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Tommy van Rheeden

#002 - How to sell a grapefruit

“I should just hire a copywriter to write my marketing stuff.”

I hear this frequently when talking to entrepreneurs and online educators.

Should you? Yes and no.

Yes, if your business is ready for expansion (ex. you’re making decent money, you have an audience and you have a solid product/service). In that case your business has enough of a lever to make a great return on hiring a (great) copywriter.

But if you’re just starting out or if you’re still developing your product and are not making much revenue, then I recommend DIY’ing it because of three reasons: 

One, it makes no financial sense to spend $10k on a copywriter if the audience isn’t there (although this is dependent on your own financial situation). 

Two, copywriting is the essential marketing skill. Copywriting = sales in writing. If you can learn the 80/20, you’d be better off for it. No matter your profession, whether you’re a rocket scientist or a farmer, life gets easier if you know how to sell, and understand when you’re being sold to.

And three, going through the process of writing your own copy is a great way to understand the needs of your customers better, which will in turn help you develop a better product. Yes it’ll be hard at first. But as is often the case, the hard part is where the value lies (this is in line with Paul Graham’s recommendation that startup founders should ‘do things that don’t scale’). 

Farmin’ grapefruits

So for today, here’s an example of a super successful print ad from the past. An ad that raked in millions of dollars in sales, and ran for years. 

It was written by Frank Lewis Schultz, a grapefruit farmer who undertook some copywriting training from one of the legends in the space, Joseph Sugarman. And it was one of the first print ads he ever wrote.

By the way, with Copy Teardowns I don’t want to get into the business of sharing and dissecting a bunch of classic old ads (there are enough people already doing that), but I did want to share this one in particular because it highlights an important belief I have when it comes to copywriting: With the right training and some mentoring/coaching along the way, most people will be able to write pretty damn good copy themselves. 

Space ads

Some background: Back in the day, pre-internet, when people still read magazines on the regular, advertisers could purchase ‘ad space’ in printed magazines and catalogues. These, often full-page, advertisements were called ‘space ads’. With most of them, the goal was to take readers from not knowing your product to filling in a coupon or calling a telephone number to place an order. All in the space of a single page.

Space ads are great to study because they are basically a complete sales page - and sometimes a complete sales funnel - crammed into a single page. And they often take the reader from A to Z, from Attention to Interest to Desire to Action (AIDA) or whatever basic copywriting formula you’re adhering too.

Here’s the beginning of today’s space ad, called A fluke of Nature. First read the ad, then the annotated version.

Do you notice how, by the end of this introduction, you’re drawn into the story? You want to read more. What are these magical, ruby red, non-soury fruits he speaks of? And where can I get them? 

Yes the language is a bit tacky at times - it was written in the 70s, to be read by affluent housewives with a penchant for daytime television - but it does the job. It draws you in.

If a grapefruit farmer with some basic training can totally transform his business just by writing one great ad, what can you do if you put your mind to it and learn some copy chops?

To start learning I suggest you write the ad out in longhand (there’s science behind this).

If you want to read the entire ad (recommended), check out Joseph Sugarman’s seminal book about direct-response copywriting (it goes by a few different names, my version is called The Adweek Copywriting Handbook). There’s also a lowres version of the original ad available here.

Alright, that's all for today. Let me know if you have some great copy you want to get reviewed. I'm on Twitter.

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Few are able to break down copywriting in such detail as Tommy. I learn something valuable every week.
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Founder, Bento