Tag Archives: brainstorming

That’s Not Funny, Part One

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Wednesday, 8:59 pm
Reno, NV
What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?” (Nick Lowe)

Howdy…

One of the first things you hear, when you’re learning about fundamental copywriting and ad creation…

… is to avoid humor like the plague. The great David Ogilvy said “People do not buy from clowns.” This pre-dated Jack-In-The-Box’s latest commercial model (where they’re so obviously going after the stoner market with late-night “Munchie Meal” take-out boxes that it’s funny on multiple levels)…

… yet, overall, most high-end marketers still agree with it.

Even the funniest copywriters I know (and let me assure you that many of the best bust-your-gut-laughing humans alive are, indeed, copywriters) (weirdo bunch, totally) almost never insert humor into their sales copy. Almost. Occasionally, when it’s absolutely safe (like writing to your own house list, full of folks proven to have the EXACT same sense of humor you have, right down to the Animal House reruns and Adult Swim shows you all watch)… they may go off the reservation and aim for making readers spit up their morning coffee over an email.

But it’s rare. More likely, the funny-guy guru’s you follow have a “meta-text personality” that includes some risky guffaw moments here and there, just to position them in their market as too-cool-for-school (and thus intellectually superior to their competition)…

… which they’ll jettison at the point of closing any sale.

Cuz money is serious biz. And most buyers (not looky-loo’s, but buyers) aren’t keen on being the butt of a joke, and tend to distrust salesmen who seem a bit too… funny. (Even the word “funny” means both being humorous, and also being weird, brain-damaged and untrustworthy.)

Now, I’m a fairly humorous fella. (And any brain damage I’ve sustained is all better now.) I’ve made a colleague snort coffee through their nose as recently as… well, yesterday, on the phone. Other writers collect my private emails, and read them to family and friends. (Part of that may be a self-defense strategy against their spouse’s assessment of a life in advertising as being “boring”.) I’ve also caused entire ballrooms to laugh so hard, some attendees almost wet themselves. And I’ve even used “okay, you got me” sarcasm to get my point across to a reluctant client during consulting.

Of all the things I value the most in life… laughter and humor rank in the top five. (Just below sex, In ‘N Out hamburgers, craft IPA beer, and the NBA.) (Oh, and my Jack Russell terrorist dog. Sorry, girl. Almost forgot you…) (And my ’64 Stratocaster. And Turner Classic Movies. And…)

Okay, whatever. It ranks high, anyway. It’s a big part of who I am, and what I bring to the table as a friend, colleague, writer and consultant.

And yet, when a sales process gets down to the shorthairs…

… I’m as serious as a mortician.

Losing a sale because you screwed around is NOT funny. It is, rather, a fucking tragedy.

So all the top writers I know have a strict rule against tickling the funny bone of a prospect… at least, when things get to “that point”.

However, we also really, really, really want to find exceptions to this rule. We figure there’s GOT to be an exception, somewhere.

Which means we’ve all become minor experts on the topic of humor. Because, it turns out, while everyone believes they own a “great” sense of humor… the truth is, few (if any) civilians understand humor at all.

So, I thought I’d share some of the research I (and some of my colleagues) (including writers like Kevin Rogers, who spent a decade as a stand-up comic before getting into advertising) have dug up…

… in no particular order…

… just as a starter guide to why we mostly don’t (but sometimes do) use humor in our marketing:

The Joke’s On Us #1: In the last few decades, Ivy League universities have started studying humor, trying to get a baseline understanding of what’s funny to most people, and why.

And their first biggest discovery was that many people have no sense of humor at all. None.

However, while these funny-challenged folks have no idea why you’re bent over laughing at a certain joke or situation…

… they are often very astute to the social cues of humor, and will be holding their bellies right along with you, laughing out loud.

They’re faking it. Or, more precisely, they wait a beat after observing other people laughing, and join in as a social “bonding” routine. They’re supporting the good vibes that mass laughter brings to any social setting… kinda like nodding in agreement, or applauding.

Researchers figured this out by tricking people in studies — seeding a small crowd with actors who laughed on cue at non-funny things, and recording the actions of study participants. Folks with actual senses of humor would smile in a bewildered way, wondering why they weren’t getting the joke. But the fakers had no such objective judgments — the crowd laughed, so they laughed, too.

Reading about these findings blew my mind. I’d suspected something like this was going on, because I had friends who laughed a bit too hard, or who seemed to mainly use loud guffaws as a way to show dominance in a conversation. So I did some of my own testing, watching closely when fakers actually began laughing (a beat behind everyone else).

If you ask, most people will say they have a great sense of humor. Insider their world, they do. Whatever they find funny (or socially acceptable to laugh at, as a bonding process) is what’s funny. This is how humans operate. All measurements of behavior begin with what you’re doing as the universal standard for normal, or moral, or just “the right way”… and if others don’t agree, then they’re just wrong.

Marketer’s Insight: While no one is sure what percentage of the population is actually humor-challenged, it IS a large chunk of your fellow citizens. So when you’re creating marketing aimed at a large group of prospects, you cannot assume that ANY of them will grok your sense of humor.

Just like half or more will reject your politics (and yes, I know you have a superior understanding of politics to everyone else on the planet). And your religious views.

The rule in bars is “no talking about politics or religion”… because it leads to fights.

For marketers, you can add “no funny stuff” to that list. You simply cannot predict what any list will find funny, or not find funny, or be offended or baffled.

The Joke’s On Us #2: One of the first challenges the researchers found was agreeing on how to “measure” what’s funny.

Turns out it’s not a simple thing at all. In fact, the commercial uses of humor is relatively recent — the stand-up comic was invented during vaudeville, which required between-act ring-leaders to keep the audience happy. Shakespeare and Mozart and other post-Enlightenment entertainers made liberal use of what we now call slap-stick (the term literally refers to Medieval clowns using a paddle on each other) and “low brow” humor to delight certain audiences… and more intellectual mockery and sarcasm to make the sophisticated elites titter.

So the people creating entertainment, or trying to influence public opinion or sway a vote, might know how to get a response… but it was an inexact science. Making one part of the audience laugh might offend another part.

The researchers have gotten lost in the weeds trying to define humor. (Some studies have claimed to be able to determine your socio-economic status by what you laugh at, in fact. Fart jokes and pratfalls for the working class, existential stories based on willful misinterpretations of esoteric knowledge for the elites.) (The flaw in this kind of study, of course, is that semi-illiterate yahoo entrepreneur’s can make buckets of moolah with a good biz, and over-educated snobs may be dead-broke slackers.)

It’s gonna take a while for researchers to get it all straight (if they ever do).

The thing is, humor is complicated.

But it’s also a major element of business and social life, so thinking critically about it gives you an edge.

Here’s how I’ve broken it down (through a long life of observing):

  • There are two basic “professional” uses of humor (in biz settings) — as a weapon to establish a better status position… or as a bonding tool (which can be an innocent way of forming friendships, which may later become alliances). All of my close longtime friends have wicked senses of humor, for example. Others who I consider good people, but whose funny-bone isn’t so funny to me, never penetrate the Inner Circle. This has not been done consciously — it’s just the way things sift out. But it’s very interesting to note, isn’t it?
  • The weaponized use of humor employs mockery, sarcasm, and crude jokes that seek to identify “winners” and “losers” (or “The Other”). It’s very risky when you don’t know your audience (and that political or racist joke falls flat), but it can be nastily effective when dealing with the home crowd (so your insinuation that all Yankee fans are slobbering Neanderthals goes over big in Boston every time). (It’s true, by the way, that all Yankee fans are slobbering Neanderthals, but that’s another issue.)
  • There are a few broad divisions in the way humor is used that matter to marketers. The first is shock vs. bonding — you get a laugh by purposely violating some social norm (which can delight or offend, depending on your audience)… or you cozy up to everyone’s comfort zone, and we all laugh while agreeing on what’s being discussed. Do not try to use shock humor unless you are very, very experienced with it. Backfires are common. On the other hand, mild bonding humor can go a long way to establishing relationships… or bore the bejesus out of everyone.
  • The second main division is wit vs. jokes. Have you ever been with a group of folks who just toss zingers at each other, piling up the wit like stacking wood? It’s a joy to behold, if you’re witty. There is no preparation beforehand — you’ve got to live by your ability to quickly counter, support or twist whatever is said. It’s freeform funny conversation… which is the opposite of telling memorized jokes. Someone with an arsenal of jokes can quickly take over a conversation (often with the support of the less witty folks who prefer a more stable environment). I’ve seen many high-flying conversations completely gutted by a series of jokes (which require, by design, that everyone remain quiet and respectful while the joke is told).
  • Don’t get me wrong — I like jokes. But I have none memorized, because I prefer free-form wit. I used to know a lot of jokes, though — so many that a couple of friends and I can simply smile at each other and mention a portion of the punch line (not even the whole line), say “Joke number 37″, and get the SAME laugh that telling the entire joke would have generated. (Example: “Well, maybe it’s not like a river…”. Funny, right?)

Marketer’s Insight: Just understanding the fundamentals of how humor is delivered and consumed can help you immensely. If you’re not a witty dude, don’t try to fake it. You can’t. If you like jokes, go ahead and memorize some… and use them when you’re in a situation where everyone is yukking it up over memorized jokes.

But consider the audience, always. Don’t shock when it will offend. Never assume your audience shares your religious or political views (and triple-check your perception of this before wandering down the very dark alley of potentially-offensive jokes). And it’s fine to just be part of the audience, to laugh and enjoy the wit or the prepared humor — you’re actually bonding with your supporting laughter.

Quick Story: A well-known colleague of mine — a really nice guy, liked by everyone, and a killer marketer — once took me aside and asked how he could develop a more interesting personality. He was lost in witty conversations, had no jokes memorized, and didn’t understand why some folks found some stuff so fucking funny.

I took the challenge, and with my pal Kevin Rogers (the former stand-up-turned-copywriter), we gave him a list of things that might help (which included watching George Carlin routines critically — figuring out how each story unwound, and when the laugh points popped up… memorizing a handful of jokes from the Playboy jokes page and also from Reader’s Digest — so he had something a tad ribald, and something very middle-of-the-road… and critically reading witty authors like P.J. O’Rourke or Molly Ivins — one conservative, one liberal.)

It didn’t work. I know you can develop real wit, because I’ve progressed myself from a joke-telling kid (sharing stuff from Mad magazine or jokes my drunk uncles used to shock the aunts), to a rookie good conversationalist, to a high-end witty dude who can hold his own in any crowd. On any subject.

But I think you need to start with a basis sense of humor… which we’ve discovered is not default equipment with all humans.

Still, by all means, learn how to tell a joke properly. Find them written out, and memorize them, right down to the exact words used. It’s like memorizing scripted lines for a play. Some advanced actors may wing it occasionally… but if you can’t do that, don’t wreck the scene by trying. Study the process, if it interests you, but otherwise just follow the path already laid out.

Another Quick Story: Gary Halbert and I loved to mess with each other’s minds on stage at seminars. The ultimate prize was getting the other guy to lose his cool by laughing too hard to speak (or come back with a wittier line). Spitting coffee through your nose was a bonus point.

We’d get vicious, too… using insults, practical jokes, rumors, everything was fair play. It kept us loose and happy during long weekends of Hot Seats.

But it also taught us a good lesson in the limits of humor. During one break, Gary and I were chatting at the side of the stage… and an attendee walked up and leveled a gross, tasteless insult my way. Then he laughed heartily. In his mind, he was inserting himself in the Inner Circle — he’d thought, “Hey, I’m a funny guy, too”, and figured insulting me was an easy way to get special attention.

Cuz, you know, Gary and I were so vicious with each other.

It doesn’t work that way, of course. Neither Gary nor I laughed. We just stared at the guy until he slinked away, humiliated.

Hey — I can call my friend a fuckhead and get away with it. Because that’s how we roll.

But YOU call him a fuckhead, and I’m in your face in a heartbeat. You’re not allowed that privilege.

If you have to ask whether you’re in the Inner Circle or not… you’re not in it. This is pretty much universal in human experience. You can loudly berate your bowling buddies and get a laugh back… but that goofy yahoo on the other team says the same thing, and them’s fighting words.

It’s stunning how often people don’t grok how this simple social paradigm works. And it can ruin business situations for you, handled poorly.

Just a word to the wise…

The Joke’s On Us #3: Finally, for this primer on the subject, never underestimate how much some people value humor…

… while an equal number are threatened by it.

Look critically at long Facebook threads for evidence. You’ll find in-jokes that you cannot possibly understand, because you’re aren’t privy to the back story. You’ll find other people gleefully trying to keep up with the witty back-and-forth’s, who miss the point entirely. (You can get real-world examples of how different people find different stuff funny… and keep in mind the research claiming to predict status by what you laugh at.)

And you’ll find many examples of people trying desperately to disrupt funny threads. Every time someone inserts comments like “First-world problems”, they’re trying to kill the conversation. Ask yourself why they’d want to do that. Often, it’s simply being uncomfortable with the discussion, and yet feeling desperate to comment. Just as often, though, it’s a crude attempt to establish dominance. (It’s the same with comments like “Bang! for the win”, which attempts to control through judgment.)

I consider these kinds of disruption offensive, because they can murder a good thread. Hard to continue laughing about some modern situation when reminded that kids are starving in India. It’s Debbie Downer on steroids.

It’s the same with sarcasm. Shielding cynical comments by claiming “you’re just joking” is a blatant cop-out, and a failure to take responsibility for the consequences of your statements. It works, unfortunately, in politics and personal grievance. “Can’t you take a joke” is the icing on the insult.

Humor evolves on a society-wide level. What was hilarious a decade ago in a movie is now a cringe-inducing example of obliviousness. Outside the US and Britain, stand-up tends to be joke-oriented… whereas our comics and cartoons careen toward the absurd, employing more long-form stories than standard punch-lines.

Humor is very important to some people. It’s my main defense against a heartless universe obviously out to get me.

And at the same time, humor is a very foreign and scary thing to others.

This is why it doesn’t mix well (usually) with serious sales pitches, where money is on the line.

Make sense?

I may do another post on this, if folks are still wanting more.

Meanwhile, love to hear your take and experience with humor in biz situations, in the comments section below…

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. One last tactic: If you’re going to use humor in biz settings… it’s a good idea to make yourself the butt of any joke. It’s called “self-deprecating” humor, and it allows you to use every shred of your wit, sarcasm and sharp humor to make a point… you simply make yourself the target, rather than risk offending or insulting anyone else.

I make sure my audiences at events understand that I know the answers to so many problems… because I personally failed or got waylaid by nearly every problem possible in life and biz myself. It’s absolutely true… but a less forthright speaker might avoid spoiling his reputation with confessions like that.

If I nail an attendee with some shocking assessments (like calling him an idiot)… I make sure he understands, first, that I’ve been the biggest idiot in the universe myself. Many times. And making mistakes, learning my lessons, and then using those lessons the next time is how I became successful.

In fact, I don’t know of any other way to progress in life and biz.

Do you?

P.P.S. By the way…

… if you’re a victim of what my colleague David Garfinkel calls “intellectual loneliness” (where you’re withering away because you lack witty, funny, smart-as-whips pals… who also happen to share your passion for business, copywriting, marketing and the entrepreneurial lifestyle)…

… then it might be time for you to seriously explore my Platinum Mastermind group.

It’s a small (under 20 members) group that meets four times a year… where we do Hot Seat-style consults on each member’s situation (problems, biz plans, ad copy, anything at all that’s bugging them)… with a focus on GETTING SHIT DONE. No vague philosophy. Just hard-core, detailed, specific brainstorming and sharing of experience that leads to actual things you can do to unclog the moolah spigot, and get your biz and life back on the fast track.

We also have guest experts who come by just because they like the way I operate. And they share, and help brainstorm, and just pour themselves into the weekend. Recent guests: Joe Sugarman… Gary Halbert’s sons (Bond and Kevin)… Jay Abraham… Brian Kurtz (former CEO of Boardroom, Inc)… Dean Jackson (marketing superstar)… Joe Polish… and many more.

Just see what’s up, for cryin’ out loud. The site won’t bite you: Carlton’s Platinum Mastermind.

Oh, yes. This could be the day you remember forever, where everything changed for you…

 

 

The Grizzled Pro Speaks

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Friday, 2:29pm
Reno, NV
Ch-ch-changes, oh look out, you rock and rollers…” (David Bowie, “Changes”)

Howdy.

All last week, on Facebook, I opened myself up to the mob…

… and promised to answer the best 5 questions posed in an experimental “Bug The Grizzled Pro” post. I just wanted to see what was bothering folks, holding them up, disrupting sleep and profits and happiness.

I was pretty damned impressed with the level of questions that poured in, too. Finding 5 good ones was easy. Answering them required my full focus… and the stuff is good.

So, just to make sure this advanced Q&A isn’t lost in the mire of Facebook (where stuff fades away forever), I’ve posted the entire exchange here. (If you want to see the comments, you’ll have to go to my Facebook page and root around in the posts for the week of November 9-14. And while you’re there, thrilling to the banter, trolling, and fevered debate, sign up to follow me, why don’tcha?)

Here’s the relevant posts. Enjoy:

Post #1:

Bug The Grizzled Pro: Anything you’d like to ask me about, or see me rant about here or on the blog?

I’ll never run out of my own ideas (you oughta see the cluster-mess of untapped stories, advice, epiphanies and general bullshit roiling around in my head)…

… (just be happy you aren’t experiencing this kind of internal chaos yourself)…

… but I’m always happy to see what folks are curious about.

I mean, really — how often do you get a chance to strafe the deck of a veteran, seen-it-all professional like this?

Give it a shot. The worst that can happen is public humiliation, or accidental enlightenment that forces you to change your life (or something in-between).

Don’t be a coward. Ask.

I’ll answer the first… um… five good questions during the week. But they gotta be good…

Continue Reading

Department Of First-World Problems

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Thursday, 10:37pm
San Francisco, CA
If you want it, here it is, come and get it…” (Badfinger)

Howdy…

Quick post today — I’m hosting my awesome Platinum Mastermind early tomorrow, and have a little prep work left to do.

However, I thought you might enjoy sampling the kind of posts I’m getting global recognition for… on Facebook. So I ripped a recent one from the site, and put it here for your delight and consumption.

Social media confuses most marketers — many refuse to even engage with Twitter or Facebook (or any of the myriad other options online to share silly secrets and post photos you’ll regret later). But I was an early adopter, and eagerly so — I had one of the very first marketing blogs (which you’re enjoying here), one of the first biz-oriented podcasts on iTunes (and if you haven’t listened to the latest free podcasts I’ve been hosting, go to the Psych Insights For Modern Marketers site now and indulge: www.pi4mm.com)…

… and I’ve been breaking every “rule” on Facebook ever since it hit the mainstream. I use FB to have fun, sometimes… but also to share insight, advice, lessons and some of the more obscure (and funny) war stories I’ve gathered in my 30 year career. (I currently have 5,000 “friends” — the limit — plus another couple of thousand “followers”… and I expect them all to show up at my wake and cause trouble. I’ve made them promise, in fact.)

To get the full flavor of what’s up — including the very long comment threads that you are invited to join — you’ll need to pop over to my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/john.carlton).

However, here’s a nice little taste:Continue Reading

How To Force Me To Personally Advise You On Your Business… For Cheap.

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Friday 8:09pm
Reno, NV
“Just move on up now…” (Curtis Mayfield)

Howdy.

Quick post here to help you figure out when you should probably consider consulting with a respected, proven veteran marketing expert…

… and what your perfect consulting option is, once you’ve decided it’s time to kick your biz or career into high gear.

Step One: As a small business owner or entrepreneur (especially if you’ve been going at it alone, or mostly alone)… if you have any kind of success at all… there will come a time when you’re simply overwhelmed and need a little help. Or a lot of help.

For example:

[] It may be time for you to move up a level in your marketing… and you know that having a veteran marketing expert comb over your new plans can shortcut your path to increased wealth, while jumping over the unseen pitfalls that ruin so many other biz owners trying to expand.

[] Or, you may have a problem that needs serious attention… like sales going into the toilet, or new competitors chewing you up, or sudden changes in the marketplace that crush your bottom line (like a Google slap, or adverse rule changes at Clickbank, or the obsolescence of your product, or technological left-turns that disrupt your sales process). Even worse, what was working before suddenly isn’t working anymore, and you don’t see a clear reason why.

[] Or, you’re just working harder and harder, but sales are stagnant. Time, perhaps, to bring in an objective, experienced marketing whiz who can help you restructure your biz plan… so you maximize results, and get your life back (by working less, not more.)

[] Or, you may want high-end professional advice on your current sales funnel… just to make sure you’re not hemorrhaging money somewhere, or murdering potential sales through marketing blunders you can’t even see.

[] Or, you may be ready to start a new business adventure, and just want to be positive you’ve got your ducks lined up and you aren’t forgetting something critical.

[] Or, you have copy that may or may not be working, which you know could jack up your bottom line if a professional copywriter helped you with a total make-over.

Step Two: The best reasons to seek professional help from a veteran dude like me always have one main goal: To fix problems, and goose your bottom line into obscene levels of newfound wealth.

When your situation is urgent, the cost of hiring a consultant who can provide solutions is almost always “cheap”, because you’re extracting yourself out of a dangerous reality that threatens your business and peace-of-mind.

And it’s a screaming bargain when that consultant can offer you simple fixes inside of a plan you can put into action immediately…Continue Reading

The Rest Of Your Freakin’ Life (one more time)

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Wednesday, 6:50pm
Reno, NV
Hey, you bastards, I’m still here!” (Steve McQueen as Papillon, floating away to freedom…)

Howdy…

I’m re-publishing — for what has become a very popular tradition on this blog — one of the more influential posts I’ve ever written.

It’s a good one, worth rereading even if you read it before.

What you’re about to encounter is a slightly tweaked way of looking at the best way to start your new year…

… but this tweak makes all the difference in the world. I’ve heard from many folks that this particular technique finally helped them get a perspective on where they’re at, where they’re going…

… and why they care about getting there.

So, even if you’ve read this post before… it’s worth another look. Especially now, as you gaze down the yawning gullet of 2013, trying to wrap your brain around a plan to make the year your bitch.

This is a critical step for entering any new period of your life. To keep your life moving ahead, you need to set some goals, dude. And most goal-setting tactics, I’ve found, are useless. Worst among them is the traditional New Year’s resolutions (which seldom last through January).

This tactic I’m sharing with you (again) is something I’ve used, very successfully, for decades…

… to reach goals, to clarify the direction of my life, and to change habits. I first shared it in the old Rant newsletter a few years back, and I’ve hauled it out here in the blog on a regular basis.  It’s timeless, classic stuff that will never let you down.

So let’s dive in. Here’s the relevant part of the post (slightly edited):

“Goal Setting 101 And
The January 15th Letter”

Yeah, yeah, I know a chat about goals can quickly turn into a boring, pedantic lecture. But then, so can a chat about space flight.

And, in reality, both space flight and your goals are VERY exciting things.Continue Reading

Staying Out Of “The Lonely Hearts” Club

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Monday, 5:55pm
Reno, NV
“Train whistle blows, lost on its own track…” (Dwight Yoakum, “Long White Cadillac”)

Howdy…

I thought you’d want to see this.

I first posted it on Facebook, and it generated an avalanche of “likes” and comments… which always means I’ve hit a nerve. And since many of the nice folks on my main list are curmudgeons who refuse to participate in social media (“Facebook, bah, humbug!”)…

… I’m reprinting it here. So you don’t have to sully yourself by dropping by Facebook. (Bonus: The post below actually trashes large swaths of the Web.)

The cold, dark days of December are, traditionally, a breeding ground for both regret over mistakes in the past year…

… and (more happily) for bold new plans in the coming year.

So, in the spirit of helping you end the year on a positive note… while also teeing up 2014 as possibly your best new year ever…

… let’s see if this advice (which has transformed so many entrepreneurial adventures into something amazing) will have any effect on you. Maybe get a head-start on wading through the mounting piles of nonsense out there, and snuggling up closer to the reality-checks and truths that can help you attain your wildest goals and dreams.

Here’s the post:

Warning (and your brain may curdle if you ignore this): I’ve been paying close attention to human behavior for longer than many of my readers have been alive. And because I felt so clueless, even as a kid, I devoured every available source of “spying” on how everyone else managed to exist in such a strange world…

… which included reading advice columns (street-level psychology at work with Ann Landers and sis Abbey), monitoring adult conversations, and stalking older kids (who were navigating life just a few hormones ahead of me).

So I’ve been a one-man research center for decades. I still haunt multiple advice columns online, see what the trolls are up to in the comment sections of NYT opinion pages, and (here’s the important part) discuss human behavior with a wide selection of colleagues both online and in person.

The discussions are critical… because there is a FLOOD of bullshit cascading down on us from every direction in the culture. It’s impossible for one individual to keep track of the spin, urban myths, misinformation campaigns…

… and (especially) the really, really, really awful investigative reporting that passes for news organizations today.

My colleagues are biz owners and pro writers well-trained in applying high-level skepticism to incoming data, and following through on research when necessary. We represent every age group of functioning adults in the culture, from all over the world (including the US hinterlands, Canucks, Limeys and other uncivilized joints), specializing in all kinds of different markets, hobbies, lifestyles and professional goals.

So when — for example — the media gets looped into a meme on how millennials (the generation of kids just now emerging from college) are bringing their parents to job interviews, and are incapable of critical thought (because of helicopter parenting) and just generally not becoming adults at all…

… we can look behind the glib stories and anecdotes and see a deeper truth.

Such as how all of us, from every living generation, have oodles of friends and family who meet every single detail of the problems now being assigned to millennials. The lack of independence, the living at home until late 30s, the whining and narcissism and sense of entitlement…

… all of it. And when you get a broader view, from older and younger colleagues, you quickly see how DEEP the bullshit can get in a media firestorm.

I hunt down photos and resumes of the reporters, and sigh. They’re like, twelve (or 32 going on 12) — insulated, given vast unearned attention through posts and stories, and dishing out accusations based on minuscule life experience.

And yet the stories stick, and become “common wisdom”.

As a marketer, you need to immerse your bad self into the culture, and understand what your prospects know and — very critical — THINK they know. And what they suspect they don’t know, or feel paranoid about not knowing.

That means you’ve got to go deep, all the time, and have resources you trust to bounce incoming data and ideas off of.

Masterminds have always been my #1 tool for this. I’m in multiple free ones, have paid for membership in others…Continue Reading

The Answer (and Winners) Revealed…

photo-1Thursday, 2:30pm
Reno, NV
Every time they were sure you were caught, you were quicker than they thought…” (Bob Seger, “Still The Same”)

Howdy…

Well, we do have a couple of winners to announce here.

It was a hell of a quiz, wasn’t it. Over 400 responses (and still climbing)… and, as several posters noted, just reading the thread was an enlightening experience (with dozens of great stories and insight shared).

Crowd-sourcing at its finest.

Before I give the two winners their moment in the sun, however (and ship out their signed copies of “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together“)…

… let’s get straight on the answer to this one-question quiz.

Recall: I asked what — in my 30 years consulting with biz owners, freelancers, entrepreneurs, inventors and dreamers — was the Number One problem I saw folks encountering in their quest for wealth and happiness.

There may indeed be many other problems troubling folks…

… but in my experience, there is only one Big Kahuna problem.

And solving this big one also solves vast chunks of other problems in your life and career. Just like that.

The last great clue (no, I’m not gonna just roll over and tell you the answer without preamble) is in the photo up top here: That’s (from left) Joe Polish, the marketing whiz-kid who wrote the forward to my book…

Gary Halbert, my uber-infamous mentor, biz partner and close pal…

Gary Bencivenga, whose controls I stalked and whose teaser copy inspired me to rewrite my own bullets 30 times for every ad I penned (and who I actually wrote some stuff for in the late 80s)…

… and me.

Bencivenga loved this photo. We’d all known each other and worked in the same part of the direct response world for years… but we’d never all been in the same room together. (This was in NYC, at Gary’s legendary “Bencivenga 100″ seminar.)

Think you have the answer yet?

Consider: Just from these four guys, you’ve got generations of successful copywriters and marketers who owe their “breakthrough moment” to one of us. Ads that brought in gazillions, and created empires. Advice that transformed a moribund business plan, or a headline, or a career. An entire revolution in biz attitudes, success strategies and persuasion methods…

… all emanating out like rocket-fire from just these guys.

Got the answer now?

We leaned on each other, borrowed from each other, learned from each other, watched each other’s back, traded war stories and admired each other’s skills…

… and, in general, shared often large parts of our professional lives in the thin, rarefied air of world-class movin’-and-shakin’.

In short… Continue Reading

How To Critical Think, Redux

Saturday, 2:33pm
Reno, NV
When I look back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all…” (Paul Simon, “Kodachrome”)

Howdy.

As I was writing a new article to post here, I used a term I invented: “Critical Think”. It’s not all that original, as ground-breaking terms go… but the idea behind it is very important for anyone seeking to move up a level or two in their career (or in their quest for ultimate happiness).

So, I’ve dug up the post where I first explained Critical Think, and I’m dragging it back onto the dance floor.

Really, this is timeless stuff. Enjoy:

Howdy.

Someone recently asked me to offer a clue on how to nurture critical thinking.

It’s a fair question.  And while I’m no neuro-scientist, I talk about critical thinking a lot, because it’s the foundation of great writing, killer salesmanship, and engaging the world with your throttle wide open.

However, it’s not an easy subject to grasp if you’ve seldom taken your brain out for a spin around the Deep Thought Track (as most folks have not).

So let’s explore it a little bit here…

Critical Think Point #1: Yes, I know the headline on this article is a grammatical car wreck.  It should be “how to think critically”, or at least “how to critically think”.

But this botched phrasing is actually part of the lesson I’m sharing here.

Consider:  The vast majority of people sleep-walk through their lives and careers, never going beneath the surface of anything.  They process, at most, a small fraction of the information they see, hear or read about.

It’s pretty much GIGO.  Garbage in, garbage out.

So the first job of any good marketer is todeliver some level of brain-rattling wake-up call for the prospect.  To literally jolt them out of their semi-permanent reverie, and initiate a more conscious state of awareness.

Cuz you can’t expect a somnambulant zombie to be proactive about following through with your request for buying something.  Or opting in.  Or even just continuing to read.

Thus: Good ad writers make full use of the incongruous juxtaposition of compelling sales elements — or, for short, the “hook”.

Ideally, you want the induced “WTF?” reaction strong enough to unleash a splash of adrenaline, or even physically make ‘em bolt up and take notice.  (As in, “That can’t be right! This violates my entire sense of what’s real!”)

HoweverContinue Reading

K.I.S.S.

Sunday, 3:09pm
Reno, NV
“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, unless you’ve got a black hole handy.”

Howdy.

Nice, short post here today. In keeping with the theme “KISS.”

Veteran entrepreneurs recognize this, of course, as an acronym of “Keep It Simple, Stupid“… easily some of the best biz advice I ever received in my long career. I carefully printed this slogan out, by hand, on a big notecard and had it taped above my desk for years (though, my sign was even more direct and vicious: Keep It Simple, Shithead. I wanted to get my own attention.)

I made good use of slogans during the early days. “Business before pleasure” was also huge for me, since I’d squandered my youth as a party-hardy slacker… and simply re-directing my energy first to biz (and having evil fun afterward, if I still had any juice left) instantly changed my entire existence. I made a vow to myself — my first real vow that I took deadly seriously — to follow that self-administered advice without hesitation or complaint… and to never apologize for basing my career on a hackneyed phrase that few people ever thought twice about. And that’s when things started popping for me, success-wise.

That was a key realization: All those dog-eared rickety slogans, as mocked as they are, have earned their way into the culture…

… because they Continue Reading

TMI Department: “Circus Halbert”

Tuesday, 3:39pm
Reno, NV
Well, you’re sitting back, in your rose-pink cadillac…” (Stones, “Dead Flowers”)

Howdy…

I’ve been going through shoeboxes stuffed with old photos, discovering treasure right and left.

Hard to believe some of this stuff is decades past, but since I’m forever being asked what it was like working so closely with Gary Halbert for so many years, I thought you might get a kick out of some virtual album-viewing.

This month, April, is the fifth anniversary of Gary’s exit from this mortal coil. He remains dearly missed, and the great work he accomplished in his career still reverberates loudly among entrepreneurs (including those who only learned about him long after he split).

I was just hosting our Platinum Mastermind group, in San Francisco, this past weekend… and damned if Gary’s teachings and stories didn’t pop up in the interplay frequently and with shocking relevance. His effect on the marketing world was profound. I am one lucky, happy bastard to have spent so much quality time with him as co-conspirator, partner and close friend.

In fact, I’m staring at my phone right now, knowing that if he was still alive, he’d be calling right about now. To chew over some absurd matter in life, to share business gossip, to discuss a book, to float new project ideas, to rip into life with gusto again and again and love every freakin’ second of it.

The teachings of Gary will endure. There are precious few videos out there with him, but that’s all right — his audios, which are plentiful, are like experiencing him in your brain, and I recommend them. His sons, Bondo and Kevin, are doing an amazing job keeping Gary’s prolific writings available (and relevant).

Still, you kinda had to be there in the room with him to get the full brunt of his personality. He was truly a force of nature, unique, powerful and unwilling to settle for anything less than spectacular in his dealings with the universe.

Anyway, if you haven’t read my post “For Gary” yet (which I wrote in the hours after learning of his unexpected, untimely passing) go here.

You’ll find multiple other postings related to the dude all over the blog archives, too. All free, of course.

But today, I’m just gonna share a few photos I’ve dug up, and maybe a related story or two.Continue Reading


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