This is why I get paid the big bucks… 🙂
I’ve been banging my head against the wall for the last month on this.
I’m working on my first big promo for a health information product. That is, a newsletter about health, along with some additional premiums.
I dug through the client materials, and have uncovered a lot of interesting little stories that could be used in the promo.
And in fact, if I wanted to follow one of the “tried and true” formulas for a health promo, I could definitely write something along these lines…
“97-Year-Old Karate Master and Nagasaki Atom Bomb Survivor Discovers Anti-Aging, Anti-AIDS, Anti-Cancer Secret to Super-Power Your Immune System to Kick Disease in the Teeth… Giving You Years (Even Decades) More Healthy Life, Without Painful Side-Effects!”
And yes, that’s based on one of the stories they gave me.
Stories like that are the workhorse of the natural health industry. Amazing discovery from an unexpected source leads to miraculous cure. And, they work. Pretty well, at least. There are plenty of people out there looking for help, and this kind of promise speaks to that.
And that certainly wasn’t the only one. I found a handful of other interesting stories which novice copywriters would be more than happy to turn into leads for their promos.
But they didn’t hire me to write about the same dang “by the book” stories other more novice copywriters would… They hired me for a breakthrough!
And so I’ve been digging. For a month. Feeling like I’ve been spending hours upon hours in fruitless labor. Not going anywhere.
I have a file of a dozen or so other ideas I played with.
I even did a Google image search for old Reader’s Digest covers, and copied down a bunch of health-related bullets, looking for inspiration. And when that was only moderately inspiring, I headed to the local Barnes & Noble, to the magazine rack, which turned out to be far less helpful than looking at all the Reader’s Digest covers.
I was looking for a spark, but not finding it.
Here’s the point where I feel conflicted…
I’m putting together this project for a client. Which means it’s super-confidential right now. I absolutely can’t tell you what idea I landed on, and will only point to the promo as mine after it has launched.
So I can’t tell you what I’ve landed on, but I can point you toward the path I took to get there.
In looking for a breakthrough, I looked to other breakthroughs for inspiration…
Being a student of this industry helps…
I know, for example, that Clayton Makepeace was the copywriter for the launch of Phillips Publishing’s health division. The newsletter, Health & Healing, was the first major health newsletter, as far I understand it.
Clayton wrote a launch package that did pretty well, and got the newsletter going. Then, he wrote a magalog with the headline “Forbidden Cures!” that, as far as I understand, mailed upwards of 100 million times, if you count all the variations he wrote to keep it kicking.
That’s the kind of mass-appeal breakthrough I was aiming for.
But as I tried to copy Clayton (a good first step, but a step that should usually end up in the trash), I felt it falling flat. Clayton’s writing was inspired and felt fresh in the early 90s when it was being rolled out. Today, the same copy would feel way too “me too.”
I needed a new narrative…
And so I did what so many copywriters are unwilling to do…
I went completely outside the client’s product for inspiration.
My biggest breakthrough promos have consistently done this. They’ve ignored almost everything the client is doing when it comes to finding a big idea. Sure, it’s inspired by and connected tangentially to the client’s work.
But by breaking out of what the client is already doing, suddenly the world is my oyster.
I can search high and low for the right story that can tie back in to the client’s product or service.
And because I seem to have developed a knack for the negative emotion or problem-agitate-solve promos, I was looking for something that would have my client’s target market all riled up.
And that’s when I remembered the “test” one of the great direct marketing minds of the last few decades used to tell good (and GREAT!) copy from bad…
Marty Edelston, the founder of Boardroom, wasn’t a copywriter. But he worked with the absolute best. The writers he hired reads like a “Who’s who” of direct marketing. He considered it a good year when his top copywriters were making more than he was as the owner of the company.
Maybe he didn’t write great copy, but he knew it.
He knew it in his gut.
The question he would ask, when sitting down with any piece of copy, was “Does it make me vibrate?”
Does it stimulate that feeling deep inside you, of excitement, terror, anger, whatever?
Does it go beyond intellectual appreciation, to emotional and physical stimulation?
You can do a lot to “score” copy or somehow determine if it’s good, before it goes out. There are a ton of copywriting rules you can follow that predispose the copy to a greater probability of success.
But in the end, the success of the copy will be determined by that same emotional gut reaction your prospect has when they come across it for the first time.
If your copy doesn’t make your prospects vibrate, it’s not going to make them buy in any great quantity, either.
And since the quality of copy is determined by the quality of the ideas and thinking behind it…
I knew I had to find an idea that made me vibrate!
Something that touched the same nerve as Clayton’s “Forbidden Cures!”
But something original, new, that the prospect finds it harder to ignore than to dive into.
A story, a narrative, that can only be told today.
A narrative I discover, a narrative that makes me vibrate.
It’s an X-factor, a recognition that comes as a result of experience with other great copy…
But also, a power that taps into something deeper. We ALL have come across ideas that stimulate and excite us — that make us vibrate.
The key is having the patience and tenacity to go out and find them. And then to work them, rearrange them, and build them into copy.
And ultimately, find a way to loop that back around into a pitch that supports your client’s product or service.
I guess you know by now, I found an idea that makes me vibrate…
I found an idea — a story — a narrative that ANYBODY who has seen any health care provider in the last few years — or plans to soon — will want to hear.
And in gathering the data to support the narrative, I’m able to tell a version of the story far more compelling than the snippets I’m able to find in the mainstream media.
A this point, I feel like an investigative reporter, diving into the scoop in earnest, seeing how deep the rabbit hole goes.
And what I’m finding is legitimately shocking.
What I found is making me vibrate as I think about it.
And while we can never know exactly what’s going to happen with a piece of copy until we test it, this is a good sign I’m onto a breakthrough idea!
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,