Ted Nicholas (pictured at left) is one the most successful and revered copywriters and information marketers alive today.
His copy and marketing brainstorms have been directly responsible for more than $5.7 BILLION in sales over the span of his 50-plus-year career.
Ted’s remarkable copywriting skill allowed him to turn his first information product — a book called How To Form Your Own Corporation Without a Lawyer for Under $50 — into one of the best selling business books of all time.
He wrote literally hundreds of ads for this book with headlines such as Lawyers Would Love to Ban My Book! Here’s what they don’t want you to know … You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Incorporate — But It May Be Your Best Route to Wealth … Wage Your Own Personal Tax Revolt … and the perennially swiped, What Will You Do When Your Assets Are Seized to Satisfy A Judgment Against Your Corporation?
These ads appeared in major national newspapers and magazines with mass circulation and Ted was able to split-test dozens of different headlines and appeals.
A while back, I interviewed Ted and dug deep into the story behind one of the most successful of these ads.
And I thought it would be fun to run a little quiz here in THE TOTAL PACKAGE to see if you could identify that winning ad — kind of like trying to identify the killer in a police lineup.
Below, you’ll find the headline and lead from two ads that Ted used to sell How To Form Your Own Corporation Without a Lawyer for Under $50. One of the ads broke even, and the other was a blockbuster money-spinner that made Ted millions.
Can you guess the killer ad just by looking?
Go ahead and study the headline and lead from both ads. Then post a comment telling me which one you think was the blockbuster, and why. Keep in mind that results were tabulated across a wide variety of general interest business-oriented magazines and newspapers.
Only Way Left For
Little Guy To Get Rich …
Here is the uncensored message my wife
asked me not to write
“I love my wife. And I understand why she wants me to keep my mouth shut. She wants to protect me from the IRS.
But I can’t be quiet any longer. I’m angry. We are really getting jerked around. And I’m tired of it.
The government says one thing. And then does the opposite. Especially Bush. And I even voted for him. One of my biggest mistakes.
First the Feds talk tax cuts. Then they increase taxes. Remember the “read my lips” promise. Who are they kidding?
Average tax payers, you and me, are getting screwed.
The new law doesn’t bother the rich fat cats much. They still have loopholes galore. Let’s face it. They always will.
But recently I ran across a workable angle. It’s cheap. And it’s legal. It’s meant for the rich. But it’s perfect for us little guys. You don’t need any money. And we can get the same breaks the rich get.
I can hardly believe it. Get this. I formed a corporation. Of my own. For peanuts.
It’s my way of fighting back.
Now I have a small one-man corporation. I operate out of my apartment. My work? I’m a commercial designer. Brochures, fliers – stuff like that. On my income I didn’t think I could save much. But I’m paying almost zero taxes. And it’s legit. Just like big business does it. I have no guilt. Uncle Sam already gets plenty. Too much from all of us.
One thing the Feds didn’t bother much under the new tax laws – corporate tax goodies. Guess they figured right. Burden business too much. Result? No jobs for anybody. Including them. Not to worry. They know better.
From a buddy, I heard about this unusual book. It’s called HOW TO FORM YOUR OWN CORPORATION WITHOUT A LAWYER FOR UNDER $50, by Ted Nicholas. Damnedest book I’ve ever seen. Has the forms right in it. Pages are perforated. You just fill in some blanks, rip ‘em out, and mail them in. A couple of days later you’ve got a corporation. No wonder it’s a best seller. (They tell me over 650,000 copies have been sold.)
OK, so you get the gist of it. Homespun. Buddy to buddy. Story-based. The main appeal is tax savings.
The headline stops the reader with an appeal to greed. But the dominant emotion targeted in the body copy is actually anger.
How do you think it stacked up against the one below? Same book, same offer. Totally different ad …
All Your Personal Assets
Could Be Wiped Out Overnight
There is only one completely safe way to protect your car, home, cash, and other personal assets from business risks
It’s downright scary.
As a self-employed individual, your home, car, stocks, and other personal assets are always at risk.
The big fear is that a business disaster, which is beyond anyone’s control, could happen to you. An accident, lawsuit, or financial loss … events which happen every day … could wipe you out.
A major problem is that we live in a ‘litigation-happy’ society. It’s often a dangerous and naive assumption to believe that no one will ever sue you. A law-suit could be filed by a customer, supplier, relative, or disgruntled employee. In fact, there is a strong probability you will be sued in the near future even if you are very careful. You could lose, often on some technical point of law with which you are unfamiliar. If so … boom! Just like that you could lose your business. In addition, your home, cars, cash, stocks, bonds, and other assets could also go down the drain without proper protection.
Fortunately, you personally can avoid this risk. How? Incorporation.
The only way to separate business from personal assets is by forming your own corporation. Almost no amount of insurance can protect you from all kinds of risk like incorporation can. And you can do so even if you’re the only employee. In this way, if the worst happens, you lose only what is invested in the business itself.
Incorporation is also important for the doctor, dentist, or other professional. Unfortunately, many are dissolving their professional corporations because of the new Keogh rules. However, many are unaware of the risks they are taking.
An incorporated physician does not avoid personal liability in conducting his profession, during surgery for example. But he/she does protect personal liability just like any other business person when it comes to debts incurred by the practice, nonmedically related lawsuit judgments, leases, investments which go sour, etc.
But a word of caution. Misinformation about incorporation abounds. If any of your advisors have recommended you not incorporate or dissolve your corporation … whether you have employees or a one-person corporation … you’d be smart to consider the facts. Only then would you be in a position to make an informed decision.
Myth – Keoghs have been …
OK, that should give you the tone and flavor of this one. Here, the dominant emotion is fear. And the ad is selling protection.
Which ad do you think was the blockbuster, and why?
Give me your thoughts in the comment box below. If you get it wrong, you’ll be in good company.
Next week, I’ll post the correct answer in this column, along with a critically important lesson that could be worth millions to you.
So go ahead and have fun with this. Which ad is the blockbuster? Take your best guess, and then come back here next week to see if you’re right.
As I write this, we have 51 votes for ad #1, Only Way Left for Little Guy to Get Rich. And 28 votes for ad #2, DANGER — All Your Personal Assets Could Be Wiped Out Over Night.
Many of you went about this the right way … approaching the copy as a consumer first, and as a marketer second. This is one area where your gut is usually a lot smarter than your brain. If the copy makes you feel like buying, it’s probably the winner. Beyond actually tossing stuff in the mail or up on the Web and testing it, that “where do I buy this” reaction is what you’re looking for when you ask somebody to evaluate your copy.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t then stop and try to figure out how the writer got you there. You should. And many of you did, sharing some brilliant insights along the way.
Our panel favored ad #1 strongly. Let’s examine the reasoning.
Story Based: Somebody mentioned “David and Goliath.” Yes, this is the classic underdog story we all love and respond to. Hollywood is full of them, because they work.
What I found fascinating though, were the repeated references to how the story actually made the copy more believable. Comments like “He’s giving me the real goods.” It seems to come from the heart.” “It’s believable.” “I swallowed it hook, line and sinker before I realized it.” Interesting.
Bonds against a common enemy: Selling is all about making a connection. And there’s nothing that connects people like a common enemy. Remember the gag, “War of the World’s?” World peace and brotherly love nearly broke out overnight at the threat of aliens attacking our planet. That’s exactly the kind of camaraderie you want to foster with your prospects, and ad #1 did this brilliantly.
Positive message out-pulls a negative message: I don’t like maxims. While it’s true you have to be careful with negative messages, I don’t think you can sell effectively without some negativity. Happy people make lousy customers.
The danger is twofold — denial and powerlessness. Put your prospect in too much pain before giving him hope and you’ll lose him. Give him only things to move away from and nothing to move toward and he will find it much more difficult to respond.
It’s OK to scare the dickens out of them, just make sure you come to the rescue quickly and build them up before the close.
If you study Clayton’s copy, you’ll notice that he often opens with negative, fear-based themes. But if you look carefully, you’ll always see he’s quick to shine a positive light on the situation as well. Some calamity is coming to get you if you don’t watch out, but if you take action now, you can not only safeguard your wealth, you can actually turn it into the profit opportunity of a lifetime.
Makes a personal connection: Intimacy is probably the biggest advantage ad #1 has over ad #2. This comment sums it up beautifully. “The guy was talking to me. There was no one else in the room. The other ad had dentists and doctors and a whole bunch of other people in the room.”
Appeals to a wider audience: I have to agree with this, but it’s also important to understand that simply appealing to a wider audience is no guarantee of success. Often it makes sense to narrow your appeal, making your offering exclusive to a select sub-set of the broader market.
Sounds easier: The following phrase from ad #1 has to be one of the most brilliant pieces of consumption copy I’ve ever seen. “Damnedest book I’ve ever seen. Has the forms right in it. Pages are perforated. You just fill in some blanks, rip ‘em out, and mail them in. A couple of days later you’ve got a corporation.” Sounds like child’s play.
Product identified earlier: Should you be rushing to get to your offer? Not at the expense of doing the necessary spade work. That said, the spade work got done pretty fast in ad #1, didn’t it?
Resonates with my own emotions: This ad tapped into a dominant resident emotion (anger) the target market was already feeling, brought it to full consciousness, and then channeled it onto the product. Absolutely brilliant. Here we are, decades after this ad ran, and TTP readers are still relating strongly to the appeal.
More emotional, right-brain targeted: The first ad is much more emotionally rich than the second ad. The headline appeals to hope and greed, even fear of being left out. The opening paragraph, where Ted talks about his wife, evokes love. The main theme is all about anger. There is a richness to it that enchants you.
Better characterization: The beauty of this first ad is that it characterizes the prospect as a certain kind of person — the little guy, fighting back. The second ad does nothing deliberate to characterize the prospect.
Anger is a more actionable emotion than fear: I have to agree with this. Certainly fear gets our attention, but as a couple of our panelists pointed out, it makes us want to run away and hide. Think of the language of fear. Paralyzed by fear. Frozen with fear. Petrified. Is that how you want your prospect to feel when you ask for the order? Absolutely not.
When faced with danger, the natural first reaction is fear. Next, a decision. Fight or flight?
Your prospect can flee by simply shutting down his browser and going back to bed. If you want him to buy your product, lead with fear if you like, but transmute that fear to anger and you’ll close more sales.
More captivating, interesting, and easier to read: Certainly was. Short sentences … no ten-dollar words … story … emotional richness … positive. All these things give ad #1 a big readership advantage over ad #2.
Of course, many of our panelists who voted for ad #1 had things to say about ad #2. Here are the comments that showed up again and again.
Negative tone of ad unappealing: Reading comments that made this point was definitely an eye-opener, but when you think about it for a minute it makes total sense. If your copy evokes only negative emotions, the very act of reading it is burdensome.
Selling prevention: You have to admit, this is a big one. Ad #2 is selling protection against risk. This is a very hard thing to do. Just ask the life insurance industry. These guys got smart years ago and started selling their policies as “investments.”
Could ad #2 have used stories and anecdotes and statistics to make the point that litigation is imminent? Sure. But selling this product as asset protection versus tax savings is an uphill battle (IMHO).
So what about those who voted for ad #2? Here’s what that camp had to say about why they feel ad #2 was the winner.
Fear is a more powerful motivator than anger: Everybody’s heard the ancient selling maxim, “The fear of loss trumps the desire for gain.” I hate maxims. It may be true, but only if the prospect of loss is imminent, and the reality of that loss a virtual certainty, which is rarely the case — unless you, as a seller, can engineer that imminence and certainty.
I’m willing to bet this particular maxim originated with the idea of “take away” selling, where you force your prospect to make a decision by “taking away” the gain you’ve promised, but have not yet delivered — as in “the price is doubling tonight at mid-night,” “the product is going off the market tomorrow,” etc.
Speaks directly to the prospect: Several panelists felt ad #2 was more direct because it made much more liberal use of the word “you” than ad #1. “I have to go with #2. Better use of bringing the reader into the framing task with the use of “you” instead of all the “I”,”I”,”me”, etc.”
I actually asked Ted about this when I interviewed him.
Daniel Levis: You didn’t use the magic “YOU” word once in the headline or first three paragraphs, and you used the words “my,” “me” and “I” 13 times. So what do you have to say for this me, me, me tone of the copy in this piece?
Ted Nicholas: [Laughs]. I thought I would just have some fun, and write an ad that was unlike any ad that I’d ever written before. I imagined myself talking to a friend over a couple of beers, in a bar. And that’s how I would talk, and that’s not normally how I would write copy. I wanted to have a different tone, a different point of view, a whole different approach, throw every rule in the book out the window and just have some fun. I wanted to see if I wrote an ad based on pure emotion — exactly how I personally feel — if other people would respond to that approach.
There’s magic in that answer.
Headline stopped me more forcefully — Ad #2 does have a great headline. Not everybody liked it, but the consensus was that it was a better stopper. Some panelists didn’t even read ad #1, making their determination solely on the strength of the headline in ad #2. Does a better headline always make a better ad?
And here’s the criticism of ad #1 that contributed to their decision to vote for ad #2.
Talks politics, naming “Bush” as the enemy: They say you should never mix discussion of religion, politics or sex with business. Personally I think that’s total B.S.
Naming Bush was one of the most powerful triggers in ad #1. Why? It put a face on the enemy. Entrepreneurs, in particular, were peeved with Bush for breaking his “no new taxes” promise. Personalizing the enemy intensified that anger.
Ted is a Libertarian. His ideal customers are Libertarians. The backend products appeal to the Libertarian mindset. Does it really matter if Ted offends Liberals? No.
Most people with an entrepreneurial bent are anti BIG government — and the confiscatory taxation it entails. May of them vote Republican grudgingly and then fume for years while the Republicans break their promises of fiscal conservatism and spend like drunken sailors.
Your politics and your religion and even your attitudes toward sexually-charged topics are some of the strongest ways of characterizing yourself as one of “us” — whatever “us” you happen to be targeting.
So has all of the study and hard work paid off for TOTAL PACKAGE readers? Did the majority correctly identify the killer ad?
YES! Ad #1 is the blockbuster.
I promised you a million dollar
lesson last week, and here it is …
Numerous panelists seemed to be filtering their opinion through widely accepted sales dogma, such as, “the fear of loss trumps the desire for gain,’ “don’t mix discussion of sex, politics or religion with business,” “positive headlines out-pull negative headlines,” “over-use the word you, under-use the word I”, and so on.
The truth about sales copy is that it is situational. Each time you sit down to write a piece of copy, you are approaching a brand new problem that has never existed before.
What matters most is what your ideal prospect is thinking and feeling about what you want to talk to him about at the exact moment he experiences your copy. What’s happening in the media to influence him? What is his reaction to what’s happening in the world around him? What emotions are those influences arousing within him right now?
The more accurately you can anticipate those thoughts and feelings and align your copy with them, the better your chances of success. To say that one emotion is stronger than another, or that you should NEVER do this, or ALWAYS do that, is missing the point. You are not writing in a vacuum.
That’s not to say that execution doesn’t matter. It does. In fact, it would have been absolutely unfair of me to ask you to take this little quiz without having an opportunity to evaluate the public mind at the exact time these ads appeared (decades ago) if execution wasn’t so crucial.
The execution of ad #1 was clearly light years ahead of the execution in ad #2. Had the alignment been wrong however, it wouldn’t have mattered.
I hope you found this little virtual workshop worthwhile. As always, your comments are immensely appreciated.
Source: The Web Marketing Advisor by Daniel Levis