the cues to be a big success. Obviously, we were going to be facing some serious skepticism on the part of both dealers and consumers.

At the time, I partnered with Gary Walterscheid – another writer – on a number of projects, including this one. And we came up with a two-page, long copy ad. The headline addressed the prospect’s skepticism head-on. We had a pre-head that said, “Cues This Good at Prices This Low…” And the headline was, “Who Will Believe Us?” Then the ad was written like a letter from Jim to the prospect – acknowledging that what he promised was hard to believe, but here’s the proof.

In the ad we included a toll-free number so dealers could call to get information about carrying the cues – along with a coupon the actual player could use for a discount on the cue. Both of these helped Jim track response to the ad.

Fortunately, Jim went along with our ad, despite the fact that no one in his industry had ever done anything like it before. And fortunately for us, it worked like gangbusters.

Jim’s picture was in the ad and it made him a bit of a celebrity at the next industry trade show and the cues sold like hotcakes. Within a year or two he owned the low price, high quality niche and soon he had a booming business with multiple lines of cues, all kinds of accessories, furniture, you name it.

And it was built, at least initially, on long copy ads for a number of his products.

One of my favorites was for a new high-tech cue he was distributing that was more accurate than other cues. I wrote an ad and a sales letter and we sold so many more cues than they were expecting, that they literally had to stop running the ads because they couldn’t get the cues.

Unfortunately, a few years back Jim cut his involvement in the business way back and I began dealing with his daughter. I like her a lot, but unfortunately she has fallen under the evil influence of a graphic designer. This designer has apparently won various awards for her packaged goods designs, but she knows nothing about advertising. Her work is beautiful to look at, but she leaves very little room for copy and she’s smitten with reverse type, so what little copy there is, is usually unreadable.

I’ve argued and argued to no avail. The business is successful, it’s well-known, they have a huge presence at the trade shows, and they have momentum that keeps them growing. So the life or death of the business really isn’t tied to their advertising any more.

But I can’t help but wonder how much better they might be doing if they went back to long sales copy.

There’s a lesson here for every businessperson. Many of them get a certain momentum and stop doing what made them successful in the first place. Or they start worrying more about their image than about their sales. And, as a result, they leave countless millions of dollars lying on the table.

That image thing is huge for some businesspeople. They start thinking opinions are more important than results. Everyone they know finds their long copy ads ugly, refuses to believe that they work, and so forth.

I don’t know how many times I’ve had people tell me that long copy doesn’t work because no one will ever read it. And nothing I say can convince them otherwise. I’m sure, Clayton, you’ve had the experience of showing someone one of your magalogs that earned you a million dollars or more personally, and they’ll say, “Oh, come on, no one responds to that stuff.”

Clayton: Absolutely.

Brad: That brings me to another point. I just read an article in USA Today – it’s a few weeks old – where they polled consumers now on whether a particular ad was effective or not. They didn’t ask if the person had bought the product or not; they only wanted to know if the person found the ad effective. Based on this, USA Today chose what are supposedly the most effective ads of the year – again, not based on whether it sold any product, but on whether or not consumers thought it was a good ad.

Imagine the impact on a businessman who knows nothing about long copy, direct response advertising. They figure if the consumers like the ad, then that’s the style he should emulate.

The big mistake in that is, it’s not based on results. It’s not based on actual sales. It’s not based on profits. It’s based on a poll. And if we took our ads into a bar and polled everyone, a lot of times they’d say this ad is terrible. You’d hear, “I would never read this ad.” “I would never buy this product.” However, that’s not the way you measure whether an ad is effective or not. It simply doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of the ad. All that matters is whether or not it got results. And that’s the only thing anybody should ever be looking at when they’re looking at an ad.

Clayton: That’s one of the main problems with focus groups. You get a bunch of people in the room and show them an ad and you do exactly what you said. And the response you get is totally meaningless . First of all, the method you use to grab their attention was to get them in a room and say look at this, which, obviously, you’re not doing when the ad is actually running or being mailed or on the Internet.

And then secondly, their response to the ad is not backed up with a check. And so it’s a contrivance that totally frustrates the selling process. And any input or response they give you in that environment is suspect. And, therefore, those kinds of focus groups are a total waste of time.

Brad: I’ve also read that often focus group members will try to give the moderator the answer he or she wants.

Clayton: Yes.

Brad: They want to please the guy in charge.

Clayton: Or just maybe to sound smart.

Brad: There you go. That’s a common problem with opinion polls, as well.

Clayton: . Right. If you took a poll, you’d find out that nobody buys Playboy for the pictures. They buy it for the articles.

Brad: And nobody buys The National Enquirer, even though it’s the bestselling magazine in the world.

Clayton: Right. Right. The only answer that matters is one that’s accompanied by a check.

Brad: Yes. Exactly. If every business owner just got that into their skull, they would do so much better, even if they never hired a copywriter in their life. If you just made sure you could track the results of every ad and tried different things and quit listening to the so-called experts that keep telling you to build an image, build a brand – not that there’s anything wrong with having a good image or having a good brand.

The problem is, it’s too costly for the average guy. To build Miller Lite’s brand – and I love the tag line, "tastes great, less filling," – it costs them tens of millions of dollars. Most businesspeople don’t have those kinds of resources to build a brand. He’s got to rely on getting sales tomorrow, not six weeks, six months, or six years from now.

And so he’s got to run ads that get people to bring in their laundry tomorrow, and he’s got to run ads that he can track, so he knows whether his ads in the local paper are actually bringing in any laundry. And you do that with a coupon, or if nothing else, at least ask your customers, where’d you hear about me? How do you know about me?

And it’s a lesson that has to just be driven home again and again and again, to track everything religiously. If you do that, you’ll quickly disabuse yourself of the notion that short copy sells better than long copy or that it’s important to build an image, or that your ads have to be entertaining.

The entertainment thing is really a big problem because you so often hear people raving about commercials and ads that are entertaining and fun. Of course, when you ask them what product is being sold they usually have no idea – nor have they bought the product, which is even more important. They just thought it was a great ad.

Now, I’ve got nothing against entertaining people in your ads – so long as you sell at the same time. But the sale has to come first. Entertainment and any other factors are purely secondary. So if you can entertain, build a brand, build an image, look great in your community and sell at the same time, and be hilarious, go at it. More power to you. That’s phenomenal. But don’t let anything else take the place of sales.

Clayton: One of the things that always cracks me up is that the same idiots who talk about how ads have to be this way or that way or be an image ad or be beautiful or be funny or be amusing or be any of these other things, the last thing they ever want to do is to test their cockamamie ideas heads up against hard-selling, reason why, benefit-oriented copy.

Brad: Right.

Clayton: These are the same people who will talk about putting the customer first, and making the customer king. But they don’t want to be bothered with the actual numbers that the customers use to tell you whether or not they like your ads, whether or not they like your products. They don’t want to know that the response rate on an ugly long copy ad is five or six times higher than on their little image ads that they love so much.

So all the stuff they say about putting the customer first is just pure baloney. The only way to put the customer first is to test different ideas, let the market tell you what it wants, and then give them that. And that’s what direct response does.

Brad: Right.

Clayton: You and I were talking the other day about some specific ads that just crack you up. It’s amazing that a hard boiled, hard core MBA who’s now the CEO of a major corporation would spend a hundred million dollars putting ads that, in the first place, are untrackable.

In the second place, they don’t create a desire for the product, and in the third place even where the concepts of the ads themselves, or the video, or the imaging in the ads, completely overshadows the name of the product, the name of the company and everything else, so you remember the ad, but not the product or the company. I think you mentioned Carl’s Jr.

Brad: Carl’s Jr. ran a pretty famous campaign featuring Paris Hilton. I can only remember one specific ad right now, but if featured Paris essentially making love to a hamburger as she ate it. And it was a very sensual, sexy ad that every guy I knew loved. It even made the rounds of the internet via e-mail.

And I like Paris Hilton as much as the next guy. But I certainly don’t buy my hamburgers based on the fact that she’s eating one. And neither do the other guys I know. The fact that she’s eating one of their hamburgers doesn’t mean anything, nor does it tell me anything useful about the hamburger or about the experience I’m going to have when I eat one. It’s just Paris Hilton eating a hamburger.

Now I find those kind of commercials silly and ridiculous. But some people look at them and are deeply offended by them, especially since their kids are seeing them, too. And this is especially true of Christian audiences. And you can make fun of the Christians and the religious right as much as you want, but the fact is they’re a huge market. And they have sensibilities just like everybody else. And they wound up having a boycott of Carl’s Jr.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not necessarily against offending people. Nor do I think you should run your life in a way that avoids giving offense. But if you’re going to offend people in business, I think you should do it strategically. You should have a reason for doing it and derive some benefit from doing it. Otherwise, you’re wasting the company’s money and ripping off the shareholders.

Let me give you another example. Everyone remembers the GoDaddy.com commercial from the 2005 Super Bowl. It’s the commercial that featured a beautiful, well-endowed woman having a wardrobe malfunction during a Senate hearing of some kind. She nearly loses her top and all the old men on the Senate panel are about to keel over of heart attacks. It’s a funny commercial and I know it got the attention of every guy watching the Super Bowl.

And at the end of the commercial, they mentioned a web site, GoDaddy.com. However, if you asked the people raving about the commercial what the company’s web address was, they couldn’t tell you, nor could they tell you what business GoDaddy.com was in – though it is mentioned one time in the course of the commercial.

And believe it or means, it’s a company that registers domain names – and offers hosting and various other related services. Now, I’m sure some people went to GoDaddy.com, hoping to get further glimpses of the girl in the commercial. But are those really the prospects you want to spend several million dollars for? Wouldn’t it be better to run a commercial that attracts qualified prospects instead?

Before this call, I went on to their web site just to find out some details about the company because I knew I was going to use it as an example. I discovered that the company’s CEO has his own philosophy about advertising. He believes it must be "polarizing" to be effective.

Now, I’m sure that polarizing ads sometimes work – but it’s a tactic to be tested, not a philosophy – and it’s not appropriate for every product or every ad. But more importantly, if you’re setting out to offend half your prospects, you’d better make darn sure your ad really sells those who aren’t offended. And this ad did no selling whatsoever. It just showed a pretty girl and a web address. At least give me one good reason to go there.

I guess my point is that it does no good to piss people off if no one buys what you’re selling. You might as well just stay home.

And of course that brings us back to the importance of tracking everything you do and carefully testing new ideas before you go hog wild with them.

Clayton: I’m always amazed that the people who design those ads make millions of dollars every year, and are considered to be geniuses in the advertising world.

Brad: It’s a shame really because they seduce small businessmen into thinking that this is the way to advertise and so they waste countless dollars trying to entertain and amuse.

Clayton: . . Well, this is not a new problem. . As a guy that has done more to study the history of advertising and marketing than anyone I’ve ever met, you and I have talked often about lessons that were learned 100 years ago and that books have been written about by some of the founders of today’s advertising industry illustrating exactly the point that you’re making now.

Brad: I was a history major in college and I’ve always been fascinated by history. So when I got into advertising and learned about Claude Hopkins and read his books, I just found the subject interesting and fascinating, and so I sought out other older books.

You know, there’s a fantastic history of advertising called The Mirror Makers, by Stephen Fox, that is just phenomenal, and it goes through the history from the late 1800s up to when the book was written in the 1980s. And to me it was just fascinating.

Of course, most people listening to this call are familiar with the concept of salesmanship in print. It was devised by John E. Kennedy in the late 1800s or early 1900s. He shared the idea with Albert Lasker, the owner of Lord and Thomas. And Lasker bought into it hook, line and sinker. He’d been on a personal quest to try to figure out what advertising was.

And a lot of people thought advertising was just news. You just put the news of your product and that was it. And people had success with that back at the time. But Kennedy had the idea that it was selling. It’s nothing more complicated than that.

Lasker bought into it and built the most successful agency probably in history, called Lord & Thomas, and personally made something like $50 million. And he was dead by 1940, so he made all this money when $50 million was real money. It’s just a staggering amount of money.

Claude Hopkins worked for Lasker for many years and together they made many of their clients and each other quite wealthy.

But even at the time, there were other schools of advertising. Just like today, there was a school of advertising that said advertising isn’t either news or selling – advertising is entertainment. And if you took a poll of people today, that’s what they would say advertising is.

The most famous advocate of this point of view was a guy named Ernest Elmo Calkins. Calkins claimed that salesmanship in print didn’t work, that that it was really all about entertainment. One of his clients was a cereal company called Force Cereal. Force had a character called Sunny Jim associated with it. Calkins didn’t invent him, but he used him in the advertising he did for them. I imagine Sunny Jim was something like the Jolly Green Giant or the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

Of course, at that time, there was no TV. So they were building this business in print – with amusing jingles and cartoons about Sunny Jim. And Calkins’ ads made Sunny Jim one of the most famous characters in America. They took polls, and he was apparently as famous as both President Theodore Roosevelt and the well-known banker J.P. Morgan. Everybody knew who Sunny Jim was and everybody loved him.

But there was just a slight little problem – nobody was buying the cereal. Sure, they were all laughing at Sunny Jim, but they weren’t buying the cereal. And finally the company threw in the towel and hired that famous advocate of salesmanship in print, John E. Kennedy, to write a new advertising campaign for them.

And the next thing you know, Force Cereal was selling like gangbusters. And I have this great quote I looked up from Calkins after he was humbled by Kennedy, where he said, "The advertising absolutely sold Sunny Jim to the public, but it did not sell Force." And that’s the key point.

And the absolute best modern example of that is a campaign Nissan ran several years back that was designed by TWBA/Chiat/Day, one of those hot, creative advertising agencies everyone loves so much.

Hopefully, your readers will remember the campaign. Some of them featured Ken and Barbie and GI Joe-type action figures driving toy cars. In one of the commercials they had a dinosaur grab one of the characters and drop him into a car. It was just really entertaining. And I loved these commercials. I thought they were hysterical. There was one I recall where a seagull was chasing a brand new Nissan through the streets trying to soil it, and the guy just barely made it into his garage, and the seagull wound up impaled on his garage door or something like that. Really funny stuff.

And the advertising industry went nuts over it. The Wall Street Journal called one of the commercials in the campaign the most successful TV commercial of the year. Magazines were calling them the best ads of the year. The copywriters and art directors were invited to appear on Oprah. And they were going to make a TV series about the characters in the ads.

The advertising industry loved the ads as well. In fact, when Lee Clow – one of the TBWA/Chiat/Day honchos involved in creating the campaign – was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame, they started playing the music from the commercial and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. They were going nuts for this guy.

Now I have nothing against Lee Clow. For all I know, he’s a brilliant ad man. But in this case, he got all the fame and fortune while his client got the shaft. That’s because, despite all the adulation, there was this teeny, tiny little problem: Nissan sales were dropping like a rock and the car dealers were in revolt against Nissan.

I got some statistics from an article in The Wall Street Journal about the whole fiasco. And according to them, in the first month of the campaign, Nissan sales fell 2.7% over the previous year. The next month they fell 10.2%. Then they just fell 4%. Then they fell 2% again.

So their sales were falling. And, meanwhile, who’s their big competitor? Toyota. And their sales are booming on the backs of the same old boring, benefit-oriented ads featuring fat rebates. Buy a Toyota today, get a thousand dollar rebate. These ads didn’t win any awards and nobody got on Oprah for writing them, but they were getting bodies into the dealerships. And that’s what the dealers cared about. They need to make a living. They’ve got to feed their families.

In that same Wall Street Journal, there’s an incredible quote from Lee Clow that I think sums up the problem with advertising agencies. When Clow was told about the car dealers’ complaints, he said, "That’s car dealers. They’re forever bitching about something. There are always people that like to damn things that are new."

The arrogance of that statement is simply mind boggling. This guy was hired by Nissan to sell cars. He failed miserably at it and then has the nerve to bust their chops for having the audacity to complain.

There’s a valuable lesson here for every businessman and every corporation in America. It’s simply that your ad agency is most likely much more interested in winning awards and earning industry accolades than they are in selling your product.

Interestingly enough, Nissan eventually decided it had no choice but to go back to more traditional advertising and, believe it or not, within a month, sales literally increased 10% over the previous year. And the next month they increased 15% over the previous year.

So whenever you’re tempted to entertain, be darn sure you’re ready to absorb a big drop in sales. And whenever someone tries to tell you that your advertising has to be entertaining, demand that they show you actual results from their past ad campaigns.

There’s another quote from The Wall Street Journal article that I found interesting. And it said, "Not long ago, the conventional wisdom on Madison Avenue held that advertising was all about giving people a compelling reason to buy a product. TWBA/Chiat/Day believed advertising could have a different goal, to create flashy images for a client and turn the company’s name into a household name."

In other words, TWBA/Chiat/Day didn’t think you had to give people a reason to buy your product. But that’s just insanity. You’d darn well better give people a reason to buy your product, or they’re not going to buy it. And most of the time, just having a flashy image isn’t enough. I won’t say it’s never enough. But for most businesspeople it’s not enough. And worse than that, it’s usually a complete and total waste of time and money.

By the way, as I said before, none of this means you should never use humor or that you should never entertain. If you can entertain me and make me laugh and still get me to buy your product, great. Go for it. Do it. But make sure your track your results religiously every step of the way.

And always keep in mind that your media reps and your ad agency rep really don’t want you to know how well your ad is working. They don’t want to be held accountable – and usually for good reason.

I went off on a bit of tangent there, but I’d like to get back to the history for a minute. Like you said, most of the mistakes that are made in advertising today, were the same mistakes made 100 years ago. And Claude Hopkins pointed them all out eighty years ago – which is one reason it’s so crucial to read his books, Scientific Advertising and My Life in Advertising.

If you did nothing else but read those two books and followed the advice, you would do wonders for your business. It’s always fun to look for the next big marketing secret, but I think it’s critical to get your foundational principles right first. And that’s what you’ll get from reading Hopkins, Lasker, and Kennedy. And let’s not forget John Caples. He’s absolutely essential, too.

Clayton: There’s something that keeps coming back to me. In order to be successful, in order to make a sale, any kind of ad – including any TV ad – has to do, at the very minimum, two things. It has to create a desire for the product, and then secondly, it has to give the prospect a way to acquire that product. Yet the ads we’re seeing so much of right now on television are mostly image advertising where the images don’t connect with the product in any way. For example, the TV ad for GoDaddy.com you mentioned. What does a pretty girl having a wardrobe malfunction have to do with registering a URL?

It doesn’t talk about what you can do with your own URL, or tell you why you would want an Internet site. It doesn’t create desire for the product. It’s what I call “vampire video” – you remember everything but the name of the company.

Brad: Right. And I suspect most of the people who remembered the name of the site and actually went there were going to look at the girl, as opposed to going there to actually do some business. Because the site has additional video of her, and pictures of her, and links to her website, and all this stuff, and it’s all about her, this beautiful woman.

Clayton: Yeah. And so, if highly paid advertising agencies can’t do the two most basic things that advertising is supposed to do, then you don’t have to run the ads to know that they’re going to be a total failure. And if you don’t create desire, you won’t have a buyer. And the agency should be fired.

Those are the two most basic things. Of course, accountability and tracking are important, too, but you don’t need them if your ad creates no desire for the product and no way for the prospect to buy. Especially when the ad totally occupies the mind so that you don’t remember the name of the product. You don’t need tracking to know that it’s a dog from the word go.

Brad: It’s a major problem in most advertising, not just TV advertising. They’re not creating a desire for the product, often because they’re not even telling you what the product is. They’re just entertaining you and then telling you the name of the product. No where do they tell you why you should own it.

It’s also a mistake that so many of them don’t make you any kind of offer: “You can buy our product for this much; here’s how you get it; here’s your guarantee; here’s your free bonuses,” and so on and so forth. At the very least, they should offer free information, especially in an ad where you can’t really sell directly from the ad. For example, it would be silly to say, “To get your new Rolls Royce, just pick up the phone and call 1-800 blah, blah, blah.” But it wouldn’t be silly to offer free information about the Rolls.

Anybody who runs TV commercials – in fact, anyone who does any kind of advertising – should watch infomercials from time to time. The 30 minute commercials for a particular product that appear to be a TV show. These guys sell, sell, sell – and often they entertain at the same time – and then they give you a specific offer: “Send us $29.95 a month for three months, and we’re gonna give you this incredible product that does all these things for you. And you’re gonna get this bonus, and this bonus, and this bonus. And call this specific phone number or log onto this website.”

Nothing is left to chance. And too many advertisers on TV and in print just leave too much to chance. They throw out some cleverness or some funny idea or some entertaining thing, but they don’t really make it clear what they’re selling, why you should own it, why you must have it. Nor do they tell you how to get it.

Your goal should be to make your product seem indispensable. It’s not enough to just have someone say, “Oh yeah, I guess I’d kinda like to have that some time in the future.” You’ve got to make them want it right now. And if they don’t claim it right now, they’re going to miss out on the chance of a lifetime.

Let’s go back to that GoDaddy.com commercial again. Now remember, GoDaddy offers domain name registration and various other services related to maintaining your own web site.

So, let’s suppose I’ve got a bunch of domains that I use for business. I’m paying x dollars for the registration, x dollars for my web hosting, and x dollars for various other related service. I’m always looking to save money – assuming I can get the same or better service for less. Let’s further assume that GoDaddy.com can save me money and provide me with great service. That’s exactly what I’m looking for. I’m ready to do business or at least check it out a little further. The only problem is, even after watching the commercial, it’s likely I’m unaware that those are the services GoDaddy.com is offering. So I’m probably oohing and ahhing over the girl with all my friends, but I’m not logging on to switch my web host.

However, I’ll guarantee you that thousands of teenage boys who aren’t really interested in the company’s services logged on so they could look at the girl. But they’re not buyers.

My point is – and I know I’ve probably said this over and over – is that you’ve got to make sure that your prospects know exactly what you’re selling – and you have to inflame their desire for it by appealing to their emotions, by showing them the benefits you offer, and by making them a specific offer. If you can get that right, you’ll be well ahead of the game. And then you go out and test the creative, entertaining stuff. However, 99% of the time, you’re going to find that no matter how clever your idea is, it will lose to something that’s based on the traditional old-style direct marketing principles.

Clayton: Well, I think you’re right, and we’re really stanking GoDaddy.com, here. There are many others like them, but I think this interview basically is going to turn out to be kind of a study in how to do it wrong.

Brad: We’re picking on GoDaddy.com, but that’s just because it’s what came to mind.

Clayton: It’s almost like a case study.

Brad: Yeah. And it’s the most famous. If I talk to someone about the 2005 Super Bowl, that’s really the ad they remember.

Clayton: You know, I’m not a fan of advertising agencies, but usually they will at least attempt to identify your prospect market, and then craft the message in a way that speaks to those people.

Brad: Right.

Clayton: And that’s one thing that most ad agencies do quite well. And it seems like with this GoDaddy.com site, even the name of the site tells me that this is not a serious business site.

Secondly, the name of the site doesn’t tell me what they do. “GoDaddy” doesn’t say anything about their product or why it’s superior. It gives me no information at all. And then thirdly, all of that shows me that the people behind the product don’t understand the importance of crafting a product for a particular niche. So they’re selling cheap websites to people who can’t afford ‘em.

Brad: Or to folks who just don’t need web sites. I’m sure many teenagers can afford one of their sites, but how many teenagers need it? And they’re not making money at $7.99 a site, so they have all kinds of add-on services. I think their business is mostly the back-end stuff. But if you’re just attracting people who aren’t even interested in your front-end stuff, you’re never going to sell them your back-end stuff. And by back-end I mean products you sell to existing customers after they’ve made their initial sale. Which we’ll also want to get into later, because that’s another big opportunity that a lot of businesses miss out on.

Clayton: Ok, let’s move on to my next question: What two or three lessons from all this could help a businessperson improve his or her own advertising?

Brad: The key thing – and I’ve probably said it a dozen times in this interview – is to recognize that all your advertising, all your marketing, is selling. You’re not trying to do anything other than make a sale. In general, if a salesman wouldn’t do a particular thing – dance a jig, do a strip tease, or whatever – in front of a prospect, then it’s probably a bad idea to do it in your advertising. I won’t go so far as to say that kind of advertising never works. But most copywriters and most businesspeople simply can’t make it work.

In general, you want your advertising to reflect what your top salesperson would say if they were standing in front of a prospect. What exactly would he or she do to sell the guy? He’s going to be selling benefits, emotional pay-offs, reasons-why, Unique Selling Proposition, and all that great stuff. So, find a good reason for your prospects to do business with you, and then share it with them.

Claude Hopkins made a key observation in one of his books, saying that most of the advertising he saw said nothing more than, “Give me the business you’ve been giving to someone else. Buy from me, instead of them.” They provided no reasons why you should do so. And I think that’s a real problem still. Just look at the yellow pages. Most businesses use their name as the headline, provide a list of services, and their address and phone number. There’s no selling whatsoever other than vague and practically worthless claims such as “great service,” “high quality,” “low prices.” The point is, all your advertising and marketing should give your prospects very specific reasons to do business with your company. I guess that would be my first lesson.

The second lesson would be to actually prove that you’re going to deliver what you’re offering. It’s not enough to just to just list all these benefits and make an offer. When your prospects read your promise, most of them are thinking, “Yeah, right.” And that means you need to prove that you can deliver. And you do that with testimonials – and the more specific, the better. Almost nobody uses enough testimonials and often the testimonials they do use are vague. “My profits increased by 47%” is a lot better than, “You did a great job.”

You should also include case studies of people who’ve benefited from your product. Back up your claims with specific facts and figures. And then take away all their risk with a terrific guarantee.

I find that a lot of businesspeople are afraid of guarantees. They’re afraid people are going to take advantage of them. And I’ll tell you right up front, people are going to take advantage of you if you offer a guarantee. But that will always be offset by the increased response you get to your offer. After all, what do you care if five people ask for a refund if your offer brought you 1,000 more customers than it otherwise would have?

I know, Clayton, you’ve got a great example of this from when you were working with Martin Weiss, and you convinced them to switch from a 90-day to a one-year guarantee.

Clayton: Well, actually what happened, Brad, was, they had a 60-day guarantee. This is a perfect example of how being penny-wise can make you pound-foolish. They had a 60-day money-back guarantee. So you sign up for this $100-a-year newsletter, and you have a very small window of time to determine whether or not you’re going to ask for a refund, to determine whether or not you’re satisfied.

And people remember things over the short term. And as soon as they bought – every single person who bought our product – had this mental date. Sixty days from that day, they could still get their money back and keep all of the free gifts, and keep all the issues they’d received in the meantime. And so they had a fairly high cancellation rate at exactly 59 days after every major promotion. So my argument to them was that we could get a higher response rate by making it a one-year guarantee. Now, of course, I would have liked to have done an unlimited guarantee – but my argument to them was that if you can ask for a refund at any time during your subscription, they would get a higher response rate, and that we would get fewer cancellations at that 59 day mark. And it took forever to get them to even test it. But when they did, they couldn’t believe the results, and so we tested it a second time. And then after the second series of tests, finally they realized that setting a short time limit on the guarantee actually increases refund requests and lowers response.

Brad: Right, that’s a great example. And most businesspeople I think will find similar things happening to them in their business. One of the things I left out of my story about my pool cue client, Cue & Case Sales, is that we’ve always offered a money-back guarantee. We guaranteed the dealers that the cues would sell. If not, they got their money back, including the cost or the return shipment.

Think about what that would mean to a dealer. Our cues were brand new. He doesn’t know for sure if customers will want them. With every other cue brand he has to just hope and pray that they sell. But with our cue, he doesn’t have to take a chance because they’re guaranteed. He has no risk – not even the shipping cost, which can be quite expensive and has a real impact on a small dealer’s profits.

We called it our “Unlimited Sales Guarantee,” that any time within the first year, if they didn’t sell the cue, or they hated the cue, or whatever, they could just return it back to us, no questions asked. Now, we never actually tested anything without the guarantee, so I don’t know what that did to our sales, but I do know that it wasn’t long before virtually every major competitor was offering the same thing.

Now I’m sure other distributors offered money back guarantees, but they didn’t like to publicize it or talk about it. I actually talked to one major cue brand distributor who deliberately kept it a secret.

But if I’m a dealer and I’m trying decide, “Do I want to carry low-priced cue A, or low-priced cue B?” and brand A comes with a guarantee and brand B doesn’t, your choice is a no-brainer. All other things being equal, you’re going to take the one with the guarantee.

Of course, if your product or service is crappy, if what you’re selling is junk, then a guarantee is going to hurt you. But the answer isn’t to avoid giving a guarantee – it’s to improve the quality of your product.

The next thing is tracking. Track everything you do so you know whether a particular ad, sales letter, direct mail package, marketing tactic, or offer is working and how well.

Now, obviously not every ad is a direct response ad. But you can use coupons to track. Tell those who read the ad to bring it in for a discount or a free report or a free something related to the business you’re in.

If nothing else, at least have your employees ask your customers, “How’d you hear about us? Where’d you get our name?” After all, it seems downright foolish to spend thousands of dollars on a newspaper ad and then do nothing to figure out whether or not it’s producing any results for you. The same goes for your yellow pages ads and any other advertising you do.

And then the final thing is to always ask for the order and tell the customer exactly what to do when they’ve finished reading your ad or sales letter. Call a toll-free number to get the product. Come into the store and claim your free premium. Mail the coupon for your free information kit. Or whatever.

When I was in sales they used to hit us over the head with the reminder to always ask for the order. You don’t just leave it up in the air when you’ve finished your presentation. And the same goes for any advertising you do. You don’t just end your pitch and then walk away. Yet, so many ads do exactly that. You’re expecting your prospect to know what to do and to do it. But you’ve got to ask them to do it and then tell them how.

Another common mistake in this regard is to assume that someone will search your ad or sales letter in order to find your address or phone number. Some marketers will have their address in the letterhead of the sales letter or tied into the logo in a space ad. In other words, they make the prospect work to find it. That’s a very bad idea. You need to tell them specifically in the body of the ad or sales letter the number to call or the address to come see you at. Leave nothing to chance.

You’ve got to remember that, in general, when your prospects are looking over your ad or sales letter, it’s at the end of a hard day. They don’t want to have to work. They’re taking it easy. Or they’re distracted by their wife and kids. So don’t make them work any harder than is absolutely necessary.

And if you do those things, and even if you don’t do them brilliantly, you’ll likely put yourself far ahead of your competitors who probably aren’t doing any of this stuff. If you do it right, you can do this stuff mediocre in a lot of markets, where there’s no one doing anything right, and you’ll be the king. And then, you’ll have the opportunity to start really perfecting everything, and bringing in people like Clayton Makepeace, and paying for a QwikCrit that will drive the value of your advertising up. And soon you’ll find yourself dominating your market.

It just breaks my heart to see people start businesses that last just a few months or a few years when they could be around for a good long time if they’d just follow all those great principles that have been around since 1902 and are just simply ignored.

When it comes to writing sales letters, I’m reminded of a great do-it-yourself copywriting technique that Gary Halbert teaches. It’s a technique anyone can emulate very profitably. You take your best salesperson and start tape recording their sales pitch whether in person or over the phone. Do it again and again, until he’s no longer worried about the tape record and you get him at what Gary calls “concert pitch.”

Then you simply transcribe that sales pitch; clean it up, get rid of the “uh’s” and “ah’s” and “hmm’s,” and it can almost practically become your sales letter And that’s one down and dirty, simple, easy, cheap way to get a good sales pitch in the mail.

Clayton: I think that’s great advice. And actually, one of the themes that keeps coming back and back in this interview, is the idea that advertising is salesmanship. And even if you don’t have a salesman, even if you’re the person who does the sales yourself, the point of the matter is that your letter is a salesman for you. And the letter needs to accomplish everything that a live salesman would accomplish in approaching the prospect; getting his attention; presenting the benefits of the product; justifying the price; asking for the sale; and even taking the check. And so it applies brilliantly.

The next question on my list is, what can a client do that would help you to help them more?”

Brad: Let me throw in a couple of quick additional things before I answer that because I think they’re really important for a small businessperson to understand.

First of all, many of the business people I talk to are completely focused on getting new customers, while practically ignoring the customers they already have or putting them on back burner. My advice is to immediately begin devoting more resources to coming up with new offers for your current customers, new ways to sell them. That’s where the real money is. You spend a lot of money bringing a customer into your business; once you’ve got them, don’t let them get away. Keep selling them.

The second thing is, don’t be afraid to lose money when you’re bringing in new customers. It’s often worth it to lose money on the initial transaction if you know the customer will be back to buy again and again.

Of course, this requires calculating what every customer is worth to you in the long run, so you know what you can afford to spend to acquire them as a customer.

And the final thing is, most businesses don’t contact their customers near often enough. Your customers are not thinking about you all the time. And they will easily forget about you if you don’t remind them that you exist. At the very least you should contact your customers every month – with a special offer, a newsletter, a new product announcement, and so forth. And I’ll bet most businesses can even get away with more than that. For example, Matt Furey, one of the internet’s most successful entrepreneurs contacts his prospects and customers every single day – and he’s doing a booming business. Every contact doesn’t necessarily have to sell something. It just has to remind them that you’re still around and still ready to serve them.

I had a mail order nutrition client once that I somehow inherited from Gary Halbert early in my career. And I still remember the most valuable piece of advice Gary gave this particular client. The client had a sale mailer that he sent a couple of times a year. He wanted Gary to come up with some amazing technique for increasing the sales from the flyer. Gary told him to forget that and simply to wait 30 days after mailing the offer and then send it again.

The client wasn’t too happy with the advice, but he did it and he did just as much volume with the second mailing as he had with the first – perhaps more.

Clayton: That’s great advice and it has paid off for my clients countless times in my career. Okay. We’re running really long, so why don’t we wrap this up by going back to the question of what a client can do to help do a better job for them.

Brad: It really comes down to really thinking about the stuff we’ve talked about in this interview.

First is the obvious stuff. Tell me everything I need to know about your product or service – all the benefits, all the features, all the reasons why someone should buy whatever you’re selling, all the emotional wants and needs it satisfied.

However, I wouldn’t just rely on your intuition. I recommend polling your customers and making sure you know why they bought the product or service. You may get the answer you expected or you may get answers that surprise you.

I also need to know what’s unique about your product – and how you differ from your competitors. And if you’re not unique – if you’re just a carbon copy of everyone else – then find some way to make yourself unique. And don’t forget – it doesn’t even have to be truly unique. Perhaps it’s something that you and your competitors all have in common – but you’re the only one telling anyone about it, so it sounds unique.

Anyone who has read Claude Hopkins knows the story of how he did that with Schlitz beer. And if you don’t know the story, it’s essential that you get his books and read it.

It’s also critical to think about how you’re going to prove to your prospects that what I promise them in the advertising I write is 100% believable and credible. That means you have to get me testimonials. If you don’t have any, you need to go out and get them – even if you have to start giving your product away free in order to get some.

It’s critical the testimonials are as specific as possible. “Hey, Joe, your vacuum cleaner made my carpet 84% cleaner than it ever was before” is a lot more powerful than “Hey, Joe, you’re great. Thanks a lot.”

Case studies also help. Find out the experiences your customers have had with your product or service. Get the details that can make for a nice story. And if you can get a testimonial to go along with the case study, that’s even better.

Next, be willing to back up whatever you’re offering with a generous guarantee. Forget 10 day guarantees. Forget 30 days. Why not go for an entire year? This builds credibility and, as we talked about earlier, increases response dramatically.

I can’t stress this credibility building enough. It’s just silly to tell someone your product is going to do all these great things for them, but you can’t even cite one customer who has had a good experience, nor are you willing to give them a decent guarantee.

The next thing would be to trust your writer more than you do. Many times I’ve had my client make ill-advised changes to my copy. Sometimes they consult me; sometimes they don’t. And I know every writer has had this experience. It’s especially silly to fail to even mention it to the writer.

I once had a client remove the words “How to” from the headline for a business opportunity promotion. It may not sound like a big thing, but the words “how to” are proven to increase response. If he’d asked me, I could have told him that. But he didn’t bother. Now why would you pay me thousands and thousands of dollars and then not even consult me about a change to the headline?

Many years ago – when I was still green and not prone to disagreeing with clients – I had a client demand that I remove the testimonials I had built page one of my letter around. He said something to the effect that testimonials don’t really work. They’re not necessary. Blah, blah, blah. It was a big mistake in my view. But when my letter lost the subsequent test, do you think the client took any of the blame?

Clayton: Of course not.

Brad: And not only did that cost the client money, it cost me money because I had a royalty on the package. And this wasn’t the only time. The same client also completely changed the headline of my promo for a different product to something I consider vastly inferior. And the promo bombed. I got blamed and my reputation took a hit. Would the promo have worked with my headline? We’ll never know. Amazingly, the client never told me about the change until I got it in the mailbox and went, “Oh, my God, they ruined it!”

Clayton: Isn’t it ironic, that they’ll pay a fortune to have your write something ostensibly because you know what you’re doing, and then once it’s written, they treat it so cavalierly?

Brad: Yeah, it’s amazing really. And this isn’t a small, inexperienced corner businesses I’m talking about. This happened with experienced, successful direct response companies. If you’re a copywriter, you need to be on the look out for this sort of thing because it can really hurt your reputation. So you’ve got to stand up for your copy. Otherwise, when the response comes in, and it’s bad, your name is mud.

Clayton: My friend Carline Anglade-Cole actually had a situation where they had finalized the copy, they had finalized the art, and it went to press, and while it was on the press, the client had second thoughts and changed the headline.

So she didn’t know this had happened, right? And so after a few weeks, Carline receives the package in the mail and just went ballistic.

Brad: Right.

Clayton: And then a few weeks later, the client says, “Well, your package didn’t work. And Carline says, “Oh, did you mail my package? All I saw was this piece of crap that you guys put out. You haven’t mailed my package yet.” And to this day she refuses to work with that client.

Brad: And that’s probably a good strategy for her. And I tell you, throughout my career, if there’s been any – for lack of a better word – character flaw – that I have suffered from, it’s I’m too damn nice. My client screws things up, and I just let it go. And it’s cost me real money. So if you’re going to be a successful copywriter, you can’t be a nice guy when it comes to things like that. You can’t just roll over. Sometimes you have to be a bad guy. And if your client won’t go along with it, then yeah, you’ve got to dump the client, because your reputation is so all-important.

By the way, this doesn’t mean you never listen to your client or take his advice. Clients often have valuable suggestions to make. They usually have more experience with their markets than I do. So listening to and carefully evaluating what they have to say is important. But you can’t let them ride roughshod over you just because they’re the ones signing the check.

Sometimes, of course, you’re not sure, but you have to go with what you believe is best based on your experience. And when you’re wrong, be prepared to take your lumps.

Clayton: Right.

Brad: I guess the final piece of advice I’d have for working with a writer is to stop worrying so much about your image. This really isn’t an issue with our big direct marketing clients, but it is with local businesses where the owner has a presence or a reputation in the community – or thinks he does.

Judge your advertising on results – not on whether your wife or friends like it. You may be embarrassed by a headline such as “The Dirty Little Secret Your Tax Preparer is Hiding From You,” but if it brings in more response than “John Doe, Tax Preparer,” then it’s the headline you should run.

Ultimately, you have to decide whether you want a nice image – or if you want cold hard cash.

That reminds me. We bagged on GoDaddy, so much, but there is evidence that adding a pretty girl to reason-why copy will increase response. I’ve never actually done it, but Gary Halbert tells the story of a financial services client of his who tested adding a totally gratuitous picture of a beautiful young woman to his ad. This is the kind of ad that can be hard on your image and annoying to your wife. But response apparently increased quite dramatically. The woman got the attention of more men, who then took a closer look at all the great copy Gary had written selling this particular client’s services.

However, as I recall that the client got so much grief from his wife and various others about the girl that he eventually took her out of the ad.

And again, then you have to decide, “Do I want the image or do I want the money?” And I always advise people, “Go for the money. Forget your blasted image. You probably don’t have an image anyway. You just think you do.”

Clayton: Have you ever done a promotion for a Baptist church?

Brad: No, I can’t say that I have.

Clayton: Yeah, there are times when a buxom young lady in an ad probably won’t help all that much.

Brad: In the case of a Baptist Church, I think you’d depress response.

Clayton: That’s great. It’s good stuff. It’s interesting to talk to somebody who’s worked in my industry, but also with companies that don’t have strong direct response backgrounds, because it brings a whole new dimension to what we try to do in The Total Package.

Brad: You know, there are so many opportunities in those kinds of businesses. In the direct response arena you and I typically work in, you’ve got a dozen of the best copywriters in the world beating each other over the head, competing, trying to eke out an extra quarter percent response, whereas I could probably go down to the local mortgage broker, say, and perhaps double his response in a month. And I wouldn’t have any competition. Nor would I have to spend weeks slaving over the copy. The problem is, most of these businesses simply aren’t open to hiring copywriters, don’t believe in the power of direct response, and aren’t willing to pay royalties.

Clayton: If there was a way I could become king, and get a law passed, it would be that every company in America, from the smallest little dry cleaner on up to the largest Fortune 500 company, would have to learn and use the basic tenets of direct response marketing. Because it seems that somebody as smart as a business person – whether he’s a small business person who found a way to become his own boss, or whether it’s a guy running Microsoft – it would seem that he would be smart enough to understand that if these techniques work in promotions that are scientifically trackable, then there’s a very good chance that the same principles would increase the response to his advertising. But somehow that never quite crosses the blood-brain barrier.

Brad: Yeah, I don’t know what it is. It all seems so obvious – but I’ve always found that arguing about it is pointless. It’s like talking politics and religion. You never get anywhere.

And it’s sad in a way. So many people dream about opening their own business, but then they do it without knowing anything about marketing and then wind up working 80, 90, 100 hours a week just to generate new business. As I think Michael Gerber – the author of The E-Myth – puts it, they don’t own a business, they own a job. And then many of them wind up going out of business. Meanwhile, the application of the direct response principles we’ve been talking about could generate all the business they need and help them cut way back on the number of hours they spend in the business.

Clayton: Oh, absolutely. So many more small businesses would survive and thrive if they’d do just some of the things we’ve talked about here today.

Well, we’re out of time. But this has been great. Why don’t you share with our readers how they can get in touch with you.

Brad: Sure, my e-mail address is brad@bradpetersen.com. And I’m in the process of putting up a web site at http://www.bradpetersen.com. I’m kicking around the idea of starting my own e-zine, so your readers are welcome to go to my site and sign up to receive info about that when it happens, or just to ask about my copywriting and marketing services.

Clayton: Great. Brad, thank you very much for your time.

Brad: Thank you, Clayton.

Clayton: Bye-bye.

Brad: Talk to you soon. Bye.

Hope this helps,

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

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3 Responses to Evolution of a Copywriter

  1. Linda Kaun says:

    Hey Brad and Clayton,

    Thanks for a great interview. I just wanted to confirm that targeting your local businesses for new copywriters is so helpful to them and you! They so often have no idea about direct response writing that, like Brad said, whatever you do is so much better than what they\\\’ve got going- it\\\’s a big boost to your self esteem and you are really helping them be more successful. You get put all your hard learning to practice in an arena that doesn\\\’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line. Plus you can often do much more than just writing by guiding them through marketing strategies as well.

    Linda Kaun

  2. JC says:

    Very Interesting Interview, thought it was super.

    But, I think you chose the wrong guy to dissect…Bob Parsons, I think his name is. Parsons is one sharpe cookie though. He views the battle field from a higher ground.
    Go Daddy I believe is exploding with business and has become number one, for registering a domaine name. And that super bowl ad put them on the map.

    It had more to do with pr then the ad itself.

    They were going to run it twice during the game but CBS received so many complaints they pulled the second clip before it could run. Subsequently, Go Daddy didn\’t have to pay for it because it didnt air, but guess what was on all the news shows like CNBC,and blogs the next day? — \”CBS pulled the Go Daddy commercial!\” It got buzz. Nationwide – free advertising.

    And the owner played it for all he could, going on a lot of the talk shows, for instance he got on Howard Stern talking about what his site is all about. This is before Stern went off regular radio. So I\’d say the roi on that ad, went through the roof.

    Now for the name Go Daddy, I believe he went with the strategy of say, google, yahoo ebay etc. There all names that\’ll stick in your head.

    Anyways, I agree 100% what this interview was all about.

    Everytime without fail…
    after viewing a commercial… I find myself asking, \”WTF was that about?!\” I\’m there trying to figure out what it all meant, and I know the pedestrian viewer won\’t give it that much thought. They\’ll be amused at best, and won\’t give it anymore thought.

    Just my 2 cents, JC

  3. Bernie Malonson says:

    I had the pleasure of meeting Brad Petersen at a recent Jay Abraham seminar in Los Angeles.

    It never ceases to amaze me that so many Internet Marketers who claim to be copywriting \”Gurus\”, their eyes glaze over if mention Hopkins, Lasker, et. al.

    Brad/Clayton, thanks for keeping it real!


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