Lewis Enterprises’ Herschell Gordon Lewis on Copywriting for the 21st Century
With 31 books under his belt and dozens of successful mail pieces in the mailstream, such as the long-standing Omaha Steaks and Red Cooper controls, famed copywriter Herschell Gordon Lewis heads Lewis Enterprises in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., through which he writes and consults individually. A member of the DMA Hall of Fame, he recently penned “Creative Rules for the 21st Century—the Richest Resource of Copywriting Secrets for Today’s Market,” offered by American Writers & Artists Inc.
Because any direct mail business or copywriter would welcome the chance to pick the brain of the master, I conducted a follow-up interview to Lewis’ Dec. 4, 2007, webinar with Inside Direct Mail (which was sponsored by American Writers & Artists Inc.), peppering him with questions (including a couple from listeners) that didn’t get answered during the hour-long presentation. He, of course, answered in his inimitable style.
Ethan Boldt: In the 21st century, what will be the biggest challenges copywriters face in terms of running their businesses? What kind of challenges do you face today that you didn’t in years past?
Herschell Gordon Lewis: The multiplicity of media, and the huge increase in competition, emphasizes reality: We copywriters have to be salespeople, not poets. Choice of fonts is unlimited. Almost-instant analysis of results is both a blessing and a curse. The professional welcomes the future; the dilettante fears it.
EB: How does paragraph structure play into good copy?
HGL: Paragraph structure is a key element in determining ease of readership. For effective letter-writing, paragraphs should have a maximum of seven lines. Some can be a single word. Long, ponderous paragraphs tell the reader, “This is going to be tough slogging.” For no reason other than laziness or ignorance, effectiveness diminishes.
EB: How important will the back of the outer be in the future?
HGL: No one can be Nostradamus, but unless envelope copy, front and/or back, combines credibility with an imperative, the recipient quickly identifies the message as a sales pitch. Opinion: Strident envelope copy will become less valuable with each passing year. Apparently one-to-one envelopes whose contents quickly validate the apparent individuality will be the royalty of tomorrow’s mailings.
EB: How important is font size and bolded copy now, compared to in the past?
HGL: Any technique that adds to clarity and emphasis is a factor. For mailings to seniors, avoid type smaller than 11-point. American Typewriter is a contemporary font that gives letters a typewritten look without the antique-look old typewriter faces such as Courier and Prestige Elite impart. Personal prejudice: Avoid Times Roman. Goudy and Bookman are preferred fonts.
EB: In a saturated market, such as auto refinancing, how can you create emotion for and validate the pre-qualification to increase response?
HGL: Emphasize singularity. “Not one person in 10,000 ...” “You’re a rare individual ...” “We salute you ...” Actual wording depends on the specific offer to these people, to whom we say, in one type of verbiage or another, “You’re chosen.” DON’T use the worn-out, “You’ve been pre-approved.” Figure out a logical rubber stamp effect for the envelope if this is a mailed offer.
EB: Do branded outer envelopes (with your logo) pull better than envelopes without your logo?
HGL: Logos pull better only when communicating with multibuyers. For cold lists, the best response seems to come from the CEO’s name typewritten above the street address.
EB: How do you get marketing managers to “get it” in terms of copy? And what’s the single best DM tactic to use during a downturn in the overall economy?
HGL: If the marketing manager is especially obtuse, prepare a second copy-block that violates the rules … and ask that individual to choose. Confusion invariably results, and you can reassume command.
During a downturn, ride the downturn. Be the Voice of Doom, then the solution to the Voice of Doom.
EB: Where are tomorrow’s great writers today?
HGL: Tomorrow’s great writers are those who: a) don’t run on tracks; b) don’t try to substitute their own wit for salesmanship; and c) have a command of grammar.
[This article is adapted from the Straight Talk interview that was published in the February 2008 issue of Inside Direct Mail, a sister publication to Target Marketing magazine. To learn more about Inside Direct Mail, visit www.insidedirectmail.com]