The Lure of Exclusivity
For years I have been preaching that successful advertising efforts must contain at least one of the key copy drivers: fear, greed, guilt, anger, exclusivity, salvation, flattery. “If your copy isn’t dripping with one or more of these,” said Seattle guru Bob Hacker, “tear it up and start over.”
“Why don’t you put these into a book,” asked my wife Peggy, “so the marketers and writers can see actual examples how they are used?”
“Great idea,” I said. Last month DirectMarketingIQ.com published “The Secrets of Emotional, Hot-Button COPYWRITING,” by yours truly, with the invaluable assistance of the brilliant Who's Mailing What! Archivist, Paul Bobnak.
Of the seven drivers, “exclusivity” may be the most overused and corrupted word in the English language. For example, when I entered “exclusive” into Google, I was instantly informed of 30.4 million new entries in the past 24 hours.
Nellie’s paean to the hilltop resort in Mallorca (see “IN THE NEWS” at right) is harmless enough. “On the secluded bay, there are no other resorts besides Viva Cala Mesquida and its jointly owned Club and Vanity Hotel Suites,” she writes a couple of paragraphs later. “Such exclusivity gives guests plenty of privacy and privilege.”
“Privacy and privilege.” Isn’t that what many folks crave in this epoch of Internet social media, Web cams, street-corner security cameras, paparazzi, GPS tracking devices and thousands of behavioral databases where your most intimate demographic and psychographic secrets are being rocketed around the country hundreds of times a day?
If you can persuade people that you offer privacy and privilege―along with the opportunity to get rich―you’ve got yourself a tidy little (or maybe a very big) business.
Here’s how some entrepreneurs did it.
In the mid-1980s―in my early years of collecting junk mail for the newsletter, WHO’S MAILING WHAT!―I began receiving some truly exotic #10 envelopes with return addresses in the upper left corners that indicated they were mailed from London and Zurich. If you click on the first image in the mediaplayer at right, you can get a sense of the mystique these seemingly international envelopes created.
A sampling from the eight-page letter with a letterhead proclaiming The Royal Society of Liechtenstein:
Your name has been chosen from a select group of active investors and financial experts for possible membership into what may soon be the world’s most exclusive investment organization … This is an exclusive, personal invitation. It will never be repeated. Each potential member has one chance―and one chance only―to join. If you do not accept this opportunity, you will never hear from me again and our society will wipe your name from its invitation list forever …
You see, we don't believe that any of the investment information you can get in financial newsletters, magazines and newspapers will ever make you rich. That's because mass publications, by definition, are written for the masses. They've got to be somewhat trite and conventional.
The letter was signed by one Alexander Ross-Barclay “for the Society.”
The true perpetrator was a newsletter publisher in Boca Raton, Fla., Joel S. Nadel, who’s other newsletters included “Confidential Report” and “Gold Hotline.”
Nadel’s offer: The monthly “private communiqué” … Overnight Investment Bulletins … Confidential Telephone Alert … Insight and Advice from “our network of financial experts” … “Completely novel and devastatingly powerful insider strategies and techniques to beat the investing public to the punch” … “Three brand new and strictly confidential 'White Papers'” … and more.
The cost: $100 plus your agreement that “Once information received from the society brings me a net profit of at least $10,000, I agree to contribute, whenever I can, to the growth and development of the society.”
The BBB Nails Nadel
In 1990, the Better Business Bureau of West Palm Beach concluded that The Royal Society of Liechtenstein was not royal, not a society and had absolutely no connection to Liechtenstein. Nadel was ordered to shut down the operation, which he promptly renamed The Oxford Club.
In 1991 the United States Postal Service froze $7 million of Nadel’s assets, charging him with a violation of federal mail fraud and money laundering statutes.
The following year Joel Nadel was further crucified―this time by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission―for touting financial securities in his newsletters (in the words of the SEC) “without disclosing the receipt of compensation from issuers, underwriters or dealer of the security, in exchange for the touting.” This was a classic pump-and-dump scheme. The price of a stock is pumped up by being praised to the skies in a newsletter, whereupon the underwriters dump the shares into the market place and clean up. Nadel was fined $100,000 by the SEC.
A New York Times paid obituary notice reported that Nadel assumed room temperature in April 2006.
The Oxford Club was bought by William Bonner, who is not only a master of drawing people into his world of privacy, privilege and exclusivity, but also is arguably the greatest copywriter in the world.
In 1979, Bonner wrote a dry test mailing offering subscriptions to International Living, a newsletter that existed only in his head―and would only be published if the mailing were successful. Bonner's lede:
You look out your window, past your
gardener, who is busily pruning the
lemon, cherry, and fig trees ... amidst the
splendor of gardenias, hibiscus, and hollyhocks.
The sky is clear blue. The sea is a deeper
blue, sparkling with sunlight.
A gentle breeze comes drifting in from the
ocean, clean and refreshing, as your maid brings
breakfast in bed.
For a moment, you think you have died and
gone to heaven.
But this paradise is real. And affordable. In
fact, it costs only half as much to live this dream
lifestyle... as it would to stay in your own home!
I’d like to send you a FREE copy of a unique―and invaluable―report.
It’s called The 5 Best Retirement Destinations in the World. And it tells you about the best places in the world for retirement living.
In one of the places detailed in this report, gentle sea breezes keep the climate nearly perfect, with mild temperatures year-round.
You’ll find cliffs, hidden coves with secluded beaches, rolling hills, and high mountains nearby dotted with picturesque villages.
In this place, you can buy a beautiful villa, complete with lavish gardens, marble floors, and hand-painted tiles, for less than half what you would pay for an average house in your hometown. (Or you can rent a water-front apartment for as little as $340 a month, including gas, electricity, a pool, a washer/dryer, a telephone, and a gardener) …
“When I was copywriting, I didn’t understand the power of copy and the power of what I know how to do,” Bonner told me. “I discovered that unlike a magazine, at the time, newsletters didn’t require a lot of money. Subscribers paid you up front, and if the acquisition effort worked, you were cash positive from day one.”
Out of the box, this launch package for International Living (based entirely on exclusivity) did 300 percent of breakeven and Bonner’s Agora Publishing was up and running. Today the empire is worth several hundred million dollars and Bonner splits his time between the U.S. East Coast (Virginia and Agora Headquarters in Baltimore) and houses all over the world including two chateaux in France. A couple of years ago, this copy turned up as an advertisement on the Internet―30 years after it was first used.
To See “Exclusivity” in Action, Check Out The Oxford Club
Bonner has turned his Oxford Club purchase into a healthy profit center for Agora. On the website are brilliant graphics and copy so engaging that they are positively mesmerizing.
I especially urge you to scroll down to the bottom and click on “Join Now” to see the offer. He piles on a whopping 17 free goodies―“more than $609 worth of research, privileges and benefits, starting the moment I join.” The cost: just $149.
“The right offer should be so attractive,” said great direct marketing guru Claude Hopkins,” that only a lunatic would say no.”
Nouveau Tech―The Mother of All Exclusivity Mailings
The Nouveau Tech Society (a.k.a. Nouveau Society, Neo Tech Publishing and Neo Tech Research and Writing Center) was founded by Dr. Frank R. Wallace (a.k.a. Wallace Ward) whose first bestseller was “POKER: A Guaranteed Income for Life.” Wallace’s Neo Tech is a philosophy of life, death and Zonpower, which is described on a Neo-Tech website:
With Zonpower, one captures powers far beyond any imagined powers of a "God" conjured up in Earth's anticivilization. Every such "God" is created to demand sacrifice―sacrifice of the productive class to the parasite class. But, with Zonpower, one escapes the "God" trap by entering the Civilization of the Universe.
OK, OK, this stuff is nuttier than a Baby Ruth candybar. But it does not negate the fact that the Nouveau Tech letter is a classic―typed on a plain piece of paper in a Courier font, personalized, with the recipient’s name (Julius) appearing four times on the first page as well as elsewhere throughout the letter. Here is page one.
This is a personal letter just to you. Notice: this is not a mass mailing; this letter came to you by first-class mail, not by third-class bulk mail. This is not a solicitation for money. In fact, you will get something of immense value from us absolutely free with no strings attached. So, read every word very carefully because you will never get another letter from us again.
Julius, please keep what I tell you secret, because this information is confidential. These words are meant for you only.
There has existed for many years an exclusive association, a secret society, of the world’s most famous and powerful people. These include renowned actors and musicians, leading scientists and intellectuals, self-made entrepreneurs and artists, millionaires, professional gamblers, Casanovas, statesmen. Many of these people you would instant recognize. Before I go on, let me state that everything you read here is absolutely and verifiably true.
This association has uncovered some shockingly powerful secrets. And they share these secrets only amongst themselves. In fact, these secrets are the reason these well-known individuals have achieved great prosperity.
Julius, I have some incredibly exciting news to share with you. Members of this association have analyzed your profile (you’d be unbelievably flattered if you know who these individuals were). Please forgive them, but they’ve discovered something special about you.
It seems you, Julius, possess several rare traits they are searching for. Because of these traits, which we’ll talk about later, they have chosen you to become part of their exclusive club and to share their secrets, too, absolutely free! By the way, as you read this, you may be saying to yourself that this is all a bunch of hooey. But I swear on the Bible this is all true! You see, every seven years this association picks a handful of individuals from around the world possessing your unique traits to share in their secrets ― in fact, they are going to reveal to you, absolutely free, the Greatest Kept Secret of All Time for Money, Power, Romantic-Love! In your case, your hidden talents must be phenomenal for the members to select you.
How did these gifted people find you? For now, that must remain a mystery.
But I can shed light on how they found you by first telling you my own story: Seven years ago I was like you. Out of the blue, I received an invitation from this society. Just like you, they said I possessed special traits. I was flattered, excited, yet skeptical. But when they sent their ... [End page 1 of 8]
Did this mailing work? It was received for six consecutive years (2004-2009). It had to be hugely successful. And it all started with Joel Nadel’s copy platform back in the 1980s.
The Ultimate Master of Exclusivity: Bernie Madoff
I never really understood the power and mystique of exclusivity in marketing until the Bernard Madoff scandal broke and I began archiving stories about how this smooth-talker managed to con $50+ billion out of trusting suckers.
The lure of exclusivity―of privacy, privilege and wealth―is an emotional hot button for people in every demographic stratum from ordinary folks like thee and me all the way up to the ultra rich and famous. Look at the luminaries that fell for Bernie Madoff’s siren song and lost millions: L’Oreal billionaire Liliane Bettencourt. Kevin Bacon, John Malkovich, Larry King, the estate of John Denver, Henry Kissinger, Eliot Spitzer, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Elie Wiesel, Fred Wilpon (owner of the New York Mets), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Steven Spielberg.
How’d Madoff do it? From a December 12, 2008 HuffintonPost.com story by Laurence Leamer titled “Bernard Madoff and the Jews of Palm Beach”:
It was an honor having him handle your fortune. He didn't take just anybody. He turned down all kinds of people, and that made you want to give the man even more of your money. When he took your fortune, he told you that he would tell you nothing about how he achieved his returns. He was a god. He had the Midas touch.