Tag Archives: Marketing

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…

 

 

Magic And Reality Walk Into A Bar. Only One Comes Out Alive…

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Friday, 1:46pm
Reno, NV
You want it, you take it… you pay the price.” (Bruuuuuuce Springsteen, “Prove It All Night”)

Howdy…

One afternoon when I was around 9, I found a $2 bill laying in the parking lot of the local plunge (where we’d just spent the day trying to drown ourselves and trick each other into doing belly-flops off the high dive).

I was as ecstatic as Sinbad when he discovered the Cyclops’ treasure cave. The rarity of the bill just added to the sense of forbidden loot and mysterious swag. Bought us a lot of candy back then.

However, it also changed me. I spent years looking under cars in parking lots after that, obsessed with the notion that vast caches of moolah were laying around, waiting to be found. It was magical thinking at its finest. I was half-convinced it might be a way to fund my childhood, just harvesting the cash laying around.

I mean, Santa had already been outed as “not real”. And Zorro, when I met him at a supermarket opening, was shorter than he looked on TV (and smelled like beer). I had these gaping holes in my belief system of “how things worked”, and since no one was offering better ideas, I just picked up on whatever silly notion entered my head and ran with it.

Later, when we realized The Monkees weren’t a real band, and Rock Hudson was gay, and Nixon lied to us, and…

It was HARD keeping a bullshit myth-laden belief system operating. You had to really dig in and ignore facts, and even get burned a lot.

Finally, when I became a freelance copywriter and there was real money on the line (and not just opinions or hurt feelings)… I saw the light.

And it remains one of the Big Revelations I had, early in my career: The role of reality in becoming a world-class salesman.

In order to persuade large groups of people to buy, act now, or even just begin to see your side of things… you have to see the world as it is. 

Not as you wish it was. Not as you believe it should be. Not as you were told it was.

As it is. The stark, cold reality of how things actually work, and how people actually behave.

This is often scary, at first. It requires you to look behind your go-to belief systems (which you may have had since you were a kid)… to challenge authority’s version of what’s going on… and — most important — you must willingly exit the shared delusion among the majority of your fellow humans that what they say they’ll do is more important than what they actually do.

This kind of critical thinking, of looking behind the curtain and not being lulled into false promises, drags you away from the main party… and can seem lonely. Folks will even get hostile at times, because you’re no longer playing along. (I had multiple occasions, before I learned to just let it go, of ending a family argument by pulling out a dictionary or encyclopedia… and later, hoping onto Google. Thus ruining everyone’s mood, because no one enjoys having their bullshit beliefs challenged.)

This sense of becoming alienated from friends and family sometimes keeps copywriters from tossing their myth-based belief systems, and diving deep into the murky waters of reality. They’re afraid it will change them for the worst. Make them azzholes and doubters and unpleasant realists.

But that’s not how it needs to work. Here are a few Starter Rules to help you get going:

Starter Rule #1: Observing how people act, versus what they say they’ll do, just gives you a tool to avoid being bamboozled. In its simplest form, you’ll notice that the folks who are most emphatic in their promises (“I will absolutely be there on time. No excuses…”) are the ones who will chronically let you down.

In the advanced form, your Bullshit Detector will start buzzing whenever a client says “money isn’t a problem”… because, much of the time, that means money is very much a problem. (Resist the urge to automatically assume the opposite of everything anyone says… even when your experience shows you it will often be the case. Don’t get into the habit of making rash decisions, based on what you’ve seen before. But DO put your instincts and experience into the mix.)

Starter Rule #2: And for God’s sake, don’t let this make you cynical. It’s not your job to call folks out on the inconsistency of their actions, versus what they insist is their intention. You can, however, quietly understand that the rare individuals who DO fulfill their promises are the ones you want around you professionally (and probably romantically, too).

Personally, I’ve found that you start to attract professionally-minded colleagues quickly, once your reality-based modus operandi kicks in.

When money, results and the success of a biz venture is on the line, promises count for nothing. The cold hard reality of how the market reacts to your ads is all that matters.. and you must react accordingly.

Starter Rule #3: Keep your ego out of it. At first, you’ll need to monitor your own bad habits of not following up on your promises… and this will change you fundamentally as a person. Don’t announce that you’re suddenly a “new man”. Instead, just start acting as if your word really does mean something.

Early on, I developed my version of a “professional’s code”: You are where you said you’d be, when you said you’d be there, having done what you said you’d do.

This means you meet all deadlines, no matter what (even if it means staying up all night working, missing the big party, disappointing Susie Q, defying the insults and demands of your old pals who hate the idea of you becoming a pro and leaving their slacker butts in the dust). You honor your contracts, even if it’s just something you said (and could, if you weren’t such a pro, weasel out of).

You become “that guy” who can be trusted… not because you say you can be trusted, but because you really can be trusted.

Huge difference that requires behavioral changes at your cellular level. It’s hard to pull off, but you can do it.

Starter Rule #4: When you first start living in reality, there is a danger of becoming cynical and angry. Just move past it — your goal is to become a world-class persuader and provider of actual results.

You may become a quieter person… because all that time you once spent trying to convince someone you were going to do something is no longer required. You simply agree to do it, and then do it. On time. With all the expertise you can muster.

You never, ever need to explain yourself. You become a Dude Of Action. This becomes your reputation over time — not because you’ve announced it, but because this is who you’ve become. You’ve got to be patient, and hold yourself accountable for everything you do.

And yes, I’m serious when I say “everything”. Stop lying, pretending, wishing and cheating. It’s stunningly easy to do, but it requires a commitment.

Starter Rule #5: There is never a need to argue. As a rookie copywriter, I realized (after meeting my twentieth VP of Marketing or CEO or entrepreneur) that incompetence is the RULE, not the exception, in business.

Most bosses — no matter how good-hearted they are, or how smart they are, or even how experienced they are — simply cannot know all there is to know about every part of running a biz. So they’ll insist on using certain (dumb) sales angles, demand that offers be presented in specific (dumb) ways, and — worst of all — have their niece with the degree in English Lit edit your work.

Early in your career, this is not a problem to worry about. Get your money up front, with any other royalties or payments in written form, and just keep moving. Most of your clients will suck, and not follow through, and botch the marketing up. That’s just the way it goes.

As you gain experience, and especially as your reputation allows you to have more of a voice in what goes down, you’ll eventually be in the position of forcing every client to do what you tell them to do. But that doesn’t happen right away.

(For more on these high-end freelance tactics, including details on how to get paid, check out The Freelance Manual, available here.)

When you work through reality, the mysteries of the world play less and less a part of how you proceed. If you don’t know something, you don’t pretend that saying you know it makes it so. You go learn it. Or hire someone who’s proficient at it to do it for you. You research, you comparison shop, you do whatever is necessary to achieve your goal.

You say “I don’t know. I’ll find out,” a lot.

You are relieved from the task of keeping your lies and boasts and pretend-knowledge straight.

And suddenly, you’re spending your time honing your chops, filling in the gaps with actual skills and know-how, and getting shit done.

Most folks prefer the world to remain full of mystery. It’s that childhood thrill of simply deciding that something is so, and then never questioning it again, even as evidence mounts that it’s bullshit. (I never did find another $2 bill on the ground. And I missed a few rainbows along the way, because I was always looking down…)

Reality is unforgiving, and requires you to be responsible, take action, and stop pretending. But it’s really the only way to go. I found that, rather than making me more cynical about people, I actually loved them more. I instantly forgive them their bullshit promises, even while fulfilling all of my own. I also never allow someone to steal time from me, or ruin my day with a failed promise — I give them a reasonable window, and when they’ve failed, I go to Plan B.

You always have a Plan B (and Plan C, and Plan D) when you live in reality. Sometimes you find yourself saying goodbye to unreliable friends and fun-but-sketchy colleagues… and you have to be okay with that. You’re going after long-term and short-term goals, and it takes commitment and sweat to reach them. If your old crowd still believes that success comes from luck (like finding a $2 bill on the ground), you may have to find a new crowd.

There will always be a little mystery in life. You encounter new stuff all the time, in business and in relationships and in everything you do.

But each mystery can be broken down into knowable parts, and figured out, and solved. Every time. Eventually, after you’ve worked with a lot of clients in a lot of markets, you realize you are never stumped by the obstacles that freeze most entrepreneurs up. There is always a reason why sales are down, or returns are up, or something that used to work ain’t working no more.

When the reality of business and life become second-nature to you… you become That Consultant Every Biz Owner Wants To Hire. And the top copywriting experts are all consultants first, solving the mysteries with reality-based solutions. The writing comes later.

Does this make sense to you?

This entire subject is often the main entree at our masterminds, and in every Hot Seat consultation I do.

Living in reality is a much better way to go, every time. And it really can make you a happier, more fun and pleasant person… who just happens to get a lot done.

Love to hear what you think, in the comment section below.

Stay frosty,

John

 

Year-End Roundup Of Good Stuff

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Saturday, 1:10pm
Reno, NV
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now…” (Bob Dylan, “My Back Pages”)

Howdy…

A lot of my social media focus lately has been on Facebook. As much as I distrust and mildly despise The Zuck, I have to hand it to the little sociopath for figuring out a dynamic that allows for real interaction with folks…

… which lasts, on average, around one to three days. Then, even the most viral post disappears down the social media rathole and is gone forever.

So I like to rescue some of the better posts I’ve carved into the FB newsfeed, and stack ‘em up here on the blog… where they’ll survive in the archives for as long as this rickety thing exists. (We’re officially at the decade mark, by the way. Ten years of posting monthly… except for January of 2012, where I inadvertently didn’t publish an intended article in time, so the archives have that single hole in them. That’s pretty freakin’ awesome.)

Anyway, no need for context here. If you’d enjoy seeing the comment threads on any of these posts, just hop over to my FB page (where you should already be following me, anyway, what are you thinking?). It’s www.facebook.com/john.carlton.

And, as always, I love to hear what you’re thinking in the comments here (where I often hang out and interact).

By the way… that photo up top is from the big damn AWAI seminar I was a featured speaker at, back in October. Everything about the photo (and yes, that’s Dan Kennedy sitting with us) is explained in the Psych Insights For Modern Marketers podcast I link to below (in one of the posts) (and yes, this is a tease to get you to read this entire thing).

Enjoy the year-end Facebook roundup:

Take This To The Bank, Part 11: Most people’s daily actions (eating, buying, loving, hating, grooming, working, all of it) are based on beliefs… which they regard as “true”.

You better grok this, if you want to communicate with, sell to, or persuade folks in any way.

As irrational and unfounded in reality as these belief systems can be, they become unshakeable foundations for all behavior, thought and decisions.

Rookie copywriters like to bowl readers over with facts and data and science. Yawn. These are humans you’re writing to. Reality is very subjective, and by the time perception gets past the internal obstacle course of flawed senses, emotional distress, and knee-jerk denial… your facts will get ambushed and slaughtered as efficiently as a 30’s-era mob hit.

Real persuasion occurs in the murky soup of people’s ancient, mostly-unconscious belief systems. Timid efforts ain’t gonna cut it.

Bold, and even spectacularly whacky beliefs trump crunchy facts every time.

Just something to keep in mind as you explore persuasion expertise…

A life well-lived will be roiling with stories. Seems pretty obvious.

But it’s the same with a business well-run. And a career with lofty goals. Even a project you’ve thrown yourself into. Or a single day of enthusiastic productivity.

The world spins in the greased grooves of stories. All around you, and deeply intertwined with your very existence, are stories of romance, harrowing adventure, small and large heroic episodes, and the fascinating history of your impact on everything you touch. Yes, you.

Your stories swirl and crash into the stories of your friends, colleagues, lovers, clients, family, enemies and random encounters.

Recognizing these stories, and molding them into snarling tales with a set-up, a point, and a punchline or lesson, can kick you into a higher level of conscious living. The slumbering masses ignore, deny and deflate their stories… and yet, the hunger in all of us for well-told tales is never sated.

There’s no big secret to success. It’s not the moolah or power you accumulate… it’s the wealth of experience, feelings, brain stimulation, and your impact on others generated by living large.

It’s hard to become, and stay conscious. Your stories help you catalog the good stuff, and keep you enmeshed with all the other actors in your life’s movie.

The best marketing is alive with stories, because it’s all just an extension of life well-lived.

Go chew up some scenery. The only real crime in the universe is squandering this unique, scary and wonderful existence you woke up with today…

Continue Reading

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

Why Is This So Freaking Hard To Do?

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Friday, 2:33pm
Reno, NV
Get away from me, kid, ya bother me…” (Tom Waits, “Step Right Up”)

Howdy.

So, let’s take on the entire advertising model of western civilization, what d’ya say?

Here’s a good place to start: It’s the end of baseball season, playoff fever in the air. I’ve been watching the SF Giants stumble-bum their way through a summer swoon (barely making the last NL wild-card spot)…

… and generally enjoying the age-old process of heartbreak and joy. I followed sports religiously as a kid, but paid less and less attention to it as the real-life adventures of adulthood took up all my time… and now, having a wee bit more time to indulge, I’ve returned to the fold.

But I record the games, and watch them after-the-fact.

Because of the mind-numbing commercial breaks.

I’m not alone, of course. Across the country, grown men and women run screaming from rooms when someone inadvertently turns on the evening news, for fear of hearing the score in a game they’re recording for later.

And being forced to endure the entire broadcast — including the endless, mind-melting commercial breaks — in, say, a bar or a friend’s house is pure torture.

The SAME commercials will play over and over, sometimes twice in the same break. Some of the national ones are mildly clever (at best), but hardly classic films that deserve repeated views. And the local stuff is just awful. (The locals can be excused, of course — tiny budgets, no insight to how persuasion actually works, and they’re at the mercy of clueless ad agencies or a brother-in-law with a camcorder. There’s even some charm in the awkwardness of homemade spots… sometimes, anyway. Mostly not, but you might get the flavor of the area at times.)

But the national spots have no real excuse. Yes, there is value in repetitive views — the average buyer sees a late-night cable infomercial something like 7 times, in pieces lasting a few minutes, before pulling out a credit card. There’s a process to the art of long-form, chew-up-the-wee-hours commercials.

However, the model of jamming a single pre-recorded commercial into every break in a sporting contest just begs to be ignored. Any thinking creature knows to check out mentally during the break, and go do something else. If you’re welded to the couch (say, in the midst of watching a blowout, weighed down by one too many beers), you still do not “watch” any commercial for the 20th time…Continue Reading

The Entrepreneur’s Checklist

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Friday, 2:15pm
Reno, NV
“I read the news today, oh boy…” (Lennon, “A Day In The Life”)

Howdy…

One of my favorite quotes from Gary Halbert: “There is nothing that cannot be accomplished by a man who refuses to face reality.”

You laugh, but he was dead serious. One of the reasons we became fast friends was our mutual outlook on life – whenever reality was inconvenient to our goals, we just ignored the facts, lowered our head, and bulled forward.

That photo, above, is me in high school (from the yearbook). I loved basketball, and was good enough to become the captain of the “B” squad my junior year…

… however, as should be evident in this photo, I ran into a brick wall trying out for the varsity a year later.

The guy guarding me as I took that jumper is taller than me by a foot. I was the smallest guy on the squad…

… and really, at some point a caring coach probably should have taken me aside and said “John, I know you love the game… but look at your family. No one is taller than 5’10”, and basketball is a sport for tall folks. You’re not going to magically grow into the size they want on the varsity team…”

I wouldn’t have listened, anyway. I’m like a Jack Russell terrier – a big dog trapped in a small dog’s body. Eventually, in sports, my poor eyesight and lack of height stopped me…

… but I had fun for a couple of years in the meantime.

Later on, as I was gathering my courage to try copywriting, an actual professional copywriter earnestly informed me that I should not even try.

“It’s too hard,” she said. “You’ll never be a pro writer.”

That was, of course, the BEST thing she could have ever told me. I doubt I could have survived the first years without that internal motivation of needing to prove her wrong.

I call it “negative motivation”… and it’s actually one of the most powerful forces available for getting stuff done. I never saw her again, and don’t even remember her name…

… so it wasn’t a need to flaunt my success in her face. It was all internal for me – I used her as the “face” of the obstacles in front of me, and I even laughed when I later realized I was in a position to tell her “Fuck you, I made it anyway.”

Yes, my internal ego is an immature twerp sometimes. Chip on the shoulder, snarling underdog attitude, and an almost stupidly-aggressive and irrational refusal to face reality.

I am so grateful for it, too.

(By the way… I nailed that shot in the photo, above… and ended up with 20 points while also hitting the winning basket. Easily my finest moment in a futile, doomed effort to be a “real” basketball player. A has-been at 16.)

You do not need to be a belligerent rebel to be a good entrepreneur…

… but it can help sometimes.

Certainly, given the choice of sitting down to dinner with the business types in suits, who are uber-polite and careful in their conversations…

… or the rowdy crowd of rule-breaking ne’er-do-well whack job entrepreneurs who may easily get kicked OUT of the restaurant….

… well, you know which one I’d pick.

I was Halbert’s sidekick for a very long time, and one of the most enjoyable parts of the gig wasContinue Reading

Buzz And Awe, Redux

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Tuesday, 2:08 a.m.
Reno, NV
Is there gas in the car? Yeah, there’s gas in the car…” (Steely Dan, “Kid Charlemagne”)

Howdy…

Those of you in the loop know we’ve re-launched the coaching program of the Simple Writing System again.

We rarely offer this hand-holding, personalized, one-on-one mentoring (by coaches who are also successful copywriters). The last session was a couple of years ago.

No idea when another session will come around… if it even does.

We take this one program at a time. It’s notorious among marketing insiders, because of how effectively we’re able to transform almost anyone into a sales-message-producing machine… quickly and efficiently. It’s life-changing, and business-changing mojo…

… and that’s why the top marketers in the game have demanded that the folks in their organization responsible for marketing TAKE this course.

The personalized coaching in the SWS is extremely interactive Perfect for anyone who knows that hands-on mentoring is the best way to learn the simplest possible system (crammed with short-cuts) for creating all the sales messages needed for a profitable business…

… including all your ads, websites, video scripts, emails, AdWords, blogs and other social media broadsides…

everything that pumps eager prospects into your Sales Funnel.

So you can close the heck out them.  And get filthy rich and happy, and become the most successful entrepreneur or biz owner possible… because without killer, persuasive copy, you’re not going to find, nor close very many prospects.

Most marketers wander through the wasteland of Bad Business Practices their entire career…

… and never figure out how to SELL anything.

So, no matter how totally hot and good and righteous your product or service might be…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 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


All testimonials and case studies within this website are, to the best of our ability to determine, true and accurate. They were provided willingly, without any compensation offered in return.

These testimonials and case studies do not represent typical or average results. Most customers do not contact me or offer share to their results, nor are they required or expected to. Therefore, I have no way to determine what typical or average results might have been.

Many people do not implement anything I teach them. I can't make anyone follow my advice, and I obviously can't promise that our advice, as interpreted and implemented by everyone, is going to achieve for everyone the kinds of results it's helped some of the folks you read about and hear from here achieve.

The income statements and examples on this website are not intended to represent or guarantee that everyone will achieve the same results. Each individual's success will be determined by his or her desire, dedication, marketing background, product, effort, and motivation to work and follow recommendations. There is no guarantee you will duplicate results stated here. You recognize any business endeavor has inherent risk for loss of capital.

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