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A stickler for details

Many copywriters work with what I call “a big rock” mindset—making sure you take care of the most important things.

I’m sure you’ve heard the story…

A professor stands in front of the group of business students and says, “Okay, time for a quiz.”

He pulls out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and sets it on a table in front of him.

Then he produces about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asks, “Is this jar full?”

Everyone in the class says “Yes.”

Then he says: “Really?”

And he reaches under the table and pulls out a bucket of gravel.

He dumps the gravel in and shakes the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

He asks the group again, “Is the jar full?”

By this time, the students were onto him.

“Probably not,” one of them answered.

“Good!” he replies and reaches under the table, taking out a bucket of sand.

He starts dumping the sand in and it goes into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel.

Once more he asks the question, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class shouts.

Once again he says “Good!”

And then grabs a pitcher of water and begins to pour it in until the jar fills to the brim.

Here’s what’s unfortunate…

Most copywriters prefer playing with big rock elements of copy to the detriment of the overall promotion.

The little things like spelling and grammar and formatting?

“I don’t have any more time.”

“Don’t sweat the small stuff” they’ll say.

That’s why I love learning from Herschell Gordon Lewis.

He’s passed away, but pick up his books whenever you’re able.

They’ll teach you the value of the small stuff that enhances your writing’s clarity.

For instance, if you’re selling wine to an affluent crowd, you may decide to give away a free aerator.

So you make the offer:

Today’s special: Buy 2 bottles of O’Connor’s Delight wine and get a FREE aerator!

Except that offer’s a dud.


Because if you’re dealing with the affluent market, a free offer holds little value.

To them? While not insulting, it just doesn’t speak to them.

But wait. Before you kick the idea to the curb, try this:

Today’s special: Buy two bottles of O’Connor’s Delight wine and receive a complimentary aerator!

When the affluent person hears the word ‘complimentary,’ it tickles their ears.

It’s an offer that speaks directly to them.

Also because they’re upscale, they also prefer the word ‘receive’ over ‘get’.

Not to mention using the word ‘two’ instead of ‘2.’

Hershell would obsess over the little things like this.

He’d have tons of copywriting rules.

It’s nuanced stuff, but it all adds up, adding to clarity. And LEGITIMACY.

Yes, legitimacy.

How so?

Well, have you ever read a sales letter and thought to yourself “an amateur wrote this”?

That’s because even though the copywriter understood the big rock elements of copywriting, they didn’t get the memo on the finer points.

I call these gaffs in clarity and legitimacy “tells”.

Kinda like when you’re playing poker and you can know if your opponent has a good hand or bad hand by their telltale quirks.

This is a big part of putting muscle into your copy.

The sad part is the majority of copywriters will brush off such mistakes without a second thought.

They can’t be pestered by details.

Maybe that’s because today’s copywriters were heavily influenced not by Lewis, but by Gary Halbert.

Everyman’s copywriter, Gary Halbert hated Lewis’ rules.

He was too busy trying “big rock” stuff to be worried about the little things.

Yet today, your buyers ARE subconsciously looking for these tells–anything to prove you are not who or what you say you are.

You can no longer ignore the details, like Gary.

Because if you can’t be trusted with the small stuff, how can you be trusted with the big stuff?

More critically, tells act like little “speed bumps,” slowing your reader down on things unrelated to your offer.

“He should have used a semicolon instead of period.”
“He’s overusing ellipses.”
“I’m 50 years old, why is he writing to me like a millennial who hasn’t finished college?”
“Does he always have to use a yellow highlighter on everything?”

I’ve watched over-the-shoulder of visitors using and and you can actually see them pause over small stuff.

Fix them and you’re good to go again.

Now, I’ll admit focusing on the small stuff takes extraordinary amounts time to get it right, because you’re OCD obsessing.

But you and I know writing copy isn’t a race.

It’s about CONVERSIONS, isn’t it?

Big takeaway? The decision to “click the buy button” is made up of a thousand of micro decisions to agree and keep reading.

Till next time,


P.S. Let’s be clear:

I am not talking about being a perfectionist, I am talking about eliminating the speed bumps which can stop your prospect from taking action.

“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never achieve it.” – Salvador Dali

P.P.S. If you Google Herschell, you’ll see he was a director, semi-famous for his cult films 2000 Maniacs and Buckets of Blood, firmly establishing the splatter genre of horror.

He was ahead of his time.

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