The Magic Message

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You've Seen Them

You’ve probably talked about them. They are the living legends of our craft, the absolute pinnacles of motivation, the snowcapped peaks of excellence and the subjects of study and emulation for decades. They are magic messages.

They are as rare as they are magnificent. They remained powerful for years. They consistently pulled responses far in excess of other efforts.

Magic messages have a special chemistry of some kind, a penetrating power that grabs total attention, then reaches far down into the emotions to weave an irresistible spell of seduction and motivation. These messages are special. They are unique. They are extraordinary. And they are freaks.

Like pet rocks and hula hoops, magic messages set a standard of marketing excellence a leap beyond the ordinary. And because they're so special, they are impossible to predict. The proof of the difficulty is simple: The people who have created magic messages don't do it every time. Indeed, just one such success is enough to guarantee a copywriter's place in marketing history. A direct response copywriter may have written thousands of messages that were very good, but not as effective as that one breathtaking outreach into the frontiers of mass motivation.

What Happens When Magic Messages Are Created?

Does creative insight somehow, for an instant, reach beyond normal faculties to achieve something transcendental?

With respect for the Muse, who at the moment is sitting on our shoulder filing her nails, we must say the answer is, "No." There is nothing metaphysical in these extraordinary accomplishments. The creation of a magic message is a serendipitous result of doing a lot of things very well, and doing them again and again, year after year. Sooner or later something special may happen, a chance coming together of skilled resources and opportunity, something wholly out of the ordinary.

We Might Say Otherwise If Someone Could Always Create Magic Messages

We don't know of anyone like that and we've swapped war stories with best in the business.

Creating a magic messages is like breeding thoroughbreds. Start with the best stock, make skillful decisions, and keep doing it again and again. Most of what you produce will be good. Some will be very good. And maybe, just maybe, you'll be lucky enough to produce one Triple Crown winner. Then again, you probably won't. But what is wrong if your horses run well, make good money and bring you success?

More Money Is Made by Being Good Than by Being Brilliant

Brilliance is unpredictable. Brilliance is only recognizable after-the-fact. And even when it happens, it is irreproducible. For every thunderous magic message, there are thousands that are simply very good. The ones that are simply very good are the backbone of our industry. The high-flying magic messages that make their way into legends and textbooks are a small part of direct marketing's total picture.

They give us high visibility and a clear standard of excellence, but they are delightful aberrations, not the norm. To carry our equine allegory further, it's only natural to hope for a Triple Crown winner, but plan on having a mule.

Make marketing plans with the predictable, reliable, hard-working mule in mind. There's always room in your bank account for an unexpected success, but there is grief ahead if everything depends on a magic message. None of us knows for sure how to create one. Not even those who have done it.

Those of us who create direct marketing messages are very much aware of the unpredictability of our work. A piece of copy that looks red hot falls flat. Copy that looks good as it comes off the printer, but not great, suddenly explodes into a magic message. It is wholly unpredictable.

There Are Even Humbling Instances of Magic Messages Written by Total Amateurs

This was the case when copy written by a team of professionals was demolished in a head-on test against copy written by an inexperienced office secretary – which is how the famous Kiplinger "Boom & Bust" direct mail package was created. That package stood unrivaled for decades while the best writers in the business wrote and wrote to beat it.

The unpredictability of copy effectiveness is simply another reason to test, test, test.

Every one of us in this business has a bottom desk drawer full of copy that didn't work well – even while we display a wall full of awards for copy that did.

Then Why Hire a Professional?

Because your chances are better. Much better. A secretary's copy might be a magic message, but chances are it won't be. A general ad agency might come up with something good, but chances are an experienced direct marketing team will do much better for you.

There are risks with every step on the direct marketing road. Your task is to minimize them, make wise investment decisions, and above all, don't bank on having a million-to-one-shot magic message – even though you might.

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