Five Million-Dollar Copywriting Moves You Can Master
by binge-watching Bridgerton with your bestie
Back in May, Jen Adams, my good friend and Director of The Professional Writers’ Alliance, came to Cincinnati for a short visit.
I love showing off my city and playing “hostess with the mostest,” as my mom would say.
As soon as Jen arrived, I listed all the things we could do that weekend. I rattled off every event, restaurant, bar, brewery tour, museum, and more…
Then I jokingly said, “Or, we could just grab some pizza and binge-watch Bridgerton.”
Before I could finish the thought, Jen lit up like a Christmas tree and shouted, “OMG, yes!”
So we headed over to the pizza joint around the corner for a couple of New York slices. Hit the macaron bar on the way back for some dessert. Pulled up some comfy chairs and settled in to let ourselves be carried away by one of the best stories currently on TV.
If you didn’t know…
True confession, I’m a closet romance novel junkie, and I read all the Bridgerton books when they first came out years ago. Julia Quinn is one of my favorite writers, and I love her Bridgerton series.
But what Shonda Rhimes, the undisputed queen of television production, did with those books is nothing less than brilliant. And you can learn a lot about how to make millions (yes, millions!) as a copywriter by following her example.
Here are five-million-dollar copywriter moves you can master by binge-watching Bridgerton with your bestie.
Lesson 1: Change the format
Shonda Rhimes didn’t just take the Bridgerton novels and adapt them for television. She completely re-invented the format.
Before Bridgerton, very few, if any, actors of color were cast in period pieces like Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.
And if an actor of color was cast, the script was still “color blind,” meaning none of the other actors behaved as if Mr. Darcy was suddenly Black instead of white. The story didn’t change.
But Rhimes didn’t just cast actors of color in Bridgerton, she changed the actors’ roles and the entire story to reflect the actors’ race. It’s the opposite of color blind.
It’s something Rhimes calls “color-conscious casting,” and it dramatically expanded the audience for the series. According to Netflix, 82 million households watched Bridgerton in its first 28 days.
Rhimes completely changed the format for “period pieces,” and the result was the most-watched original series on Netflix ever.
This is a master copywriting lesson I first learned from the legendary Gary Bencivenga: All else being equal, a change in format will beat a change in copy every time.
If you doubt this, just consider the impact of the mag-a-log or faux issue in direct mail or the video-sales-letter in online marketing. They were both massive game-changers.
In other words, if you want to take down a strong control, try a new format. (Assuming the copy is of equal caliber, of course.)
This is how I landed one of my first and biggest controls, beating another great A-list copywriter, Kim Krause Schwalm.
In 2008, my mentor, Parris Lampropoulos, challenged me to unseat a control package for Pectasol Detox Formula, an oral supplement that removes dangerous toxins from your body.
Kim Krause Schwalm had the control for Pectasol at the time, and it was a standard 4-color mag-a-log (meaning it looked like a magazine) with great copy. I knew I needed an edge if I was going to beat her.
Luckily the solution landed in my mailbox…
At the time I was writing the package, I was living in an old farmhouse in Cincinnati. It was built in 1890 before indoor plumbing and sewage lines were installed in my neighborhood. We had a septic tank, as did many of my neighbors.
One day, I came home to find a scary notice from the EPA in my mailbox. It said, basically, I was living in a toxic waste dump!
It turned out that nobody was maintaining their septic systems properly, and many didn’t even realize they weren’t connected to sewer lines. The result was the EPA found toxic sewage in the pond by our house. Eeeew.
That’s when I came up with the devious idea to make my package look like a formal government EPA notice. Instead of a glossy four-color mag-a-log, I used an ugly #10 envelope with a plain black and white letter inside.
Here’s what the outside of the envelope looked like…
Tell me, would YOU open that envelope if you saw it in your mailbox?
Once you opened the package, here is what you saw:
That package became one of my best and longest-running controls. It has run with different headlines and leads for over 15 years now and is still paying me royalties.
And that’s the power of a format change.
Lesson 2: Change the economics
Now when Shonda Rhimes deployed “color-conscious casting” for Bridgerton, she didn’t just change the format. She changed the economics as well.
As Rhimes explained it, “Shows with a more inclusive cast have more viewers and make more money, they get more advertising dollars. We showed it was an economic model that was more profitable.”
This is another great lesson if you want to succeed as a million-dollar copywriter. You have to study and understand the economics of the offer.
Sit down with your client and ask them to walk you through the entire funnel. Ask questions about the current copy and how it’s performing.
Then ask yourself, how can you make your offer more profitable? Can you add an upsell or a downsell?
Can you change the payment plan? Can you improve the guarantee to reduce the amount of refunds?
Early in my career, I learned the power of the right guarantee to reduce cancellations and increase my profits.
And that’s important because if you’re earning royalties, every refund is money out of your pocket. I have literally watched my royalties get eaten away to nothing because of refunds.
For example, when I was writing for option trading services, many times, the refund rates would be high because most traders back then didn’t understand how options worked.
They didn’t understand that with straight call and put options, you would be lucky to win only 30% to 40% of the time. But you could still make a ton of money because your winning trades far outpaced your losers.
The problem was that subscribers would sometimes experience a series of double-digit losses and quit the service before they hit their first big triple-digit win.
I decided to re-write the standard guarantee to focus on the longer time frame and the winning strategy instead of your standard 30-day refund.
Here’s an example…
And there’s one more reason to try Elite Trader today…
Because we’ll also guarantee that you’ll receive at least
100 money-doubling recommendations in the next 24 months.
That works out to an average of four +100% winners every month!
And if we don’t give you the opportunity to DOUBLE YOUR MONEY on 100 trades during your two-year subscription, just call us, and we’ll refund your entire subscription fee. Every penny.
So if you want the chance to double your money 100 or more times in the next 24 months. . . then you’ll want to take advantage of this special offer right now.
The result was fewer cancellations and more money for my client… and ME!
Copy is important, but all the copy in the world cannot save you if the economics don’t work. Make sure you know your numbers!
Lesson 3: Always promise a happy ending… but make your hero work for it!
If you’ve ever read a great romance novel, then you already know that a happy ending is guaranteed. It’s one reason I love to read them so much, especially when I’m stressed.
The same is true of copywriting. You’re selling the “happy ending” your client gets when they buy your product.
But here’s the thing…
You cannot just open with, “Hey, I’ve solved your problem. Go here and buy now.”
The best romance novels throw obstacle after obstacle in front of the hero and heroine before they can finally find their happy ending. After all, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”
This is why in the second season of Bridgerton, the hero, Anthony, must become engaged to another while lobbing smoldering glances at his true love.
It’s why Kate, the heroine, must watch Anthony walk down the aisle intending to marry another before she’s finally willing to confess her true feelings.
And it’s why Kate must fall from a horse and nearly die before the two star-crossed lovers finally get together in a scene so scorchingly hot even our dog, Louie, covered his eyes.
As a copywriter, you can learn a lot from the structure of romance novels.
You need to take your reader on that same journey from loss to love. You need to remind the prospect of their suffering, of what life would be like without your product… before you finally offer up the perfect solution for their pain.
One of my favorite examples of this comes from an early project I wrote way back in 2010 with the great copywriter and founder of AWAI, Mark Ford. It was for a very conservative options trading service where most of the gains were small, but the overall win rate was fantastic.
When I sat down to interview the guru, I was curious about his conservative trading strategy. I asked him a question that led to the perfect “romance story” to sell this service.
The question I asked was, “What was your ‘all is lost’ moment, and how did you come back from it?”
Here is what the trading guru told me…
(Warning: salty language ahead)
How To Lose Your Lunch In Less Than 24-Hours
When I first hit Wall Street over a decade ago, I worshiped the balls-to-the-wall option traders. These guys played with millions of dollars of other people’s money like it was monopoly money. And they were always crowing about their latest big score.
Meanwhile, I was living in a single room at the YMCA in Manhattan with a twin bed and a shared bathroom down the hall. And I had to borrow money from my mom just to eat…
Then one day, one of these take-no-prisoners option traders pulled me aside and told me about some put options he was buying on the S&P 100 Index. Big money traders love index options because they give you an easy way to control the entire stock market, and they are heavily leveraged – meaning you can get a lot of bang for your buck.
The S&P 100 Index put options this trader was looking at were dirt cheap. In fact, they were trading for just around $143 per contract. Even I could afford that! And they expired at midnight that night, so I didn’t have long to wait.
But here’s what really got me salivating…
If the market went down by as much as I expected that day, those dirt-cheap put options would be $287,500. That’s more than a quarter of a million dollars!
It was a lottery ticket trade. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition. By the time I went to bed that night, I’d either be broke or well on my way to becoming a millionaire. Simple as that.
Now you have to understand that I wasn’t born rich, far from it, I grew up poor, the son of Greek immigrants. When I first landed in New York, everything I owned could fit into a cardboard box.
The thought of earning hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single trade was incredibly tempting. I was tired of watching other traders make these same kinds of bets with millions of dollars of other peoples’ money and make out like bandits. I wanted a piece of the action.
And I was dead sure, I’m talking the “death and taxes” kind of dead sure, that the market was going to finish down that day.
So I scraped together $714.74, and I invested all of it, every single penny, in those S&P 100 Index put options.
Then I took my future wife (who I was dating at the time) out for lunch at a nearby restaurant. The bartender in the restaurant had CNBC on in the background, and I kept sneaking peeks at the television while we ate. And I quickly lost my appetite.
Because as I watched the TV screen, the stock market just kept going up… and up… and up. And my options kept going down… and down… and down… It was like watching a slow-motion train wreck…
I lost the entire $714.74 in less than 24 hours! Every single penny.
Why So Many Smart Traders Lose Money With Options…
And that’s why so many people lose money with options. Even smart traders. Because they treat them like Powerball lottery tickets!
I was so infatuated with the incredible leverage that the S&P 100 Index options offered… the quarter of a million dollar profit potential… and the cheap price… that I forgot one crucial fact.
The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are one in 195,249,054. In other words, slim to none. And the same is true of wildly speculative option plays!
And that’s why so many balls-to-the-wall traders lose money with options.
Because if you have what I call a “gambling mentality” when it comes to playing options, chances are you’re going to get your clock cleaned. Just like I did…
You see when I first started out, I traded options like I was playing blackjack. All-or-nothing. And I lost entire positions.
But once I stopped trading like a high-stakes gambler and started trading like a Sunday-driving “wimp,” I was racking up a nice pile of cash in a short amount of time.
Look, of course, you want to ask your guru about all their wins. You want to promote them and build up their credibility and track record.
But don’t be afraid to ask about the losses, the struggles, and face plants… because those are what make the happy ending meaningful for your reader. It’s what gets them to grasp the advantage.
Lesson 4: Dress up your solution and make it look amazing
Another thing Shonda Rhimes did to make Bridgerton stand out was to create one of the most expansive and convincing portraits of massive wealth ever seen on the screen. The first season of Bridgerton reportedly cost a whopping $7 million per episode, according to Hollywood insiders.
And most of that was due to the stunning costumes. Over 7,500 costumes were designed and created for the first season alone!
This is another great copywriting lesson. Dress up your solution and make it stand out from the crowd. Make it unlike anything else on the market.
This is especially important when writing for supplements, many of which contain the exact same ingredients, just in different combinations.
You need to find a way to make your unique solution attractive to your buyers.
Here’s a short example of how I did that in my long-running Pectasol control I mentioned earlier…
Now before you run out and buy citrus pectin, you have to make sure you’re getting the right kind. There are a lot of people out there selling citrus pectin, but it’s not the same kind that was used in the clinical studies.
You see, most citrus pectin is composed of large long-chain carbohydrate molecules that are too big for your body to digest. So the pectin simply passes through your body without binding to toxins.
The good news is my friend and colleague Dr. Isaac Eliaz has found a way to modify citrus pectin that makes it very easy for your body to digest. First, he broke down large citrus pectin molecules into smaller, easily absorbable pieces. Then he changed the pH of the pectin molecule to make it easier for the molecule to bind to heavy metals, especially in the low-pH environment of your stomach.
The result is a patented form of modified citrus pectin called PectaSol®. It easily binds to toxins, so they can be eliminated by your body’s digestive system. In fact, PectaSol® is so powerful it can trap and remove significant amounts of toxins in as little as 24 hours
Take the time to “costume” your solution. Make it look stunning and irresistible to your reader, better than anything else on the “marriage mart” that year. 😉
Lesson 5: Take the coaching
When author Julia Quinn got the call from Shonda Rhimes offering to turn her best-selling Bridgerton series into a Netflix show, she was floored.
“The way I understand it,” Quinn said in an interview, “was that Shonda ran out of books to read on vacation and somehow stumbled on one of mine.”
“It’s crazy to think that my life is forever changed because Shonda didn’t bring enough reading material on vacation, but that’s honestly what happened.”
And, of course, one of the first questions you’re asked when someone options your book is, “Are you willing to hand over creative control?”
It is the same for copywriters. When you agree to work with one of the top copy chiefs in the business, as I did early in my career with Parris Lampropoulos, you have to check your ego at the door. You have to give up creative control.
Quinn did exactly that.
She said, “It was Shonda Rhimes! I’m not going to tell Shonda Rhimes how to make television, you know? She’s basically the smartest, most successful person out there, and I couldn’t imagine doubting her in any way.”
If Quinn had insisted that Shonda Rhimes follow the plot of her books exactly, I doubt seriously Bridgerton would have become the massive success it did. The books were good, but Shonda turned them into gold.
I feel the same way about working with a great copy chief. If one of the most successful copywriters in the business at the time is asking me if I want to be an apprentice. I am not going to argue with him or push back. I’m there to learn.
Too often, I see junior copywriters unwilling to take the coaching from more experienced, seasoned pros. This is a big mistake, and it can hurt your career in the long run.
If you’re lucky enough to get feedback from someone at the top of the game in the industry, muzzle your ego and listen.
And if Shonda Rhimes ever offers to option MY book, of course, I’m going to give her creative control!
When I was first starting out, I was lucky enough to be mentored by not one, not two, but four of the most successful copywriters in the business at the time. I’m talking about mentors like Parris Lampropoulos, David Deutsch, Clayton Makepeace, and Mark Ford.
And now, I want to pay that forward by mentoring the next generation of A-list copywriters. And that’s why I design and facilitate the AWAI Circle of Success monthly mastermind series.
The anticipation is building…
Rumor has it that the next season of Bridgerton will be released before the end of the year.
Jen is already making plans to return to Cincinnati for another Bridgerton binge fest as soon as it drops.
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