Bill Bonner

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.

What works in direct mail works online. Entrepreneur Bill Bonner owns two historic chateaux in France, real estate all over the world and is founder/proprietor of the billion-dollar Agora Publishing. He accomplished it using direct mail. Now he has adapted direct mail know-how into a powerful Internet pitch.

I have spent the past 50 years as a copywriter. OK, I also ran book clubs, started a newsletter about junk mail, wrote eight books of fiction and nonfiction and launched this publication.

But my bread-and-butter has always been writing copy. I learned to start with a headline that grabbed the reader by the throat, and then create copy that won't let up until I get the order, inquiry or donation.

Look at the Google entries IN THE NEWS at the right. Search Engine Optimization is the current rage—grabbing the attention of spiders and crawlers in the hopes that the message will surface all over the Internet.

Yet it's flesh-and-blood people that want information, spend money on goodies and give to charity—not emotionless, pre-programmed electronic robots.

Go ahead, fascinate robots. But if your message is a bore, you are a mouse click away from oblivion.

Call me Luddite or troglodyte, but I will continue to write headlines and copy for people, not robots.

And I'll study the work of the great copywriters, such as Mel Martin.

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” said California State Assembly Speaker, Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh (1922-1987).

For a politician, the Internet is a huge bargain.

For example, Newt Gingrich, who is flirting with a run for the presidency, has more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter.

Twitter is free. Talking to these million-plus followers—keeping them fired up on a very personal basis—costs Gingrich nothing beyond a bit of his time.

Twenty years ago, he would have been forced to mail postcards. In today’s dollars—at 30¢ a pop—each postcard mailing would cost Gingrich $394,000.

The record shows that Gingrich has sent out 2,363 tweets as of this morning.

If the former speaker had sent all his tweets to his full list, that’s 3 billion tweets. In postcard arithmetic, that totals $929 million worth of messages.

Conventional wisdom—especially amongst politicians and the very young—is that the Internet is a Godsend, because everything is free—news, magazines, books, music, movies, tweets, Facebook, correspondence.

“‘Conventional wisdom’ is an oxymoron,” wrote Charles Hughes and William Jeanes.

In actuality, the Internet—the “new medium” where everything is free—can be a catastrophe. Not only is it an enabler of excruciatingly sloppy, self-indulgent writing that bores people to stupefaction, but it can invade our privacy, get us fired, destroy our reputations and careers, and, in some cases, cause us to commit suicide.

When I came across the obituary of Milton Levine, it struck a chord deep within me.

Here was a 43-year-old salesman of toys and novelties watching some ants at a July 4, 1956 picnic when he suddenly saw his future—the ant farm—a 6” x 9” two-sided plastic frame with sand, tunnels and live ants busily doing their thing as mesmerized kids watch and learn.

A half-century later, kids are still enthralled with ant farms. The basic model sells for $10.99.

Last year, Levine sold his business for $20 million. His website, UncleMilton.com has a slew of wonderful scientific gadgets for kids.

Milton Levine—described by one magazine writer as “anty-establishment”―gave pleasure (and inspiration) to millions of kids, made pots of money, obviously had great fun and went to the great beyond at 97.

Life doesn’t get any better than that!

So what does a fledgling entrepreneur do following a “eureka moment?”

How do you translate an idea into a profitable business?

My suggestion: go the dry test route.

I spent 15 years creating dry tests for clients and my own little business—the WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and archive service—started out life as a dry test.

Technically the dry test is illegal, but many years ago I discovered a possible loophole.

Of the eight key copy drivers—the emotional hot buttons that make people act—the most mysterious is exclusivity.

I never really understood exclusivity until Bernie Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme put a spotlight on it. As Laurence Leamer wrote in The Huffington Post:

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.

Web sites have been built on this exclusivity thing. Among them: Gilt.com, RueLaLa.com and HauteLook.com. They offer to “members only” the same upmarket designer merchandise sold by Saks, but at deeply discounted sale prices during specific time periods.

Saks is fighting back with an exclusive online “private event” that the CEO of HauteLook.com calls “the new way of retail.”

It ain’t new.

Saks is engaging in a technique as old as the hills. It’s called good, ol'-fashioned, time-tested, accountable direct marketing.

When I started reading The New York Times on Sunday, Aug. 30, my brain kept bumping into articles that were making no sense.

Was the problem myself, having just turned 74? Or was it poor writing and editing on the part of the Times.

After careful analysis, I discovered that editorial excellence in The New York Times has deteriorated right along with its finances.

Poor writing in print media—memos, white papers, letters, reports, newspapers and books—is relatively harmless.

“Today’s $1 newspaper is tomorrow’s birdcage liner,” wrote Doc Searls, blogger, columnist and co-author of “The Cluetrain Manifesto.”

But if our written material—riddled with mistakes and non sequiturs—makes it to the Internet, it can plague us all the way to the grave and beyond.

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