Conscious Creative: Copy Readers Can Believe
The "willing suspension of disbelief," a phrase first coined by Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is a state of mind that, more than two centuries later, must be engendered in every reader or scanner of our direct mail copy.
Note that Coleridge didn't say readers have to believe. They simply have to lay aside their skepticism temporarily. It's during that "suspension of disbelief" that the copywriter gets to convince the reader that the product, service or cause being sold is real ... that the benefits it offers are valuable ... and that responding positively to the offer will improve his or her life.
How exactly does a copywriter do that?
1. By using details. We convince readers by "anchoring" them, by providing images they can relate to. Here's an example from a mailing for The Kennedy Center:
The glitter of the chandeliers reflected in your pre-performance glass of champagne. The fun of rubbing shoulders with celebrities and never knowing who'll be in that seat right across the aisle. The hush that falls over the audience as the curtain goes up on another spectacular production.
And another from a mailing for Bass Anglers Sportsman Society:
Imagine sitting right in the boat with Rick Clunn, Roland Martin, Kevin VanDam and David Fritts. Imagine having them coach you in ...
* Long-range flipping
* Fishing in rising, muddy water
* Using walleye techniques on bass
* Finding bass at night
* Outwitting bass in small lakes
2. By building credibility. A good copywriter builds a case for the suspension of disbelief, piling on proof through testimonials, endorsements and other supporting details. Just as when we read a story and trust what one character says about another more than what the author says, we'll believe what the copywriter is saying if someone else says it, too.
Former President Jimmy Carter wrote the following in a campaign for Habitat for Humanity:
The sacrifice I thought I would be making [volunteering with Habitat] turned out to be one of the greatest blessings of my life.
The United Soccer Academy ran this testimonial in a direct mail effort:
My son gave the week 10 out of 10!
A mailing for Chris DeHaemer's Red Zone Profits approaches credibility this way:
And there is a very interesting investor accumulating the stock, also ...
Richest Man in Asia Buying More?
Two companies controlled by Asia's richest man, Li Ka-shing (the "Warren Buffet of Asia"), have increased their combined stake to about 64 million shares.
Even the CEO is going to exercise his options to buy 750,000 shares.
Plus, it recently teamed up with another Internet travel service provider in a distribution deal. Under the deal, websites operated by this company will now have access to the other company's network of more than 4,000 brand-name hotels. (The other company is owned by Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Six Continents, Starwood Hotels and Pegasus Solutions.)
This outfit will probably be one of the most successful dot-com companies over the next couple of years.
3. By being straightforward, honest and present with the individuals who make up our target market. Admit that you're human, that you live in the same universe your reader inhabits. For example, consider this wonderful copy written by Bill Harris for Centerpointe Research, marketing his trademarked Holosync audio technology:
Like you, I've been searching for something for most of my lifemost of the time, not finding it. Occasionally, I found little pieces of it, but (until I found Holosync) I never could put it all together.
Back in 1985when I first began playing around with the kind of mind expansion technology that evolved into the Holosync audio technology we use in the Centerpointe programmy life was definitely not working.
It wasn't for lack of desire, though. I tried just about everything to get my act togetherseminars, workshops, several kinds of therapy, rebirthing, firewalking, bodywork, subliminal tapes, hypnosis, diet, herbs, even colon cleansing (and a few things I'm even a little embarrassed to admit I tried). I must have readand re-readhundreds of self-help books.
I heard meditation would help, so at age 19 I started meditatingan hour, sometimes more, every dayand kept it up for sixteen years!
You name it, I tried it at least onceusually with single-minded devotion and dedication.
It's not that I didn't get results from all these things. In fact, I changed a lot. Sometimes I would even have what seemed to be dramatic breakthroughs. Eventually, though, I realized that the deep underlying cause of my unhappiness wasn't being touched by any of these things. And, whatever progress I was making was unbearably slow.
You probably know just what I'm talking aboutfrom your own experience.
Then, totally unexpectedly, something really significant happened. I found neuro-technology.
Harris' engaging letter runs 16 pages, and it's masterful at invoking the reader's "willing suspension of disbelief." It contains credibility-building information about Nobel Prize-winning scientist Ilya Prigogine, who developed "a theoretical model regarding the evolution of complex systems (like the human mind)," and detail-laden references to studies at the Menninger Clinic and Mount Sinai Medical Center on brain wave patterns of deep meditation and sound-induced meditative states.
Near the end of the letter, Harris acknowledges that, despite the impressive research studies, doctors' endorsements and testimonials, the reader may still be disbelieving. He acknowledges the reader's own skepticism:
I know I was, too, when I first heard about this. Everybody always promises the moon with these personal growth approaches, and I know I've promised you a lot here. All I want is the chance to prove to you that everything I've said in this letter is absolutely real and true and that this technology, and the program I've created around it, truly will change your life.
Now, do I know whether Bill Harris is really telling the truth? No, I don't. But his 16 pages of superb copy sure make me willing to suspend my disbelief. When I first read one of Harris' letters a decade ago, I wanted so much to
believe that I bought his meditation disks. I stopped using them, simply because I fell out of the habit. But I know that his company, Centerpointe Research, has grown exponentially since then. And I know that his copywriting is a huge reason for his success.
Just think how easily we suspend disbelief watching "Star Wars" or "The Matrix" or "The Wizard of Oz." In analytic terms, the "willing suspension of disbelief" takes us back to infancy, to a non-thinking merger of infant and nurturing other. The challenge for the copywriter is that in addition to leading readers to this non-thinking resonance with the mailer, he or she also has to get them to move, act, respond.
Now, even in these modern and cynical times, let's still do our best to persuade our readers to believe ... then get them to say YES!
Donna Baier Stein is president of Baier Stein Direct, a direct response copywriting firm. She is co-author of the book "Write on Target," with business partner Floyd Kemske, and is a seminar leader for the Direct Marketing Association's "Winning Direct Mail" and "Copywriting for New and Traditional Media" workshops. She can be reached at (908) 781-7849 or firstname.lastname@example.org.