Do You Expect Me To Believe That?

One of the biggest problems with new copy I see – even with my own copy sometimes – is “the unsubstantiated claim.”

It’s an affliction that might not stick out like a sore thumb like, say, a weak promise or copy that’s not centered around a strong enough big idea.

But nothing robs a promotion of credibility or “beefiness” more than one loaded with idle claims or statements that the reader is expected to simply accept.

What’s an unsubstantiated claim?

It’s when you make an assertion without backing it up with any fact, whether real or anecdotal.

For instance, if I were to tell you:

XYZ Stock Picking Service is the most successful investment newsletter in the country. That’s why you should pay particular attention to its latest recommendation – a little company that could triple your money over the next 8 months …

 … you may or may not give a lot of weight to what’s coming.

But if I were to say:

XYZ Stock Picking Service is the most successful investment newsletter in the country today.

Over the past nine months, 15 of its 16 recommendations have produced gains of 110% or more.

Hulbert Digest, the industry’s leading stock newsletter rater, has ranked XYZ #1 or #2 for each of the last 11 years – and it was #1 for the last four years running.

Of the 30,000 who subscribe to XYZ, 10,000 are professional traders. Says pro trader Bill Smith: “This is one publication I can’t afford to be without. They have insights on companies and opportunities no single investor could ever hope to have.”

But its biggest fans are regular investors like you and me. Says subscriber John Burke: “I’ve taken a lot of investment newsletters over the years, but XYZ is always the first one I read because it’s the only one that consistently makes me money, year after year.”

XYZ’s specialty is companies on the brink of big things: medical discoveries, technical innovations. In fact, four of its last five triple-digit winners were companies that brought groundbreaking new products to market, including one that developed a cure for lupus (+348%) and a technology firm that revolutionized the way computer touch screens work (+445%).

That’s why when XYZ makes a recommendation, people listen. And it’s latest – a little company that’s about to radically change the way cancer is treated – could triple your money before the year is out.

Do you see how much more believable that initial statement – “XYZ Stock Picking Service is the most successful investment newsletter in the country” – is when it’s followed by actual facts that suggest, yes, it very well could be the most successful investment letter in the world?

And do you see how much more credibility the recommendation that’s about to be revealed has when the reader already has “a taste of proof” when it comes to the publication’s success?

Yet so many copywriters, veterans like me included, don’t always go the extra mile to substantiate our claims.

Michael Masterson calls this “lazy writing.”

I call it “writing off the top of your head” – writing the first thing that comes to mind and then being too lazy to make the effort to back up what you’ve just claimed to be true.

When you take the time to substantiate your claims, you’ll do more than make those claims more believable. For instance …

  • Your letter will have infinitely more credibility, depth, and “meatiness.”
  • You (or whoever’s name is on the letter) will be seen as a much more credible expert – someone your reader is much more willing to listen to and believe.

Plus, when you take the time to back up your claims, your sales letters (or any writing you do, for that matter) come across as less “hypey” and self-serving … which makes them more persuasive and useful to the reader.

What’s more, it shows you care about your reader – by respecting him enough not to “say anything and everything” and expect him to believe it.

And isn’t that what we’ve long been telling you a great sales letter is all about? Caring about your prospect enough to offer him a solution to a problem he might have … or sharing something that might have long-term benefits for his wealth, health, or happiness.

Of course, there’s an art to substantiating claims effectively – and the most advanced methods are covered at length in AWAI’s Master’s Program.

But the other day I was reading through some marketing briefs one of the companies I work with sends around from time to time. And I came across one from Michael Masterson that addresses this issue of “substantiating claims” very well.

With his permission, I’m happy to share it with you today. It talks about “The Power of Three” – a little rule you should follow whenever you’re tempted to state something as fact without backing it up or taking the time to prove it.

I’ve used this technique at least a thousand times in all sorts of sales presentations, and have always found it to be effective. Try it next time you write a sale letter.

Here it is …

The Power of Three

Here’s a little copywriting trick I learned long ago. It will help you prove any point you want to make.

After you’ve made a claim – such as “Skippy is the best peanut butter in the world” – support it with three consecutive paragraphs of proof.

In this case, the proof might look something like this:

In a test conducted by Buyer Trends last year, Skippy was rated as the top-scoring peanut butter in every single category: aroma, appearance, texture, and taste. When compared to other popular brands, such as Jif and Peter Pan, it rated between two and five points higher in each of these categories. Jeff Goodman, reporting for Buyer Trends, said, “When it comes to the pleasure of eating, Skippy rules.”

A scientific analysis conducted by WebNutrition.com found that Skippy had the highest ratio of protein to fat of all the major brands. Patrick Dunney, president of the National Health Institute, said that Skippy was “far and away” the best product from a health point of view.

I used to be a Jif fan myself. But last Thursday, for the first time, I tried Skippy on a slice of whole wheat toast – and I was blown away by how good it is!

Put your strongest proof at the top, and devote the most ink to it. The next paragraph should be about half the length of the first. And the third should be half the length of the second.

You should vary, if you can, the type of proof you provide. In the example above, the first paragraph presents a taste test by an established and trusted consumer service. The second paragraph presents proof that the product is nutritionally superior. And the third paragraph is a personal testimonial.

By using this structure, you get the strongest effect. The first paragraph – your best proof – makes the reader sit back and take the claim seriously. The second paragraph adds something to the equation. It makes the reader feel that the claim is not thin – that it has deep and substantial evidence to support it. The third paragraph doesn’t have to be very long at all, because by that time the reader is nearly sold. If you did spend a lot of time on it, you would bore him and risk losing his interest.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


Click to Rate:
Average: 5.0
Published: July 27, 2009

1 Response to “Do You Expect Me To Believe That?”

  1. Thanks for your down-to-earth approach to this potentially life-changing work. You are making a believer out of me!

    pegkAugust 4, 2009 at 8:18 pm


Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)


This name will appear next to your comment.


Your email is required but will not be displayed.


Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters


Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)