‘FREE!’ Is Indeed a Magic Word

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Click to enlarge.

It can make you rich and it also can wreck your business!

In 1964, I was hired by Grolier Enterprises as a copywriter. Its business was to use space advertising and direct mail to sell books—the Harvard Classics to adults who wanted to decorate their bookshelves with pseudo-elegant “fibrated leather” bindings and Dr. Seuss books to parents to encourage their kids to read.

On the first day of work, my new boss, Lew Smith sat me down and delivered a one-hour introductory lecture on direct marketing and how it was different from traditional advertising, publicity and promotion. Perfectly groomed with dark hair, black-rimmed glasses, Smith was soft spoken, articulate and frequently very funny.

At one point he handed me a piece of paper—a short article from Saturday Review—by radio and television writer Goodman Ace titled: “The 12 Most Powerful Words in the English Language.”

You – Save – Money – Easy – Guarantee – Health – Results – New – Love – Discovery – Safety – Proven

“Use as many of these words in your copy as possible,” Smith told me. “They are evocative and readers respond to them.”

Being a dutiful newbie, I typed up these 12 words and Scotch taped them to the base of my desk lamp where they would always be staring back at me.

I had nine jobs in my first 12 years in business and was fired from five of them. Whenever I changed jobs, the first thing I did in my new office was to retype these words and affix them to my desk lamp.

After 45 years, these 12 words are hard-wired into my brain and I use them whenever I can.

At some point I added a 13th word—FREE!

“FREE is a magic word,” wrote the late guru Dick Benson.

Fred Breismeister—Master of FREE!
The power of the word “FREE” first came onto my radar back at Grolier Enterprises. One of the great mail order entrepreneurs of the time was John Stevenson, an elegant, sophisticated Brit who bought the bankrupt Greystone Press in the 1940s—not for its books, but rather for its wartime ration of paper.

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.

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  • Walter Kryshak

    I worked with Lew Smith at Wunderman years agoand he was all of those things and more! A real gentleman and a great mentor.

  • Will Ezell

    Perhaps all those guys were great, but the execs at Grollier were cutthroat thieves, who took advantage of many innocent and less-advantaged people. Really sad…