The Truth About Recycled Ads & Pickup Lines

Swipe Files / Headline Banks

Have you seen those ads for “headline banks” or “swipe files?” Collections of the 100 greatest advertisements of all time so you don’t even have to learn anything about marketing or advertising. You just have to copy these “proven ads” and you will, of course, have success.

If you believe that.

You know, you’re going to get about the same one hundred ads from every one of these suppliers and they’re all approaching one hundred years old, because those are the ads that the copyrights have expired on.

And seriously, these were great ads when they came out.

Great Advertising Examples

Max Sackheim’s ad for Sherwin Cody’s home study course in the English language was brilliant: “Do you make these mistakes in English?” You know, that ad made money for Cody for over four decades, and they never changed the copy ’cause it just kept on working. This was a great ad.

John Caples classic for the U.S. School of Music, “They laughed when I sat down at the piano, but when I started to play…” In those years leading up to the great crash of ’29, when money was easy and confidence was everywhere, thousands of (largely rural) Americans looked at this and thought, “Hey, maybe the key to becoming popular is mastering a musical instrument.

Then there’s the Wall Street Journal ad that asked, “Who else wants to get promoted?

No Thinking Necessary

The idea is you take your name and put it where their name used to be, and you put your offer where their offer used to be. And now you run the ad.

And because these ads were so brilliantly written they’re going to pull in hundreds of thousands of sales for you.

For your heating and air conditioning company.

For your family restaurant.

For your income tax service.

If you believe in magic.

Here’s the reality. Those ads were so good because they were designed to work in a specific time, in a specific market, against specific competitors, in specific media… and none of those conditions exists anymore.

So, recycling somebody’s old ads makes as much sense and recycling old pick up lines, for pretty much the same reason.

He: “Do you make these mistakes in heating and air conditioning repair?”

She throws her drink in his face.

He: “They laughed when I sat down at Mom’s Family Diner, but when I started to eat…”

She throws her drink in his face.

He: “Who else wants to file Schedule A with their long form 1040?”

She throws her drink in his face.

Here’s What Really Works

Find out what your potential customers are already talking about, and join in on that conversation.

He: “If you wake up every morning with a backache, maybe it’s time for a new mattress.”

She: “Tell me more.”

Stop Using Other People’s Ads

You can’t afford to lose any sales, and the right bait is the right information for your customers, at this point in time, in the medium you’re choosing, against the competitors you’ve got.

Yes, there are magic words, but they’ll be unique for your company. And you need that kind of powerful customer bait when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about expressing the specific values and advantages of what you sell? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 760-813-5474.

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Inclusive Communication By Design

Originally published September 29, 2006.



Your company is looking at a lot of late night local cable availability, and thinking that a 30-minute infomercial might be appropriate.

The boss has just found out that companies which specialize in infomercial marketing will charge tens of thousands of dollars to produce your program.

He wants to know why you can’t do it “in house.”

Can’t you just put a talent in front of a camera and let him persuade those late night visitors to buy?


DIY Infomercial?

I wouldn’t.

Too many dollars would stay on the table.

In addition to the obvious differences in production quality that an infomercial specialist brings to the table, there is the difference in strategy. The pros know you can’t treat all potential customers alike.

You see, some people want you to just cut to the bottom line and tell them what your product will do for them.

Some want to read the fine print.

Some want to know if other people have successfully used your product to solve their problems.

And then there’s the group that wants to know a whole lot more about your company before they consider doing business with you.

The right thing to say to one is exactly the wrong thing to say to the others.

What’s an aspiring infomercial producer to do?

According to Dr. Richard Grant, you should make a specific appeal to each of the eight different Meyers-Briggs communication styles in our offers. He calls the process Inclusive Communication by design.

It only makes sense that if we talk to people about their concerns, in a style that makes them comfortable, and address the questions that are important to them, that we’ll persuade more of them to do business with us.

Here is my assessment of the approach we need to take with each of the Meyers-Briggs “types” for your new 30-minute infomercial.

E – needs a good verbal presentation. Cover the major points at a fast pace without too much detail.
I – needs time to reflect. Will buy, but not before deliberating.
S – begin with facts, and build to “big picture.”
N – begin with “big picture” and fill in the facts.
T – emphasize soundness, reliability, and statistics.
F – support with first-hand testimonials
J – no surprises. Appear to stay organized.
P – diplomatically remind that a decision must be made within certain time constraints

Here’s how I would organize a program.

In Practical Application

Minutes 1-3
Introduce the show, and summarize the next thirty minutes for the “Js”. Make the overall claims for the product quickly for the “Ns”. Then, for both the “Ns” and the “Ss,” start building your facts. For the “Ss,” build to your conclusion and restate the claims for the product.

Minutes 4-8
For the “Ts” support the claims with science. For the “Fs” bring in the testimonials. Keep it fun and fast paced for the “Es”. Explain the dependability of your staff/call center for the “Js” and the fun people will have interacting with them for “Es.” Remind the “Ps” that this special offer is only good during this program.

Make your first call to action.

Minutes 9-17
Repeat your overall claims in summary form for the “Ns.” Build your facts, and re-state your conclusions for the “Ss.” Amplify and expand on the science for the “Ts.” Refer the “Is” to your web site. Reassure the “Js” that everything you’ve promised will happen right on schedule with no surprises. Consider using recorded testimonials from other customers, and use them now for the “Fs.” Again, remind the “Ps” that this special offer is only good during this program.

Make your second call to action.

Minutes 18-29
Have the interviewer “put you on the ropes” and make you defend the claims for the “Ss” and the “Js.” Keep it logical for the “Ts” but light-hearted for the “Es.” Pull out the science in deeper detail, and discuss the manufacturing process for the “Js” and “Ns.”

Talk about the company, and your commitments to quality and customer satisfaction for the “Ns,” “Ss,” and “Is.” Consider a :40 second interview with one of the call center operators as entertainment for the “Es” and reassurance for the “Js.” Restate that your customers get exactly what they expect on the timetable you’ve committed.

Remind the “Ps” that it’s time to place an order, if they want to take advantage of this special offer.

Make your final call to action, and wrap up.

Cast a Wider Net

Each personality type is more comfortable with information presented in a particular style. Incorporating all styles into your presentation effectively multiplies the bait when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about articulating your value, and making sure people know it? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 304-208-7654.

If you’re interested in learning more about persona-based marketing, I recommend Waiting for Your Cat to Bark by Bryan Eisenberg, Jeffrey Eisenberg, and Lisa T. Davis. They make simple what could be a confusing subject. That’s probably why the book hit all 4 bestseller lists: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and BusinessWeek.

In the event that you find yourself considering the services of an infomercial professional, you owe it to yourself to talk to Wizard of Ads ® partner Adam Deatherage at ADco Video Productions.

Adam is not expensive. Additionally he knows every way to stretch your marketing dollar, including making long-form video, :30 and :60 second television ads from the same footage. Call him for a quote on your next video project at (940) 636-0089.

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Zen and the Art of Persuasion. Part 3 of 3


Dice Spelling R-I-S-K

There’s a gas station at one of the Interstate 20 off ramps in Columbia, South Carolina that is rumored to have the lowest prices in town. If they don’t have the lowest prices, they certainly have convinced a large group of drivers that they do. Most hours of the day they have a constant line of cars at each of the eight pumps.

A casual observer will notice a young man drifting from car to car, speaking with each driver in sequence. The young man you notice on Monday will not be there on Thursday. Another young man will have taken his place.

And should the observer become an eavesdropper, he’ll hear the young man explain that he works for a glass company “up in Greenville,” has his materials with him, and can repair the dings and chips in the driver’s windshield for between forty and sixty-five dollars. He opines that the motorists insurance will cover it, reimbursing the driver so there will be no “out of pocket” expense.

Apparently, enough people accept his offer that it’s profitable for the young man, or one very much like him. They keep coming back.

Occasionally one of the motorists, wanting to “think it over,” will ask the young man du jour for a business card. He never seems to have one on him. Although he can name the company he works for, he can’t remember it’s phone number. No, he doesn’t carry a cell, so he can’t provide that number either.

In any buyer / prospective seller relationship, there are two basic reasons that people choose not to buy, and the young man carrying the battery-powered drill and pocket epoxy illustrates them vividly.

People don’t buy when they don’t feel the need for what you’re selling.

They don’t buy when don’t trust you.

People avoid risk on three levels.

  1. The biggest risk is that they’ll purchase the wrong solution – that they’ll have spent the money and still have the problem.
  2. But, there’s also the risk that the solution they purchase won’t last, and their problem will be back. (The variant on this is buying from a company who won’t warrant the purchase, or even be in business if the purchaser ever needs their support).
  3. And finally, if all of the solutions seem roughly equal, there’s the risk of over paying.

Put yourself in the mindset of someone who’s just become aware of a problem, which could be anything from “ring around the collar” to “my back hurts every morning when I wake up.” Whatever the problem she’s identified, she’s now looking for a solution.

Ring around the collar? One of the oldest formulas in advertising was perfected by major packaged goods companies like Lever Brothers and Proctor and Gamble. The familiar presentation is called slice-of-life, and is presented as if we, the viewers / listeners / readers are peeking in on a conversation between real people.

The formula is basic:

State problem. Agitate problem. Announce solution.

  • First, our slice of life dialog establishes that “ring around the collar” is an easily noticed condition which will reduce social standing.
  • The off-camera announcer states the problem: “You’ve got ring around the collar.”
  • He now agitates the problem: “Those dirty rings. You’ve tried scrubbing. You’ve tried soaking. You’ve tried powders. And nothing works.
  • We’re treated to a close-up demonstration of Wisk liquid laundry detergent being poured on the offensive sweat stain. The camera cuts to a close up of the same collar without the stains.
  • The off-camera announcer proudly announces the solution: “Wisk around the collar gets ring around the collar every time.”
  • This is a good example of a single-step ad. Its also known as an order generation ad. Its purpose is to get the prospect to recognize her problem, accept the solution, and purchase it. Now.

    Does order generation advertising work? Most assuredly, it does. You’ve seen examples of it every day of your life.

    The catalog from Sears or Terry’s Village. Every Yellow Pages ad. The “cash for gold” ads on television. The long-running television or magazine ads for Miracle Grow. A significant percentage of the letters in your mailbox from companies you’ve never heard of.

    Let’s review those three risks.

    Our slice-of-life laundry lady is highly likely to purchase Wisk, now that she’s seen, and accepted, the premise of the ad: “Wisk around the collar gets ring around the collar.”

    1. Is she risking the wrong solution (no pun intended)? She recognizes ring around the collar as her problem, because she sees the sweat stains every time she does laundry. This appears to be an exact solution. Minimal risk.
    2. Is she risking that her solution will be temporary? No. It’s a disposable product. If it doesn’t work as well as she expected, she can simply not replace it when she runs out. Again, no real risk.
    3. Is she risking paying too much?* Probably not. If our shopper purchases the economy size “32 load” bottle of Wisk, she can expect to pay roughly $7.50. If she pays $7.83 will that price increase damage her cleaning budget? Hardly

    Without the perception of risk it shouldn’t surprise us that this customer will quickly decide to buy the product.

    Single-step ads tend to work best for simple, non-technical, and inexpensive products. The simpler the proposal, the easier it is to explain in a small ad. This is the principle which makes classified advertising work.

    But what if the product or service needs more explanation than will fit into a small space ad, or half a minute on TV or radio? In general, the more complex the product, the more technical the nature of the product, the higher the price, the less likely a single-step ad will convert people from prospects to customers.

    Back to the lady with the backache.

    She wakes up, and groans while getting out of bed. By her second cup of coffee she’s moving freely and has forgotten about the stiffness.

    But one day she realizes that this “back hurts first thing in the morning” business has gone on for weeks. In her mind (which is where it counts), that realization moves her backache to the status of a problem. Problems need resolution.

    She begins to pay attention to what web marketers call “keywords.” Keywords aren’t limited to the Internet. Regardless of medium, they are one or two word phrases that trigger her reticular activation system and reach her conscious brain. In her case, the words will be “backache,” and “morning backache.”

    Now that her subconscious is aware that they are important she begins to notice the advertising messages which surround her. As her eye skims the newspaper the keywords seem to leap off the page. She’ll be riveted to certain radio ads. She’ll stop talking during television advertising in which the keywords resonate in her conscious mind.

    • “Morning backache is a sign of a too soft mattress. See how good you feel after 30 nights on a Simmons Beauty Rest.”
    • “Morning backache is a sign of poor posture. WalkFit Orthotic Shoe Inserts helped over 90% of the people tested reduce pain levels in their feet, knees, spine and pelvis.”
    • “Morning backache is a sign of poor spinal alignment. Should that stiff neck or sore back persist, call your Doctor of Chiropractic.”
    • “Morning backache can be treated with Doan’s Backache Pills. They relieve the aches and pains and that helpless feeling of stiffness, so that the system can be restored to full health.”
    • “Morning backache is a sign that the vital magnetic energy from the earth’s natural magnetic field has been interrupted. Magnetic insoles provide penetrating magnetic therapy for the entire body while soft massage nodes stimulate reflexology points.”

    Multiple products promise to relieve her discomfort. Multiple disciplines claim to treat her condition. With the limited knowledge she possesses as an entry level shopper, she could easily choose the wrong solution, or one that doesn’t last. Without knowing which solution is appropriate she could easily overpay. She’s swimming in risk.

    Sellers would love for her to buy from a single-step ad.

    From the seller’s perspective a single-step order generation ad is a quick sale. It doesn’t require any follow up. Done well, salespeople may not even be necessary. The process seems so simple, so straightforward, so easy. “Here’s my offer. Come buy it.” There is no intent for these ads to build image or “brand” the advertiser. Their only purpose is to get the sale. Miss Prospect will buy, or not. No second chance.

    But Miss Prospect may not be ready to buy when you want to sell. She may not need it today. Even if you do, she doesn’t know you. She doesn’t know your product. From her perspective she’s surrounded by risk. Did I mention that she doesn’t know you?

    Risk Graph

    Amount of Risk at Each Stage of Shopping.

    She needs information about how you can solve her problem. She needs information about your professional reputation. She requires more information than can fit into a small newspaper or magazine ad; more than will fit into a radio or television ad.

    When she’s in the early stages of seeking a solution for her problem, Miss Prospect will want to see a demonstration, read a specification sheet, see an estimate, meet for a consultation, or expect a presentation before she buys.

    See the problem? One-step ads work best when the offer is simple, and inexpensive. They work when the prospect is a late stage shopper, and is very close to making a purchase. But when Miss Prospect is an entry stage shopper, is bewildered by the sheer number of choices, and feels overwhelmed by risk, they tend not to work at all. Mr. Advertiser schedules his single-step offer to run in the noon newscast, and at 12:15 is standing at the door wondering where all of the buyers are.

    If we’re selling mattresses, orthotic shoe inserts, chiropractic services, analgesic pills, or magnetic therapy – if we’re selling anything which takes a more detailed explanation than “this detergent gets the dirt out” – we’ll do better breaking the sales process into two or more parts.

    Instead of asking Miss Prospect to commit to the purchase, we ask that she only commit to the risk-free next step in our selling process.

    What’s the risk-free first step?

    Example 1:

    How do Proctor and Gamble minimize the customer’s $7.50 risk for any of their new detergents? They offer a free sample of the product. Enough for two or three uses. Miss Prospect tries the soap, likes the way it cleans, really likes the new fragrance, and adds the product to her next shopping list.

    Summary: the manufacturer invests roughly 57₵ to acquire a new customer of their consumable product. Its likely that she’ll spend roughly $90 per year re-purchasing it.

    Example 2:

    “If we pre-qualify you and your claim is denied, the Scooter Store will GIVE you your new power chair or scooter, FREE.”

    Summary: by offering a “pre-qualification,” the advertiser gets the complete personal information on an active prospect.

    Example 3:

    “Well I married my dream girl, I married my dream girl, but she didn’t tell me her credit was bad…” This delightful ad for Free Credit Report dot com offers a three bureau credit report, at no cost to the caller. There are two reasons this one is worthy of note. First, it uses network television (with only :30 seconds to tell a story) to drive traffic to a web site where there’s no limit to the amount of information which can be presented to the prospect.

    But, pay close attention to both the tiny screen writing and the subdued voice over, each of which say, “Offer applies with enrollment in Triple Advantage.” Did you catch it? The entire 30 seconds pushes the free credit report which people get by enrolling in a monthly credit monitoring service for $14.95 per month.

    Summary: for the price of a single credit report (no incremental cost to the advertiser), and by focusing ONLY on the premium – the free report – they get a subscriber who will pay nearly $180 per year.

    Imagine trying to convince people to sign up for a monthly credit monitoring service in a :30 second single-step TV ad. “Call now. Protect yourself from identity theft for only $14.95 a month. Operators are standing by…..” But asking them to identify themselves by requesting their own credit report? How elegantly simple.

    They call it two-step marketing, but…

    It may be the second, third, or forth step which closes the sale after the first step provides the “lead.”

    Or it may be a series of progressively larger sales. Roy H. Williams says the subscribers to his free newsletter may become familiar enough with his writing to purchase a $12.95 book. Some of the book buyers may purchase a $49.00 video, or a $495 training program, or a $3,000 three-day seminar. Some of those purchasers will become consulting clients. Roy calls this his “gravity well.”

    Whether you call the two-step process a prospect funnel, a gravity well, or lead generation, there are a few things you can do to maximize its effectiveness.

    Not everyone you meet will be a qualified prospect for what you sell. And remember that qualified prospects still won’t buy if they don’t believe they need what you’re selling, or if they don’t trust you.

    Two-step marketing allows you to persuade your prospects that what you sell is the exact solution they’re seeking. More importantly, it allows them to experience your trustworthiness. And both are critical to the reduction of perceived risk among your prospects.

    And risk makes the bait less attractive when you’re fishing for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKay

    Chuck McKay

    Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Questions about focusing your messages on specific stages of shopping may be directed to [email protected]. Or call Chuck at 304-523-0163.



    *Doesn’t it strike anyone else as odd that so many business people skip by the two more critical perceived risks, and immediately cut price to stimulate sales?

    This article is one of three on this subject:

    Part 1: How Does One Educate a Customer

    Part 2: How to Steal Your Competitor’s Customers

    Part 3: Zen and the Art of Persuasion



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    A Few Good Ads

    My introduction to the business of advertising was through the characters in Bewitched.

    Each week Samantha and Darren would have to come up with something highly creative to explain the presence of whichever historical figures were hanging around the Tate Agency.

    In Lover Come Back Rock Hudson and Doris Day were competing advertising executives landing the account with tricks, schmooze, and everthing but good advertising. And Good Neighbor Sam had Jack Lemmon focusing on keeping the client happy rather than on creating ads which boosted the sales curve.

    The more recent films, Richard E. Grant and Rachel Ward in How to Get Ahead in Advertising; Dudley Moore and Daryl Hannah in Crazy People; Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason in Nothing in Common; Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt in What Women Want, all share a similarity in plotlines… cleverness and creativity will save the account (and the ad man’s job).

    What’s the ROI?

    So it shouldn’t surprise me that advertisers expect cleverness and even entertainment in their ads. We all grew up in the same culture, watching the same shows, reading the same books. It shouldn’t surprise me, but it still does. I’d have thought that return on investment was the standard by which we judged the ad.

    After all, media reps all tell us that advertising is an investment. Shouldn’t we judge this investment by the same ROI as all of our other investments?

    It’s not that a good ad can’t be entertaining, but rather when attention is drawn to the ad itself, it’s already failed. The instant your audience focuses on the delivery vehicle the message becomes irrelevant.

    Years ago at a live community theater production an actress slipped and fell on stage. Up until that moment the whole audience had been pretending they were looking through an invisible wall, watching people reacting to each other and to the situation in which those people found themselves. But in a single brief moment the play was forgotten as the audience wanted to know “Was the actress hurt?”

    The instant we focused on the delivery vehicle (actress on stage) the message (story line) became irrelevant. To this day, my strongest memory of that evening was watching the other cast members help the actress off stage.

    A Good Ad…

    A good ad doesn’t draw attention to itself, focuses the audience’s attention on the message, and produces a solid ROI.

    By that definition, let’s look at a few good ads. I picked them at random. Here are their headlines:

  • Stop Snoring Tonight – Guaranteed!

  • Lose 20 Pounds in 9 Days.

  • Lower Your Mortgage. $200k Refinance for Only $583/Month.

  • Affordable Life Insurance. No Medical Exam. No Waiting Period.

    Dull, aren’t they?

    Agreed. These will never win an award.

    But assume for a minute that you sleep with a snorer. What words would capture your attention better than “Stop Snoring Tonight – Guaranteed?

    If you’ve already tried willpower and treadmills, can you find an ad with higher salience than “Lose 20 Pounds in 9 Days?

    There is nothing clever or creative about these ads, but you know they work. You know it because they provide the information to solve their problem(s) to people who have a real need that information.

    What’s your message? When you try to deliver that message to potential buyers, is your ad carrying the promise of a solution to a very real problem? Will it act as bait to draw them into your solution while you’re fishing for customers?

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Got questions about headlines with big promise? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 760-813-5474.

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    More Words About Pictures

    Salvador Dali Painting

    Salvador Dali Painting for Dr. Maxwell Maltz

    Last week, in The Worth of a Dali, I concluded:


    “In a thousand words we can state the Pythagorean Theorem, The Lord´s Prayer, Archimedes Principle, The Ten Commandments, the Gettysburg address, Alfred Lord Tennison’s Crossing The Bar, the Boy Scout Oath, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, and still have 174 words left over. “No, a picture is not worth a thousand words. It’s not even close. “If your objective is persuasion, hire a copywriter.”


    That posting prompted two responses, the first from Ken Dawson.

    “I was reading the daily paper some weeks ago when I saw a picture of a beautiful beach: white sand stretching as far as the eye could see, green trees on the edges of the sand dunes, tusks of long sea grass scattered throughout. It was simply a beautiful crystal clear sea under a clear light blue sky. “In this picture sat a man on a log, high in the sand dunes. He was just sitting and looking at this deserted beautiful New Zealand beach. “Did it bring back memories? Yes, memories of the five years my wife and I spent at such a beach with our children. “So, Chuck, sometimes yes. Sometimes a picture can be worth a 1,000 words.” Regards, Ken Dawson

    I have no doubt that the picture Ken described has great emotional value, and stirs powerful memories for him. I do doubt that I’d have the same reaction to looking at the same photo. And yet, when Ken verbalized the scene, didn’t it become as real to you and me as it already was to Ken? In 121 words he managed to describe not only the composition of the photo, but also his emotional reaction to it, as well as the reason it affected him. That’s powerful communication. The other comment came from Angela Klein.

    “Although you can use words to paint a vivid mental picture of things which have really happened as well as anything you can create in your mind, I’m finding it hard to imagine a picture being used to depict an accurate accounting of any event – real or imaginary.” Angela Klein Pets Best Insurance

    I agree with Angela, but please don’t think I’m suggesting that illustration has no value. I’ve already stated “Visuals can be powerful in conveying very coarse, very raw emotion, but pictures can only reinforce the message already conveyed by the words.” Since our objective in advertising our respective businesses is effective and persuasive communication, (so that we may better fish for customers) we should use every technique which will improve that communication. Your Guide, Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKay

    Chuck McKay

    Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Questions about selling more through the persuasive power of words may be directed to [email protected]. Or call Chuck at 304-208-7654.


    This post is a follow up to The Worth of a Dali.

    If you know someone who would find this article useful, please share it.

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    The Worth of a Dali

    Today’s post will be interactive. Let’s open with a photo of a Salvador Dali painting.

    Salvador Dali Painting

    Salvador Dali Painting for Dr. Maxwell Maltz

    In the space below, using 1,000 words or less, please write the message this image conveys, in as much detail as possible.

    You have a few minutes. I’ll wait.

    Your answer here:




    Time’s Up. Pencils Down

    Show of hands. Who among you wrote “This painting summarizes the life work of Dr. Maxwell Maltz?

    No one? But that’s what the painting’s owner says it means. How can that be that none of us “got it?” Isn’t a picture worth a thousand words? Confucius told us that.

    Or did he?

    There is no mention of the value of an illustration in the Analects of Confucius, nor in the Five Classics.

    Hummm. Maybe it wasn’t Confucius.

    Xing Lu? Sun Tsu maybe? Or perhaps it was just some anonymous Chinese author steeped in antiquity.

    Uh, no.

    In the December 8, 1921 issue of Printer’s Ink, Fred R. Barnard coined the phrase “One look is worth a thousand words,” to promote the use of images in streetcar ads.

    Five years later, also in Printer’s Ink, Barnard wrote “One picture is worth ten thousand words.” Barnard is quoted in The Home Book of Proverbs, Maxims, and Familiar Phrases as admitting he made up the saying, and called it “a Chinese proverb, so that people would take it seriously.”

    It didn’t take long for our popular culture to credit Confucius as the author.

    But discrediting the source doesn’t invalidate the idea.

    Let’s consider the “one picture” concept at work. The painting depicted a few paragraphs ago was created by Salvador Dali for his close friend, the late Dr. Maxwell Maltz, creator of Psycho Cybernetics.

    According to Maltz:

    When the great artist Salvador Dali wanted to express his feelings about Pyscho Cybernetics, and thank me for my influence on his life, he painted a magnificent picture: a figure of a man coming out of the dark shadows into the bright sunlight, sharing this space with a sailboat being guided toward its destination. He summarized my books and lectures into a single powerful painting. I was again awestruck at the way a single picture can do the work of thousands of words.” (Emphasis mine).

    And yet, none of us wrote anything close to “This painting summarizes the life work of Dr. Maxwell Maltz.”

    A Picture Is Not Worth A Thousand Words.

    Perhaps you’d be kind enough to show me a picture that clearly and unequivocally says something as simple as “no.” Every two-year-old knows how to convey “no.” He says it.

    Back to the Maltz quote. It came from Zero Resistance Selling, a book posthumously accredited to Dr. Maltz and five co-writers. He also supposedly said:

    Pictures, horrible pictures, sold the American public on demanding the Viet Nam war be ended. Pictures, terrible pictures, of poorly fed, emaciated, mistreated children inspire us to donate millions of dollars to organizations that feed, clothe, medicate and educate the deprived children of the world. Pictures of exotic, beautiful, romantic beaches and oceans make Hawaii the dream vacation of thousands of people, who then scrimp and save and budget and plan for years for the trip of a lifetime. The picture of Michael Dukakis, clumsily perched on a tank, did much to nip his Presidential campaign in the bud. Pictures of beautiful people sell millions of dollars of perfumes, cosmetics, and clothing. Evidence abounds demonstrating the power of pictures.” *

    Take one of those shots of Vietnamese orphans, show it to any group of people, and see whether even a single individual says “This photograph is a powerful argument on why the U.S. should get out of Viet Nam.”

    Visuals can be powerful in conveying very coarse, very raw emotion, but pictures can only reinforce the message already conveyed by the words.

    Show me a picture that can accurately convey the ideas of Robert Frost, John Lennon, or Thomas Jefferson.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference

    – Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken


    Imagine no possessions
    I wonder if you can
    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world

    You may say that I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will live as one

    – John Lennon, Imagine


    We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

    – Thomas Jefferson, the American Declaration of Independence

    In A Thousand Words

    In a thousand words we can state the Pythagorean Theorem, The Lord’s Prayer, Archimedes Principle, The Ten Commandments, the Gettysburg address, Alfred Lord Tennison’s Crossing The Bar, the Boy Scout Oath, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, and still have 174 words left over.

    No, a picture is not worth a thousand words. It’s not even close.

    If your objective is persuasion, hire a copywriter.  When it comes to fishing for customers, words are the stronger bait.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKay

    Chuck McKay

    Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Questions about selling more through the power of words may be directed to [email protected]. Or call Chuck at 760-813-5474.


    A follow up to this essay is available.


    If you know someone who would find this article useful, please share it.

    * I don’t believe Dr. Maltz ever said this. Michael Dukakis run for the Presidency, for instance, references an event which happened thirteen years after the Doctor’s death. For that matter, I’m not convinced the quote about the Dali painting originated with Dr. Maltz, either.

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    The Invisible Ad

    Has there ever been a kid who didn’t dream of becoming invisible?

    To pass unnoticed before people’s very eyes? To come and go with no accountability?

    There could be some very real advantages to being invisible – provided you’re not an advertising message.

    Invisibility in Advertising is the Kiss of Death

    An advertisement is judged for its ability to persuade a prospective customer to purchase goods or services. Ads that don’t get noticed don’t persuade anyone.

    How does one make an ad invisible? One loads it full of clichés.

    A cliché is a saying that’s been so overused that it no longer holds any meaning for anyone.

    Suppose this was the advice you were given to improve your advertising:

    “Therefore you should avoid clichés like the plague, especially those which could not stand the test of time. Knuckle down, keep your nose to the grindstone, your shoulder to the wheel, and your eyes on the prize as you leave no stone unturned. Of course, if you can get your act together these weak hackneyed phrases could be a blessing in disguise. But, half the battle defies conventional wisdom. Wrack your brain for short and sweet expressions that reveal the unvarnished truth about this particular wild goose chase.”

    Could you follow this advice? Of course not.

    Do you remember anything from it? (No fair peeking).

    The preceding paragraph didn’t say anything. You saw the words, you heard them in your head, but none of them were strong enough to create a visual image. There was nothing even slightly memorable in those eighty-six words.

    The whole paragraph is invisible.

    Are Your Ads Invisible?

  • Are you still offering the perfect gift for everyone on your list?
  • Something for everyone?
  • Friendly, courteous service?
  • Are you running an inventory reduction sale?
  • Prices too low to advertise?
  • For a limited time only?
  • Do you treat me like family?
  • Go the extra mile?
  • Offer over 37 years of experience?
  • Invisible ads. No one will even notice them, let alone remember anything you told them.

    The easy cure is to stop sounding like an ad and start sounding like a person. Actually SAY something. Make me an offer. Express it with one human voice. Say it in everyday language.

    People don’t dislike advertising, they dislike ads that say nothing they can relate to. They dislike ads that sound like ads.

    A Quick and Simple Advertising Test

    Get 12 inches away from another person – any other person. Maintain eye contact while you recite your ad.

    If anything you say embarrasses you or makes you feel silly, strike that line from your copy.

    If you’re running ads that look like ads, sound like ads, and are loaded to the gills with clichés, you’re wasting your money. Let me repeat that: you are expending capital and getting nothing in return.

    My business can’t afford that.

    Can you afford to make the bait invisible when you’re fishing for customers?

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Got questions about making your ads highly visible? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 760-813-5474.

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    Do You Have To Drop Price To Increase Sales?

    1976 Buick Century Wagon

    1976 Buick Century Wagon

    In 1985 while living in Florida I paid $1,000 for a 1976 Buick Century Wagon.

    The wagon was a bit older than I would have selected under other circumstances, but the previous owner had the most incredibly detailed maintenance records on the vehicle. I assumed (rightly) that he must have kept the car in remarkable working condition. Besides, it was the appropriate size to ferry all of the kids to their various commitments.

    That car was one of the most dependable I’ve ever owned.

    Two years later, when I accepted a job in California, the mother of my children said “This car is now eleven years old, and I don’t think I’d like to drive it across the country. Let’s sell it and buy a different car when we get there.”

    Then she added “And I want to sell it.”

    Like a number of first time advertisers, she called the local newspaper’s classified department. Discovering that every additional word cost her more, and trying to save money, she dictated “1976 Buick Century Wagon. Must see to believe. $500. Call (904) xxx-xxxx.”

    Total cost? Fourteen dollars for ten days.

    Days passed

    More days.

    No phone calls.

    At the end of the first week, she asked “Do you think I need to drop the price? Would it sell at three hundred?

    I said “Let me see what I can do.”

    I called the paper and changed the ad to: “Perfect second car for family with children. Clean, incredibly maintained 1976 Buick Century Wagon in perfect working order. Automatic transmission, cruise control, electric adjustable seats, electric windows, electric rear window, electric retractable antenna, air, AM/FM casette, new tires, good upholstery, headliner and carpet. Comfortably seats nine. Everything works. $1,000. By appointment at (904) xxx-xxxx.”

    Total cost? $37 for the week.

    We got exactly three calls the day the ad hit.

    One buyer asked to come see the car immediately, and brought cash. He counted out the bills, I signed over the title, and called the paper to cancel the ad.

    Two lessons

    First, spending too little to do the job is the most expensive advertising that any of us will ever do.

    As Charles Mortimer, former Chief Executive of General Foods said at a 1963 shareholders meeting, spending too little in advertising “is like buying a ticket three-quarters of the way to Europe. You’ve spent your money but you don’t arrive.”

    Second lesson? Often, it ain’t the price. It’s the sell.

    You see, every decision carries the risk of being the wrong decision.

    As advertisers, our objective is to minimize the appearance of risk in purchasing our products or services.

    Dropping price can reduce the risk, but it can also kill profitability.

    Providing our prospective customer with enough reassurance that (s)he’s making the right decision also reduces the risk. Customers are willing to pay more when they’re sure they’re doing the right thing.

    What can you do to minimize risk?

    Can you do it without dropping price?

    Better yet, can you aggressively raise your price, and do a better job of selling? Its not enough to catch ’em. You have to make ’em profitable when you’re fishing for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Got questions about writing seducing headlines and emotional appeals? Call Chuck at 304-523-0163, or write [email protected].


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    The Long And Short Of Persuasion

    Pope Benedict Smoking

    Pope Benedict Smoking

    Researchers must be careful to neutrally phrase a question, so as not to influence the response.

    My partner, Roy Williams, offers a perfect example. When a penitent asked if it was proper to smoke during prayer, he was told it was not. But when the question was rephrased as: “Is it acceptable to pray while smoking?” he was assured that prayer was always appropriate.

    Sometimes it’s not the phrasing that controls the outcome. Sometimes people ask the wrong question. The wrong question, in this case, is “Which sells better? Long copy or short copy?”

    I’m a long copy proponent. That is, I’m opposed to the “nobody will read more than 300 words” school of advertising.

    Short copy has inherent risks. Because it has limited amounts of compelling information, response rates are frequently low. There’s also the risk of high numbers of cancellations and refund requests because the product or service wasn’t what the customer imagined.

    The short copy crowd assumes that everyone is like them. “I wouldn’t read this,” they argue, “therefore no one else would either.” However, these people are not interested in what you have for sale. Without any interest, no matter how short the copy is, they will not read it. Will they read 300 words? They won’t read 100.

    Fans of short copy are almost never successful copywriters.

    When the copywriter ignores people who won’t buy, and concentrates on those who may, copy invariably grows longer. Be careful, though. Long copy in the hands of an unskilled writer becomes an excuse for sloppy, non-focused, undisciplined writing.

    Long copy proponents have research on their side. Split-testing research shows that long copy consistently outperforms short copy. Additional research indicates that although readership does fall off dramatically at 300 words (when the non-interested browsers lose interest) it does not show further erosion until 3,000 words.

    This argument over long copy vs. short copy has raged for years. Unfortunately, it’s a tangential issue.

    Long vs Short asks the wrong question.

    To get to the right question we need to assess the customer’s perceived risk, and the emotional commitment necessary to persuade her to buy.

    The biggest risk any purchaser makes is the possibility of wasting her money in a bad purchase – one that doesn’t suit her needs. The lower the price, the less risk. The less the risk, the lesser amount of emotional commitment. A lessened amount of persuasion becomes necessary.

    We’ve all been in a check out line at a convenience store or a grocery. We’ve noticed the magazines, the candy bars, the breath mints. In retail, these are known as “impulse items.” No emotional involvement required. No financial risk. Impulse items are low priced items.

    Long copy may well bore the potential purchaser of low-risk items.

    Note that you won’t be able to pick up and admire the portable DVD players, or the jewelry, or anything with a stiff price tag as you wait in line. These things don’t usually sell on impulse.

    The higher the price, the less likely Miss Prospect is to purchase it on a whim. As price goes up, so does the risk that she’s making the wrong purchase. As risk goes up, so does the requirement for emotional commitment on the part of the buyer.

    When our prospect is considering a major purchase, short copy may leave her wanting to know what she gets for her money.

    So, in order to decide how long to make your copy, you’ll need to determine the amount of reassurance Miss Prospect requires. If you’re selling candy bars, she won’t worry about the rent check bouncing. If you’re selling college enrollment and asking for a commitment of $25,000 over the next eighteen months, she will require more assurance.

    This leads directly to the right question

    How much persuasion does the prospective customer require to be comfortable making the purchase?

    Her comfort level will be directly proportional to the number of dollars in the “ask.”

    The length of your copy should also be proportional to the size of the ask. When asking for a small amount a simple easily remembered message is appropriate. When asking for a large amount your copy must anticipate every objection, every question, every doubt that your prospect has in you, or in the product or service you’re selling.

    Of course, it must also be well-written, persuasive, and compelling.

    The message must be salient.

    Salience is the relevance of the message to your prospect. It’s the most overlooked quality in advertising. It’s the reason for the long copy / short copy debate. It’s also the reason the debate is bogus.

    Remember, your purpose is persuasion

    You’re trying to get a total stranger to open her purse and give you money. Write something that speaks directly to her. Give your message salience.

    Write what needs to be said to convince Miss Prospect that owning your product or service will affect her life. Get her emotionally involved. Tell a story. Share testimonials. Use statistics. Boost your credibility by whatever means is available to you to remove as much risk as possible. Guarantees are golden. Add as much information as necessary to make the sale, and not a bit more.

    Then start cutting any excess from your copy. Remove any word that can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.

    Do you now have strong, persuasive, motivational copy? Long enough to make your points? Short enough to get right to them?

    Assuming that you truly understand your prospect, and have written to her concerns, your writing will automatically be the appropriate length, whatever that length may be. And providing enough persuasion, but just enough, will increase your catch when you’re fishing for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Need help making your advertising copy persuasive?  Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 760-813-5474

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