Biggest Bullet Blunders Copywriters Make + My Own Big One

Copy Insiders Issue #52—January 18, 2019

This week's issue is packed with lots of good stuff--including a return of "What's in Kim's Mailbox". So get yourself settled in for a good read! Let's get rolling...

The other day I did a group training with my copywriting mentees on writing fascinations (you may also know them as "bullets".) At the beginning of the training, I played a song that kept popping into my mind when I was putting my presentation together.

If you went to college during the 1980s like I did, you'll likely recall it: "(Keep feeling) Fascination" by The Human League. (Queue it up right here now if you like).

Could the secret to writing great fascinations be hidden in this somewhat-obscure 1980s song?

As this ear worm of a song relentlessly played on in my mind, I decided to look up the lyrics. And sure enough in the second verse, I came across these lines:

Just looking for a new direction

In an old familiar way

The forming of a new connection To study or to play

As it turns out, that’s exactly what we’re doing when we write fascinations...

We’re looking for a new direction (how can I twist this in a way the prospect hasn’t heard before?)

In an old familiar way (use the familiar as a way in)

The forming of a new connection (tease about some sort of surprise or revelation)

To study or to play (must have curiosity and benefit as well as news)

During my hour-plus-long presentation, we went much further. I shared 10 rules for writing great fascinations (including some "Don'ts" I'll get into in a moment). I also revealed 27 different fascination formulas, with examples for each one.

(In the coming weeks I'll be letting you know how you can get your hands on this exclusive in-depth fascinations training, as well as training on writing great headlines, leads, and much more...)

Right now I'm going to share some of the most common mistakes I see copywriters make when it comes to writing fascinations (I've been guilty of a few myself!)

Bullet blunder #1: Giving it away. The whole idea behind your fascination is you're holding back on some kind of secret or revelation...and the only way to find it out is to take the desired action (buy the book or newsletter or supplement or opt into an email list to get the lead magnet or sign up for a free webinar or whatever.) Yet all too often copywriters give the answer away right in the bullet...defeating its purpose.

This is the most common blunder that less experienced copywriters make. Even more experienced ones do it, too. I went back through some old files this morning looking for an old Rodale promotion I wanted to share in this week's "What's in Kim's Mailbox".

I came across this test version for a thyroid book promo I wrote over 11 years ago. Can you see the obvious blunder I made in adapting this fascination into a main headline?

I gave the answer away right on the front cover! This would have been much more effective if I had handled it differently...just like the promotion I'm going to discuss a bit later in "What's in Kim's Mailbox". Basically, if I had NOT given away the answer and gave the prospect a reason to turn the page, I might have gotten a winner. (This was one of several test versions that mailed, and none of them beat the control.)

Alright, let's move on (this is painful!)

Bullet blunder #2: Making it too obvious. If the prospect can easily guess what the answer is because you've provided too many details, you've also neutered your bullet's effectiveness. On the other hand, being too vague and not providing enough specifics can also doom your bullet to blandness and death by lack of intrigue.

Bullet blunder #3: Not debunking what they think it is. Many times there's an obvious answer or solution to what you're teasing about. But your bullet shouldn't be about that of course...ideally it's something the prospect wouldn't think is the solution. But you need to address what they think the answer is by debunking it. That way you keep the prospect reading and fuel their desire to find out the answer.

Example: The one nutrient you should ALWAYS take with glucosamine sulfate to combat osteoarthritis.

That's the first line of the bullet. Your prospect would likely assume the answer is "chondroitin sulfate" and not read any further. However, you would never write a bullet like this if the answer was so obvious.

In this case, the answer is some other nutrient (I can't recall which one off the top of my head). So you debunk the prospect's assumption next and then finish with the benefit. Here's the entire fascination:

The one nutrient you should ALWAYS take with glucosamine sulfate to combat osteoarthritis. (Hint: it's NOT chondroitin!) Halts inflammation so you stop hurting fast.

Bullet blunder #4: Not writing ENOUGH fascinations. You should always write lots of fascinations for an info product, because you'll weed through and edit them later--and toss out the ones that aren't up to snuff. But even if you're not writing for an info product, you should still write lots of fascinations.

That's because these copy "nuggets" can be spun into copywriting gold in the form of headlines, email subject lines, sidebars, and front cover bullets. If you look at some of my past controls, you can see how I've done this on multiple occasions.

Bullet blunder #5 (this brings back a painful memory): Not footnoting the answer and the source for every bullet. You're going to want to go back and tweak your bullets after your first few drafts. Footnoting makes it easy for you to go back to your source material and figure out if you can give it a better, more intriguing twist. Your clients may also require you to provide your sources, and it's much easier to footnote everything as you go along.

That painful memory I mentioned? When I wrote my first promo for Boardroom way back in 2004, I turned in my first draft filled with hundreds of fascinations. I quickly got an email back asking me for the sources so they could do their fact-checking. I was like, "Oh, CRAP!" I had to go back to each one and figure out which of the dozens of past issues or premiums I had found each factoid took me hours!

I now footnote EVERYTHING! (I'm beyond "anal" about it to be honest...)

Keep these bullet blunders in mind the next time you're writing copy--and make sure you avoid them like the plague. It'll make your copy much stronger (and save you needless aggravation!)

Speaking of blunders, I've been writing you a lot about the importance of building a collection of promo "swipes" to study. But I want to make sure you're swiping right (no, not THAT kind of "swiping right" you do on Timber--oops, I mean Tinder).

In Parris Lampropulus' first group call last Friday as part of the fundraiser for his cousin (it was great), he talked about one of the biggest mistakes he sees B and C-level copywriters make. It was taking a swipe and misapplying it.

For example, taking a proven headline that's a paradox and dropping in a different word or phrase that's no longer a paradox (his example was a "One-legged accountant" versus a "One-legged golfer"--the famous John Carlton headline. It's hard to golf with one leg...but someone doing accounting with just one leg? No intrigue there.)

So when you study swipes, like the 31+ proven controls you get in my new complete swipe file, make sure you analyze and understand the principles behind those main headlines that are making them work. That's part of what I'm trying to teach you here...

(And don't forget, through the 31st you can get as many swipes as you like...or my complete swipe 50% off savings when you use this code: HALFJAN19).

Now without further ado, let's talk about a promotion I received in my mailbox for the umpteenth time (so I know it's a strong control...)

What's in Kim's Mailbox?

I didn't write this promotion--but I'm pretty sure one of Parris' "cubs" may have (he definitely copy-chiefed it). It's doing a lot of things right. The front cover approach is similar to one I've seen before and have used myself.

In fact, years ago I could swear there was a hot Rodale control that had some similar "what's wrong with me" wording or list of unexplainable symptoms. I think Richard Armstrong wrote it (Richard, you out there?) That's what I was looking for in my files earlier when I came across my Thyroid promo blunder.

In any case, take a look at the front cover of this "slim jim"-sized 24-page self-mailer:

Let's look at what's happening here. The headline reels the prospect in immediately and then lists a bunch of symptoms many people suffer from. It's casting a wide net. The prospects can see themselves and say "that's me" if they have one of these stubborn health problems that they're likely unable to solve in desirable ways.

Also notice that it's not making that blunder I made with my Rodale thyroid cover--it's not giving away the answer. It's making the prospect turn the page and start reading--which is the main job of any headline or cover.

It's opening the door to presenting a product that offers a solution to a problem most people don't think they have (in this case, sub-optimal liver function). I did something similar with my Pectasol launch promo many years ago, listing a bunch of symptoms that people would have never thought--at least at the time--were linked to toxins.

Now let's turn the page---because we have to in order to find out what "this" is...

As you can see, the main headline and copy on this page still isn't revealing the answer teased about on the front cover. The prospect is forced to keep reading.

The running copy starts with a story, always a good way to overcome any disbelief on the part of the prospect and make him more receptive to whatever you say next. The story here also provides emotional proof. Here's how the running copy continues on page 3...

The opening story is quickly followed by a credibility-boosting introduction of the doctor behind the product. Then it goes back briefly to the story about George before revealing the "dangerous health problem most doctors overlook": liver problems.

But----and this is important---it presents the big revelation in a way that the prospect won't object to or say to himself, "So what?"

It does so by acknowledging it's something they probably don't worry about and that it's often overlooked by doctors, taking the prospect off the hook. It then segues back to the reader. You don't want to get too far along before you bring it back to your prospect because people by nature are self-centered. They want to know, "What's in it for me?"

Then the copy goes back to talking about your liver, which is made into a sort of unappreciated hero. On the next spread the copy overcomes the next most likely objection the prospect may have: "I'm not a heavy drinker."

It explains all the things that cause liver problems that aren't alcohol--mainly toxins. (Sorry, alcohol's a toxin too, folks, but don't let that stop your happy hour plans...)

Then it gets into all the everyday health problems the prospect may not link to his liver---and it's all much more palatable and believable by now. But see how you have to carefully step your way there...rather than just jump right in?

It started with a story (emotional proof)...and then layered on more proof and credibility leading up to this point. The copy then reveals the first nutrient in the supplement formula...but there's no mention of the product until page 8 (a third of the way into the promo, after a second ingredient is introduced.)

Note: We talked about when to tip your hand you're selling something in one of November's past issues. I'll be making the complete 2018 Copy Insiders collection available soon, so stay tuned...

There's much more to study with this promo. If you haven't gotten it in the mail you can order the product at and use this code: LF1901 (which will indicate you're responding off a direct mail promo and hopefully get you seeded for future mailings).

And who knows, maybe YOUR liver needs extra support! (I swear I didn't write this promo or have anything to gain from your order...)

That's it for this week's issue. You have a lot to digest here, but the main point is you can see how important it is to write good fascinations...there are many ways to use them in your copy to create curiosity and pull your reader in.

Hope you enjoyed the 80s flashback, too (and for those of you reading who weren't even born by then, hope you enjoyed the history lesson!)

Yours for smarter marketing,


P.S. If you want a master file of successful control promotions--without having to order supplements and cross your fingers you'll get seeded on mailing lists--check out my 31+ current and past promos (with more coming) here. Your best bet is the "Buy 'em all" swipe file, which gives you automatic free updates as I add more promos. And you can get it at 50% off the SALE price with this code: HALFJAN19

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