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Priceless (and quirky) advice from the copywriter who changed my life

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Copywriting great Drayton Bird recalls one of the finest talks on copywriting he's ever witnessed. Entitled “20 Opinionated Answers to 20 Questions Nobody Asked,” it's full of wit and wisdom which is just as relevant today - even if the mediums have evolved. Take away just one lesson and you're sure to benefit.
drayton bird typewriter

— Sent by the guy whose research saved my bacon many a time

Would you call your headline “the hotpants on the hooker”?

My friend did in one of the best talks I’ve ever seen on copywriting.

It was about direct mail, but what makes your copy sell never changes. You react to the same stimuli no matter what the medium

The talk was called “20 Opinionated Answers to 20 Questions Nobody Asked.”

Denny Hatch, from whose book “Million Dollar Mailings” I stole more ideas than I dare think about sent me the notes for this talk.

It was by Bill Jayme.

Almost all of us in the copywriting clique recognised Bill was the best.

And for me he was the most helpful.

That’s because seeing me in London he invited me to speak in Monte Carlo, and after that LA, thus launching my public speaking career.

To explain how good he was, in the late 70’s he was charging $20-60,000 for a mailing pack.

That’s worth over 3 times more today.

All his talks were witty – starting with the title. So was his copy.

If you don’t understand why this talk is so good, I suggest you find another career.

His most famous envelope line was for Psychology Today. Here it is:

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Psychology Today

Here’s what Bill Jayne had to say.

1) Pay little heed to talk about America becoming illiterate. First off, today’s illiterates aren’t your market (unless you sell reading courses). Second, if cockroaches, fruitcakes, and opera can survive so will the written word.


2) When something is free, say it six ways to Sunday (for example, “Free gift comes to you with our compliments gratis – on the house” or “It’s yours to keep as an outright present without cost or charge – not a penny!”

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3) Get your copywriter together with your art director at the outset. The era is over when an art director is handed a ream of finished copy with the instructions, “Here – do something with this.

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Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine

4) These concepts should be part of every mailing package: new, free, save guaranteed, hurry. This concept should be part of every sentence: you.

5) Always talk up to your prospects, not down. When flattered, people almost always rise to the occasion. When insulted, they rise to walk over to the wastebasket.

6) Must sweepstakes prizes inevitably be a trip to Hawaii or a Winnebago camper? Why not prizes that reflect your product? Two decades ago, we created a sweepstakes that launched New York Magazine. First prize was dinner at Gracie Mansion so you could tell the mayor how you’d run the city. Last prize was a one-way ticket to Los Angeles.

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New York Magazine

The Prize List Above (In Easy-to-Read Type)

What have you won?

A week at the Plaza?

An evening with Mayor Lindsay at Gracie Mansion telling him how to run the city?

A Broadway opening night with critic Harold Clurman?

Your own park bench?

A sidewalk or penthouse tree?

Here’s the claim check that finds out for you.

All you do is mail it back.

A Charter Subscription Offering

7) Always read your copy aloud to someone who enjoys finding fault with everything you do.

8) Your outer envelope is where your prospect decides whether to stop, look, and listen. It’s the come-on – the headline on the ad, the dust jacket on the book, the display window outside the store, the hot pants on the hooker.

9) Express savings in terms of money, not in percentages. The only percentage people really understand is 50%, and even then, you’d better add, Half Off!”

10) Check the signature on your letter. If it looks like the handwriting of an eleven-year-old, and you’re selling financial, medical, or insurance services, consult your art director.

11) To carry the reader over to page two, end page one in mid-sentence, not at the conclusion of a paragraph. The ideal page break? “They then began to remove their (continued on next page)”

12) Photographs almost always sell better than drawings.

13) Personalize indiscriminately at your peril. Do you really want as a customer some boob who gets turned on by seeing his own name repeated nine times in a single page?

14) No matter how chic sans serif type looks, never use it for body copy. It’s unreadable.

15) So are body copy set in reverse, copy overprinted on art, and all headlines that run sideways.

16) Never use the word “pizzazz” in a mailing. We once headlined an outer envelope, “Put more pizzazz in your love life.” People thought we were selling pizzas.

17) When someone tells you that long copy outpulls short, that 6×9 envelopes outpull #10s, and that brochures no longer pay for themselves, don’t believe a word of it. No one opens up an envelope because it’s a 6×9, or reads a letter because it’s long. People open what interests them. They read what interests them. They respond to what interests them.

18) Nothing more than seven words should ever be written by hand. So there, Carolyn Davis and Carol Wright.

19) If junk mail were more fun to read and look at, fewer people might complain. Comic books, pornography, Bibles, and Kleenex all probably destroy more forests, and there’s nary a whimper.

20) The phrase “junk mail” is here to stay. Think of it as a term of resigned endearment, like cops and metermaids, grease monkeys and talking heads, coffin nails, the flicks, the idiot box, and my old lady.

Just because you call your dog a mutt doesn’t mean that you don’t love him.

Am I about to tell you I’m as good as Bill was?

Of course not.

But I am about to tell you two differences between us.

He only wrote to sell magazine subscriptions. Nobody was better.

But he didn’t give a money back guarantee. You paid $20,000 whether his copy won or lost. You paid $40,000 if it was to launch a new magazine. If it beat everything it was tested against you paid $60,000.

We write to sell whatever you sell.

If it doesn’t work we give your money back.

Last time I looked our success rate was 97%.

Did you know marketing makes A LOT more sense now than usual?

Here’s why:

1. It is cheaper
– Google click costs plummeted 30% since March 14.
– Facebook cost per impression is the lowest since 2013.
– One clients’ click costs are down over 40+%.
– Another marketer I know well says his are down by 22%.
– And Adwords down slightly, but volume through the roof (people stuck at home).

2. You have less competition
At times like this many throw their hands up in despair.

If you keep going you have a great advantage.

What could be better than less competition?

“Is this over-optimistic bullshit?” you may reasonably ask.

Well, there is not going to be as much money around.

But that money is unevenly distributed.

Some still have plenty.

Even during the Great Depression some great businesses were built.

If you are cautious and measure everything you could do well.

Am I about to sell you something?

Of course.

If you don’t ask you don’t get.

The cheapest weapon available to you is email.

Few people know how to write them.

Some fall for the “content” delusion where you are advised to just inform but not sell.

So they send out waffle that doesn’t sell.

They fall for rubbish like “nobody reads long copy”.

(How come you’re still reading?)

We write very good emails – and very cheaply.

Get in touch with us –

Why not write now, while this is in your mind?

Make it the very next thing you do.

Do it before your competitors.

We can only take a very small number of new clients.

Why not write now (, while this is fresh in your mind?



– Get more great marketing insights by signing up to our fortnightly newsletter. –

Main image by Sher Singh from Pixabay 

Drayton Bird
Author: Drayton Bird

Drayton has helped sell everything from Airbus planes to Peppa Pig. His book, Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing, out in 17 languages, has been the UK’s best seller on the subject every year since 1982. He has also run his own businesses in the U.K., Portugal and Malaysia.

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