How many marketing "best practices" does this break? And yet...

How many marketing “best practices” does this break? And yet…

Oh no, here it comes!  I have to admit…  I was wrong!

You see, for a long time I’ve made an assumption about short copy versus long copy.

As you probably know by now, I’m the kind of copywriter who writes long copy that’s 12,000 words long and doesn’t mention the product or solution itself until 6,000 words in — and my client makes a million with it.

I tend to prefer long copy.

I make my decisions by the maxims, “The more you tell, the more you sell,” and “Who reads all that copy? Buyers!”

But for a very long time, I’ve resigned to the assumption that simple, obvious products like food or simple retail items can get by without long copy.  And, by extension, that you not only don’t need, but that you shouldn’t use a lot of copy to sell something like…  Let’s say…  Canned beans.

Then, the other day, I was sitting down with the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer catalog (“As Always, Free.  And Worth Every Penny.”) which had just arrived in the mail.

Now, the only Trader Joe’s in Lincoln is across town for us.  It’s not a regular excursion.  But we do go from time to time.  And every time the catalog arrives, I dig in.  As much because I enjoy reading it as anything else.

And as I’m sitting there reading, it suddenly dawns on me…

The proof I was wrong was staring me in the face!

Here I am, enthralled with their copy about canned organic beans.  The same kind of canned, organic beans I get from our regular grocery story every week.

There’s really nothing special about about their canned organic beans.

They’re beans.  They’re grown organically.  And they’re in a can.

And yet, here I am reading 250 wonderfully entertaining and compelling words about their beans, crafted by a copywriter just like me…

Why aren’t there more songs about beans? After all, it seems that people from all over the world love beans, and nothing inspires songwriters more than love, right? If beans = love, then surely the popular songbook should be filled with bean-centric lyrics. Somebody needs to get on that, ASAP, because at Trader Joe’s, we’re too busy sourcing and selling beans to write songs about them.

Speaking of beans, we’ve recently lowered the prices on our Organic Beans to a cost that makes us want to sing! (If only there were a song…) Which organic beans? Oh, just all of them. Yup. Trader Joe’s Organic Black Beans, Organic Garbanzo Beans, Organic Kidney Beans, Organic Pinto Beans, and Organic Great Northern Beans. Every last can of Organic Beans, grown for us in the American heartland and packed in BPA-free cans in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, is now 99¢. That’s a fantastic deal for these lovely legumes that are fully cooked and ready to serve. You can heat them, you can chill them, you can enjoy them directly from the can – that’s what we call versatile! They’re loaded with protein and fiber, and packed with nourishing vitamins and minerals. They’re Beans, dagnabbit! You know you love them.

Stock your pantry with Trader Joe’s Organic Beans, grab your guitar, and write a beany ballad. You might want to start with an ode to our price of 99¢ for each 15 ounce can. You’ll find them in our grocery aisle.

And their catalog is FULL of this stuff — long copy selling their simple, “no-long-copy-needed” products! 

24 pages.

A 261-word description of $1.99 Golden Rounds Crackers.  That’s Trader Joe’s brand Ritz crackers, in case you’re wondering.  They presumably don’t need to use 261 words to tell you that.

In fact, other grocery stores would be content to show you the box, with a picture of the crackers that makes it evident that they’re store brand Ritz, and put a price next to it.

Trader Joes doesn’t even have a picture of most of the food in its catalog!  It’s nearly ALL copy!  And the few pictures in the catalogs are ILLUSTRATIONS that — for the most part — don’t have much of anything to do with the food.  They’re cartoons skewed to about 95% entertainment, 5% selling.

Compare this to the average grocery ad that arrives in the newspaper.  They’re largely indistinguishable.  They are a bunch of nice pictures of food and food packages, laid out nicely on the page, with pricing and the bare minimum of copy to let you know what it is.  For the most part, you could take one grocery store’s logo off their ad and put it on another, and nobody would know the difference.  They show up in the Sunday paper, the get a glance, maybe a few coupons clipped if you’re going to that store anyway, and then they get recycled with the rest of the — now “old news” — paper.

Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer is 180-degrees different.

— It shows up in the mail, not the newspaper.  It’s delivered, presumably, to every house in the city.  Or at least, every house that they determine based on demographics holds their ideal customers.

— It’s long copy, cover-to-cover.

— It’s colorful — they use 3-color printing with some text red, some blue, some black to break up the page.

— They have cartoons that visually look like they’re out of the 1900s (but read very modern).

— It adheres to very little in terms of modern design “best practices” — except that the layout is clean and the character consistent.

And…  All of this adds up to me consistently keeping this ad until I’ve read every page, and wanting to go to Trader Joe’s!

I literally leave it sitting on our dining room table, and read it at meals, or with my morning coffee.

My wife and I discuss products from it.

We often end up driving across town at least once after getting the Fearless Flyer.  Choosing to make things based on what we read in the catalog.

(It’s very rare that we drive across town for any other grocery store!)

In short, it works.

They’ve honed the formula.  They do it again and again.  Every quarter.  The one I got was called “The March to Value, 2016” — presumably the March edition.  I’ll likely get another in June, just in time for a bunch of summer foods recommendations.

This is worth studying.

I’ll give you the big-picture takeaway here in a moment, but if you’re interested in reading more of their copy (and you don’t get the Fearless Flyer at your home), I unfortunately can’t point you toward the PDF.  They don’t seem to publish it.

But the inferior web version does contain pretty much all the same content (notably, with more color and pictures added) here:

This works in industry after industry, too!

As I said, I was proven wrong.  I used to make an exception for very simple retail products (like food, clothing, etc.) when it came to insisting on long copy.

Even though I knew better.

Trader Joe’s is one example.

  1. Peterman is another — and a classic one at that. I went browsing the website and came up with this copy used to sell a $139 pair of blue slacks…

Real-World Hero.

Let’s say that a major political party approaches you and asks you to run for President of the United States.

Flattering, but you probably decline.

A lot of men would. Even a quick glance through the diary reveals stuff that wouldn’t sound good on the 6 o’clock news.

It’s not that we’re bad guys, exactly. Life is complicated. Sometimes a man skips shaving. Other things, too.

For those occasions when you want to marshal all your resources, not just the bright shiny ones, I offer this suit.

Some people may think you look a bit dangerous, but that’s just the way it is. Somewhere south of Tijuana.

Humphrey Bogart wakes up in a hotel room with a splitting headache and a score to settle, reaches for this jacket hanging on the bedpost…

Matching Pigment-Dyed Pants (No. 4972). Fineline Cotton with the same weathered, nuanced look as the Pigment-Dyed Jacket. Suspender buttons. Strong, blunt, unpleated. Imported.

Men’s even sizes: 32 through 46.

Hemming (max: 37”) or cuffing (max: 34”), add $2 per pair.

Color: Rich Blue.

Pair with matching Pigment Dyed Jacket (No. 4972) [Note from Roy: That was linked to the $189 jacket to go with the pants — same description.]

My friend and neighbor Andrew, an ex-South Park and Sabrina The Teenage Witch writer used a similar style to launch the world’s largest internet gong retailer at

It’s a piece of metal that you hit, and it makes noise.  Presumably, the only things important would be the look, the sound, and a list of accessories.

And yet take a look at this description of an 8.5” Opera Gong, featuring a picture of my son, Oscar, from their company picnic.

Here’s what you need to know about all of this…

Marketing and selling IS about benefits and features, and all of that.

Those are important.

But they’re also bare minimum.  And, dare I say it, mundane.

As Trader Joe’s, J. Peterman, and Gongs Unlimited prove, you can build your marketing on something much, much bigger…


It doesn’t have to be humor.  Or quirkiness.  Or story.

But it has to be something that your prospects can’t ignore.  Something that engages them, and holds their attention while you also convey the features and benefits you offer.

Bring your personality.

Don’t be afraid to be different — unique — even a little strange.

That’s interesting.

Professional, polished, and predictable is BORING AS FRACK and nobody cares about you.

You’ll end up in the recycling bin.

What can you do to make your sales message the most interesting thing your prospect will encounter today?

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

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