Archive Monthly Archives: February 2005

But Then, What The Hell Do I Know?

Just got back from a very interesting meeting-of-minds down in Beverly Hills. I’m revealing the tastier parts of the story in the upcoming issue of the Rant… but for now, let’s just say I spent a couple of days in the company of some very savvy entrepreneurs and business owners.

In a 30,000 square foot Tuscan mansion. With Rod Stewart and Eddie Murphy as neighbors. Bodyguards, more servants than I could keep track of, private chef, private sushi bar, a DJ and bartender in the billiard room, for crying out loud.

It was a luxury gig all the way. And the quality of the other experts and honchos there was just staggering. Whispered deals were made in every room, handshakes worth a fortune exchanged on every break, earth-moving bonds established at lunch. This was the kind of event rookies have wet dreams about.

I flew home this afternoon all excited and stuffed with motivation and ideas… and tried to communicate my excitement, and some of the cool stuff that happened, to my Significant Other.

Who was notably UNimpressed. She didn’t recognize any of the names I dropped (these are industry insiders, and most are not well known outside the entrepreneurial niche). And she had only a vague notion of my rather famous host.

Nothing I said could crack her polite interest — we have to live together, after all — and generate the kind of awe I wanted to install in her mind. I wanted to share my good vibes.

Very frustrating.

Here’s the kicker, though: We bopped over to the local fish joint for dinner, and met some acquaintances, who joined us. At some point, one of them asked me where’d I just flown in from, and I mumbled something about Bill Phillips’s mansion down in Bever…

Instant excitement from the other side of the table. “You mean you were at Bill Phillips’s house? I am a total fan of the guy. His book helped me drop, like, 19 pounds fast, and I feel so much better! This is amazing…”

And she went on to talk for some length about Bill’s “Eat For Life” book, which was an instrument of wonderous change in her life.

And HER excitement sparked the interest of my no-longer-yawning mate. Suddenly, my little adventure had real potential in her eyes.

Nothing I had told her about it had gotten across.

But this near-stranger’s astonished rave spoke volumes.

There’s a lesson here, I thinks to myself.

It’s the raw power of unexpected third party testimonials. My story was suspect, because of course I would be expected to pump it up as much as possible. Everything I said was run through my Sig Other’s cruel “bullshit detector”, several times. And even though I was NOT embellishing, the details of this unique event seemed over-the-top, no matter how much I pulled back on the “wow” effects.

You married guys, I don’t need to explain this to.

But this is very much like trying to get your sales message across to a prospect. Even a prospect who knows you, and should be giving you the benefit of the doubt, will not lend huge weight to anything you say that might be construed as bragging.

You just lose them entirely no matter how hard you try. In fact, the harder you try, the worse it gets.

Bring in someone else, though… who obviously has no stake in the matter, but who also gets very excited about the subject… and you’ve awakened the interest and believability in your reader.

This is important. I see it violated all the time in the critiques that pass my desk.

You simply cannot expect your reader to believe anything you say at face value. You must proceed on the assumption that they actually YAWN at any excitement you try to generate.

It’s the nature of the beast. We all hate braggarts. Even braggarts hate other braggarts.

Touting your own wonderfulness goes over like a lead balloon.

But having someone ELSE do it carries massive credibility.

Simple, mega-powerful salesmanship tactic.

John Carlton

P.S.: If you’re gonna blow four hours watching the Academy Awards, at least try to spend a little of your viewing time being aware of the meta-story playing out in front of and behind the camera. Try to understand the appeal of celebrity… and try to predict who will be savaged by the critics on Monday for having muffed their speech, or dressed badly, or snubbed someone, or whatever.

The Cult of Personality is insanely strong in this country. But it’s also fickle. Stars attempt to brand themselves, fit into niches where they have little competition, weather damage control, and try to add value just like companies do in tough, passionate markets.

And, just like the business world, you can lose by winning. Your very success makes you a target. It’s a jungle. Getting into the head of the audience — not the stars, which are shallow vessels of inch-thick ego, but the audience — can give you some real insight to ALL human-based markets out there.

Consider what is rational, and what is irrational about the people who get passionate about this stuff.

Very important psychology there.

Have fun.


We just watched last week’s episode of “The Apprentice”, thanks to TiVo. It’s the only prime time show I watch, and I can tell it’s about ready to jump the shark… but for now, it’s still compelling television.

Dan Kennedy watches the show, too, by the way. So do quite a few other business people I know. And not in a passive way. Nope. We watch this crap because there are nuggets of marketing and business genius in every episode.

It’s like a little brainstorm session. There’s nothing remotely like it anywhere else. But I’m sure the network will screw it up soon.

Anyway, if you watched, the “Book Smarts” group lost again. The “Street Smart” group — mostly young entrepreneurs who barely finished high school — have been steadily kicking their ass. Literally knocking the smug looks off those Ivy League mugs.

Here’s why I’m blogging on it: A couple of recent behavioral studies discovered a very interesting thing about your fellow human beings. I’ve written about it twice in the Rant — namely, that there are people who are completely incompetent… yet do not recognize this flaw in themselves.

Finding out about this study resolved so many questions I’d had bugging me for years. I feel better knowing what’s going on, and I now feel prepared to deal with similar situations in the future.

What the study found is that an unnervingly large part of the population consists of people who will screw up everything they touch. Everything. Because they do not have the skills needed for even the simplest job. And they will never acquire the skills, either. For they are incompetent at the cellular level.

However, they view themselves as highly competent. It’s massive denial, and soaring self-deception. But they aren’t fooling themselves.

They actually believe they are really good at everything they do. It’s not an act.

And when things go wrong, it’s always someone else’s fault. Or there are other reasons why they failed. Sometimes these reasons are mysterious, and hard to explain.

It is never, however, their fault.


I don’t even have to ask if you’ve ever met one of these types in your life. They are unavoidable.

And their sincere belief and insistence that they are great at what they do, and couldn’t possibly be the reason things failed, is very convincing. You begin to doubt reality.

Certain situations have haunted me for years. My mind and experience told me a particular person was responsible, and obviously so… but their heated defense made me doubt my own senses.

Now, I’m on the look-out for clueless incompetents. You will never convince them they’re losers, however. Don’t even try. The self-delusion runs too deep for even advanced psychotherapy.

Back to the Trump show: Michael, the guy who got fired last week, is a pure example of this syndrome.

I was so stunned to see incompetence and denial in action that I ran to write this blog after the show ended.

It’s beautiful. This guy has bad ideas, is a walking hunk of negativity, and actively does things that guarantee failure.

Yet, in his eyes, he is brilliant, sexy, and the ONLY guy who could have saved his team. It was ONLY through the ineptitude of everyone else that things went south. They are doomed, without him.

This guy will never learn. He will never have that “aha” moment, where he sees that the huge problem in his life, all this time, was him and no one else.

He will go from situation to situation, screwing things up, blaming everyone else, and walking away from the smoldering ruins amazed that no one recognized his genius.

Even better, new situations will continue to open up for him… because often, bullshit walks. You tell me you’re brilliant, that you can do all this wonderful stuff, that you’re the most competent and talented guy around… and it sometimes will get your foot in the door.

Well, that is, it would have before I got hip to what’s going on.

In music, it’s easy to see who’s full of it. Just hand them an instrument, and you’ll know immediately if they can back up their bragging.

Unfortunately, in bidniz, it takes a little longer.

Still, fore-warned is fore-armed.

Side note: In case you’re wondering, I think Trump is a nutcase. He’s not near as savvy as he perceives himself, and I’m constantly appalled at the butt-kissing his assistants do. That organization looks like a living hell to my eyes.

But the format of the show still has legs. This match-up of street vs. college was a brilliant concept.

And egos are getting smashed. Always fun to watch that happen.

John Carlton

Lay The World At Your Feet

Last night, bluegrass/folk legends Peter Rowan and Tony Rice were in town. Now, I am a slobbering fan of many musicians, but Tony’s picking and Peter’s voice ranks up there with the best I’ve ever heard.

When God puts together his all-time all-star choir, Peter will be in the front row (next to Gram Parsons, Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison and James Brown). And Tony will be in the orchestral pit (next to Roy Buchanan, Jimi Hendrix, and Danny Gatton).

So this was a show I desperately wanted to see.

That’s the set-up.

Now, here’s the story: For reasons I cannot explain to myself, other things were more important over the last two weeks than securing tickets to the show.

When I finally called the joint holding the event, they informed me it was sold out. Oversold, in fact. The fire marshall was sniffing around.

This is a lesson I apparently have to relearn over and over again. I had a chance to see Jimi Hendrix when I was 19. I had gone to many concerts at the venue, had wheels, had friends to go with, had the money. But something was more important that night, and I missed the show. Jimi died soon after. I never did see him perform.

I don’t recall what was so damned important that I decided to skip that show. But I do remember missing the show.

The lesson is: When you have priorities in your life, you must do your due diligence to follow through on them. There will ALWAYS be a competing reason not to follow through. Our brains work that way — always looking for a reason to be lazy.

Always looking for a reason to bail.

I can tell you that whatever reason I had for not going to that show had absolutely no longterm impact on my life. I may have believed, at the time, that it was a reason that prevented me from seeing Jimi. But in reality, it was a lame excuse, whatever it was. Even if it was work-related, I could have rearranged things. The girlfriend would have understood. The family wouldn’t have missed me that much.

I could have made it up to anyone who felt the least bit slighted by my absence.

There was NOTHING as important to me, at 19, as seeing Jimi.

Your mind will derail you. You gotta stay on top of it. This is your job. No one else will do it for you.

In business, there will always be phone calls you really, really, really don’t wanna make… or projects you really, really, really don’t wanna start… or a whole pile of sundry details and major things that must be done that you would prefer not to do.

If a particular thing is routinely onerous to you, you should re-examine what you do for a living. Maybe you’re in the wrong gig.

But resistance happens even when you’re doing what you love. Every writer I know struggles to sit down and face the empty page. Much easier to go play Nintendo, or take a nap, or call a friend, or masturbate, or go eat something, or do ANYTHING else.

Discipline hurts, sometimes. Okay, it always hurts a little bit.

I love Tom Hanks’ line in “A League of Their Own”, when his star player says she’s quitting playing baseball because it just “got too hard”. He says: “It’s SUPPOSED to be hard. That’s what makes it so special. If it was easy, everybody would do it.”

Keep that in mind when you need to pat yourself on the back… or hunker down and get past your resistance on something.

Second part of the story: I drove by the Rowan/Rice concert anyway. Asked if there were any tickets. Looked for someone to bribe.

But it was a very small joint, and they were packed to the rafters. And there was a gaggle of people ahead of me asking the same lame questions about getting in.

Now, it happens that I recognized the guy producing the show. Moe has a small company here in town, and brings in quality acts for small venues. We’re very lucky to have him.

He doesn’t know me, but over the past years I have made a point of looking him in the eye whenever I’ve seen him and saying hello. Nothing more.

Just putting some coins in the bank, so to speak.

So, I’m working my way up the chain of command — from ticket taker (“No way, Jack”) to the bouncer (“Uh uh”) to the restaurant manager. And just as I’m about to offer paying ANY price, to stand anywhere in the room, Moe walks by. I pause and say “Hi, Moe”. And the manager does a double take.

Moe stops, and recognizes what’s going on. (He’s been in the game for a long time.) Puts a hand on my shoulder and tells the manager that he expects 20% of the room to leave at the break. So, if “guys like him” wanted to come back for the second set, I could probably get in.

Fine with me. I hung out, came back at 9:30, found Moe again, and he escorted me to the door guardian and said “Let this guy in.”

And they all refused to take any money.

Do you see what happened here? It’s the power of simple bonding. I wasn’t a pest, wasn’t asking for special treatment (much), and didn’t push for anything.

I knew that Moe wouldn’t recognize me as a personal friend, but because most people don’t know who he is at all, I identified myself as someone who was a regular at his shows. Worthy of at least a little extra effort.

This is knocking, so the door gets opened. Asking, so you may recieve.

It’s all about understanding the powers and limitations of high-end salesmanship. Even low-level recognition carries enormous weight with people. In business, your customers have learned to be anonymous with almost every company they deal with. They expect not to be recognized.

Well, guess what? Reverse the above bonding process. And put some coins in the banks of every one of your customers… by recognizing them. The simplest way is to personalize your emails and letters.

But it doesn’t hurt to go even further. In a recent Rant, I talked about the amazing results you can get from a simple contact by phone with customers. It’s easy to break through the great sea of anonymity people slog through in their lives… and they apprecitate it.

If you’re in a niche, it’s even easier. Cuz you can talk about your shared passions in ways that “feel” personal, even when you’re addressing your entire base.

Bonding works. Amazingly well.

Gotta go.

John Carlton

When It Ain’t Worth It

I’m no biz school whiz kid, but I’ve got enough advanced formal education under my belt to know most of it’s not going to help you in the real world.

If, like me, one of your guilty pleasures is watching the Donald Trump “Apprentice” show, you’re aware that the game is on between street savvy and book smarts in the culture. I don’t really feel the two groups on that show are good representations — they’re too young, mostly, and I think the producers picked people they knew would generate ego-driven drama (the stuff that boosts ratings). But the whole concept is intriguing enough to keep talking about, anyway.

I’ve always said I could turn a near-illerate street-wise salesman into a killer copywriter faster than I could someone with a Ph.D in English Literature… because the hard part is waking up your Inner Salesman, not learning how to cross t’s and dot i’s and conjugate transitional verbs.

I’ve also discovered that this kind of choice seldom comes up in my teaching duties. The vast majority of people who come to me for advice are entrepreneurs. The Ph.D’s and the Business Majors are attracted by the corporate structure of the mainstream marketing world, where bullshit and attitude can actually get you promoted. Entrepreneurs are often (like me) the sort who wither in tightly-controlled chains of command.

Working for the Man sucks, basically. Unless you enjoy it, in which case I don’t have a lot to say to you. Go for it, dude. Enjoy the nonsense and the back-stabbing and your sterile corner office.

Of course, while we entrepreneurs smugly tout our independence, integrity and real-world approach to Operation MoneySuck… the corporations are where the really, really, really big money is. Halbert and I often lament the sad fact that — while we know exactly how to sell a ton of any kind of car GM cares to offer — we will NEVER get the big multi-gazillion-dollar contract. Because we don’t have fancy offices, and we can’t talk the kind of Power Point happy talk the Madison Avenue suits spew.

Corporations don’t trust freelancers, because they don’t trust truly effective tactics. They like it nice and safe, and they like rigged games where they can’t lose. So they pump money into politicans for pork barrel consideration. And keep their marketing on a tight leash.

I’m thinking about all of this after reading about Carly Fiorina’s outster at Hewlett-Packard. She was all bluster and fancy presentation, and her one “big idea” as CEO was to merge with another company. To create “synergy”. And the board of directors let her do it. They are enthralled by words like synergy. Sounds edgy.

Oooooooh. I get all tingly just thinking about synergy.

Of course the merger sank HP’s stock (and the big winner will probably be Apple, since the merger also swallowed up one of their more savvy competitors and left a gaping hole in the market). And Carly was humiliated. With a $21-million goodbye package.

She’d better be friggin’ humiliated. Cuz that’s the only thing stockholders have to enjoy. Barron’s still rates HP as a “no buy”. It’s a wounded duck, because for 6 years the company was run by a CEO who was clueless about selling stuff.

Anyway, here’s the lesson for us entrepreneurs: It’s all about the point of diminishing returns. You can earn a million bucks without much extra help at all these days on the Web, with some decent marketing and basic “job it out” know-how. But something happens when you start bringing in the big bucks. I’ve seen it so often, I’m starting to think it’s a given.

You get the urge to become more “respectable”. You hire an assisstant. Get a nice office somewhere. Hire more staff. Take on a partner. Branch out with new projects in every direction. Invest in wild, “fresh” directions, cuz you got de magic touch.

One day you discover you own a warehouse.

And suddenly you don’t look like an entrepreneur anymore. Worse, when you crunch the numbers at the end of the year, you aren’t earning as much as you did when it was just you and the dog at the kitchen table making it work.

Think of it this way: If you take on a partner who’s 50-50 with you, you have to double your gross to earn the same. Add staff and real estate and better clothes (cuz the sweats aren’t going over big at the office anymore), and you’ve got to bring in four or five times your original income to match it for take-home.

Even worse, you now have a monster to feed every month, whether you feel like it or not. And everyone who’s had to meet a payroll knows that there are times when everyone else gets paid, while you do not. You, as the boss, are the sugar daddy to a whole new family now.

And, at some mysterious, point, you cease being an entrepreneur and transform into an appendage of The Man. (Though you probably will never have a $21-million bail-out package waiting for you, should you fail.)

So be sure you understand what’s important to you before the money starts rolling in. Because madness awaits those who are unclear on the concept. If you became an entrepreneur because of the freedom and independence, you have no business shackling yourself to a burgeoning organization that requires your total immersion 24/7.

And really… though I know it sounds stupid and cliche… the piles of money aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. There’s a point where it just gets ridiculous how much you have… and that point comes much sooner than you expect. And you’re suddenly faced with that horrible question: Are you the job, or are you a real person?

As an entrepreneur, you have total control in how that question gets answered, even if you need a little time to figure it out.

Corporations demand (and get) your soul. If you decide you’re more than the job, you gotta leave. Or get punted out.

Something to think about, as you rake it in.

John Carlton

Waiting For Godot

I had a deja vu experience reading the Wall Street Journal the other day. It was like I’d seen the article I was on before, and could even close my eyes and predict what the next paragraph would be about… and I was right.

But it wasn’t anything spooky going on. I was merely reading yet another “the market is holding its breath” story, which are almost boilerplate at the WSJ. Investors, as a lump, are either waiting for the latest profit reports from some conglomerate, or waiting to see what the Fed is gonna do with interest rates, or waiting for some political event to happen.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. There’s a sense that, as a culture, we’re just lurching from crisis to crisis, like a desperate frog leaping on lillies while avoiding the alligator tailing him.

We all need breathers once in a while. It’s good to step back and take a look at where you’re at, versus where you want to be.

But you shouldn’t make this kind of reflection permanent. That’s like setting up camp in a rest area — you gotta hop back on the highway to get anywhere.

The winners in business keep moving, and they refelct a lot. You must be awake to do this. Most of the population are sleep-walkers, stumbling through life in a daze that never lifts.

The uncertain nature of civilization does this to people. The title of this blog entry refers to the existentialist play where two characters do nothing but wait for this guy Godot, who never shows. It’s a bit baffling, if you’re expecting raw entertainment, but the concept of existentialism is worth knowing about.

The first world war knocked everyone for a loop. An overwhelming dread bubbled up, and even non-intellectuals were asking “what’s it all mean?” All the hard work of making cultures and economies and governments function properly and fairly seemed useless — whatever was created was destroyed by war. What was the use of even trying?

People partied through the twenties, suffered through the thirties, and — like a married couple just itching for a fight, fed up with the status quo — finally succumbed to the urge to go to war again.

It was part of a repeating cycle. Cycles are fascinating to history buffs… but they represent opportunity for savvy marketers. It pays to get a handle on the Big Picture of our culture.

There is, right now, a powerful sense in the world that we’re all just hours away from something monumental happening. And so people wait. And put off decisions. They don’t want to get burned in another stock market bubble. They don’t want to be away from home if another terrorist attack occurs. They don’t want to buy a liquid screen TV until they’re positive it won’t be obsolete in six months.

This sense of “why bother” comes and goes in the culture. I’m old enough to remember it from the mid-sixties, when nuclear annihilation seemed imminent. You can’t predict exactly what the next part of the cycle will be, based on what happened before… but you can come pretty damned close.

We are a fairly predictable species, though no one wants to admit it. Understanding how some of this predictability can be used in your business plans is a profitable exercise. People need and crave certain things at certain times in each cycle. Right now, for example, huge swaths of the population are desperate for something to give their lives meaning. This started to show itself with the amazing boom in psychic hotlines just two years ago.

I’m not suggesting you start your own religious movement… but you should pay attention to the fact that other people are, in droves.

Just consider, as you advertise whatever it is you’re selling, that your target audience is caught up in the same general cycles as the population at large. There are forces acting on their ability to make a decision that you need to know about, so you can address them.

And, to make a sale, you need a decision. Ask yourself: What can I say or do to get someone to act… while they’re in “waiting mode” for almost everything else in their life?

Answer that, and you’ve got a campaign that will burn through the market like wildfire.

Here’s a couple of books to check out, to get a better idea of how people act predictably, and make decisions: “Generations: The History of America’s Future 1584 to 2069” by Wm. Strauss and Niel Howe. And “Blink”, by Malcolm Gladwell.

Don’t wait around with everyone else. The other shoe is always dropping, somewhere. Movement creates results. Even when you feel like you’re slogging through molasses, each slog is still an action that will generate consequence. Good or bad, marketers thrive on consequence.

John Carlton

I Shouldn’t Have To Do This…

Did you see the Superbowl? Turned out to be a real game after all. And, in the peculiar world of sports betting, the Eagles won by losing. They beat the spread.

But the game has turned into a sideshow. People tune in because it’s an event that gets talked about. Last year, chat around the water cooler was all about Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. Buzz. Marketers get sucked into the hooplah, and wanna be part of it.

The top story on the MSN home page right after the game was NOT the score from the gridiron. Nope. It was how viewers ranked the ADS. The circus came to town, and as the dust settles, the captialist system waits with beating heart to see what happens next.

I shouldn’t have to mention this… but the track record of big splashy ads is not good, if increased profits was the goal. Madison Avenue went completely insane long ago, and convinces clients their ads must be hilarious to “work”. They count up the votes they get for “best ad”, and the “buzz” they generate around water coolers… and claim victory when the culture picks up any line from the copy and starts repeating it. “Where’s the beef” kinda phrases.

The sad truth is that entertaining ads do not sell product. In the worst case, people laugh their ass off at the ad, and tell their friends about it… but can’t remember the name of the product. Or confuse it with the competition. Because it was just tacked on after the mini-clown routine, as an afterthought. All the creative effort went into entertainment, and not an ounce into actual selling.

Not that being remembered is any guarantee people will buy your shit. “Oh, hey, there’s that cereal they advertised on TV! Gosh, that was a funny commercial… let’s buy it!”

Yeah, right.

Jack In The Box is an exception — they skillfully entertwine product and pitch into the play. But you still shouldn’t use them as a template for any of your own ads… unless you have a campaign war-chest in the high millions. These guys rely on massive repetition for results. Most entrepreneurs have one good shot at the sale, and need to pack as much salesmanship into each ad as possible.

What Madison Avenue does wrong with 99% of their television ads is to create funny stuff that has no relationship with the product whatsoever. The advertiser simply prays that being associated with such humor (or, occasionally, bravado) will rub off in a good way. Or something.

However, most of these ads are completely interchangeable. It could be Ford, or Chevy, or Toyota financing the yuks (or doing the bragging). Doesn’t matter even a little bit.

And so the commercial doesn’t rub off at all. You remember the punch line, but couldn’t come up with the right brand name if you were tortured.

The problem is an utter lack of a USP. A real one, with reasons why and credibility and proof… and not a fake one, tested in focus groups by people without a drop of salesman’s blood in their veins.

And pay attention — these large companies are about to come to the Web in force… and it’s likely they’ll be using the brand new “online” divisions of the Madison Avenue ad agencies. They will have presence, and gobble up bandwidth like a brontosaurus wading through your backyard garden.

Entrepreneurs will feel the pinch. And that’s where having classic salesman’s skills will be your life saver. If you’re in a market niche that’s creating big profits, you’re gonna have competition soon. The days of “low hanging fruit” on the Web are about to expire, and it will happen fast. Like, yes, a tsunami.

Learn the craft of selling, now, while the Huns have not yet reached the gates.

Blatant pitch: Most readers of this blog already have my stuff. However, if you don’t… and you’ve been dicking around putting off buying it… you will want to know that I’m about to restructure everything I offer. Prices are going to rise across the board, as soon as next month. I’m writing the new copy right now.

I have not raised prices in three years. My stuff is now embarrassingly-cheap, compared with what other “experts” are gouging people for. (And many of these experts learned everything they know from veterans like me, Halbert, Abraham and a tiny handful of others.) But that’s not a reason to buy. The reason to buy is more simple: Nothing will happen in your life until you learn to write sizzling copy… and learn what to DO with it to bring in the moolah.

I’ve been teaching people how to earn massive piles of money, both online and in the “old world” markets of direct response, for many years now. I know what to do, I’ve done it over and over, and I can teach you how to do it, too.

And it’s about to get more expensive to learn the secrets. So you might wanna get off your duff and take the plunge now.

How’s the New Year shaping up for you so far? Having fun yet?

John Carlton

P.S. The ONLY ad during the Superbowl that created real buzz… was PULLED after one airing early in the game. It was the spot for, the new site registering domain names for cheap. They used a buxom blonde in a phony congressional hearing set-up, and echoed the fuss over the Janet Jackson thing. I’m not sure how salesworthy the ad was, since it was hard not to stare at the buxom beauty’s bounty (and ignore the pitch)… but it was a ballsy move. Risked the wrath of our new Puritanically-inclined culture of titillation. I like that.

The network pulled it, however. No word on why.

Sex will sell. Sex will create buzz.

Sex will also get you in trouble with the Man.

P.P.S. The first time I turned on a television in Paris, there was a naked lady standing on a bare set selling laundry detergent. Starkers. Very casual about it, too.

Say what you will about Europe’s “values”. They kicked the Puritans out five hundred years ago, and have been more relaxed about things ever since. Lucky us.

The Meathead From France

One of the most popular taped interviews I’ve ever done is “The Go-To Guy”, which I recorded with Gary Halbert over two years ago. It’s also one of the most valuable interviews… if you can “get” the lesson.

Trouble is, a lot of people just can’t wrap their minds around this kind of teaching. They scowl, shake their heads, and are sometimes energized enough to email me to complain.

They want “actionable” advice. Stuff like “… Step 12: Now lick the stamp and place it in the upper right corner of the envelope. Be careful not to put it on the back, because the postal people have to see it!…”

Anything other than that just goes over their head.

Listen: It’s important, when you come across stuff that looks like rambling from an expert, to stop and try to see if you’re not missing something. It’s true that you need lots of concrete advice to get really good in marketing, because the details are what gets your site posted, your ad mailed, and your orders filled.

But not everything is going to be cut and dried. When I was coming up through the ranks, I worked with a lot of amazingly talented veterans. And while I took copious notes about the tricks they used, I also paid close attention to the nonspecifics — how they dealt with clients, how they treated information, even the warm-up routines they went through before working. I couldn’t use everything I observed, because it often didn’t fit my style.

But often, by listening carefully to what seemed like tangents or rambling, I would come across details that changed my life.

This is why I tell so many stories in the Rant. I’m not trying to be colorful, or even interesting. I’m just relating the entire experience to you. Because a cold-blooded listing of the concrete lessons would miss some of the profound underlying genius.

Anyway… I just went through a brief email exchange with someone from Europe who complained that I wasted too much time being “entertaining”, and not enough time conveying true advice. The guy is not a meathead — I just liked the sound of that in the headline here.

But he very much DOES miss this lesson of “seeing the lesson within the telling” of the story. I guess it’s a little Zen thing. But you don’t have to be a Zen master to “get” it.

Not at all. All you have to do is empty your mind of contradictory and skeptical thoughts… and allow the story to come to you.

That said… here’s a few tidbits from my “Salesmanship 101” file that don’t require any mystical or intuitive understanding:

1. The whole concept of “reason why” copywriting can be summed up thusly: Give your prospect a reason to buy.

The trick here is… it often doesn’t even need to be a good reason. I’ve found that having a good reason for being in front of him with an offer works to a higher degree. As in: “I’m writing to you today because of a special opportunity that just came up. It’s a way for you to save 50% over what everyone else is paying for a very popular item… but you must contact me today. There are only a few of these items available at this price, and when they’re gone, that’s it.”

Most rookies will just say “buy this — it’s available.” Moving up a notch, they will include either the urgency factor of limited supply, OR the story of why this opportunity came up, but seldom both.

The pro’s pack their pitches with this stuff. It’s urgent, and here’s the reason. It’s in short supply, and here’s the reason. It’s the biggest bargain of your life, and here’s the reason.

Imagine your prospect standing in the virtual aisle of your virtual store, holding your product. He’s checking the price, looking around to see what similar items go for, frowning as he tries to remember what the price was last week, wondering what he’d say to his mate if he came home with it and she yelled at him for wasting money.

If you answer all those meandering objections, he feels confident. And, he’s armed with information he can use to make his case. “Yeah, I just got this for half-off. There were only 12 at this price, and they went like hotcakes, because it’s something all the players have…”

2. Long ago, someone tested having just one offer, versus having multiple “layers” of offers on the order form. They discovered that, sometimes, having just one offer worked better when you added a special bonus for ordering faster. This make it a multiple offer, with a choice. (Though it was a “set up” choice, since the free bonus was always something the prospect had to have.)

However, it was also discovered that reversing the order of multiple options increased sales of the higher priced option.

The “intuitive” way of listing products is to have the lowest priced version first, followed by the next highest-priced one, and then the next, and so on. You’d think, since the copy explaining each offer was so close to the next one, that the reader could do his comparing easily and come to a rational decsion.

Not so. Listing the lowest price first resulted in most purchases being the lowest offer. Reversing the order resulted in most purchases being the highest priced offer.

Lesson: Even in the seconds it takes to read an order form, there are subtle psychological earthquakes going on in the prospect’s mind. If he’s read through your pitch and gotten to the order form, he wants what you’re offering. But he’s still struggling with paying for it.

Letting him see the lowest price first gives him an “out” — his mind, which is forever making snap-impulsive decisions, can just say “Yeah, let’s get that.” And he may skip the copy for the more expensive option, out of fear of having to change his mind.

Once humans make a decision, it’s very hard to get them to change it. This is how MLM works — no matter how insane the facts of the deal are, MLM pushers (and they are pushers) know that all they have to do is get the mark to decide to go for it. After that, they may as well be in a cult.

3. Finally… to bump the results on your higher-priced options, be sure to use the “dump/gem” take-away tactic. Some car dealers use this by first showing a stripped down model, and making a show of the price — which is always the maximum they would ever charge for a car.

Then, they immediately show the premium version, as tricked out as a car can get. The premium price suddenly doesn’t look so bad. Outside the dealership, you may never consider paying $60,000 for a car. Out of the question. But inside, when you discover that ugly, common vehicles are being touted for $45,000… well, suddenly that luxury model seems like a bargain.

This seems to contradict the “list the highest priced version first”, but it doesn’t. In your sales pitch — before the order form is reached — you will generally “build” your offer, even starting with the lowest priced option.

But you’re not “building” in the order form — you’re asking for a decision, an action. It’s the moment of truth.

Subtle difference.

When you’re selling product through mulitple offers, make sure to have the lowest priced offer as expensive as you can possibly go and still make the sale.

Then — and here’s the trick — make sure your highest-price option has a jaw-dropping amount of added-on value. Stuff the prospect would drool over, and desperately wants… but can only get in the premium option.

And list that option first. If there are any snap decisions to be made, let the first candidate be your best deal.

John Carlton

P.S. I will be posting again after the Super Bowl. An embarrassing number of people watch this meaningless game, and of course the commercials are positioned to be the best Madison Ave has to offer.

Not a great track record. But always buzz. I’m betting there’s going to be something to be outraged about, no matter how PC they try to make the halftime show. They need it.

Pats by 20.

There’s A Lesson Here Somewhere…

I hate technology.

I mean, I use it, I rely on it, I earn my living with it… but I still hate it. Too much control over how things turn out. And you can’t hurt a machine when it screws up, because it has no feelings.

Wait, that’s wrong. Machines do have one emotion: Glee at completely mucking up your life. It’s easy to imagine the toaster giggling as it burns your toast. Or the computer as it fries your data.

I just did an hour-and-a-half recorded interview with another writer. This was a very important call, something I intended to have transcribed, put on CD, flagged in my marketing, the works. And we nailed the subject, too — the talk was going just great… until, around 45 minutes into it, I realized the cassette tape I was using had snarled up in the recorder.

At least twenty minutes of our chat now sounded like Godzilla snorting in his sleep.

This was not just a disaster… it was embarrassing. Because the other writer had laughed at me for being such a caveman in the first place. No one uses cassette recorders anymore, he said.

And he had Fed Exed me a fancy digital recording device. Wanted to drag me, kicking and screaming, into the twenty-first century.

Well, I didn’t have time to learn how to use the digital thingie before the call, so I relied on my trusty Panasonic VSC recorder. It had worked perfectly for a couple of years, faithfully recording calls with no problem at all.

Until today.

Fortunately, the other writer had recorded the call, too. On his sleek digital unit. So we were saved. I admitted, right there on the call, that he was right — I had been punished for relying on caveman technology. And he had rescued everything by being more modern.

Wait, this gets good. We finish the call, and I’m rolling up my sleeves in preparation of ripping the Panasonic apart before tossing it in the dumpster… and the other writer calls back.

Guess what? His fancy ass digital recorder had only recorded his part of the conversation. He sounded like an insane man responding to voices in his head for 90 minutes.

So old-school technology failed us, and cutting-edge technology failed us.

You know what didn’t fail us? Pencil and paper. I jotted down lots of notes during the call. If we can’t still rescue this recording — and it’s looking grim — we can do it again. From my notes.

It still sucks. Reminds of a guy they found a couple of years ago up in the Sierras. His car had slid off the road, and though he wasn’t mortally hurt, he died anyway. Stuck in the wreck. Had a cell phone that couldn’t get a signal, a $40,000 car that wouldn’t move or let him go, a wallet full of credit cards and cash, a nice suit, designer glasses and one last gourmet meal in his gut.

And he died anyway. Starved to death, just as easily and rudely as his caveman ancestors sometimes had. At the mercy of nature.

Sometimes, when the TV, the cell phone, the radios and iPods and DVD players and amps and microwaves and heaters and computers are all turned off… and there’s not even a hum of electricity anywhere to distract me… I wonder what the hell we’ve gotten ourselves into here.

Brave new world, indeed.

John Carlton

This Is Not Okay

The University of Connecticut has just published a study of high school students and their attitudes about the freedom of the press.

And, apparently, our school system is busy turning out a fresh crop of fascists. One third said the press in this country needed to be restricted in what they can say. Thirty-six percent said that the government should approve all news stories before they’re allowed to run.

This isn’t cute. Most folks here have never actually read the Constitution, and that’s fine, I suppose. This creates embarrassing moments, however. Back during the sixties, smart-ass protesters used to hand innocent civilians two pieces of paper (pretending to be part of a study), and asked if the person agreed or disagreed with what was written on each sheet.

It was fairly frightening to watch. One sheet listed the Bill of Rights (without identifying it as such)… and average “man in the street” types often found that document offensive. Too many risky rights, too many uncontrolled freedoms. Made people nervous.

The other sheet was a list of talking points from an Adolf Hitler speech in the thirties (his name did not appear on the paper)… and a lot of folks agreed with what that nutcase had to say about reigning in bad elements and setting up restrictive rules. Just what this country needed — a little hard-nosed authority.

Of course, fights often broke out when the smug students pointed out that you’d just trashed the foundation of our democracy, and gave a thumbs up to totalitarianism. The sixties were like that, you know. Lots of fighting. Lots of ideological trickery.

Now, it’s easy to see why a writer would want to enshrine the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”). I wanna write what I wanna write, and who the hell are you to tell me I can’t write about “that”. And — as infuriating as the press can be — it’s the ink-stained wretch who mans the front line of liberty here. Not the politician. Not the entertainer. Not the latest incarnation of Elmer Gantry.

It’s the journalist.

However, it’s not quite so easy to see the connection of all this to business. But it’s there — and it’s critical. The U.S. is the leader in entrepreneurial projects… and it’s because of the First Amendment. Us upstarts can go against entrenched corporations for a piece of the pie because we are able to lay out our offers, in front of God and everybody. Without unfair restrictions.

And let the best marketer get the sale.

Other countries are only now starting to catch on. Every marketing seminar I go to now has an astonishing high number of people from Asia, Europe, Australia, even South America. They’re getting the hang of hard-ball direct marketing… but ten years ago, it was almost unheard of outside of the U.S.

We’re spoiled. We’re not just comfortable with the right to say what we please, without fear… we take it for granted. The rest of the world is still acting like a kid who just said a dirty word at the dinner table… and they’re waiting to see what the reaction of authority will be.

So far, so good. I know a 21-year-old kid in Japan who is using what he’s learned from me and others to make a killing over there. That market has never seen this kind of advertising message before. And they’re eating it up. Next stop: China.

Meanwhile… America seems to be sliding backwards. Two kids out of every five think the government should approve stories before they get published? Are you friggin’ kidding me?

Yeah, yeah, I know there are restrictions on what we can say. Can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, can’t promise a pill will make you lose weight while you sleep, can’t slander someone. But most of these restrictions involve some type of damaging larceny or lying.

As of today, however, you still can’t get thrown in the hoosegow for telling the truth. The burden of proving what you say may be on your shoulders at times, but we still have the power of the First Amendment behind us.

And it truly is one powerful mutha. You want that amendment on your side. You want it watching your back, even if you don’t regularly write incendiary stuff. Cuz the road to fascism starts with allowing someone else to start censoring what you think and say.

So do yourself a favor. Google the Bill of Rights, and download it. (The copy I just printed from is all of one and a half pages long.) The Constitution laid out the workings of the government… and these amendments were added to ensure that individuals were still, without question, top dog in the country. Regardless of your status.

This was radical stuff two centuries ago, and it’s still causing a fuss.

And even good people don’t quite understand what that fuss is all about. Your neighbors, often, are quite willing to trash the Bill of Rights, because they don’t see how it affects them personally.

Don’t be like them. It won’t kill you to read up on the foundation of the society that has created such a wonderful business climate for you. You know I’m not a sappy guy… but people died for this. People died so you have the right to use balls-to-the-wall copy to sell your widgets online.

That is not a small thing.

And never forget that there are people out there who despise these freedoms. They aren’t all foreigners, either. Some of them are growing up next door.

John Carlton