The Most Popular Sales Letter of All Time is “Hokey”

One warm summer evening, two young copywriters joined Twitter. They were very much alike, these two young men. Both were personable, ambitious, and full of the most important character trait of all: ENERGY.

A few years later, one of these copywriters was cutting equity deals, running his own offers, and living the good life. He bought a big house in Andalucia and built a handsome library he filled with leather-bound first editions. In the evenings, he’d sit by his pool fringed by mango trees and wild herbs, puff on a Cohiba Siglo VI, and listen, occasionally, to offers from people who wanted him to write copy for them. He also installed a NAD T770 digital decoder with a 70-watt amp and Burr Brown DACS. That’s a stereo. With speakers so loud they can blow a woman’s clothes off.

The other copywriter… a sad case. Broke as a joke. Still taking cold showers and re-reading Atomic Habits.

Would you like to know what made the difference?

Analyzing the Most Popular Sales Letter of All Time

The Wall St. Journal sales letter that ran from 1975–2003 is responsible for more than $2 billion in sales and subscriptions. You may have already done the math. $195,564 a day for 28 years is almost 2 billion. The letter is 775 words long. So every word copywriter Martin Conroy typed back in 1975 pulled in over $25 million. Twenty-five million dollars. Think about that the next time your fingers are fluttering over the keys.


Copywriters know this ad. They recognize the “tale of two men.” Anyone serious about the craft has studied it to some degree. If you haven’t you can find a dozen breakdowns on the Web.

I’ve hand copied and studied the ad.

I’ve read those breakdowns.

They say things like…

“What follows is the greatest copy ever written!”

“The ultimate open loop!”

“The Jack Niklaus of copywriting!”

“tHiS iS biBLiCAl!”

The sad case copywriter would gobble this up. He’d retro-fit standard frameworks like AIDA and the 4Ps as evidence that it’s an example of high-level execution. All you have to do is trust the playbook.

But there’s more to this story.

I liked the letter but it didn’t strike me as the stunning apex of advertising. I had a hunch and asked direct-response copywriter Jim Clair about it. Jim wrote copy for eight years and crafted a bunch of hit offers. He said:

“The quality of what was written is what sold that newspaper, not that ad.”

Oh, hell fire.

Post that in the Cult of Copy Facebook group and you’ll know harassment.

But in the name of charity and goodwill…

We are here to shepherd the weak through the fog of folklore.

I teamed up with Jim not to set the record straight, but to offer you an alternative narrative that might tweak the way you think.


The ad had an abysmal response rate. Even by today’s cold traffic standards. 0.3% is something you’d run for a scammy affiliate offer if you had a high-converting email swipes. But it sucks and it would be something you’d shut down fast.

As far as the ad’s efficacy. It’s hokey. I believe where it swiped from did ok. It has decent elements. But in the 1970s, and today…. eehhhhhh it’s not quite modern enough. As in, that ad would work as it did in the early 1900s, in a growing urban area. By the 1970s, this kind of theme was long gone. The idea of some country hick in a growing area not reading the journal and then managed by a classmate… that era passed in 1917.

Some elements work. Being left behind. Or trying one thing and it offers success, where the other that doesn’t try something, gets left behind. That aspect works. It needs to be shaped and molded. But for instance, my Yoga Burn ad, we used that element — not invented by the WSJ ad — as far as how women could get injured in a Yoga Studio. The aspect of someone knowing something you don’t, also works. But today’s modern take, would be that “winter is coming” side. Which may be, dated information is slowing you down, or what you’re using is new but it makes it complicated… etc.

(Paul’s note: Jim emphasized it’s impossible to nail down absolute truth with hindsight guesses, but he also saw top guys — himself included — try to rework the ad umpteen ways for modern sales letters and VSLs, without success.)

My take, the higher-ups liked the ego-trip from the ad. They had a ton of subscriptions piling in, they thought this ad was cool. The direct-marketing department/subscription department put it into rotation. Then, with all the bureaucracy, it was forgotten. It just stayed in rotation and ran. Then when anyone took over, they didn’t want to screw anything up, and they inherited a newspaper that plenty of people subscribed to and kept subscribing to, so they just let it run. And I bet the higher-ups, in time, forgot about it. In 1975, with inflation, and world crises, they were more focused on their journalism and the egos of their journalists.

In sum: my bet, sheer volume made the ad work.

Jim shows here that “success” is contextual. The reason it ran for 28 years was that the newspaper was thriving on its own merit. They didn’t need a home-rum promotion to keep the lights on.

Ironically, one of the secrets to the ad’s staying power is that it was unremarkable. It didn’t exist in a culture of A/B testing and somehow escaped management-level scrutiny as it stood in the corner quietly accumulating clout for three decades.

So… the “most successful letter of all time?”


But more by accident than design.

What Makes the Difference

A sum is equal to its parts.

[Offer x Traffic] The Wall St. Journal ran a mediocre ad at high volume for a long time and made $2 billion. At the other end of the equation spectrum, you can have a majestic offer and still build a company of one with next-to-no traffic, purely through word-of-mouth by charging high prices to a select clientele. Big traffic to a great offer makes you rich, obviously.

But the deeper lesson here is that in between your traffic and your offer is a third lever.

It’s the lever that keeps everything humming over the long term. You risk breaking it for good every time you stray into ethical gray zones or decide to roll the dice with scammy tactics.

It’s your reputation.

Your personal brand.

Not your Twitter followers or email list, but the currency you hold with people.

Our sad case was a decent if earnest bloke. But in his rush to make money, he started chasing quick wins and was seduced by a carousel of gurus. He was so blinded by shortcuts that he’s still looking for the next level, hoping to unearth the “BIGGEST MARKETING SECRET,” which doesn’t exist.

Our man in Andalucia wasn’t looking for shortcuts. He wanted to learn deep skills, craft his own offers, build long-term relationships, and understand the world and its power dynamics on a level where having everything and nothing would feel exactly the same.

P.S.P. French

7 Big Things Small Businesses Need

I’m going to lay out some lesser-known, higher-leverage, “slam-dunk” items copywriters can provide for businesses.

When you sign a client, the scope of the work might be small. If you don’t play your cards right, you’re one and done in a few short days. But it doesn’t have to play out like this. If a client is looking for a copywriter, the work they’ve hired you for is the tip of the iceberg.

I’d compare it to what they say about thirst.

“By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.”

It’s the same for copy.

By the time a business realizes it needs some copywriting support, there’s already a backlog.

Sometimes, you’ll find the backlog goes all the way back to the BASICS. So it’s wasteful that most copywriters get a gig, do the work, and then move on. Here’s a better way. You tweak this, improve that, and before too long, you are kind of important. Then you take over the company.

Let’s get into it.

NOTE: Any biz owners or current clients, hello! Look, I don’t attempt takeovers. This is just a Machiavellian mini-drama that appeals to copywriters. It’s comedy. It’s a bit of fun, okay?

Empathy “About” Matrix

Good marketing is about getting to the truth about what you’re selling. I first read about this exercise in a Jay Abraham book and I’ve seen it repeated in different formats in multiple places because it works. Set up a spreadsheet with four columns. Title the 1st and 3rd columns ‘Problems’ and ‘Frustrations.’ In the 2nd and 4th columns, rewrite the problems and frustrations in clearer language. Take these pains and frustrations and thread them through a story that shows how well the business understands its customers. You can do this in 250–300 words and eleven times out of ten it’ll be better than what’s on their ‘About’ page. Show it to them. “I thought this might be useful to you.” If they like it, use your matrix to do . . .

The Basics (not direct response)

I nearly didn’t write this because it’s so basic and obvious some of you will stop reading. Well, be gone! It’s so basic it’s genius. Most people think they’re above this but it’s the foundation of our plan. As well as their ‘About’ page, offer to revamp their Services, Testimonials and Contact page. Other pages could be; Our Story, Our Mission, Staff (ewww.) For some reason, local businesses like restaurants, hotels, indie gyms, physios etc. are terrible at this. All stiff and awkward. No concept of pitch or tone or voice. You can also offer to create a lead magnet for them. This requires more research tho, so charge an extra fee. Now every word on the website belongs to your hand.

Ghostwrite for Founder

This is about flipping quick one-off cash gigs into a retainer once you have their trust. Most business owners have a sub-optimal (crap) presence on Twitter and LinkedIn. They have strong characters and good ideas but jack-squat consistency. They’re busy of course, but the upside of fixing this — and your pitch — is twofold: it improves their feedback loops with customers and makes it easier for people to know and trust them and buy from them. It’s an opportunity for them to tell stories, share flaws and create their own legend. Write them an origin story thread or three fresh tweets and offer them up. They’ll be flattered (everyone’s favorite subject is themself.) You are now “chummy.”

Time for a Package (direct response)

6 ads, 2 autoresponders, 1 sales page, 2 email sequences (buyers and non-buyers.) Something like that, depending on their needs. At this point, you’ve written not just the words on the website but the entire funnel. You ARE the marketing department.

Lexicon Development

This is a kookie one but I guarantee no one else is doing it. Not sellable in the same way as the others, but pay attention. A big part of standing out online — in ads, emails, social media, wherever, is developing words and phrases that you own. For example, Ben Settle always spells guru ‘gooroo.’ Matt Furey might have been the first person to spell naked ‘nekkid.’ Closer to home, Ed Latimore’s made memes out of coffee and crackheads. Tahm Giovanni has typed the word “keto” more than any other human. Eddy Quan and Jose Rosado won’t stop banging on about tropical fruits. They’re not “big ideas,” as much as verbal tics. They’re ritualistic. They make the biz both unique AND predictable, which leads to trust. Look for phraseology your client can invent or tweak or own. Encourage them to do so. You are now chums who also happen to share private jokes. It’s only been two weeks.

Pet Project

They have an email list and post on social but there’s no differentiation. There’s nothing they do that no one else does. Nothing to identify them as them. So the opportunity is for you to pitch them a new marketing asset that you can own. It can be a channel they’re already using, but what you do is give it a new name and identity. Let’s take email as an example. Tim Ferriss has “5-Bullet Friday.” Perry Marshall has a “30-Day Street MBA” email sequence. So there’s no excuse for any business to be satisfied with running a newsletter. Call it something. This applies to all channels. Regular reels, LinkedIn carousels, mid-week Facebook Lives, YouTube series, a podcast. Most businesses would be much better off picking ONE channel where their customers hang out and creating a regular series. A huge improvement on posting all over the place with nothing to separate them from the noise. You can own this.

Common Enemy

You’ve heard of Blair Warren’s One-Sentence Persuasion Course? “People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions, and help them throw rocks at their enemies.” Having a “common enemy” in the marketplace is a power move. Important: unless you want to scare the client, the common enemy shouldn’t be individual people or specific companies. For example, in the health space, Van Man’s big idea is “Get in, we’re taking down big toothpaste!” Meanwhile, Greco Gum stands against mainstream chewing gum having the constituent ingredients of artificially-flavored car tires. When you find a common enemy and pitch it, you’re home and dry. You can tell the CEO you think it’s time the current Head of Marketing moved along. In a nice way.

P.S.P. French

Just getting started?

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Cracking Twitter for Beginners

I’ve made my way into an elite group of people with more than 1,000 Twitter followers. I used a combination of trial and error, followed by a breakthrough and some brute force. These are my notes on how you can do the same (in much less time). Read on if you’re a Twitter beginner, someone struggling to reach the next level, or a seasoned pro looking for something…


Twitter for Beginners

Look, I know how you feel. When you start on Twitter you are tweeting into the void. The occasional like and reply but not much else. Retweets are like gold dust. It’s painful and you’re stuck wondering when things will change.

I felt the same.

But here’s where you’re at, objectively: The overwhelming majority of Twitter users – 95% – have less than 500 followers. So anything above that and you’re technically already in the top 5%.

Don’t stop now.

6 Reasons Copywriters Should Use Twitter

The Truth Hurts…

I’m not claiming anything special here. 1,000 followers is peanuts compared to some. I won’t be launching a guide on how to get more followers. I think you need at least 5,000 followers to sound that foghorn.

(But I am going to recommend the ones I rate.)

Because here’s the truth. It wasn’t easy. And it took some time. But as my favorite James Bond villain says:

“Concentration, focus – that is all. The aptitudes come, the tools forge themselves.”

Dr. No

And that’s something you can use to your advantage, whether it’s applying for a job or hooking a freelance client, or just generally trying to impress people.

All you need is focus.

How to Measure Your Effectiveness on Twitter

It’s very important if you want to get more engaged followers in less time and improve your writing skills along the way. And I’m going to do it by breaking it down into simple marketing terms…

There are only 3 things you need to track, month-by-month. And by track, I mean put these in a spreadsheet:

Profile Views
New Followers

Everything starts with Impressions. Then, your ‘funnel’ has two conversion points:

Conversion #1: Impressions to Profile Views.
Conversion #2: Profile Views to Followers.

So, for example:

You generate 100,000 Impressions.

1% of those convert to Profile Views = 1000.

1% of Profile Views convert to New Followers = 10 New Followers.

Not bad, but you can and will do better. 

In April 2020, with 464 tweets (tweets, replies, and retweets combined)...

I generated 709,000 Impressions.

1.66% of these Impressions converted to Profile Views = 11,800

2.96% of those 11,800 Profile Views converted to Followers = 349 New Followers

Now we're talking. 

And before you roll your eyes and say something about being an artiste who can't be doing with numbers...

My worst month for conversion to Profile Views: 0.77%
My best month for conversion to Profile Views: 3.05%

My worst month for conversion to New Followers: 0.57%
My best month for conversion to New Followers: 4.17%


When you’re aware of these stats, and if you have a basic understanding of math, you see the importance of having a profile that converts if you want your efforts to be worth something in the long run. 

Admittedly, this isn’t a perfect science.

For example, if someone gives you a shout-out on Twitter and recommends people follow you, then you’re getting a boost in Profile Views without generating any more Impressions. BUT… the science is good enough.

If you tweak your profile, you need to track how it affects your conversion.

If either of your conversion rates is currently down below 1%, you need to work on your profile first before you fix anything else.

Ideally, you want it to be at least 2%.

I’ve managed to optimize and reach 5%.


And the only way I know to do this if you’re not an anonymous troll is to have a clearly defined niche in your bio.

Bios for Beginners

My niche is copywriting.

But I also include the words ‘curiosity, understanding, and truth’ to hook those who might not be bothered about copywriting but can nevertheless align themselves with those words.

I might change this bio in the future (always be testing).

There’s really no point in tweeting much unless your profile offers people a reason to follow you.

For this, I recommend:

Less than 500 followers

Unfuck Your Twitter, by Western Mastery – get this if you need to get the basics on lock and to connect with Sean, the most helpful man on Twitter.

When you’ve got your profile converting at a decent rate, you need to go after impressions.

More than 500 followers

For this, I recommend:

Engagement is the new Cocaine, by Ed Latimore – get this if you want to learn how to write tweets that blow up and send your phone notifications into meltdown.

I’ve also received some 1-on-1 writing training from Ed.

With Ed’s help, I got my first tweet with over 100 retweets.

He has over 115,000 Twitter followers now so he knows his art.

And then…

Infinity and Beyond…

Make it Stick, by Charles Miller – get this if you’re in Twitter for the long game. You want to write, you want to build an audience and you want to make moolah.

But Paul, I can only afford one!

Get Make it Stick.

The reason I recommend Charles’ guide is because it contains one subtle but extremely powerful observation that I literally haven’t seen mentioned anywhere else.

It’s as valuable for beginners as it is for accounts easily averaging over 1 million impressions a month.

Everyone can learn from this observation.

I can’t stop thinking about it.

And the funny thing is…

Charles mentions it almost in passing in his guide and doesn’t make too big a thing out of it, but it’s like a rare gemstone.

And it’s this particular nuance that I’ll be doubling down on to go from 1,000 followers to 2,000.

At the time of writing, Make it Stick has nearly 70 perfect 5-star Gumroad reviews, so I’m not the only person to appreciate its value.

And… that’s it.

That’s all I got.

To recap:

Get your profile sorted and your conversion rates on lock, then get a guide and get after it.

P.S. UPDATE: Charles has discontinued his guide, and now runs an online writing community. I’m not a member, but I’ve no doubt you can learn a lot there. My favorite Twitter course right now is JK Molina’s Bow & Arrow. Inside the course, JK also talks about the strategy. If you buy the course, just email me and I’ll be happy to explain it to you in full.

The Irresistible Offer: Notes & Quotes

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Rating: 8/10
Pick up your copy on Amazon

It’s entertaining how divisive this book is. Some claim it’s all sizzle and no steak, some can’t stop slobbering over how good it is.

Personally, at first, I found Mark’s style to be so casual I began to worry there’d be no deep knowledge inside. But like all the best conversations, it takes two to tango.

Many of the complaints I’ve read are from people looking for a playbook for how to create their own irresistible offer. That’s not inside. I’d argue it shouldn’t be.

This is a book for people who don’t need their hand held when it comes to marketing. If you want someone to tell you what to do, don’t pick this up.

But if you’re looking to crack the core psychology of why people buy things, and you have the strength, character and ambition to test your own offers…

… then this is a must-read.


The core of all business goes back to when human beings first began entering into the most rudimentary transactions with each other, when cavemen traded a wooly mammoth pelt in exchange for a new club.

Question 1: What are you trying to sell me? Question 2: How much? Question 3: Why should I believe you? Question 4: What’s in it for me?

Let’s start with a definition. The Irresistible Offer is an identity-building offer central to a product, service, or company where the believable return on investment is communicated so clearly and efficiently that it’s immediately apparent you’d have to be a fool to pass it up.

Here’s the main difference. A Special Offer is a one-time deal. The Irresistible Offer is not. The Irresistible Offer is so central to the very heart of your business that it becomes your identity.

Let’s start with this—The Irresistible Offer is composed of three elements: 1. A High ROI Offer 2. A Touchstone 3. Believability

What’s a touchstone? In short, it’s a statement that addresses as many of the following points as possible: • Here’s what we are selling. • Here’s how much it will cost. • Here’s what’s in for you. • Here’s why you should trust us.

The bigger and bolder you make your Touchstone, the more difficult it is to prove, and the harder you have to work to sell your believability and your credibility.

There’s a simple formula—let’s call it The Great Formula, because it’s so unfailingly effective—that will bring you a steady flow of repeat business from eager customers. It really isn’t any harder than following these three steps: 1. Create The Irresistible Offer 2. Present It to a Thirsty Crowd 3. Sell Them a Second Glass

Continuity products are those that are offered to the customer on a regular basis. They are, in essence, built-in, guaranteed repeat sales.

Remember the Golden Rule of freebies: Never give anything away that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to sell.

You pay me nothing now. If the ad copy I write for you increases your profits, all I ask is for 10 percent of the increase. Smart marketing consultants use a pay-for-results system because they are highly confident in their abilities. This is a complete risk reversal for the client. Hey, if he can increase my profits, it would certainly be worth giving him 10 percent. If he can’t then I pay him nothing.

Try Before You Buy You pay nothing until after you have tried our product for 30 days. Copywriting legend Gary Halbert said that this is the most powerful tactic he has ever used, but in Gary’s words, “Very few people have the balls to test it.”

You go through a retail shop, pay attention there as well. If you put down a newspaper or magazine, or leave a large store, without a new marketing idea you weren’t paying attention.

This is the essence of the Rosser Reeves Unique Selling Proposition. It is extremely powerful. Make your customers believe you are their only source for what they want.

If people don’t need your product, then they had better really want it. In fact, some marketers go so far as to say, “You don’t get rich fulfilling needs. You get rich fulfilling wants.”

Can you use facts, research, recommendations, charts, and graphs to show your customers that they will easily get a solid return on their investment, a return that greatly outweighs the price you’re asking them to pay?

That’s a high ROI offer—for the money you spend, we’re going to give you quality merchandise, and we’ll even take it back if it’s not exactly what you want. It keeps Nordstrom’s successful despite the fact that it doesn’t promise a bargain.
People talk about things that are noteworthy. The thing most worthy of positive note is excellence—plain and simple.

There are three words that I believe represent one of the most important keys to success: Relentless Focused Action You have to figure out what actions will lead you to your desired goal (that’s the “focus”), and you must take those actions at a constant neverending pace (“relentlessly”).

Have you ever applied for a job? Have you ever applied to a school? Have you ever tried to win the favor of a member of the opposite sex? Have you ever tried to talk your friends into going to the movie of your choice? Have you ever tried to convince someone you were right? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you’re in the business of selling.

Many of the genuine business experts I’ve spoken to over the years will tell you the same thing. Secretly, many of us are placing more value on intuition than we’d care to admit publicly. Learn to tune in to your gut and follow what it is telling you. Just let go and give this a try sometime.

I can tell you, without question, that the following concept is the Holy Trump Card of all persuasion principles: The Frame. The Frame is not your message—it’s the message that precedes your message.