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More of this + less of that = success

September 15th, 2017 by Bob Bly

As noted in an earlier issue of this newsletter, I believe that
today many people — and in particular, many younger people — are
fascinated with bright, shiny objects (BSOs).

By “BSO,” I mean they embrace the new, trendy, hip, and cool …
and as a corollary, eschew the old, the proven, and the tried and

This favoring of BSOs over tested methods and ideas is true in
many fields, but especially so in marketing.

I contend that doing so is an egregious error.


Two reasons.

First, to paraphrase George Santayana — “Those who forget the
past, don’t learn from it.”

Or more to the point, as Martin Cohen writes in his book Reason
and Nature:

“The notion that we can dismiss the views of all previous
thinkers surely leaves no basis for the hope that our own work
will prove of any value to others.”

To me this is “axiomatic,” which means it is irrefutable logic
and always true.

Think about it: if you dismiss the views of all who came before
you, then shouldn’t the next generation conclude they can learn
nothing from you?

Second, the problem with BSOs is: they are untested and unproven.

That makes them highly risky and more likely to fail.

By comparison, the tried and true is tested and proven.

That reduces your risk of a big failure … and increases the odds
of success.

How does this translate into direct marketing?

Well, many times I have come up with an initial selling idea for
a product.

When I run it past the client, they say — “That won’t work; we
know because we have tested it many times, and in each test it
always failed.”

A BSO fan would argue:

“Well, just because you guys couldn’t get it to work doesn’t mean
it won’t work now. Get some cojones and try it my way!”

Not me. As an old-school direct response guy, I am grateful the
client knows the idea has been tested and proven ineffective, as
it saves me from writing something that will more than likely

I thank them, go back to the drawing board, and brainstorm, both
on my own and often with them, to find a new idea with the
potential to be a winner.

Other old-time direct response copywriters tell me they agree
that the surest and most likely route to a winner is to take what
is tested and proven, dust it off, and give it a new twist.

As my old friend, superstar copywriter Richard Armstrong, wrote
in an article for AWAI:

“I believe there’s a much better word than creativity to describe
what we’re really striving for in this business: Ingenuity.

“What you really want to do is study what’s worked in the past.
Find out what’s working now. And see if you can come up with a
way to do the exact same thing … only better.

“If you do that, I guarantee you catch more customers … and
eventually more clients, too!”

In copywriting, it is rare to find something under the sun that
is entirely new.

More often, winning comes from saying the same old thing, but
saying it in a fresh and compelling new way.

And then test, test, test.

Don’t assume your idea, whether old school or BSO, is the best.

You don’t know. You have to test.

In marketing, as the great Claude Hopkins wrote: The only way to
settle the question of whether an ad will work is with a test,
not with arguments around a table.

And then, once we direct marketers roll it out, while continually
testing to beat our control.

Back in my day, people at Madison Avenue ad agencies hated the
tested direct response control.

They believed in their intuition and subjective judgment of their
peers: If everyone at the agency or my friends in advertising
think my ad is clever, funny, or creative, it must be good!

This in part explains the gross ineffectiveness of so many widely
admired national ad campaigns for major brands produced by the
big ad agencies.

My friend, motivational Rob Gilbert, says the key to success in
virtually every walk of life is:

“Do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t work.”

Pretty simple. Common sense. And good advice.


This entry was posted on Friday, September 15th, 2017 at 12:25 pm and is filed under General, Success. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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