Gala Anniversary Issue
A Year of Living Dangerously
(Some of) The Best of The Total Package (So Far!)
- The World’s 3 Most Powerful Headline Techniques
- 10 Rules for Generating Maximum Readability
- How Smart Companies Thrash the Competition
- Mastering the Art and Science of Seduction
- 21 “Non Rules” for Producing Bigger Winners, More Often
- The 75 Most Powerful Words and Phrases in the English Language
- How to Beat Writer’s Block
- 21 Kinds of Sidebars and How to Use Each One
- Legal Issues You Need to Know About
Holey moley – can you believe this is the fifty-twoth issue of The Total Package?!
I sure can’t: Seems like TTP #1 hit the ‘Net only yesterday!
Boy, oh boy – what a year it has been:
- The text of the 50 unique issues we’ve published so far (OK – I cheated: The two-part Gary Bencivenga interview was so good I ran it twice) now occupies more than 600 single-spaced pages on my hard drive …
- In September, I hosted my first-ever teleseminar – Kick Your Copywriting Business Into Hyperdrive – to rave reviews …
- In October, I confronted a raging, life-long case of stage fright to speak in public for the first time ever at the American Writer’s and Artists conference. I did OK – and was rewarded for my trouble with AWAI’s prestigious “Copywriter of The Year” trophy …
- In March, we began building The Profit Center™ website and are now adding new pages every couple of weeks – all designed to help you get bigger winners more often…
- In May, The Total Package Blog went live and is now helping writers and marketers network and share ideas with each other …
- In April, I attended my first copywriting conference ever – my own Power Marketing Summit™ – and delivered 20 hours of my best response-boosting secrets to about a hundred top marketers …
- In June, we launched our second free e-letter, Daniel Levis’ Web Marketing Advisor to a standing ovation from subscribers …
- In June, we began planning next year’s Power Marketing Summit in earnest, snagging some of America’s top marketers as special guest speakers (watch your inbox for the tantalizing details!) …
- This week, I’m doing the final installment of my five-part Virtual Hotseat Webinar – The 37 Most Valuable Marketing Lessons I’ve Ever Learned …
- We’re already planning our next webinar in which I’ll reveal the techniques I use to create out-of-the-park grand slams for financial products …
- And along the way, we created a pile of other tools to help you take your direct marketing career to the moon.
Not bad – huh?
Oh – and in our spare time, my team of copywriters and I also cranked out a gaggle of controls for my clients. About five million of those promos are now being stuffed into U.S. mailboxes each month, showering us with nearly $2 million a year in royalties.
And that doesn’t even begin to include the countless housefile promotions, web initiatives and even a complete website we’ve created for four separate clients!
And the best part is …
You Ain’t Seen NOTHIN’ Yet!
One year ago, The Total Package staff consisted of just two people: Julie McManus (our affiliate manager) and yours truly. Today, there are seven of us full-timers and at least a dozen others helping us on individual projects.
I’m thankful to every one of them for the great success we’ve enjoyed over the last 12 months.
Most of all though, I’m grateful for your decision to join me in The Total Package – and for the encouragement and outpouring of gratitude that flows into our Feedback Box every week.
And to thank you, we’re working harder than ever to get you bigger winners more often. In the next 90 days, you’re going to see a burst of activity around here: Lots of exciting new opportunities for you to take your response – and with it, your income – to the next level!
But this issue isn’t about that. It’s about taking a moment to bask in the warm glow of a year well spent – considering the many risks we’ve taken, a year of living dangerously.
I’d like to do that by sharing some of the most helpful excerpts from a few of our earliest articles: Articles you probably haven’t seen before – unless of course, you were among our first subscribers, or have since acquired a copy of our compendium of our first issues, Double Your Profits in 12 Months or Less.
So let’s get right to it …
From Issue #1:
Grab ‘Em By The EYEBALLS!
The World’s 3 Most Powerful Headline Techniques
There is no “right way” to write a killer head. In fact there are as many headline techniques as there are copywriters, products and services, benefits and consumer emotions to be addressed.
Let’s take a look at three of the most powerful headline techniques ever – approaches that have produced huge winners for John Caples, Gary Bencivenga, Jim Rutz, Bob Hutchinson, Arthur Johnson – and yes, for me, too …
1. PURE BENEFIT HEADLINES present only the primary practical benefit offered by the product.
Some examples …
Who else wants a whiter wash
– with no hard work?
* * * * *
Great new discovery kills kitchen odors
quick –makes indoor air “country-fresh.”
* * * * *
Super Spy Lets You See Through
Walls, Fences, and Locked Doors.
* * * * *
“Who Else Wants to Get At Least
TWO TIMES RICHER
In This Bear Market?”
* * * * *
What’s Wrong With Getting Richer QUICKER?”
* * * * *
2. PURE EMOTION HEADS directly address the emotional need, frustration or fear that the product’s primary benefit addresses – only hinting at the practical benefit.
Lies, Lies, Lies
We investors are FED UP
with everyone lying to us
and wasting our money!
* * * * *
Tell The “Health Police” To Take A Flying Leap –
And Return To Life’s GUILTIEST PLEASURES!
* * * * *
You can laugh at money worries –
if you follow this simple plan
* * * * *
3. COMBINED BENEFIT/EMOTION HEADS present the product’s chief benefit and either imply or state the emotional pay-off for the reader.
For example …
They laughed when I sat down at the piano,
but when I started to play …
* * * * *
Laugh All The Way To The Gas Pump!
How rising gas prices can make you up to 307% richer in 2005
* * * * *
To men who want to
Quit Work some day
* * * * *
Remarkable Cures CENSORED By Knife-Happy Surgeons
and Greedy Drug Companies:
Medically Proven Remedies That Heal Without Drugs or Surgery!
* * * * *
The Amazing Face-Lift-In-a-Jar Used by Hollywood
Stars Who Don’t Want Plastic Surgery
* * * * *
Join millions who are saying…
“Thanks For NOTHING, Wall Street – I’d Rather Do It MYSELF!”
10 Ways To Grow MUCH RICHER Without Touching A SINGLE STOCK
* * * * *
To me, these kinds of combined benefit/emotion leads are the best of all worlds, and have given me some of the biggest winners of my career.
From Issue #3:
How I Bagged $5 Million In Internet Sales In Five Short Weeks
Several months ago, one of my favorite clients asked me to create a web-based promotion for a new investment advisory. The service would give daily mutual fund trading advice to investors for the princely sum of about $1,000 per year.
… So instead of beginning with a series of e-mails or even a new web page (as my client requested), I promptly sat down and wrote a 24-page DIRECT MAIL package.
It's not that I'm contrary by nature – I just had a better idea …
My client had been blasting several sales promotions for other products to his customers every weekday via e-mail, and had been doing it for years. And predictably, response to those promotions had crashed to less than one-tenth of what he had been getting years earlier.
My goal: To do everything possible to make this promotion the exception – to boost response rates and ROI by an order of magnitude.
My strategy: To establish the new $1,000 product in prospects' minds as being head and shoulders above every other product my client had ever offered them. To do that, I would demonstrate the uniqueness and superiority of this new product – and create emotional momentum for it – by making its introduction a gala event.
My tactic: Use every medium available to me over a 5-week period – beginning with the cheapest avenues and proceeding step-by-step to ever-costlier ones – to sell the maximum number of subscriptions possible with a positive ROI.
That would require much more copy than the client usually produced for an e-mail promotion – but it would be worth it.
And beginning by writing long copy – copy containing every benefit, every credibility element, every reason why the prospect should buy the service – would be the best way to make sure that the strongest sales copy available appeared in every contact with our prospects.
Once the long copy was finished, the rest would be easy: I would simply excerpt it over and over again to create my multi-step campaign …
STEP #1 – Pick the low-hanging fruit – cheap: A respectable chunk of my client's customers love him to death and will buy just about any product he recommends. For these wonderful customers, I created an extremely low-cost, multi-step e-mail campaign: A series of short, daily blasts announcing the new product and the reasons why the customer should jump on board right away … re-announcing the new product … asking them why we hadn't heard from them, etc.
Important point: The e-mail medium itself is, in a very real way, a big part of the message. By its very nature – the fact that it is an instant communication – the e-mail medium screams "urgency"!
And it also raises key questions in your prospect's mind:
"Why is this communication urgent?
"Is it because you urgently need to sell me something?
"Or is because I urgently need a piece of information in order to bring value to my life?"
If my prospects perceived that my e-mail messages were just crass attempts to sell them something, my e-mails might be instantly deleted. If on the other hand, my e-mails were perceived as a timely and sincere offering to help the recipient in some way, my sales message would be far more likely to be read and responded to.
And so, for urgency and readership, I began each e-mail with valuable information or advice relating to a fast-breaking piece of news from the investment world. The subject line and opening copy of each blast was new each day – as fresh as each day's headlines – and rewarded prospects for reading my sales message.
Next, I made the connection between the breaking news and the new investment service – and demonstrated how the service could use this new event to generate huge profits for the reader in the days ahead.
And finally, I inserted copy justifying my price and asking for the order.
RESULT: A constant stream of $1,000 orders poured in from these e-mails every day for five, full weeks.
STEP #2 – Get fence-sitters to a "tipping point" website: While a significant group of loyal customers could be counted on to buy in response to a short e-mail, I reasoned that the short copy would leave at least 90% of my prospects sitting on the fence. To sell them, I'd need longer copy – more reasons to buy now – than could be presented in a five or six-paragraph e-mail.
To tip these prospects off of their perch, I used about half the long direct mail copy I had written about the product (12 pages, of 12pt. type, single spaced), to create an "Urgent Special Report" on-line: A small, cheap website. And in week #2 of my campaign, I began sending e-mails to the client's customers urging them to click a link in order to read the free report immediately.
RESULT: Order volume increased dramatically as a significant number of my client's customers responded to the simple website.
STEP #3 – Exploit other low-cost or free media: While my client's web-based products were extremely successful, he also publishes and mails a monthly print newsletter to some 120,000 active subscribers every month.
Taking my client's urgent recommendation to his customers in print would position this new product in my prospects' minds as being something special – not just another run-of-the-mill product promoted exclusively on the internet.
So, I simply took the 12-pages of copy from the little website I'd created … wrote a new headline and opening copy … turned it into a printed special report … and had it inserted in the next issue of my client's print newsletter.
At the same time, I tasked the client's operators to include a pitch for the product on all in-bound phone calls from customers.
And I included an insert offering the free on-line report in my clients outbound welcome packages that new subscribers received.
RESULT: Once again, sales spiked nicely.
STEP #4 – Show up where they least expect you to: Two weeks after the newsletter insert hit my prospects' mail boxes, I hit them again – with the full 24-page direct mail package I had initially created to promote the product, formatted as a free special report or "thank-you" bonus for loyal customers.
After years of receiving ONLY e-mail promotions for these high-priced trading services, my prospect suddenly realized that this must really be different – and therefore better than – anything my client had recommended before.
Reasoning that anyone who hadn't bought probably hadn't read past the headline and lead-in copy, I made sure the first three pages were fresh. Beyond that, the copy was pretty much unchanged.
RESULT: Money was positively rolling in.
STEP #5 – I get tenacious: Two weeks after the 24-pager hit their mail boxes, we stuffed it into an envelope, added a one-page letter from my client asking, "Why haven't I heard from you?" and dropped it into the mail.
Again – the phone rang off the hook.
The final result: The combined effect of e-mail, the website, the inserts in the print newsletter and two direct mailings had a multiplying effect on response.
When the dust had settled, our multi-channel marketing campaign had sold more than $5 million-worth of subscriptions to the new service in just five weeks – about five times more than we would have sold through an e-mail promotion alone!
Direct Response Graphics 101
10 Rules for Generating Maximum Readability
1. This is not an eye test. Many of your prospects are older and have fading eyesight. Requiring that they fetch their spectacles before they can read your pitch is a big mistake.
As a rule, body copy should never be smaller than 12pt. – and the body text in some of my most successful promotions has been presented in 14pt. type.
2. Readability Rules. On computer screens, sans-serif type is slightly easier to read.
That’s because the dot pattern on many computer monitors makes it difficult to see the detail in serif type. That’s why I use Arial– a sans-serif type in this newsletter.
In print, however, readership studies show that serif type is far more readable. That’s why body copy in most newspapers and magazines is presented in Times or something close to it.
Also, in my direct mail promotions, you’ll notice that I often invert my type selection in sidebars to create contrast between them and the running text: Sans-serif heads and serif body copy in the running text … serif heads and sans-serif body copy in sidebars.
3. Put it in black and white. The human eye likes contrast. The lower the contrast between your text and your background, the lower your readership will be.
Black ink on white paper provides the greatest contrast. Each step you take away from black on white – lighter type or darker backgrounds, for example – cuts readership.
I use this fact to emphasize and promote readership of my running text. In most of my promotions, the running text is black-on-white. In sidebars, I add a light buff, blue or green background, keeping the body text in black.
4. Eyepath is crucial. The human eye is easily confused. You never want your prospect to wonder where to look for the next piece of text, or to be distracted in the middle of your cogent selling argument.
- Photographs and other illustrations embedded in running text distract and confuse the eye.
- Full-page sidebars on right-hand pages create a visual barrier and can discourage the reader from turning the page.
- Subheads should never be broken between columns. And when near the bottom of a column, should always have at least three lines of text beneath them.
- Subheads should be broken into coherent phrases:
I want to kiss her
BUT she won’t let me
– NOT –
I want to kiss her BUT
she won’t let me
5. Keep lines of text short and manageable. When a string of small letters and words – say 12pt. or 14pt. body copy – runs too long, the eye gets fatigued and the brain loses its place. Excessive line length kills readership.
That’s why God invented columns. Columnating text allows the eye and brain to sort out a few words quickly and then move to the next line. I find that columns containing about 40 characters and spaces are optimal.
6. Make each paragraph visually inviting. Long paragraphs look intimidating and discourage readership. I try to keep paragraphs as short as possible – even if I have to break them in places that drives grammarians and proofreaders bonkers.
Sprinkling an ample number of one and two-line paragraphs on a page makes the entire page feel more inviting.
7. Justified text is unjustifiable. Justified text – where both the left- and the right-hand margin of each paragraph is even – destroys readership.
This paragraph is justified. Note the uneven spaces between the words. People justify paragraphs to eliminate unnecessary hyphens – but it also interrupts the flow of coherent thoughts in the text.
Ragged right – RULES!
8. Widows and orphans should be treated with care. In my opinion, a widow – a single word on the last line of a paragraph – is usually a good thing. It ads a smidgen of white space, making the page look less intimidating. I’d move heaven and earth to avoid ending a paragraph with a hyphenated word fragment on a line by itself. That just looks sloppy.
Orphans – the single line of a new paragraph at the bottom of the column – should be avoided. It breaks a thought before it can take hold in the prospect’s mind.
9. Never end a page with a period. Plan each page and 2-page spread so the last paragraph of running text is broken and continues on the next page. That way, the reader is more likely to turn the page and keep reading. Also, at the end of the text, insert a page-turner: A small “Please turn …” flush right.
10. Include contact information on every spread. Add a header or footer on each spread that presents the client’s toll-free telephone number and/or directs the reader to the page where the response device can be found.
In my business, some 80% of our orders usually arrive by phone. So typically, I’ll use a footer on each spread that simply says, “For More Information, Call TOLL-FREE 1-800-827-0940.”
From Issue #6:
Confessions of a Marketing Chauvinist Pig
How Smart Companies Thrash the Competition
OK, I admit it: I’m a marketing chauvinist. And it’s not because I think we’re necessarily smarter and better looking than everyone else. It’s because the only logical place for marketing is out front – leading the charge for your entire company.
It drives me nuts when executives who know nothing about sales and marketing mindlessly parrot phrases about “putting the customer first” – and then relegate the only people who actually talk to customers to an inferior position in the company.
Before a bunch of Rhodes Scholars showed up and bought one of my clients’ companies, my client had put sales and marketing first. And because the marketing department’s job was to respond to customers’ desires and concerns … it meant our customers were #1.
But the Rhodes Scholars and their preening “Executive Committee” wanted to be first – the masters of all they surveyed, at the pinnacle of the corporate pyramid. So, they put sales and marketing in its place – under their thumbs, no more important than janitorial services – or any other department in the company.
And by doing so, they turned my client’s “Smart Company” into a dumb one in one fell swoop.
In a Smart Company, the marketing department exists at the top of the corporate pyramid.
Armed with the freshest intelligence on the desires and complaints of prospects and customers, the marketing department directs …
And their structure shows it. Marketers are kept under tight rein – slaves to multiple layers of bean-counters, bureaucrats and other self-important gasbags who have long forgotten where the money in their paychecks comes from – if they ever knew in the first place.
Even worse: Dumb Companies make sure marketers – the only experts in the company capable of boosting sales, revenues and profits – are frozen into inaction and that crucial sales campaigns are delayed by corporate procedures requiring marketing-challenged morons at the top to approve their every move.
The CEO and top execs spend no more time or effort on sales and marketing than they do monitoring human resources, or any other department. Marketing is beneath them – something the weirdoes down on the fourth floor are responsible for.
In a Smart Company, every employee clearly understands that his/her job exists for one reason and one reason only:
To help marketing sell more, more, more!
1) Leading the charge with the Marketing Department – setting goals … monitoring key costs and response rates … helping them innovate new products and sales approaches … breaking logjams … and providing the quick approvals needed to kick winning sales campaigns into overdrive.
2) Taking up the rear – constantly driving everyone down the line to make supporting sales and marketing efforts their #1 priority.
BOTTOM LINE: Dumb Companies think that the marketing department exists to sell products.
Smart Companies know that the only reason to have a product is to give the marketing department a vehicle with which it can attract new customers and produce revenues and profits.
From Issue #7:
Turbocharge Your Sales Copy!
Mastering the Art and Science of Seduction
Two guys walk into a bar. The first is a bookish, meticulous, accountant type who just read a book on “How to Pick Up Women.” Spying a winsome lass, he approaches her and states his “Unique Selling Proposition: “I’m going to rock your world like nobody else ever has.”
That done, he begins ticking off all the benefits she’ll derive from having sex with him: She will be thrilled and satisfied. He shows her testimonials from 23 other women he’s been intimate with, each one saying that they were satisfied. And he tells the young lady that if she’ll go back to his apartment right away, he’ll do the same for her.
The second guy, spotting another lady, takes a radically different approach. He captures her attention with a friendly, admiring glance. He offers her a drink. He validates her with a compliment. He puts her at ease with an amusing, intriguing or self-effacing remark.
He gets her nodding her head, speaking to her of things she is passionate about and that he suspects she’ll agree with. He asks her to dance. He takes his time – and when the time is right, he drops a flirtatious comment or two.
Finally, he invites her to his apartment to see his art collection – or on some other pretense.
Which of our two heroes do YOU think has the best chance of closing the sale?
If you said, “The guy who had a USP and benefit-oriented sales copy,” you, my friend, have read too many books about copywriting.
Top-notch writers understand that salesmanship is the art of seduction – and that five careful steps must be taken before the affair with the prospect is consummated and marketing bliss is achieved:
- The creation of sales promotions and the layout of the catalog and/or store …
- Human Resources exists to ensure that the marketing department has the best talent available and that supporting departments have what they need to help sales and marketing be more successful.
- The Legal Department exists to help marketers create promotions that are as effective as is humanly possible within established ethical and legal boundaries.
In a Smart Company, the business owner/CEO occupies not one, but two positions:
- The scripting of the sales force or telephone customer service reps …
- The shipment of products and the delivery of services …
- Accounting exists to ensure that sales and marketing have the financial resources it needs to attract maximum numbers of new customers and to boost sales revenues …
- Every other activity in the chain of events that begins with contacting a prospect or customer and that culminates with the cha-ching of the cash register.
In Dumb Companies, top execs fail to understand the supreme importance of sales and marketing – or worse: See it as a “necessary evil”.
- The development of new products and the production of existing ones …
- The management of the customer service department, and …
- Information Technology – IT – exists to give the marketing department the daily reports it needs to monitor and analyze the effectiveness of its strategies and tactics.
- You must convince your prospects to give you their attention – with a headline that speaks to the prospects desires, frustrations or fears.
- You must convince them to read your message – by offering to bring value to their lives if they’ll just lend you an ear for a few minutes.
- You must convince them that your product or service will meet their needs and therefore, fulfill their desires or assuage their frustrations or fears.
- You must convince your prospects that your price is fair (or better yet, a bargain) – by making a comparison that demonstrates the value you’re offering in a compelling way.
- You must convince your prospects to take action now to purchase the product – by showing them how easy it is to order.
Do these five things consistently – and compellingly – in each sales promotion and your response will soar.
Today and every day, each prospect you’re writing to will be bombarded with some 650 advertising messages. That’s nearly 240,000 per year, every year of his or her life – and the volume is growing by the day.
Those messages have made your prospect a seasoned consumer who has bought thousands of products and services over a lifetime – many of which lived up to their advertising, and many of which did not.
As a result, your prospect is a skeptic. The quick way to lose him is to promise something you both know you can’t deliver. The slow way to lose him is to fail to document that your product really does deliver.
“B” writers assume that prospects will believe everything they read.
“A” writers infuse their copy with credibility devices like these:
- The ersatz author’s qualifications as an expert on the subject at hand, including his education, books he’s authored, major media outlets that have featured him, his career experience, etc.
- Details, facts, figures that prove every point in the copy beyond the shadow of a doubt.
- Customer testimonials that prove your product has delivered for others.
- Expert and/or celebrity testimonials that validate you, your product or your process.
- Mentions in credible media that validate you, your product or your process.
- A guarantee written in a way that demonstrates your absolute confidence that your product or service will deliver the specific benefits you’ve promised.
From Issue #9:
How to Create a Killer Ad
21 “Non Rules” for Producing Bigger Winners, More Often
Allow me to offer 21 ways to spot strong copy – and to help make the ads, direct mail packages and Internet promotions you’re working on bigger winners for you.
THESE ARE NOT RULES. I hate rules. But they’re great “non-rules” – guidelines that have paid off for me time and time again in my 34 years in the direct response trenches – and that I’m confident will strengthen your ad copy as well …
We tend to be skeptical, even suspicious of information given us by a corporation. We welcome – indeed, we seek out – advice from qualified guides and advocates who have our best interests at heart. And we welcome advice from someone who has solved a problem that we’re struggling with.
Putting a friendly and/or highly qualified human face on copy – and speaking in that person’s voice – will ramp up the impact of your sales messages by an order of magnitude.
Address your prospect directly.
Here, you actually get two maxims for the price of one:
- Talk to your reader: Instead of talking about how “we” age … how “we” encounter various health problems, talk to the reader about her life … her future … and most importantly, her feelings.
- Use the word “YOU” as often as is humanly possible throughout your text. Remember: Your prospect really couldn’t give a flip about you, your company, your product or anything else. The prospect is interested in the prospect!
- Talk about the reader: Yes, it’s true that x million Americans have heart attacks each year. But saying it that way, you’re not talking about her; you’re talking about x million other folks.
- Find ways to personalize these kinds of statistics: “As an American over age 40, your chances are one in x of having a heart attack this year.” Wow. Now, you’ve got my attention!
I often begin by closing my eyes and imagining that I’m talking to a friend about the subject at hand. How would I begin the conversation? What would I say? What would he say? What would I say back?
I would not refer to myself in the plural: “We want to help you …” I’d say, “Here – let me help you …”
Identify with your prospect.
Gary Bencivenga did this beautifully with his “Why we investors are fed up …” deck in his all-time classic “Lies, Lies, Lies!” package. Instantly, in the prospect’s mind, the person addressing him was transformed from a salesman into “a regular guy” – someone just like him.
Tell the reader what you have in common. Let him know that you empathize: You’ve been there. Reveal a non-fatal weakness or a petty frustration that the two of you might share. Anything that puts you on the reader’s level will endear him to you and engender trust between you.
Put a face on the enemy.
Why has the reader failed to solve this problem or fulfill this desire? Were all the other products he’s tried ineffective? Were the “experts” who gave him advice wrong? Is someone intentionally using him?
This is a rich emotional vein – so mine it! But instead of droning on about how unfair banks are, personalize it. Talk about how greedy bankers do this or that to the reader. Or about how callous drug company execs trick his doctor into prescribing costly and dangerous things that often don’t work.
Prove every point.
Never ask your reader to accept any claim at face value. Always include proof elements that suspend his disbelief with every claim. Best credibility devices could include:
- Study data from respected sources
- Expert testimonials
- User testimonials
- Statements that support your point from a major periodical – The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc.
Don’t fear the occasional obvious overstatement.
No, I’m not suggesting that you should exaggerate when describing what your product does. But I often use an obvious over-the-top phrase to demonstrate how intensely my client feels about a particular point.
Once in a health promotion, for example, I wrote:
“Some surgeons are so greedy, they’ll gladly cut a hole right through you – just to get to your wallet!”
Was it true? Who knows? No, I didn’t have a story about a surgeon who had literally cut through a patient to reach his wallet in my substantiation files. I did know, however, that many of my readers had had hysterectomies, mastectomies and other surgical procedures that were later determined to be unnecessary – and that line got every one of them emotionally involved and on my side.
I try to speak to my prospects as they’re used to being spoken to. Yes, that means I often dangle my participles and other parts (of speech). So what? I’m trying to communicate here – not trying to pass an English exam.
To mock the sticklers who were constantly correcting his prepared speeches, Winston Churchill once declared, “A dangling participle is something up with which I will not put.” Pretty much says it all …
All jargon is NOT evil!
Many coaches say you should avoid technical terms and industry jargon altogether. Baloney.
The selective use of jargon comes in handy lots of times when I’m writing – like …
- When the jargon’s meaning is familiar to the reader – especially investors and medical patients – I’m respecting his intelligence; speaking a language he understands and is comfortable with.
- When the jargon is being spoken – sparingly – by an expert, it demonstrates the expert’s, well … expertise. We expect doctors to be proficient in the use of medical jargon and brokers to use investment terminology. If the term is obscure though, I’ll include a quick explanation and then move on.
Figures of speech are wonderful!
Early on, I was told to avoid clichés, sayings, analogies, aphorisms, proverbs, adages and so on. But why? If you had a face-to-face conversation with your prospect wouldn’t you hear tons of these figures of speech?
Doesn’t the use of these favorite sayings instantly say, “Hey – I’m not a salesman; I’m just like you!”? Don’t they get your prospect smiling? And don’t most of them instantly communicate something that it would otherwise take us a sentence or more?
If a picture is worth one thousand words, a good figure of speech should be worth at least one hundred. So go ahead: Experiment. If a figure of speech helps you communicate faster or drive a point home harder – and if you’re absolutely sure that its meaning will be instantly grasped by your prospect – go for it!
Of course, writing copy that’s just one cliché after another might be a slippery slope. Your client may even say that your promo is a basket case. That would be a close shave! You might end up feeling as dumb as a bag of hammers.
But on the other hand, choosing the right spots to communicate quickly with an idiom could turn out to be your bread and butter. Who knows? Maybe you’ll wind up richer than Midas!
Put the 75 most powerful words and phrases in the English language to work for you.
Use these freely (no charge) when crafting headlines, subheads, and throughout your copy:
First Time Ever
How I …
Nothing To Lose
Send No Money
The Truth About…
And of course, the all-time award-winner … YOU!
Another thing: Some words and phrases are wimps. The limp-wristed, namby-pambies of the writing universe. “Can” … “could” … “should” … “might” … “may” … “ought to” … “seeks to” … “has the potential to” … “In my opinion” … and all the rest of these sissies should be banned from your copy whenever necessary.
Tell your prospect what your product will do. If the legal beagle or compliance officer complains, make a phone call and haggle.
YOU WRITE: “These investments are guaranteed to soar when interest rates rise.”
COMPLIANCE VERSION: “These investments could possibly have the potential to soar when interest rates rise – maybe.”
COMPROMISE: “These investments have the power to soar when interest rates rise.”
Squinting makes the individual letters and words indecipherable and I’m left with just the pattern the paragraphs make on the page.
As I study the page, I’m asking myself, “At first glance, does this feel easy-to-read and inviting? Or is it covered with long, dense paragraphs that will only discourage my reader?”
Then I …
… Or, billboard benefits, as with these fascinations from a recent promotion for Your Money Report:
- Flipping For A Fortune? WATCH OUT! Ingenious strategy lets you make a bundle without ever owning a single property. BUT, it could also get you sued – or worse! Essential advice: Page xx
- Identify spots where the thing is crying out for a break – a sidebar or indented paragraph, for example – and then work them in …
- Ages your body: Fluoride has been shown to damage your chromosomes and block the enzymes needed to repair your DNA.
- You can present horrifying alternatives …
- Jump in and break long paragraphs into shorter ones – even one-line paragraphs when I can …
Beware of These “Landlord Landmines!” 3 easy ways to sidestep costly landlord/tenant traps. Page xx
… Or, create a label. This series, “7 Guilty Secrets Drug Companies Do NOT Want You To Know” was also touted on the cover of the piece as a reason to read the piece:
- Poisons your brain: Laboratory subjects given tiny doses of fluoride for a year showed an increased uptake of aluminum in the brain, and the formation of beta amyloid deposits which are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
And five Chinese studies have documented a lowering of IQ in children exposed to fluoride!
- Look for opportunities to turn a long block of copy into a string of pearls (like these).
I look for a series of benefits, steps in a procedure or other copy points that I can precede with bullets, numbers, letters, etc.
- The #1 Secret of Landlords Who Get RICH: Doing this one thing can mean the difference between fat profits and a devastating loss! Page xx
FACT #1: Drug Companies Kill Tens of Thousands Each Year: Many of today’s most-often prescribed medications are not only useless, but extremely dangerous – crippling and killing as many Americans each year as died in the 18 years of the Vietnam war.
FACT #2: They Do It Knowingly – For Money: The ultra-rich U.S. drug industry – the single most profitable businesses in America – is guilty of using bogus research, distorted reporting, and bald-faced lies to push deadly and ineffective drugs onto unsuspecting doctors and patients.
Go for precision and power.
A lot of experts say you should use short words. Write as if the prospect is an eighth-grader.
Some anal-retentive rule addicts have even gone so far as to instruct students to add up all the letters in each paragraph and divide by the number of words, and make sure that the average word is no more than five letters long!
Here’s what I do …
This is a particular weakness of mine – I tend to string too many thoughts together … use hyphens and ellipses and other devices to connect them; and only wind up turning sentences into entire paragraphs in which the prospect eventually gets lost or has to read twice. (Damn – did it again!)
I don’t worry too much about it on my first drafts. That’s when I’m just trying to get everything out on paper. I try to fix my run-ons when I’m editing, later on.
As I edit my copy, I try to keep this advice in mind from the classic book on writing, The Elements of Style:
- But if a longer word – or even an entire phrase – more precisely conveys my meaning or more effectively invokes the emotion I’m going for, the longer word it is!
Short sentences rule!
If a long word means precisely the same thing and carries the same emotional coloring as a shorter word, I’ll go with the shorter word.
I can’t stand to read or even talk to people who use longer words when shorter ones will do just fine: Who say “facilitate” when all they mean is “help” or “ease” … “compensate” when they mean “pay” … “individual” when they mean a “guy” or a “gal” or “person” … or “sufficient” when they mean “enough!”
Nine times out of ten, I’ve found that people who write or talk like that are trying to hide something. Like massive insecurities. Or the fact that they have no idea what they’re talking about.
To quote William Zinsser’s advice in his classic, On Writing Well:
“Beware, then, of the long word that is no better than the short word: ‘numerous’ (many), ‘facilitate’ (ease), ‘individual’ (man or woman), ‘remainder’ (rest), ‘initial’ (first), ‘implement’ (do), ‘sufficient’ (enough), ‘attempt’ (try), ‘referred to as’ (called), and hundreds more.”
“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”
I view commas as warning flags in my copy. Sure – they could be there for a good reason: Like showing the proofreader that I do, in fact, know a thing or two about proper punctuation.
But often times, commas are a big red flag that tells me that I’ve got a run-on on my hands. Or even worse, they scream, “HEY, BOZO! You wrote this sentence UPSIDE DOWN!”
“With only the finest of intentions, Clayton wrote his example.”
That comma in the above sentence is a dead-giveaway that something’s out of kilter. Wouldn’t it read faster if I merely said …
“Clayton wrote his example with only the finest of intentions.”
Use connecting words at the beginning of paragraphs.
In addition to communicating, every paragraph of great copy should also make a sale: It should “sell” the prospect on the idea of reading the next paragraph.
Early on, I learned that using conjunctions and other connecting words at the beginning paragraphs was a simple way to keep the momentum going: “And” … “Plus” … “But” … “Furthermore” … “Moreover” … “What’s more” … “And there’s more:” … “Even worse,” for example.
Hint: I like “and” better than “but.” “And” is positive. “But” is negative. I look for “buts” and try to replace them with “ands” wherever I can.
Look for shortcuts to keep the momentum going.
I make liberal use of contractions. After all – it’s how people talk! In fact, the only time I write “does not” instead of “doesn’t” is when the “not” is crucial to my meaning. And if it’s really crucial, I’ll ad emphasis to it with an underline, italicizing it, capitalizing it, and in come cases, all of the above.
Every generality in your text is a landmine. That will kill you.
Instead of merely saying “you’ll save time,” tell your prospect precisely how much time he’ll save. Don’t say, “Buy now and save!” Say, “You SAVE $99 by calling in the next 10 minutes!”
I actually read through each draft looking for excuses to add specifics to fully dimensionalize every problem and every promise.
Consider the question.
Some folks think that asking the prospect a question – either in a headline or elsewhere in your copy is a mistake. “After all,” they say, “Declarative sentences are strong; questions are weak. And besides, how do you really know how the prospect will answer?”
But sometimes questions aren’t weak. Sometimes, they’re hypothetical – and make a very strong declarative statement. A headline I wrote for Louis Navallier – a head that mailed successfully for more than a year – once asked …
What’s wrong with getting richer QUICKER?
The copy went on to say:
I’ve made money slow, and I’ve made money fast. Believe me: Fast is better!
That head wasn’t really a question. It was a cry of defiance from impatient investors who were sick and tired of being told to cool their jets.
In the pre-head of a recent direct mail piece for Your Money Report, I wrote …
- It’s time for you to join millions of your fellow Americans who grew rich when they finally said …
“Thanks for nothing, Wall Street –
I’d Rather Do It MYSELF!”
Used properly, questions can often be used to demonstrate that you already know and empathize with the answer. And they can also be a great way to demonstrate the horrifying alternative – as I did in this P.S. for an investment newsletter …
P.S. What if I’m right? What if I really can help you avoid losses and even profit when tech stocks tumble? How will you feel, licking your wounds and knowing that if you had just said, “YES,” to this generous offer, you could have made a killing?
- Suspicious of corporate CEOs who lie about their earnings?
- Fed up with stockbrokers who tout lousy stocks – and get rich even when you don’t?
- Impatiently waiting for the profits Wall Street promises you – but never delivers?
Please – for your sake – let me hear from you today. If I can’t help you, my service costs you nothing. If I can, you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.
When in doubt, cut it out.
After I’ve completed a draft, I often realize that my best lead is buried a few paragraphs down in the copy. Moving or deleting the first few paragraphs – or even the first page – would get us off to a much faster start.
Another weakness of mine: Excessive repetition. I tend to over-write key paragraphs, or write a key paragraph several different ways. Second drafts are the perfect time to spot this needless repetition and condense several graphs into one, short, punchy one.
Break the rules!
Never let the fact that a particular technique is frowned upon prevent you from using it.
Follow every road that opens up before you as you write. Explore every unbeaten path. Don’t let that left-brained party-pooper who lives inside you kill what could be a great idea before you’ve had time to fully develop it. Even if you later agree that it doesn’t work, you’ve learned something. And if it does work, you’ve made a breakthrough.
From Issue #10:
The Human Brain:
An Owner's Manual
How to Beat Writer’s Block
We've all been there. You're stuck for a creative idea. Maybe a headline, a subhead, or a creative way to drive a copy point home to your reader. But your creative muse is AWOL.
What do you do? Me? I add up a long column of big numbers – by hand.
Here's why – and how it works:
When I was in my twenties, I took an aptitude test just for fun. The test explained that there are only two basic aptitudes:
1) The Creative Aptitude: This is the "right-brain" part of you that is active when you're being the most childlike – wild, free, playful, and well, creative.
The creative aptitude couldn't care less about order, or rules, or details, or even what's true. Like a child, it's just interested in having a good time.
In short, it's where great art, music, poetry, innovations and inventions, most Congressional testimony, and nearly everything politicians say comes from.
2) The Accounting Aptitude: This is the "adult" – the old-timey Methodist minister – who lives on the left side of your brain. It does not approve of play. It frowns on frolic and is suspicious of anything that is not substantiated six ways from sundown.
And it loves rules: Both making them and following them to the letter.
The accounting aptitude is the voice in your head that shouts down every creative idea you've ever had. It points out the problems wrapped inside your creative solutions. It is strict, self-disciplined, detail-oriented, and in some folks, anal-retentive.
The test went on to explain that all of us have varying degrees of both aptitudes. Nobody is 100% creative or 100% accounting.
Most kids under the age of six tend to be way to the right-hand side – the creative side – of the aptitude scale. So are abstract artists, most Hollywood actors and others who have lost all touch with reality.
Really good bean counters, proofreaders, compliance officers and most traffic cops I've encountered in my colorful career as a motorist tend to be most of the way to the left-hand side. They live their lives on the "just the facts, ma'am" accounting end of the scale.
But most of us are somewhere in-between. A great songwriter like Elton John or Paul McCartney, for example, needs to write both words and music.
The lyrics demand a tremendous amount of creativity, but also enough detail orientation to get the rhyme, rhythm and spelling half-way right. The melodies and harmonies are partly creative and partly directed by music theory – rules which are, surprisingly, mathematical in nature.
Now here's the key: To function at peak efficiency, we each need to exercise our creative aptitudes AND our accounting aptitudes on a regular basis.
When one of these two aptitudes is not getting enough exercise, it starts jumping around, raising its hand and interrupting everything we're trying to do with the other one.
Example: You're trying to proofread your copy for typos – a task in which your meticulous, detail-oriented accounting aptitude is fully involved – but you keep getting distracted. Your brain keeps feeding you creative ways to punch up the subheads. Before you know it, you're not proofreading, you're editing!
The opposite happens when you've been working creatively in your copy for some time: Your accounting aptitude gets jealous, jumps up and starts shouting, doing its dead-level best to kill every germ of a creative idea you're working with.
What's the solution?
Mix it up! In most cases, the copy projects you work on require the healthy exercise of both aptitudes.
Research, organization, substantiation and documentation are largely done on the left side of the brain.
Creating major themes, headlines and subheads, dimensionalizing benefits, and crafting the prose itself require a hefty dose of right-brain work.
So here is what I do, I work on one type of task until I'm exhausted, then turn to the other type.
The sales copy I delivered for a health newsletter last week required me to spend four days reading five years of back issues – plus a half-dozen premiums and scanning four or five books. And while I was doing all that reading, I was also meticulously pasting material I thought I might use into the appropriate places in my outline.
Although the material was very well written and entertaining, I was bored to tears after the first day. So the next day, I turned to more creative tasks – headlines, subheads, sidebar ideas and so forth. And the next day, with my creative aptitude satisfied, I returned to studying the client's material.
What's that you say? You're creatively blocked and you don't have any detail-oriented work to do?
Try this to humor the accountant inside you …
Jot down a list of, say 20 or 30 four-digit and five-digit numbers.
Add them up by hand.
Then divide by 7,329 and carry your answer out to the 21st decimal place.
Then, multiply that by Pi: 3.14159265
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, your accounting aptitude will be satisfied, shut the heck up, and you'll be able to return to the creative task at hand.
In rare instances when this fails, my next tactic is to do some other detail-oriented task for an hour. You could pay your bills, for example. Or work on the household budget.
Don't have a detail-oriented task to do? Then disengage entirely. Mow the lawn. Stack firewood. Work out. Hit the local bookstore for an hour. Then try again.
Does it always work for me? Not always. On extremely rare occasions, the only solution is a good night's sleep …
From Issue #11:
21 Kinds of Sidebars And How to Use Each One
Let’s take a think about the kinds of sidebars that give you the best chances of turning scanners into readers, and how they can help you get bigger winners, more often …
- Readership Sidebars are designed to sell the prospect on reading your text, and generally fall into one of three categories …
- Tables of Contents: Listings of the valuable information that is revealed inside the promotion piece enlist the prospect’s self-interest. These can be full-pagers (usually on page 2 of a magalog or tabloid) or they can be a smaller box on the front cover, or consume the entire back cover. The items listed in these tables of contents are generally written as fascinations.
- Pull-quotes: These boxes are typically about one-quarter page in length and put an intriguing proposition … a compelling benefit … or an emotional touchstone with the reader up in lights. I often include a photo of the ersatz author speaking to the reader for added attention-getting power and impact.
- Teasers and Page-turners: Inserted at the bottom of a right-hand page, these little gems “sell” the reader on turning the page by hinting at the valuable information contained on the next spread. They can be a simple statement or a mini table of contents.
- Curriculum Vitae: A true biography of the expert – his education, accomplishments, awards, books he’s authored, major publications who turn to him for insights and advice, industry groups that beg him for pearls of wisdom at their conventions, and so on.
- Case History: A narrative of an experience the expert has had that demonstrates his wisdom, experience, commitment to his readers and/or his prestige in his industry.
- To document the enormity of the problem: In a health package where I’m trying to evoke concern over heart disease for example, I might include a sidebar to present a chart showing how many Americans will suffer a heart attack this year – and credit the American Heart Association for the data.
In a financial package, I might use this kind of sidebar to document a claim in the running copy that 80% of all mutual funds don’t keep up with the S&P 500 – and credit The Wall Street Journal. Or I might use a table listing the advisor’s most profitable trades. Or, maybe a line chart showing soaring global demand for oil and plummeting supplies – again, crediting an authoritative source.
- To document the enormity of the opportunity: In promotions for the financial markets, for example, “opportunity” sidebars might show how similar stocks have soared in the past, suggesting that the expert’s idea to purchase a particular type of stock is likely to produce the same result in the future.
- Demonstrate the wisdom of the client’s approach: This kind of sidebar might be a chart or graph comparing the profits the expert has earned to another indicator – the S&P 500, for example. Or, it might compare the blood pressure of people who take a particular supplement with those who don’t.
NOTE: In each of these examples and in many others in this article, citing an outside source that is respected by your reader helps make these kinds of sidebars work twice as hard for you.
- Avoiding or resolving a problem: With this approach, I’d typically put my prospect’s feelings about the subject at hand into words … validate how he feels … empathize with him … and then show him how my premium or product will resolve those dominant resident emotions.
- Easing a fear: These kinds of sidebars tend to appear around the middle of my sales message – after I’ve done everything I can to bring every personal fear, concern or frustration he has about the subject at hand bubbling to the surface. Once I’ve done that, I use these “fear relief” sidebars to show him how my premium or product will free him from those negative emotions and leave him feeling confident, positive, excited.
- Fulfilling a strong, long-held personal desire: If my main up-front theme is a positive one – focused on one or more benefits that will bring tremendous value to my prospect’s life, I use these “fulfillment” sidebars to prove that my premium or product will, indeed deliver the promised benefit.
NOTE: In these types of sidebars, adding a testimonial or even a whole passel of them can help remove all doubt that you’re going to deliver the goods. So can a reference to your iron-clad guarantee.
- Customer testimonials: These can take the form of straight testimonials, or narrative testimonials, and can appear singly to add impact to each spread or be clumped together in big sidebars. I like to do both.
- Expert testimonials: Praise from peers and other experts whose names are known – or whose titles are impressive and/or connect them with respected institutions – establish the authority and credibility of your expert and hence, everything he’s saying in your copy.
- Media mentions and appearances: These demonstrate that your client is important enough to have been noticed, quoted, or invited to appear on major media outlets. At best, they’ll say something about your client that reads like an endorsement, but the simple fact that your client regularly appears on CNBC or Nightline or is quoted in The Wall Street Journal makes him someone worth listening to.
- Pull-Quotes: To allow the author to look the prospect in the eye and deliver a compelling benefit or horrifying alternative and ask for the sale.
- Premium Ads: To ramp up the perceived value of the free gifts the prospect will receive. Usually, these ads are a series of bulleted fascinations – a “string of pearls” dimensionalizing the most valuable information each premium will give him – and more importantly, the value that information will bring to his life … and how he will feel about all of the above.
- Product Ads: To fully dimensionalize the value the product will bring to the prospect’s life. These are typically written in much the same way as my premium ads.
- Value Sidebars: To demonstrate how mind-blowingly cheap the product is relative to other things the prospect buys – designed to make not ordering feel like the dumbest thing he could possibly do.
- Risk Relief Sidebars: “Risk relief” is just a fancy-schmancy way of saying “your guarantee.” But I make my guarantees go beyond simply saying, “If you hate it, I’ll refund your money.” I use my guarantees to reiterate the benefits I’m promising … to have my expert sign a contract with the prospect, promising that he’ll deliver them … and to demonstrate the author’s “money-where-his-mouth-is,” unwavering confidence that the product will perform as advertised.
- Contact Devices: Actually, these should appear in the header or footer on every spread and contain a toll-free number the prospect can call to order. I also like to break them out in sidebars to drive my prospect to my response device page or to his telephone.
- Action Devices: Often imbedded in other sidebars, sometimes stand-alones, they urge the prospect to order now – either by calling a Toll-Free number or turning to the order form page.
From Issue #15:
Scary Legal Issues You Need to Know About
When someone suggests that direct response marketing is a sleazy business, I have to resist the urge to slap 'em. In fact, the only reason I don't brain these cynics is that I, for one, find physical abuse of the mentally retarded morally reprehensible.
The God's truth is, the vast majority of the companies in this industry – and certainly every client I have ever had a long-term relationship with – provide quality products at fair prices and in doing so, bring tremendous value to their customers' lives.
Yes, there are some bad apples:
- Insurance sharks that push children's burial insurance policies to guilt-ridden parents and whole-life policies to addled seniors …
- Bankers who sell "low-interest" credit cards that whack you for up to 30% the second you're even one day late paying ANY bill …
- Drug company fat cats who send lavish mailers to doctors touting stuff they know will kill thousands just to make a quick buck (Thalidomide, Tambocor, Fen-Phen & Redux and Vioxx) …
- "Natural" quacks who claim their non-prescription remedies will make you skinny, erase your bald spot and make your wilting willy snap to attention …
- Congressional candidates and other politicians who fill your mailbox with fundraising appeals promising you the world if you'll only donate and vote – but never deliver (Why can't you ever find an FTC cop when you REALLY need one???) …
Every one of these scam artists should be rounded up … liberally doused with Chanel No. 5 … shoved into a very small cell with a very large, very lonely Bubba … and have the door locked behind him.
And it should be done NOW – before he sullies the reputation of honest direct response companies any further, and certainly before he has the chance to reproduce!
But the fact is, these kinds of shameless swindlers represent only a tiny minority of the massive direct marketing community. And to those of us in the biz, it's easy to avoid them.
Anyone with an IQ as large as my shoe size (I wear size 11 – and according to the psychiatric textbooks, an IQ of 11 is about one-fifth of what you need to be officially classified a "Moron" and well within the official "Idiot" range) – can see them coming.
Their slick silk suits, greasy hair, implausible promises, shoddy products, outrageous prices and Congressional imprimaturs are a dead give-away.
Beyond avoiding these obvious scoundrels, I also follow three "Golden Rules" when working with clients …
Golden Rule #1
Lie down with dogs and you'll get up with fleas:
Never agree to partner with or promote products
sold by people you know to be less than honest.
Golden Rule #2
Never promote products you suspect
could be defective or dangerous:
Avoid things you wouldn't want your mom or dad,
your significant other, or your kids or grandkids
paying for and using (Attention, Merck and Pfizer execs!).
Golden Rule #3
Never, ever lie:
Say only what you are convinced is true – and have substantiation to back it up.
More legal stuff you need to know
It would be wonderful if avoiding legal entanglements was as easy as following my 3 simple "Golden Rules." Unfortunately, in today's highly regulated, lawsuit-crazy world, it is not.
So here's some more great advice designed to help save you a bundle and, hopefully, keep you out of hot water …
1. Memorize everything you see at http://www.ftc.gov/ – the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) home on the World Wide Web.
The FTC is the arm of the U.S. government that sets the rules for all advertising, marketing and sales conducted in this country. In my experience anyway, they're a pretty decent and reasonable bunch of guys and gals. They just want everybody – consumers and businesses alike – to get a fair shake.
They know that for the U.S. economy to be successful, consumers need to have a level of confidence in the advertising and marketing messages we send to them.
And, the FTC also knows that it's important to protect consumers from ALMOST all of the scammers and scoundrels named above (I'll let you guess the only kind of swindler on the above list that even the FTC leaves alone! Hint: They're both headquartered in Washington D.C.).
And on balance, they also know that advertisers and marketers need to employ animated sales copy, (they seem more concerned with content than tone), to produce effective sales campaigns.
For the most part, the FTC wants to make sure that you follow my 3 "Golden Rules" above. If you do, you'll be miles ahead of the game – but you will NOT be home free.
There are other little wrinkles you need to be aware of – like the thing some folks call the "reasonable person" rule – and it goes beyond merely insisting that you tell the truth.
In a nutshell, it says that nothing in your sales message should – whether by omission of key facts or by the presentation of supposed product benefits – deceive, mislead or leave a reasonable prospect with a false impression.
In FTC parlance, ads that mislead are "deceptive" and in the FTC's own words, certain elements undergird all deception cases …
"First, there must be a representation, omission or practice that is likely to mislead the consumer.
"Practices that have been found misleading or deceptive in specific cases include false oral or written representations, misleading price claims, sales of hazardous or systematically defective products or services without adequate disclosure, failure to disclose information regarding pyramid sales, use of bait and switch techniques, failure to perform promised services, and failure to meet warranty obligations.”
"Second, we examine the practice from the perspective of a consumer acting reasonably in the circumstances. If the representation or practice affects or is directed primarily to a particular group, the Commission examines reasonableness from the perspective of that group.
"Third, the representation, omission, or practice must be a "material" one. The basic question is whether the act or practice is likely to affect the consumer's conduct or decision with regard to a product or service.
"If so, the practice is material, and consumer injury is likely, because consumers are likely to have chosen differently, but for the deception. In many instances, materiality, and hence injury, can be presumed from the nature of the practice. In other instances, evidence of materiality may be necessary." – http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/policystmt/ad-decept.htm
In Plain English, I'm pretty sure that means as a business owner, marketing exec or copywriter, you are required to do more than simply tell the objective truth. You must also avoid giving your prospect a false impression about your product by omitting or failing to mention a key fact about it.
Unless you have a secret desire to spend a few years honeymooning with Bubba, I strongly recommend that you spend a few hours at: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/guides/guides.htm.
That's where the FTC keeps its "Plain English" guides for advertisers and marketers. I suggest you commit them to memory.
I also recommend that my clients have sales copy reviewed by an attorney who is steeped in FTC regulations and who stays current with the actions being taken against other marketers.
2. If another regulatory agency has jurisdiction over the clients you serve or the products you sell, study their regulations carefully! While the FTC watches advertisers and marketers in nearly every industry, some types of businesses are also governed by their own sets of regulators.
If you or your client is selling stocks, mutual funds and other kinds of securities investments, for example, you'll need to understand the ground rules set out by the Securities & Exchange Commission (http://www.sec.gov/) as well as the National Association of Securities Dealers (http://www.nasd.com/).
If you're involved in the selling of commodity futures or futures options, you need to study the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's site at : http://www.cftc.gov/cftc/cftchome.htm.
And, if you sell nutritional supplements, you should study http://www.fda.gov/ for guidance in preparing your advertising and marketing materials.
If you don't know which agency regulates the industry you're working with, you can check out the list at the U.S. government's web portal:
3. Keep your legal antennae tuned! It would be nice if the laws and regulations governing the advertising and marketing of products and services were black & white and carved in stone. Unfortunately, they are not – so it is absolutely crucial to make sure an attorney reviews sales copy before it is mailed and keeps you on top of both current and possible future shifts in the legal landscape.
Many years ago, for example, the SEC hauled a guy named Chris Lowe up on charges. He wasn't selling regulated securities – just publishing a monthly investment advisory newsletter. Each month, he merely offered his opinion as to what the stock market would do next, and made a few recommendations.
The way Chris saw it, sharing his opinions and recommendations was protected speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And so, Chris happily, even blissfully ignored the SEC's prohibitions against using testimonials, his track record and other credibility devices when promoting his newsletter.
Then, in a startling display of brilliant business judgment, Chris hired me to write a promotion package for him. I did, and then sent him my invoice for, as I remember, around $10,000.
The check bounced. Then, it bounced again. And again. So I got Chris on the line and said, "Golly gee, Chris, what the heck's going on here?" – or words to that effect.
Seems the SEC had not appreciated being ignored … had promptly shut down Chris' little publishing operation … hauled him up on charges … seized his bank account – and left me holding the bag for ten grand plus about $3,000 in bounced check charges. My first and only promotion for Chris Lowe never went very far: It didn't even make it into graphics – let alone into the mail!
Chris, on the other hand, did go far – all the way to the Supreme Court. I once paid an SEC attorney $300 an hour to help me understand what happened next. According to him, the learned arguments went something like this:
CHRIS: "You can't do this to me – I'm operating under the First Amendment here."
SEC: "Are not."
CHRIS: "Am too!"
SEC: "Are not!"
SUPREME COURT: "IS TOO!"
And so, ever since the famous "Lowe Decision," marketers of investment and financial information products have been pretty much free to operate under the far more liberal FTC guidelines ("Don't lie, cheat, steal or mislead") instead of worrying about the SEC's prohibition on the use of testimonials, track record and other crucial selling tools.
Nevertheless, the SEC or CFTC still take a run at a financial publisher every few years, trying to expand their jurisdiction and powers. So if you're writing for financial publishers, it's important to pay attention. The rules could change.
Something similar happened with the FDA not too long ago. While allowing big drug companies to get away with murder – literally – the agency had taken to kicking down doors at the offices of doctors who prescribed supplements.
In the case of one doctor – a Harvard-educated M.D. named Jonathon Wright – FDA enforcers reportedly held nurses and patients at gunpoint while they confiscated his supply of vitamin B12, his medical files and computers, effectively putting him out of business. http://www.sumeria.net/health/raids.html
And so in 1995, FDA regulators found themselves at the center of Congressional Hearings on FDA abuses, held by Congressman John Dingel (R-TX). The FDA boys got spanked pretty good and behaved themselves for a while. But like the SEC, the agency has not abandoned the quest to expand its power.
Most recently for example, the FDA endorsed something called the Codex Alimentarius (Latin for "nutrition code") established by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Should CODEX become the law of the land in the U.S., all the rules about marketing supplements would change radically:
- It would be illegal to sell a vitamin, mineral, herb, or other nutritional product to help consumers avoid future health problems …
- It would be a crime to sell supplements that exceed potency (dosage) levels set by WHO …
- It would be against the law to market any new dietary supplement before it has passed through the CODEX approval process.
So again – keep your ear to the ground: The rules for marketing supplement products are constantly changing – and when they do, you do NOT want to be the last one to know!
4. Why experiment on animals when there are so many LAWYERS?! While following the 3 Golden Rules … getting a grasp on pertinent regulations … insisting on a legal review of sales copy … and staying on top of any changes are crucial, you're still not home free.
Problem is, according to the American Bar Association, there are now more than ONE MILLION lawyers in the U.S. alone – about one for every 218 adults in America.
It only feels like most of them are in Congress or working for regulatory agencies. In fact, far more work in the private sector – and of these, hundreds of thousands are just praying you'll screw up.
According to the American Tort Reform Association, lawyers wrangle about one-quarter of a trillion dollars out of the legal system every single year. And according to the U.S. House of Representatives, lawyers – not their clients – get 33% of that.
That's … let's see … carry the "1" … a whopping $81 BILLION per year: Enough to send a check for $81,180 to each and every lawyer in the country!
No wonder America has gone lawsuit happy!
The fact is, anyone can sue you at any time and for any reason. And even if you win, the suit is going to cost you tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Business owners can buy insurance for this kind of thing – and most probably should. If you're a copywriter or a marketing consultant, consider adding the following to your contracts:
- A clause that says your client takes full responsibility for determining the accuracy, legality and regulatory compliance of all statements in the copy before it is used …
- A "Hold Harmless" clause that says if your client is sued for any reason, he can't turn around and sue YOU, and …
- An "Indemnification" clause that says if YOU are named as a party in any regulatory or legal action against your client, he will reimburse you for any legal fees or awards assessed against you.
Hope this helps!
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Publisher & Editor
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