I felt so betrayed… and then I fought back

Mar 23, 2022

When I was 7 years old, my family spent the summer living temporarily in an apartment complex on Santa Rosa Island near Fort Walton Beach, Florida. My father was working on a radar project at a major air force base nearby.

My brothers and I spent many a hot summer day swimming in the apartment complex’s pool while my mother looked on.

One day I felt the need to visit the bathroom, so I crawled out of the pool and walked barefoot across the hot parking lot to go to our apartment.

That’s when it happened… I stepped on one of these…




That’s a pull tab, and they used to be everywhere back when I was a kid, since that’s what they used on soda cans. (The one pictured here I came across when walking my dog Pearl in the woods a few hours ago… and that’s what brought back this memory).

In any case, I sat on the hot pavement in the middle of the parking lot, crying loudly and holding my foot up as blood gushed out. That’s when a heavy, older man dressed in a suit who resembled W.C. Fields came running towards me.

He pulled out a white handkerchief, began mopping up my bloody foot, and told me, “Don’t worry, Big Daddy’s here… Big Daddy’s here…”

My mom heard my cries and came running over, too, and I was whisked off to the local emergency room. The nurse had me lay down in a hospital bed and wait for the doctor to come over. She walked out of the room and then came back wheeling in a cart full of long, scary-looking needles.

Terrified, I asked her, “Are those for me?”

“No, they’re not,” she quickly answered, and then hustled herself out of the room as fast as possible.

I stared at the tray of tall, threatening needles and felt relieved they weren’t for me, though I did feel a bit skeptical. Then, after a few minutes, the doctor and the nurse came back to the room. And that same nurse wheeled the cart of needles towards my bed.

I was normally a good kid, very trusting and always doing what I was told. But because this nurse had told me an outright lie, I was beside myself. I decided I was going to fight.

I began kicking both legs (including my bloody foot) and flailing about with my arms and began pummeling the doctor and nurse as they put their hands on me.

My mother and a few other nurses came in to help, and all five of them had to hold me down so the doctor could put 7 stitches in my foot, all of which took just a few minutes (and I can’t even recall whether it even hurt).

But I had never felt so BETRAYED in my life. I still remember that feeling, just like it happened yesterday…

And that’s the memory finding that pull tab in the woods brought back for me. It took place decades ago. That’s how powerful the feelings of anger generated by being lied to and feeling betrayed can be.

Many a brilliant copywriter has tapped into that same emotion in their copy. That’s because it can be one of the most powerful ways to connect with your prospect and build trust and belief…

Because we all want to avoid experiencing that kind of pain ever again. That’s why we respond so well to the idea that we can get “revenge” or get even. That we can gain the upper hand on all the tricksters and fraudsters out there and avoid ever getting fooled again.

If you can tap into this emotion and use it to position your product or spokesperson as something or someone they can TRUST… and make them the HERO, while those your prospect doesn’t trust become the villain… all the better.

It’s not a new approach… I’ve seen it used successfully for years to sell financial and health newsletters. But whatever you’re writing copy for, “betrayal” is a powerful and motivating emotion you should think about tapping into.

I’m going to pull out a few promos that tap into this powerful emotion and share them with you. I’m sure there are some more current examples, but let’s look at a few “classics”.

I’ll start with this highly successful financial newsletter “magalog” written by the late, great Clayton Makepeace. Here’s the front cover…

The headline vividly sums up the anger and betrayal that the prospect feels towards the Wall Street elite and insiders who are, as Clayton puts it, “Getting rich at your expense”.

And while he could have piled on all kinds of insider tricks and lies that keep the “little guy” from competing on equal ground in the stock market, Clayton picked ONE thing they’re doing and ran with that.

This makes it instantly easy to absorb the message and get that visceral reaction of feelings of betrayal and being lied to… the idea that these top executives and Wall Street “talking heads” are telling you buy shares of their stock, while turning around and selling theirs!

Then… very important… Clayton’s copy offers a way to GET REVENGE by turning the tables on them… and get “six times richer” in the process!

By focusing on one sin (while promising a way to fight back), it makes the messaging easy to grasp and react emotionally to… versus a full dossier of all the evil sins and tricks played.

The running copy starts on the first page and continues on from there in the newsletter editor/guru’s voice (Martin Weiss)… and he piles on proof after proof demonstrating he can be trusted to tell you the truth.

Clayton used similar approaches for other blockbuster promos he wrote, including his launch promo for Health & Healing (one of the most successful of all time) that tapped into frustration with traditional medicine and big Pharma.

But the “granddaddy” (or should I say “Big Daddy”) of this approach is well-illustrated by this classic Gary Bencivenga promo…

While this promo reigned as a control back in 1990, it could easily be successful today (with some updated villains in the “Financial Hall of Shame”). In fact, it could work even better today when there is so much distrust that no one really knows who or what to believe anymore.

I’m going to share one more example… it’s a promo I wrote several years ago that ran as a control for a skin care product. It helps demonstrate how you can tap into this emotion and tie it to just about any product. Here I’m speaking to a 50+ female audience who can remember those Coppertone ads of their youth…

I personally remember getting horrid sunburns while holding a reflector up against my face in order to get a “tan”… and have the sun damage to show for it. But when I actually found that old Coppertone ad, I had my proof: “they” did in fact lie! And we all fell for it… but here’s a solution to undo the damage.

There are lots of products and niches where you can use this same approach and tap into the powerful emotions of betrayal, anger, and revenge: Weight loss. Fitness. Relationship or any kind of coaching. Supplements. Political fundraising. Pet food. And of course, financial or health newsletters and skin care.

Hopefully seeing some of these classics (and one of my past controls) will give you some new ideas you can apply to your next promo, email, or other copy.

Just know that you need to do more than just stir up that emotion. You need that promise of relief (or avoidance) and a hero (your product or spokesperson) that you prove beyond a doubt is one they can trust.