Remember that 80s commercial/infomercial about BluBlocker sunglasses? These were the glasses with the funky yellow lens. These were sunglasses so ugly that I can’t imagine anyone putting them on their face. Could you?
Yet 20 million people all over the world did just that. This was all thanks to an electrical engineer and CIA agent. But I’ll get to that in just a second.
First, think about this. You are selling services that your clients need. Your clients need a building, bridge, or runway. However, they can’t design and construct it themselves. Many times, these people even come to you with an RFP, a chance to propose to them.
Yet, how difficult is it to get these people to buy your services against all others? It is extremely difficult. You have a willing audience with a recognized need. But despite this, it is tremendously difficult to get them to buy from you. Let’s face it, you have a hard job.
But what if you had an audience that not only didn’t want to buy anything, but didn’t even recognize a need for what you were selling. Not only that, you had to get these people so convinced that they would call you up and just give you money without even meeting you. How much more impossible would your job be?
That’s the plight of the direct marketing copywriter. And that’s those who are successful direct marketing copywriters are so well respected.
Who Would You Learn From?
If you wanted to learn advanced copywriting tactics, who would you go to:
- The person who successfully sold to a willing audience that wanted to buy what he was selling.
- The person who successfully sold to an audience that didn’t want to buy what he was selling.
I wanted to learn from the people who, against all odds, were able to convince people to buy their products and services. That’s why I read Joe Sugarman’s work. Joe Sugarman was an electrical engineer who joined the military, first working in intelligence, and eventually ended up working as a CIA agent in Germany.
Engineer = Great Copywriter?
Let me tell you, an engineer is probably the most unlikely person to become one of the greatest copywriters to ever live. But after Joe left the CIA, he did just that (I’ll let you make the connection to where he may have learned these new skills).
Joe got his start in copywriting by placing an ad in the Wall Street Journal selling a pocket calculator for $240. Keep in mind that in the early 70s pocket calculators were very new and $240 was more than $3,000 in today’s money. With the success of that ad, he started his own mail order company. He eventually went on to introduce products and concepts that are now commonplace in our world, like cordless phones, the 800 number, infomercials, etc.
One of Joe’s books, The Adweek Copywriting Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Powerful Advertising and Marketing Copy from One of America’s Top Copywriters was last month’s Get Awesome Giveaway. I wanted to give you a sense of some of the things I learned from this book.
Joe believes that people can smell a lie, even a small lie, a million miles away. And when people smell a lie, that’s going to kill your sale. So Joe promotes extreme honesty, the kind that would make most people (especially in our industry) uncomfortable.
Let me give you an example, In one of his most famous ads, Joe takes the entire page to explain why the only reason he agreed to sell the product (a necklace) is because the manufacturer’s pretty nephew agreed to model it.
You may be thinking there is no way this ad worked. But remember, Joe didn’t go to marketing or business school like you or I. He went to engineering school, then went into military intelligence and the CIA. And this ad did work.
Nobody wants to show a chink their armor, especially architects and engineers. But by showing your imperfections, you create an environment of trust.
One of the objections you may field from an architect and engineer is “we don’t want to sound like a used-car salesman!” Ever hear that one?
But what do used car salesmen do? They only present the car in the best light. They would never tell you the car has transmission problems and the passenger-side front tire is a little flat. They would never admit a weakness. So when architects and engineers say they are “a full-service firm that is recognized as an industry leader on the cutting edge,” guess what they sound like…a used-car salesmen.
Joe would openly admit a product’s weakness, but then have an immediate response. He might say, “The front passenger-side tire is a little flat. So, we’ll replace it. Plus, we have a 10-year warranty so you won’t have to pay for flat tires in the future.” Of course, his response would be much more clever than that, but you get the idea.
Answer Every Question In The Reader’s Mind
Another one of Joe’s tactics is answering every question or objection the reader might have immediately as it pops in their head. For example, if you wrote about a batsh*t crazy ad, the reader would be wondering if it actually worked. So, you have to answer that question immediately (see how it works?).
This is a skill that will only come with practice. I certainly haven’t mastered it yet. But I think the main point is you have to actively think about the reader and the questions or objections that could potentially pop into their head. By the time the reader finishes your copy, there should be no questions or objectives left to raise.
People love stories. You already know this. But I’ve seen many proposals that contain no story elements whatsoever. All of Joe’s most famous and successful ads were stories about the product, how he found the product, and sometimes why he didn’t like the product (see extreme honesty).
Those are just three advanced copywriting tactics I learned from Joe Sugarman, engineer, CIA spook, and one of the greatest copywriters to ever live.
If you didn’t win The Adweek Copywriting Handbook you can always pick it up on Amazon. Plus, there is still one more chance to win in the Get Awesome Giveaway. This month’s book is David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Comment on this post and you just may win. I have a feeling that September is your month.
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