“Method acting” and winning sales copy

Nov 2, 2022

As you nurse your Halloween candy “hangover”, perhaps your stomach is churning as you read this email. 

Well, like I talked about in the interview I did with Glenn Fisher and Nick O’Connor (a snippet of which I shared with you yesterday), it’s a great way to experience what the prospect for this promo I’m about to share with you is dealing with.

Putting yourself in your prospect’s shoes–even if you have absolutely nothing in common with them–is essential for writing copy that resonates and builds belief and trust.

It’s why I’ve been able to write successful prostate supplement promos, for example… even though I don’t have a prostate (though my husband sometimes wonders if I do when he’s riding in my car with me and I “show ’em the turbo”).

It’s all about adopting a kind of “method acting” as you research who your avatar is. After all, Marlon Brando stayed in a hospital bed for an entire month as a way to prepare for the injured veteran character he’d be playing in The Men

And Robert De Niro worked as a real taxi driver, picking up passengers around New York City during breaks from shooting Taxi Driver. 

So even if you’re not dealing with an upset stomach right now from eating too much sugar (or drinking too much rum or tequila) last night, let’s PRETEND you’re suffering from chronic, all-too-frequent digestive distress.

As you do so, let’s take a look at the first page of this promo I’ve seen again and again for the past 11 years in my inbox and mailbox…

Wait a minute… there’s a reason I recognize this promo. I originally wrote it! 

It’s a digestive supplement promo I wrote as a direct mail magalog for my Advanced Bionutritionals client waaaaaaay back in 2011.

It’s still mailing as a magalog, but several years ago the same word-for-word copy was turned into an online sales page, and this is its latest incarnation (I just received an email a month ago driving traffic to it).

So let’s take a look at what’s working well here and allowing this promo to hit all the right buttons… more than 11 years after it first became a successful control!

But first, a little bit of “history” (don’t roll your eyes just yet…) When I wrote this original promo, digestive supplements were HOT. 

Mailboxes were stuffed to the gills with probiotic and digestive enzyme “slim jims”, magalogs, and tabloid-format self-mailers… many of them with grotesque images of inflamed, worm-infested intestines or someone straining while on a toilet.

It was becoming a race to the bottom in terms of delivering the greatest “shock value” in the battle for attention… to the point that these types of promos eventually lost their effectiveness.

(Kind of like today–how much longer will the deluge of flashing siren/ambulance trip to the emergency room/”I almost died” story lead VSLs work, or have they already “jumped the shark” and passed their peak, too?) 

So when I took on this promo, I decided I didn’t want to do a gross “me too” digestive promo, even though that’s what seemed to be working. I also scrutinized the client’s current control for this product, which was written by none other than David Deutsch (with the headline, “Why Your Stomach Still Hurts”).

I saw many things that were working in his copy: the more prospect-centered headline and lead using empathetic copy (rather than triggering emotions like fear and disgust)… an early reference to a unique mechanism that would finally deliver lasting relief… and the use of a doctor sharing her own story to build trust.

Takeaway #1: Study the current control to see what’s working–and what’s not!

These tactics were definitely giving David’s promo an edge over the deluge of probiotic and other digestive promos filling up prospects’ mailboxes at the time.

But, as I describe in the “How to Choose the Right Headline for Your Market” training in my Get Dangerously Good Copywriting System, David’s control headline was written for the 3rd stage of market sophistication. 

Meanwhile, the market had moved on to its 4th stage.. and needed a bigger, faster, more effective mechanism in order to grab attention and build belief.

So as you can see, in the main headline of the sales page I just shared with you, I’m building a BIGGER mechanism (“…a remedy that actually repairs your digestion”) that promises a faster result (“Starts working the very first day!”)

Takeaway #2: Determine which stage of market sophistication your product is currently in, and write to that.

At the same time, I used what was working in David’s approach and wrote the main headline to speak DIRECTLY to the prospect, and where their head was at: “Why You Can Take All the Probiotics, Enzymes, and Antacids You Want, and Still Not Fix Your Digestive Problems”. 

(Note: I’m not a fan of leading caps on every word of a headline–something that instantly communicates “this is an ad” and can make it harder to read, wisdom I gleaned from the late copywriter, horror film screenwriter, and “Godfather of Gore” Herschell Gordon Lewis–but I didn’t have anything to do with the design direction of this sales page.)

The opening paragraphs seamlessly continue from the main headline and deck copy… expanding on the frustration that’s tapped into with the headline and showing empathy. 

The copy uses the prospect’s own language (i.e., “problem” foods) and brings in related problems and frustrations like being too bloated to fit into their clothes.

Takeaway #3: Remember you’re writing a personal communication to ONE person… show that you understand them and where they are now. 

Notice the copy doesn’t make definitive statements, i.e., “You find yourself ‘living on antacids”. The prospect may not take any antacids and think “that’s not me”. 

Instead each statement is hedged with “perhaps” or “maybe” yet still including a range of specific problems or situations, at least one or some of which the target prospect will relate to.

Takeaway #4: Cast a wide enough net that you don’t leave anyone who’s a target prospect out, but make it specific enough so that you call out the right prospect and make them say “this is for me”.

Without waiting too long after agitating the prospect’s pain points, the promise of relief… a solution that works where others have failed… is introduced in the copy.

In this case, it’s an “ancient Chinese remedy”. And to overcome any initial objections or skepticism, the mechanism is quickly connected to being effective because it addresses a hidden cause of the problem. 

I then describe specific common symptoms that the prospect may have noticed in themselves… making the hidden cause more believable.

Here’s where the unique mechanism of the solution can be deeply entwined with the unique mechanism of the problem, and how the latter often simply plays a supporting role to the main star of the show: the unique mechanism–critically important when writing to the 3rd or 4th stage of market sophistication. 

Takeaway #5: Thoroughly research your product to pinpoint the unique mechanism of your product and all the ways it works to deliver some sort of specific advantage. In highly-competitive niches, it’s a necessity.

As if we haven’t gleaned ENOUGH key takeaways from reading just two pages of copy, I’ve got one more for you…

Notice how the copy then transitions into painting a picture of what life can be like once you’ve addressed this hidden cause of digestive problems using this solution. By acknowledging the unbelievability of the transformation (“they’re amazed at the change”), it’s made more believable.  

And the big promise is restated… tied again to the Chinese “secret”, which promises to be revealed to keep the prospect reading.

Takeaway #6: Use “future pacing” to demonstrate how your solution is able to deliver on its promise, so the prospect begins to pre-experience it in their head.

Now, perhaps you collect promo swipes and like to read and study them. Maybe you even like to write them out by hand. (See what I did there? Refer back to Takeaway #4.)

But if you don’t know how to take a promo apart, line by line, and really ANALYZE what it’s doing, that pile of swipes taking up your bookcase and file space isn’t doing you any good.

It’s by truly understanding the tactics and why they’re used, and then being able to spot them “in action”, that you’ll start giving your promos the same edge.

That’s why you’ll want to check out the P.S. below for an important announcement about my Million-Dollar Controls master class (unless you’re one of the smart cookies who already have this program or went through my original Copy Teardown/”Royalty Control” master class when I did it live).

Some of the most successful copywriters that I’ve mentored developed a daily habit early on of not just reading or writing out by hand a successful promo each day, but taking the time to really analyze it and dissect it line by line.

It’s amazing how many takeaways you can get from doing so, as demonstrated here. And it’ll “teach” you much more about copywriting than any book you’ll read.

So stop swiping and start dissecting copy. You’ll shorten your learning curve and dramatically improve your results when you do.

Yours for smarter marketing,


P.S. If you really want to get inside my head and see how I created some of my most successful, longest-running control promos, my Million-Dollars Controls master class is like nothing else out there. 

Each promo breakdown reveals dozens of valuable takeaways you can apply to your own copy. I even include examples of promos I went up against and beat, dozens of split tests to keep my controls alive, and more.

The bonus training you get alone makes this program worth every penny (i.e., supplement compliance training and a royalty negotiation “cheat sheet”… plus two MORE in-depth control breakdowns). But when you combine it with my own “inside” perspective of creating a successful control from start to finish, it’ll give you an unstoppable edge.

For the next few days, you can get full access to everything my Million-Dollar Controls master class gives you for $300 off the regular price. Go here for all the details and to get it now.

P.P.S. The doors are now open if you’d like to get personal and group mentoring from me starting in January. Get all the details and take the next step here.