What Hugh Downs Can Tell You About Successful Copywriting

I had a quiet, somewhat lonesome, post-Christmas period. But, it bore fruit for me.

Linda traveled five hours south to help with her mother’s care after she’d cracked her hip bone. This week by myself gave me lots of time for work and … not play.

Periods like these recall college finals. At times like these, I straighten and clean. So, my office now is neater than it’s been in years.

And, after several years of promising I’d get to it, my physical swipe files are finally thinned out and sorted. I found duplicates, way out-of-date samples, and some that simply weren’t worth hanging onto.

(And, just so you know, I don’t save only the good swipes. I also save examples of poor promos for my Circle of Success teaching. I guess these could be called “non-swipes,” but you can learn a lot from these dogs by figuring out what went wrong.)

One promo I found really struck me, though. It’s so good, I had to share it with you.

The power of a trusted face

This alternative-health promotion is a full-color, folio-sized magalog from Bottomline Books. You may have gotten it, too. If so, pull it out of your swipe files. Take a good look at the front and back covers. They exemplify great headlines.

The two most prominent items on the front cover are a large photo of Hugh Downs and a giant headline yelling, “AS HAILED ON TV.” These two items – a photo of a celebrity and a prominent reference to television – provide almost instant credibility.

Why Hugh Downs? He’s not a doctor. But, he has more credibility with old folks like me than many doctors do. We’ve spent years with his warm, caring personality, so we trust him. Using Hugh Downs as the spokesman exemplifies the power of celebrity endorsements … when done right.

Harnessing curiosity to keep you reading

The copywriter then appeals to the reader’s curiosity, as well as continuing to establish credibility with this deck copy:

“Millions watched in awe as legendary newscaster Hugh Downs introduced doctor after world-acclaimed doctor – the greatest team in medical history! Working without compensation on a monumental, medical super project, these doctors just unveiled hundreds of new breakthroughs …”

“Doctor after world-acclaimed doctor” … “greatest team in medical history.” Once again, high on the credibility scale. But, these phrases also rouse interest. What have they been working on? How does it affect me?

Then, these doctors are “working without compensation.” These doctors aren’t out for the quick buck. They’re working to help humanity. What have they been doing? It’s gotta be good news for me.

Well, they’ve worked on a “monumental, medical super project” that’s produced “hundreds of new breakthroughs.” These breakthroughs are so important and have such huge impact on people’s lives and health that some researchers …


Two Master Secrets of a strong, successful lead are “get right to the point” and “give a taste of the story.” “Story” here means what the copywriter wants to tell you about the promise and benefits of the product. Two pieces of front cover copy do just that.

Right under a picture of a TV screen showing Hugh Downs and another man is this copy:

“On this national TV program, Hugh Downs and medical editor Arthur P. Johnson documented just some of the team’s more than 2,617 life-changing breakthroughs.”

Now we’re getting right to the point with a good taste of the story. Spelling out 2,617 breakthroughs tells you there’s bound to be something to help you in your life. And, these words from Hugh Downs (written by the copywriter with Downs’ approval) reinforce that belief:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been reporting on health for over 50 years. I’ve examined these publications and the credentials of the doctors who contributed to them. The new information contained within these covers is extraordinary. I do believe it will improve your life and could well save your life.” – Hugh Downs

Then, the back cover (probably the first thing most prospects see) fills out the appeal to curiosity, credibility, and getting right to the point:

You saw these breakthroughs on TV. Now, share them with your loved ones.


wins Nobel Prize for team member … Page 4, inside.


by adding this miracle food to your diet … Page 10


as easily as switching off a light?! … Page 14


for about 5 cents! … Page 15

This promo is chock full of compelling examples of how to write a promo of this type. You’ll seldom see anything as good except from Bottomline, Boardroom, Phillips, Agora, and AWAI.

Building on the success of masters

Now, you might not have the luck to have this promo in your swipe files. But, if you do, study it closely.

Which brings me to an essential “secret” of being a successful copywriter.

Do not waste your time trying to come up with innovative approaches to writing copy. Don’t try (excuse the cliché) “to reinvent the wheel.”

Instead, rely on what’s worked in the past. Use your swipe files of physical and online promos to build your success on the successes of master copywriters. Copywriters such as the one who wrote this Bottomline promo.

I’d love to hear what you think about this Bottomline promo and about how you use swipe files.

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Published: January 11, 2016

16 Responses to “What Hugh Downs Can Tell You About Successful Copywriting”

  1. Hello Will, I did not get a chance to read the Bottomline books . I have to find them.
    1/ My swipe files got thinner too.I had three days off from the New Year so I cleaned very well.
    2/I still have a hard time to harness the curiosity so the readers keep reading my content.
    3/I still need to build on on sucess of the masters.
    By the way,did you get my email?
    I did send to AWAI and ask them to forward it to you before Christmas.
    Thank you. Happy New Year to you.


  2. Hi Will, Bottom line is great! However, my swipe file is not. I started saving when I joined AWAI in Oct, but I only receive 1-3 'bare bones' credit card offers a week, or a couple business offers. They are nothing like the AWAI promos, and nothing I want to emulate. I have signed up for email newsletters, but I still don't receive any direct response mail, except from AWAI, Int Liv, & Great Escape. How vital is a swipe file? Any suggestions to increase mail? I'm interested in the natural/alternative health niche. Thanks.


    I am so grateful for your prompt reply to my comments.I make a big difference to me.
    Can you be my COACH?
    I call AWAI and request to forward my 2 emails to you again.
    In case my emails won't get to you .Here is my email jennieth12 at gmail dot com Thank you and God Bless jennie


  4. If this is what copywriting "success" looks like, I'd rather be more innovatively bent. Very tacky.

    Guest (Chris Morris)

  5. Hi Will, I find your emails extremely useful and pertinent and I thank you again.

    You ask if we found an interesting book … this one's about marketing:

    SELLING THE INVISIBLE by Harry Beckwith.

    I've only just started reading it, but it's got my full attention !

    Happy New Year while it's still new!

    Nicole T Bergstrom

  6. I would like an explanation of the term "swipe files" I'm not familiar with this. Thanks.


  7. Great Info here.
    Swipe files = Building blocks, time tested models of what works best based on thousands of split tests. So get over this part Creativity or Innovative part = The decoration with wordings, cliches and the story Now for those hung up on carving the next best method to move masses ; Good Luck

    Guest (Irfan)

  8. Thanks for the info! As for swipe files seeming 'tacky', think of a songwriter who listens to other musicians to gain inspiration and ideas. Not stealing their songs, but harnessing technique and style into their own personal products. Very wise.

    Guest (Kevin Ingram)

  9. Thanks for the info! As for swipe files seeming 'tacky', think of a songwriter who listens to other musicians to gain inspiration and ideas. Not stealing their songs, but harnessing technique and style into their own personal products. Very wise.

    Kevin Ingram

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