Famous First Words

It's The Simplicity Silly!

I know that the Blacks struggled mightily to figure out how to show their product in advertisements. After all, a smolderingly sexy shot of a checkbook insert isn't easy to pull off; nor is it easy to "glam" up the whole financial planning system the Blacks espouse. Their solution was to design a classy box that houses a one-year supply of the inserts along with a "Debt Elimination Roadmap" to help users establish and reach their financial goals.

With the addition of a set of thick books in the picture, which the reader may mistake as being part of the debt elimination system, the product's simplicity doesn't come through. In fact, the whole visual setup could leave the opposite impression than was intended: that this is a massive undertaking and that the system is very difficult to implement.

The Blacks ran the ad in a trade publication for professional organizers using a headline that doesn't focus very well on how the product will benefit the user. My suggested change would be to show just a corner of one of the inserts as a "teaser" and then, in a small photo, include the handsome box as part of the sign-off to the ad. Next to the insert would be the headline: "Slip this into your checkbook and watch your debts disappear!"

This headline gives greater dimension to the product and the ad in two ways: It offers a seemingly uncomplicated solution to one of the most difficult of all family problems, and it establishes portability and implies ease of use. The rest of the copy is drawn from NorthStar's own literature on the product, which is nicely developed. The Blacks might also consider including a "button" on the ad that reads, "As seen on CNNfn"--which will likely come off as an implied seal of approval. Finally, there needs to be an offer of something extra to induce immediate response. I recommend the Blacks reposition their "Debt Elimination Roadmap" as a special bonus included at no extra charge just for trying the product. Throwing in a 100 percent money-back guarantee is also a good idea, if the Blacks are sure they'll be able to honor it.

In the future, I would recommend that the Blacks test the use of what I call a story-testimonial ad, that is, an ad whose sole purpose is to tell a compelling first-person account of how The Money Organizer pulled an individual from the edge of financial ruin. You often see such story-testimonials in print ads and infomercials, and they can be very convincing.

The Blacks are passionate about their product, and that's the first requirement for entrepreneurial success. Now they have the opportunity to focus their advertising efforts in a manner that will help them go the rest of the way.


This ad needs a clearer statement of the goal. We don't want to organize our finances; we want to reduce our debt.

1. This headline is vague. What's it really trying to say?

2. Showing the product next to a set of thick books makes it look like a lot of work.


This ad highlights the financial and emotional benefits of using the product.

1. This lead-in "eyebrow" and headline capsulize the two key advantages of using The Money Organizer.

2. The boxed testimonial from an expert provides front-and-center credibility.

Q: I tried to write a sales letter about my product, an automatic gas shut-off valve that activates during earthquakes, but the result wasn't very good. Can you offer some pointers to get me started on the right track?

A: Pretend you're sitting across the table from a prospect having a heart-to-heart talk with him or her. No pretensions, no bombast, no formality--just a sincere presentation of your most compelling sales message.

It helps to start by addressing what you think the prospect's state of mind is on the subject--in this case, his or her fears about earthquakes and gas leaks. You might begin with something like this: "I probably don't need to remind you just how dangerous a broken gas pipe can be in the aftermath of an earthquake . . ." Then go into what the specific dangers are. After that, maybe you'd say "But there's no longer a reason to worry when you have a Quake-Off device, a simple emergency gas shut-off valve that automatically protects you from dangerous gas leaks."

The three key words to remember are "keep it conversational." One way to make sure you adhere to this rule is to first dictate the message into a tape recorder, and then transcribe it into a first draft. This allows you to write about your product the way you would talk about it. Another way to use a tape recorder to help is to sit down with a friend or relative and have him or her ask you leading questions about the product so you can respond in a conversational tone. Then, once you have a lot of questions and answers on tape, transcribe them and piece together a sales letter using that content. You can even structure the letter to follow a question-and-answer format.

Finally, put the finished sales letter away, out of sight, for 48 hours, and then look at it again with fresh eyes. Anything that's wrong with it will pop out at you immediately, and you can smooth it over. If you don't take this step and choose instead to publish your first draft of the letter, you'll miss a chance to improve the letter by at least 30 percent.

Contact Source

NorthStar Direct Inc., (800) 450-4580, http://www.moneyorganizer.com

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This article was originally published in the October 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Famous First Words.

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