Sorry, Mr. Bumble, Not These

“The law is a ass,” says Mr. Bumble in Charles Dickens’ 19th-century novel Oliver Twist.

Okay, okay. Mr. Bumble, by his very name, didn’t know what we know – that the indefinite article preceding a word starting with “a” should be “an,” not “a.” But since his observation has spawned grins, nods, and piracy for 170 years, we have to admit he probably had something there.

The word “law” has power. That may be why it generates so many attacks. But not every law is a ass. The following 4 Great Laws of Marketing, for example, should be immune.

Too many recruits into our sacred world of marketing aren’t properly indoctrinated. Their instruction – ergo, their background – centers on technique, not results. With that background, they can’t compete with those who recognize the purpose of our sales messages: to cause the message recipient to perform a positive act as the direct result of exposure to the message.

How can we be sure that will happen? By observing the 4 Great Laws.

(Note, please: Although they’re simple, easy, and obvious, these laws give you no assurance that you will create a brilliant sales message. Rather, they give you assurance that, by observing them, you cannot create a rotten one.)

The first Great Law gives direction: Reach and influence, at the lowest logical cost, the most people who can and will respond.

Don’t mistake the meaning of this law. It isn’t an imperative for cheap production. Rather, it’s an imperative against overproduction. Technicians value production value. Genuine marketers value response.

Unlike the Madison Avenue mantra “Reach the most people,” we don’t want to reach the most people. We want to reach the most people who can and will respond to our sales message. Shooting blindly for high circulation, much of which is pure waste, isn’t for us.

The second Great Law is a caution for sanity.

In this Age of Skepticism, cleverness for the sake of cleverness may well be a marketing liability rather than an asset.

This law is the bane of young “creatives” who are so eager to show how bright they are that they lay their egos nakedly on the line.

Cleverness for the sake of selling something? Yes. Cleverness to show off? No.

Watch for the signs. A copywriter who wants you to admire the writer, not the message… an art director who wants you to admire the design, not the message. Both attitudes betray amateurism.

The third Great Law is an equation: E2 = 0.

No, this isn’t Albert Einstein’s secret formula for intergalactic travel. It means when you emphasize everything in your marketing copy, you emphasize nothing.

So if you have been writing and/or running headlines such as “32 reasons why you should buy now,” stop. You’re not isolating the key selling argument and subordinating the rest. You’re telling the reader, “What interests you is in here somewhere. I’m not sure what it is, so fish for it.” That’s unprofessional.

The fourth Great Law is the payoff: You tell the reader/viewer/listener what to do.

Curiously, although this law should be the easiest and the most obvious, it’s the most violated.

We see advertisement after advertisement, mailing after mailing, e-mail after e-mail, rhapsodizing about a product or service but never making the compelling point. Is the creative team afraid to sell? Is that why they fall back on descriptive poetry?

The whole point of salesmanship is lost if we don’t tell our targets what to do.

In combination…

These 4 Great Laws of Marketing are deceptive. If you’ve been nodding your head as you’ve been reading them… if you’ve been saying “Of course”… if you recognize how each one builds impact… then don’t forget the next step:

Be sure your own marketing messages are congruent with the 4 Great Laws. You may not always have a winner on your hands, but you’ll know you haven’t created a loser.

[Ed. Note: This article was adapted from AWAI’s e-zine The Golden Thread. Herschell Gordon Lewis – one of the best-known direct-response copywriters today – is a world-renowned speaker, AWAI Board Member, and author.

In his latest program, Creative Rules for the 21st Century, Herschell shows you how to be in command of every word of your copy… every nuance… and every reaction from your reader. Learn how you can boost the power of your copy.

For more marketing advice that can help you build your business, attend ETR’s 2008 Info-Marketing Bootcamp. Find out how ETR’s expert panel can help you make $1.2 million in 2009.]