If this is your first time here, you’re in for a treat.
First: There are over 15 years worth of archives here, all sizzling articles crammed with advice and insight and raw fun. Free. Just browse the stacks.
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Start anywhere. The entire blog is a vast playground for entrepreneurs, with joys and wonders abounding.
If you comment on anything, I’ll see it. I often personally respond to readers, too, so don’t be shy with questions.
See you inside…
P.S. Be sure to check out my Platinum Mastermind group, which is now meeting via Zoom every few months. It’s the longest-running “real” mastermind in the game, and has changed more lives than you could ever believe.
And when this Plague backs off, we’ll be meeting in person again.
However, there are only a dozen spots available for each meeting, and those spots go fast. So go here now to see if this amazing gathering is for you…
P.P.S. The above photo is from a Key West informercial shoot Gary and I did with Dan Kennedy, back around 1990 (the “good ol’ days”).
You’ll notice a ton of stories about those days in this blog, along with lessons learned and disasters averted and all the fun, outrage, harrowing adventures and wondrous victories from a life well-lived.
You’re batshit if you don’t sign up for this ride…
Let’s get right to the Dire Warning (and your brain may curdle if you ignore this): I’ve been paying close attention to human behavior for longer than many of my readers have been alive.
Because I felt so clueless, even as a kid, I devoured every available source of “spying” on how everyone else managed to exist in such a strange world.
This included reading advice columns (street-level psychology at work with Ann Landers and sis Abby), monitoring adult conversations, and stalking older kids (who were navigating life just a few hormones ahead of me).
So I’ve been a one-man research center for decades.
I still haunt multiple advice columns online, see what the trolls are up to in the comment sections of NYT opinion pages, and (here’s the important part) discuss human behavior with a wide selection of colleagues both online and in person.
The discussions are critical…
… because there is a FLOOD of bullshit cascading down on us from every direction in the culture.
It’s impossible for one individual to keep track of the spin, urban myths, misinformation campaigns, and (especially) the really, really, really awful investigative reporting that passes for news organizations today.
My colleagues are biz owners and pro writers well-trained in applying high-level skepticism to incoming data, and following through on research when necessary.
We represent every age group of functioning adults in the culture, from all over the world (including the US hinterlands, Canucks, Limeys and other uncivilized joints), specializing in all kinds of different markets, hobbies, lifestyles and professional goals.
So when — for example — the media gets looped into a meme on how millennials (the generation of kids just now emerging from college) are bringing their parents to job interviews, and are incapable of critical thought (because of helicopter parenting) and just generally not becoming adults at all…
… we can look behind the glib stories and anecdotes and see a deeper truth.
Such as how all of us, from every living generation, have oodles of friends and family who meet every single detail of the problems now being assigned to millennials.
The lack of independence, the living at home until late 30s, the whining and narcissism and sense of entitlement…
… when you get a broader view, from older and younger colleagues, you quickly see how DEEP the bullshit can get in a media firestorm.
I hunt down photos and resumes of the reporters, and sigh.
They’re like, twelve (or 32 going on 12) — insulated, given vast unearned attention through posts and stories, and dishing out accusations based on minuscule life experience.
And yet the stories stick, and become “common wisdom”.
As a marketer, you need to immerse your bad self into the culture, and understand what your prospects know and — very critical — THINK they know. And what they suspect they don’t know, or feel paranoid about not knowing.
That means you’ve got to go deep, all the time, and have resources you trust to bounce incoming data and ideas off of.
Masterminds have always been my #1 tool for this.
I’m in multiple free ones, have paid for membership in others…
… and host my own very elite mastermind 3 times a year. (If you think you’d enjoy being locked in a room with me and a small group of focused entrepreneurs just like you, then go here to see how you might join.)
The arrival of the Web, and all the vast access to data and info it’s brought, has NOT delivered “truth” to your door.
Just the opposite — it’s piled up the BS so high that you need, more than ever, some serious resources to help you navigate the nonsense.
Humans like to believe we’re able to conquer worlds and markets all on our lonesome, like Hollywood insists.
However, I know of ZERO top marketers (and I know a ton) who operate alone.
They seek out, and USE, the advice and brainstorming of colleagues whenever possible.
Their decisions (especially the really important ones) are laced with facts, intuition, gut feelings, facts, input from peers, facts and more facts.
Not “common wisdom” derived from the cultural wasteland out there.
You wanna swim in the wealthy ponds, you best get hip to this.
Find colleagues you trust, from all age groups and as far from your usual intellectual echo chamber as possible, and never stop challenging every thought that enters your brain.
Alone, entrepreneurs are vulnerable to idiotic decisions.
Together, you may still go with the idiocy, but at least you’ll go into it knowing all the alternative data and opinion and advice...
“You want it, you take it… you pay the price.” (Bruuuuuuce Springsteen, “Prove It All Night”)
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.
I’m waiting for my Uber to take me to the Tampa airport at this ungodly hour because when booking my flight home, I obviously was hallucinating or drunk.
New rule for travel: Never, ever, ever book a 6 am flight. Cuz it requires getting up before the roosters, and that is almost never a good idea.
I’ve just spent a week in the Florida panhandle, first visiting my longtime friend Dean Jackson (he of the More Cheese, Less Whiskers podcast)…
… and then attending my colleague Kevin Rogers’ “Copy Chief Live” event.
Where there were raucous times with my other colleagues (like David Deutsch and Lori Haller and Parris Lampopolous and Mike Morgan and many others)…
… plus, as I fully expected and prepared for…
… a TON of fresh insight to living well and happily.
Because that’s what always happens you hang out at rowdy seminars like this. The speakers fill your head with lofty ideas, and your pals re-juice your brain with verve and stories and the sizzling secrets that fuel the best careers out there.
I had a few topics in mind that I wanted to bring up during private conversations, and that’s all the ammo I needed to get things rolling.
In two successive afternoons, for example, apropos of nothing, separate conversations with Dean Jackson and then Aussie James Schramko (who both also spoke at the event)…
… helped me solve two of the biggest problems now facing me in my little biz here.
No, you don’t need to know the particulars. I’ll be writing about them in further posts later on, as things progress beyond the “Holy cow, that’s a great idea!” stage and I start implementing them.
Stay tuned, here in the blog.
But I can assure they are both life-changing.
Cuz that’s what the guys at the top of the food chain in this little niche of the marketing world.
The thing I want to share with you is much more vital to YOUR jouney through life and biz.
Here it is:
Many of the greatest breakthroughs you have will concern “sticking points” that are hampering you reaching the Next Step of your career…
… whatever that Next Step might be.
And I’ve learned over the 40 sometimes-gruesome years of my own career that these sticking points are often…
… just blind spots that you can’t get a bead on.
And yet, just talking about them out loud with your colleagues can jigger loose the solutions.
I always prefer simple, elegant and easy solutions myself…
… and that’s exactly what I often get from hanging out with savvy colleagues.
The simple solutions that zoom me past the sticking points, and get me cooking on high heat again.
I’ve seen entire careers and once-thriving businesses collapse…
… because of problems that were actually easy to solve.
But the owners couldn’t get away from the ruts they’d dug for themselves to see those solutions.
They needed help, and didn’t get it in time.
Unfortunately, this is way too common. So many entrepreneurs and freelancers become too isolated to get the kind of input, advice and brainstorming that are crucial to quickly blowing through trouble.
For me, going to an event is rarely about the actual event.
No. Not by a long shot.
What I’m going for is the pleasure… and the breakthroughs… that come with simply hanging out with colleagues and the fresh wave of new brainiacs that they introduce me to during the event.
That’s the magic, my friend.
Other minds, with all the experience and tactics and breakthroughs they’ve been gathering for their entire careers.
It will blow your mind.
This is why so many top-of-the-game experts still haunt the halls of regular seminars and masterminds.
To get that good stuff that ONLY comes with hanging out with like-minded folks. Away from the bustle and distractions of “normal” biz life.
I just solved two of the biggest sticking points I’ve had for over a year… all in the space of two random conversations with colleagues I trust.
Who were happy to help.
Because I’ve helped them in the past the very same way.
Your network is your greatest resource, and always will be.
Never forget this.
P.S. The next upcoming Platinum mastermind I’ve hosted for over ten years is sold out, I believe. (Each meeting is limited to just a dozen or so people, because we spend so much time brainstorming and solving the problems for EACH attendee during the two-day event.)
However, you may still be able to squeeze into the following meeting, coming up next spring.
If you want to get a taste of what’s in store for you when you make it to one of these breakthrough-triggering meetings, just pop over here.
No obligation, of course, just for looking.
But you may want to check it out quickly, since spots fill up.
“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right…” (Stealer’s Wheel)
Thought I’d share Heads Up Alert #13 with you today: Your world is crammed with fools, tools, and drooling Neanderthals who, at best, are merely amusing characters in your life’s movie…
… but who can also be, at worst, the agents of your destruction.
Not everyone likes you, remember.
You have close friends, relatives, neighbors and colleagues secretly rooting for you to fail. (Sometimes not-so-secretly.)
There are folks out there who can muster alarming rage and target it directly (and very personally) at you…
… for crimes they’ve only imagined you’ve committed.
And, there are charming bastards out to harsh your mellow because that’s the game they need to play in life.
Humans are constantly conflicted over the existence of others in their world.
Heck, a good percentage of folks are in constant conflict with themselves — they don’t even need someone to play with. (My favorites, though, remain people who get mad at things like machines and objects. Like, that toaster is in league with his pitching wedge and the starter in his car, out to get him. So, destroy them!)
When you poke your head above the general fray — by becoming an entrepreneur, volunteering to help the PTA, run for office, whatever — your first lesson about surviving as a more public person will be to thicken your skin.
Cuz you’re gonna be attacked, no matter how sweet and lovable you are.
Your motives will be questioned, your history will be combed through for gossip-ammo, your looks will be mocked…
… and it can escalate fast if you engage.
Cuz that’s what the worst of the haters need to do — find a wall to bounce their rage off of.
When you respond, or even pay polite attention to the trolls who will come after you (and they will come in droves, relentlessly)…
… you are playing a game where you are guaranteed to lose.
Cuz there are no rules for the troll, and no “winning” the argument or setting the facts straight — they just want to jumpstart drama and destruction, and the more casualties the better.
Here are 3 very simple rules to help you out:
Rule #1. Pay as little attention to critics and haters as possible. In biz, hand off complaints to your customer support person or team, and have specific tactics for handling all situations.
Often, the best response will be to simply apologize, refund and blacklist the troublemakers.
Yes, even if they’re wrong.
Key: YOU should get away from dealing with trolls early in your career.
All legit complaints should have an easy path to get past your assistant, because you need to know how good people are being affected by your stuff.
But the trolls should be caught and released back into the wild without the chance to inflame your sense of decency and optimism.
Rule #2. Learn to quickly reframe incoming assaults on your integrity and worth, so you halt any adrenaline dumps before they knock you off your game.
Consider the source, remember who you are, remind yourself that the brave new digital world is wired to give trolls cover while they sow grief. (Comments, reviews, Yelp, etc.)
And know that legitimate complaints can help you become better…
… and any initial burst of anger or aggression can easily be turned around with some good old listening and calm response. (Some of my most rabidly-loyal customers started out hating my guts over something we easily clarified. Seriously. It’s like 3rd graders getting in a fistfight, only to become best friends for life afterwards.) (Okay, maybe that’s a male thing…)
Remember: You’re writing the script of your movie, as much as the universe will allow. And you really do have near-total control over your emotions, your fight-or-flight responses, your decisions to hate, love or just see what happens later.
Good reframing is just editing your script, so instead of losing control, you re-shoot the scene in your head so you’re the understanding, water-off-a-duck’s-back Adult In The Room who can remain in a state of Zen calm even while everyone else is freaking out.
Rule #3. Lastly… whenever I’m tempted to engage with trolls and critics (how DARE anyone give me a bad review on Amazon!), I just remember my favorite quote: “Never wrestle with a pig in shit. You both get filthy, but the pig likes it.”
Give the trolls in your life enough rope to hang themselves. When you’re living a good life, doing the right thing as often as possible, don’t get all hung up on what the critics and nay-sayers are demanding. Your fans, happy customers and reputation will balance things out.
P.S. Volume 2 of “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together” is out and a copy is eagerly awaiting your eyeballs.
So when you’re ready for more wisdom and cool advice, it’s time to catch up here.
“I’m a long gone daddy in the USA…” (Bruce.)
For most folks in America, July 4th is about picnics, blowing shit up, and toasting the gutsy nature of our country.
Born in defiance and battle, prickly and belligerent and idealistic, with built-in endless (and often absurd) political arguments…
… we’ve somehow made the grand experiment last a couple of centuries and a half.
For me, though, the real victory of the joint isn’t in the details of elections or legislation, or the question of how exceptional we are or aren’t as a culture.
Nope. My own pursuit of life and liberty has always balanced on the First Amendment…
… particularly the parts about freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
That’s the beating heart of this place. That’s the saving grace.
For every writer here… novelist, copywriter, journalist, blogger or disgruntled “letter to the editor” ranter…
… there is a long, gruesome pedigree of ancestor writers who were prosecuted or erased or bullied into silence, stretching back as far as history goes.
We’re so spoiled here with freedom of speech, that many naively believe it’s an essential privilege that, of course, is the rule and not the exception.
Yet, the opposite is true.
Even today, the right to speak or write about what’s on your mind remains curtailed, risky, and forbidden all over the planet.
Even here, the struggle to get to this point — where you and I can write “fuck” without fear of censorship or a visit from The Man — was an ongoing battle that claimed careers and lives of contemporaries.
I grew up owning banned books (from the notorious Grove Press, which insisted on publishing every author banned in the U.S. throughout the latter half of the 20th century), watching authorities destroy comics like Lenny Bruce and artists like Jim Morrison, and being pleasantly dumbstruck when respected magazines like The New Yorker finally began printing formerly-prohibited words like “motherfucker” in their articles.
It’s not just about swearing, or about sex, or even about the never-ending brawl between Puritanism and libertarianism.
Much deeper than that.
The offensive language and unhinged rants now common online are just a price to pay for the more important victory of Free Thought over censorship.
All those past writers and wannabe scribes, muzzled and cowed into submission or silence over the past eons, would weep with joy at the lack of control by The Man over what we think and write. Never mind the wonders of electricity, air travel, the InterWebs, the buzzing gadgets that dominate modern life — the real jaw-dropper is our ability to use our minds unfettered by outside authority.
It’s a shame folks here take it all for granted. That’s how you lose these kinds of privileges.
The offended classes gather power, see freedom of thought as a direct threat to that power, and wage constant war against it.
Most folks have no use for too much freedom — it’s kind of scary, full of challenges to their belief systems and ideologies and traditions.
And I’m all for having the sense to pull back a bit in situations where speaking like a drunken sailor will cause folks to clutch their pearls or faint. I’m fine with a little cognitive dissonance, where we pretend that kids have never heard a bad word before, or that “decent” literature and movies can be great art.
But do not infringe on my right to enjoy Shakespeare and Twain and George Carlin and Henry Miller without hiding (all have been banned or censored at some point in our history).
And I will write whatever the hell I choose to write, whenever I choose to write it.
We all have to pick our battles in life. Writers tend to be an introspective, introverted bunch who aren’t so hot with manning the barricades…
… which is why it took nearly the entire arc of civilization’s history to reach this point of unfettered free thought.
So we modern writers owe it to the ink-stained wretches of the past — our professional ancestors — to embrace, defend, and heap glory onto the practice today.
This kind of freedom was never a guaranteed deal.
The Founding Fathers argued about it, and current governments elsewhere still get queasy even considering letting nutballs like us off the leash, with no way to stop our brains from thinking way outside of the box.
I realize that many of my fellow citizens would be just fine with a few shackles on writers here and there. For them, other battles are more important. And that’s fine…
… as long as these nay-sayers keep losing that argument.
For me, the real fight of the past few generations — the fight worth dying for today — is freedom of speech. The unconditional freedom to think, and write, whatever goddamned crap I feel like writing about…
… whether it’s the next Great American Novel or just a funny post on social media skewering uptight jerks.
Or even another ad that raises eyebrows.
Yes, there are a few restrictions still. I’m okay with having a few legal lines that shall not be crossed (because they cause real harm, not theoretical harm).
But the restrictions should remain rare.
Hearing harsh language won’t damage your brain, no matter how freaked-out you get over it.
Being exposed to foreign ideas won’t change your biology.
And stumbling upon writing that offends you won’t cause civilization to crumble.
I’ll toast the First Amendment today, and every day afterward, for the rest of my life.
It was worth blowing shit up for. It’s worth every knock-down fight that has happened, and if more fighting is required, sign me up.
For all the faults and missteps and foibles of my country’s existence…
… I still allow myself to get choked up over Old Glory.
Because she flies over my continued ability to be the kind of writer my ancestors could barely dream of being.
P.S. Hey — make sure you’ve got my books with you when you go off on holiday.
You can order them right now, in the right-hand column here. The digital versions will be in your digital hands immediately, too… no waiting…
“There is nothing that cannot be achieved by a man who refuses to listen to reason” (Gary Halbert)
I was going to slap a quickie book on Amazon for you…
… stuffed with all the advice, shared wisdom, tactics and strange asides I’ve been assaulting folks with lately on my Facebook page.
But then I thought, “screw that”.
Why not just give the book to you here?
And that’s what I’m gonna do.
Hey, it saves me a ton of editing and detail work (which I loathe).
Brain Farts, Psych Insights, Strange Tales
& Goddamn Good Advice
The “bad Uncle” rantings of the most ripped-off and respected copywriter alive.
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: The Big Damn Jenga Game That Is Your Future
Chapter 2: The 3 Types Of People Who Will Be Fucking With You Your Entire Life
Chapter 3: Respect Brilliance, And Brilliance Will Respect You
Chapter 4: Wait — Does Carlton Still Consult With Regular People?
Chapter 5: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Chapter 6: The Genius Of Operation Money$uck
Chapter 7: The Best Way To Learn From Mentors
Chapter 8: What’s Your Excuse?
Chapter 9: The Small Stories That Do The Most Work
Chapter 10: Becoming Mr. Persuasion Expert
Chapter 11: Where To Find The Eternal Truths Of Great Copywriting
Chapter 12: The Simple Tactic That Opens Doors For You Every Time
Bonus Chapter 13: When Logic Sucks
Folks complain to me all the time about the length of many of my posts (especially here in the blog).
Here’s a nice quickie book full of very short chapters...
… all of which nevertheless pack a vicious punch of insight and savvy.
You can read it in 11 minutes, unless you’re a plodding reader (like me). (I like to dawdle along, savoring the writing.)
Anyway, it’s free, so you don’t get a big, deep introduction.
The Big Damn Jenga Game
That Is Your Future
Today’s Brain Fart Lesson: We all get lost sometimes.
The longer you live, the more it happens.
Even after you’ve succeeded, and nailed down your spot in the hierarchy (whatever it is, biz, family, team), you will never stay in one place.
The universe likes to screw with us, treating our plans and lives like a big Jenga game.
The occasional collapse is inevitable.
So it’s not necessarily a bad thing to wake up one day and realize you’re all lost again. It happens.
The only constant will be yourself, smack in the middle of all the melodrama, tragedy and chaos of a normal life. (You can ramp up the intensity of everything once you become an entrepreneur, too, so be prepared for a more jolting ride.)
Lost, found, lost, found.
For me, a nice Zen approach to the ebbs and flows of life works.
It’s only when you freak out and panic that you get REALLY lost.
Remember who you are, and what you’ve survived… and why you’re here in the first place.
You have a purpose. It will sometimes shimmer just out of easy reach…
… and it will sometimes be in your face, like a flash bulb.
When you’re lost, it’s barely a dot on the horizon, and you’re not sure you even know what it is anymore.
Stay frosty. Keep calm.
No one gets out of here alive, but during the ride (however long or short it is) you’ve got control of the script.
This is what your network is for.
When you’re feeling lost, reach out. Don’t curl up and suck your thumb.
You’re normal. This shit happens. There is a way out (there’s ALWAYS a way around a bad spot…
… even if it’s not the solution you’ve hoped for). If you have medicine to take, take it. If you have to limp back to the beginning and start over, limp back and get going.
The universe, as capricious as it can be at times, respects movement.
Good luck, and carry on.
When you find love, cherish it.
When you stumble into chaos, fight.
Above all, keep moving…
The 3 Types Of People Who Will Be Fucking With You
For Your Entire Life
Dept. of Adventure Junkies United, memo #38: I’ve lived long enough to realize there are basically 3 distinct types of people:
We call that last group “Safes”, meaning they play life safe, seldom straying anywhere near The Edge (and never, if they can help it, peeking over into the abyss).
I don’t have many acquaintances who are Safes. They don’t do well in my world.
I’ve spent most of my youth in the first camp. As kids, we dared Life to actually kill us as we fell out of trees, explored dangerous caves, jumped across roofs and rode bikes at speeds that drove our eyeballs back into our brains.
As a teen, it just got ridiculous. I have yet to see a “kids go crazy” movie that comes close to the wild-ass stunts and death-defying idiocy we performed on a regular basis (and that includes Animal House, Porky’s, Dazed And Confused, and any other one you can name).
And once I reached legal age…
… well, I’m not gonna discuss it here. Let your imagination run wild. It won’t come close to what we pulled off.
However, as I’ve mellowed a bit, I’ve backed off of experiencing adventure first hand. I just don’t heal like I used to.
Plus, it’s now as much fun to kick back and relive those memories with old pals as it was to generate the memories in the first place.
The top writers of the world all fuel their existence with raw adventure while young…
… and then write about it as they totter away from The Edge, glad for the experiences, ecstatic to have survived, and happy to have some pals around to share the tale with.
I feel sorry for the adrenaline junkies I’ve known — those poor souls who live fast, but never seem to have a story to tell. It’s all about the hormone dump, the internal chemical rush.
I get it. I know that flush of excitement over physical feats of insane boundary-testing very well…
… but it was just a side perk of the experience.
Mostly, I was after the STORY — the essence of doing something outrageous, living to tell the tale…
… and then TELLING the tale. And telling it with skill.
It’s important to understand these starkly different categories of people. You shouldn’t trick Safes into crawling up the side of a tall building downtown after a night of boozing. That’s not nice, and they won’t appreciate it.
The story they’ll tell is what a total asshole sociopath you are for making them do that shit.
And be wary of wandering off with the adrenaline junkies, if you’re not part of that tribe. They tend to die young.
And if you’re a writer…
… well, cherish the adventures you’ve had, make your bucket lists of adventures not yet realized and go after it…
… and keep honing your story-telling chops.
There’s nothing worse than sitting through a poorly-told tale, no matter how rousing the story COULD have been if shared with some pizzazz and skill.
One of the first things I reveal in the Simple Writing System is how to tell a story. It’s critical for anyone wanting to reach the next level up in biz (where all the Big Bucks and true happiness lives).
And — big treat — I’m going to personally teach a very special SWS class that begins the first of May, this year.
There won’t be very many spots available, cuz I like to keep my classes small (so I can really get to know you and offer personalized coaching customized to your particular needs).
I’ve only handled one class like this a year, and this may be the last one I personally teach.
So stay tuned if you’re at all interested.
Respect Brilliance, And
Brilliance Will Respect You
Dept. Of Shiny Objects: I’ve been thinking about all the brilliant people I get to hang out with.
My biz partner, brilliant. The staggeringly long line of mentors throughout my career, all brilliant. The folks I share stages with at events…
… brilliant. (Well, okay, not all of them. Some duds in there. But mostly, by the time you reach a major stage, you’ve honed your brilliance to a sparkly sheen.)
My colleagues, especially the writers: Brilliant. My old college pals (who I still hang with regularly, and dangerously): Brilliant.
A good subset of the neighbors in this somewhat exclusive enclave I call home: Brilliant.
The lovely lady I share the hovel with: Brilliant.
I’m fucking surrounded by brilliance.
You’d think it’d get boring, after a while.
Naw. Just gotta remember to be patient with the less-than-brilliant people who populate most of the rest of the joint.
And, gotta remember not to take anything for granted.
You cannot imagine what it’s actually like to sit at a bar telling war stories with my writer friends. Or going on long road-dog adventures with my long-gone pal Gary Halbert (or his kid Bond).
Or going deep in one of our mastermind meetings…
The people around you are your braintrust.
It can take half a lifetime to gather a good group — especially if (like me) you’re a little weird and introverted.
But when you find the right folks, you hold on tight.
The world is filled with aggressive stupidity. It can be annoying hanging out with brilliant people (who ALL have bizarre behavior disorders, usually undiagnosed)…
… but it’s always worth it.
This is how stuff gets done in the world.
Brilliance will out.
(To find out more about the amazing Platinum mastermind I’ve hosted with my biz partner Stan Dahl for the last 10 years, go here.)
Wait — Does Carlton Still Consult
With Regular People?
Just had a colleague (a colleague!) ask me if I do personal consultations.
How in the world does a guy who’s known me, and flogged my stuff, for years…
… not know I’m still a hot commodity in the consultation game?
I figure it’s my fault.
I don’t flaunt it, cuz I can only take on a couple of clients each month. (Yes, I restrict my personal calls to just a couple a week. I love you guys, but only up to a point.)
So, flaunting: Yes, you can get me on the phone (or on Skype, or Zoom, or whatever new freakin’ app you’re now using)…
… to personally discuss your biz or situation, dissect and solve problems, critique copy, and generally access the decades of deep front-line experience I offer as The Dude Who Knows A Fuck-Ton About Making The Big Bucks.
In fact, there’s a blog post up about this very subject, right now, here.
It’s so easy to grab a spot in the line-up. Especially now, while so many folks are still in the dark on whether I even offer private consulting anymore.
No Good Deed
Today’s Hard Knock: One of the first rules I learned, while climbing the career ladder, is “No good deed goes unpunished.”
It only makes sense after you’ve seen it in action, and you’ve taken the time to reflect on the way it plays out in real life.
But many folks take the wrong lesson from this sad realization of human frailty.
The thing is, just because you will be punished for your good deeds, you don’t stop doing them.
You just stop expecting to be rewarded.
This is why it can get lonely at the top. If you harshly judge people by their as-yet-unenlightened actions, you are soon left as a solo act.
So learn your Hard Knock lessons, but don’t feel superior about it.
Be an agent of change and practice massive forgiveness.
Perhaps, by tending your own garden well, you will influence the world.
Or, hell, just go ahead and blow the joint up. It’s what humans do when frustrated and impatient.
A few will continue doing the right thing, against the tide…
The Genius Of
Operation Money$uck Rule #1: If money can fix a problem, don’t waste time trying to fix it yourself.
Instead, use your time to make enough money to pay your way out of the problem.
If a problem requires time, measure the cost vs benefit of YOU handling it (cuz your time is very valuable), vs delegating it to someone else.
If you’re the dude or dudette responsible for bringing in the moolah, then that’s your primary job.
I’m always astonished at busy entrepreneurs who do their own laundry, shopping and chores when it takes them away from the biz.
Then, I’m absolutely floored when I discover they also handle every detail in the biz. Right down to fixing the printer when it goes wonky.
First thing I did when I started my biz was hire an assistant. She’s still with me, 15 years later, and her worth cannot be calculated. She multiplied the amount of time I had available for doing the Op$uck stuff.
Your time is your most important resource. Every second you rob your biz of your cash-generating efforts is a loss on the bottom line.
The Best Way To Learn
Some hard advice: Mentors active and successful in the real world are essential for anyone serious about leading in any part of life or business.
And it’s very difficult to find good mentors in academia. At least, that’s my experience.
Too many dumb rules.
You must venture into the “real world” to find the good ones.
I taught a single evening’s class each at both Exeter and the Missouri school of journalism, via Skype. It was a great little adventure, really glad I did it…
… but the students were not happy about being challenged. And I was lobbing softballs.
It was pearls before swine, I suspect.
In my first day with every real mentor I’ve ever had (notably Jay Abraham and Gary Halbert) I had my teeth metaphorically kicked in.
In my long experience, tough love is the best way to learn, with no second-best method in the running.
Academia has its place, and I learned a lot getting my BA (though very little in actual class).
But for entrepreneurs, it’s real world all the way.
Read copiously, but put what you learn to the test immediately.
Best advice for copywriters: Writers write…
… and great writers write with consequences.
Get busy. (And for crying out loud, go read my freaking blog.)
What’s Your Excuse?
One of the very bright dividing lines separating happy, successful folks from the unhappy wannabe’s…
… are the role of excuses in moving through life.
Dudes and dudettes who get stuff done stare down obstacles and find ways through or around them…
… no matter how long it takes, or how many times they fail at it.
They’re the minority.
Much more common is the notion that having a good excuse lets you off the hook for getting something done.
Our bollocked-up school system encourages this — oh, your dog ate your homework? Okay, you can have an extra day.
And it just gets worse in adult life — oh, sorry I T-boned your car there, but I just broke up with my girlfriend and was re-reading her last text to me…
At some point, most civilians will be on their death-bed, looking back on their failures and crushed dreams, and have to find cold comfort in the idea that at least they had good excuses. They tried, sort of, and had their feelings hurt or their efforts rebuffed, and what can you do?
Life’s hard, right?
Okay, fine. Cuddle up with your excuses.
You might garner a bit of sympathy from some folks, but you’ll just continue to be disregarded by anyone feasting on life and getting shit done.
Start with being late. If you think it’s okay, as long as you have a plausible excuse (the traffic lights were absolutely conspiring against you, or gosh, clocks are just hard to understand, you know?)…
… then move to the back of the line right now.
You may actually HAVE a good excuse this time…
… but if being late is “who you are” (and yes, you are judged harshly and continually in the biz world on this stuff)…
… then consider WHY it’s a habit.
Look deep. It may be passive-aggressive behavior you picked up as a kid. It may be a symptom of happiness-corrupting disorganization (which no potential client wants any part of). It may be undiagnosed ADD, or even the first ripples of real cognitive disorder.
But usually, it’s just a habit. You keep getting away with it — or you THINK you’re getting away with it (and really, the people around you just stop relying on you, and consider you a liability).
The consequences seem mild — maybe somebody gets pissed off once in a while, or you miss a flight. Whatever. Life is hard, right? Get off my case.
The problem, of course, is that if you want to play in the level above you — in biz, romance, sports or just generally effective living — you are going to pay dearly for your bad habits.
Top clients won’t put up with sloppy non-professional behavior. Self-respecting potential romantic partners will avoid committing to you. And a whole bunch of cool life experiences will vanish…
… all because you think having a good excuse absolves you from the responsibility to be where you said you’d be, when you said you’d be there… prepared to do what you said you’d do.
Getting away with something is NOT the same as “succeeding”.
Highly effective people, who get shit done and succeed at life, rarely allow excuse-artists into their lives in any meaningful way.
Buy a fucking watch. Add twenty minutes to your estimation of how long you’ll need to get somewhere (or more)…
… and if you’re early, find a spot to kick back and check email or Facebook or just relax. Or read a book. There’s no such thing as “wasting time by being early”. Be prepared for it.
And it’s worth repeating: Yes, the people operating in the level above you ARE judging you by these small behaviors.
Maybe other folks in your world are just character actors, whose time isn’t worth much. (That’s the way stone-cold sociopaths think, you know.)
However, the successful crowd you want to be dealing with will not put up with that bullshit.
Okay, you better get moving. You’re gonna be late…
The Small Stories
That Do The Most Work
Rumor Control, memo 34b: Here’s a fun exercise — for the next few days, pay attention to the stories people near you toss around as settled truth.
Ignore the politically-charged stuff. Too obvious.
Instead, note the smaller tales.
It’s easy, within an extended family, to spot foundational “facts” that are actually just shared assumptions with little or no evidence behind them.
Auntie Flo is just an eccentric, innocent old lady (not a dangerous self-medicating bipolar nutbar who keeps loaded guns in the silverware drawer).
Cousin Farquar’s sexual offender status is just a simple misunderstanding with the cops (and his 3 exes).
And your neighbors have concocted scripts about each and every household in the area (including yours).
Often, they won’t use names to identify a house, but plot lines. “Did you see the cop car parked over at the drug den yesterday?” says Mr. Perfect Lawn, while talking with That Hippie Couple across the street.
Noticing these smaller stories is how top ad writers become legendary.
It’s this kind of detail, plucked from real experience, that breathes life into a sales message.
I’ve been peppering my copy with snatches of observed reality since I first realized the potency of bringing the “truth” of human interaction to the selling game.
We are a whacky species, fueled by assumption, rumor, believable bullshit and tall tales invented out of thin air.
We all routinely just make stuff up to fill in the blanks.
We loathe blanks.
Understanding the mechanics of social interaction — with all its nonsense, silliness and fluff — is key to communicating effectively.
God help us.
Becoming Mr. Persuasion Expert
The Spectacular Failure of Human Rationality, Part 5: I’ve been gleefully collecting stories of bizarre decision-making by my fellow humans for decades.
As a marketer, these tales are sobering revelations about what I’m up against trying to persuade prospects to do something.
As a caring friend, they’re a reminder not to beat my head against the wall when stubborn resistance makes efforts to help futile.
Top example: A medical doctor friend refuses to entertain even the idea that I solved my migraine problems through diet, massage and chiropractic.
She’s old-school medicine, educated in the days when the AMA taught that masseuses were hookers, vitamins were bullshit, and chiro’s were quacks (and she just ignores the fact the AMA long ago apologized, and now many modern docs work closely with chiro’s cuz, you know, the shit works).
No, somehow HER migraines (which are interferring with her life big-time) require drastic brain surgery. No amount of empirical evidence from pals can dent her resistance to an alternative.
This is cognitive dissonance on a major-league scale — she doesn’t think I’m evil or lying, yet she just cannot allow my story to be “real” in her mind.
So she simply refuses to acknowledge it.
The downside of trying non-surgical alternatives?
No matter, she’s headed for the scalpel, to treat something other folks routinely beat with simple measures that don’t involve blood and removal of brain tissue.
You realize that this kind of stubbornness exists up and down the human decision-making process (from choosing what shoes to wear today, to who to marry and what car to buy) and you’re on the way to becoming Mr Persuasion Expert, for whom no objection is too weird or difficult to deal with.
Where To Find The Eternal Truths
Of Great Copywriting
Just posted this in a damn good thread about finding the best copywriters to follow for advice and tactics (crowd’s ultimate decision: look for the gray-hairs)… thought you’d dig it:
“In truth, any copywriter who’s had sustained success for several years can help you with the basics.
IF they’ve written for multiple markets, weathered massive economic disasters, and gone up against other seasoned pros in hyper-competitive niches and won.
Too many writers luck out by exploiting rare conditions and early adoption of hot tech changes. Which is great for making money, but doesn’t mean they can thrive outside of those rare conditions.
Google slaps and Zuckerberg tantrums tend to frustrate writers who lack deep knowledge of advertising history.
To learn the eternal truths, yes, find the grizzled pros. But only those who aren’t bitter about how shit keeps changing.
There will always be massive and unfair upheaval in biz. The true grownups have learned how to adjust.
Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters…”
The Simple Tactic That
Opens Doors For You Every Time
You want a simple tactic that will open doors for you?
Can’t believe I have to keep reminding folks of this…
… but just be very, very polite.
Say “please” and mean it.
Say “thanks” and mean it.
Call men “sir” (even if they’re younger than you), call women “m’am” (even when they’re younger than you), and listen intently when anyone is speaking to you.
Meet their eyes.
Do not argue, unless that is the dark alley you want to go down (and say goodbye to any doors that may have opened for you).
You know who the most polite people on the planet are?
Sociopaths, and folks who can kick your ass. They don’t give a ratfuck about the social “score” of who feels dominant in any given situation…
… and they want to get to their goals (which never, ever include arguing) as quickly and efficiently as possible.
If you’re good…
… or successful…
… or smart, experienced, talented, or can kick ass…
… folks will either find out soon enough, or they won’t.
It doesn’t matter.
Use the simple tools available to us socially to get people in rapport with you quickly, use charm to be non-threatening (when you can), and give others your total focus during conversations.
And remain committed to your goals.
I mean, Jeez Louise — you’re a nice person, who deserves more…
… yet the sociopaths and ass-kickers are waltzing through doors into opportunities that should have been YOURS.
Because they’re charming and polite and know how to move through social situations without an attitude.
Caring about the small shit is a sucker’s game.
Breathe deeper. Reach higher. Live bigger.
And please get my books. All of them, immediately. Devour them with gusto, and start moving up a couple of levels in life and biz.
You can find everything on the blog, right there in plain sight: john-carlton dot com.
When Logic Sucks
Psych Insight #233: The idea that “logic” enters into buying decisions is ludicrous.
A super-rational Vulcan like Mr Spock may accidentally hit on the right way to sell something to a market, but it would only be coincidence if it was actually logical.
He was not a persuader.
The Voice Of Reason seldom is.
Humans operate in this roiling soup of emotion, confusion, delusion, excuses, denial, and wishful thinking…
… it’s what makes us so charming and fun.
The universe may work under gorgeously-precise rules of physics, but our brains are big clumps of chaos.
Great salesmen know this, and proceed accordingly.
That’s it, Bucko.
Nice, short book, crammed with wisdom, advice and insight to moving your slacker butt up another level in life and biz.
My gift to you.
Now go rummage through the books and courses for sale in the right-hand column, and buy something to fill in the blanks of your skill set and biz mojo…
And be sure to sign up for blog notifications, up top. You get another free book when you do that, you know.
It’s Freebie City here today…
Photo courtesy of Ms Significant Other
“Everything changes once you have John Carlton roaming around inside your head…” (Perry Marshall, from the forward)
If you loved the first volume of “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Sh*t Together”…
… you’re gonna swoon over the just-now released Volume 2.
You can grab it now on Amazon, here.
I’ve filled this book with timeless advice, insight and tales from the front trenches of the marketing and advertising world…
… dipping heavily into the same well as the first book.
That would be the super-exclusive monthly newsletter I physically mailed out to a “hot list” of now-famous marketers and copywriters and entrepreneurs. (For a pretty penny, too — each year of receiving this newsletter, dubbed “The Marketing Rebel Rant”, set you back a thousand bucks. And still, the mailing list was a “who’s who” of the best and the brightest in the game.)
I mean, the forward is by my good friend Perry Marshall, for starters.
Inside, you’ll find tons of rollicking stories starring my longtime mentor and best pal Gary Halbert…
… as well as “behind the scenes” revelations from my 30-year career as the guy top marketers snuck in the back door to do the direct response magic required to earn the Big Bucks.
It’s not simply a “tell all”, though.
Not by a long shot.
The newsletter I wrote was being devoured by the Top Dogs in our industry…
… so I had to deliver on my promise to wow them with every issue.
That meant pulling out the big guns in every chapter, and going deep into the details of earning a seat at The Feast (my term for living the best life possible for a happy, rich, and super-productive biz owner).
You can grab a digital version for your Kindle, or a printed book. (I know most of the entrepreneurs I hear from keep a printed copy of Volume One close to their desk, dogeared and messy with notes.)
It’s riveting reading, and right up your alley (if becoming the most successful biz owner or copywriter possible is your goal).
Again: Here’s the Amazon page.
Go get your copy now.
Tuesday, 7:59 pm
“What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?” (Nick Lowe)
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):
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.
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…
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.
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…
“George, George, George of the jungle, friend to you and me…” (Best cartoon theme ever)
Regular civilians can get through life with all sorts of goofy notions about how things get done in the business world.
However, entrepreneurs have no such luxury.
For example: Nearly every biz transaction is an inherently hostile situation.
Behind the smiles and back-slapping and promises of “working for the common good” between, say, a freelancer and a client…
… the writer actually wants to do as little work as possible for the maximum possible money, while the client wants to bleed every ounce of productivity from the writer for the least outlay of cash.
I’ve had clients who became close personal friends.
Still, when it came time to set deadlines and write checks, we had completely opposite agendas, and never pretended otherwise.
It’s the same throughout life.
Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it blooms into full-on fisticuffs (or divorce, strategic bankruptcy, strikes, war, lawsuits, name-calling, etc).
You can’t ignore it, if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur.
There’s no reason to be afraid of it, either — I’ve even had fun with it during negotiations with clients, exposing our veiled teeth-baring for what it was: A couple of wannabe alpha’s pissing on our established territory, jostling for position.
At the highest levels, this “primal snarling dance” only works when deadlines are put in place and it’s crystal clear what is promised versus what is expected.
I wanted my client’s hand to shake while writing out the check to me…
… but I also knew the rest of my month was now locked up, as I went into full creative mode.
When the check cleared the bank, and I delivered the best work I could muster… while the market responded with jaw-dropping results… all was well.
But there are never any guarantees.
When you start playing in the upper atmosphere of the biz world, everything gets hairier — the money, the risks, the game-playing, the stakes, all of it.
But it’s still just a gathering of shaved apes, with one foot still in the jungle, angling for dominance.
Learn how to happily navigate the inherently hostile parts of doing biz, without taking it personally or botching it up with dumb-ass notions of playing “nice” or expecting your good deeds to magically bring rewards…
… and flavor it all with a professional’s attitude of doing your part to the best of your ability every time (while negotiating deals that allow for the other guy to screw up without taking you down with him)…
… and you’re on your way to bigger and better deals.
And enjoy the ride. That’s the real secret to a good life.
The machinations of the biz world only seem complex and mysterious until you’ve bloodied your nose a few times learning the rules.
You’ve poked your head around the corner of life, to peek at the entrepreneurial world hidden from most folks.
It’s different from regular life.
But you’ll figure it out, as long as you’re willing to take a few bruises along the way.
Just my two cents. Now go tear your niche a new azzhole…
P.S. Volume Two of “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together” is going through final revisions before publishing.
If you still don’t understand why this is such a big damn deal, perhaps you should grab a copy of Volume One now… and devour it immediately.
There’s a reason it’s one of the few biz books folks consistently describe as “the most important book” on their shelf…