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John Carlton’s Best Ads… and The Stories Behind Them
This was my first golf ad, and it was a huge success. I tell the story in the sections on hooks in “The Simple Writing System” and in “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets” — about the expert who casually mentions he developed his amazing new swing after watching a one-legged golfer bounce up to the tee and launch one of the longest, straightest and most impressive drives he’d ever seen.
It took me nearly an hour to pull this little factoid out of the expert — to him, the story was old news, and who cared about one-legged golfers, anyway? I knew I had the greatest hook in golf the second I heard the tale.
The key, again, is to have a legitimate payoff in the ad when you use sensational headlines. The payoff here comes on page 2, when Milt describes feeling sorry for the guy … until he realizes the truth: The one-legged man actually had an advantage over normal golfers. It’s all about balance.
This is also the letter where I began exploiting the semi-wacky personality of “Dr. O’Leary”, the head of the company. This letter is a near-perfect example of what I call “Just you and me talking” copy — the concept of writing as if you were addressing an old friend, who doesn’t mind the occasional profanity (“I’m the kind of guy who’ll bitch to anyone who”ll listen”), doesn’t score grammar mistakes (“gotta”), and appreciates the informality.
The letter is written the way people talk.
I could never get large corporations to adopt this concept. Have some living, breathing person step forward and be the “go to” guy, who writes letters and ads like a real human being, instead of the stilted prose that comes out of most businesses. Every once in a while, you’ll see a big company attempt informality — the Dave Thomas character for Wendy’s, the head of Gateway computers appearing as himself — but it always gets botched up in the translation. What people really appreciate is to be dealt with like adults.
And that’s what “Dr. O’Leary” does, in every ad and letter. He tells it like it is, talks just like a real golfer, shares the disbelief of his reader, reveals his own faults and frustrations, and is genuinely concerned over his customer’s happiness. The guarantees are not after-thoughts to these pieces — they are integral to the deal. No risk. No questions asked. No hassles. You’re the boss. We accept your word, without hesitation. If you’re not happy, we’re not happy.
Getting someone excited about something is not the hard part of writing good copy. If you share real passion in your writing, it leaps from the page to infect the reader with enthusiasm.
Nope. The hard part is getting the order. So all through the copy, I create trust. I admit flaws, and never skip over details. If something seems “too good to be true”, I say so. I cover every possible objection. Come up with benefits the reader would never have thought about himself and I keep the pressure on, by reminding him there’s no risk, but he must act fast.
The guarantee can be the deciding point. I never blow through the guarantee copy, even ifl often use similar language. It’s CRITICAL copy. You’re removing all risk from the reader, and shouldering all responsibility yourself If the only thing between a sale and second-thoughts is his suspicion that he may “get suckered,” then I do my best to remove that fear. Your decision to order is fool-proof If not satisfied — for any reason, or for no reason at all — just send the stuff back (in any condition), for a full and fast refund.
Smart marketers (like The Boys) never quibble over the guarantee. They make it as strong and hyper-generous as possible… knowing that, for every mooch who likes to order stuff for the freebies and then return everything for refunds, there are a dozen or more solid customers who will become lifetime buyers — who wouldn’t have ordered in the first place if they hadn’t felt “over the top” safe about taking out their wallet.
Good example of an order form, too, on page 8. Also, check out the testimonials: real people, with full names, giving pithy, specific quotes. None of the usual “yeah, this is really nice stuff, I like it” namby-pamby verbiage, either. These are hard-hitting, enthusiastic, ecstatic fans. (Well, except for the second one, from the golf pro in Italy. He refused to commit to anything too specific. You run into that a lot with reputations, both real and imagined. The best quotes are always from real people who just want to share their discovery with others.)
Last point: The “almost overnight” phrase in the headline must be handled like nitroglycerine. Never use it without being able to back it up. It is almost unbelievable here … but just on the edge. There’s enough possibility in the reader’s mind that it could be true to allow him to read the letter to find out. This is when it works the best — as a tease, as a challenge, as a sensational statement that demands looking into.
Click here to see “The One-Legged Golfer” ad.
(It will open in a new window or tab, so you can toggle between the ad and Carlton’s commentary below.)
All of John Carlton’s legendary ads are available here >>
John Carlton’s Best Ads… and The Stories Behind Them