W-A-Y West of Jewfish Creek
Dear Friend & Subscriber,
Every once in a while, someone comes to me and
says something like this: "Gary, I've got to learn how to
write copy. I've never done it before and I've got just
30-days to learn how to create a world class promotion. Can
you help me? Can you make me into a world class copywriter in
just 30-days? Can you, huh? Can you? Huh? Huh?"
Strangely enough, the answer is yes.
Sort of. At least, I can give a "qualified yes"
answer to such a question. Actually, I may not be able to make
someone "world class" in just 30-days, but I can
almost certainly make such a person better than anyone he or
she is likely to be able to hire.
Providing, of course, that the person in
question has at least a modicum of talent and, much more
importantly, the ability to follow directions and an appetite
for very hard work.
Here's how I'd do it: If you were my student,
the first thing I'd ask you to do is give yourself a basic
education in valid advertising principles. To begin with, I'd
want you to read everything listed below:
-by Claude Hopkins
Robert Collier Letter Book"
-by Robert Collier
To Write A Good Advertisement"
Gary Halbert Letter" (all back issues)
Lazy Man's Way to Riches"
Eugene M. Schwartz
O.K., after you had read all of the above, I
would further instruct you to read nothing
else and not take
notes. You know, getting a good education in any field is
tricky and, in advertising, it borders impossible. You see,
most books written abut advertising are not just bad; they
are downright dangerous! Many years ago, Claude Hopkins
(the greatest ad man who ever lived) was asked to critique and
offer suggestions on how to improve some college textbooks on
advertising. His suggestion?
Truly. Claude further went on to say that the
"educators" involved had no right to impose such
erroneous BS on a group of naive students, that it would take
years of front-line experience to "deprogram" the
students and free them up from all that garbage.
So listen: Not only is it important what you
do learn; it is equally important what you do
not learn. So, step one is to read only
the material I have listed.
Now, about this business of not
taking notes: Don't worry. We're not finished with those
books, newsletters, and Boron Letters after just one reading.
No Sir. Not by a long shot. Those books and those letters
should become your lifetime
However, for now, I want you to just rip right
through them, non-stop.
O.K., now that you've read all that material,
what's next? This: I want you to get a copy of the following
ads and direct mail letters:
You Make These Mistakes In English?"
Everybody Should Know About This Stock And Bond Business"
Nancy L. Halbert Heraldry Letter"
To Burn Off Body Fat, Hour-By-Hour"
60 Miles An Hour The Loudest Noise In This Rolls Royce Is The
Ticking Of The Electric Clock"
To Collect From Social Security At Any Age"
Admiral Byrd Transpolar Expedition Letter"
Lazy Man's Way To Riches"
And, in general, anything you can get your
hands on that was written by Gary Bencivenga, Dan Rosenthal,
Joe E. Kennedy, Pat Garrard, Steve Brown, Drew Kaplan, Claude
Hopkins, Joe Karbo, Ben Suarez, Joe Sugarman, Gene Schwartz
and, of course, yours truly.
Onward. Now that you've obtained copies of
these ads and letters, I want you to sit down and copy them
out word-for-word in your own handwriting. Next, I want you to create a hand-drawn
layout of each ad and direct mail package. Listen: The goal
here is to get you to create a professional package
(completely "comped up") that is all ready to go
first to a typist and then to a typesetter.
Now, after you've done all this, I want you to
actually take one of these
packages to a typist and then to a typesetter and have the ad
or direct mail package typeset. Then proof the ad and, after
making any necessary corrections, have a velox (stat) made of
Alright. What you have just completed is all
the necessary "end steps" of writing out the final
draft of an ad, laying it out and getting it typeset and
stated and totally (and perfectly) "camera-ready" so
it can be given to a "no-brainer" publication
Do this. Do it. Do it. Don't be
simple-minded. Don't come to me and say, "O.K., Gary,
I've got the idea. I know what you're getting at. It really
wasn't necessary for me to do all that mechanical
stuff as long as I understand what you're driving at, right
Sorry Buckwheat; it doesn't work that way. If
you really want to know
it, you've really got to do
There are no shortcuts.
You know, I'm sick to death of people who
can't be bothered with the little nitty-gritty details of
"hands on" experience. Of people who believe that
somehow they can know a thing without experiencing it. Listen: It is possible to be "conversant"
with something and really not have any kind of "gut
understanding" of it at all. I'm sorry, but no matter
what your Mommy and Daddy told you, men can never really
understand the pain of childbirth, priests cannot comprehend
the joys of sex, "normies" can never understand
alcoholics, and not one speck of true advertising wisdom has
ever been written by a PhD.
By the way, did you ever see all those ads by
copywriters in DM News and the Reporter of Direct Marketing?
The ones where they mention all their awards?
Know this: Not one of the legends mentioned so
far in this letter care one iota about awards. No, my friend,
if you would ever hear Ben Suarez, Sugarman, or any of the
rest of us talking about our
achievements, we won't be talking about awards, we'll be
talking about numbers!
Forgive me, I digress. Let us press on. So
far, we've only done the "end steps" of creating an
ad. In actuality, there's a hell of a lot more involved before
we ever get to that point. It's time to go back to work. It's
time to prepare your "tool kit." First, I now want
you to go back and reread
all those advertising books and back issues of my newsletters
(including the Boron Letters and, this time, take
notes. Write down every good idea, every important insight
and every nugget of wisdom that is contained in all that
material. What this means, my friend, is that by the time you
are finished, you should have hundreds
Put these notes aside. Next, go back over all
that material and write out every headline you find therein.
Also, get a bunch of back issues of The National Enquirer and
Cosmopolitan Magazine and copy all the headlines you will find
that seem to be repeated over and over. Especially copy a lot
of the "cover blurbs" from Cosmo; they are superb.
Another good source of headlines is "2001 Headlines"
which was compiled by Jay Abraham.
Let us review. Here's what you should have
done so far:
||You should have read all the books and newsletters I
||You should have copied out all the ads and direct mail
letters I have listed.
||You should've had at least one of those promotions
comped up and typeset.
||You should've reread all the books and newsletters and
taken hundreds of notes.
||You should've read all those "headline
sources" and copied down mucho headlines.
Enough review. Next, take all your notes and
headlines and put each individual note and each individual
headline on a white 3 x 5 index card. And finally, take all
those cards and put them in shoe boxes and then go take some
time off. At least time off from this stuff. Go play golf for
a few days or go back to your normal work routine or take a
short vacation or whatever.
Guess what? We are now ready, after all this
"prep", to begin writing that first ad or direct
mail letter. And so, let us begin. The first thing I want you
to do is read and reread every ad or direct mail package that
has already been written about what you are trying to sell.
Take notes. Secondly, read and take notes on every ad or
direct mail piece you can find that has been written for a
competing or similar
product or service.
Next, carefully examine the product or service
and find out everything you can about it. If it's a book, read
it. If it's a product, examine it. If it's a service, use it
and ask questions.
Take notes on all this.
Put those notes on 3 x 5 index cards (one note
per card) and put all those notes in a shoe box.
Go do something else for a few days. And
listen: If you have a good idea during that time, don't
verbalize it, don't write it down, don't tell anybody and try not
to think about it. The idea here is to let everything ferment
and boil and bubble up inside of you.
Back to work. We are now about to write the
first draft of our ad. Go isolate yourself in a library or an
office somewhere. Take all your shoe boxes with you. First,
take out the 3 x 5 cards on the product or service you're
going to write about. Shuffle through those cards. Read them.
Say, "hmn?" every once in a while.
Now start shuffling through all your other 3 x
5 cards. Think about how all those good ideas and insights
could be applied to your current project. Look at all of those
hundreds of proven headlines. Think about how all those
headlines could be modified to work for your current project.
Maybe you could change "Do
You Make These Mistakes In English?" to "Do
You Say Any Of These Dumb Things Every Time You Call Your
Stockbroker?" or maybe "Tova
Borgnine Swears Under Oath That Her New Perfume Does Not
Contain An Illegal Sexual Stimulant" could be
"Local Jeweler Swears Under Oath
That None Of Those Diamonds He Sells So
Have Been Stolen!"
Get the idea? Of course you do. Keep shuffling
those cards. Keep reading them. Jot down ideas as they occur
to you. Actually shuffle the index cards like they were
playing cards. Write out a couple "dumb" headline
ideas. Write out some headlines that make more sense. Write a
few that start with "How
To...." Some that start with "17
Ways To...." And some that begin with "An
Amazing...." And some that say "A
Little Secret That...."
And so on. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write.
And guess what? Out of all this, if you really have done everything I have suggested, exactly as I have
instructed - out will pop a "central selling idea"
so powerful, so fresh and so compelling that you will know it
is exactly right for the
ad or direct mail package you are struggling to create.
I promise. It happens every time.
And when it does, write it down. If you are
writing a direct mail letter, work that central selling idea
into your first sentence. If you are writing any ad, use that
CSI in the headline.
Now listen up. This is important. What will
happen at this point is that your "mental
floodgates" will be wide open. Ideas will come gushing
out like water from a broken fire hydrant. Capture those
ideas. Forget form. Forget grammar.
Write. Write. Write. Write. As fast as you
can. Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!
Don't stop for anything. Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!
Write. Write. Write. Write. Page after page.
Tell everything. Every detail. Every nuance. Every benefit.
Every product feature. Every advantage.
Get it all. Get
it all. Get it all.
Write. Write. Write. Write.
Rave! Rave! Rave! Rave! Crow! Describe!
Enthuse! Give details. Don't worry about getting it perfect.
Don't worry about spelling. Don't worry about formulas. Just
keep writing. Go fast. Get it all. Write! Write! Write! Write!
And when you are done, set all this work aside
and go do something else for a day or so. Let it cool.
And when you are ready to go back to work, I
want you to go back to your first draft and now rework it in
the following sequence:
||Say something that gets attention.
||Tell them why they should be interested. (Expand
||Tell them why they should believe what you are saying
||Prove it is true.
||Itemize and describe all benefits.
||Tell them how to order.
||Tell them to order now.
O.K., after you have rearranged all your
material so it conforms to the above sequence, you should now
check your spelling, correct your grammar, edit and, in
general, tighten up your copy.
Next, read your copy aloud.
When you do this, you will discover all those little snags
where your copy isn't smooth, where it doesn't flow well,
where the transition from one sentence to another or from one
paragraph to another or simply from one thought to another is
less than seamless.
Now edit again. Make it tight. Use short
sentences. Short paragraphs. Everyday English. Use some one
word sentences. Use some one sentence paragraphs. Use subheads
that make your copy look interesting and...
Easy To Read!
You could do more. A lot more. This is not, by
a long shot, all you need to know to write "world
class" copy. But, believe it or not, if you just do (I
mean actually do it)
everything I've described here, you'll be better than 99% of
all those frauds who brag about their Golden Mailbox and Echo
And, isn't it wonderful how easy it is? Heck,
I bet you thought it was going to be work.
Gary C. Halbert
The Ravin' Maven
want to know what a truly world-class, no-excuse, no-BS
copywriter ought to be able to do? It's this: He ought to be
able to write an ad that tells how good he is. Hell, if he
can't sell himself, how can you expect him to sell your goods or services.
Pray check out the enclosure.
Entries Are Really Bad,
Are Hard To Find
Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
has its Oscars. Television has its Emmys. Broadway has
its Tonys. And advertising has its Clios.
its Andys, Addys, Effies and Obies. And 117 other
those are just the big ones.
seems that the ad business just can’t honor itself
too much. At scores of black-tie galas around the
country, participants in sequins and silk await
breathlessly, white-knuckled, praying to be tapped for
the best beauty-aids ad or the funniest packaged-goods
are contests for TV ads and radio ads, for
are so many awards-about 500 by one count-that Adweek,
a trade publication, has started a monthly magazine
called “Winners” just to talk about them.
Competitions have multiplied so much that sometimes
there aren’t enough judges to go around.
Too Bad to Win’
you want to win awards, there’s a show for you. You’re
never too bad to win,” says Tom McElligott, the
creative director of Minneapolis-based Fallon
McElligott, one of the winningest ad agencies. (The
press loves awards, too, but that’s another story.)
ad is too small or obscure to be nominated for an
award from within or without the industry. Consider:
Aqua awards for the best waterbed advertising.
Batchy awards for the finest state lottery campaign.
PAW (Pets Are Wonderful) awards for non-pet product
ads that illustrate “responsible pet ownership.”
(One recent reject: the light-bulb commercial in which
the light blows out and a woman accidentally vacuums
up her cat.)
You can read the Rest
of this article in the
3/26/87 edition of the
Wall Street Journal.
Copyright © 2003 Gary C. Halbert. All Rights