Read This Now, or the Puppy Gets It

Years ago, National Lampoon ran a cover showing an adorable – but worried – puppy with a revolver held to its head. The headline next to the image read something like, “If you don’t buy this magazine, the puppy gets it.”

Depending on how you feel about puppies, that qualifies as an “urgency” pitch. Of course, there are other ways to create urgency.

“Crazy Eddie” yelling on late-night TV about his loony low prices… fire sales and special-edition offers… expiring coupons.

The list goes on. And on. And on.

It’s no accident. Creating urgency is part and parcel of many a winning ad campaign. Maybe that’s why Linda, one of my Copywriter’s Roundtable subscribers, wrote me asking what on earth was going on.

The urgency plea, she says, is both everywhere and far too often just plain baloney. Sales end up lasting longer, last-minute prices seem to last forever, and so on. What gives?

I took a minute to write Linda a reply. Then figured it was good enough to share with you, too. See if you agree.

Yes and yes, I told her.

Linda’s right on two fronts.

First, lots of ads do whatever they can to pound the urgency button. Reason being, all marketing is more or less at war with the onslaught of “other” ads – each of which competes for space in the customer’s mind – and, more important, with the overwhelming forces of inertia.

The customer who reads an ad that encourages him to put it down for later consideration is generally a customer lost in the long run. Put more simply, those who don’t “act now” tend not to act at all.

For a brilliant explanation of how this works, beyond the obvious, check out the much-recommended book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Dr. Robert Cialdini. Especially what he has to say about the pulling power of scarcity. People really do want to snap up the “last” of anything, rather than miss out.

That said, the other thing Linda is right about is that when every single ad is saying you’re going to miss out, the message starts to get diluted. Everyone starts to sound the same. And in selling, sounding the same as everybody else is slow poison to your business.

When that happens, what happens next?

The clever sellers will come up with other ways to express urgency, other than “limited supply” pitches.

They’ll have deadlines before price increases, limited-time offers on extras thrown into a deal, special bonuses limited to the first few respondents, etc.

Among the group of info publishers I work closely with, one of the most powerful innovations of the last two years – literally worth hundreds of millions of dollars in sales (and counting) – has been to create online “countdown” offers with time deadlines tracked right down to the hour and minute on which the deal is available.

I keep thinking they’ll stop working. Yet they keep working, just the same.

But to really work, the limits need to be real. Even if they’re created just to increase the urgency, they have to be enforced. Otherwise, the customers get wise to the ruse. Not only does the seller sacrifice trust in his claims, he also sacrifices the power of the technique.

As a marketer, I would second-guess those businesses that don’t make good on their “last chance” offers. And not only for the reasons cited above.

For instance, I know that with the marketers I work with, legal teams actually scan the offers and make sure that if there’s a deadline mentioned, the offer gets pulled the minute the deadline passes.

And if there’s a “limited low price” offered, the legal eagles make sure it never gets offered again. Price hikes are made to happen. Limited bonuses get retired according to the restrictions printed on the reply card.

This keeps the marketers honest.

But it also preserves the power of the technique for the rest of us, when we want to try it elsewhere to the same audience.

Long story short…

As a consumer, you – like Linda – are right to question the “urgency” pitch. But both good and bad marketers use it. And, likely, will use it forever.

Likewise, if you find yourself on the marketing side of the fence, it’s something you don’t want to rule out too quickly.

[Ed. Note: Copywriting is just one skill you can master to help your business grow. Learn the ins and outs of copywriting, marketing, search engine optimization, and more from some of the best experts in the business (including John Forde, Bob Bly, and Charlie Byrne) with a membership in ETR’s Internet Money Club. Learn the details here.

And to get John’s wisdom and insights into copywriting (and much more), sign up for his free e-letter, Copywriter’s Roundtable, at Or send an e-mail to Get a free report about 15 deadly copy mistakes and how to avoid them when you sign up today.]

John Forde's 15-year career as a top copywriter started as an understudy of Bill Bonner and Michael Masterson. Since then, John has written countless winning controls, has generated well over $30 million in sales, and has successfully launched dozens of products. He's also worked three years as a financial journalist and has written books on wealth building and health, as well as more than 250 articles on copywriting for his popular ezine, The Copywriter's Roundtable. John has taught copywriting in private seminars and conferences in Paris, London, Bonn, Chicago, Buenos Aires, Baltimore, and Warsaw. He currently lives and works from Paris, France.