I had an epiphany during a copy review today…

It was about juxtapositions.

That is, putting two ideas, concepts, or outcomes alongside each other for comparison.

This was a big one…

We were talking about saving and taxes in retirement…

And we realized there are two very different and important numbers.

The first number is how much you save — the balance in your retirement accounts.

The second number is the actual spending cash you’re left with, after taxes take their bite.

Now, there’s a lot of ways you can talk about the impact taxes have on your retirement.

But probably the most powerful is: being clear and direct in presenting the juxtaposition.  Being clear about that difference between how much you think you’ll have, and how much you’ll really have after your tax bill is paid.

And in fact, really getting good at juxtaposition could be the difference between success and failure in copywriting.

Here’s how to think about it as you’re writing copy…

I imagine you’ve seen one of those balance scales?

The one with a tray on each side, that — ahem — balances?  You put weights on one side, and whatever you’re weighing on the other.  And to find out how much the object weighs, you add up the weights you used to get the scale in balance.

Imagine that when you’re writing copy.

Going back to the previous example…

On one side of the scale, you have the amount of money you’ve saved in your retirement accounts.

On the other side of the scale, you have what you’re left with after taxes.

Here, they’re clearly out of balance — and that’s the point!

What you’re trying to show with this juxtaposition is that what you’re left with after taxes is NOT the same as what you think you have.

Which dramatizes the problem.

And is a perfect setup to offer tax-saving strategies.

As the copywriter, you want to make sure you actually present this in a way where you get your prospect to picture this in their head.  It doesn’t have to be directly — you don’t have to actually get them to picture a scale (although I have).  But the impression should be very clear that there are two options and one clearly outweighs the other in benefit.

This is a powerful copywriting tool…

Have you heard this story?

On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college.  They were very much alike, these two young men.  Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both — as young college graduates are — were filled with ambitious dreams for the future.

Recently these men returned to their college for their 25th reunion.

They were still very much alike.  Both were happily married.  Both had three children.  And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same direct marketing publisher after graduation, and were still there.

But there was a difference.  One of the men was writing odd-job informational copy for the website.  The other was its most successful sales letter copywriter.

What made the difference?

Have you ever wondered, as I have, what makes this kind of difference in copywriter’s lives?  It isn’t a native intelligence or talent or dedication.  It isn’t that one person wants success and the other doesn’t.

The difference lies in what each person knows and how he or she makes use of that knowledge.

The difference lies in how well you’re able to get your prospect to compare what life WITH your product will be like versus life WITHOUT your product.

The difference lies in the use of juxtaposition.

See what I did there, with my blatant rip-off of the famous “two young men” story?

That story, if you aren’t already aware, was lifted almost word-for-word from Martin Conroy’s Wall Street Journal letter.

It’s arguably one of the most successful sales letters in history.

It mailed over 1 billion pieces.  It sold over $2 billion worth of subscriptions, from 1975 to 2003.

At some point I’m sure the majority of WSJ subscribers came through that letter.

Although, arguably — it may not have been as good as legend has it.  Gordon Grossman was a direct mail consultant for Reader’s Digest and Boardroom while that was running.  He argued that letter could’ve been easily beaten by a good copywriter.  But because WSJ just threw money at it instead of testing, we just don’t know.

Regardless of whether or not a better letter could’ve been written, that letter worked.  It worked for a long time.

And it’s worth learning from.

And perhaps its biggest lesson is in the upfront use of a juxtaposition.

Nearly all copy benefits from juxtaposition…

All you have to do is imagine two separate futures.  One, where your prospect has gotten the full benefit of your product.  Another, where they have continued suffering whatever problem your product promises to solve.

Dimensionalize that.  Imagine it in vivid detail.  Dramatize the difference.  Present the two alternatives side-by-side.

This sets your prospect up to make their own decision.

But it also tilts the scale in your favor…

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr