There’s over 2 billion reasons to read this sales letter.
The first reason? Well, it’s the best sales letter ever written (as measured by profit).
The rest of the reasons are in the form of cash — cold, hard profit.
Wall Street Journal’s copywriter wrote this direct mail sales letter that generated over $2 billion.
You’re about to see every element, broken down step by step, so you can understand precisely why this copy was so massively successful.
And then duplicate it.
It won’t surprise you that this “simple” 2-page sales letter contains over 8 pages of brilliant copywriting tactics.
I’ve compiled every method into this post with an infographic breaking down the anatomy of the $2 billion sales letter.
The letter begins like this (the original copy is attached below):
On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college. They were very much alike, these two young men. Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both – as young college graduates are – were filled with ambitious dreams for the future.
Recently, these two men returned to college for their 25th reunion.
They were still very much alike. Both were happily married. Both had three children. And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same Midwestern manufacturing company after graduation, and were still there.
But there was a difference. One of the men was manager of a small department of that company. The other was its president.
What Made The Difference
Have you ever wondered, as I have, what makes this kind of difference in people’s lives? It isn’t always a native intelligence or talent or dedication. It isn’t that one person wants success and the other doesn’t.
The difference lies in what each person knows and how he or she makes use of that knowledge.
And that is why I am writing to you and to people like you about The Wall Street Journal. For that is the whole purpose of The Journal: To give its readers knowledge – knowledge that they can use in business…
So what makes this simple introduction so powerful?
The Anatomy of the Best Sales Letter Ever Written
The sales letter employs 7 highly effective copywriting techniques:
Copywriting can never be impersonal. Talk to your readers like you’re talking to a friend. Email auto-responder technology wasn’t around back then, so WSJ’s copywriter couldn’t automatically generate the reader’s name, but he still gets as personal as he can, by starting with “Dear Reader.”
He’s not simply preaching to the masses.
Instead of “People often wonder what makes that kind of difference,” he says, “Have you ever wondered, as I have, what makes this kind of difference in people’s lives?” In this way he addresses the reader personally, and gets the reader to actively participate in the conversation.
Facts tell, stories sell.
Every copywriter knows it and you should too.
That’s not to say that facts don’t help. They do. But the facts are what the customer uses to justify the purchase.
The actual decision is driven by emotion, and stories are the best way to invoke the reader’s emotion, which in this case is triggered by using the “underdog strategy”, which we’ll go over soon.
The copywriter who wrote this $2 billion sales letter clearly understood his target consumer. His examples are men because the Wall Street Journal was read almost exclusively by men at the time. The men were both married. Both had three children. And both, worked at a Midwestern manufacturing company.
How much do you want to bet that this targeting isn’t a coincidence? By targeting his consumer, he was able to coax the reader into their shoes, and it just so happens that the shoes they fill walk into Wall Street Journal territory.
I want to stress this point before we get to imagery, because in copywriting, clarity is infinitely more important.
If your reader has to wade through meadows of flowery imagery, they’ll start to feel like they’re drowning in a sea of pointless information. So get to the point quickly and cut the fluff.
With the concept of clarity taking first priority, it’s good to use imagery, especially imagery that appeals to the senses (seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, feeling). The more you engage your reader’s senses, the more real the story, and the more effective the sales letter.
Our WSJ copywriter doesn’t say that it was a “beautiful late spring afternoon” just because he liked how it sounded. Those words create a picture and even an effective sales environment for the reader.
#6 The Underdog.
Everybody likes a good underdog story, and there’s a deep, primal instinct at the root of the reason why.
Every breathing person on God’s green earth has felt like an underdog at some point in their life.
And nearly every person alive feels like an underdog right now, in some capacity. Especially where money and prestige is concerned, and especially in the American market.
That’s why cold-reading psychics use the same technique in their readings:
“In a specific area of your life you feel like you’re alone, waging a war against a vast army. The battle has been uphill. You’re a David fighting a Goliath,” they may say, “but you’re poised for victory.”
If that applies to you, you’ll quickly understand the underdog technique. If not, my hat’s off to you, you glorious freak of nature.
Your USP (unique selling proposition) is essentially something your product offers that your competitor’s can’t.
So while everyone else is selling normal black or red boxing gloves, you’re selling gloves in 12 different colors.
Our copywriter begins to communicate the Wall Street Journal USP, by saying that it gives “its readers knowledge – knowledge that they can use in business…”
Now, the techniques our WSJ copywriter uses in his $2 billion sales letter are great.
However, without structure the emotional triggers, storytelling and other tools of the trade are pretty much useless.
The secret anatomy of this sales letter
It’s a lot like Einstein’s brain actually.
In 1955, Albert Einstein died in his sleep. They cut out his brain and dissected it 7 and a half hours later.
Why did they drill into the brain box of America’s A-bomb engineering sweetheart?
Because they wanted details — details buried deep in Albert’s colossal prefrontal lobe.
Dissection is the best way to figure out how things work, so that’s what we’re going to do.
I don’t have a frog for you to chop up, or even a brain — but for the copywriter, this 14-section dissection is even more valuable.
14-Step Anatomy of the Best Sales Letter Ever Written
The skeleton of the sales letter is as follows:
“It is not uncommon for a change in headlines to multiply returns from five to ten times over.” – Claude Hopkins
Would you ever go fishing without bait or lure?
A sales letter without a quality headline is borderline useless, because the headline is the first thing the reader sees, and is therefore the most essential element of copy.
It is the bait.
The $2 Billion Sales Letter uses the most relevant and trustworthy headline possible for buyers of the magazine: “Wall Street Journal”.
#2 Personal Intro.
“I don’t know the rules of grammar. If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language.” – David Ogilvy
There’s many methods to employ, but here we see what I consider the most effective of them all: being personal.
Sometimes authoritative copy works, but every great copywriter knows how to speak to the common man — that is; you, me, and everyone else who doesn’t fall into the 1% category of “elites” (daddy’s money inheritors).
It’s also worth mentioning the use of questions in this sales letter. Asking good questions (questions that are practically always answered with a “yes”) is a form of “yes copy”. The more you get your reader to say yes, the better your chances are of making the sale.
“The person who says ‘I would never read all that copy’ makes the mistake of thinking they are the customer. And they’re not.” – Dan Kennedy
Remember, Facts tell, stories sell.
#4 The Problem.
“To live is to war with trolls.” – Henrik Ibsen
There’s no such thing as a story without conflict, and similarly, there’s no such thing as a sales letter without a consumer problem to solve.
In this case, the problem can be communicated in a question — “What did <insert name of person more successful than you here> do differently?”
If you’re able to pinpoint your customer’s greatest problem, you’re halfway through the $2 Billion formula.
#5 The Solution.
“As soon as you open your mind to doing things differently, the doors of opportunity practically fly off their hinges.” – Jay Abraham
And here’s the second half.
The solution gives your target consumer the answer to his or her dilemma.
WSJ’s target consumer needed knowledge — knowledge that “the Journal” was more than happy to give.
“Advertising says to people, ‘Here’s what we’ve got. Here’s what it will do for you. Here’s how to get it.” – Leo Burnett
The Unique Selling Proposition? “Wall Street Journal is the country’s only national business daily.”
#7 Buying Benefits.
“Study your reader first, your product second.” – Robert Collier
The buying benefits are similar to the USP, but are less unique. Instead of USP’s, they’re simply SP’s.
#8 More Buying Benefits and More USP
“A copywriter should have ‘an understanding of people, an insight into them, a sympathy toward them.” – George Gribbin
#9 Call to Action
“The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.” – David Ogilvy
“Simply fill out the enclosed order card and mail it to…” A simple, clear call to action, followed by…
#10 Guarantee, the First
“A guarantee removes the risk of buying, making it easier to trust, and then buy.” – Me.
…the first guarantee, “Should the Journal not measure up to your expectations, you may cancel this trail arrangement…”
#11 Wrapping up the Story
“All the elements in an advertisement are primarily designed to do one thing and one thing only: get you to read the first sentence of the copy.” – Joe Sugarman
A good magazine article or blog post completes the story circle by connecting the intro with the conclusion.
The same can be applied effectively to the sales letter.
Here our copywriter completes the cycle of the story by repackaging the main benefit; valuable, life-changing knowledge that can only be found in one place — the Wall Street Journal.
#12 Guarantee, the Second
“Use a thesaurus. Go buy a REAL thesaurus. The top writers all have a dog eared thesaurus.” – John Carlton
The bottom bun in this guarantee sandwich is that “you will find the Journal always interesting, always reliable, always useful.”
#13 Personal Closing
“I have learned that any fool can write a bad ad, but that it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one.” – Leo Burnett
“Sincerely yours,” followed by the Vice President’s signature.
But we’re not finished.
No sales letter ends without a good old fashioned PS note!
#14 “PS I Love Your Extra Incentive to Buy”
“Show a bright side, the happy and attractive side, not the dark and uninviting side of things. Show beauty, not homeliness… Don’t show the wrinkles… Your customers know all about wrinkles.” – Claude Hopkins
Many people at this point are teetering on the edge of buying, and need only a rice-grain of a benefit to tip their judgement scale.
The entire purpose of the PS section is to give your reader one last extra nudge toward the finish line.
And there you have it.
Dissecting a brain may be interesting, but I have a feeling that the anatomy lesson above is more productive than any amateur brain surgery, Einstein’s or not.
If you’re into billion dollar sales letters anyway.