WWGD (What Would Gene Do?)

Feb 5, 2021

Issue #119—February 5, 2021
Gene Schwartz’s book, Breakthrough Advertising, is one of the greatest books ever written on copywriting and positioning.

It galls me that it was never once mentioned when I went through my MBA program in marketing (and likely still isn’t).

It wasn’t until I left my marketing executive position at Phillips Publishing and went out on my own as a copywriter a few decades ago that I even heard about Gene’s book.

I had already been in the remarkably fortunate position of being in the room a few years prior when Gene delivered his famous day-long Phillips Publishing lecture…the transcript of which is filled with valuable copywriting insights.

So when my first freelance copywriting client recommended I read Breakthrough Advertising, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. But the only copy I could find back then was only available on eBay for a whopping $999.

I opted instead to borrow my client’s copy of the book and spend hours at the copier machine producing my now 20+ year-old “bootleg” copy, to which I still refer to again and again… (don’t worry, since my friend Brian Kurtz started publishing the book again, I’ve obtained at least a few legit hardcover copies as well!)

I reached for my flagged and tattered bootleg copy again this morning because I was thinking about something I’ve been talking about lately.

What Gene would do in order to stand out from the constant noise and clutter of competing advertising messages we and our clients deal with these days?

You’ve likely heard about Gene’s concepts of mechanization and market sophistication. When you’re promoting a product or service where many others have come before you, coming up with a new mechanism is needed to make your claims fresh and believable again.

But further along in Gene’s book he talks about the technique of identification, or how to build a saleable personality into your product. And he talks about how every product has a personality, which a prospect may desire being reflected back to them. For example, the virility of the Marlboro Man…or the prestige of a Mercedes-Benz.

Obviously these techniques still work today. But when YOU or a newsletter editor or other personality is the product, it’s crucial to think about how you approach building that “saleable” personality into your product.

Especially if you’re dealing with a product that simply isn’t that unique on its own merits–like the clothing sold so humorously and engagingly well by Shinesty or likewise, the bidet attachments sold by Tushy.

You can dig and dig all you want for these companies, and you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a “unique mechanism” that’s going to be the needle mover that gets someone to buy from you over someone else.

It’s the personality and humor that’s injected into the copy–and the overall user experience–that’s the irresistible draw for generating increased sales and loyalty.

(I can’t wait to share some specific examples of how Tushy and others are doing this so well in the “Funny Hour” call I’m doing with personality-copy expert Justin Blackman on Tuesday…get your invite when you grab his incredibly useful Write More Personality-er workshop at the link here by midnight tonight!)

When you master how to make your copy irresistibly engaging and authentic, you can write email sequences, website copy, and other promotions that get you and your clients much better results.

You can use the same tactics to build and grow your own email list. You can also use it as a way to attract clients.

A few days ago, I heard from Copy Insider Daniel Throssell in response to my “You had me at ‘subject line'” email. He wrote, “I’m going to dob on you to Ben Settle for these heretical views on subject lines!!!”

But anyone who reads Ben’s engaging emails regularly knows that he routinely uses his own unique brand of humor in his subject lines, emails, and sales pages. It’s one of the reasons so many people flock to his email list in the first place.

Laura Belgray is another master (mistress?) of injecting her personality, humor, and storytelling into her highly-engaging emails.

But you can’t just start imitating Ben or Laura…you have to be YOU.

It’s like one of my husband’s favorite coffee mugs…

Figure out what makes you YOU (or that editor or spokesperson THEM).

Here are a few other great examples of copywriters who are maximizing their personality and humor to make a name for themselves and attract clients. They were both mentioned in a few different copywriting groups on Facebook when I asked for some examples this morning…

The first is the aforementioned Copy Insider Daniel Throssell, whose website home page makes you do a hilarious double take at the beginning and hooks you in from there.

Then there’s John Holt, who apparently likes keeping his secret identity as the world’s funniest copywriter well hidden…but whose secret is now out! Check him out at www.insertgaghere.com.

John’s a standup comedian and is quite adept at incorporating humor into his copy. But you don’t have to know how to do standup comedy or comedy sketch writing for that matter in order to use humor well in copy.

It’s something you can learn to do, just like none of us are born knowing how to write compelling headlines or curiosity-laden bullets.]

(That’s why I like Justin’s Write More Personality-er workshop so much…because it gives you 57 ways to add power, punch, and pop plus tools, templates, and more…no improv or stand-up comedy training required!)

You also need look no further at the enormous success of the Harmon Brothers, whose agency makes outrageously funny video ads for a host of e-commerce products. One of their most famous and successful ads is for a product called “Poo-pourri” (you can find it here.) Like Tushy, it takes a “taboo” topic and makes it funny.

I definitely think if Gene Schwartz was competing in today’s uber-saturated niches, he’d probably have had an entire chapter of his book devoted to this topic…beyond what he already talks about regarding his technique of identification.

(If you don’t have his Breakthrough Advertising book yet, my friend Brian Kurtz sells it here…at a lot less than the going $999 price from a few decades ago.)

So take note of the copy that lands in your inbox and that engages you online…figure out what they’re doing that makes you want to read more and ultimately buy from them…and you’ll give yourself a major advantage when it comes to generating more sales from your copy and customers!

Yours for smarter marketing,


P.S. Justin and I will be going deeper into this topic during our bonus “Funny Hour” call that’s happening this Tuesday at 5pm Eastern (which will be recorded and shared later)…with breakdowns, Q&A, and copy critiques of any promos you want to bring with you.

To get your invite, make sure you grab Justin’s invaluable and fun training while he’s still charging waaaay too little for it here by midnight tonight. You’ll be glad you did!