From:
WAY West of Jewfish Creek

Dear Friend & Subscriber,

Let's talk about dumb.

Once upon a time, there was a young, hot-shot advertising guy whose string of successes had made him a legend in his own mind. He had created several spectacular direct mail and space campaigns and, full of himself and his own self importance, he truly believed he could do no wrong. In fact...

His Touch Was So Deft
His Vision So Pure
He Could Make No Mistakes
Of This He Was Sure

Whatever. In any case, it eventually came to pass that our cocky, young turk took it upon himself to create a direct response campaign for a product he had never sold before. That product was a diet book. His client, completely bedazzled by this ego-driven little monster, gave him total carte blanche to create the campaign. And so, the first thing our hero did was create a full page long copy newspaper ad that positively crackled with energy and brilliance.

The second thing he did was create a radio commercial to "advertise his advertising" and he scheduled quite a number of these radio spots to be run just prior to the appearance of the newspaper ad.

The third thing he did, because he was so in love with his work, is he insisted on recording the commercial himself. Here's how it went:

ATTENTION ALL FAT PEOPLE! DOES YOUR GARBAGE MAN DELIVER INSTEAD OF COLLECT AND THEN YELL "CHOW TIME!"?

WHENEVER YOU GET ON AN ELEVATOR, NO MATTER WHAT BUTTON YOU PUSH, DOES IT ALWAYS GO DOWN?

WHENEVER YOU GO SHOPPING FOR GROCERIES, DO YOUR NEIGHBORS LAUGH BEHIND YOUR BACK AND SAY, "THAT LITTLE PIGGY WENT TO THE MARKET AGAIN?"

LISTEN: FAT AIN'T WHERE IT'S AT. LEARN HOW TO GET RID OF IT. READ THE AKRON BEACON JOURNAL. READ IT TOMORROW. LOOK FOR THE PAGE WITH THE BIG HEADLINE THAT SAYS:

THE WORLD WOULD BE A BETTER PLACE WITHOUT FAT PEOPLE: HERE'S HOW YOU CAN HELP GET RID OF THEM.

THAT'S TOMORROW IN THE BEACON JOURNAL. LOOK FOR IT!

BYE PORKY.

That radio spot ran over and over just before the appearance of the newspaper ad. It was the talk of the town. After hearing that brilliant commercial, the good people of Akron, Ohio could hardly wait for the appearance of that wondrous ad.

And appear it did. The very next day. It all its glory. A full newspaper page of long, tightly written copy that told how fat people were sucking up more than their fair share of the resources of the earth. How they needed more food to feed them; more clothes to clothe them; more fuel to transport them; more medical attention; and so on. The ad also told how fat people could cure themselves of the condition of being fat by simply sending for the diet book that was mentioned (briefly) in the ad.

What a spectacular campaign! A full page ad backed by all those fantastic radio spots. Cleverness! Humor! Creativity! And, a new approach that had never before been used!

And Only Three Lousy Orders!

Yes, friends and neighbors, after all that hype and all that expense, this truly unique and spectacular campaign pulled in a grand total of three whole orders. Rather sad, isn't it? At least for the client who, on this test campaign, lost many, many, many thousands of dollars. You know, the marketing moron who created this financial fiasco did, eventually, learn a great deal about the diet market and how to sell diet books and products. Unfortunately, however, he did so at his client's expense.

Do you think that's fair? Do you think that a client should have to pay for an advertising guy's marketing education?

I don't either. Not unless the client and the marketing guy are (as is the case in the above example) one and the same person. Yes, boys and girls, the marketing moron who created that monstrosity of a campaign was none other than yours truly, Sir Gary of Halbert, The Prince of Print, The Ace of Space and all around Bon Vivant.

Who is also sometimes known as Gary Stupid: The In-print Idiot.

All of which I hope will serve to take a bit of the sting out of some of the blistering criticism that follows. Enough babble. Let's get to the meat of this letter. As I said last month, this month I am going to address the subject of:

Does Your High-Priced Ad Agency
Do Any Of These 10 Stupid Things?

Stupid Thing #1: Blazing A New Trail 
When The Road Is Already Paved

Re-inventing the wheel is dumb. Not doing your homework is unforgivable. Finding out what has worked in the past or, better yet, what's working now is the first step that is usually not taken by an ad agency when it takes on a new account.

That's irresponsible. The first thing I do (now) when I agree to create a new direct mail campaign for a new client is review everything he has mailed before and get result figures for each of those mailings. The second thing I do is get copies of everything his competitors have been mailing and see what sales arguments and marketing themes are being repeated over and over. I am not indifferent to this information. I am no longer so sure that all my new ideas (like making fun of my prospects) will be more compelling than the tried and true sales arguments that have been working for a long time.

No. What I am much more likely to do, these days, is to concentrate on how to more effectively dramatize those in-print sales appeals that have already been proven to strike the most responsive chords. For example, let's say someone already has a marginally successful direct mail campaign for a product that is made in Japan. In that case, what I might do is get a bunch of 1-year Japanese coins (you can get hundreds of them for a dollar) and attach one of those light-weight, little aluminum eye catchers to the top of each of my sales letters and write something like this:

Dear Friend,

     As you can see, I have attached a little Japanese 1-yen coin to the top of this letter. Why have I done this? Actually, there are two reasons.

#1. I have something very important to tell you and I  needed something to help me get your attention.
#2. And secondly, since what I have to tell you concerns money and was discovered in Japan, I thought some little Japanese "financial eyecatcher" would be appropriate.

Here's what it's all about: etc., etc., etc.

And the etceteras, of course, are where I get into those tried and proven sales arguments, now that I've got my prospects attention!

Want to know a neat little trick that will make you look good? Of course you do. Look: Suppose you are assigned the task of writing a "killer" newspaper ad for a local furniture store. O.K. What you do is go to a big city newsstand and buy a few dozen out-of-state newspapers. Then you look through them and clip out all the furniture ads. And then, maybe in a Philadelphia paper, you'll find a great way to dramatize a furniture sale that can be replicated in some manner for your client in Chicago.

And he'll think you're a "creative genius"!

Stupid Thing #2:

Writing Slogans 
Instead Of Long Copy

"Don't smoke. It's a matter of life and breath!" What a waste! I hate to think about how much money has been wasted on that bit of drivel. Smoking is an addiction. It's stronger (really) than heroin. Do you honestly believe that any nicotine addicts whatsoever have ever given up their habit because they heard that little jingle on the radio. Don't be ridiculous. If you really want to have even a chance at "selling" someone on the idea of giving up tobacco, you'd better use all the big guns you have. All the statistics, all the health hazards, all the benefits (improved appearance, etc.) you will enjoy when you quit and so on.

And so it is with whatever it is you are trying to sell. Listen:

It Can Never Be Too Long
It Can Only Be Too Boring.

And don't bother telling me how Abe Lincoln, when asked how long a man's legs should be, replied, "Long enough to reach the ground." It's an entertaining bit of folklore but hardly a premise upon which to build a marketing campaign.

The more you tell, the more you sell -
The more you tell, the more you sell -
The more you tell, the more you sell -

Stupid Thing #3:

Being Remiss 
Instead Of Being 
Redundant

I'm sure you've noticed that I have a tendency to repeat myself. I make no apologies. Many readers of this newsletter (including me) do not need so much to be taught something new, as they need to be reminded of what they already know.

Remember this: You will tire of your successful DM campaigns long before your market does. It is folly to change a successful campaign in midstream if that campaign is still working. Yet, believe it or not, it happens everyday. "We need something new. Something more creative. A fresh approach."

Oh yeah, who says so? Do the numbers say so? If not, don't you dare change a winner. If you've got a winner, I want you to keep using it over and over and over until the numbers say you need a fresh approach.

Consider this: If you've got a gorgeous, sexy spouse, I bet you've been romancing that same person over and over for a long time now, haven't you? Don't you think that's a bit much? Aren't you getting a little tired of the same old whispered endearments? And aren't you getting a little tired of saying (redundantly) the same old things (like, "I love you") over and over?

Well, you'd better not stop because, if you do, your honey just might start looking around to see what the competition has to offer.

And we wouldn't want that, would we?

Stupid Thing #4:

Being Remiss 
Instead Of Being 
Redundant

You know what? I have something else to say on this subject and I almost let it go. Can you believe that? I nearly made the same mistake I just finished describing! Which leads me to an interesting point. You know why I really write this newsletter? It's for me! You see, I've gotten sick and tired of forgetting to use what I already know and thereby, quite often, cheating myself out of big bundles of money. And so, because I've got a monthly deadline to give you my pearls of wisdom, I don't forget (so often) how to string a necklace for myself.

So, here's what else I have to say on this subject: Another way to be remiss instead of being redundant is to not tell your full story in every ad or direct mail piece. Don't ever believe that people (because of your redundant advertising) are so familiar with the benefits of what you are selling they only need to be reminded of your existence.

That's hardly ever true. Give your complete pitch every time you pay to get an audience!

Stupid Thing #5:

Not Making 
Enough Cheap Mistakes 
After You've Got A Winner

The last few paragraphs may have led you to believe that I believe "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" I do believe that. However, I also believe there's certainly nothing wrong with making a good thing better. And the way you do that is by testing. Now look, most of you already know about all the tests you should make that make sense. You already know you should test price. And headlines. And offers. And media. And lists. And so on.

But did you also know that, every once in a while, you should deliberately make "dumb" tests? Test that don't seem to make any sense at all? Here's an example. Hardly anyone ever runs full page direct response ads in small town newspapers because the CPM is way too high. In fact, some of those papers cost as much as $90 and more per thousand circulation and there's just no way to make your nut with numbers like that.

Or so I thought. Until I tested and found out that one of my full page diet ads would pull as much as 20 or 30 times ad cost in those little sweethearts!

Zowie! You know, it took a while but I finally figured out why those little papers were pulling so well. You see, because of their high CPM's, hardly anyone ever runs direct response ads in those papers and, consequently, when a high-tech, slam bam, DR ad does appear, it is reaching a virgin market. In fact, the appearance of one of those ads in those small papers is so rare that it is actually an event.

Sort of like taking a Broadway play to Podunk.

So, after you've got a winner, every once in a while test something that "doesn't make sense." Like a ridiculously high price. Or a ridiculously low one. Or a list from "left field." Or a triple your money back guarantee. Or letters that appear to be written by hand. Or letters with $5 bills attached to them that ask for a telephone call whether the reader is going to order or not. Or reply envelopes with live stamps instead of a permit number (this one might really surprise you). Or a totally different appeal instead of one that makes sense.

You know, once a young girl said, "Gee, why didn't you tell me that smoking makes your skin look awful? I would've quite a long time ago!" Isn't that something? This young lady's appearance was, to her, much more important than the threat of lung cancer.

And that little fact, which is also true of tens of millions of other smokers, is totally unknown to the surgeon general.

Stupid Thing #6:

Underestimating 
Human Greed

Lurking deep within us all is a ravenous monster and that beast has an appetite that cannot be sated.

Guess what? Immediately after I wrote that last sentence, Marshall Sutton, a friend of mine, (he's a list broker), walked into my office with a mailing from Newsweek to which he was responding. You know why? It's because it offered him a savings of $83.25 off the $104.00 cover price. He said he didn't particularly want the magazine but the savings were just too real and too great to pass up.

Hmn? I wonder if that other guy I know who dates 10 women a month would be interested in one more? Could it be that that self made man who already has 10 million dollars would be interested in more money? Do you honestly believe that all those rich women in Beverly Hills would undecorously scratch and scramble to get in on a department store's annual half-price sale? Or that that customer who already subscribes to six girlie magazines would buy yet another? Or that that movie star with seven cars would even consider buying one more?

Listen: People are greedy, greedy, greedy.

Offer outrageous bargains. Offer convenience beyond belief. Provide unheard of service. Give away free TV's to everybody who buys your Cadillacs. Give rebates.

In short, when all else fails, offer bribe!

Stupid Thing #7:

Overestimating 
Human Intelligence

Anything that can be misunderstood will be misunderstood. Explain things in baby talk. Even when you are writing to college professors or nuclear physicists. Infer nothing. Explain everything. Lead people by the hand as though they were children. Use short words. Short paragraphs. Simple English.

You know, it is my conceit that I can beat any mail control ever written. In fact, head-to-head, split-run tests, the least I have been able to improve any control over the last 14-months has been by a margin of 72%.

Except one.

Can you believe it? I, Sir Gary of Halbert, actually lost to an existing control. Well, I did and I don't like it! And so, refusing to allow this smudge on my self-image to continue to exist, I have contacted my client and asked him many, many questions. And you know what I found out? He told me that 20% of his orders are in cash and another 30% are money orders. Do you know what that means? Quite simply, it means that at least 50% of the people to whom I was writing were not even sophisticated enough to have a checking account!

So much for my $19.95 price and a few other changes I made based on the assumption that my audience was literate. Stay tuned. I'm a poor loser and, not only that, if I put my mind to it, I think I can get down to almost anyone's level.

Anyway, we'll see.

Stupid Thing #8: Guessing What
They Want Instead Of
Asking Them

As I said in my comments under Stupid Thing #1, the first thing you should do, when trying to create a new promotion, is to see if (and how) that particular marketing problem has been solved before. But what if it hasn't? What if what you are trying to sell is some product or service that is new, that has never been sold before? Well, I'll tell you, you know what a dumb guy who works for a dumb ad agency will do? Very simple: he'll start guessing!

Guessing what appeals to use. Guessing which groups of people will most likely buy the product. Guessing what the best price will be. Guessing what features to play up; which ones to play down.

Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. When you are spending tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars of your client's money, it is irresponsible to try and "dream up" what the market will respond to. Instead, what you should really do, is go out and talk to people. Show them the new product or describe the new service. Ask people what they think. Would they buy it? At what price? What do they especially like about it? What do they especially dislike? What would make it more appealing to them?

And then, my friend, if you are a responsible person, you will build your campaign around, their answers instead of your guesses!

Stupid Thing #9: Failing To 
Remember That People
Are Skeptical

The #1 reason for marketing failure is that people simply don't want what you are selling at all. The #2 reason is that people don't want it as much as they want the money they would have to give up for it. But, once you've overcome those first two reasons, then, the biggest joker left in the pack is that they don't believe you!

They don't believe the product will do what you say. They don't believe you will make good on your guarantee. They don't believe that you will even send the product to them. They don't believe you are honest or, that you will be around next year. Or, in a nut shell, they just don't believe you are sincere.

Here's how to overcome these concerns. First, never use a post office box, always use a street address. Always include your office telephone number in every ad or direct mail piece. Invite people to drop in and visit with you. Tell them details about where you are located like "We're right across from the street from the Burbank Public Library and right next door to City Hall." Tell people to call if they have questions and tell them who (by name) to ask for when they call. Consider allowing them to postdate their checks for 30-days. Give references. Include testimonials. Tell them the exact hours you are open. Etcetera.

Give Them Details, Details, Details!

Stupid Thing #10: Being Too Proud
To Ask For Help

Jay Abraham has one of the finest marketing minds on the planet yet, when he isn't sure what to do, he asks me. And guess what I do when I get stuck? Very simple. I ask him! Or somebody else. Or a whole bunch of somebody elses.

Look: In spite of all the things the marketing community does wrong, it still has some of the finest minds to be found anywhere. And the very best marketing minds never trust their fortunes to the poverty of their own imaginations and intelligence. No. Believe me, at the top, there may be competition, but it is a friendly sort of competition. The very top creative people are almost always givers. They give freely of their ideas, their opinions, their experiences and so on.

So don't try and do it all yourself. Don't let false pride stop you from reaching out for help. If nothing else, pick up the phone and call me at (213)273-7053. If I can't help you, maybe I'll know someone who can.

In any case, I almost always welcome a good excuse for avoiding the process of pulling out those damn legal pads and starting to write.

  Sincerely,
 
   Gary C. Halbert
AKA (sometimes)
"The In-Print Idiot"
P.S. Did you read that front page article in DM News in the January 1, 1987 issue? About how that guy from Connecticut got caught falsifying postal 3602 forms? I wonder if he knows a guy named Pedro?
P.P.S. Hey listen: Are you getting tired of working for a living? Fear not. Next month I'm going to teach you how to steal.

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Copyright 2003 Gary C. Halbert.  All Rights Reserved.