Suspension of Disbelief. Direct Response Copywriter Email Archive November 2018.


From the desk of Scott Martin, direct response copywriter, Aspen, Colorado.

Suspension of Disbelief

Quite a few writers and marketers have joined the list of people who receive these emails. Welcome!

Here’s a headline I recently saw in a newspaper. Not a tabloid or a downmarket newspaper … one of the world’s most respected newspapers.

How blasting worms into space could help slow down the aging process.

I imagine you’ll want some proof. Here you go.

It’s actually a legitimate article. You can see it here.

Scientists from the United Kingdom who are studying the impact of age believe they will gather important data from micro-worms. It appears these worms, when they are in zero gravity, will provide insight into energy production in the cell under rapid aging circumstances. People age faster in space. They also lose their eyesight and get taller.

Whatever might be happening, you have to admit this headline is totally bonkers. Let’s see it again.

Note the British English spelling.

How blasting worms into space could help slow down the ageing process.

Imagine what might happen if I wrote a headline like that for a client. The client would justifiably tell me there’s potential mega-trouble with the FTC and other government entities. The client would likely fire me from the project.

Yet that headline is actually an excellent example of a headline technique called ‘suspension of disbelief.’

You hear this technique every day in normal conversation. Examples ...

"I got the best steak I ever had at Denny’s last night."

"I was flying to New York in coach and the flight attendants decided to give us champagne."

"It was snowing in Miami the other day."

"Our flight to Miami was delayed due to ice ... in MIAMI."

"You won’t believe this, but I got the best deal on this really good Bordeaux … in the drug store."

Gary Bencivenga used this technique with this headline template.

Believe or not, this xxxxx is better/safer than xxxx ... plus provides these advantages.

Advantage 1. Advantage 2. Advantage 3.

I’ve seen other copywriters use suspension of disbelief but based on a pure lie. I’ll protect the guilty but here’s a version of a somewhat famous ad.

“Man with one arm and one leg wins Olympic record for shot put and discus in the same day … thanks to ‘secret’ strength technique that's available to everyone for a limited time."

Or …

“Lose 10 pounds every 14 days by thinking about beautiful women.”

Yeah, right.

I use the “believe it or not” headline periodically but here’s the most important part of the suspension of disbelief template.

It must be truthful.

For example, the headline from the newspaper is somewhat silly but the science and the facts actually make sense.

I’m going to have a hard time believing that Denny’s offers the best steak anywhere.

But I can believe it when an airline gets a little crazy and starts offering champagne … especially when there’s a photo from a friend.

There’s NO WAY a person with one arm and one leg sets records in the shot put.

Scallywag copywriters, and there are plenty out there, use suspension of disbelief and keep lying. That’s lazy copywriting.

Seriously good copywriters, like Gary Bencivenga, use suspension of disbelief to get your attention and then prove the premise in the headline. It can be a powerful direct response copywriting technique.

The key is research. Those scallywag copywriters are too lazy to perform the research. The top copywriters discover the suspension of disbelief headline in the research.

Worms or no worms.

All the best,

Scott Martin