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.
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
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?
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:
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
have something very important to tell you and I needed
something to help me get your attention.
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"!
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.
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 -
Instead Of Being
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?
Instead Of Being
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
That's hardly ever true. Give your complete
pitch every time you pay to get an audience!
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
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
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.
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!
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%.
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.
They Want Instead Of
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!
Remember That People
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!
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
Gary C. Halbert
"The In-Print Idiot"
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?
listen: Are you getting tired of working for a living?
Fear not. Next month I'm going to teach you how to steal.
Copyright © 2003 Gary C. Halbert. All Rights