Copywriting and Direct Marketing Mythbusters: The Myth of One Good Sales Letter (Do You Need One?)

There was once a time when one good sales letter or print ad was all you needed. Joe Karbo’s ‘Lazy Man’s Way To Riches!’ ad was just one such an example. It made money in every newspaper it ran in, selling at just a $10 book – no back end, no monetisation of the list – so the ‘seers’ say.

Very lazy when you think about it.

It was that good a promotion. According to those same ‘seers,’ Karbo could set his secretary a budget and she could purchase remnant newspaper space anywhere in the country and they would make money.

Another example of this was Gary Halbert’s coat of arms letter. Selling a $2 catalogue of items the buyer could have engraved with their family coat of arms it made Gary rich once. It was so famous it got a mention on Carson. Carson was fuming about his coat of arms and called Gary all sorts of names.

Interestingly sales went up after Caron’s ringing endorsement.

At least Gary had a back end – the products in the catalogue.

But is that still true today?

The landscape has changed since the heyday of direct response. Response rates are down, people are less willing to spend money these days, more so than they have been for a long time. At the same time the very best direct response purchasers are getting older which means they have this annoying habit of dying. And the younger generations are not really picking up the slack in the mail order purchasing sense.

In all my time in the world of copywriting and direct response I can say that the glory days of vast fortunes amassed on the back of one good ad selling a one off purchase are more and more a thing of myth.

There are relatively simple and effective marketing systems being used to create wealth but usually there is a degree of system and advanced monetisation strategy, not the simple let’s stick a space ad in a newspaper or mail one sales letter type of business any more. (Sad really, it is one more reason for the grizzled vets to put on rose coloured glasses and talk about the good old days.)

The main change seems to me to be in product strategy and also marketing sophistication. No longer do you need one letter or ad. You need one good system. And an advanced product monetisation strategy.

Karbo sold a lot of books by mail order. Leasing those names to other marketers could have been the start of some monetisation for him – if he generated his sales at breakeven, he didn’t he got them at a profit and then made $25 per name in the list rental business he would have banked an extra million dollars in cash for every 40,000 books he sold.

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