April 2018 1
From the desk of Scott Martin, direct response copywriter, Aspen, Colorado.
To Tell The Truth … And The Power of Verisimilitude …
I’m going to STUN you with this comment … get ready.
There’s a lot of lying in advertising.
Of course, there’s a lot of lying in a lot of parts of the business world. A large bank recently created thousands of fake bank accounts … or something like that … to drive new revenue. Many companies will tell you how much they care about customers when we all know that’s pure rot.
Sadly, the advertising world has its fair share of scallywags who will simply make things up.
There’s an irony here.
I’ve never met a branding type who has a lot of love for direct marketers. I’ve heard, as I’m sure you have, a branding person say, “that type of copy would damage our brand equity” when presented with direct response copy.
Yet branding ads care little for the truth, blatantly using justifications like “actual results may vary” and “dramatization” and “don’t try this at home” or “not actual customers.” Branding ads thrive on exaggeration and non-believability.
Case in point … The Most Interesting Man in The World ads for Dos Equis.
Think about those pharmaceutical ads replete with happy, smiling people going about fun things … while the narrator provides the laundry list of side effects, most totally dire and even comical … like “your ears and eyebrows may drop off and if that happens, contact your doctor immediately.”
Sadly, you’ve seen, and I’ve seen, direct response marketing that’s also false. Yes … I’ve seen direct marketing that’s packed with lies, purely to “get” people. It’s a tragedy this happens and it brings everyone into disrepute.
And here’s the result … companies like Facebook start banning, with no reasoning, totally legitimate advertising because a few bad apples have told a bunch of lies. I’ve seen some of the offending ads and nobody in their right mind would believe the claims but still, they’re there.
Here’s the sad part …
With enough research and enough probing, there’s no reason to lie.
In fact, truth and believability are part of successful direct response copywriting. Believability is simply … the truth or a claim backed by real proof and based on common sense.
The clients a company wants are the ones who believe realistic promises backed by proof and a guarantee.
Common sense tells me it's going to take 3-5 days to get over a nasty case of the flu. Why do I believe a company that promises I'll feel totally better in 10 minutes?
I could say that I wrote a promotion that generated a 67.2% response. But nobody in direct marketing will believe that. The 67.2% number would be a total lie. Yet some copywriters would pluck that 67.2% number out of thin air.
Now … it’s totally acceptable, in fact it’s a vital part of direct marketing, to put the truth in the best possible light. This approach is called verisimilitude, a concept championed by the late Herschell Gordon Lewis.
Lewis, or HGL as he was known, was an interesting man. He was a pioneer in the horror movie business and called "The Godfather of Gore." I had lunch with him in Florida shortly before his passing and he referred to his work movies as “splatter” movies.
Ah … the beauty of onomatopoeia.
But HGL was also an accomplished direct marketer, consultant, and direct response copywriter. He wanted tight, precise copy. He loved verisimilitude. And his books are quietly among the best about direct response copywriting … must-reads for everyone.
I review one of his books on this page on my website.
Verisimilitude is NOT lying.
I can say that a promotion had a 4% conversion rate. I can also say it had a 96% failure rate. Verisimilitude tells us to use the 4% conversion rate metric.
On my website, you’ll find a list of clients. I’ve worked for some of these clients for many years. Others gave me a project or two … but I still consider them a client … they wrote me a check in return for copy.
Is verisimilitude an excuse for not telling the truth?
Absolutely not. My job, and yours, is to put the truth about a product or service in the best possible light. This tactic bears no relation to blatant lying.
There’s a famous series of sports-related ads containing a load of pure tripe. The copywriter is really famous and even coaches nascent copywriters.
I asked this copywriter about the ads the copywriter said, “that’s what the client told me.”
I’m sorry … but just because the client makes up facts DOES NOT provide a license for the copywriter to write lies.
You’re intelligent enough to know when the client is just making it up. I am too.
I’ve closely studied the work of Gary Bencivenga and he always wrote the truth and made his copy believable. And I consider him the top living copywriter. Would he have taken pure lies from a client and built copy about those lies? Of course not.
Marty Edelston, the founder of Boardroom, and one of the world’s top direct marketers, sadly now passed, once told a copywriter …
“Look … it’s really easy … just tell the truth.”
Scott Martin Direct Response Copywriter
P.S. In the next few weeks, study some ads. Simply ask ... true or false? The results will surprise you.