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November 11, 2019

The best way to write an opening paragraph

According to the great David Ogilvy, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy…

… so and if your headline is no good, you have wasted 90% of your advertising money. 

It follows then, that the headline is the most important element of an ad.

So, what is the second most important element? 

Some claim it is the postscript; the P.S. They say a prospect will read the headline, then read the P.S., and then decide whether to read the rest of the ad. The P.S. is certainly important… but is it the second most important part of the ad? 

I’m not so sure. 

It seems logical to me that if the headline is good—meaning it grabs the attention of the intended reader… and… persuades them to read the next line—then it is surely true that the next most important part of the ad is: the next line

And after the headline comes the opening paragraph. 

If you are writing a personal communication like a sales letter, then the salutation comes first. But this is sometimes omitted, for example, in magazine ads. If you do use a salutation, the best approach is simple: use the recipient’s name. If not, just use “Dear Friend”. 

Onward to the opening paragraph. 

First, answer me this: what do you think are the two most powerful words in advertising? 

Fortunately, Gary Bencivenga, widely considered the world’s greatest living copywriter, wrote a superb “bullet” on his website on this very subject. 

Most people, he said, assume that the two most powerful words are FREE and NEW. And in “the old days”, they might well have been. But, both of those words have been so overused that all they do is sound a very loud alarm in the reader’s mind. 

Yes, they trigger a response. But not the response you want. Not a sale… but the thought: YEAH, SURE. 

Yeah, sure. The two most powerful words in advertising—according to the man whose ads have run in over $1 billion of scientific direct response marketing tests over a 40-year period—are “yeah, sure.” 

And the reason why is simply this: if your ad stimulates a “yeah, sure” reaction in your prospect… they are more likely to throw it in the wastebasket than buy from you. 

Ok, let’s talk about how to avoid the “yeah, sure” reaction. 

The most obvious solution is to avoid the overused words and phrases that trigger the reaction. In health markets, there’s “lose weight fast”.

Yeah, sure. 

There’s also “free”, “new” and “get rich quick”.

Yeah, sure. 

But the real solution to this problem, which according to Gary Bencivenga is often what separates the tiny handful of A-level copywriters, is… 

You Should Never Make Your Claim Bigger Than Your Proof! 

There are so many ways to achieve this, but I’m in danger of going off on a tangent. 

So, the real reason for me bring this up is that one way to avoid the yeah, sure reaction… and… make your proof bigger than your claim is to… 

“Sandwich your big promise inside an IF… THEN construction”. 

The formula is simple: a reasonably easy requirement, followed by a strong promise. Bencivenga recommended using it in your headline but, you can also use it for your opening paragraph (hence my writing about it here). 

It’s an opening paragraph style that Gary Halbert used a lot. Here are some examples from his ads: 

“If you’d like to lose weight… for real… and… do it extremely fast (up to 10 pounds of fat and fluid in 2 days… then… up to 1 pound a day until you reach your goal) this is going to be the most exciting message you’ll ever read!” 

“If you are already a professional model, or, if you’d like to be, this is going to be the most exciting message you will ever read. On the other hand, if you want to be a model… but… you don’t really have what it takes… this message can save you thousands of dollars and a great deal of misery and heartbreak.” 

“If you have a weight problem, I want you to take a good look at the pictures on this page.” 

“If you are interested in living a very long life… and… staying young and healthy… this will be the most important message you will ever read.” 

So there you have it, the best way to write the opening paragraph of an ad or sales letter.

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