The Most Important 9-Word Sentence in Marketing History
|Dear Marketing Top Gun,
If I were on my deathbed about to wheeze my last breath, and you asked me to sum up in a single sentence the most important marketing secret I could bequeath to you before I kick the bucket (or bedpan), here is what I would whisper in your ear, hopefully without giving you anything contagious.
It’s a 9-word sentence I first read in the book Reality in Advertising by copywriting genius Rosser Reeves. He said that he had learned it from a legendary copywriter whom he didn’t name. This one sentence made fortunes for Reeves’ clients, as well as my own, and for scores of other marketers wise enough to apply it rigorously, as I hope you will.
Bend close now as I whisper. Oops, let me raise myself up a bit first. OK, here goes…
A gifted product is mightier than a gifted pen.
That’s it—the 9-word secret so powerful that it has built more fortunes than any other principle in marketing.
To explain its profound insight, let me quote advertising luminary Bill Bernbach, creative director of Doyle Dane Bernbach, the renowned ad agency responsible for the brilliant and enormously successful Volkswagen Beetle ads of the 1960s, voted the all-time greatest general advertising campaign in history.
Bernbach was also named No. 1 on Advertising Age‘s 20th century honor roll of advertising’s most influential people.
Said Bernbach, “The magic is in the product,” not in the copywriter’s pen. Or as he put it another way, “Advertising doesn’t create a product advantage. It can only convey it…No matter how skillful you are, you can’t invent a product advantage that doesn’t exist.”
If you’re involved in marketing in any way, this 9-word sentence may well give you an “Aha!” moment, because it instantly clarifies the roles of everyone involved.
The Surest Road to Riches for Marketers
If you are the client (the advertiser), it means that it’s your job, not your copywriter’s or ad agency’s, to come up with a brilliant product, one with a clearcut, built-in, immediately understandable, unique, and highly desirable advantage.
It means that if your “research and development department” responsible for coming up with such blockbuster product advantages resides only in your copywriter’s keyboard, you’re already in big trouble.
It means that if you’re settling for a “me-too” product and hoping that a gifted copywriter will carry you on his or her back to the winner’s circle, you’re kidding yourself. Your product is the horse; your copywriter is only the jockey. Yes, good jockeys are worth their weight in gold. But champion race horses are worth much more. It’s your job to breed champion race horses.
Remember that most businesses make real money only on repeat sales. While a good copywriter can make a prospect hopeful enough to try a product, he or she can’t make that customer delighted enough to buy it again. Only you and your product can do that.
Our 9-word rule means it’s your mission to come up with a product so inherently superior that, as soon as it’s effectively explained, demonstrated, or sampled, your prospects have no conclusion to draw except “I want it!”
Create “Wow!” products like this, add in great customer service, and something magical happens. Your customers become your auxiliary sales force—a large, unpaid, ever-growing army of raving fans who extol your product to others, causing your market and profits to grow far more effectively than any copywriter can.
This is where real marketing magic is born—in the product itself.
What If You’re a Copywriter?
If you are the copywriter, our 9-word rule means that the star of your ad should always be your product and how it uniquely benefits your prospects.
It means that your job is to research the product thoroughly to uncover its unique advantages. Research—deep research—is the launch pad of copywriting breakthroughs.
It means that you should never even think about writing a word of copy until you’ve done your homework and become an expert in the product and its market.
It means that you should begin every assignment like an investigative reporter, asking your client and his or her best salespeople a torrent of questions, starting with these 10…
Likewise, since the product itself is the star of your ad, you should fiercely resist all temptation to be clever, cute, or entertaining, all of which only call attention to your creativity and away from the star. Puns in headlines are advertising malpractice. As David Ogilvy warned—”If you spend your advertising budget entertaining the consumer, you’re a bloody fool. Homemakers don’t buy a new detergent because the manufacturer told a joke on television last night. They buy the new detergent because it promises a benefit.”
The Secret of Getting Rich and Famous as a Copywriter
If you’re a direct response copywriter who seeks fortune and fame, knowing this 9-word truth will reward you immensely. Here’s why…
Your career success is tied directly to the performance of the ads you write. Write for great products that drive consumers wild with desire, and their success will make you seem like a genius. Write for weak ones and, even when you do a respectable job, the smell of the product’s failure will rub off on you.
Think of it this way. You are a jockey. If you want to win more races, by all means hone your craft. But even more important, learn how to spot and get yourself assigned to faster horses. That’s a big part of building your reputation and career success.
You want your name associated with winners, not losers! Cultivating a jockey’s eye for winners and then campaigning to ride them is one of the most rewarding skills you can develop.
As a jockey, you can’t do the horse’s job. You can’t carry your horse across the finish line. The best you can do is guide your pony to win, using every trick of your craft. Even if you’re a great jockey, if you’re too often teamed with milkwagon nags, you’ll be labeled a loser.
While you can’t carry a flawed product—or a slow horse—on your back to glory, great products, like champion race horses, will put you in the winner’s circle consistently.
And that will work wonders for your career. When you win, the entire industry notices. Even if your horse is a Secretariat, you will be credited as the brilliant jockey who rode him home to victory. You’ll get a rep as a winner, a hot hand—a Top Gun! If you work in an ad agency or in-house copy department, you will earn more generous raises, faster promotions, high praise at meetings—all the things that make work fun. If you are a freelancer, the demand for your services will rise exponentially, and you can start to command some of the highest fees and royalties in the profession.
All from hitching your fortunes to this potent 9-word insight—a gifted product is mightier than a gifted pen.
There Are Three Additional Benefits As Well…
Learning to spot great products also forces you to see the world through the eyes of your prospects, which is the single most valuable trait you can cultivate as a marketer or copywriter.
In addition, knowing what great products look like and asking, “How can this one be better?” will inspire you to help your clients create much stronger products, making your counsel exceptional, perhaps even indispensable.
Moreover, as a copywriter, your life will be mercifully easier when you work with great and worthy products. When a product has a clear-cut, built-in, unique superiority, your ad often writes itself. As Bill Bernbach said, all you have to do is convey the advantage, not create it out of thin air.
Having to invent a non-existent product advantage puts a tremendous strain on you because that’s not your job! You should not have to carry your horse!
Your job is to get the best possible ride out of your horse. If it’s a milk-wagon nag, you’re won’t win any races…or the fortune and fame that follow.
Take my advice. Develop an eye for great products, those with a clear-cut, built-in, unique superiority supported by powerful proof elements. Then all you have to do is focus your headline and body copy dramatically on that inherent superiority and the proof behind it and in no time, you’ll find yourself atop a winner, galloping like the wind around the far turn and heading for home ahead of the pack, with the crowd going wild. Your biggest strategic question—what should I write about?—is already answered for you by the product’s unique advantage. That unique advantage will, by itself, speed you to the winner’s circle much of the time, which is where a Top Gun like you belongs.
To sum up, if you want to become a successful copywriter, hook up with brilliant products, focus your headlines and copy on their unique advantages, and let them carry you to glory.
And if you aspire to be a copywriting legend, learn to spot winnersand become a master of your craft. In all of marketing, there is no combination more powerful than a gifted product and a gifted pen!
Here’s a Little Rhyme to Help You Remember
To be a master marketer, remind yourself again—
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Well, after talking this through with you, I feel much better now. So what am I doing lying here in bed, whispering in your ear? The sun is shining…life is so beautiful…and time’s a-wastin’! There are ambitious jockeys to coach…fast horses to cheer…thrilling races to catch…and big money to win. Hand me my socks and shoes, Top Gun, and let’s go!
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