Category Archives for long copy websites

Sex, Fun, Money, aaaaaaaand… More Sex

Monday, 9:27pm
Reno, NV
“Things will have to get more clear before I can even say I’m confused…”


I’m gonna need your feedback on this.

See, I’ve always been a wave or two out of the mainstream… and that’s actually helped me be a better business dude, because I have to pay extra attention to what’s going on (so I can understand who I’m writing my ads to).

This extra focus means I’ve never taken anything for granted — especially not those weird emotional/rational triggers firing off in a prospect’s head while I’m wooing him on a sale.

And trust me on this: Most folks out there truly have some WEIRD shit going on in their heads, most of the time.

It can get spooky, climbing into the psyche of your market.

Still, though, it is, ultimately, exquisite fun. This gig — figuring out how to Read more…

Walk A Mile In A Jerk’s Shoes…

Sunday, 9:17 pm
Reno, NV
Methinks she doth protest too much…


Without the insights of good pop psychology, I cannot fathom how my neighbor isn’t wracked with shame every second of his miserable life.

Because he truly is a Grade A asshole.

It’s not just me. Six other neighbors, on all sides, hate this guy’s guts with varying levels of passion (cuz he harshes everyone’s mellow and disrupts the groove of the cul-de-sac). The Homeowner’s Association regularly slams him with fines (cuz he thinks he’s above the rules). And I’m never surprised to see cop cars parked in his driveway.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

The dude’s obviously a low-life scum, living among people who just want peace and quiet.

If I was him, I’d immediately sign up for industrial-strength therapy, and maybe start a brisk program of frequent self-flagellation as punishment.

But I’m not him.

I’m someone else, looking at him with utter bafflement, because I cannot understand how he can live with himself, being such an asshole.

Yet, using the simplest basics of psychology… I “get” it.

And “getting” it makes me both a better story-teller, and a better marketer.

It’s really very straightforward: In Mr. A-hole’s mind, he’s a great guy. Misunderstood, prone to accidents that could happen to anyone, a smidgen too quick to get angry about stuff that anyone would get pissed off about.

He has a whole menu of excellent reasons that — in his mind — explain everything he does in a way that makes him either totally forgiven and excused… or the victim of unpreventable circumstances.

He has rationalized his behavior so that he’s the good guy at the center of his world.

And no amount of incoming data that challenges that rationalization will change anything.

The dude is bottled up tight. Certain of his own righteousness.

Serial killers think like this. Politicians, too. Also thieves, social outcasts, actors, perverts and scamsters.

And you, too. And me. And everyone you market to.

It’s part of being human.

Now, you and I may also have some redeeming traits, like a code of behavior that prevents us from hurting other people or avoiding doing the right thing (or parking half on a neighbor’s lawn).

We are, in fact, a roiling pot of conflicting and battling emotions, urges, habits, learned behaviors and unconscious drives.

Every day, if we’re lucky, the mixture remains mostly balanced and doesn’t explode or morph into something toxic.

But it’s all in there. And it’s all fighting for supremacy.

The book ‘How To Win Friends And Influence People”, by Dale Carnegie, is called the salesman’s bible because of a simple tactic that works like crazy.

That tactic: Learn to walk a mile in another man’s shoes before judging him.

Or sizing him up.

This tactic does NOT come with our default settings as humans. You gotta learn it.

Once you’ve been around very small children, you realize how deeply ingrained our selfish desires are. We excuse them in kids, but strive to civilize the little terrors by corraling those desires into submission.

Takes a while.

People who grow up without that kind of mentoring can be hard to deal with. Some special cases — those blessed with an endless supply of sociopathic charm — can still make it work, and live lives of selfish abandon. Good for them.

But most of us realize that we gotta share the sandbox with others, and that means sublimating our greedy ape-urges most of the time.

Still, if you’re gonna be a great salesman, you gotta become a great student of human nature… and notice, catalog, understand, and USE insights like this.

So when you tell a story, it’s easy to figure out what the listener needs to hear to stay interested. When you sell something, it’s easy to know how to incite desire, because you know what people want (which is almost always NOT what you want them to want).

And when you’re approaching prospects cold — cuz they don’t know who you are — you are able to quickly discern who THEY are, and adjust your tactics accordingly.

But you cannot attain this state of understanding human behavior… without experiencing all the different parts of human behavior out there.

Okay, you don’t want to experience everything. People do some truly disgusting and repulsive stuff that is beyond the boudaries of acceptable experience for the rest of us.

But within reason, you at least need to learn how to walk in another person’s shoes for a mile. (That’s supposed to be an old American-Indian saying, a take-off on the Judeo-Christian “golden rule” of treating others as you would be treated yourself.)

It helps to understand basic psychology. It’s probably out of print, but the old best seller “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” (which is about transactional psychology, but never mind that part) lays out a pretty good start for rookies. Once you see a few examples of how your thinking on a matter may not jive with the other guy’s thinking… you’ll have the seeds of understanding how to delineate what those differences are, and how they affect your relationship.

It’s really not that tough, once you get wet.

Basically, the bottom line of understanding human behavior is all about accepting the reality of the situation.

Yes, he’s an asshole, according to your rules. But in his rule book, you’re probably the asshole. If you insist on not allowing his viewpoint to exist, there will be blood.

In marketing, if you don’t learn to understand how other people see you and your efforts to sell, there will be no sale.

It’s tough to walk in another dude’s shoes even if you LIKE him. Think of your best friend. His taste in clothes is abysmal, he insists on wearing his hair in a stupid style, he watches bad television shows, and eats horrible crap.

Yet, somehow you overlook these things, and get along.

The challenge, as a marketer, is to suck up your distaste for people who don’t share your worldview… and be a chameleon. That’s the lizard that blends in with any background (except plaid — we used to try to make the little lizards explode by placing psychedelic prints on the bottom of their cage). (Doesn’t work, in case you’re wondering.)

You don’t have to compromise your cherished beliefs, or alter your own worldview. (Unless you discover you should.)

Just understand that there are more complex personality tweaks in the people around you than there are stars in the sky.

And your job, as a marketer, is to understand that the person you’re selling stuff to may need all sorts of weird, twisted info or soothing advice or whatever to make a buying decision.

It’s not hard, once you learn how to walk a mile in other people’s shoes… and then DO it, on a regular basis.

And you gotta do it even with the assholes around you.

I still loathe my neighbor, but I can’t really hate him. He’s infuriating, but the real reason he pisses everyone off… is that he’s just not good at social interaction. HE cannot walk three feet in someone else’s shoes, has no clue what that would accomplish anyway, and lives in such a tight little box that he’s really just a walking prison of discomfort and exitential anguish.

I still wish he’d move, though.


Here’s a little task for you: Identify a trait in someone around you… that irks you no end. (Maybe humming off-key, or always being late, or telling boring stories.)

And spend a few minutes seeing that behavior from the inside.

Become, for a moment, that guy. Walk a mile in his shoes, and rationalize how you feel.

You don’t need to adopt the trait, or learn to “like” it.

Just understand it. Get hip to the way the other guy has come to terms with himself.

This is powerful knowledge.

This is how top marketers move through the world, with deep personal insight to how other humans get through their day.

I’d love to hear, in the comments section, what you discover when you do this task.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

You, The Movie Version

Sunday, 6:35pm
Reno, NV
Crispy clear evening, with a canopy of stars twinkling like lighters during a Neil Young encore…


I’m gonna ask you to write a little mini-script here in a minute. For your “inner” home movie.

You did know your life is a movie, right?

Okay, maybe you’re no DiCaprio or Clooney or Scarlett… or even Giametti… but you’re the star of your own show just the same.

There’s a script, which you have enormous sway with. You don’t like the way things are going, do a rewrite.

There’s direction, and even lighting. You want something flashy or big to happen… well, you can arrange it. Whatever you want, as long as you’ve got the cojones to get after it. (No, you’re not guaranteed to get what you want… but if that’s how you want your movie to go, you can at least call for it in your script. Run for prez, dude, if that floats your boat. Heck, if the current crop thinks they’re worthy, then most of the rest of us are, too.)

Lighting, by the way, plays a bigger role in your life than you might realize. Most of us live under ridiculously harsh wattage, both at work and at home… and it’s like blasting angry music into your head all the time. It can change the way you see yourself, and act in the world. Heck — bright lights are used as “extreme interrogation” methods by the CIA. So is Barry Manilow music, as well as thrash metal. Because relentless use of it hurts.

As a side note: Experiment with the subtle elements of your life. Get some indirect lighting for your office, use non-white bulbs or even candles… you don’t have to go for any kind of gaudy bordello-style mood, but just try lighting your stage differently for a little while. See how it affects the way you do things.

Same with music — get out of your rut, for sure, but also stretch a bit. My iPod is crammed with rock and roll, but also lots of classical and acid jazz and country and folk and alternative stuff. And I carefully plan out hour-long playlists that create a mood, and keep it going.

When you live like you’re a star, you pay attention to these kinds of details.

The benefits: Time slows down… routines become exercises in pleasurable rites rather than zombie habits… and your awareness level kicks up a notch.

All are excellent tools for living well… and being a better marketer.

Especially the “awareness” part.

Have you ever wondered where the knack for finding stories and hooks — the main ingredient of any great copywriter’s bag of tricks — comes from?

It’s a direct result of being hyper-aware. Of living life like the greatest movie ever filmed.

Think about your life.

No, seriously. Think about it.

Most people have trouble “seeing” themselves in the world at all. Without a mirror, they’re not even sure they exist. Their daily experiences are like watching a “monkey cam” — the filmed result of attaching a camera to the back of a chimp and letting him wander off.

It’s not a smooth, thought-out, coherent narrative. Instead, it’s jerky, chaotic, and (unless there are “happy accidents”) mostly boring.

There. I’ve said it.

Most people lead boring lives.

And do you know why?

It’s because they refuse to believe they have any control over the script, plot, or action of their life. And, if you don’t believe you do, then you don’t. That’s the way it works, most of the time.

I’m not talking about adopting a selfish attitude of “it’s all about me”. No way. Most of the really savvy people you know — the ones who have their personal and biz lives put together well — are not selfish weasels. And yet, they live like they’re the center of the action, because they are.

Doesn’t have to be a “movie” metaphor, either. Think of yourself as the protaganist in a great novel, or the hero of the best video game ever created. (Don’t be that guy who dresses like a Wookie, though. When you finally kick your life into high gear, it will be part action, part comedy, part drama, part tragedy, and yes, part fantasy… but try to think in well-rounded terms. It’s a mistake to get hung up on any one thing, because it’s so limiting. Expand. Live large.)

Whatever works for you, works. It may take you a little time to get clear on what kind of script you really want — most novice goal-seekers screw it up the first few times (like thinking they really, really, really want something… and then being disappointed when they get it).

But you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly, if you just realize this gift of consciousness you’ve been given. The natural tendency of any human being who has attained some measure of creature comfort, is to sleep-walk through the rest of his days.

And that’s not living. That’s zombie city.

Living your life like a movie means that you are constantly aware of the ROLE you play. It can change, or mutate, or solidify… but all of that can be your choice. Part of the plot twist, if you want.

You can never control EVERYTHING, of course. No one’s ever said you can. Every second of your existence is fraught with unpredictable events, from earthquakes and heart attacks to stalkers and food poisoning. Or an unexpected call from the ex. Or a hacker discovering your bank password.

Nevertheless, there remains a HUGE portion of your moment-to-moment life that you CAN control. If you choose.

And getting into the swing of writing your own script as much as you can, will redirect your life in ways that please you. You become the captain of your ship.

The OTHER advantage of living this way… is that the STORIES of your life become more vivid.

And the best copywriters and marketers and salesmen in the universe… are all great storytellers. Without exception.

Again, think about your life.

Consider how it has progressed in actual chapters, or acts. Maybe it’s as straightforward as childhood, adulthood, starting a biz, getting married. Or maybe it’s more nuanced, in peculiar ways that make sense to you but may sound fuzzy to outsiders. (I know guys who have sectioned thier past under the heading of whichever female was in their life at the time: Jo (junior high), Nancy (freshman year), Roberta (summer he got his license), Yolanda (first part-time job),etc. They will fry your ear with great stories, too.)

The more precise you can be, the better your stories will become. And the better your OWN parcel of stories are, the better you can spot — and use — stories from the world around you when you’re writing to influence and persuade.

I was really lucky to grow up in a family of storytellers. And since I was the youngest by 8 years, I learned quickly to be pithy and interesting… or to lose the floor (because few people have the patience for meandering stories with no punch line, especially from kids).

My auto-biography is already written, you know. In my head. It’s been a work in progress since the day I first realized I was alive… and I remember vivid, interesting stories from every minor period of my life.

Stories aid memory, and retention, you know. Every ancient culture on earth was based on stories until writing came along. They HAD to be short, fascinating and memorable, too… because any story not retained, was lost forever.

Even if this “consider the movie of your life” concept is new to you… you should be able to look back and see how certain periods of your life evolved. You don’t have to get it all organized right away… take your time. Focus on some pleasant period, and re-gather the stories from that period into a mental file cabinet.

I also urge you to write these stories down. In short, well-thought-out vinettes that pass the “won’t bore your buddies” test.

In other words… leave out the dull parts. You can write up the longer version — the “director’s cut” that only you will truly appreciate — for personal indulgence… but while you’re honing your storytelling chops for the outside world, focus on short, crisp, rollicking tales that get to the point quickly.

The best stories are concise little mini-movies. With a beginning, a middle, and an end. Or, like a good joke, with a premise, a set-up, and a punch line.

They can be serious, or funny, or rueful, or just “hmmm” inducing.

But they must be complete stories. Remember Suzy, your first real relationship? Sure, it went on for a long time, and any day-to-day explanation would put even someone tweaked on speed to sleep.

So start editing, with an audience in mind. For example, to strut your credentials for understanding young love: “Suzy, the first love of my life. Teenagers, convinced we would live forever, and no one had ever felt a love so strong before. We spent most of our time in the back seat, or in secluded spots, fumbling with biological imperatives and hormone dumps. Torrid affair. Shocking heartache when her biology shifted away from me. Sad, sad boy, convinced no one had ever felt such pain before…”

Or, something more mundane: “Interviewed for my first real job right out of college. Cinched up my tie, answered every jack-ass question seriously, shook hands like a candidate. Got the job. Hated every second of my life for six months, never quite caught my breath, and then got fired. Joy, again.”

Or, here’s a tidbit from my own biography: “We were vandals as kids, mostly ineffective and innocent, but occasionally stunning models of terrorism. Asked an engineer how many railroad ties his cow-catcher could handle… and the next day, put all those plus one on the tracks. Derailed the train, and our genuine horror of success was deepened by the realization we better watch our asses if we were gonna engage with the adult world like that.”

Three sentences. Yeah, long ones, but three coherent, correct sentences. A complete story, with entry point, action, and quasi-moral ending.

Consider how looooooooooooong I could have dragged that tale out, and been absolutely justified in doing so. Because, hey, the thing took place over a couple of days, and there are details of our gang and the neighborhood and the derailment that are fascinating.

Just friggin’ fascinating.

But longer stories should only be told if you’re invited to tell them. As in, writing your thousand-page biography, and selling it. Anyone buys, it’s a tacit agreement to put up with every long-winded tale you’ve got up your sleeve.

Watch a bad movie tonight. Not a good one, or even a cult sleazoid one, appreciated for being bad.

No, watch a dull, plodding, no-thumbs-up disaster. You’ll discover that it has nothing to do the stars in the cast, the money in the budget, the director, the studio, or even the script. (People have screwed up Shakespeare, you know.)

Watch it critically. Consider WHY it’s boring you. And think of ways it could speed up the pace, nudge your attention, be better. The culprit will almost always be the storytelling.

Now, it’s your turn.

Leave a 3-sentence story from your life in the comments section. Don’t be shy — we’re all trying new stuff this year (or should be). Trashing old limitations, stretching new boundaries, waking up and engaging the world on new terms.

I promise to read every one. I’ll even toss in a few comments myself, when warranted.

This is a SAFE forum, you know. We’re all friends, or at least cohorts in the quest for better living and finer biz results.

Honing your storytelling chops requires releasing your shy restrictions, and just doing it. Get comfy with the concept, and get better with the details each time you try again.

I won’t mock anyone, and I’ll read every submission. Some of you are already damn good, others can use a lot of work… but we ALL need a kick in the butt once in a while to continue getting better at storytelling.

C’mon. Three lines. That forces you to be concise, to consider every single word carefully, and to crunch large chaotic experiences into tidy little narratives with a point.

I’m not looking for funny. Not looking for tears. Not looking for anything profound.

Just a story.

For some writers, this will be a true test, because you aren’t used to pushing yourself like this. However, the best already do.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

What To Do, Redux

Tuesday, 10:27 pm
Reno, NV


That was a great, healthy, raucous sharing of ideas to the question I posted Sunday. Essentially: What to do, when the act of creating a formal ad is too daunting, but you need to do something to create sales.

The Usual Suspects posted really good comments, and it was cool to see a bunch of new folks putting on their Thinking Caps to tackle the problem.

As I said — I hate questions like this, myself. Cuz it hurts to confront puzzles, mysteries, dilemnas, and problems.

Yet, it’s been the best way to learn for around 3,000 years. It’s the Socratic method — essentially Q&A, but the answers are expected to be well-thought-out. (For a great example of this method in action, see the 1973 flick “The Paper Chase”, on the hot action inside a freshman year at Harvard Law School.) (I still get shudders watching it today.)

So, for my entire career, I’ve been practicing it whenever possible. John Caples, in “Tested Advertising Methods”, offers up hundreds of little mini-tests… asking the reader to choose which headline or USP worked the best. I was stunned to learn that most of my colleagues who had bothered to pick up that amazing book had also NOT considered each question carefully, chose definitively, and only then look at the answer.

Nope. Most glanced at the question, then quickly went to find the answer. “Oh, yeah,” they’d say. “I probably would’ve chosen correctly, if I’d had to.”

Bullshit. That’s cheating.

Your brain is a muscle. It craves good workouts, even though puzzles can make the old cranium cranky. The ONLY way to retain knowledge is to cement it into your noggin. Passive, lazy glances at the important stuff doesn’t cut it.

So kudo’s to everyone who ventured an answer.

It was gratifying to see so many writers come so close to the answer, too. (In truth, many would have technically passed the test, even though their answer wasn’t quite as complete as what I was getting at.)

Before I reveal my own answer, let’s address a few of the suggestions offered.

First, swiping is not gonna cut it. All writers swipe to one degree or another (though some of the new breed do it to excess, and rob themselves of finding their own “voice” and style).

However, even if you find an ad to swipe that is in your market, close to your USP, and even selling something similar… you’re still gonna have to slog through the very necessary tasks of re-molding the headline, all subheads, and especially bullets to your own situation.

This can work… but remember that part of the question was “…and you find the formal process of creating an ad daunting…”. For a veteran professinal copywriter, this particular problem won’t come up much. But for an entrepreneur or small biz owner selling your own crap, this is THE most common problem you face.

What’s more — as I posted among the comments last night — while using the “Lazy Businessman’s 3-Step Shortcut To Creating A World-Class Ad” (the record-yourself-at-fever-pitch-and-transcribe technique pushed by Halbert and me for decades) will actually get you to a good point in creating a killer sales message… in all the years I’ve taught it to people, few have ever actually done it.

Still, the process you would go through to get your head ready for such a recording… IS a big part of the answer to this problem.

Here is my solution:

First, and foremost… keep it all very simple.

What you want to do is create a sleek, greased slide leading straight to a single action.

No tangents. No long stories that require cognitive effort by the reader.

The key is that single action you will request: What, with a gun your head and wolves at the door, is the ONE action you would love to see your reader take? Could be a full-on sale… could be just to get into the sales funnel… could be a phone call. Or a hundred other actions.

Choose the one that you need him to do. Concentrate your salesmanship on getting him to that point — quickly, efficiently and without fuss.

Second: Get clear on WHO your reader is.

Remember — even jaded, long-time marketers have little clue who actually populates their list. Many entrpreneurs get an idea in their head of who they THINK they’re writing to… but are often wildly wrong.

So calm down (yes, even with that snarling and scratching at the door), and use whatever resources you have to nail your prime target. This could include asking your staff for input, calling up some actual customers to see who they are, or even doing a little “Google Stalking” to see if any of your intended readers show up in a search for demographic info.

If you’re writing to a cold list… you’ve still got to create that “avatar” character you’re writing to. If you gotta guess, you gotta guess. But you still have to make a final decision.

A sales pitch written to no one in particular will die a gruesome death.

Third: As so many posters commented… the next step is to create a super-condensed list of your reader’s needs and wants. You want to get as close to a psychological profile as you can. At this point — desperate and under urgent circumstances — you are in no position to offer him what you think he needs or should have.

Nope. You want to discern what he wants… and give it to him. This is not the time for long discourses on new ideas, or education on what-if situations.

Try, as much as you can with the resources you have, to figure out what parade your reader is marching in… and then hop out in front of it. Where’s he’s going, hey, that’s where YOU’RE going.

What a coincidence.

Fourth: As many of you guessed… you’re going to write a personal letter.

However — and this is critical — you are not going to write AT him… but TO him.

As much as your dire situation feels personal… this ain’t about YOU.

It’s about HIM. All you are is the conduit of good tidings — the bearer of great news, the gateway to something wonderful, the dude writing the one thing he’s gonna read today that really gets his blood moving. (Though, if your situation really does lend itself to a fire-sale offer, then by all means USE that tactic.)

You write — in a conversational voice — a very personal letter from you to him, getting right to the point, and outlining what you have for him in the following manner:

Here’s who I am…

Here’s what I have for you…

Here’s why you’ll like it…

And here’s what you need to do right now.

Yes, you need to write your opening line (or subject line, if you’re using email) in a compelling way… because it’s doing the job of a headline. And yes, you need to think in bullet form (even if you don’t use the formal, indented bullet set up). And yes, your close needs to cover all the essentials of classic salesmanship.

However, if you know who you’re writing to… and you’re dead honest about what you have, and how it fits into his life… then all this should come naturally.

Many of you know the story behind the big damn Stompernet launch. Frank Kern graciously has told this tale many times, and I’ll repeat it here: With just days left before the launch, the guys doing the writing were nowhere near having a final “buy now” sales pitch ready.

It was panic time. They were trying to hire me — at ridiculous rates — but I didn’t have the time (or, honestly, the inclination — I’ve had my share of emergency jobs, and they’re never any fun).

So, during a break at the seminar in San Diego we were all attending, I sat down with Frank and Mike and promised to do what I could to help them get back on track.

The copy they had was, to my mind, hopelessly overwritten and a muddle.

And completely unnecessary, I told them.

At this point, they knew WHO they were writing to… and even had a fair idea of their prospect’s state of mind. (Teased to a froth, from an extended launch process.)

So, I said, here’s all you need…

And I quoted to them pretty much what I just laid out here in this post.

For Frank, it was an epiphany. And he was able to blast out the letter that sealed the deal in record time. (It was a beauty, too. I am NOT taking any credit for what Frank wrote at all. I’m just pleased to have helped part the fog, and point out the yellow-brick road.)

The thing to do when your body is telling you to PANIC… is to settle down, get your breathing deep and relaxed… and set to work mapping out a simple, direct, no-frills path for your very real reader to arrive at a simple request for action.

Movement will save you. And movement in a definite direction, knowing that you only have to create a very simple pitch with a simple request for action, can bring stunning results.

All great ads are, at heart, just killer letters that touch your reader’s heart. Or greed gland. Or desire for vengance, or whatever it is that he wants enough to open his wallet to attain.

It’s fair to ask: If this is such a good tactic, why not write ALL ads like this?

And the professional answer is: Because, once you have the core of your pitch nailed in this format… you can increase readership, desire, and response by fleshing more of the classic “formal” parts. Big headline, bold and centered subheads, ranks of tidy indented bullets, some graphics, audio, video and all that other cool stuff.

Nevertheless… cornered by a crisis, without the time or resources to “perfect” your ad… a very simple sales letter, aimed at the tender emotional sweet spot of need in your reader, leading to a single action… can save your life.

That was fun, wasn’t it?

You guys are scary-good, and I feel better about the state of the copywriter field after seeing the sense, the will to think hard, and the skill set so many of you offer.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

Sunday, 6:09pm
Reno, NV


Here’s a question for you.

It’s something that — once you know the answer — you sorta want to smack yourself upside your head, cuz it’s so obvious.

However, it’s NOT so obvious until someone with experience reveals the answer to you. It’s simple, but most folks never “stumble” upon it on their own.

I hate these kinds of questions, myself. Except for, like, situations where I’m the one holding the big damn secret, and I get to do all the teasing and torturing. It’s fun being the one in control. All humans have at least a small sociopathic sadist hiding deep inside, you know…

But never mind about that.

What’s interesting here — and very, very important to marketers looking to earn the Big Bucks — is that despite the “obviousness” of the answer (which you’re very close to discovering)… fewer than one professional copywriter in a hundred has a clue to the solution.

And that’s the pro’s — the guys making a living at this.

For rookie entrepreneurs and flustered small biz owners… it’s like the Holy Grail of advertising. They’ve maybe heard rumors about it, but harbor little hope of ever finding the answer without some serious help.

Still, it’s worth wracking your brain about, because (as top marketers know) all the really good wealth-producing secrets are hidden from most people.

This is the advanced stuff, folks.

So here’s the question… and I want you to really try to answer it for yourself before you peek at the answer:


“What can a marketer do… when he desperately needs a money-making ad fast… and yet finds the ‘formal’ process of writing a ‘real’ sales pitch (or getting one written by others) too daunting to complete?”

In other words, you need to post, print or mail something (with wolves at the door)… and no way is a ‘real’ looking ad gonna get completed in time. So what do you do?

I’ll give you a hint: The answer is NOT “do nothing.” Or “crawl back into bed and curl into a sobbing fetal position.” (A very common response, by the way, to this very common problem. It’s why so many new businesses wither and die every year, too.)

The key words in this question are “desperately”… “money-making”… “fast”… and “real”.

Consider those words as you try to figure out the answer.

The need for results-getting ads is never-ending for all business owners… and most never adequately solve the problem of getting “real” ads created (either by using agencies or freelancers)… even when deadlines are loose and money’s no object.

Worse, though, is that neither entrepreneurs nor small biz owners ever come close to solving the problem of giving birth to “emergency” ads that need to get posted or published or mailed right friggin’ NOW… especially when there’s no agency or freelancer available to help, or no money to hire them.

So what do you think the answer is?

Wracked with anxiety, under a cash crunch, with the hammer coming down… and no time or resources available to pay someone else to do it… or to create a “real” ad, with superscript, headline, subhead, bullets, guarantees, graphics, etc, yourself… what do you DO?

I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments section. I promise not to make fun of anyone… especially rookies who just want to give a stab at the answer.

Again, the question (re-phrased): “What do you do, when you’re under the gun to create a money-making sales piece… and you simply don’t know how to create (or are overwhelmed by the requirements of) a ‘formal’ type ad with all the bells and whistles?”

I’ll post the veteran’s short, elegant solution Tuesday evening.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. C’mon. Give it a go — leave a suggestion in the comments section here…

The Naughty List For Businesses

Sunday, 11:59pm
Reno, NV


Quickie post here, cuz I’m a walking petri dish of germs. There’s a slug of Nyquil sitting here with my name on it, and I’ll be worthless about three minutes after I slam it.



Here’s the post (while I can still type): One of the grand traditions of year-end journalism is the round-up of “worst” lists.

I love ’em all.

In truth, 2007 had some totally bitchin’ highlights for me and my colleagues. The gloom-and-doom mainstream media would prefer that we all become quivering masses of hysterical anxiety… but after you’ve been around the block as many times as I have, you get some perspective.

Things have been worse. And they’ve been better.

That’s kinds how the world works.

Still… there are all these wonderful lists to enjoy.

So here’s a good one, in case you missed it. Not your standard “celebrity eats own head” kind of material, either.

It’s literally a “worst of biz” 2007 list. By Fortune magazine.

Read, enjoy, discuss:

Stay frosty… and don’t catch what I have…

John Carlton

Yes, And It’s A Blank Page!


Just finished up the much ballyhooed second-ever Copywriting Sweatshop. It was fun, invigorating, and a shuddering success.

And — hey — I learned some cool new stuff, too.

My old pal David Deutsch was in the audience. I’d asked him to fly out, as a fellow “A List” copywriter, to sort of watch my back while I rambled and ranted and did my schtick on the stage. David and I have been discussing copy for almost twenty years now, and we’re dead serious about it. (At last count, he had six controls for Boardroom, which has got to be some kind of record.)

Anyway, after lunch on the final day, I asked David to grab a mike and join me under the bright lights up front… because I wanted the crowd to hear what we’d been talking about during breaks.

This was a subject that caused a curious reaction in people. For veteran pro writers, our eyes all lit up like Xmas come early. For non-writers, it seemed… a bit weird.

The subject? Improv.

More specifically, improvisation… as in attempting comedy without a script.

It’s definitely an art form (and one dominated by British and American actor/comedians). On TV, you may have seen the Drew Carey-hosted show “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” (which was a rip from the English original, as most of the good stuff on the tube is these days). Actor/director Christopher Guest (the gum-smacking lead guitarist from Spinal Tap) has put out a major Hollywood release about every other year that is primarily improv — no actual scripts, and lots of spontaneous brilliance from the crew. (“A Mighty Wind”, “Best In Show”, “Waiting For Guffman”, and of course “Spinal Tap”.)

Monty Python worked a lot with improv.

So the pedigree is golden. Most actors fear improv, though, cuz you gotta think fast and rely on your wits. (Something many actors lack. Without a script, they are helpless.)

Yet, there are nevertheless some fundamental rules to doing improvisation… and it is the #1 Rule that copywriters get kinda excited about.

That rule? Whenever you are teamed with someone to create a bit, spontaneously… you NEVER contradict your fellow actors. The line you rely on is: Yes… and

In other words… you build on what the other guy just said. As David illustrated at the seminar, one guy might say “Gee, it’s cold here in the Artic”. And it would be verboten for the other actor to then shake his head and say “No, we’re not in the Artic, we’re in a desert.”

That would be “bad comedy”… and leave the first actor out in the cold, scrambling to figure out what the hell to say next. Contrariness throws the whole scene off the rails, and while it may be odd and absurd, it ain’t funny.

No. What you might actually say is: “Yes. And look at those penguins over there. They seem… hungry.” Or something like that.

The key is to build on the previous entry. The reply then might be something like: “Yeah… hungry and looking at us funny…” Now, the story is going somewhere.

Improv scares most people even more than simple public speaking (or handling snakes, the other top fear). There’s a sense of being so… naked and vulnerable.

No script. No road map. No way to predict where the scene is gonna go.

For trained comedians, heaven. For most folks, hell.

For people addicted to contrariness and stubborn negativity, it’s like entering another universe.

I took exactly one improv class, around three years ago. Loved it. Chicago’s Second City improv group came to town, and after the performance, they offered an one-time workshop. On-stage. It was easily the toughest class I’ve ever attended.

But that single rule — yes, and — intrigued me.

Turns out it’s intrigued many other marketers and writers. David is serious about it, and well into a months-long study of improv. My pal Eben Pagan (of Altitude fame) studied it, too. The list goes on.

Why the fascination with improv… a bizarre art form that seems miles away from the dreary and unfunny world of advertising?

Dude, it’s all about facing the blank page.

Sitting down at your desk with an ad to write… and not having a clue how to begin.

Well… in improv, nearly every second of performance time brings that identical problem to your plate. What are you gonna say now?

And you can’t plan ahead, because you must wait for your fellow actor to finish before you open your mouth or engage your brain. Which you gotta do, like, immediately, to keep the flow going. Bang, bang, bang.

It’s the ultimate blank page.

The concept of using “yes, and” to move ahead appeals to all writers… because it’s so friggin’ positive. It’s easy to be cynical and jaded — it’s the refuge of all scoundrels who can’t create anything, but consider knocking stuff down to be just as valuable a skill. (It isn’t.)

I realized, smack in the middle of that class, that I’d been using that same kind of positive “move it along” tactic myself… every time I sat down to write copy.

You can almost feel the enthusiasm in the simple words “yes, and“. Salesmanship thrives on enthusiasm, and shrivels under the cruel heat of negativity.

A great ad may indeed start with a not-so-good platform — in fact, most ads address some kind of urgent, dire problem. And yet, the greased slide of the sales pitch MUST steer the process into positive territory. A solution. The restoration of hope. A pleasant picture of better days, resolution, redemption, and success. (You didn’t know advertising was a distant cousin of epic drama?)

“Sure”, you might write to your skeptical prospect, “things are tough right now for you. But soon, you can start doing this. Yes, and also this. And this. And that. And also this other thing…”

You build on the tenative spark of hope your hook or USP offers, and keep building until you’ve presented the promise of a whole new life to your reader. A positive, enthusiastic transformation. (Yes, even if you’re just selling dumb little widgets.)

I’m not convinced that David and I convinced the audience at the Sweatshop of the critical nature of “yes, and“… but we at least made them more aware of the role of positive action while creating ads.

The way to break through the paralysis of the blank page… is to get high on the happy hormonal flush of building toward something nice. You can start small… but make your promise, your presentation of benefits, and your entire sales process heave and swell with each new paragraph. Bring on your hidden goodies with panache and enthusiasm and unexpected revelation.

People out there are bored, worried and clueless. As a writer, you have an opportunity to reach out and give negativity a wedgie.

And it won’t be able to get you back, if you’re climbing up and away on cool drafts of blooming good vibes.

“Yes, and” is all about working with your reader.

And anyone with a drop of salesmanship in their veins has got to be nodding right now, thinking “Yeah… and thanks for reminding me.”

Stay frosty… and watch out for penguins bearing silverware…

John Carlton

P.S. The other top copywriter in the audience was my longtime friend David Garfinkel — another “ringer” I asked to hang out so I could bounce things off him, and know that I had multiple professionals in the room keeping me in line.

“Garf” and I are teaming up to do a presentation at another upcoming seminar down in Los Angeles starting Wednesday, October 17th. More details to come. The seminar host insists on all speakers doing hands-on workshops, so in many ways this will be a condensed version of the Sweatshop concept. (The good thing about a real Sweatshop is that it lasts all weekend. David and I will not have that luxury, but we are plotting evil ways to force-feed advanced skills into a large, startled crowd in less than two hours. It’s a spectacularly high-wire-act tactic that only super-creative types could ever come up with…)

This will be an event for the history books.

I’m also gonna jet down to the Altitude event, right after finishing my speaking gig at the Big Seminar in Atlanta this coming weekend.

No peace for the wicked, and all that.

This Fall has become a major season for stunning new revelations in advertising and marketing. It’s always been the “main” seminar season, but this year is just nuts with opportunity and specific direction. Even if you can’t make any of the many events being held, at least be hyper-aware of any post-event material being released.

Just don’t risk falling behind, all right? Things are moving faster than ever, especially online. Watch this site, and your other “go-to” sites, to stay hip to what’s happening. It’s always a good idea to stay current, but it’s now a hard-core requirement for serious marketers.

Exciting times.

Plus (warning: blatant pitch here)… we’ve still got a free “look” equal to two months of content down at the Carlton “Radio Rant” coaching club. No risk, killer info and advice, a chance to get your copy personally critiqued by me, and much more… this month, for example, I did a shocking co-critique show with Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero, who brings a unique female-based attitude to copywriting. Important stuff, presented with flair, mystery and fun. (That show is still posted, but you gotta hurry.)

Check it out:

Happy trails…

A Brief Jolt Of Intense Pain, And Then…

Have you ever figured out your own personal learning style?

We all have one, you know. This inconvenient fact is the bane of educators everywhere… because the teaching strategy that does so well creating a love of reading in Suzy, also puts Timmy to sleep (and makes him hate books).

I was discussing IQ with a buddy of mine recently — very smart guy, who’d just discovered his lovely wife had the exact same IQ as he did (this might be a bad thing in some marriages, but it was good news in his) — and I suddenly remembered the disorientation and stomach-churning confusion I had felt when taking my first IQ tests back in high school. I scored high enough to give the finger to all those grim, humorless teachers who were sure I was stupid (how could it possibly be their fault I wasn’t learning much under their obviously excellent guidance?)… but the actual score had to have been wildly off, because I distinctly recall never having encountered many of the words used in the test (which the creators took for granted that I knew).

It wasn’t that English was a foreign language to me… but rather that I’d somehow escaped learning a whole bunch of math, and was extremely vague on what a verb was. Among other embarrassments.

Now, I’ve trashed the U.S. schools before, and I’m not gonna do it again here. Too easy a target.

And I happen to know a couple of dozen teachers personally… all of whom are wicked smart people, dedicated to teaching, and universally upset that bureaucrats and politicians interfere with the process of filling semi-empty minds with the fodder of academia.

Nevertheless… it is ABSURD to think there is any single way to teach anything to everyone.

It’s simply not true. There may be a finite number of ways to teach effectively… but there are certainly more than a tidy few.

This was one of the main reasons I got into teaching entrepreneurs. I noticed, way back when I first started producing marketing and copywriting seminars, that there were always a number of people in the audience who simply didn’t “get it” when I tried to explain some specific salesmanship tactic or copy strategy.

We both got frustrated, because we seemed to be living in different worlds, where one man’s communication was another man’s Tower of Babel.

I was curious enough to look deeper into this… and discovered that among those people who didn’t get it, there were further sub-cultures of folks who couldn’t understand me no matter what I did or said or explained.

Some of these people were just aggressively stupid. Others could only “value” what I tried to teach through their need to control the message — they were offended by any show of cockiness, they were insulted by any kind of humor (especially the raw kind employed by the likes of Halbert and me), or they were aghast at the lack of democratic input I would allow into the conversation. (I’m sorry, but if you insist on wasting my time arguing about whether anyone reads long copy or not, we’re not gonna get anywhere special as far as learning new stuff. You don’t get equal time with your untested bullshit.)

At first, this bothered me. I felt I was a failure for not somehow possessing a super-broad array of teaching skills that would conquer any barrier put up by a student.

Then I got over it.

I stumbled through my own educational days mostly clueless about everything. If I hit the books at all to study, it was only from the mad hope that somewhere in one of the many classes I was taking, a clue might appear on how to live my life in a meaningful way.

I wish someone would have told me “Good luck on that quest, Bucko”… because it wasn’t gonna happen.

So I grew up thinking there was something wrong with ME — first, because I couldn’t find the value in what was being shoved down my throat at school… and later, because I kept encountering people who insisted they wanted to learn what they’d heard I had to teach about marketing and advertising and copywriting… but couldn’t seem to understand me at all.

And then, when I finally looked at the problem in a different way, it dawned on me: I was amazingly effective as a teacher… with the right student.

The “right” student was often an entrepreneur or small businessman who had a few unique things going for him. He could put his ego aside. He had an open mind about new ideas, even when these ideas contradicted his prior belief systems. And he had the ability to “translate” what I was saying, into language that worked for him.

I had always suspected I wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea… but now I finally realized that it was pointless to pay ANY attention to those good folks who didn’t “click” with me.

Because those people I DID click with stood to benefit enormously.

This is why my first course was titled “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel”. I still, to this day, get outraged emails from certain people who are deeply insulted by the term “kick-ass”. Many demand that I change it immediately. All decree that they would NEVER deal with a teacher like me, as long as I used such foul language.

What they do not realize… is that using the term “kick-ass” is a big damn cleaver I use to separate those folks who will NEVER learn from me in any meaningful way… from those who are PERFECT students for my teaching style.

Their learning style matches up.

I can’t pretend to be someone I’m not, and be an effective teacher. I’m never gonna wear a tie, or go to bed at a decent time so I can get up early, or create an academically-approved syllabus for anything I teach. Not gonna happen.

I’ll stand behind my balls-to-the-wall, street-savvy teaching method anytime… because I’ve got a loooooong line of people willing to testify that my style worked with them, where other styles failed. There’s often a brief jolt of pain from my methods, as the bullshit falls away and you enter, new-born-like, into the world of honest salesmanship and wicked-good copy… but it’s invigorating, not scary.

And for the right student — a savvy, independently-minded realist, who embraces the world for what it is, and doesn’t waste time wishing it was something else — this re-birth can be the start of anadventure that changes everything. Forever. In your business, and in your life.

The world is big, and people are wired with all kinds of kinks and passions that — when you’re playing it smart — fit into your sales funnel perfectly. You just gotta know what to say.

I liken it to teaching a foreign language. I suffered through six years of “formal” Spanish classes… and I still couldn’t have a real conversation with anyone fluent in the language. They tried to teach me by boring me to tears first, and wilting vast areas of my brain with useless info. (Who CARES where the friggin’ library is, already?)

However… had the program started out by teaching me how to make it through a day in Tijuana buying firecrackers, scoring booze and negotiating my way into strip bars (and out of trouble with the federales)… man, I would have studied overtime.

Teaching the advanced levels of marketing and copywriting aren’t much different. Most of the books you can read on the subjects tend toward the snooty “let’s look at this scientifically” angle… not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But in my long years as a successful copywriter, I’ve learned that getting “real” with your reader whenever possible increases your odds of breaching the skepticism and hostility most prospects bring to reading cold copy.

And no, you shouldn’t tell naughty stories to bank presidents when you’re writing B2B… but you DO need to write in a voice that rings true to him. (Dirty secret: I happen to have known some bank presidents in my time… and they are, sometimes, wild and crazy guys who are just as bored with formal business dealings as you are thinking about them. If you’re real good, you can sneak into their good graces through a side door no one else is using…)

My teaching style is vicious, fun, and shockingly effective… with the right student.

With the wrong student… not so much.

So one of my first jobs when pitching a seminar is to discourage the “wrong” people from attending. No sense of humor? Stay home. Indignant about being taken apart by a mere copywriter? Go get an MBA.

Can’t wait to roll up your sleeves, put your ego on a shelf, and get down and dirty with the reality of what it takes to write world-class advertising?

You’re my man. Or woman. Or extraterrestial, I don’t care.

My small, workshop seminars are such a hit because I let people self-select themselves as candidates to attend. I make no secret of my teaching style… so it’s up to you to decide if I’m the guy you really can learn from or not.

There are enormous, and very broad, marketing lessons in this attitude, by the way. If you use a lot of personality in your marketing, you’re going to offend some people. It’s unavoidable.

You could — if you’re the suicidal type — make yourself so bland and inoffensive that you blend into the background. No one will get insulted… but then, no one will consider you a “go-to guy”, either.

On the other hand, if you let your freak flag fly — and you’ve got the chops to back it all up — then while you may forever deal with smaller lists than your competitors… the intensity and passion and acceptance of that smaller list will dwarf the bottom line of your nearest Mr. Milquetoast competitor.

I’m not pitching you on my upcoming Copywriting Sweatshop here. (There probably isn’t room for you, anyway… but if you care to see what’s up, go to (Better hurry, though — as of this afternoon, there are only 2 spots left…)

It’s just that the process of teaching and learning is a hot topic right now… as more and more people enter the online business world, and discover they need to get hip — fast — to a whole bunch of insider stuff no one warned them about.

The most successful marketers subscribe to the “student for life” concept — and are forever searching for the right kind of teacher to help them discover the shortcuts and little-known cutting-edge breakthroughs that will KEEP them successful.

And I’m not saying I’m that guy, for you. Sure, I’ve helped a MOB of people break the code on creating wealth and living life with more gusto.

But I’ve easily offended many times more that number.

And I couldn’t care less.

The truth will set you free… but only if you find someone willing to TELL you the truth, in a way you can understand and use.

Okay, I’m done.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

P.S. Hey, one more thing. I almost forgot.

I just did my very first video. Well, not my first video overall — I’m on dozens and dozens of videos and DVDs, from my participation in seminars and other events. (Nothing naughty, either, I assure you.)

No. This is my first “home office” video… just me and the Webcam, at my desk, delivering a short message to marketers.

If you’ve ever wondered what my secret cave-office looks like, check it out. Short video. Online video is, of course, a force that’s quickly taking over marketing (excellently, when shot using good copy, and boring when too much winging takes place), and I’m getting into it heavily.

To see my first one, hop over to

Beware — there are opportunities lurking…

Part Deux: The Continuing Saga of the Sales Challenged Geek

And the firestorm continues to rage.

There are a number of issues that have reared their ugly head since I posted the first “Sales Challenged Geek” piece here. I’ve got a lot to say, so let’s just take ’em on one at a time:

1. The skills behind world-class salesmanship are aggressively misunderstood by most people. This is exemplified by the polls taken by news organizations after the annual blitz of Super Bowl ads: They ask which ad was the “best”… and millions of people toss in their two cents.

This is marvelous theater… but a piss-poor way to judge the effectiveness of advertising.

People believe they understand the function of advertising, because they’ve seen so much of it over their lifetime.

And yet, almost universally, they are dead wrong about what makes an ad “good”.

There is just one way for a biz to judge the quality of any ad they run: Does it work?

Not, does it entertain? Not, is it inoffensive in every conceivable way, so no one gets riled up? And certainly not, does your spouse “like” it?

If you are a rookie in business, please take this one piece of advice from a grizzled veteran: Be VERY careful who you take advice from.

You can gather two dozen of your closest, most trusted friends, and ask them for advice on how to market your biz. Their hearts will be in the right place, they will be sincere, and many will honestly believe they understand the function of advertising enough to confidently tell you exactly what to do and what to avoid.

And, if none of your friends has any actual experience in marketing… you can bet all that wonderful advice will be somewhere around 100% wrong.

World-class salesmanship may not be rocket science… but it is a very non-intuitive set of learned skills on par with, say, learning to play a musical instrument. It’s not normally part of the original equipment issued when you come into this world.

And, fortunately, your business can probably get by with less than world-class salesmanship… but you do need to at least need to learn the basics. The equivalent of learning to play a simple song on the piano all the way through, to follow the analogy. (And keep in mind, most people screw up “Chopsticks”… and can’t even clap in time to a simple beat.)

These analogies are important, because the default belief out there about advertising and marketing is aggressively wrong. You can see this in some of the comments left on my last post — people are so sure that what they believe about long copy is the Truth (with a capital “T”), that they will not hesitate to argue with people who make their living at it.

This is not surprising to hardened advertising veterans, by the way. We know from experience that belief always trumps logic (and even science).

You will never change someone’s mind just because you have facts and results on your side. People will stubbornly cling to a welded-in belief even when it clearly is hurting them. (Before I learned to parse out the most oblivious clients as a freelancer, I was frequently faced with biz owners who would interfere with a winning ad… because their spouse “had a better idea”… and refuse to admit they’d made a mistake even as their profits plummeted.)

The illogical nature of the human mind is precisely why high-end salesmanship causes such outrage among the clueless — it’s often counter-intuitive, and, yes, psychologically manipulative.

2. The stunning power behind this psychological manipulation is exactly why I urge people to study salesmanship — especially how it’s used in advertising copy — even if they aren’t going to be writing their own ads.

If you are so clueless that a stark “take away” tactic in a pitch is gonna make you swoon with uncontrolled desire for something you don’t really want… then you’re not going to live a very good life.

You are, in fact, an A-1 sucker.

And I don’t want ANYONE to go around being suckered, or conned, or manipulated. If I could re-design the world, I’d make the art of persuasion part of our basic equipment.

But that’s not the way the world works.

In my course “Kick Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel”, I am emphatic (in the opening chapter) about hoping that anyone using these proven salesmanship tactics for unethical reasons… will go straight to Hell.

And I’m serious. Good direct marketing techniques probably deserve the black eye they have in the public’s mind. The entire advertising industry has a long history of touting rotten products, and scamsters make full use of every tactic in the book.

But that doesn’t make the tactics “bad”.

Listen carefully: Scamsters use the selling models they use… because those models work. Duh. Most cons know they only have ONE chance at a sale (cuz they probably need to either leave town fast, or take down their Website before being traced). So they don’t dick around with techniques that don’t get results.

None of us like this situation. In a perfect world, all scam artists would spontaneously burst into flames the moment they entered illegal territory.

But that’s not what happens.

The Web has opened the floodgates of scams that used to operate at the fringe of socieity. Back in the pre-wired days, most scams were conducted face-to-face, individually. Direct mail was too expensive, and newspapers wouldn’t accept print ads from identifiable con men.

Now, though, even the most pit-bull spam filter can’t begin to catch all the illicit and criminal crap hitting your inbox every hour of every day. Cheap email has made it profitable for crooks to spam.

But none of this discredits the effectiveness of good salesmanship.

3. Why not?

Because successful marketers understand the inherently hostile relationship between seller and buyer. The marketing graveyard is crammed to bursting with fabulous products that failed… because the marketing sucked.

And you’re using products right now, every hour of every day, that are overpriced, under-performing, and right on schedule to be obsolete long before you’ve gotten full value. (How’s that nifty new iPhone working out for ya?)

Sellers want to get the best price they can, while delivering what they believe is decent value.

Buyers want to get the most bang for thier buck, scoring the biggest bargain possible.

And that’s just on the surface.

Further down, in the murky depths where all psychological battles are fought, it starts to get really interesting.

Even the simplest transaction is fraught with peril for both seller and buyer. Say you need some nails, cuz your hammer’s lonely. Unless you’re a carpenter, you’re gonna find yourself in Home Depot staring slack-jawed at a bewildering array of pointy-tipped products. Row after row of them, too.

A rookie might consider this the easiest kind of sale possible. Guy wants nails, you got nails… what’s the problem?

Information is the problem. Somewhere in that armada of sharp metal is the perfect nail for the job you have at home. But you don’t know where that nail is. Or how much you should pay for it.

Or even what quality of that type of nail you should get.

Enter advertising. First, probably, in the guise of the helpful employee, who tries to steer you to the right shelf. He’ll ask you questions, narrow down your search… and present you with a choice.

In most retail situations, it’s the old “good, better, best” choice. Sears started it — if price is your main consideration, we got these cheap-shit nails in a plain plastic bag. They’re good enough. If you want something better — and don’t mind paying a bit more — we got these other nails over here… better quality material, more trustworthy, probably some form of guarantee.

Or, if you want the best… we have the snooty brand name nails, in the sturdy box, with the rebate coupon, the free hammer, the endorsement of The Tool Guy, and yadda, yadda, yadda.

Sure, they cost more. But doesn’t your hammer deserve the best?

This is all very advanced salesmanship, rife with psychological manipulation. The SAME mind game stuff used by scamsters, in fact. A little bit of take-away, a lot of credentializing, a whole bunch of risk-reversal.

And a complete rout of your objections.

You go to Home Depot for nails, you’re coming home with nails, dude.

Why is so much salesmanship needed for such a basic transaction?

Because of the perversity of the human mind. The guy who thought he knew what he needed is faced with a bewildering array of choices. His first thought is to flee. He’s thinking “I don’t want to make the wrong choice. My buddies would think I’m an idiot. Maybe I should ask my uncle about this first…” and so on.

The objections pile up fast and furious. Because the desire to buy, and the need to sell, are part of an inherently hostile interaction.

Yes, even when it seems to be in everyone’s best interest to have the deal go down.

And this is just for nails.

In the Information Age… with information and knowledge the stuff being sold and sought… the objections multiply quickly. With retail products, like nails, you can do cost comparisons right there in the store. You may even have a sense of what is too much, and what truly is a great bargain.

But how do you price information? Prospects come into your world with vague, unformed desires… and a straight checklist of features won’t do the job of selling them.

So here’s the bottom line: If you honsetly have a product of quality and worth… that your prospect truly needs and can make good use of… then it’s your JOB to do what you need to do to make the sale happen.

Shame on you if you let your prospect go away unhappy and unfulfilled and empty handed.

You gotta answer all his obvious questions… and counter the unconscious objections he isn’t even aware of yet. He needs rational reasons to buy, as well as irrational reasons to soothe his un-named fears.

So you explain the benefits. You establish yourself as a go-to guy. You help him understand why the price is what it is… and help him “fit” that price into his head. So he can confidentally explain to the doubters in his life why he just bought.

You remove his fear of being suckered. You let him know he got the better end of the bargain. You take away all risk, so he feels safe in buying right away.

But even deeper: You know (because you’re an uber-salesman) that he still won’t pull out his wallet if there is an easy way “out”. You know that even though he’ll kick himself later for not buying right then and there, and even though he wants it desperately… if he feels a lack of urgency, he will act against his own self-interest, and decline to close the deal.

Thus: You use limitations, deadlines, one-time offers, bonuses and whatever else you have in your arsenal to light a fire under his butt.

Because, as an experienced salesman, you know that once he leaves without buying, the odds of him returning later are very, very, very low. He walks, and you’ve lost the sale, most of the time.

Is this starting to make sense now?

4. The geeks who rail against the perceived scam-i-ness of long copy ads are engaging in another common human foible that all veteran salesmen recognize: The need to protect yourself against Voodoo.

People who do not understand advertising — but believe they do — are so terrified of being “taken”, that they set up a psychological “electric fence” around their brain. They become convinced they are so savvy about the wiles and tricks of marketing, that they are now immune.

One of the most dangerous aspects of unchecked belief systems is the false confidence they offer the believer. You can believe — with all your heart and soul — that you’re the baddest ass in the bar… the prettiest girl getting off the bus in Miami Beach… or the savviest hustler on the street.

And it’s always ugly when belief runs up against reality. Always.

You know what a world-class salesman wants to see in a prospect?

A tight wall of reasons why he’s NOT gonna buy.

You know why? Because even the most rock-solid psychological “electric fence” of resistance… is just a rickety pile of simple objections. You give a good salesman an objection, and he will reduce it to ashes.

All day long.

And when he’s done, you’ll be standing there thinking “He’s right. I do want that thing.”

Believe otherwise if you like. It’s your privilege to believe anything you want.

But old time door-to-door salesmen knew that the easiest marks on any block were the ones with the “No Solicitation” signs on the porch post.

5. This is why I want to teach salesmanship to everyone.

People who understand salesmanship lead better lives. Not because they’re better people… but because they are unencumbered with the burden of stupid beliefs.

And, they understand the process of selling that is going on in every store, on every Website, in every magazine, on every TV station… and between every set of humans alive — spouses, friends, neighbors, colleagues, enemies, and even strangers.

6. I’ll bet I get brow-beaten over this post in the comment section.

You challenge people’s beliefs at your own peril.

7. In fact, one comment kinda rankled me last time. Some yo-yo wrote “I don’t like what you’re pushing here”.


Dude, I am not pushing anything. This blog is free. And, if you’re honest about it, I’m delivering a ton of great info here.

For free.

I never push anyone into anything. You like what I’ve got to teach, and you want to go deeper with it, I’ve got courses and coaching programs. No, they’re not free. Neither is Harvard or Yale.

Is my advice worth the hefty price tag? Absolutely not, if you believe there is nothing I could teach you. Rock on, dude. I am not, and have never claimed to be, everyone’s cup of tea.

I earned my reputation as one of the highest-paid freelancers alive by getting results for over 25 years… often in the toughest markets out there. I’ve taught massive numbers of people the deep, dark arts of world-class copywriting and salesmanship for almost as long (and that would be why, my main site, is so crammed with excited testimonials).

So, disagree with me, if you must.

But don’t distort the argument. I never mentioned “get rich quick” schemes in my prior post. If you’re a geek who has made the sticky connection between long copy and scams in your head, that’s fine. Make a case for another path, by showing me results, though — not boring rants about your beliefs.

You know who uses long copy… with all the advanced salesmanship tactics available?

You’re not gonna like hearing this…

Reader’s Digest (they even use “grabbers” like pennies glued to their long-copy direct mail letters)…

Prevention Magazine point-of-purchase (published by the folks behind the mega-successful “South Beach Diet”)…

Men’s Health magazine…

Sharper Image catalogs…

Sky Mall catalogs (in the seat-pocket in front of you)…

The Wall Street Journal (owners of one of the most famous long-copy direct mail letters in history)…

Time-Life — their hour-long informericals for music CDs are legendary…

The ACLU… both political parties (and most third-party candidates)… and every charity out there: the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Cancer Society…

and on, and on, and on.

You think people bought iPods because of a few bitchin’ commercials featuring the Vines?


Apple orchestrated a tsumani of planned articles for a year in advance. Very much the equivalent of a stretched-out long copy ad… using every salesmanship trick in the book.

You think Ford and Toyota and the other car makers sell just from their splashy television spots? Get real. The big sales and rebates (great examples of desire-inflaming take-aways, by the way) are just to get you in the door. Once there, you are in for a spoken “long copy” sales pitch.

You wanna talk about scams?

How about the bullshit shoveled out by Big Pharma every night during prime time? Happy, healthy people dancing along tropical shores or sleeping like untroubled babies… while the list of admitted side effects are glossed over matter-of-factly (and the truly nasty side effects only make an appearance as headlines when people start dying).

Is Coke a “reputable” company? Nice, graphic-heavy ads. Nothing hard-sell, or offensive to be found.

Right. It’s sugar water. Not just with zero health benefits… but with negative health implications from the corn syrup, the fizz, the “secret ingredients”, even the caffeine.

In blind taste tests, I seem to recall, Pepsi even wins against Coke head-to-head… though Pepsi remains number two world-wide.

So, is it the nice, friendly ads doing all the selling?

Nope. It’s all about shelf position in the store, and monopoly status in restaurants and vending machines. Hard core, cutthroat, street-level salesmanship. They’re good at it, and have been for a century.

It costs them pennies to make the goop and bottle it. You pay a vast multiple of their cost for the privilege of dousing your guts with nutritionless sugar water. And the proceeds keep them fat, rich, and with an advertising budget bigger than the GDP of most nations.

And you’re pissed about the Nigerian bank scams, just because they offend your sense of “dignified advertising models”?

Well, okay, I’m outraged at the scamsters, too. They have sullied the skills of legitimate, world-class salesmanship, and given teachers like me an uphill battle when helping clueless newbies get their business chops together.

But really. Stop equating graphics-heavy, clever, entertaining ads with “reputable”. It’s bullshit.

And unless you take the trouble to at least learn the honest basics of real salesmanship, then you’re ripe for being a sucker over and over again for the rest of your days. In every human interaction you engage in, from buying crap to keeping the romance alive in your main relationships.

Get hip, stop fussing with belief systems, and get over your fear of Voodoo.

You can make your ads look nice. No rule against that.

But you cannot get world-class results without salesmanship. If you’re happy with your results, and content to be clueless, great. Carry on. Be well and happy.

But if you’re NOT happy with your results, then… just maybe… learning a few honest selling techniques can turn your life around.


I got on a friggin’ roll there…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

The Continuing Saga of the Sales-Challenged Geek

So it’s a gorgeous day, I’ve snuck out of the office on reasonable pretense, and I’m cruising down South Virginia Street with the top down and “Kid” by the Pretenders laying waste to my eardrums.

And I’m thinking to myself: Why don’t I get outa the office more often during the day, and drive around aimlessly like this?

South Virginia is a busy main drag, but traffic is moving fast, like feed through a goose.

I’m blissed out.

Suddenly, every lane north and south comes to a screeching halt, the cars hitting the brakes so abruptly that their rear ends bounce up like cockroaches running into a wall. I fishtail, and somehow everyone avoids a pile-up.

The problem? Some dude in a thrashed Riviera blowing across four lanes of heavy traffic from a cross-street with no light… and getting a good look at him, I start laughing my ass off.

He’s staring straight ahead as he barrels through, his left hand held aloft, giving a defiant middle finger to everyone he’s just given an adrenalin dump to.

Hey, you gotta get across a busy street, you gotta get across the busy street.

Hit the gas, and damn the torpedos.


Two thoughts pass through my mind as traffic starts moving again.

First thought: This is why I don’t get out more often. People go all whack under the summer sun.

And my second thought: Hey, I know that guy.

Okay, I don’t actually “know” him. Never seen that warped Buick with the peeling Landau roof before in my life, or the “proud to give the world the bird” driver.

But I know his type. All my life, I’ve gone out of my way to hang out with different kinds of people. I’m not sure why I’ve done that — probably some vague sense of wanting to sample everything out there — but it’s sure helped me as a marketer.

And I’ll tell you why it helps in a minute.

First, I gotta tell you who that guy reminded me of.

Back in my first year out of high school, I had worked my way into some pretty tough crowds. My long hair and minor skill with a guitar was my back-stage pass to Hoodlum City, and I was eager to experience life outside the mostly-safe, “Leave It To Beaver” lifestyle I’d been raised in.

In fact, I spent close to a year hanging out with bikers and ex-cons and other riff-raff. The dregs of society.

I loved it. These guys had a total “up yours” attitude to mainstream America, and purposely violated every rule and social more they could find. Looking back, it was like playing in a lion’s den… but at the time, I felt dangerous and “real”.

And because I was so skinny and naive and young, I enjoyed the privilege of being considered something like the kid brother some of those monsters never had. So I somehow never got my skull bashed in.

Okay, I’ll leave the stories of debauchery and gettin’ chased by cops for another time.

The reason I bring those guys up now is their peculiar world view. I got to know it well, and watching that maroon in the Riviera nearly cause a twelve-car collision today — while flipping off the strangers he’d nearly killed, just to make his point of “don’t give a shit” as poignant as possible — clarified a whole other issue for me.

Here’s that other issue: Last month, my ears started itching. It was because a heated discussion about me was reaching fever pitch online — and I just hadn’t caught wind of it yet.

But my partner Stan noticed a serious spike in views to my main page,… and tracked them to a blog that had started a thread about “long copy Web sites”, with my site as the primary suspect hoisted up for inspection.

No harm there. In fact, I’m flattered. The blog in question is actually more than “just” a blog — it’s been called the top hit-getting Q&A site on the Internet (after Yahoo Answers and MicroSoft QnA).

Perhaps you’ve heard of it — MeFi, as it’s affectionately known by insiders. Or Metafilter, the real name.

It’s truly an amazing site, started back in 1999 by a 35-year-old programmer who wanted to have the best blog in the universe. You’d be hard-pressed to find a subject that doesn’t get covered within any 3-day period on MeFi… from technology, shopping and health to law, fashion and religion.

Oh, and advertising.

It’s as close to truly broad-based community as I’ve ever found online. A cacophony of voices, ideas, opinions, and — primarily — getting questions answered.

Anyway… the founder floated a rather innocuous question last month… wondering if anyone knew if “long copy” Web sites were efficient or not in getting desired results.

And he offered up three samples. Mine was first.

Oh, my goodness, but the stoning began immediately, and went deep.

Let me tell you something: The dust-up over the “Web 2.0” bullshit is pretty much over in the active online direct marketing community. The top marketers may toy with fancier stuff here and there… but they still rely on long-copy sales pitches when it’s crunch time.

However… outside the tidy niche of entrepreneurs and small biz who track results… there’s a raging debate still going on about “nice looking”, high tech sites… versus the “scammy-looking” efforts of the marketers who dare to post copy that… well… looks like mine.

The horror!

I’ll give you the link in a moment, and you can go see how vicious the comments got. (I can recommend Metafilter, regardless, as a resource site. I’ve spent some time surfing it, and I like it mucho.) (Even though they used me as an ideological punching bag.)

The comments were brutal and cocksure. I could tell most of the writers were competent geeks, too, from the way they brandished high-tech language.

In thier view, long-copy sites were ugly blots on the virtual landscape, definitely scams, and obviously maintained by brain-addled low-lifes who were clueless about how to sell anything online.

Reading through the comments, I’m in tears… from laughing so hard.

I mean, I’ll cop to being brain-addled.

But clueless about selling online?

No way, dude.

And today — watching the Bird Man flaunt common sense (and safety) in a way that reminded me instantly of the biker drop-outs from my youth — the lesson here just coalesced in my mind.

It’s all connected.

And it’s about belief systems… and how they will screw your life up.

Harken: All humans are a perverse lot when it comes to logic.

There isn’t, and never has been, any kind of real “common sense” to be found throughout history. We like to believe we possess common sense, and also a clear-eyed view of the “truth”.

But the key word there is “believe”.

For most folks, common sense and truth are as real as the tooth fairy.

Those bikers had a very romantic mythology built up around themselves. They were outlaws, just a band of brothers unfairly hounded by The Man and hamstrung by a society intent on crushing their spirit.

And, to be fair, most of them had huge hearts and an admirable sense of loyalty and honor. I liked most of them immensely.

But their outlaw status was primarily the result of bone-headed, irresponsible behavior. They didn’t have rap sheets from robbing the rich to give to the poor. Often, they did time because they got high, lost control of their bike, and took out a lamp post.

Or forgot they were “carrying” when they flipped off the wrong cop, showing off to friends.

Nevertheless, to them it was a vast conspiracy by society to harsh their mellow.

The Bird Man in the beat-up Riviera?

Same thing. I’m sure of it, just from the glimpse I got of his defiant smirk.

In his world-view, rules and courtesy and order are for suckers.

Of course, Dr. Phil might ask him: “And how’s that working out for you?”

If you’ve got anything going for you at all — any measurable success in life — it’s probably easy for you to see the wrong-headedness of would-be outlaws and wannabe sociopaths. It’s one thing to be a non-conformist, right? And quite another thing to just ask for it by taunting the laws of man and physics.

Ah, but here’s the lesson for marketers: That same trap awaits you, every day.

It’s the trap of drinking your own Kool-Aid… and not having anyone call you on it.

The geeks trashing my long-copy site are a perfect example.

I’m sure they’re good people, and honestly believe what comes out of their mouths.

But that’s the problem. When you believe you know a certain truth… and no one around you refutes that belief, or challenges you on it… then you start to confuse belief with reality.

And whether your belief is “I’m a bad ass outlaw”… or “I understand advertising”… or even “no one reads long copy”… then that belief can become cemented into your head as truth.

Even though it’s bullshit.

Sometimes, you’re not an outlaw… you’re just a dick.

And sometimes, your ideas on what “works” in advertising is so wrong, it’s laughable.

Hey — we all suffer from the effects of an “echo chamber” at certain times in our lives. It just happens — we surround ourselves with people who think like us, we stop getting alternative input, and soon we start regarding everyone who doesn’t think like us as the “Other”.

So everyone with a toehold in the power structure is out to get you.

And everyone aggressively trying to sell are scamsters.

That’s just the way it is. That’s what you believe. And what you believe must be true, because you believe it so deeply, and never question it.

Like I said… we all fall victim to belief systems. We all have a love/hate relationship with reality.

In the case of the geeks, however, it’s just silly.

If you read the posts in the thread about long copy on Metafilter, you’ll see certain phrases pop up like weeds: “I don’t like it…” “I think it’s…” “This is obviously…”

And it’s all belief. No actual facts, or reality behind any of it.

Like I said — in the community of successful direct marketers, the question of long-copy versus graphics-heavy short-copy isn’t even on the table anymore. It was settled long ago by guys who test, and pay attention to what works.

And here’s the way it works: If you’re selling something, you start at the beginning of your pitch, move through all the things you need to say to establish credibility, incite desire, hold attention, counter objections… and move your prospect through every other stage he needs to go through to get tweaked enough over your offer to pull out his wallet.

If you can accomplish that with a few clever bon mots and a nice table of ironic animation, go for it.

However, if you haven’t tested anything… and you simply believe you “understand” what goes into good salesmanship because you’ve seen so many ads in your life that you MUST be an expert already… then please take a time out.

You need a reality check, dude.

Entrepreneurs who model their selling tactics on what Madison Avenue does with Coke and Toyota do not remain entrepreneurs very long. They quickly become ex-entrepreneurs, and are soon forced to get a nice, safe day job to pay their bills.

Business owners who have something to sell… and want to sell it… had better pay attention to the successful marketers who actually understand and employ real salesmanship.

It’s not entertaining… it’s not often pretty… and it’s not about “branding” or creating cool art.

Or even being “liked”. God knows those of us who champion long copy and aggressive sales tactics have suffered our share of slings and arrows.

Like I’ve always said: If I wake up tomorrow, and the laws of the universe have changed… so that pretty, clever, soft-sell ads suddenly sell product like hotcakes… then I will be the first veteran to start creating pretty, clever ads full of graphics and minus hard-core salesmanship.

I don’t write long copy ads because I enjoy sweating out vast sales pitches.

Nah. I’m too lazy for that.

I write long copy ads because that’s what works.

What you “think” about these ads is irrelevant.

That you don’t “like” them is beside the point.

When your belief system butts up against reality, reality wins every single time… at least when money’s on the line.

You can believe that three-of-a-kind beats a flush with all your heart… but you still won’t take home the pot.

The first time I voted for president, I was positive my boy would win in a landslide… because all my friends thought exactly as I did. The other guy running was a putz, no one with any brains would ever vote for him, and our platform was so reasonable and fair, we were a shoo-in.

That was 1972. I voted for McGovern, who got pounded by Nixon in the biggest electoral slaughter in US history. McGovern carried his home state, and nothing else.

I was in shock for a month, my youthful (and very naive) idealism shaken to its core.

But I’m glad I got that kind of vicious reality check so young. It healed fast, and forever after, I was suspicious of people with loud opinions that weren’t backed by practical experience.

There are, essentially, two groups of people in the world of small biz owners and entrepreneurs: Those who believe they know what should work in advertising… and the rich guys who KNOW what works.

Hey… I’m kinda fired up about this, aren’t I.

Just be clear: I’m not trying to embarrass anyone here.

I’m just taking my job as teacher seriously.

And I say this because I know — from personal experience — that getting slapped by reality can jar your entire world view.

It’s very much like getting busted by The Man… unfairly, rudely and wrongly.

How dare reality be so ugly and against my grain?

Ah, heck. Maybe I’ll get into this more later…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Check out that site — — when you get a moment. My partner Stan and I have crammed the available mentoring opportunties there with free goodies that should get your greed gland quivering.

That is… check it out if you’re not scared of a little long copy.

P.P.S. Lastly… any rumors of me giving another “copywriting sweatshop” seminar, where I personally rip into your efforts at writing a good pitch, are just that: rumors.

I do have a small, intimate event coming up… but you can’t get into it unless you’re on my “private invite” list. Sorry.

P.P.P.S. Oops, almost forgot. Here’s the link to the Metafilter thread: