Direct Response Copywriter Blog

I’m a direct response copywriter who uses science-based strategies to get results. So here are my musings on the subject…

What Does Direct Response Copywriting Have to Do with Philosophy?

I’m a direct response copywriter in the peculiar situation of having a background in philosophy. And I’ve wracked my brains at times trying to figure out exactly how philosophy and direct response copywriting cross paths, if ever.

Then I hit upon this phrase of Eugene Schwartz from his epic Breakthrough Advertising

What will work [in copywriting]? Innovation, of course. Continuous, repeated innovation. A steady stream of new ideas—fresh new solutions to new problems. Created—not by the impossible route of memory—but by analysis. In a field in which the rules are constantly changing—where the forces that determine the outcome are constantly shifting— where new problems are constantly being encountered every day— rules, formulas and principles simply will not work. They are too rigid—too tightly bound to the past. They must he replaced by the only known method of dealing with the Constantly New— analysis

And again…

Analysis is the art of asking the right questions and letting the problem dictate the right answers. It is the technique of the break-through. 

The skill of analysis is reinforced big time in philosophy. Perhaps no other field of study trains the mind to such exacting analysis as philosophy.

In philosophy you have to master arguments backwards and forwards–analyzing and exploiting weak spots … devising alternate possibilities … advancing to strong conclusions. 

Thus philosophy and direct response copywriting are more similar than some may think. I think, therefore I am a direct response copywriter.

The Direct Response Copywriting Hack No One’s Talking About

When I was in a doctoral program, I wrote logically. Then, as a direct response copywriter, I had to learn to write emotionally. Now, as a bit of a better direct response copywriter, I write emotionally logically.

This is a legitimate “insider” secret in the direct response copywriting world…

There’s a lot of talk about the difference between logic and emotion in copywriting. The idea is, “People buy emotionally and justify their purchase logically.”

While the basic idea is right, it’s oversimplified, because… 

…Logic is emotional.

At least it can be.

There’s nothing more emotional than the feeling that something is certainly true.

We’ve talked about how the amygdalae in the brain treat uncertainty as a danger. In fact, the brain strives for certainty more than almost anything. It’s a survival mechanism. Don’t see what’s lurking around the corner? It could kill you.

So here’s the copy hack: Use logical language to provide certainty for your reader. 

Therefore your audience will perceive that the argument is airtight and be compelled to believe you.

Here are a few ways to do this:

1) Use “Therefore,” “Thus,” and “Hence” to transition to a conclusion you want your audience to believe. The conclusion doesn’t have to literally follow from what comes before it; just use the terms, and they’ll think it does. Call it “evil” all you want–doesn’t change the fact that it works.

2) Force a choice between two alternatives. This is also known as a false dichotomy. The Wall Street Journal’s “Tale of Two Men” sales letter did this marvelously, selling 2 billion dollars in subscriptions. The lesson of the letter was in essence “You can either buy the Wall Street Journal and end up a success–or not buy it and be a failure for the rest of your life.” Easy choice, right?

3) Use numbered lists. Counting is one of the most basic things we learn when we’re little. Thus if someone is told there are 10 reasons why they should buy, they’ll probably think there really are 10 reasons why they should buy. 

And beware of appearing to appeal to their emotions. We all like to think of ourselves as logical and reasonable, not as flighty twits who are easily persuaded. As Dale Carnegie wrote, “Appeal to the nobler motives.”

Logical language is seductive. It draws your readers away from their discomforts and into a world of certainty and coherence, where everything makes sense. Craft this world for them.

How to Lose Customers and Alienate People

Jamie Cassata
Direct Response Copywriter
Rochester, New York
Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.

Centuries ago, most people (including many experts) believed in Geocentrism–the view that the earth is at the center of the solar system.

Now, when it was discovered that the geocentric measurements didn’t explain some irregular motions of the planets, the geocentric astronomers developed epicycles–visual representations of orbits–to make the measurements “work.”

Well, after a while, these epicycles failed to explain some things too. And so the geocentrists invented epi-epicycles to make the epicycles work…

…and so on and so forth until people were eventually forced to accept the far simpler heliocentric model–the view that the sun is at the center.

What’s this got to do with marketing and copywriting?

People resist reality in some really wacky ways. Pre-existing beliefs, true or false, are like security blankets for the brain. People don’t want their “blankies” ripped from them.

Such uncertainty signals to the amygdalae, “Danger!” So people come up with any craziness at all in order to maintain their beliefs. One more “epicycle.” And then an “epi-epicycle.” And so on.

The lesson: it’s better not to try to change your audience’s beliefs. At least not up front.

Instead, capitalize on their pre-existing beliefs. Use these beliefs as an opportunity to enter into their mind. At that point you have more free reign to do what you want.

Here’s an example of a company having a difficult time getting this concept:

Atrium Innovations was recently acquired by Nestle. Well, you should see the complaints from Garden of Life customers (Garden of Life is an Atrium brand)… They’re pissed off, and a lot of ’em are leaving for good.

The problem goes back to the marketing people and copywriters framing the acquisition as though it’s a continuity

The pre-existing belief of Garden of Life customers is “Nestle is EVIL. They use a bunch of bad ingredients. They’re bad bad bad!” And here are the Garden of Life people saying Nestle “reflects their values.”

I’ll tell you right now what they should’ve said… 

“We’re going over to the DARK SIDE.” Cuz of the chocolate. Anyway, they could’ve made it playful and acknowledged the perception, the pre-existing belief. THEN used it as an opportunity to communicate how they’re still about good ingredients, blah blah blah.

…Instead, they militated against the pre-existing belief. Bad move.

Meet your customers where they are, not where you want them to be.

Find Out Your Copywriting Philosophy

What’s your direct response copywriting philosophy? 

If you don’t know, then your competitors who do know are almost certainly at your heels.

I’m a nerd basically. One of my master’s degrees is in philosophy, and I had a full scholarship to a PhD program in Houston …

…before I betrayed the “love of wisdom” for the love of moola and became a direct response copywriter.

My background in philosophy has enabled me to see the underlying approaches of various copywriters, companies, and agencies–their copywriting philosophies.

In many corporate structures, copywriting philosophy tends to devolve into brand and its attributes. But this is a confusion.

Copywriting philosophy is actually 1) a viewpoint of what copy can and should accomplish, and 2) a viewpoint of human nature’s free will and inclinations in relation to copy.

Many in charge of creative teams that do image advertising have a “low” view of copy and a “high” view of human free will … when it should be exactly the opposite. 

Here’s what I mean: they underestimate what copy can and should accomplish, and they overestimate the power of free will.

They look at copy as something that sets a mood … presents a tone … and gently nudges the reader (if that). This is really all that copy can do, so they think.

Thus the vapid cleverness that you find from the big ad agencies.

Direct response marketers think differently: they have a high view of copy and a low view of free will–meaning, they’re confident in copy’s ability to compel action (that is, when copy is done well).

Direct response marketers produce copy in accordance with how human nature actually is, as opposed to how we would like it to be.

Compel the action. The best copywriting philosophy is compulsive copy.