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
"The Robert Collier Letter Book"
-by Robert Collier
"Tested Advertising Methods"
|-by John Caples
|"How To Write A Good Advertisement"
-by Vic Schwab
"The Gary Halbert Letter" (all back issues)
-by Gary Halbert
|"The Boron Letters"
-by Gary Halbert
"The Lazy Man's Way to Riches"
-by Joe Karbo
-by Eugene M. Schwartz
"7-Steps To Freedom"
-by Ben Suarez
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 companions.
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:
|"Do You Make These Mistakes In English?"
"What Everybody Should Know About This Stock And Bond Business"
"The Nancy L. Halbert Heraldry Letter"
"How To Burn Off Body Fat, Hour-By-Hour"
"At 60 Miles An Hour The Loudest Noise In This Rolls Royce Is The Ticking Of The Electric Clock"
"Why Men Crack"
"How To Collect From Social Security At Any Age"
"The Admiral Byrd Transpolar Expedition Letter"
"The 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 it.
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 printer.
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 Gary?"
Sorry Buckwheat; it doesn't work that way. If you really want to know it, you've really got to do it.
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 of notes.
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 have recommended.
||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 transmuted to:
"Local Jeweler Swears Under Oath
That None Of Those Diamonds He Sells So Cheaply
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. 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! 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 on CSI)
||Tell them why they should believe what you are saying is true.
||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 Awards.
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
You 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.
Some Entries Are Really Bad,
Including Some Winners;
Judges Are Hard To Find
By Joanne Lipman
Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
Hollywood has its Oscars. Television has its Emmys. Broadway has its Tonys. And advertising has its Clios.
And its Andys, Addys, Effies and Obies. And 117 other assorted awards.
And those are just the big ones.
It 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 radio commercial.
There are contests for TV ads and radio ads, for newspaper classifieds
there 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.
‘Never Too Bad to Win’
“If 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.)
No ad is too small or obscure to be nominated for an award from within or without the industry. Consider:
-The Aqua awards for the best waterbed advertising.
-The Batchy awards for the finest state lottery campaign.
-The 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.
This trick is so powerful I’m very jealous I didn’t think of it first.
In fact, it was one of our super sharp subscribers who had this brilliant idea and here it is.
My father’s recommendation to copy great sales letters by hand has proven to be a revolutionary breakthrough for many of today’s best copywriters and here is how to supercharge that exercise.
A while ago Kevin and I painstakingly broke down some of our father’s most profitable ads.
In those breakdowns we shared the behind the scenes background stories of how those promotions were created and the hidden psychology in every line.
Well one sharp cookie started listening to the breakdowns while copying the ads out by hand so he was not only picking up the patterns and rhythm of winning copy but he was now understanding exactly why the words were chose to craft these masterpieces as he was writing them out.
Of course you don’t have to hand copy ads to become a great copywriter but it speeds up the process for many.
Gary’s best protégées swear that the, handwriting out winning ads exercise, was the best drill they learned from Gary Halbert and if that’s not enough proof hand copying winning ads is worth a try, check out this story.
Parris Lampropoulos, a man many consider to be one of the best copywriters on Earth, has had several copy cubs but… one of them stood out head and shoulders above the rest yet Parris didn’t know why this particular student was so much better at writing copy than the rest of his cubs so one day Parris asked what he did that was different and guess what that student said?
He told Parris that he had been copying winning ads by hand.
Now I could give you tons of testimonials from copywriting superstars who swear the exercise helped them be better copywriters faster but, here is the way to look at it.
If this drill doesn’t work you will spend a couple hours getting intimate with great copy but if hand copying winning ads does help you become a better copywriter faster, how much is it worth to speed up your journey to becoming an A-list copywriter?
Just so you know Kevin and I are not all about Operation Money Suck (our dad’s Line) we want to give you a free gift for supporting The Gary Halbert Letter and it seems appropriate we give you a great ad written by Gary himself we have NOT broken down YET and here is what makes this promotion special.
It was one of the last big ads our father wrote. It sold skin cream and you won’t find it in most swipe files until now.
You can get your free download on the bottom of same page you can purchase the breakdowns which is HERE.
Thanks for reading this update.
PS If you are interested in the breakdowns, let me suggest starting with The Coat of Arms Letter. It’s short yet our father said 18 months of hidden psychology and testing went into perfecting that letter and every word earned it’s place.
Copyright © 2003 Gary C. Halbert. All Rights Reserved.