The Logic of Being "Illogical"

Today I’m going to talk about a Master’s level secret. It’s a secret Michael Masterson formulated that he and other A-level copywriters have used to write incredibly successful copy.

But let me start by asking you to fill in these blanks …

 … a penny saved is a penny ____________

 … pure as the driven ____________

 … buy one, get one ____________

That wasn’t hard, was it? You could do it with your eyes closed.

Or, more to the point, with your mind closed.

Your mind is an amazing information processor. It wants to make sense out of all the millions of stimuli that bombard it constantly. When it gets information, it tries to “fill in the blanks” to make sense out of your experiences.

This wonderful capability — called the categorical imperative by psychologists — makes your life manageable and simpler. This is why when you see a Chihuahua and an Irish wolfhound you recognize both as dogs.

This is also why you’re able to fill in familiar phrases like the ones above without even thinking.

While this ability to fill in the blanks is good in everyday life, it’s not a good thing when your prospect is reading your advertising copy.

If your prospect anticipates where you’re going with your copy, he’ll stop paying attention to the details. He figures he already knows what you’re going to say. He’ll skim. He’ll read your letter intellectually and not emotionally. And quite possibly, he’ll stop reading your letter entirely.

There’s only one time you ever want your prospect to stop reading your letter. That’s when he’s so excited that he immediately takes action: makes a phone call, fills in the order device, or clicks online.

But if he stops reading your letter because he thinks he knows where it’s going, your letter — and your sale — is dead.

When does this beast raise its ugly head?

There’s one sure way to guarantee you’ll stir up your prospect’s categorical imperative. When you’re too organized! When your writing and the flow of your copy is predictable.

B-level copywriters fret that they’ll leave out something important. So they meticulously outline their letters. Then they carefully follow those outlines in hopes of getting everything in.

Writing strictly by outline this way has two unintended effects. First, it makes your copy predictable. Your prospect anticipates where it’s going and loses interest.

Equally important, when you write by a strict outline, you’re crippling your ability to write from your heart. You limit the passion that should infuse your writing. You damage — or worse, kill — the emotional appeal to your prospect.

Taming the beast

How can you tame the categorical imperative? (The nuns who taught me in grammar school aren’t going to like this, but … ) Don’t use a strict outline for persuasive copy.

Notice I say to avoid using a “strict” outline. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t approach your copywriting with a strong plan. But, you mustn’t approach it randomly or as if you’re writing stream-of-consciousness poetry.

You definitely must follow the 4-P’s (Promise, Picture, Proof, Push) you learned in the Accelerated Program. And Michael Masterson’s Architecture of Persuasion.

These structures for powerful copywriting let you touch both the emotional and intellectual centers your prospect uses to decide to buy your product.

What you must avoid, though, is having your copy so structured — so outlined — that it leads you step-by-step through the writing process and leads your prospect step-by-step through your copy.

Here’s the type of outline structure you must avoid. If you use it, you’ll lose your prospect’s interest and the sale:

  1. Introduction: Give the prospect my big promises

    1. Promise #1: You will be more beautiful
    2. Promise #2: You will be richer

      1. Make at least $10,000 more a month
      2. Lexus
      3. Everyone will envy you
  2. Write a convincing word picture

    1. Mansion

      1. 18 rooms
      2. Big fireplace
    2. Vacation

      1. St. Tropez
      2. Sunny beach
      3. Crystal clear water

This type of strict outline may be perfect for a college history paper. But there’s no way you can build your personal connection with the prospect if you rely on something as structured as this.

Instead, approach your “outline” like I do. Have your one, strong, irresistible promise written out. List benefits with the biggest one first. This is the one you’re going to use for your headline and lead.

Develop an informal list of possible picture elements. Imagine as many as possible, knowing that you’re not going to use them all. Study these lists. But don’t memorize them.

Then start writing. Follow Michael’s Architecture of Persuasion and the 4-P’s as your guiding structure. But let your words flow.

Once you have a good part of your copy written, let it sit for a while. A day or two if you can. Go back. Read it with new eyes. Does it sound like a neatly structured, outline-driven treatise? Or does it flow and rely on emotion to carry it along?

If you avoided using a strict outline, you’ll be surprised how many of the most compelling picture elements you got in without having to follow an outline. Or how many of the ancillary benefits you touched on without violating Michael Masterson’s Rule of One.

If your copy sounds too organized, revise it. Use cut and paste. Mix it up. And have fun with it. (And remember, your eighth grade English teacher isn’t watching!)

Write from your heart. Not from some highly-structured outline or plan that will feed the categorical imperative beast and kill your sale. And kill your effectiveness as a copywriter.

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 »


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Published: April 16, 2012

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