Chicken Soup for the Copywriter’s Soul: The Power of the Inspirational
Human Interest Story

My long-time friend and speaking colleague Mark Victor Hansen and his writing partner Jack Canfield had their book idea rejected by over 100 major and minor book publishers. (How much persistence do you have about your career? – not my point here, I digress.)

The publishers could not see what Mark and Jack knew and what every copywriter worth a tablespoon of salt must keep in forefront of mind: nothing captures the attention, interest, and emotional connection of people better than a good Human Interest Story.

That book became the series that made hundreds of millions of dollars – Chicken Soup for the Soul. Each book for a different target audience, moms, dads, grandparents, people who live in the country, chiropractors, dog owners, etc. So many I joke with Mark that eventually he has to run out of categories, and that Chicken Soup for the Paraplegic Death Row Inmate’s Sister-In-Law’s Soul may be stretching the idea of niche-ing a topic a tad too far.

Anyway, as you undoubtedly know, the Chicken Soup books are collections of human interest stories submitted by ‘real people’ as well as celebrities, about themselves or people in their lives.

The stories in these books skew inspirational, as would most such stories you might use as a copywriter. The premise is drawn from a staple ingredient of the highest circulation, most read publications of all time like Reader’s Digest and National Enquirer.

Quite simply, people are fascinated with interesting stories about interesting people they can somehow identify with and their stories of before-and-after, tragedy and recovery, bravery and heroism, rags to riches, loneliness to romance, dullsville to exciting lives.

Since all advertising requires readership, and highest readership is garnered with such human interest stories, it’s an obvious strategy to support the advertising message with – or even conceal the advertising in – a good human interest story.

If you went through the entire archive of my 30 years of copywriting work, you wouldn’t find but a handful of pieces ever done absent at least one of these stories. Some of my best ads have led with these stories. An ad I wrote for a seminar company about “the wealthy fireman,” an ad for a book about starting a particular type of home-based business was all about “a desperate Iowa housewife” (well before TV’s Desperate Housewives), another opportunity ad about “Two Crazy College Kids.” I have told the stories of the dead broke car mechanic who was humiliated having to tell his wife they couldn’t afford to fix their washing machine and she’d have to go to the laundromat, who borrowed the money to go to his first real estate seminar and quickly became a multi-millionaire, the chronically over-weight school teacher who so enjoyed the stunned look on her ex-husband’s face after just one month on the miracle diet, and one that has made tons of money: the poorly paid, depressed Iowa prison guard who bumbled across the first how-to-succeed book he’d ever seen while cooling his heels in the warden’s office, waiting, he knew, to be fired, read it while waiting, quit on the spot and became … well, you get the idea.

For a client in possibly the most boring of businesses, the building of backyard sheds, a book of 101 heartfelt human interest stories of his shed owners’ uses of their sheds – like the woman who was never allowed to have a dollhouse as a child who had now given herself a full-size, beautifully decorated dollhouse for her collection of antique dolls and how she cried the first time she entered it.

I became aware very early in my career how many of the greatest direct marketing successes were built on the backs of inspirational human interest stories, of the product’s inventor or seller, and of the customers. One of the most iconic, Charles Atlas – the “skinny kid who got sand kicked in his face” at the beach, humiliated by a bully in front of his girlfriend, who then made himself over from weakling to muscle-man.

Stories sell, and the ability to tell them well separates the great copywriters’ work from the pedantic, soulless features and benefits, facts and figures, product centered, price justifying, mind-numbing output of the journeymen.

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Published: April 4, 2011

1 Response to “Chicken Soup for the Copywriter’s Soul: the Power of the Inspirational Human Interest Story”

  1. Ya know, somehow I get all that you are saying. All you have written makes good since. Every bit of the founded knowledge and researh is clearly lodgicical. The average person does not disect what they are reading and how it is swaying their decissions, I feel. I have been writing for 25 years. Never shared any of my work. I can tell story to a complete stranger in Cracker Barrel and have them sobbing in minutes. How does all this research set me free to live the writers life?

    Guest (cj hodges)

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