Before I show you how, let’s talk about why…
Why the $@&$ would you want to read the National Enquirer?
If you’re a student of direct-response advertising, the answer should be obvious. If you’re not, then let me ask you one question: What publication do you think has the highest paid writers?
Late copywriting legend Gary Halbert posed this question to his readers and his answer was surprising.
Answer: the National Enquirer. Yep, it’s true. And for good reason. You see, the writers for the Enquirer are among the best anywhere on earth. I’m not being sarcastic. They really are. If you doubt that, here’s something for you to consider…
More People Read Any Single Issue Of The Enquirer Than Have Read The Bible Since It Was First Printed!
Enquirer articles are superbly written. They are clear, concise, crisp and, all in all, the most easily understood articles of any publication.
That last point is important. “They are… the most easily understood articles of any publication.”
As a young go-getter trying to prove yourself in a competitive world, everything you do needs to be easily understood.
When you’re in a meeting and your boss asks you for new product ideas, you need to be able to clearly, concisely, and crisply communicate your thoughts.
When you’re asking an influencer to meet for coffee and an information interview, your email or call needs to clearly state why you want to meet with this person specifically and how this meeting will benefit the person you’re trying to meet.
Studying junk magazines like the Enquirer doesn’t seem like an obvious way to improve your communication skills, but that’s the point. I’m giving you unconventional tools to succeed.
Now that you know why you’re reading the Enquirer, let’s dive into how.
Full disclosure: I lifted this article idea from a YouTube video David Garfinkel published 6 years ago. While Garfinkel shares some good advice in his video, which I’ll reference throughout this article, I found it was lacking thoroughness and structure, hence why I’ve readapted the original idea.
How to Read the National Enquirer
STEP 0: Leave Your Logic at the Door
What makes the National Enquirer or any tabloid, for that matter, so compelling to read is the fact that the headlines, photos, colors, fonts, layout are all engineered to engage your emotions.
For this exercise to work, you must leave behind all logical reasoning and reservations you have with the absurdity of the stories and headlines.
You must fully commit to letting your emotional brain takeover. This, of course, won’t be hard since the Enquirer has spent A LOT of money to ensure you’ll do exactly that. But if you find yourself thinking, “this is crazy!” acknowledge that, yes, what you’re reading is probably crazy. Again, remember that millions were spent on testing these crazy stories with the goal of making multiple millions.
STEP 1: Scan the Money Shot
The first thing you do before you even pick up a copy of the National Enquirer is scan the cover. When you’re in line at the grocery store there’s usually a minimum 5-6 publications competing for your attention — all with equally compelling covers.
We know that the Enquirer has consistently beat all of its competition for years. A big reason why is its cover — the photos, the headlines, the layout overall is designed to grab your attention.
Here’s a photo of the September 12, 2016 issue I picked up from a local newsstand.
Scan the cover and notice where your gaze naturally goes.
The first thing I noticed when I picked up this issue was the “Now” photo of Michelle Obama. The photo is placed at the center, slightly to the right. My eyes are naturally drawn toward it. There are probably many explanations why, the center of the page has itself a natural gravitational pull, but the photo as well is consistent with this analogy (sorry, Michelle Obama).
The “JonBenet” headline at the top in bright yellow seems like it would be the first thing you notice, and maybe it was, but speaking for myself and maybe others close to my age, the JonBenet Ramsey case was way before our time, so there is far less significance in the “chilling new DNA clue.”
The next thing you want to do is read the headlines and subheads.
REVEALED: Life or death drama behind EXPLODING waistline!
MARRIAGE CRISIS: Binge eating over OUT-OF-CONTROL MALIA!
The words “revealed,” “exploding,” “crisis,” even “life or death,” all make this story seem more severe than it probably is.
There’s also curiosity built into the second subhead: “marriage crisis.” Is Barack thinking of leaving Michelle? The wheels start turning…
The top right and bottom left corners of the cover have circular photos that tie into the headlines, adding an additional emotional punch. From a design perspective, these are nicely laid out, creating an aesthetically pleasing balance on the cover.
Another thing to note is the “Now” photo of Michelle has no background other than a fading blue and white color gradient. This was done on purpose I imagine so the reader has no realistic point of reference. She’s not standing next to any other people where the photo was taken. The only reference we have is a shrunken “before” photo of Michelle walking down a narrow staircase off a plane, presumably. This optical illusion makes the “Now” photo even less flattering, and thus more compelling.
STEP 2: Read the Articles!
Once you’ve finished dissecting the cover, it’s time to start reading the articles.
Like you did in step one, you’ll want to spend time analyzing the headlines and sub headlines.
These will give you tons of ideas for writing more compelling headlines for your own articles — you’ll see ways you can adapt the headlines into attention-grabbing subject lines for emails you write, and if you’re so inclined, you can even build an index of emotionally-driven words for future reference.
But don’t get too caught up in the nitty gritty of analyzing every single word here.
Remember, the goal is to learn how to speak and write in a way that people will understand you.
David Garfinkel says:
The Enquirer … finds the human drama in the most inane stories, and yet this is what we do with most of our lives. This is what the tight-lipped, well-coiffed people in first class do on the airplane, this is what women do in the salon, this is what men do in the locker room at the gym. The Enquirer shows you how to do it in print better than anything else.
So spend a good deal of time reading and rereading the articles.
The first read-through should be about enjoying (or trying to enjoy) the story — put yourself in the mindset of someone buying the Enquirer for entertainment purposes.
The second read-through should be about analysis. Notice how articles begin and end. Most sentences flow into the next with ease. Each paragraph ends leaving the reader wanting more.
One thing you’ll notice is the Enquirer uses a lot of adjectives to set the tone.
For example, here are the first two paragraphs of the cover story about Michelle Obama:
“STRESSED out Michelle Obama went on a wild food binge and packed on a massive 95 pounds triggering a shocking marriage crisis!
“Fed up with her out-of-control appetite and exploding waistline, Michelle’s disgusted husband Barack has issued a stern executive order: Diet now or we’re getting a divorce, a White House insider told The National Enquirer!”
In these two paragraphs alone almost every second word carries strong connotations.
- Packed on
- Fed up
- Executive order
STEP 3: Take a 10,000-Foot View of the Articles
After you’ve finished reading and rereading the articles, you’ll want to give your mind a break from the junk diet and take a step back. I suggest scanning the layout of the articles so you can see how the Enquirer effectively uses space.
The Enquirer is extremely efficient and does a great job of packing a lot of content into each page, without pages feeling crammed or overwhelming readers.
When you’re scanning the layout notice:
- The colors and contrast
- The highlighted headlines and sub heads
- The sub heads with solid block backgrounds
- The mix of different shaped photos (circular and rectangular)
- The arrows and broken lines drawing attention to specific images
- The way columns are positioned
- The photos chosen and the actions of the subjects captured in the photos
STEP 4: Embrace Your Inner Gossip Girl, XOXO
The last step is to make this process a part of your weekly study routine.
Most of the world’s top copywriters and direct-response marketers shamelessly have subscriptions to junk magazines and tabloids like the National Enquirer and Cosmopolitan.
David Garfinkel says, “Next time you’re in the grocery store, don’t feel embarrassed like most people are when they see the Enquirer, buy it!”
The one thing I’ll say before you go buy a subscription to the Enquirer is keep in mind the context of the audience you’re trying to connect and communicate with.
Another copywriting legend, Bob Bly, mentioned this in an old article where he asked his readers if everyone should read the National Enquirer? Bly confessed:
“I don’t spend a lot of time reading the National Enquirer — even though they once did a 2-page feature article about me (but that’s another story). I mean, one of my specialties is writing DM copy to sell enterprise software … and I don’t think many of my readers (IT professionals) are reading the Enquirer. I also write a lot of copy to sell high-end trading services, courses, and systems … and I am not sure how many traders turn to the Enquirer. So instead I read the Wall Street Journal.”
This is a valid point. But even if your clients are highfalutin, they’re still human. They still get the same joys out of gossiping with their highfalutin friends. The subject matter might be different, less reality TV and more “did you hear about Jim’s startup that got funding,” but the principles are the same.
So go ahead, pick up a copy of the National Enquirer. You know you want to… and now you have a legitimate business excuse for reading.
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