Halbert vs. Schwartz - Round 1 - Fight!

by dtendrich 11 replies
Hey there,

In the vast spectrum of amazingly gifted and honed copywriters, are two who sit in opposition on a certain subject:

Creativity.

Eugene Schwartz emphasizes creativity in every book, recording, interview he's ever done on copywriting (or all that I've come across), even stating in his book, Breakthrough Copywriting:

Copywriters must have verbal creativity to "name the still-undefined... capture a feeling, a hope, a desire, a fear in words... focus emotion and give it a goal."

While Gary Halbert said in one of his seminars:

(I'm paraphrasing from memory) "If I could do one thing today, it would be to squash the creativity of every individual in this room. I'm guessing you don't want to be creative, but that you want to be rich."

What's your take on this? Where do you sit in this spectrum?

Looking forward to your thoughts,
David
#copywriting #fight #halbert #round #schwartz
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  • Profile picture of the author Scott Murdaugh
    I'm going to take the easy road here and say I agree with both of them.

    Schwartz is generally talking about coming up with your hook, your big idea, the direction you want to take an ad... All of these things take creativity, and all of them can have a dramatic effect on the success/failure of your copy.

    We're writers, creativity... Making it "work" is a must. When to tell the story, what to tell it about, when to introduce certain emotional triggers, all of that takes an extremely creative thought process.

    I think I've listened to the Halbert seminar you're talking about... And if I remember, he's really talking about not "reinventing the wheel"... (correct me if I'm wrong.)

    So instead of trying to be "creative" or "tricky", just use what's been proven to work in the past. Take a look at competitors and see what they're using for their successful ads...

    But you still have to take that tried and true structure, and your swipe file of winning ads, and come up with a new USP, a new big idea, and take all of those elements and blend them together to create something entirely brand new...

    And at the end of the day, it's takes creativity... I think Schwartz is on the money and Halbert was really trying to say "don't be too creative", as in agitate the emotions that have made money in the past. Follow the formulas that have made money in the past. Take your buyers list and sell them a similar product in a similar format that's made money in the past.

    That's how I see it.

    -Scott
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  • Profile picture of the author CDarklock
    Take a closer look at what Schwartz said.

    Copywriters must have verbal creativity to "name the still-undefined... capture a feeling, a hope, a desire, a fear in words... focus emotion and give it a goal."

    This is not "creativity" in the normal sense. Nothing is being created. It's a different angle on what is already there.

    Same with Halbert: his point is not that you should not create, but that you should not create from ego. Too many people try to invent their own approach, when what the client really wants - and will pay to get - is the tried-and-true methods that have always performed, and will always perform, because for all your creativity and brilliance... the human brain has really not changed much in the past few centuries.

    What appears to be creativity in a well-written sales letter is not creative at all. It's productive to view it as a sport; like basketball, there are only so many ways you might get the ball into the hoop from the court, and pretty much all of them are already known... have been tried... have been tested... and certain methods are proven to work better than others. A good coach doesn't try to invent some new way of getting the ball in the basket, but simply studies and understands how the ball gets into the basket - and matches his approach to the skills of his players.

    There is creativity in that, to be sure. You may see a creative way to get your players to use a technique, but you didn't create the players and you didn't create the technique. The creativity you employ is limited, and happens within very specific boundaries.
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    • Profile picture of the author dtendrich
      Hey CDarklock,

      I like what you said - and I think so, too. It's more about "connecting" than it is "creating." Sort of like a metaphor - the two things you compare already existed, you're just drawing similarities between them that shed a new light on the significance of each. And by doing that, you transform those objects into something new - you "re-create" them, in a sense. I think the best copy is copy that transforms our view of a product or service into something grand, something we need, something we truly desire, something carefully threaded into our emotions and our dreams. Caples' "They laughed when I sat down at the piano" ad keeps coming to mind.

      Paul,

      Halbert was a creative genius -- I absolutely agree with you there. My take on his preachings against creativity is that he realized that not everyone could direct their creativity as laser-focused as he and a few others could (like what you were saying). So to be safe he told them to just use what works, and not what your creativity tells you. And I think so, too - Superbowl ad money would be better directed at charity or something productive lol. But it's really entertaining! I appreciate that they pay millions of dollars to entertain me.

      Scott,

      Well said and extremely practical. I think that's the safest and most guaranteed route to take - and the most dependable. Sometimes, though, I like to walk the tightrope. Just sometimes.

      David
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      David Tendrich
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  • Profile picture of the author Loren Woirhaye
    Halbert wrote some pretty creative ads in his day.

    Schwartz never, as far as I can tell, messed-around with
    trying to find ways to sell stuff a lot of people weren't
    already motivated to buy.

    I think what Prince Gary was getting at was that you don't
    want to get too clever and start thinking you are smarter
    than the marketplace. In other words, set your sights on
    selling the sort of things and using the kind of selling appeals
    that have been proven over and over.

    People only buy through direct mail when a handful of desires
    are stirred to a pretty passionate extent. Both Halbert
    and Schwartz emphasized pursuing product ideas that
    have a likelihood of success due to mass appeal (at least
    within the context of the lists you plan to mail to).

    Where Schwartz is different from some other guys who
    teach this stuff is he was sort of proud of the way he
    developed ads not by swiping his old stuff, but by
    finding the right appeal for the right time. All he good
    copywriters are aware of cultural context and timing,
    but it's not often emphasized in stuff you read about how
    to design and write direct response ads... but when you
    step-back and look at the larger body of advertising
    literature and practices you see that all advertising is
    done in a fairly restricted cultural context; it emphasizes
    an attempt to capture an appeal based on what is HOT
    right now.

    I look at a LOT of old advertising going back 100 years
    and more. People have always and will always want
    more love, success, respect of their peers, to have
    health and feel good. The old ads appealed to these
    desires, but the consumers were less... sophisticated
    (let us say, because in truth in the old days I have
    a feeling the average Joe was more literate and
    ambitious to improve himself) in their buying behaviors...
    now the situation has changed and what makes a
    product or idea appear to be innovative in advertising
    (the "mechanism" cited in Schwartz) is different because
    the experience of innovation has changed for the
    consumer. How it all works you sort of have to
    figure-out for yourself... it's the great challenge of
    reaching folks today and getting them to respond.
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  • Profile picture of the author The Copy Nazi
    Banned
    Oh yeah. Great heading! Now I'm going back to read the thread.
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  • Profile picture of the author DougBarger
    If I may paraphrase Schwartz, his take on it is, "The creativity is not within you. It's in the market and in the product. Your job is just to channel the demand."
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    • Profile picture of the author dtendrich
      Hey,

      I don't doubt that he said that, but I also have an entire transcription of an audio of him talking about how the creativity is within you, and he goes through a very thorough process of how to tap into it and use it in your copy. He even uses words like "zen" and stuff. It's really good stuff.

      David
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      Copywriting Tips, internet marketing jargon, thoughts, and rants by me.

      Atlanta Copywriter, serving clients worldwide.

      Write your life.
      David Tendrich
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      • Profile picture of the author DougBarger
        Originally Posted by dtendrich View Post

        Hey,

        I don't doubt that he said that, but I also have an entire transcription of an audio of him talking about how the creativity is within you, and he goes through a very thorough process of how to tap into it and use it in your copy. He even uses words like "zen" and stuff. It's really good stuff.

        David

        Hey David,

        Thanks for creating the thread and then adding to the discussion. Within the context of what I was paraphrasing, is more of a warning.

        It's to not be so self or ego-centric

        the offer takes second fiddle to the person constructing it.

        It goes into the *buyer's heat*

        The critical *moment*.

        It's the exact moment the buyer decides to purchase, whether
        immediately...

        or if they wrestle with a letter and ultimately the offer that draws them again and again

        to the moment of decision where they buy or do not... "right now".

        At that moment, there are going to be several factors that influence
        the decision.

        Regardless of the writer, the worst thing that could happen,

        would be to have the focus on the copywriter.

        If they "ooh" and "ahh" about how great of a salesletter the copywriter has written instead of

        what an irresistible Offer is on the table,

        then the copywriter has failed.

        At the precious moment of decision,

        the impulse

        should be

        fueled by desire, escape from pain,

        and the knowing "my life will be better now"

        as a result of taking advantage of the offer placed on the table.

        Sure, there's creativity involved...

        :p

        but it's the creativity of how this solution

        will improve the life of the person purchasing

        and the freedom afforded

        as a result of this investment


        that takes precedence over any creativity going into the presentation
        of the offer and that's exactly the intent of this counsel.

        If at the end of the day, I'm thinking,

        "Wow. That's a slick copywriter who wrote this appeal."

        Instead of,

        "Wow, what an offer! How I can benefit and gain advantage
        by getting this!"

        then the copywriter fails.

        If, however,

        in the moment of decision and heat of impulse,

        I'm persuaded and believe it's my decision to invest/purchase,

        because of... {insert whatever reasons "aka, the creativity in the market" has been presented successfully by the copywriter here}

        then the copywriter has succeeded.

        Halbert and Schwartz both knew this and were adamant in demanding
        those who learned from them did too.

        It's far easier (and immeasurably more profitable) to sell what someone already wants to buy than to creatively try to educate someone who doesn''t want to buy something they don't demand in the first place.

        Message to market match.

        Hope this helps.

        Thoughts of consumer once overheard/anticipated by veteran copywriter,

        "I don't care how cute you are, just solve my problem."
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  • Profile picture of the author maximus242
    Originally Posted by dtendrich View Post

    Hey there,

    In the vast spectrum of amazingly gifted and honed copywriters, are two who sit in opposition on a certain subject:

    Creativity.

    Eugene Schwartz emphasizes creativity in every book, recording, interview he's ever done on copywriting (or all that I've come across), even stating in his book, Breakthrough Copywriting:

    Copywriters must have verbal creativity to "name the still-undefined... capture a feeling, a hope, a desire, a fear in words... focus emotion and give it a goal."

    While Gary Halbert said in one of his seminars:

    (I'm paraphrasing from memory) "If I could do one thing today, it would be to squash the creativity of every individual in this room. I'm guessing you don't want to be creative, but that you want to be rich."

    What's your take on this? Where do you sit in this spectrum?

    Looking forward to your thoughts,
    David
    Even though they are using the same word, they are talking about two completely different things. They are actually in complete agreement. Halbert is referring to mostly madison avenue type ads. Jingles, catch phrases, etc. Schwartz is referring to advertising concepts.

    Halbert had very creative ad concepts and headline ideas. Look at Carltons one legged golfer. These people are all creative. They just advocate using and looking at whats worked before then coming up with better ways of using it.

    There is no disagreement really, halbert and schwartz are using the same word for a different thing.
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