A-list copywriter Richard Armstrong has done it again…
One of my favorite novels of all time is God Doesn’t Shoot Craps, by Richard Armstrong. It’s about a junk mail copywriter whose marketing shenanigans get him into more trouble than he bargained for, and is a great read. Unfortunately, it’s also out of print.
For those who don’t know, Richard is an A-list copywriter — and an incredible storyteller.
His client list reads like the Who’s Who of the Direct Response Marketing Hall of Fame.
I also count him as a cherished friend in the industry.
For those of you who say flattery gets you nowhere, you’re wrong. I know because I flattered Richard half to death to earn that friendship — as I hawked his first book over and over again, to other copywriters.
Now, Richard has written another novel — and it’s at least as good as the first.
Richard’s new book is The Don Con.
And it has it all… The Mafia, nerdy fan conventions (think Comic-Con), a forgettable Sopranos actor with a thing for Shakespeare, an imprisoned copywriter inspired by Gary Halbert (you’ll know if you’ve read The Boron Letters), and con artistry.
And even though I just started it and am only about halfway through (it was a busy Easter weekend), I wholeheartedly recommend this one, too!
Now here’s where we get to the science of ethical con-artistry…
Being a great copywriter, Richard did his research to write The Don Con.
And since he was writing about con artists… He dug deep into a dark fascination of mine… How illegal, unethical, manipulative, and unscrupulous con artists operate.
Here’s what Richard told me…
“I was surprised (but not too surprised!) to find out the tricks and techniques they use are pretty much the same techniques we use in copywriting. I’ve identified 44 of them, in fact.”
If you make a living from persuasion, it’s a very smart idea to understand ALL the ways people influence others through persuasion.
Legal or illegal. Ethical or unethical. It doesn’t matter.
You should, at the very least, understand every method of persuasion.
Then, because you’re a good and ethical person who is living a life to enrich and serve others while doing well for yourself, you should only apply these lessons in positive and ethical ways.
And so, for example, while a con artist may use their methods of persuasion to cheat and steal, you can use their method as inspiration to help your prospect make a buying decision to better their lives.
Con Artist Secret #29 is to Tell A Story…
This comes from Richard’s BONUS ebook (he’s a copywriter, after all), How to Talk Anybody into Anything: Persuasion Secrets of the World’s Greatest Con Men.
Because you’re a Breakthrough Marketing Secrets reader, he’s letting me offer you this ebook for free. No purchase required. All you have to do is go to his website for The Don Con to download How To Talk Anybody into Anything without paying a penny.
Back to the con artist secret.
This is one of the 44 methods Richard identified, used by con artists.
Richard tells of the con artist story template, called “The Spanish Prisoner Con.”
Here’s one version, as told from Richard’s firsthand experience…
“I was walking down the sidewalk and a guy pulled up next to me in his car, rolled down the window, and proceeded to tell me a sad tale. At that very moment, his son was having brain surgery in the hospital. Not just any hospital, mind you, but Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. And not just any brain surgeon either. The surgery was being performed by none other than the most famous pediatric brain surgeon in America, Dr. Ben Carson. The father needed to get to Baltimore in a hurry. (We were in Washington, DC at the time.) But he was almost out of gas. Could I give him $20 for enough gasoline to get to Baltimore?”
Richard didn’t fall for it (not this time). But he admitted that he felt bad, even as he said no.
And that’s because this story was designed to make it harder to say no than to say yes.
That’s the essence of any “Spanish Prisoner” story.
It’s dramatic — often involving a life or death situation. It’s emotional — in this case, because of a child with cancer. And it’s loaded with facts and unnecessary detail to establish credibility and provide misdirection.
Richard didn’t give this example, but this makes me think of one of his copywriting successes — one I actually think of pretty much any time I watch a nature documentary.
Richard once wrote a story to protect baby sea turtles in Florida, that were confused about which way to go to get to the ocean. Because the lights of the city were triggering their instinctual response to go toward the reflection of the moon on the ocean water.
It was dramatic to the point of life and death. It was emotional, sharing the plight of those helpless baby sea turtles. And it was packed with detail about what was going on and why.
But in Richard’s case, it was completely ethical, and in fact raised money for a great cause.
Here’s another method…
Con Artist Secret #3 is to Seek Intelligent Marks…
If you’re a con artist for long enough, you come to realize that dumb people make terrible targets.
You actually don’t want to try to con the stupid, because they are too difficult to convince of an opportunity.
On the other hand, intelligent people with a great imagination will grab onto an idea and run with it, often taking it to its logical conclusion on their own.
This is why when you hear the true stories of great cons, it’s often highly-intelligent and successful people who’ve fallen for it.
Just think about Bernie Madoff — multiple international banks lost billions. Some of America’s most successful entrepreneurs, investors, and even politicians got wrapped up in it.
If you want to get rich in marketing, you could prey on people’s stupidity. But every story I’ve heard of that going right for a while ends with it eventually going wrong.
You’re far better off in building an ethical business serving intelligent people and treating them that way.
Yes, I talk about writing simply enough that a 7th grader could read it. But this is actually doing your intelligent reader a favor. It puts the facts in front of them, not hiding them in complex language. And it helps them make a decision based on clear arguments for your offer.
An intelligent person wants to be given the information clearly and trusted to make their own decision.
Doing this forces you to make sure the quality of your offer is high enough that it will withstand scrutiny, and motivate a well-educated buyer to choose you.
That kind of offer in an ongoing business also will attract referrals and repeat buyers, because it serves the customer well.
It creates a feedback loop where serving intelligent markets forces you to build better products which attracts more intelligent buyers…
But unlike the con artist who will target the smart mark then get out of there with the loot, you’re building a business that will last and grow.
There’s so much more…
Again, Richard has offered How to Talk Anybody into Anything to you for free, as a Breakthrough Marketing Secrets reader. (He’s also a regular reader — which flatters me!)
All you have to do is click that link to go to his site for his new book, The Don Con, and follow his instructions to get it.
You’ll learn all 44 methods of illegal con-artistry that Richard uncovered in his research for his novel.
And you’ll also get some ideas on how copywriters, marketers, and salespeople can apply those same methods ethically, in win-win transactions.
Plus I recommend you pick up a copy of The Don Con on Amazon, because it’s a great read.
There are lessons hidden in that book, that I won’t get into here, that will absolutely help you become a copywriter. All while being entertained!
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
PS: If you’re also interested in Richard’s other book, God Doesn’t Shoot Craps, it’s now out of print — which is one of modern literature’s great travesties — but you can still grab a used copy on Amazon here.