Michael Masterson Critiques a DM Classic
The Admiral Byrd Polar Flight Sales Letter – Making the Ordinary Extraordinary
By Michael Masterson as told to Owen Patton
Today, I'm going to talk about a six-and-a-half-page letter that must have intrigued the prospects who received it back in September of 1968. It's intriguing to read even today in an age of modern marvels that probably eclipse the degree of adventure and allure offered here. (Read the Admiral Byrd Polar Flight sales letter)
What is the letter selling? In simplest terms, it's a flight around the world. But there are round-the-world flights leaving every day. Why is this one worth noting?
The promoter of this trip has pulled out all the stops to make it the most special, most memorable, most offbeat and exclusive – even historic – event possible. He has attached so many unexpected features and benefits to the basic travel package that it has been transformed into a higher-level experience.
Emphasis is placed on the record-setting nature of the trip, which will be recorded by a film crew and memorialized with a special plaque to be displayed at the Adm. Richard E. Byrd Polar Center. According to the writer, this will be "the first commercial flight ever to cross both poles and touch down on all continents …"
Almost three pages are needed to list the itinerary and explain the special events planned for each stop. The itinerary, including many places no ordinary traveler would go, sells itself for those who love adventure and love to collect unusual experiences. Example: "You may never have expected to see Dakar [Senegal], but you will on this expedition."
Additionally, the organizer of the trip has arranged to make many stops (at least one on every continent) and has scheduled meetings along the way with local and international dignitaries (even the Pope and the Emperor of Japan).
Techniques Employed that Elevate the Offer:
- From a copywriting standpoint, the technique of "transubstantiation" makes this ordinary trip into an extraordinary adventure. The organizer has attached so many "extras" and special claims to the trip that it has become newsworthy. Those who participate will be part of "an expedition destined to make both news and history." It's not a "trip" but an "event."
When we read the short second paragraph, we are shocked that the writer is willing to tell us – up front – what the trip will "cost." It will take $10,000 and 26 days of our time – and there could be discomfort and even danger involved. Isn't this more discouraging than encouraging?
This is, of course, the technique of "the velvet cord" at work. By mentioning the high price ($10,000 was a great deal of money in 1968), prospects of modest means are turned away and those who can afford it are attracted by the exclusivity.
- Why does the letter talk about discomfort and danger? The promoter has billed this as an adventure trip to the most inhospitable places on the planet. The prospect who takes this trip wants to be exposed (in a controlled way) to the discomfort and danger because it distinguishes him. Not everyone can afford this trip and not everyone has the courage to join an expedition to the far-off reaches of the globe.
- The use of the word "expedition" is important here because this must not be confused with a pleasure trip. In the tradition of Polar expeditions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this trip (we are told) will be noted by future historians. This trip has a more serious purpose. These travelers are learning, firsthand, the secrets of the frozen north so that they may later be involved in its development for mankind's benefit and preserve it from militarization. (See the comment on page 2, paragraph 8 of the letter about the "high priority the Soviet Union" has given the Polar Regions.)
The core emotions being satisfied here are pride, vanity, and curiosity.
By the way, we were able to locate and talk to the pilot (former Air Force One Captain Hal Neff), who recalled the trip and confirmed that it went off as planned and was sold out.
The sales letter did its job.