W-A-Y West of Jewfish Creek
Dear Friend & Subscriber,
In a recent (3/1/89) issue of DM NEWS, there
is a letter from a young man named Calvin D. Black who
says he just graduated from college and he wants to know how
to go about becoming a wealthy direct mail/mail order
DM NEWS had an answer for him: He got an info
kit from the Direct Marketing Association and the meeting
dates of his local chapter of that organization. DM NEWS also
told him they hope to see him at a convention real soon.
The chances of meeting someone who will help
you become a successful direct response entrepreneur at any
kind of marketing convention is about the same as getting
the Catholic Church to start passing out birth control pills.
Listen: Many, if not most, of the readers of this newsletter
are already expert in various aspects of direct marketing and
already wealthy. However, for the moment, I'm going to pretend
that none of you are (yet) as successful as you want to
be. I'm going to pretend that all of you are just like
Calvin Black and you either want to become a wealthy
direct response entrepreneur or else you want to use direct
response methods to punch up the profits of another, more
Where do you start? What's the first step if
you are at ground zero?
Well, it sure as hell isn't to go to a marketing convention!
No. The very first step is to become grounded in the basic and
enduring principles that are the foundation of every
successful direct marketing effort. And, the way you do this
is by reading and re-reading
the most important advertising book every written which is...
- by Claude Hopkins
Available from Crain Books
And, trust me on this:
You should not read any other books until you
have read Scientific Advertising at least twice and
preferably, three or four times. In fact, David Ogilvy feels
so strongly about this book that he says no one should be
allowed to create advertising until he has read this book at
least seven times.
I can't disagree. And the reason you should
read this particular book several times, before you read anything
else is, it will give you a hard-core, bedrock foundation
of truth that will make it difficult for other authors who
are "pretend experts" to lead you astray with their
"silly notions" about what makes marketing work.
Unfortunately, most people who write about (or teach)
marketing aren't just wrong... they are dangerous.
You see, most of these authors and/or teachers aren't players,
they are simply B.S. artists who've managed to con their way
through life without ever having to back their ideas with
their own money and...
If A Man Ain't A Player,
He Can't Possibly
Understand The Game!
Check this out: Recently, I came across a book
titled On the Art of Writing Copy by Herschell Gordon
Lewis. It's a big hardback and, when I first saw it, I thought
because it "looked" like it might contain a lot of
valuable info. I guess I'll never know because, quite frankly,
I found the book to be so silly, I couldn't force myself to
read much of it. I did browse enough however, to grasp the
idea that Mr. Lewis considers clarity supremely important.
He's right; clarity is important. But I think Mr. Lewis
is just a teeny confused on how to achieve it. Here's a
direct quote from page 388:
The First Rule Of
stands behind the writer who makes an action condition
for the buyer, since buyer-control is proper stroking:
but to give this control to the seller through an
"if" reference suggests seller superiority,
which can provoke buyer
Zowie, those are words to live by, aren't
they? And the rest of the book is even more silly. It gets
into stuff like "The Subjunctive Avoidance Commandment",
and so much other nonsense it could win the Guinness World
Record for incoherent babble. Mr. Lewis also goes to great
lengths to criticize a lot of ads he's reprinted in his book
and, once again, to a limited degree, he's right: The ads are
awful. But mostly, they are short-copy, agency-created ads
that truly aren't even worth the bother of analysis. It's sort
of like someone trying to impress you by bragging about he can
outrun a group of bedridden paraplegics.
Soon after reading (or trying to read)
this stupid book, I came across a column written by Mr. Lewis
in the June 1988 issue of Direct Marketing magazine wherein he
informs his readers that everybody he knows, including
himself, is writing better because of the invention of word
processors. Can you imagine that? Here's a guy who fancies
himself as a copywriter and yet...
He Doesn't Even Seem To Be Able
To Grasp The Difference Between
Writing And Typing!
Word processors may help you type
better but there's no way in the world that staring dumbly at
a CRT screen can help you in any way whatsoever when it comes
to writing. World class copywriting
(salesmanship-in-print) is not a bag of tricks nor can it be
learned by memorizing a bunch of idiotic rules spewed out by a
chaotic mind. No, you learn how to sell by doing it.
And, if you want to be supreme in your efforts, you learn how
to do it first in person and then you transfer your
efforts to print.
I got to wondering: "Could
I be wrong about this Herschell guy? Could he possibly be as
much of a marketing moron as his book suggests?" I
got to discussing this with some friends and clients of mine,
Sam and Leslie Fishbein (they own Casey Fine Furniture in
Denver) and they told me Herschell Lewis did two newspaper ads
for them and the results were
so dismal it was like the ads never ran!
Look, it doesn't feel especially good to me to
spend so much time knocking down some clownish writer like
Herschell Lewis. I'm sure he's had his successes and some
satisfied clients. The law of averages says that if you toss
enough ca-ca at a wall, surely some of it will stick. But
damnit, pretend experts can be very hazardous to your bank
account and so can their books and teachings. All this reminds
me how Claude Hopkins (the greatest advertising man who ever
lived) was once asked to examine some college textbooks on
advertising and advise the publishers on how to improve them.
them!" he said.
He went on to point out that the publishers
had no right to mislead beginners this way. He said that by
the time the students were done studying these books, they'd
be so damaged it would take six years or so to get them back
to zero. And can you imagine what Claude Hopkins would've had
to say about Herschell Lewis?
And here's a flash for the aforementioned
Herschell Gordon Lewis Is Typical
Of Whom You Will Meet At
Beware, young man. You'd better be careful of
what you read and to whom you listen because, if you are not
first grounded in the bedrock fundamentals, you can end up
bewildered, broke and hopelessly disillusioned. On the other
hand (or, on the "sunshine side" of the ledger as
Paul Harvey says) there are a few good books you can
read safely (after you've read Scientific
Advertising) that are written by real experts who
also know what it's like to be a player. Books like
The Robert Collier Letter Book
- by Robert Collier
Available from Carl Galletti
The First Hundred Million
- by E. Haldeman-Julius
It's out-of-print so you may have to go
to the Library of Congress to read it.
did and it was well worth the trip.
- by Eugene Schwartz
Available from Boardroom Books
How To Write A Good Advertisement
- by Vic Schwab
Available from the Wilshire Book Company
7 Steps To Freedom
- by Ben Suarez
Available from the Suarez Corporation
- by Claude
Available from Crain Books
There are a few more. But not many, and even
this short list will keep you occupied for quite a spell. And
what a wonderful journey of discovery you will have when you
read these books! So many lightbulbs will be going off
in your head, those around you will be making a mad dash for
sunglasses! (Call Joe Sugarman.) And look, may I respectfully
suggest that you get everything on advertising that I
have written or recorded. This would include all my back
issues, the BORON LETTERS, my seminar tapes, and so on. My
office number is (213) 273-7053 and we're open from 9:00 A.M.
to 5:00 P.M. West Coast time and you are just plain nuts if
you don't study all my stuff.
Does that sound self-serving to you? I suppose
it is in a way. But counterbalance it with this: My
income from my newsletter, my tapes, my seminars and so on is microscopic
compared to what I make from doing
what I teach. And often, I give the money from my teaching
No, I'm not altruistic. It's just that I
already drag in enough money (actually, way
more money than enough) to keep any sane man happy. And
besides, I have a fire in my belly to teach the truth and to
do what I can to "contain the damage" that is being
done by so many marketing
morons who pass themselves off as "experts".
Enough. Enough. Enough. Enough. Ok, now, let's
say you've read all the material I've thus far recommended and
you are now grounded in the basic realities of what
makes marketing work. What's the next step? Simply this:
You Must Heighten Your Awareness
Of What's Working Now!
Hark unto me. Fundamentals never change but
current variations of how to best use those
fundamentals are something you must always stay on top of. In
other words: It's not enough to know that everybody wants a
bargain... you must also know what people currently
consider a bargain. (My first electronic calculator, a Craig,
cost me $265 but now I'd be reluctant to pay much over $15.)
And so forth. And here's how you keep current:
You must immediately begin to systematically monitor all media
that contains a lot of successful direct response advertising.
This means you should leaf through every issue of the National
Enquirer, Weekly World News and similar tabloids. You should
religiously go through the Wall Street Journal, USA Today
("News McNuggets") and any other daily newspapers
you come across that carry a lot of mail order ads. Go through
Cosmopolitan, Popular Mechanics, Salesman's Opportunity,
Success, and, in general, make a determined effort to ferret
out and monitor as many publications as you find that seem to
be working consistently for mail order entrepreneurs.
And buy as much stuff by mail as you can. Get
on hundreds of mailing lists. Become a student of mail
order catalogs like Sharper Image and DAK. Listen folks, what
we are trying to do here is become immersed in what's
working now. Here's something else: Hire yourself a kid to
watch cable TV for you. Have that kid tape every direct
response commercial he can find plus all those 1/2 hour "sellavision"
Drench Yourself In This Stuff!
Onward. Let's go to step three. What you do
now is you buy yourself about 2,000 3x5 index cards. And, on
those cards, you start writing ideas that you got form all
those books you've read and ideas from all that current stuff
you are monitoring. You should also have several hundred headlines written on these cards.
Now, here's how your life begins to settle in:
Every once in a while, you re-read from the classic books I
have recommended. You constantly leaf through the publications
I've recommended (plus others you've discovered yourself) and
you constantly view those new sellavision tapes that kid (who
is now brain damaged from all that cable TV he's been
watching) keeps bringing you.
And you keep adding ideas and headlines (one
to a card) to all those 3x5 index cards.
And, at least once a week, you shuffle through
those 3x5 cards after all your "monitoring work".
And every once in a while you say "Hmn?
Look at that. Maybe that idea could be used over here? And
hey, maybe I could modify that idea this guy is using in the
Enquirer to sell Lucky Charms so it could be used to sell an
investment course in the Wall Street Journal. Say, maybe that
couponing technique to force distribution that Hopkins wrote
about could be updated to help me force people into the store
to buy my widgets. Hey, maybe..."
And so on. What you are looking for defies
total classification. You're trying to find an idea you can
juxtapose, a headline you can modify, a "trigger"
that gives you the "aha experience", a
"crossover" adaptation that can be switched from TV
to print (or vice versa), an inspiration, a vision, a
breakthrough concept, a... a... a...
Aw nuts. Maybe I can make it clearer by giving
you a couple of multi-million dollar real
life examples? Listen: Once upon a time, having grounded
my sweet self in the true fundamentals of marketing, I was
merrily going about the process of "heightening my
awareness" when, among other things, I became aware that
a small number of people were repeatedly running ads
that sold books on how to get all the various government
benefits (including social security) that all of us, as
taxpayers, have coming.
Well, this got filed away in my subconscious
and forgotten until one day I discovered I'd lost my social
security card. When I went to the SS office in Akron, Ohio I
was appalled. Most of the other people waiting in that office
were elderly and they were
treated like dirt! They were given numbers like victims in
a concentration camp and made to wait hours and sometimes days
for service. These people were hurting. Often, for an
elderly person, a social security check means the difference
between eating dog food or not. And yet, these miserable old timers were treated worse
than dogs by sullen bureaucratic clerks who just didn't
give a damn. Something needed to be done.
One day after that, I was visiting the offices
of the Akron Beacon Journal on a totally unrelated matter when
I happened to mention the plight of these SS victims. "You
know," said the guy from the Journal, "we
used to print this government form, REQUEST FOR STATEMENT OF
EARNINGS, but we don't do it anymore."
not?" I asked.
he said, "that form
helps a person find out how much he's paid into social
security and, whenever we reprint it, even if we bury
it on page 74 or something, we still get like 26,520
I said, "that works
out to you getting a response from something like 17%
of your entire circulation."
that's true," he said. "People
really seem to need this info and they don't seem to get
satisfied when they contact the SS but our newspaper isn't
equipped to handle that volume of mail."
Boy, oh boy. I knew someone who'd just love
to handle that volume of mail and my "hmn machine"
was working full tilt now. Hmn? Hmn? Hmn?
Hmn? Hmn? Hmn?
So I hired some people to collect every scrap
of info put out by the SS and reduce it to a very simple,
fast-reading, accurate book that gave the folks the real scoop
on how to maximize the SS benefits they had coming. And I
wrote an ad -- "How To Collect From Social Security At
Any Age" -- and, at the bottom of the ad, I had two
coupons instead of just one. You filled in the left-hand
coupon (it was the REQUEST FOR STATEMENT OF EARNINGS) and sent
it to us and we'd send it to the government and you'd find
out, right to the penny, how much you had already paid in to
social security. At the same time, you could fill in the
coupon on the right side and send it to us with a small
payment (only $3.00) and we'd send you our book that revealed
how to get the most benefits from that money you paid in.
Do you see what happened here? I had grounded
myself in the true fundamentals of marketing, I had heightened
my awareness of what's working now and then...
My Unconscious Mind Connected The Dots!
But, the difference between me and all those
non-player "pretend experts" was that, because I had
done my homework and paid my dues, I connected the right
And made a net profit of over a million
Another example: Another time, operating under
the same dynamics "grounded and aware", it came to
my attention that the new phenomena of computer letters was,
on the average, enhancing direct mail response by 300%!
Unfortunately, back then, I didn't have much money and the
programming cost of creating a computer letter was enormous.
Besides that, not very many people even knew how to do the
programming. But one fine day, while "sharpening my
awareness", I read about a little old lady who researched
family names and, once her research was done, she would send a
postcard to everyone in her county who had the last name she
had just finished researching. In other words, all her
postcards started out "Dear Mr. Halbert" or
And... and... and... AHA! Eureka! Zowie! My
mental dot connector did its job and told me I could gather
together the addresses of all the Joneses in the U.S., type a
letter to them (once), offset print as many copies of that
letter as there were Joneses, and it would look just like an
individually typed personal or state-of-the-art computer
The idea worked and brought in $21,900,000.
Think about it: 21 million dollars and
change from one valid idea. So, the real
first steps to becoming a wealthy direct mail/mail order
yourself in the fundamentals.
your awareness of "What's Working Now".
ideas, headlines, techniques, thoughts, etc. on 3x5 index
cards and review them (deal them out on your kitchen table or
desk like you would a deck of cards) at least once a week.
And there's more. What I'm about to give you
is the most important piece of advice you'll
ever get concerning this subject. Do this: After you've
"captured" what appears to be your first viable idea
("Hey, Marge, let's
sell a report on the secrets of how to profit in L.A. real
estate to everyone in the area who just got their real estate
license!"), you sashay down to your local stationery
store and buy 1,000 #10 white envelopes. You then scurry over
to your local quickie printer and you have him print your
address in black ink in the upper left hand corner of those
envelopes. Then you get the names and addresses of 1,000 of
the people who might be interested in your offer and you sit
You Address Those Envelopes!
Not your spouse, your kids, your secretary -- you
do it. And then, you go to your local post office and
get 1,000 first-class postage stamps and you lick 'em
and you stick 'em. Next, you sit down and, in
one sitting, you write the best sales letter you can to
those people. You describe what you have to offer and you ask
them to buy it and send you money. And then, if you don't type
yourself, you take that letter to a typist and have it
typed and then go get it printed. And then, you sign
all 1,000 letters and you fold them and you
stuff them into the envelopes. Then you seal the
envelopes and you take those letters to the post office
and mail them.
What? Aren't we going to wait until you know how to write a good sales letter? Until you get things fine
tuned a little? NO! NO! NO! NO! This is how you learn
to write! You don't wait for anything! It is movement
that produces expertise. Not meditation.
Come closer. Listen, I swear this is true:
There is something that happens on a cellular level, something
that indelibly imprints itself on your being, some kind of
neural knowledge that can only
be achieved by physically
doing a mailing all by yourself.
Sound crazy? Too unsophisticated for a smart
cookie like you? Consider this: I am probably responsible for
more successful direct mail than anyone else in history. Just one
of my letters is currently being mailed at the rate of
100,000 per day. My direct mail letters probably generate more
money in any given month than most other "experts"
are able to generate in a lifetime. I know more about how to
make computer generated mail work, more about how to massage a
database, more about how to extract meaningful data from a
mathematical regression analysis, more about the results of
different A/B split run tests etc., etc., etc. than anybody
you'll ever meet in your entire lifetime and... and... and...
I Still Sit Down Several Times A Year And
I Become A "Kitchen Table
Personally Address Envelopes And
Fold Letters, Etcetera!
It's kind of ironic, isn't it? There sit the
Herschells of this world, staring dumbly into a CRT screen
mystically believing that a machine will somehow help
them write better and there sits Gary at this kitchen table
stuffing letters into envelopes just like a rank beginner and
yet... and yet... and yet...
I Keep Producing Winner After Winner And
Letters Drag In Tens Of Millions
Of Dollars, Year After Year!
How can this be? I don't even understand
"The First Rule of If-Subjunctive" to say
nothing of "The Comparative Conditional Declension
Gary C. Halbert
to really help you "get" my message this month so,
to that end, I'm going an extra step and I'm sending you a
couple of instructive free gifts. One is a copy of that Social
Security ad I told you about and then other is that letter I
mentioned that dragged in over 20 million dollars. Read the
letter especially carefully. It is, I believe, the most widely
mailed letter in history. The idea for it was conceived in my
mind when I read that article about the little old lady and
then, I did what I've told you to do: I wrote the letter
immediately and I addressed, stuffed, and stamped the
envelopes myself. It didn't work (completely) right away but
the "feedback" from that experience made me
understand, on a "cellular" basis, what I needed to
do and I kept modifying it (based on what my movement
taught me) until I got it right.
||DM NEWS, in
spite of what one staffer wrote to Calvin Black, is a
very good publication and you should get it along with
a few other direct response related periodicals (I'll name
them another time) but only after you are grounded
properly so you can't be so easily misinformed by very
confused folks who are in love with their word processors.
And finally, when you tune in next month...
I'M GOING TO TEACH YOU THE REAL ART OF WRITING COPY!
Copyright © 2003 Gary C. Halbert. All Rights