I appreciate your comments.
Halbert invited me to work for him as a copywriter at his $7000 Seminar by the Sea in Key West in October, 1990. I was in awe of Halbert & John Carlton & so many of the attendees, including many legends of direct marketing. But ... I had been writing sales letters for about a year at that point, and I thought I knew something.
One of the seminar attendees was Dennis Haslinger, Halbert's business partner from his days in Ohio. The most profitable venture that Halbert & Haslinger did together was the famous "Halbert heraldry letter." According to the two of them, at that time, this was the most mailed piece in the history of direct mail. Here is what I know for a fact is a cleaned-up version
of that letter:
Halbert Heraldry Letter
So how do I know that this is a cleaned-up version?
Because Dennis Haslinger had a deal for the 7 or 8 copywriters working at Halbert's seminar. He told us that he wanted to test a new letter against his control. He wanted each of us to write a new heraldry letter, and then Haslinger would choose the one he liked best and test-mail it. If that letter beat the control, he would mail a gazillion of them, and the lucky copywriter would get X% percentage of the gross.
So could one of us create a letter that would be mailed all over the place, at Haslinger's expense, likely creating a VERY nice ongoing income? (Keep in mind, my job was driving a bus on Miami Beach at the time.)
Trust me ... I was not the only copywriter drooling. I can't speak for the others, but the biggest reason I was drooling was ... I was new and dumb. Just like those copywriters you mentioned in your post.
Let me tell you what I saw in the REAL Halbert Heraldry letter:
- 2 or 3 mis-spellings
- bad grammar
- a colloquialism or two that were a bit off
I cleaned up all those stupid mistakes, of course. It was incredible to me that Halbert would allow a mess like that to go out. And if THAT junk had been so successful, imagine what MY spiffy version would do!
I made some other changes, too, of course. In the end, my version was quite different.
Listen ... I really, really blush when I tell you this, and please never tell anyone else, but ... full of myself as I was ... I told Carlton I'd bet him $100 that my letter would be chosen and would beat the control.
Carlton, smart guy, refused the bet.
Actually, what he said was, "No, I don't want to take your money."
Anyway, I gave my letter to Haslinger and never heard from him again.
It took me some time to realize that the actual heraldry letter was really targeting the market and building trust by characterizing the writer as totally UN-clever, an unsophisticated coat-of-arms enthusiast, rather than a company selling a coat-of-arms deal.
When you talk about copywriters being too clever, I think of myself correcting Halbert's stupid spelling mistakes.
Personally, I have kind of a long runway. It took me some time to figure out that was a whole bunch I didn't know.