Exactly seven years ago, I was holed up in a military barracks in the far flung Andean city of San Cristóbal, Venezuela.
To this day, whether you’re in downtown Caracas or an Andean village, Venezuela is not the place you want to walk around the streets wearing a t-shirt with the American flag…unless you’ve got a giant chip on your shoulder.
And in those days, our cuddly President of the time, “Dubya,” had just botched a coup attempt against the colorful, Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez.
No, I wasn’t engaged in some risky “import-export” operation, though I can imagine professions less conducive to interned life than copywriting. 🙂
So, what was I doing there?
My wife was playing in the Pan-American Chess Championship which was hosted in an active military barracks, not far from Venezuela’s never boring border with Colombia.
I love traveling and spent days combing through San Cristóbal, meeting and talking to people, and getting a feel for what life was like in a remote place I’d likely never travel to without a reason.
Gratefully, my wife and I became friends with a restaurateur and businessman named, Nelson, who salvaged what would have been a depressing stay by inviting us into his life, taking us for excursions and even hosting us in his own gated villa after my wife’s chess tournament ended.
I’ve experienced this kind of warmth and hospitality in many places in Latin America, despite the surface politics of the moment.
But while my wife was wrapped up in all day chess matches, life in San Cristóbal was feeling like life in exile.
After a few days of walking around and choking on the black trails of car exhaust and the gray mist from mosquito fumigation trucks, I headed back to our spartan room in the Círculo Militar.
Bored to tears and fed up with Venezuelan television, I decided it was time to get some work done, so I fired up my laptop.
Problem was, I had no defined project to work on…just downtime.
So, I decided to write an ad based on a story.
The headline of the ad was:
Millionaire Marketing Student VS. Drug Dealer
How did I come up with something so fanciful?
Was it pure fiction?
Living in Downtown New York for close to fifteen years, I observed countless entrepreneurs selling their wares outside of clubs and bars on the weekends.
Some of them even attended a well known school and their weekend businesses helped fund their expensive bar tabs…mandatory to a good college education, nowadays.
One evening while taking one of my usual walks and observing the city night life, I struck up a conversation with a cocky, well dressed kid who was a student there.
I challenged him on his choice of entrepreneurism.
Initially, I tried not to be judgmental but I wound up calling him a moron, while pointing out a handful of ways to launch legal (and far more profitable) start-ups.
That conversation stuck in my mind.
Here was this kid whose parents were footing a very expensive tuition, while he risked it all.
Though he mentioned he could net a thousand dollars on a good night, it seemed clear he was in it for the defiant thrill as much as he was for the money.
Shortly after this episode, I came across an interesting contrast: a self-proclaimed student of (famous marketing consultant’s name withheld), who reported making millions by selling a business opportunity teaching small-biz owners how to set up profitable referral rewards programs.
Now, weeks later, I found myself in a dimly lit room in a Venezuelan military barracks.
But I had a headline!
Millionaire Marketing Student VS. Drug Dealer!
From there, the ad wrote itself in the better portion of a day.
When I got home to the States a week later, I went ahead and developed the product based on my own experience as a small business consultant in post 9/11 Lower Manhattan. (A story for another time!)
Now, between you me and the city sidewalk — the product was decent — not great but decent.
And it sold like crazy!
Once prospects took in that headline, they were hooked as badly as the cocky, college kid’s customers on a Saturday night.
I’ve always been a big fan of the power of story telling in copy.
As long as the story is REAL and you can find the right bridge to build to your product, you’d be astonished at how much you can sell with a simple story.
And the good news is you don’t need to write copy like Clayton Makepeace to have an occasional hit that moves a warehouse full of products.
Speaking of Clayton Makepeace, if you want even MORE examples of stories that sold BILLIONS, then head on over for the latest issue of The Total Package, where I’ll share some good ones!
And while you’re over at The Total Package, please leave a comment.
Tell Clayton and his gang anything — even that Lawrence should be interned in a South American stockade. It does wonders for my copy.
Axl Midas says
Excellent Lawrence! I’m currently putting together my first product, (one which I am going to make sure is ‘over delivered’). I’ve been checking out a lot of stuff from the late great Gary Halbert, and you’re definitely correct about the story-telling!
Scott Lovingood says
People love to be entertained. When you combine the power of entertaining them and creating intrigue you can do wonderful things with copy.
I think the thrill also applies to a lot of online entrepreneurs as well. They are always looking for the next shot in the arm easy system. Just give me a fix and let me enjoy life with no work involved.
The Total Package is an awesome place to get a copy education.