Weird Trick for Finding a Great Hook

Copy Insiders Issue #51—January 11, 2019

Last night was my first night back at Improv class for the winter session. After warming up with some really fun games, we did some 2-person scenes where we were given a word as a prompt.

When you do these scenes, you never know what the other person is going to say or do next. You're always on the lookout for that "gift"...that big, playable gift that will let you go off on a surprising (and often funny) tangent and give your partner something to build on.

When you're working on a new promo, at the very start during your research stage you're also looking for these "gifts". I've written before about how to find that big idea you want to base your promo on, in particular the headline and lead. (A big fat e-book full of 2018's Copy Insiders issues is coming soon, I promise!)

If you're writing for a supplement or skin care product, you're going to comb through your research and leave no stone unturned...looking for that unique story or big promise or unique mechanism. If you're writing for a financial newsletter, you're going to look for some big new trend or opportunity or remarkable track record.

No matter what you're writing for, you need a great hook. And by hook, I mean something that's going to grab your prospect by the eyeballs and make it impossible not to read or listen further. And it's got to be really irresistible. That's because...

You're up against bigger bait and shrinking attention spans

Imagine yourself dropping your fishing line into a pond packed with fish---and also hundreds of other fishing lines, many with much more appealing bait than yours.

Then there's all the other multi-tasking things your prospect may be doing at the same time, and the nonstop distractions...along with our shrinking attention spans.

That's what you're up against in those first few seconds, whether it's the subject line on the email that's driving traffic to your VSL or sales page, or the headline that's screaming at them from the front of your direct mail promo or newspaper ad.

If you want to have even the tiniest chance, you have to stand out and compel your prospect to look further. This can often be done successfully with curiosity.

We're curious people by nature. And curiosity in a headline or subject line is the best way to create an open loop that demands to be closed...and can only be done by reading or listening more to get to that point.

Just take a look at this screenshot from my email inbox (the one I use for "junk" email...wait, did I just say that?). I like to go there periodically to read the promotions. I especially love combing through the subject lines, and find they can produce some good idea fodder for great hooks.

Notice which subject lines really jump out at you:

You can see how you have to really break through the noise and clutter if you want to grab your typical prospect's attention. All those fishing lines crowding you out with bigger, more appealing bait.

Don't settle for a boring hook---or no hook at all. You'll be dooming your promo to the worst possible fate of all: completely ignored as if it never existed. All that hard work...all that research and scientifically-backed up claims...all those wonderful things your product could do to make people better off in ways they desire...

All of that hard work and unlimited potential for nothing...simply because you failed to hook them in at the beginning.

So be ruthless and unwavering in your demands when you write your email subject lines and headlines. Will they be able to compete? Will they stand out?

Will they make your prospect stop whatever they are doing and pay attention...will it make them determined to find out the answer or solution...or will it cause them to wonder, as Gene Schwartz so aptly put it, "Am I really in that much grave danger?"

My advice to you is to study successful promotions, get on as many promotional email lists as you can (any of the Agora lists are a great start), and think like an Improv-er looking for that next big, playable "gift". They're out there like diamonds waiting to be plucked!

Yours for smarter marketing,


P.S. In case you missed it, I've got 31-plus of my current and past controls available here, along with an entire swipe file of my proven controls here. They're all available at 50% off (even off the sale price) when you use the following discount code: HALFJAN19. Lots of swipeable big ideas and hooks abound here for sure...

P.P.S. I'm going to be speaking again at this year's TCC IRL event (that stands for The Copywriter Club In Real Life). Last year's was fantastic and it sounds like it'll be even better this year (plus it's in ultra-cool and hip Brooklyn). You can grab your ticket at $100 off the already-low price till January 22nd here. Hope to see you there!

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