April 29

John Carlton on Copywriting: Control In Copywriting


carlton-on-copy-imageJohn Carlton explains how high-paid professional copywriters compete to have the “winning” ad for large clients.

John’s comments:

Dave asked a question earlier, and, just to clarify, he asked what a control was. It’s a question that could easily get left by the wayside. The big mailers like Rodale never mail just one piece. They will mail several at one time some times five at a time, maybe more. Their average is 3 to 5 pieces and they will hire top writers and pay top dollar. They will mail them out, and it’s just a slugfest. Whichever one wins becomes what’s called the “control”. They call it the control because the numbers it brings in are the controlling numbers. You either beat it or you don’t. If you beat it, you become the control.

So it’s like this little ladder. Theoretically, the weight goes is that any one control should not last very long. What a control does is break ground for other writers. They bring in new writers and don’t mail the losers again; they only mail the control. The writers will try to knock it off. The writers trying to knock it off get to read the control. If I have a control, I won’t futz with it, because it’s working. But the new writers will come in, read the control and say “oh that’s not working, I’ll change it”. Or they’ll try to deconstruct it and figure out what I did and then try to do it better.

That’s why having a control for five years in a competitive market like that is legendary.  Even among the guys at Rodale. Beside the fact that I was blacklisted and they never have another letter like it, just the fact that it was a letter in the world of magalogs.

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