The Simple Secret That Turns Good Copy Into GREAT Copy

(… And Great Copy Into A WINDFALL
For Copywriters And Our Clients)

"There are certain prime human emotions with which the thoughts of all of us are occupied a goodly part of the time. Tune in on them, and you have your reader's attention. Tie it up to the thing you have to offer, and you are sure of his interest."

– Robert Collier
The Robert Collier Letter Book

Dear Business-Builder,

In the nearly forty years since I created my first little piece of direct response sales copy, I've written considerably more than a thousand direct response ads, television spots and mail pieces.

Because nearly all of them were direct response promotions, each produced an easily measurable and almost immediate result. And over the years, as I studied those results, my approach to strategizing and creating sales promotions began to evolve.

Today, my work process is very different than it was in those early years. My first thought is no longer about the product benefits or even the product's USP. Nor do I begin each project by thinking about all the rational "reasons why" my prospect should buy.

Please don't get me wrong: It's not that I've discarded any of these techniques. They still have prominent places in every promotion I create. But something else has risen to the top of my "to-do" list when creating a promotion – and that change has produced the closest thing to sales miracles I have ever witnessed.

Dinosaurs still roamed the earth when I started my writing career. Back in the early 1970s, there were no computerized mailing lists, no toll-free order hotlines, no affordable fax machines, no FedEx or other overnight delivery services – and no personal mentors or coaches for aspiring copywriters.

Thankfully, I had The Giants to instruct me. I read, re-read and re-re-read the wonderful guides left for me by those who had come before – particularly, Claude Hopkins' Scientific Advertising, Rosser Reeves' Reality in Advertising and John Caples' Tested Advertising Methods.

Thanks to these Giants, I "knew" every ad was supposed to begin by identifying the benefits my product offered to prospects – the ways in which it made their lives easier, richer, and more rewarding.

I knew I should use the most powerful of these benefits to craft a compelling Unique Selling Proposition … establish it right up front … and turn it into a mantra throughout my copy.

And I understood the importance of fully developing every "Reason Why" my prospects should buy.

But there was a problem: My only assignments were from fund-raising organizations – groups that had no product to sell and offered little if any direct benefit to the donor!

Giving them money wouldn't relieve your rheumatism, banish bad breath, give you whiter teeth or make you attractive to the opposite sex. Nor would it help you avoid a disaster in the health or wealth departments, or even save you time in the laundry room.

In fact the only tangible, personal result of forking over a ten-buck contribution was that you'd wind up $10 poorer!

Sure – there were vague benefits in the selfless act of giving away money to a worthy cause – like feeling good about the good you were doing. But even at that early age, I suspected that writing an appeal letter or TV spot saying, "Give me money – it'll make you feel good" – wouldn't exactly set the world on fire.

Here again, fate stepped in for me …

What could possibly be BETTER
than leading with a tangible benefit?

From the age of 16, I had held down a part-time job in a printing plant as a folding machine operator. But this wasn't just any printing plant: Its forte' was printing and mailing appeal letters for a national fund-raising organization.

And since I worked alone on the night shift, I had plenty of time to read every one of those 8-page appeal letters.

They amazed me. At the time, I had no way of knowing the letters were being written by Richard Viguerie, Steve Winchell and Jerry Huntsinger – the "Powers, Kennedy and Reeves" of the direct mail fundraising industry. But I did know that they worked: They convinced people to donate tens of millions of dollars each year to my employer.

Poring over those appeal letters while my folding machine thunked away all night long was a real eye-opener. Whether by instinct or trial and error, these geniuses had figured out that to get a donor to write a check for a good cause, they needed to go beyond the intellect – beyond rational, "reason-why" copy and beyond a snappy USP.

In short, they needed to stimulate powerful emotions about the subject at hand – emotions that their prospects already had gurgling around inside them.

And to do that, they had to begin at a different place: Not with the product, as my reading of the Giants' books had led me to do, but with a clear understanding of the prospect's state of mind and how he already felt about the subject at hand!

Armed with this understanding, Viguerie, Winchell and Huntsinger began every appeal ("sales") letter with a headline and opening that instantly activated their prospect's emotions and made it impossible for him to look away: A shot to the gut … a kick to the groin or a right hook to the Adam's apple.

And once the copywriters had the prospect's resident emotions working for them, all they had to do was to keep those emotions on their side until the prospect had become as passionate about the cause as the writer was – and the check had been written and mailed.

And as I studied their letters, I realized something else: Viguerie, Winchell and Huntsinger were not stupid men. They were brilliant. They could have chosen the "easy" way – to get rich selling widgets that gave them dozens of tangible benefits to offer their prospects.

But these geniuses had intentionally chosen to specialize in the fund-raising field instead! Why?

Could it be that they knew something I didn't?

Could it be that they understood that the "curse" of having no benefits to sell, no "reason-why" copy to create and no USP to shout from the rooftops … could really be a blessing in disguise?

Could it be that they believed starting with the prospect instead of the product – setting out to first identify and then activate the strongest emotions the prospect already has – might be a better way to go?

And if so, I asked myself, "What if you could do both at the same time?"

Instead of beginning with the product and merely trusting the prospect to respond positively to its benefits …

What if I began by thinking about the prospect and how he must feel about the subject at hand – and then carefully crafted every part of my sales message to get those resident emotions working for me?

What if I began by selecting themes that connected most powerfully with those emotions? What if I added a kind of "emotional overlay" to every headline, every opening, every credibility device, every product benefit, every offer and every call to action?

Wouldn't the response be substantially better?

"Hmmmm …!"

These angels on my shoulders
put millions in my pocket

A decade after I left that printing plant, the 30-something version of myself sat down at a typewriter in a musty basement bedroom in Minneapolis …

My mission: To write a promotion that would sell rare Morgan Silver Dollars to subscribers of The Money Advocate investment newsletter.

The Money Advocate was published by a coin company; Security Coin & Bullion. And until I came along, they were doing just fine, using rational, left-brain, reason-why, benefit-oriented copy and a pretty good USP to sell about $360,000-worth of rare coins per month.

So there I sat, staring at a blank page, wondering how to begin. As was their custom by this time, the ghosts of Kennedy, Hopkins and the rest of the classic advertising choir were perched on my left shoulder – as close as they could get to the left side of my brain – chanting, "benefit … Benefit … BENEFIT!"

They wanted me to begin logically – by headlining and then focusing on the benefits of investing in rare coins.

Meanwhile, on my right shoulder, Viguerie, Winchell and Huntsinger were doing their dead-level best to out shout them, telling the right side of the brain to begin with the feelings my prospect most likely felt relative to my product: Lead with "emotion … Emotion … EMOTION!" they chanted.

So I sat there, turning that old Morgan Silver Dollar over and over in my hand. What is it, really," I asked. Where did it come from? Where has it been? What does it symbolize?

Suddenly, I was reminded of the movie "Somewhere In Time" – in which Christopher Reeve was magically transported through time after seeing the date on a coin. I thought …

"This isn't a coin, it's a TIME MACHINE!"

"If these coins could talk …" I wrote, "what wonderful stories would they tell?"

"They would speak of a time gone by. Of the hardy prospectors who mined their silver. Of smoky saloons, honky-tonk pianos, raucous poker games and painted ladies.

"They would speak of freedom. Independence. Honor. The Code of the West.

"The Morgan Silver Dollar was there with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday at the gunfight in the O.K. Corral. And it was there on the poker table when Wild Bill Hickok drew his "dead man's hand" and succumbed to an assassin's bullet.

"They only look like beautiful and potentially profitable 'rare coin' investments. And while they are, they are also more: Each is touchstone with our colorful, uniquely all-American history that you can hold in the palm of your hand."

Then, just to keep my left-shouldered, left-brained "benefit" angels quiet (and to give my prospects' spouses a plausible reason why their significant others had succumbed), I included plenty of "reasons why" buying those coins was the smartest thing they could do. After all – they were great investments!

That copy, a two-page flyer, mailed on January 1. Thirty days later, it had brought in $3.6 million in sales – TEN TIMES MORE than my client's purely rational, logic-based, greed-driven approach had ever generated in a single month.

And that was just the beginning. Within one year, my new approach had my client selling $16 million-worth of rare coins each month, making him the single largest rare coin dealer in America – by far.

Flash forward ten more years …

The 40-something version of myself sat down at his computer on the top floor of my four-story beach house on the Gulf of Mexico …

I had just completed my second promotion for Health & Healing. The first had been gangbusters, generating eight times the response of any health package Phillips had ever mailed.

Now, it was time to write my headline (yes, I do it backwards) – a way to "grab prospects by the eyeballs" and compel them to open and read my sales copy.

Just to humor the benefit boys, I tapped out the word, "CURES." After all – that was what my copy was packed with and promised more of.

My left-brain angels – Kennedy et. al. – beamed triumphantly.

But what kind of cures were these? Which strong emotion do these kinds of drug-free, surgery-free remedies trigger in my prospects?

"Well," I thought, "The medical industry doesn't want us to know about these alternatives, and even tries to silence people who recommend them.

"So they're … let's see … 'prohibited?' No … 'banned?' No … 'censored?' Not quite … 'forbidden?' No … wait a minute …

YES! That's it! That's my headline! FORBIDDEN CURES!"

I loved the word "forbidden." It felt like a mischievous child trying something "naughty" for the first time. It also made me feel resentment towards the self-appointed, supposedly superior, paternalistic establishment that believes it's a better judge of what's right for me than I do. It made me feel bound and determined to not just break, but shatter their stupid prohibitions!

And of course, the angels on my right shoulder – the "emotion" boys – loved it, too.

When it mailed, the package beat my control so handily that Phillips' mail quantities reached six million pieces in each 60-day mail cycle. The royalties were so good, I took the rest of the year off and played on the beach.

From genius to dunce
in the wink of an eye

Adding the right shoulder/right brain/ emotionally driven copy techniques practiced by the great fund-raising copywriters …

 … To the more left shoulder/left brain benefit/reason-why/USP approach to copy espoused by the world's greatest advertising copywriters …

 … Was quite simply, the single greatest breakthrough of my career.

It was making me richer and more in-demand as a copywriter. And, being young and cocky, I was absolutely convinced that, like Kennedy, Hopkins, Reeves and the rest, I had something new … something better than anyone had ever thought of before.

But I traded my newfound "genius" status for a dunce hat the minute I began re-examining – and really studied – the ads that Kennedy, Lasker, Hopkins and the other Giants had created during their lifetimes.

These guys may not have said much in their books about the importance of connecting with prospects' resident emotions – but they sure did it an awful lot!

In fact, whether by intent, instinct, or as the natural byproduct of their obsession with selling benefits, they did it all the time!

And as I read their words with new eyes, I even found this, from ad legend David Ogilvy:

"Researchers have not yet found a way to quantify the effectiveness of emotion, but I have come to believe that commercials with a large content of nostalgia, charm, and even sentimentality can be enormously effective."

I felt like a drooling moron. It had been right there in front of me all along – but I had been too obsessed with the nuts and bolts of meticulously identifying product benefits, writing "reason-why" copy and shouting my USP to even notice!

Had I simply emulated what the Giants did – instead of just studying what they said – I would have been miles ahead of the game!

Not only hadn't I invented the technique of identifying and then mobilizing my prospects' emotions to create greater attention, readership and response …

… It had taken me years to figure out what the Giants had been trying to tell me all along!

Maybe I would have caught on sooner, if, early on, someone had shaken me by the shoulders, slapped me a couple of times and said …

"People act on their emotions far more often than they do on their intellect alone.

"People buy for emotional reasons far more often than for merely rational ones.

"If you want people to act on your copy and buy your product, first determine how your prospect is likely feeling right now.

"Then, use your benefits as bridges to activate the emotions that will compel him to buy!"

Couldn't have said it better myself!

That's when my work process changed forever.

Put Dominant Emotion Marketing
To Work for You NOW!

Instead of beginning like I once had and as many copywriters still do – by identifying product benefits – wouldn't it make more sense to put the prospect and his most compelling emotions FIRST?

Wouldn't it be better, for example, to …

  1. Begin by figuring out what the prospect's resident emotions are regarding the things the product addresses …
  2. Figure out which of those resident emotions are the strongest, most compelling, most "dominant" in his or her life …
  3. Identify the benefits my product offers that will most effectively enhance his strongest positive emotions and/or resolve his negative ones …
  4. Address those benefits in ways that keep the prospect's most dominant emotions working with me – and never against me …
  5. And as you review and edit your sales copy, wouldn't it make sense to keep making this kind of emotional connection at every opportunity?

Hope this helps!

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

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19 Responses to The Simple Secret That Turns Good Copy Into GREAT Copy

  1. What makes this post so brilliant is that
    Clayton shares a system of copywriting that
    I believe creates a “vision” and mental image in the
    mind of the reader.

    Yes indeed, emotion is
    the driving factor to get the reader to take
    “feel” and take action. I also believe the reader takes action
    because the emotional component helps them
    see a mental picture of something
    they want to have or be a part of, and
    combined with the “logic” component, moves them.

    I usually see myself having an “experience” through
    a visual portrait in my mind or some type of sensory feeling before I ever take action
    to buy something, and it seems Claytons’ writing approach
    does the same by using copy.

    It’s not easy to write this way, but as he’s
    proven, it’s highly profitable when you do. Great Job and Thanks!!!

  2. Jim says:

    Words to live by my friend.

    Everything I buy is not only meant to solve my problem, it’s meant to increase the joy I feel in everyday life, even if it’s a plastic file box!

    So glad I found you Clayton

  3. Clayton,

    I love this story of yours. I’ve written a lot for the LOHAS market (lifestyles of health and sustainability)- essentially “green” buyers.

    People don’t buy organic food just because of the health benefits – They love the stories behind it. Stonyfield Farm, one of the big leaders in the organic industry, just changed all its yogurt containers to show real pictures of its dairy farmers’ farms.

    They know that people are hankering for a connection to something that feels wholesome, back to the farm, to the land. Back to authenticity. In fact, even organic is getting trumped by local for the same reason. People want to connect to the people who are producing their food.

    And in this kind of marketing – you know what works tremendously? Stories. The Hartman Group, a market research group, has documented this. People will buy a box of organic cereal because they love the story on the back about who’s growing the grain!

    I’ve used the same thing in my health promotions to build credibility and pull people in: a disgruntled nurse frustrated that he can’t talk about alternative health to his patients; a heart disease formulator who’s seen his grandfather and father die from heart disease.

    I love pulling in this magic – and it certainly connects to your prospect. Thank you for reminding me of how to get there and to keep it front and center.

  4. -- TW says:

    Great article! Thanks!

    Seems like the difference between a frying pan and a cloud.

    It’s easy to create a logical description of a pan — but not so easy to do so about a cloud.

    They say people buy because of emotion, then justify their decision with logic. And you say the key is to verbalize (+ play upon) the emotions that are already going on in the reader’s head/heart. But — and here’s the real difficulty — how does one ‘research’ what those emotions are? It could very well be that the reader himself does not know what those emotions are, even though he ‘has’ those feelings.

    Feelings and emotions are very personal and closely held. They are unwritten. You cannot just walk up to someone and ask them what their emotions are. Even previous customers. Since they have (presumably) justified their buying decision with logic — “justified” being another word for “covered up” — they are unlikely to reveal to you what those emotions were.

    Using the wrong emotions would make one’s copy worse than not using any emotion at all, yes?

    So — is it possible to approach the TASK of infusing one’s copy with emotion, in a logical way? Is there a system — or even a checklist? What suggestions can you make about how to conduct “emotion” research for a project? Or does one just guess — or hope for lightning to strike?

    Please advise.


  5. Garry says:

    A decade after I left that printing plant, the 30-something version of myself sat down at a typewriter in a musty basement bedroom in Minneapolis …

    The 40-something version of myself sat down at his computer on the top floor of my four-story beach house on the Gulf of Mexico …

    What a great way to put over ten years of success in a couple of sentences.


  6. Patricia says:

    Dear Clayton,

    Wow. I love this. Your expertise and insight yes, but guess what else?

    The layers of fun you packed into this letter. There’s at least three stories going on, intertwined, seamlessly.

    I can only save it ’til my next ink cartridge supply arrives in several days. Hope it will still be available.

    The information is wonderful. I also want to study this article you wrote. That’s how I want to write. The first copywrite letter I have seen in, well, since I started on this journey, that I can identify with and can begin to emulate as a style. It won’t fit both ways all the time, but it’s a start.

    Thanks loads,

  7. Doug says:

    I connect with TW’s challenge in properly identifying the fundamental emotions going on in the readers’ heads. When in doubt, I usually just go ask the prospects and customers. This takes time and may not get to the real emotional hot buttons. So, if there’s a more systematic way to accurately tap into these emotions, that would be a great tool.


  8. Clayton,

    Your article is incredibly lucid and lively, and remarkably “charming” because it’s so self-effacing. Learning from the greats is one thing, acknowledging their influence on your thinking and writing style, the way you do, is another.

    Overall it reminds me and probably some of your other readers that writing creatively is 90% inspiration (driving and playing with intangible emotions) and 10% perspiration (exuding logic like USP and benefits).And going for the emotional juglar from the get-go by first wrting the emotion-laden title, and following suit with your write-up is…well, right on!

    To do all this within the context of your own bio from your pre-teens through your 5th decade of ife is shear genius. You’ve exemplified your point about the need to appeal to reader’s nostalgia with this piece itelf. We can all envision getting wiser as we get older.

    Thank you for displaying your genius at KISS kee

    Indeed, charm, nostalgia

  9. Ken Brooks says:

    This article hit me between the eyes. Why is it in sales that 80% of the business comes from 20% of the sales people. They were born not great salesmen and women but were born with the ability to sell emotion and sell them selves…. Sounds like a great copy writer???
    I finally get it… Thankyou Clayton for your honest info, there are so many quacks out there, just like any other professions and great men like you and wendy give people like me a chance if you have an open mind. Peace and good health to you all. Ken Brooks

  10. Shane in Wyo says:

    You got my mind racing again.. Thanks Clayton.

    It’s very interesting how you get right to heart of the matter with these emotion driven spikes. I want to write just like you.. As I’m sure many others would say as well.

    It seems every time I read a new post of yours, I’m right back to the good ol’ drawing board to re-edit my copy.

    Currently I have been unsure how to attempt addressing prospective donators to a local non-profit group that offers underprivileged teens and lil kids a chance to learn real life lessons in the outdoors like team building, patience, appreciation for the outdoors and nature and how self reliance plays a key role in all we do in life.

    After reading your post I have decided to add a lil nostalgia through stories in my copy to address the emotional triggers that my readers and potential contributors would be sitting on.

    We were all kids once. We were all at place in time where learning something new wasn’t always the funnest sounding or exciting but after we put the effort out to learn it, we were presently suprised with the outcome.

    Take fishing for example, many of us when we learned to fish, weren’t very excited to sit in silence while we waited for that one bite to come along. In fact, up until we actually caught our first fish, we were(if you were anything like I was)bored out of our minds. Whispers and no rock skipping come to mind for me. Quiet time with my pops and grandpappy was about as exhilirating as doing all day chores in the summer. I couldn’t imagine sitting somewhere all day with only a couple possible bites and waiting for something latch on when many times I would end up leaving empty netted with nothing else but a few stories and a sunburn or if we were on the ocean in a half day boat, a stomache ache and the dreams of doing something actually exciting during a long nap in a stinky, below deck greese kitchen.

    I agree that when we build on emotion it brings things and people together in a universal playing field. We all want to be able to relate or we simply don’t give the time to listen. We all want the big, grandpappy fish that lives below that watery surface but untill we see him or one of his fellow swimmers on our own hook, we simply can’t imagine the potential.

    It’s no different with making a purchase, if the product or service doesn’t relate to us or what we believe or know to be correct(not to mention possible)then we basically lose interest and the benefits, regardless of how enticing are irrelevant.

    Again, relating to our prospective client or contributors emotions is essential in finding a common ground or platform to work from. Without it we are just sitting on the shore with pole in hand, line in water and a cleverly disigned knot for a hook and bait..The fish just laugh! You get my point:)

    I’m aware that I’m not in the same field of copywriters as the crew at the Total Package and that there may be a few errors in my grammer but I can definitely draw a picture with the best of ‘em. Here’s to improving my skills through real life trial and error.

    Keep posting these nuggets, I’m eating them up.

    Three Cheers for Clayton and his crew for always providing the best free, copy resource on the planet. I’m hooked!

  11. Ken Ca|houn says:

    Exceptionally well-written tips, a fascinating read, and as always, immensely useful… thanks Clayton for another winner here, this one’s a keeper – because it targets the exact approach we all need to be using especially in these emotion-laden tough times.

    I’ll work on that for crafting financial bullets, regarding more emotional hooks rather than just greed; rather how beating the street makes one feel, the peace of mind and other things I need to do a better job of in my copy.

    Thanks for sharing your know-how in an absolutely fascinating, highly readable, engaging way as always… makes learning fun, and memorable. And profitable.

    To success,


  12. Ken says:

    Posts like this are why I keep reading the Total Package. Honestly Clayton, thank you for the great information you provide.

    Ken Steen

  13. This article hit me between the eyes. Why is it in sales that 80% of the business comes from 20% but you are forgetting that its words and messages and the (WIIFM – whats in it for me factor) that will really take you to the top.

    Do this ok and you will feed yourself for a week.

    DO THIS AMAZINGLY WELL and you will feed yourself for a lifetime.

    hope this helps.

  14. George Scott says:

    Thank you, and a confession, Clayton — I stole your line about the “time machine”. I changed it to “Our island is a time machine”.

    You see I’m giving away ten holiday homes worth about $5 million in a hotel promotion disguised as a raffle (or maybe it’s the other way around!), and I needed to touch on the location, a Mediterranean island that has been host to Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginian, Romans and centuries of invasions by pirates.

    And the spot where my vacation complex is built is close to an old Roman encampment — the place where my vacation home winners will look down at the Med is where Roman centurions probably stood watch two thousand years ago.

    So I felt justified in the theft of a magic line. I hope you’ll forgive me.

    If anyone would care to critique my attempts to write a la Clayton, it’s all there at and I welcome comments, suggestion, improvements and candid criticism. I’ll even pay well to anyone who can help me sell my project.

    And Clayton, if you read these comments, let me warn you that I have seriously contemplated getting on a plane to fly 3,000 miles to sit on your doorstep to beg (or buy) a half hour of your time for an expert critique. I’m sure it would be worth any price.

    Many thanks for the continuing education. Seeing you speak at seminars has always been fulfilling, but having copy to look at again and again is even better.

    Warm wishes,

    George (The Old Artificer)

  15. Pingback: » Blog Archive » Turning Good Copy into Great Copy: Makepeace Reveals His Secret. - Training for network marketers and other home business owners.

  16. Destin Lucas says:

    Hey Clayton,

    This is your best article ever. Thanks for sharing your secrets.

  17. Clayton,
    Great insight and inspiration. This article puts a spark in 3 projects I am working on- Thanks for sharing, your light is beaming.

  18. Franck says:

    I already knew this from my copywriting classes, but like it happened to you, the way you wrote it made me believe that it was the first time I read about this.


  19. Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts.Any way Ill be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon A more expensive, revolutionary treatment involves taking out the fat in some parts of the body, and injecting it back into your hands.

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