Archive Monthly Archives: April 2006

Common Idiocy

A long time ago, I learned a simple rule of life: When the crowd rushes off in a lather to the right… I take a serious look at going left instead.

You don’t have to be a student of history for very long before it becomes blaringly apparent that the “common wisdom” of any culture is usually just deadass wrong. There’s something slithery deep in our nature that makes us gullible whenever “everyone” starts believing something.

After the dust settles, it’s hard to see how anyone could have bought into whatever was thought of as a brilliant idea at the time. Enron was featured on every major finanical publication’s front cover as the “company of the future” just months before it collapsed. People went absolutely berzerk over really stupid (and completely unworkable) Web concepts while the Dot Com bubble stretched toward the inevitable pop.

And yes, while some people made a bundle during the recent real estate land-grab… I’m sure you know more than a few folks who are sitting on muliple mortgages equal to, gosh, more than they earn. On paper, they look like finanical geniuses. If only they can get someone to buy those overpriced spec properties, hopefully before the next mortgage payment arrives…

It’s the same mentality that fuels witch hunts. Something in our lizard brain wants to believe the worst about everything and everyone. For some folks, fear is the only thing that gets them up in the morning. Especially when “everyone” shares the same jitters.

The impending death of the daily newspaper is one example. Everyone — and that includes newspaper owners — believes the Web will kill off the entire concept. Soon. Maybe by September.

And yet, if you examine the actual numbers, nothing of the sort is about to happen. While almost no town has two newpapers anymore, every town still has one. And while the evening edition has pretty much vanished, subscriptions to morning editions have actually increased a bit. (Add online readership, and the numbers start to look staggering.)

More important… the actual business of running a newpaper remains mega-profitable. It’s just not profitable in a way that excites Wall Street. Traders hate slow, plodding, unsexy cash cows.

There’s a great post by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker last week about this. Newspapers will mutate, and probably stop trying to compete with the Web for reporting the latest national and international news… but will continue to be the primary source of LOCAL news. And, of course, still the first-choice for classified ads.

I mention this, because I just got back from yet another seminar, where otherwise smart people in the audience occasionally questioned the wisdom of using direct mail “anymore” to sell anything.

You know… because “no one reads mail” these days.

The fact is… I almost hesitate to show new clients how to use direct mail now. Not because it doesn’t work anymore, though.

Naw. Because it works so WELL.

And it’s kinda nice that the volume of competing junk mail has started to decline. The less number of marketers who get hip to the power of good (not bad) direct mail… the better it is for those of us who know the truth.

I love the Web, and I’ve made a ton of money using it. There’s more to be made, and I’m thoroughly enjoying going deeper and deeper into the wonderful world of nurturing and/or pillaging house lists through email.

But there will always be certain advantages to mail you can open and hold in your hands. No matter how “virtual” your world gets, the “real” world of senses and tangible materials will never go away.

Right now, the crowd is rushing off in crazy directions, like lemmings hunting for a cliff.

And I’m sort of enjoying the relative tranquility of strolling in the opposite direction.

Something to consider as you make your marketing plans for the coming days of turmoil and excitement.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

P.S. I’ll be discussing, in more depth, matters just like this during the Tactic7 teleseminars we’ve got scheduled. If you haven’t yet signed up, you need to. Go to: and get the skinny. Time is short, because the calls start Wednesday, dude.

Being Told “No”

One of the fun parts of watching The Apprentice is seeing how younger, less experienced people handle business decisions. I’m sure that most of America is clueless about how they, personally, would solve any of the tasks given… but for veteran entrepreneurs and business owners, it’s refreshing to be presented with business puzzles, and match your wit against what the teams do.

Plus, best of all, you get to see conflict and resolution, all in one tidy hour.

The downside of this, of course, is that often the young contestants display such a piss-poor understanding of basic marketing and advertising savvy… that the show becomes a horror movie. Sort of like “Trump: The Slasher Version”.

The basics are all about concepts, pricing, marketing models and crafting a killer pitch aimed at the right target audience. Mostly, I think it’s unfair to expect kids (and yes, these are ALL kids) to cover so much conceptual ground with no mentoring, or time to study up. In real life, for example, you don’t just decide to create the graphics and copy for a product at four o’clock one afternoon, and have it finished by ten that night.

Especially if you’re clueless about how to do it. It’s like that oft-repeated scene in the old “Our Gang” shorts — Spanky and Alfalfa turn to each other and say “Let’s put on our own Broadway show!” (The same theme was repeated over and over for the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies, too.) And suddenly, you have these absurd Rube Goldberg machinations for lighting, stage design, curtains, and effects.

In the movies, it works out, somehow.

In real life… not so much.

But that’s the way this game is set up, and that’s the way they must play it.

During these more obtuse tasks — and I mean, really, why would Trump test the mettle of an apprentice by having them flog cheap brochures? — the show focuses more on the soap opera side of things.

Which, if you ever have to deal with people in your business, can be priceless.

Tonight, the tall, arrogant young woman Andrea got the axe. Bit of a surprise, because she seemed invincible in previous weeks — The Donald had taken to her, and she had a success record of being the honcho.

Here’s the lesson I was reminded of: I have had many clients over the years base their products around a “talent” — a person, who they either filmed doing something, or who was the “star” of the book or show. This is a good model, because it gives an otherwise corporate-looking product a little honest soul and personality.

The problem arrives when the “star” isn’t one of the owners. To take just one example, I have famous clients who are actually anonymous… and create products centered around people they find, film, and promote. The “star” of the show doesn’t get to make any decisions about the marketing, the advertising, or anything else. They just show up, do their thang, and collect a check.

Therein lies the rub of the model.

Time after time, my clients have taken someone with a little bit of honest talent (or an unexploited secret) who was living in obscurity… broke and desperate… and made them a household name.

At first, the “star” is flush with gratitude, and cooperative to a fault.

Then, the checks start arriving.

And everything changes.

I call it “The Primadonna Syndrome”. That’s our term for someone who suddenly believes that THEY are the reason the product sells so well.

It’s not the marketing. Not the list. Not the copy.

It’s them.

The transformation can happen slowly or (as is usually the case), almost overnight. It sort of depends who has their ear. I suspect it’s often the spouse… who, late one night after they’ve been celebrating the success of the promotion, leans over and says “Honey, they’re taking advantage of you, you know. You should be getting much, much more of the profit… because you ARE the star.”

And they come back, actually offended that they had been “taken advantage of” by my clients. A month prior, they couldn’t rub two nickels together, and now they’re cashing checks that are bigger than what they made the entire previous year.

Proof, they will tell you, that they’re a true “star”.

My clients made a lot of mistakes in the early days, before I helped them see how the “Primadonna Syndrome” would occur almost every single time. (Actually, it’s EVERY single time, but that’s a more advanced lesson.) For example, in the first few projects, they actually made the “talent” a quasi-partner, by cutting him in for a share of the profits. It seemed like a nice, fair share, too.

In terms of other businesses, it was friggin’ GENEROUS.

But the “star”, lacking experience in business, only saw the piece of pie he was being served, and judged it against what he imaged the other guys were divvying up.

Every single one of those relationships went south.

Do you know what my clients now say, when a “star” clears his throat to begin the “I should get a bigger cut” speech?

They say: “Next.”

Because there is a long, long line of other “stars” right behind Mr. Primadonna, eager to have their shot at being the “talent” in one of these lucrative projects.

It’s not the “talent” that makes the project work.

It’s the marketing. It’s the list. And it’s the copy.

(Actually, after so many years of dealing with ungrateful — but expected — greed, my clients now have a “Primadonna” talk with each new “star”… before the project rolls. They tell the “star” exactly how he is going to feel after receiving his check, and how that greed will transform his thinking. Then… they remind him that he only got his chance, because the guy in front of him actually said and felt those things. Sometimes, this warning alert can slow the progress of “Primadonna Syndrome”. But it never stops it entirely.)

The root of the problem is lack of business experience. A savvy guy understands the game, and understands his place in the game. You can change your place, and you can even sometimes change the game… but not by ignoring reality.

One of the primary lessons of business is networking — and that takes getting along with people. It really does. That’s why I stress the “bonding” process of advanced salesmanship so much. Your market is people, and your associates are people — and while you can still be an asshole and win (as The Donald has proven)… you can’t be a clueless asshole and win.

Tonight, this woman Andrea reminded me of every other person I’ve ever had to deal with… who had never been told “no” in her life. You don’t see this as much in older people, because they’ve had more of an opportunity to get bitch-slapped by life.

Old people can be amazingly arrogant, of course… but it’s often a savvier kind of arrogance. They know they have to back it up.

Younger people — especially attractive, well-schooled ones who have not yet lived through a real recession, let alone any grand disaster — have a more obnoxious kind of arrogance. And a lot of it is simply because they’ve gotten away with this crap their entire life, without ever being told “no”.

Andrea — this tall, imposing, imperious and, yes, arrogant woman — was reduced to tears tonight by getting told “no” by Trump. Her walls crumbled under the mildest of assaults, because life (to this point) had taught her that an arrogant attitude worked. And it will, to an extent. Most people recoil from any kind of confrontation at all, and so there is little initial feedback for the person ramming their way through life with blunt arrogance.

I was arrogant, once. The same kind of empty, unsupportable arrogance this young woman used as protection. But I didn’t become a freelancer until after I’d been fired from numerous jobs, and been told “no” by life a thousand times. I never liked it, but it steeled me against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune once I did go after success — without that experience of being told “no”, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

In fact, it’s probably the single most important realization you can make when you’re young, and arrogance comes so easily. Owning a little humility doesn’t stunt your abilities to get stuff done.

It just helps you shrug off the small shit.

And it puts a needed damper on your ego when you get too full of yourself.

Something to think about.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

Well, How Serious ARE You?

Quick note before I jet off to Washington, DC:

I’ve teamed up with Perry Marshall, Dr. Harlan Kilstein, and David Garfinkel to put together a whole new series of teleseminars… on a white-hot subject that has gotten almost zero attention from other “guru’s”.

Yet… what we’re gonna talk about is the KEY to putting together all the different parts of rapid, exciting success.

And my question to you is: How serious are you about building a seven-figure business?

To find out what’s going on, go to

All will be explained.

This is hot. We’re gonna rattle some cages, and create a fuss in both the online and offline business world.

Check it out.

Stay frosty,


I’m So Wired In, It’s Scary

In case anyone still doubts just how wired I am into the culture… consider this:

While writing my Rant newsletter last month, I went off about the wonders of “smell-o-vision”… an absurd gimmick used a few times back in the fifties, in a few theaters: While you watched the movie, a little box under your seat would shoot puffs of scents onto your pant leg.

You see a rose on the screen… you smell a rose wafting up from below your seat… and (be still, my heart) you were supposed to just go crazy or something.

The idea was to make the movie-viewing experience a “total sensory extravaganza”.

Didn’t catch on. Too messy, unpredictable… and I hear that people didn’t appreciate smelling like a mulch pile on leaving the theater. (I think John “Pink Flamingos” Waters toyed with smell technology in the 80s, and no, I don’t really want to think about how he may have used it in a theater.)

Nevertheless, I predicted it was time to bring smell-o-vision back… especially since cuttng-edge Web marketers are so hot on making your online experience “multi-sensual”.

I joked, mostly. But not entirely — after all, the fastest way to ignite a memory really is through odors. The right scent can send you off to Reminisce Land faster than any other sense. Specific memories, too. (A whiff of Herbal Essence shampoo, for example, can zoom me right back to a certain damp Tuesday afternoon in my old college co-op hoouse… the one dubbed Ghetto Manor, for reasons I may or may not explain in another post.)

And people have mocked me, a bit, for making such a nutty observation.

Well, looky here: USA Today reports last week that, indeed, a Japanese theater is going to use smell-o-vision for the latest Colin Ferrell movie, “The New World”.

I’m sure it will be a spectacular failure, but give ’em kudos for trying.

And don’t turn your nose up at the possibilities, either — there have been some very successful direct mail campaigns based on smell. It’s tricky, but if you can pull it off, you can put the amazing power of triggering pleasant memories to work for you.

Something to consider, as apparently technology has been aimed at your nose once again.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

P.S. I’m out of the office now until next Tuesday. Going to a marketing summit in Washington DC. Smell the cherry blossoms, be a museum whore for a few off days, get out of Dodge.

My trusty assistant Diane has gone off on vacation, too, so the office is essentially closed until the 24th. Don’t panic, and remember to let the cat in at night.

P.P.S. Plus, don’t forget to sign up for automatic notification of future Big Damn Blog posts. The little sign-in box is up on the top right here — just leave your email.

The Schmuck Vs. The Good Buddy

There’s a lot of discussion these days about frequency — specificially, how often you should email your house list.

There are two schools of thought now in the cyber-marketing community: One, the “Vikings” who treat everyone who opts in as a resource to be pillaged and re-pillaged until it’s burnt to the ground. These guys hit their list often, and without mercy.

It can work. But it has a price — namely, you will burn out the interest of your list in what you offer very quickly. For many marketers, that’s just fine. They know how to find endless veins of traffic, and lure fresh meat into their lair efficiently — where, each newbie will be forced to either act or opt out.

The other school of thought: Treat your list like a precious herd. Nurture it, and go for the long-term relationship.

This can work, too. Especially if you’ve got an inkling of the “lifetime value” of each person on your list. Sometimes a customer will buy several things from you, but not all at once. Maybe they need time to devour each product as they buy it, or maybe they just need to “come into heat” about what you have every few months, and ignore you the rest of the time.

This is called “working the back end”, and if your marketing model has lots of stuff to offer an interested prospect, you want to nurse them along tenderly rather than rape them and leave them for dead.

Like I said — both models can work. You have a choice.

But here’s something most marketers seldom consider: How welcome you are in your prospect’s life.

Neither model will work very well if you’re a pain. Both can work like crazy if you bond well.

So ask yourself: Is your “persona” a schmuck who repels trust, or a good buddy who reeks of credibility?

This doesn’t mean you have to be a Mr. Nice Guy. (Haven’t you had a good buddy before who was pretty much a beast, but still fun to hang around with?)

Most marketers are now aware of the “Rich Jerk” phenomenon — a very crafty marketer who has styled himself after the old Robert Ringer model being a very effective asshole. After you’ve been in business for a while… any business… you start to realize that being a nice person doesn’t win you any points. And yet, being a cold-hearted bastard can postiion you — sometimes — as the guy who gets the most cake.

I don’t recommend this tactic. I play hard-ball, myself… but only as far as getting the job done. I’m more like the hard-ass sarge who kicks your butt in boot camp, because that’s the fastest and most effective way to get you in shape. It’s actually an act of tough-love.

I do this, because that’s what it took to shake me out of my daze as a young, clueless drifter with zero discipline. I would have never had the “a-ha!” experience that started my now-legendary career arc if I’d taken an easier road.

Some guys, however, are mean just because deep down they’re wounded animals, and they aren’t happy unless everyone around them is miserable. They want your self-esteem as gut-shot as their own.

Anyway, that’s a different lesson.

For the email frequency thing, it’s better to think of the people in your life who you want to hear from every day… or every week… or however long you’re considering emailing your list. Really put some thought into this — what kind of personality does it take to make you welcome in your prospect’s life, as often as you’re going to email him?

I urge every marketer to work on their personality — it’s the “X” factor in wild success that most rookies miss entirely. They’re too obsessed with the flotsam and jetsam of just getting any response at all.

This is an advanced tactic, however. Think long and hard about what it would take for someone to be welcome in your life… to make you eager to open their email, every time one appeared in your in-box.

Most marketers blow this, because they ignore the social dynamics of weaseling their way into their prospect’s day. A few master it, however, and they enjoy amazingly high readership and high action.

Something to think about. Be that guy your list loves to hear from.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

P.S. I put my first podcast up at iTunes. It’s under business and marketing, and titled “How To Write A Damn Good Ad… In 9 Minutes.” Check it out. It’s free.

P.P.S. Also, I’ve fired up the RSS feed on this blog, and installed a way to be notified when I post. It’s still a fragile little option, so let me know if you have trouble, and I’ll sic my geek on it post haste.

P.P.P.S. The Apprentice double-feature was kind of lame this week, don’t you think? The basic lesson is good enough — do your detective work and research, and success is a heck of a lot easier. Plus: Making assumptions without adequate input or info is just silly.

Better tasks would create better drama, though. I caught myself yawning and able to predict the outcome.

Or… gosh… maybe we just witnessed a shark-jumping…

The Bane Of Integrity

Just now walked back into my office after… yeah, I know… watching The Apprentice.

I feel odd, too. The wonderful woman I share my life with disagrees whole-hearted with me on this, and we usually agree.

But this time, I actually felt something other than raw amusement at the end of the show. I’ve always known that Trump is just a royal prick, and I have zero respect for him. If you’ve heard him speak, and you have a different opinion, I would be astonished.

He’s very insecure, he’s a bully, and he surrounds himself with oily sycophants whose main job is to kiss his butt and fluff his sour ego. If Trump was an oddity in business, it would merely be entertaining. But he’s just the most visible example of a breed that dominates capitalism.

Emulate him if you must… but know that you will be required to kill off every scrap of integrity in your soul to attain his position in life.

The guy he fired tonight, though a bit of a fool, at least has integrity. He threw himself on the barbed wire, and part of me respects him for that. In that kind of situation — trapped in a game where someone has to be sacrificed, and no one deserves it… the good leader steps up. People make fun of alpha apes in the wild, because they’re lazy and selfish… but when danger approaches, they never hesitate to throw themselves in harm’s way.

I’ve talked with a lot of guys who’ve been in deadly combat. And they all say the same thing: You cannot tell beforehand who will chicken out, and who will step up. The big, strong guy with the beligerent mouth can turn out to be a coward… and guys like Audie Murphy — who was described as looking like a girl scout — are dismissed and ingored and belittled… until they prove themselves, astounding their doubters.

It’s not ego and bragging that grease the skids of success. It’s action. Maybe you believe Trump is a man of action and decisiveness… and maybe you could prove it to me. But I’ve seen a lot of people in power in my time, and I’ve become a fair judge of character. And Trump doesn’t measure up. How do you think he would have acted, put in the situation of the guy he let go?

Tonight’s episode had all the trappings of a Shakespearean tragedy — lots of choices to make, none of them easy or good. The young man who got the boot understood, and protected those he felt responsible for. So far, he’s the ONLY contestant who’s shown a scrap of leadership and integrity.

And it got him fired.

Yeah, he screwed up, a bit. And yeah, it’s a silly game, after all. (The absurdity of asking young people to become experts at jingles in a single evening is like a plot designed in hell — and when you add the fact that veteran admen know jingles are mostly worthless sales tools anyway, the situation becomes farce.)

In my career, I have studied under the best in the biz — legendary salesmen and writers and entrepreneurs who have an uncanny sense of being able to work themselves into a position to be successful, against all odds. And yet, I’ve seen them take the fall, too. Even when they could have taken the easy way out.

Seeing that, in my learning years, kept me in this crazy meta-game of business. Much of what I saw during my time behind the thrones of so many corporations actually sickened me. I have a romantic side that I just couldn’t squelch, and often I felt that quirk would eventually disqualify me from being successful.

Because so many of the truly successful people I encountered were just rotten bastards.

Fortunately, I found heroes scattered among the selfish cowards and bullies. People who didn’t flinch when tough decisions had to be made… and that jived with how I was brought up. To take responsibility, even if it meant getting burned.

Screw Trump. He may have the bucks, but he’s hollow. And like the cowardly blowhards of talk radio, he cannot handle confrontation. (It’s true — look up the story about him and Merv Griffin, a business opponent Trump thought he could demolish easily… until Griffin ate Donald’s lunch, over and over. Then look up the recent lawsuit Trump has brought against a small-time author who said some things he didn’t like. Petty, ego-driven nonsense. Real men don’t “get even” when they’re wrong.)

It’s complex, I know. The kind of romantic “stand up for something” attitude I’m talking about is what got the Light Brigade butchered in the Crimea… they became legends, but they didn’t live to know it.

You gotta make your own decisions in life. Right now, the guys hogging the limelight tend toward the Machiavellian rather than a more pure code of honor. In game theory, that’s what works much of the time.

But winning is about more than just amassing bucks and beating down the other guy. Please trust me on this.

I guess I have “beer” morals in a world dominated by “champagne” entitlement.

I can’t believe this episode riled me up so much.

The only thing I wish had happened… was that the guy who got fired had the sense to stand up and turn his back on Trump before he could deliver his patented “Yer fired!” bombast. In other words, fire Donald, and quit with dignity.

Or, screw dignity. Give The Donald the finger as you leave the boardroom. Get the last word in, and live in infamy.

Okay, I’m done. I feel better, too. Something about this integrity thing just got my blood moving.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

P.S. I had to disable the comments for a while, because some Swedish spammers were sending tsunami’s of spam. Beat them down, and comments are again welcome. Feel free to rain on my parade or support my hair-brained notions, to your heart’s content. Always happy to hear what people have to say…