Stupid, Foolish Greed


Just flew in from San Diego, and boy are my arms tired.

Okay, scratch that bad joke. I’m exhausted. Forgive me.

Still, since getting back in the office and plowing through the thousand or so emails waiting for me after being gone for all of six days… I have noticed a very nasty trend among wannabe entrepreneurs. And I feel the need to discuss it.

It’s all about attitude.

The “bad” kind of attitude.

Let me explain: I teach newbies in business to be more aggressive in their salesmanship. But I’m very careful when I define just what I mean by “aggressive” — I do NOT mean go out there and lie, cheat and steal to get people’s money.

Far from it. My point is this: Most people, when selling, are either embarrassed or shy… and they need to get over it. If you truly have a great product that your prospect needs or can really use, then shame on you if you botch the sales pitch and they end up not buying.

It’s your JOB to get your point across. You have something of quality that will make their life better… so step up and make your pitch: This is what the product does, this is how it can help you, here’ s how to get it.

Most folks “sell from their heels”… meaning, they have a garbled sales message, and never clearly and forcefully ask for the order. That murders results.

So, yeah, I teach “attitude”. The attitude of a clear-headed, persuasive salesman with a good product or service to offer.

But what I’m seeing a lot of now is “bad” attitude. Pure, ugly greed.

A subscriber just told me about the hassles he’s getting from “experts”, trying to use quotes from them in his new book. Now, I consider quotes to be free publicity — it’s a good thing to have people reference you as someone worthy of a quote. There’s no bad side to this (unless the quote is somehow twisted into being an endorsement of something you don’t actually endorse — then, it’s fraud).

Nevertheless, this subscriber was encountering all kinds of petty nonsense. People were asking for $70 for the “right” to use a quote, or dictating all sorts of ridiculous conditions (which mostly just meant their quote would never be used).

Seventy bucks for quoting you? What the hell is that all about?

Stupid greed. Foolish, stupid, unnecessary greed.

I recieved an email that I liked so much, I wanted to feature it in an article. So I asked the writer for permission… and got a “what’s in it for me?” reply.

I won’t even get into a conversation with the guy now. What’s in it for him? Nothing. I’ll find some other way to illustrate my point.

And you know what? It’s easy. There is a line out the door of people desperate to be quoted by me. People who understand the PR value, and won’t let stupid greed get in their way.

I have clients who create teaching DVDs using unknown experts as the “star”. They’ve put out literally hundreds of these projects… mostly with different stars in each one. Occasionally, when the market responds well to a given series, they will produce multiple DVDs with the same star. It all depends on the results and feedback from the buying audience.

And there is no end to the line of potential “stars” waiting for their turn at the game.

Nevertheless, something we call “The Primadonna Syndrome” occurs almost every time a DVD sells well. (And sometimes it happens even when sales are dismal.)

Here is how the syndrome plays out: At first, the unknown expert is excited to get the chance to create a teaching DVD that will be aggressively sold by this proven marketing company. They are ecstatic to get a fat check for their participation, yet they are humble because they know they could never make the project successful on their own.

Then, they get that second check, as sales come in. At the same time, they start to hear the “buzz” about their “stardom”.

The humbleness disappears.

Sometimes, it is a spouse or partner or friend who gets in their ear, telling them the reason for all the buzz and sales is that they’re so GREAT. Without their “star power”, the project wouldn’t be successful. They are, suddenly, the single most important element in the success equation.

And they now believe they deserve more money. More fawning attention. More of everything.

The truth: They are completely replaceable. There is a long line of unknown experts behind them, waiting for their shot.

And they very much are NOT the reason behind the success of the project. That credit belongs to the advertising and marketing — the stuff the company brings to the table.

So… what happens, once “The Primadonna Syndrome” kicks in, and the star demands more?

My clients sigh… and simply say “Next.”

And the primadonna quickly goes back to being unknown again.

This happens so often, and so predictably, that I urged my client to write up a “Primadonna Pre-emptive” letter, which is sent to each new “star-to-be”. It says something like: “Right now, you are grateful for this opportunity. The first check you receive will be a happy thing in your life. However, when you receive the second check, you will begin to feel that you are the reason for the success of this project…”

And it goes on to explain exactly the thoughts and feelings they will have as the syndrome takes hold. This pre-emptive strike has actually kept a few experts in check. But many more ignore it, and succumb to the idea that their ego deserves the feeding it cries out for.

The shock of reality will ruin them for a very long time. Some never recover, and end up drunken bores babbling about their failed shot at stardom to all who will listen (though they seldom admit their own culpability in the failure).

Why is this stupid, foolish greed so common?

I don’t know. It’s part of a “starvation mentality” most people have. I recently read a USA-Today interview with Howie Mandel about the psychology of people on his game show (“Deal Or No Deal”), and he is dumbfounded by the decisions most players make. They almost always come to the show with a sensible figure they will accept (like “If I get offered $70,000, I’m taking it, no matter what”)… and immediately get glassy-eyed and pass it up.

They’re like deer in the headlights. That million-dollar max amount is “theirs”, godamnit.

And they will gamble and risk a fortune to get it.

Result: Many go home with $100, or less. They pass up offers that would have put their kids through college, paid the down on a new house, and helped them retire… because of stupid, foolish greed.

I’m sick of it, and will not deal with anyone who shows evidence of this “gimme, gimme, gimme” attitude.

I don’t have to. There are plenty of other folks out there who have their heads screwed on straight.

Nearly ALL of the super-successful entrepreneurs I deal with are hyper-generous, quick to share, and eager to give back. The fundamental books (like “Think And Grow Rich” and “MoneyLove”) that most of us read early in our careers support this attitude. (I even devote an entire chapter to it in my course “Kick Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel”.)

You don’t get ahead by being selfish and greedy. Often, it will hold you back, instead.

There’s plenty of success out there to be had. Enough for everyone, really.

And, in many wonderful ways, good guys do finish first. That realization has kept me in the game, and allowed me to relax and be myself even when engaged in maximum capitalism.

Life can be cruel and senselessly unfair at times. But that doesn’t mean you need to be cruel, unfair or greedy in response.

Gut-check yourself. If you’ve been harboring a “What’s in it for me?” attitude, look no further for reasons you’re struggling.

Loosen up, and stop pretending that every dollar you don’t grab and keep today will never be available ever again. That’s not the way the ecomony or the universe works.

In fact, we’ve just entered the last fiscal quarter of the year. Why don’t you write a big, fat check to a deserving charity, today, and send it off. Make it hurt a little bit — share your success, and see what happens inside your heart and head as you do it.

As wacky and dumb as people can be, we’re still all on this crazy ride together. The bonds between all of us are real, no matter how much you try to hide and hoard.

It’s an important lesson.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

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  • Teresa says:

    Cool! And you can quote me on that.

  • I appreciate your defintion of agressive, and have so noted it. I’m definitely not an agressive person by nature – though your views on it make it more agreeable to my nature.

    Sounds like a lot of “greedy” people have just given “aggressive” a bad name.

    John A. Manley

  • John

    It is unfortunate that some business people sabotage their business by being the “wrong kind” of aggressive.

    When you give intelligently, you get. But you don’t have to expect it.

    You can quote me anytime John, I would be humbled.

    Joe Ratliff

  • Brian Clark says:

    You’ve got to give give give before you can ever get. That’s especially true in this environment, and I think you’ve made a good case that it’s always been the case.

  • Right on John. You hit the nail on the head. I too see many people who aren’t thinking long term and don’t look at the big picture. Everything we do has an effect. I live in Bangkok and see examples of this when it rains here. The taxis suddenly shut off their meters and want exuberant rates to take you anywhere. They sit in a long line of more than 100 taxis and insist on a rate of 4 times normal and would rather sit in the line than use their meter. Some tourists accept this but as you point out there is always someone willing to give you what you need at a fair price.

    Keep up the astute observations.


  • […] UPDATE: 9/20/06Marketing great John Carlton just posted a great article to his blog where he further illustrates examples of individuals and companies that are “dumb greedy”. Give it a read here: Stupid, Foolish Greed […]

  • Emette E. Massey says:

    John, you know you’re exactly right on when you say “they are completely replaceable.” Ironically this makes me think of the 1985 Dire Straits song “Money for Nothing.” But the irony is that these guys actually do work hard for their money like any top rated pro!

    And it just kills me when I hear about folks displaying such damn narrow minded selfish behavior. I mean really . . . $70 for a quote. Nuts!

    There’s something called “gratitude” that I believe more people should subscribe to. Some people these days are handed out every thing and expect even more! They have no clue what or how true value is determined or earned.

    And yes, I too much agree when you suggest many of the super-successful entreprenuers are quick to share and are eager to give back.

    Hell, take top gun copywriters like . . .well YOU, Gary Halbert, Gary Benvicenga and Clayton Makepeace. We’re getting a BILLION dollar marketing education from you guys all for the small cost of taping the Internet!

    Thanks Man! I for one appreciate it! To HELL with all the others who think they are winning the battle but losing the war!


    Emette E. Massey

  • John so true on a couple levels. First, the attitude about being aggressive when you sell. If your product or service rocks get up on your soap box and tell people about it. Don’t sit back on your heels hoping, wishing, and wiggling yourself through some iffy pitch. If you believe in yourself and what your selling, sell it.

    And secondly, the greed factor. My first venture into the world of “guru” marketing came by a coach in the fitness industry who was well respected by many and revered by most. He wanted to take his business to the next level with info products, a book, coaching groups etc. All was well and good until he (and his girlfriend) got greedy. Then it all changed. He was generous, especially with me, and with his time for others. Then the marketing machine took over. ROI. Dollars. “Why should I pay you that royalty when you wrote that stuff for me last year?” Unbelievable.

    The best compliment I ever received about my copywriting skills came from a former coaching group member of this guru. I had been writing the copy for this guru for about a year and then the relationship went south. The guru took over writing his own copy with a very greedy/aggressive tone that was completely not him. It was salesy. It sucked. This former client found out that I was writing copy for him but was unaware that I had recently stopped. The “new” salesletter was so different than everything I had written this client said, “Wow, you’re good. That letter was so salesy.” Turns out it didn’t turn a dime. And everything I had done before that had sold a ton. I was so proud that my copy had kept the tone of the original guru and NOT the one who turned greedy. Since then the guru’s business has actually sagged a bunch. Respect has been lost by most because of the greedy tone that comes through in his copy.

    Money doesn’t make you evil, it just makes you more of who you are inside. If you’re a greedy bastard at your core it’s going to come out. But if you’re charitable and giving you’ll be more of the same.

    Thanks for a great blog John.


    Jonathan Edwards – Olympian, Copywriter

  • Nick Wright says:


    On Michel Fortin’s website’s forum,, Michel posted the question “Who’s Your Copywriting Hero?”

    Your name showed up… as we all would expect, because you are a copywriting guru.

    More importantly though, you give and give and give. You give tips to folks you’ve never met.

    You’ve taught me more about Marketing than the University of Cincinnati’s College of Business ever did… and you did it for free.

    And that’s one more reason why people will mention your name when asked “Who’s Your Copywriting Hero?”

    You give, you get.


    Nick Wright

  • Bob Pierce says:

    Great words of wisdom. Of course we’ve been down this road together a few times.

    The unspoken words that aren’t in your passage here, but were taught to us by yourself and Gary Halbert is to always “over-deliver” in your product or service. The same holds for the direct response community.

    Whn I look back over 20 years in the game so many long term successful campaigns have been linked to over-delivering on the promise. Unexpected gifts, premiums and simple communications.

    These things amplify personalization and assist in developing a “voice” of the company. It’s the direct response version of Madison Avenue’s “branding” mentality.

    Even with you writing for us over the years, you’ve always “over-delivered” on what was asked and agreed to. For those reading here, know that John lives his talk.

    Perry makes it a standard practice… Joe Polish does it… Fred Gleek does it… Ben Z does it even before the sale… there’s a pattern of success here.

    All these examples are “giving” type guys. Their excitement for business, people and their product often boils over to OUR collective benefit.

    The 80-20 rule remains in place… and the cream rises to the top. The karma of giving, sharing and creating community synergy is paramount to long term success.

    Let the greedy sucker fish eat the $#@! off the bottom of the aquarium. The view doesn’t change much down there.

  • Matt Gallant says:


    Your 20 years + of experience shines through on this post…

    And TRUST ME FOLKS… HE’S NAILING IT! In fact, if anyone here
    is creating info products, just pay people FLAT FEES. To hell,
    with royalties… That’s where people lose it… I just experienced
    that recently with a close friend.


    P.S. Too bad the “$70 quote dudes” don’t understand karma…
    Their lost…

  • Harun says:

    $70 a quote… hmmm OR I could simply go to (no affiliation but love the site) or heck, just google the keyword “quotes” and instantly get classic stuff from the REAL greats of history.

    I’m sure that there’s a quote for every need/want and/or desire than can be found and for FREE!..


  • Ramon Thomas says:

    Hey John

    thanks for the insights and the book recommendation. I’ve read Think and Grow Rich and will add MoneyLove to my wish list.


  • DMH says:

    Too true.

    So many people seem to mangle the quote about “Money being the root of all evil” and somehow blame human greed on poor, defenseless money.

    When the actual quote “A love of money is the root of all evil” says it all.

    A love of money or “stupid, foolish greed” is obnoxious, painful and self-defeating. It’s funny how constant human behavior has been over the ages, regardless of modernization, development and technology.

    Thanks John – this one’s going on file

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