2 videos about Joe Sugarman's copywriting

15 replies
I've been a fan of Joe Sugarman's stuff since I was a kid.


I ran across a mother-lode of Sugarman ads recently and I made
a video to share some insights. I had to split it into two
videos because it ran over 10 minutes.

Maybe you learn something here today. Maybe you don't.


#copywriting #joe #sugarman #videos
  • Profile picture of the author Kevin Lam
    Thanks, Loren, awesome stuff. You look younger in the video than you do in your picture. Funny.
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  • Profile picture of the author Loren Woirhaye
    I'm a spry 37 - aside from the grey hair I've been told I
    look a lot younger. I practice yoga and eat a cleaner
    diet than most people - that has a lot to do with it.
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  • Profile picture of the author BrianMcLeod
    Hey that was fun, Loren.

    I love Joe Sugarman and his advertorials too. I don't know what it is, but I get such a visceral thrill out of older ads that I just don't get from modern advertising, at least not very often.

    Dude, you have an encyclopedic knowledge about copywriting books and authors. Get a nice 3 point light rig and make a bunch of these, man. They're fun and really a great source of information for those interested in learning about copywriting!


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  • Profile picture of the author garyv
    Wow - Great stuff!

    I'm going to have to break open some of my old magazines now. Thanks for the insight.
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  • Profile picture of the author Hesster
    Thanks for the heads up. I'm lucky enough to live near a library that keeps all their old periodicals in hardbound volumes. They've got stuff going all the way back to the 1920s. I'll have to have a look and see if they have this magazine.

    Also, the Advertising Secrets of the Written word is almost identical to The Adweek Copywriting Handbook, which is still in print. I saw a copy last time I was in Barnes & Noble.
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    • Profile picture of the author Mark McClure
      Thanks for posting these videos.

      Funny thing about the outdoor smoking ads.
      I'm not a smoker and don't like being around it in bars or restaurants (still common in Japan).

      But I do like smelling the slight whiff of someone's cigarette smoke when I'm relaxing in the park or at the seaside. Passive advertorial influence? I do remember many of those ads... particularly the Marlboro Man one. I wanted to lasso me a steer just watching that 50ft guy on some giant billboard.

      As for how the target market's aspirations changes... and also how the advertisers react to that and to legislation.

      Japan Tobacco are a mega-corp and when I first came here in the early 90s I remember seeing their smoking ads on TV - certainly, in mags.

      However, even though it seems to me that Japan is still a smoker's paradise, things are slowly changing but just not as drastically and quickly as in some Western countries.

      Japan Tobacco are now JT (they have many non-tobacco interests) and got some attention here with a series of "Smokers polite" messages a while back. Notice how green they are now.

      Part 3 of Japan Tobacco's 'Smoking Manners for Adults' Series of Ads

      If I recall correctly JT had these on TV too (where cigarette ads are now banned) because they never once mentioned their product or showed anyone smoking it.
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  • Profile picture of the author Johnny12345
    Hey, Loren -- cool videos. Part 2, especially, hammers home some great points. It's extremely important to have (as Dan Kennedy says) a "message to market match."

    The cigarette ads are fascinating. It's amazing to see companies trying to convince people that their poison tastes better than their competitor's poison.

    But the important thing about the cigarette ads is that they sell the dream -- not the product. It's all image advertising. They attempt to tap into the prospect's desires and ulterior motives.

    I'm a fan of Sugarman, as well. However, I like Drew Kaplan's stuff even better. I think Kaplan incorporates more fun and adventure into his copy. Whenever a new DAK catalog would arrive, I was mesmerized by it.

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  • Profile picture of the author Loren Woirhaye
    I got the DAK catalogs too. I was enthralled by them. Kaplan
    has some bad writing habits (overuse and inappropriate use of
    superlatives like "explosive") but the overall effect, if you are
    in the target group, was intoxicating.

    Go after pain... or lunatic passion. Those are the two richest
    sources of extreme interest levels. Kaplan gave permission to
    his readers to identify themselves as "audiophiles" - and then
    he gave them ongoing options to acquire the trappings of their
    new chosen identity. It's incredibly clever positioning, and
    sensitive too.

    Today's Levenger catalog is in a similar mode, though it's
    considerably more boring (to me) than the JS&A or DAK stuff.
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  • Profile picture of the author Bruce NewMedia
    Loren, I LOVE these videos!!!

    You did a great job of showing the importance of CONTEXT in so many of these ads.

    Sugarman, imo, is pure genius.

    Living in Chicago, I got into his stuff decades ago and drove up to Northbrook, IL to visit his sales office at the time. ..Naively, I was hoping to catch the big guy in his office and shake his hand. :-) After badgering the receptionist for 10 minutes, she finally explained he was in Hawaii and .."no, I couldn't see him, ...even for a minute!..."
    (he was selling Blublockers by this time and was on everybody's radar.)

    I would just add to the excellent stuff you shared on the videos, that Sugarman's FAILURES were more instructive than his successes, imo. I remember once he was running(testing) an full page ad for a day trading system. He actually had one of the first trading "robots" and was running it in his catalog I believe. It was later pulled because it stopped working. But the way he presented it was brilliant!

    I can still remember those ads you referred to in the Pop Mechanics mags.

    That one concept (context) helped me over the years in placing large (expensive) display ads in national mags. CONTEXT was so important. So many ad guys would place ads without studying what was already there, and who the audience was. For example Thalheimer did not run in the same mags as he was appealing to a somewhat different audience....although it was still new consumer technology.
    I think i have all his books, including an old one, "Success Forces".

    To me he is a rebel, independent and unafraid when it comes to direct marketing.
    Bruce Ruby
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  • Profile picture of the author Loren Woirhaye
    Thanks for the kind feedback Bruce.

    Sugarman really challenged the notion that your headline had
    to have a benefit in it or even be a clause that made sense.
    For instance "Pickle Power" as a headline.

    Can such short headlines work today, or on the internet?

    I honestly don't know - I think sometimes they can - particularly
    when marketing to your "house list".

    He proved that you could stop the reader in a number of
    powerful ways and had the opportunity to test in a volatile,
    changing, competitive market much like our own technology
    market of today... and the market for info-products as well.

    Sugarman was an innovator in a lot of ways, because, I think,
    he knew his customers well (he was a gadget-nut, like them),
    he trusted his gut, and he was willing to take significant risks
    to seize an emerging opportunity.

    I think he may have exited the the "Space Age Products"
    niche because it was getting both super-competitive and
    probably stressful. The blue-blockers were actually more
    of a Thalheimer type product... I think Joe learned a lot from
    The Sharper Image, which ultimately tanked itself - perhaps
    in part due to irrelevancy caused by the internet usurping
    the catalog as the bearer of good news to hi-tech
    luxury-product buyers.
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  • Profile picture of the author CDarklock
    The thing that really comes across in these videos is that you honestly love these old ads and the context around them. The passion for what you do is almost leaking out of the screen. It's awesome, in this plastic age, seeing someone honestly care about what they do.
    "The Golden Town is the Golden Town no longer. They have sold their pillars for brass and their temples for money, they have made coins out of their golden doors. It is become a dark town full of trouble, there is no ease in its streets, beauty has left it and the old songs are gone." - Lord Dunsany, The Messengers
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  • Profile picture of the author Hesster
    I spent an afternoon at the library looking through a few of the issues they had of Mecanix Illustrated from the late 70s, and it was fascinating to compare the JS&A ads with the other long copy ads from other marketers selling the same types of products. You could really see what the differences were.

    Is it just me, or does there seem to be a lot less long copy in magazines for non-health related products than there used to be? Nowadays when you flip through the same types of magazine, pretty much the only long copy you see is for stuff like penis enlargement cream or get rich quick financial schemes.
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  • Profile picture of the author Loren Woirhaye
    Kudos to you for going out and reading the magazines. Cool, aren't they?

    I think the rise of the internet and bix-box electronics retailers made
    it difficult for mail-order gadget companies to stay viable. DAK
    went under (though it's come back as a web enterprise), The
    Sharper Image, even though it had moved towards a retail store
    model, went under a couple of years ago.

    Now it's so easy for consumers to research products on their
    own... or turn to trusted sources like Consumer Reports.

    Sugarman, Kaplan and Thalheimer were launching whole
    product categories all the time in their catalogs. Now
    electronic toys are so ubiquitous they no longer have the
    gadget-freak exclusivity cachet they once had... though there
    are still guys that gotta have the newest ultra-lite macbook
    or Iphone.

    Observe the trend in direct mail towards "magalogs" (invented
    by Gary Bencivenga I think). I've gotten a few in the mail that
    were big and 100-pages long... and really just selling body-building
    supplements but had so much information in them you would have
    a hard time throwing them away if you liked muscle stuff.

    To some extent the whole marketplace has moved away from long-copy
    interruptive advertising towards shorter-copy lead-generation ads.
    That's a broad assertion so let me say that long-copy works and
    generally sells better than short. Big full-page print ads are expensive
    to run and therefor risky. The new media like the internet allows
    us to not only "incrementalize" advertising expenses and the way
    we reach-out to customers, it also allows us to get leads instead
    of go for the sale right away, which entails less risk and greater
    feelings of safety for the customer.

    Where in the day Joe would run these full-page ads (he was
    creating a brand at the same time and very aware of that) today
    he might run an ad inviting you to his website or to request his
    catalog rather than buy right now. Joe's customers were among
    the first to get personal computers and among the first to embrace
    the internet - so I think he would look where he could get more
    bang for his buck and focus on driving traffic to a website instead
    of using the quite-costly print media he used in the 1970s and
    1980s. He did ultimately follow the money into infomercials, and
    while the Blu-blockers are the famous ones I think he did a lot of
    other of the sorts of things that sell well in that format. I haven't
    bought his book on his infomercial days yet so I don't know the
    story myself.
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  • Profile picture of the author Raydal
    Great presentation Loren. There are few copywriters I know who
    share my passion for the THEORY of copywriting. I can honestly
    say that I see that same passion in you.

    That's why I teach the skill. I love it!

    -Ray Edwards
    The most powerful and concentrated copywriting training online today bar none! Autoresponder Writing Email SECRETS
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