The Irrepressible Joe Sugarman
One of the revolutionary direct marketers and copywriters in the 1980s and 1990s was Joe Sugarman, who changed direct marketing by introducing the toll-free 800-number.
What's more, Sugarman was the first to market a cordless telephone and a digital watch.
If you traveled back then, your in-flight magazine was certain to have one or more page ads for Sugarman's goodies and high-tech gadgetry. They were immediately obvious with bold, catchy headlines and long copy that grabbed the reader by the throat and would not let go.
These full-page ads—usually in black-and-white—were assembled into a catalog by Joe's company, JS&A ("Products That Think") which blitzed the marketplace.
[See the second image in the media player at right for a selection of early Joe Sugarman ads.]
They were so powerful it was very difficult for the viewer to say no.
Sugarman's print ad was a masterpiece (See the third image in the media player at right) with a simply terrific lede:
When I put on the pair of
glasses what I saw I could
not believe. Nor will you.
By Joseph Sugarman
I am about to tell you a true story. If you believe me, you will be well rewarded. If you don't believe me, I will make it worth your time to change your mind. Let me explain.
This is intimate, personal direct marketing.
- Note the byline. Few copywriters sign their work.
- He uses "I" and "me" (as opposed to "we," "us" an "our.")
- "The most important word in direct copy is not 'you'—as many of the textbooks would have it—but 'I,'" freelancer Richard Armstrong wrote to me. "What makes a letter seem 'personal' is the sense that one gets of being in the presence of the writer... that a real person sat down and wrote you a real letter."
Finally, Sugarman starts with a story.
Tell a Story If Possible
Everybody loves a good story, be it about Peter Rabbit or King Lear. And the direct mail letter, with its unique person-to-person format—is the perfect vehicle for a story. And stories get read. The letter I wrote to launch the Cousteau Society twenty-some years ago has survived hundreds of tests against it. When I last heard, it was still being mailed in some form or other. The original of this direct mail Methuselah started out with this lead: "A friend once told me a curious story I would like to share with you..." —Harry Walsh, Freelance copywriter
If you have trouble reading Sugarman's BluBlocker copy in the media player, click here and you will find this brilliant copy in an easy-to-read format.
How strong is Sugarman's lede sentence?
Type it into Google, and you'll find at least five other marketers who swiped this line verbatim.
Takeaways to Consider
- "Direct marketing is intimate advertising." —Stan Rapp
- "What makes a letter seem 'personal' is the sense that one gets of being in the presence of the writer ... that a real person sat down and wrote you a real letter." —Richard Armstrong
- "Use a story if possible. Everybody loves a good story, be it about Peter Rabbit or King Lear. And the direct mail letter, with its unique person-to-person format—is the perfect vehicle for a story. And stories get read." —Harry Walsh
- Joe Sugarman once told me when he introduced the toll-free 800 number, top people in the industry were aghast. It was too radical, they told him.
- If it makes sense, test radical. You might leave the competition eating your dust.
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