In a study two of Agora’s most successful writers were asked to make presentations at the annual meeting. One gave a very impressive speech about the 12 rules he follows when he writes copy. The other copywriter — Steve Sjuggerud — talked about only one thing: The importance of clarity in writing.
Both presentations were terrific. But, it was Steve’s speech that people were talking about afterwards.
And, it was Steve’s idea that became institutionalised at Agora that year.
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Now, if you have read the classic 1941 book, “How to Write a Good Advertisement” by Victor Schwab, the man Advertising Age called the “greatest mail-order copywriter of all time.”
In that book, Schwab lists what he called the “Top 100 Headlines” of his time.
You will find that in that list, 91 were driven by single ideas.
Yet, even the remaining 9 not clearly based on a single idea still had an implied strong, single idea that bound the whole thing together.
Take a look. And remember, this is the list of headlines that DON’T appear at first to fit the single- idea theme we’re talking about …
“Five Familiar Skin Troubles — Which Do You Want to Overcome?”
“Have You These Symptoms of Nerve Exhaustion?”
“161 New Ways to a Man’s Heart — In This Fascinating Book for Cooks”
“Do You Do Any of These Ten Embarrassing Things?”
“Six Types of Investors — Which Group Are You In?”
“The Crimes We Commit Against Our Stomachs”
“Little Leaks That Keep Men Poor”
“67 Reasons Why It Would Have Paid You to Answer Our Ad a Few Months Ago”
“Free Book — Tells You 12 Secrets of Better Lawn Care”
“Notice,” “that even though they don’t, each clearly points toward a single, overarching theme.”
Now, take a look at some of the other 91 “best headlines” of Schwab’s time. Note how instantly clear and engaging these “Big Ideas” are.
“The Secret of Making People Like You”
“Is the Life of a Child Worth $1 to You?”
“To Men Who Want to Quit Work Someday”
“Are You Ever Tongue-Tied at a Party?”
“How a New Discovery Made a Plain Girl Beautiful”
“Who Else Wants a Screen Star Figure?”
“You Can Laugh at Money Worries — If You Follow This Simple Plan”
“When Doctors Feel Rotten This is What They Do”
“How I Improved My Memory in One Evening”
“Discover the Fortune That Lies Hidden In Your Salary”
“How I Made a Fortune with a ‘Fool Idea’”
“Have You a ‘Worry’ Stock?”
It’s worth noticing that starting off in the headline with just one, simple idea has two major benefits:
- It makes the copy stronger
- It makes writing the rest of the sales letter/ad copy easier
“Finding the core idea”, “of course, is the hard part. It has to be precise, not scattershot.
You have to know your audience and know them well. Or, you risk missing your target completely.”
Make this concept a “rule” of writing — the Rule of One. You must and only write about one thing at a time.
One good idea, clearly and convincingly presented, is better than a dozen so-so ideas strung together.
That rule will make all the difference. When you obey it, your ad copy will be stronger. When you ignore it, they will not be as powerful as they could have been.
Although this was clearly a copywriting principle that is extremely powerful, I found that I sometimes ignored it. If I had six good reasons for this, or 12 techniques for that, I couldn’t stop myself from including them all. The results were always disappointing.
Why did I break this golden rule? I’m not entirely sure. I think sometimes I was afraid readers would think, “Is that all he has to say on the subject?” I was, in other words, too cowardly and conceited to stick to my rule — even though I knew it would help me.
Non-Writing Applications of the Rule of One
The Rule of One can also be applied to your daily workday goals. Before you go into a meeting, think about what one thing you’d like to accomplish from it. Make that one thing your priority and hammer away at it during the meeting. You’ll be amazed at how often you will end up leaving the meeting with your goal accomplished. You can also use the Rule of One at business lunches, meetings, and even parties. Challenge yourself: “Who is the one best person I can network with?” and “What is the one best thing I can say to that person to capture his interest?” Spend some time today looking at work you’ve done — ads you’ve written, products you’ve created, goals you’ve set. How could you make them stronger by applying the Rule of One?
Here is an example of the Rule of One as applied to a short advertorial written by Bob Bly:
Subject Line: The Easiest Product to Sell Online
Dear Super Business Owner,
Would you be interested in investing $175 to make $20,727?
That’s exactly what Arun just accomplished!
See how he did it below … and how easily you could do the same.
There’s no product easier to create or sell online…
… than a simple, straightforward instructional or how-to e-book.
Why are e-books the perfect information product to sell on the Internet?
• 100% profit margin.
• No printing costs.
• No inventory to store.
• Quick and easy to update.
• No shipping costs or delays.
• Higher perceived value than regular books.
• Quick, simple, and inexpensive to produce.
My very first e-book has generated $20,727 in sales (so far).
My total investment in producing it: just $175.
Now, I want to show you how to make huge profits creating and selling simple e-books — in my new e-book “Writing E-Books for Fun & Profit.”
Normally my e-books sell for anywhere from $29 to $79, and later this year, “Writing E-Books for
Fun & Profit” will sell for $59.
However, to make it affordable for you to get started in e-book publishing, I’m letting you have
“Writing E-Books for Fun & Profit” for only $19 today — a savings of $40 off the cover price!
For more information … or to order on a risk-free 90-day trial basis … just click here now.
P.S. But, I urge you to hurry. This special $40 discount is for a limited time only. And once it expires, it may never be repeated again.
Let me explain how the Rule of One operates here.
In the lift letter (signed by Amar), asks a question and then tells a tiny little story. The question is an inverted promise. The story — a single-sentence story, mind you — validates the promise. The sales letter follows. This, too, is a beautifully simple piece of copy. It leads with a statement. The statement expresses an idea. The idea suggests a promise: the easiest way to make money on the Internet is to market e-books.
That statement is then supported by a number of bulleted “facts.” Then, Bob validates the statement by mentioning his own experience.
The reader is already sold. Bob makes the sale irresistible with a strong, one-time-only offer. Short, sweet, and simple.
The Rule of One is not only one big, central idea. It’s a fully engaging piece of copy with five necessary elements using Bob’s example:
One good idea: “There’s no product easier to create or sell online than a simple, straightforward instructional or how-to e-book.”
One core emotion: “It is simple! I bet I can do it!”
One captivating story: Told brilliantly in 17 words:
“Would you be interested in investing $175 to make $20,727? That’s exactly what Arun just accomplished!”
One single, desirable benefit: “Now, I want to show you how to make huge profits creating and selling simple ebooks … ”
One inevitable response: The only way to get this book for $19 is to “click here now.”
To create blockbuster promotions time-after-time, you must understand the difference between good copy and great copy.
The Rule of One is the driving force behind great copy.
Veteran advertising consultant James Loftus, who has worked with Anheuser-Busch, Holiday Inn, and McDonald’s, among many other clients, agrees with this concept:
“Also keep in mind that the more points you try to cover, the less effective each point, and therefore your ad, will be. An effective ad will actually have only one central focus, even if you discuss it from two or three perspectives. If your points are too diverse, they compete with each other, and end up pulling the reader’s attention in separate directions.”
Think for a moment about a few modern ads and ad taglines you remember. Those that stick with you follow the Rule of One:
Coca Cola: “The pause that refreshes”
But not “The pause that refreshes and always cool.”
McDonald’s: “You deserve a break today”
Not “You deserve a break today, and you’re lovin’ it.”
You run across numerous other examples of top companies following this rule in their most successful ads:
“We try harder” – [Avis]
“Think Different” – [Apple Computer]
“Pork, the other white meat” – [National Pork Board]
“Quality is job one” – [Ford Motor Company]
“Milk, it does a body good” – [National Dairy Council]
These are more than taglines. The commercials they embellished — when produced by ad execs who understood this rule — used one strong idea to drive the ads.
The challenge is to find one good idea that the reader can grasp immediately, Porter said. And then, stick to it.
But, most marketers and copywriters are not up to this challenge.
Instead of sticking to the Rule of One, they conjure up lists of features and benefits and create ads that mention as many of them as possible.
The thinking behind this approach goes something like this:
“I wonder which of these benefits will really push the buttons I want? Hmmm. I don’t know. I guess what I’ll do is throw them all in the promotion.
That way if one doesn’t work, another one will.”
This is what I call the “tossed salad” approach to advertising copy. Throw everything on the counter into a big wooden bowl, marinate with some connecting sentences, and toss. It’s a standard recipe for B- level copywriters. But, it’s not the way to win any blue ribbons in the competitive kitchen of breakthrough advertising.
The little advertisement Amar wrote had that simplicity.”E-books are easy was the idea. E-books are easy to make and easy to sell. The reader hears it. He gets it. He believes it.
So, the idea has to be strong. Yet, it also has to be easy to understand. And easy to believe. That last part — being easy to believe — is key.
The examples we will discuss going ahead will follow this cardinal rule of copywriting: The Rule of One.
As a general rule, leads that follow the Rule of One are stronger because they do not have the emotional power dissipated by copy that goes in different directions.
But, the Rule of One does not mean you can’t have a story and a secret and an emotionally-compelling fact in the same lead.
It means that the lead is the strongest that promotes one compelling idea by supporting that idea with all the appropriate techniques … stories, predictions, statements, promises, and so on … but all unified by that single idea and by a single emotion that drives the sale.
For example, Porter’s Railway package — There’s a Railroad Across America — was both a Story and a Secret Lead. And, it had other elements in it as well. But, there was a single idea — that we are living in a time of change as great as the height of the Industrial Revolution.
If you read this letter, you have a chance of becoming as rich as those great oil and railway barons. One compelling idea and one powerful emotion. The package worked because all the other competing ideas and emotions were eliminated.
You can read more of their copies like read this one and see how they hook you https://stansberryresearch.com/articles/an-important-message-from-porter-stansberry-2
To reiterate the most important points:
Lead your advertisement with one, and only one, powerful idea
Make sure that the idea creates an emotion, a single emotion, which will compel the reader to respond
Support that idea with one engaging story or compelling fact
Direct the reader to one, and only one, action
What is a great advertising idea? That could be the subject of another write-up.
But, in short, a great idea is:
Big (enough to stir interest)
Easy to understand
Clearly useful (to the reader)
Anybody who cares about marketing — and everybody in business should — needs to understand this core principle.
Spend five or ten minutes now studying above mentioned e-book ad and understanding how it is working.
Put the Rule of One to work for you in all your communications, especially in your promotions and their leads. You’ll be amazed at how much stronger — and successful — your copy will be.