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Direct Response
Copywriter Blog



(courtesy of the Direct Marketing Association)


The letter is the basic element in the direct mail package. Without a letter, it can be argued, all that's happening is that the seller is simply putting an advertisement into the mail.

The reason for promoting by mail in the first place is to be able to send a seemingly personal message to a specific person at his or her address. The letter is that personal message; it is the essential "from me to you” communication. Developing the strategy for achieving this personal-ness is the subject of this treatise. Granted, that the principles and points made have application to other elements of direct response: brochures, space advertising, even radio or television scripts. After all, we are talking about the basics of good advertising writing. But there still is a unique flavor and personal style exclusive to letter writing which makes it an art form unto itself.

When you stop to think what missions are accomplished by direct mail—the news and information it provides—the goods and services it sells—the countless functions it is called upon to carry out—it's easy to understand that:


And you realize at once the basic importance of these missions to our everyday life and their contribution to the nation's economy.

Many letters you receive are interesting, exciting, inspiring, and action producing. Others are lifeless and unimaginative, lack direction, and fail to spark an idea.

There is a basic reason for this.

Too many people "sit down to write a letter" without preparing. Their copy shows it.  So let's discuss . . .

Section 2
What You Need to Know Before You Start to Write

To write good copy, you must understand human nature thoroughly. You will need to make a continuing study of people-because people change just as times change. Consider these self-evident truths:
1. People are slow to accept the new and untried until it has become firmly established. For 20 years after the automobile was invented, it remained a semi-freak contraption. Businessmen stubbornly resisted the typewriter. (After all, steel pens cost them less than a penny.) If a consumer survey had been taken at the time, we might never have had postage stamps. Doctors of that day warned that the glue was poisonous, caused cancer of the tongue, indigestion, and several other afflictions. Opposition continued for a decade before these falsehoods were revealed.
2. People are reluctant to break established habits. Habits save us untold time, trouble, and inconvenience. They are comfortable to live with. But habits are hard to break. So if you want your readers to do something contrary to their established behavior patterns, then you must not talk in terms of breaking old habits. Instead, make it easy to form new ones!
3. People dread to make decisions.
It is a fallacy to think that to get a person to act on anything, all we need to do is convince that person the proposition is sound and logical. Decisions are not always made on logic; they are often made on emotion. For example, consider the logic that nearly everyone believes in insurance-but very few people ever deliberately ask for it. They frequently buy because they have just gone through an emotional experience involving someone close.
4. People need to be disciplined when it comes to reading copy. Too many copywriters overlook this fundamental truth-that people are not likely to read copy all the way through unless you use specific techniques to help them do so. Later when you come to the section which tells you how to form a "Bucket Brigade" through your copy, pay special attention to it. It shows you how to lead your reader through a piece of copy-subtly-so that he stays with you!
5. People prefer to ride with a winner.
There is a widespread belief that all America loves the underdog. And in many respects, this is true. But it is prob. ably even more true that people love to be on the bandwagon. They want to ride a winner. That is why once an idea catches on; people rally 'round in great numbers. If you have a winner, capitalize on it!
If your direct mail work concerns both men and women, as is so often the case, it will help considerably to understand some of the basic psychological differences between the sexes. There are exceptions to the following, of course, but the law of averages will work for you if you accept these truths:
 a. Men have a faster reaction time than Women. They can absorb a sales message faster, but women can more easily shift from one idea to another.
b. Women are more responsive to color than men. Women prefer shades and gradations, while men lean toward solid colors.
c. Men's interests are more dynamic, and they are more mechanically inclined, which suggests it pays to emphasize verbs in copy. Women, left to free choices, choose adjectives.
d. Women are more aware of, and absorbed in people than men are.
 e. Feminine interests run to social contact, books, music, religion, art education. (What this may mean: Social situations could be good sales pegs.)
 f. Avoid generalities in dealing with women. This is not so necessary with men. Psychologists back this up. They say sales material for women should be reduced to cases and phrased in terms of people or specific incidents. (This may suggest: That testimonials could be more effective in selling to women than to men.)
g. Women have stronger likes and dislikes than men. And more of them. Since their reactions are stronger, this may explain why adjectives (and superlatives)
Prevail in women's conversations.
h. You can treat emotions lightly in dealing with men, but NEVER make that mistake with women, especially where marital or maternal love is concerned. Women are great direct mail prospects but you must exercise great care in preparing the copy that goes to them.
i. Men usually need proof. This does not seem to be true of women,
j. Both men and women buy from impulse, but men are freer to make out checks for what they buy. This means that extra incentives for cash may be more successful with men.  

Section 3
The Audience you write To is Rapidly Changing

As the new generation takes over, let's heed the warning of ace copywriter Sol Blumenfeld (writing in the magazine, DIRECT MARKETING) that this new public will require a different copywriting style. He says:
"How will this public differ from the one you and I are accustomed to? Let me project some adjectives on it. More knowledgeable. More sophisticated. More distrustful. More comfort-loving. More leisure-loving. Less materialistic. Less self-serving. Less patient. Less attentive. Less inhibited."
Important? Yes. For as Sol Blumenfeld continues, "We copywriters are, by the nature of our profession, students of human character, Our success is determined by how deeply we delve into the labyrinth of human emotions. We appeal to our recipient's need for love, acceptance, security, importance ... to his vanity, ambition, greed, love of comfort, aggressiveness, love of adventure. As direct mail and direct response writers, we give these emotions a more thorough going-over than most."
Keep in mind that before you can sell a person anything, you must show that it's worth more than the money it costs. It's a principle to remember.
All the more reason for setting down these points:
Point #1 - Your objective--what you want to accomplish.
Point #2 - Your offer-what inducement you are going to use to accomplish this objective.
Point #3 - Your market-what type or types of people you will be appealing to.
 Point #4-Your selling points-what benefits of your proposition will prove most important.
Let's take a quick look at these points, one by one.
It may seem strange to set down your objective on paper. Yet when you read some mailing pieces you wonder if the objective was really clear in the minds of the writer. And if you find that, once written down, your objectives are many-fold, then you are headed for trouble. Try to establish one objective. It's much easier to accomplish one big objective, rather than many small objectives.
Take a look at Section 9-which discusses the offer. Be sure to get your offer down on paper before you start to write. It will influence your thinking as you write.
Point #3 concerns your market. See if you can write a vivid and meaningful description of your typical prospect. Remember--the star salesmen in every field not only know their products, but they know their prospects as well.
Put all your selling points down on paper. This should be obvious, but because it is obvious, it is often overlooked. But by now, you can easily see the importance of notes. They are extremely vital to the success of your copy.

Section 4
What Does Your Prospect Want?

Now you are ready to decide on your appeals. What is it about your offer, your selling points, that will appeal to your prospect? What is it your prospect wants that your proposition can satisfy?
Let's explore this basic list of human wants:
1. To make money
2. To save time
3. To avoid effort
4. To be comfortable
5. To be healthy
6. To be popular
7. To be in style
8. To avoid criticism
9. To conserve possessions
10. To escape physical pain
 11. To gratify curiosity
12. To satisfy appetite
13. To protect reputation
14. To purchase wisely
15. To have beautiful possessions
16. To attract the opposite sex
17. To save money
18. To be individual
19. To enjoy life
20. To be clean
21. To be appreciated
22. To protect family
23. To emulate others they admire
24. To avoid trouble
25. To take advantage of opportunities
There is considerable evidence that unless a writer knows how to appeal to human wants and needs, the copy will never achieve maximum results.
Advertising consultant Richard Manville once wrote:
"Advertisements that attempt to give people what they want out-pull advertisements which present those things which people do not want as much-or do not want at all."
Manville points out, too, that people want food, shelter, adornment; they want to love and be loved; they want to assert themselves they want to feel "adequate." They not only want to keep up with their neighbors, but to get ahead of them.
When copywriters need to choose between two copy thoughts, Richard Manville suggests that they ask themselves this test question:
Now-let's see how it works out when we apply the question to the following pairs of copy points: (These examples were taken from actual split run publication tests, but the philosophy applies equally well to copy for direct mail letters. Names have been changed where necessary.)
Copy Point A-"How to avoid these mistakes in planning your house!"
Copy Point B-"How to plan your house to suit yourself!
Which one pulled best? B out-pulled A by 16%-because more people want to plan their house to suit themselves than the number of people who simply want to avoid mistakes.
Copy Point A-"Don't swelter this summer!"
Copy Point B-"Now every home can afford summer cooling!"
By applying the test question. "Do people want more X than Y?" You would easily predict that B would be the winner. But the margin of difference for B (which promised summer cooling) over A (which simply told people not to swelter) was a staggering 300%!
Another pair:
Copy Point A-"Keep your dog safe this summer!"
Copy Point B-"Warning to dog owners!"
When you ask the question, "Do dog owners want to keep their dogs safe or do they want a warning?"-the answer clearly indicates A was better. And it was-by 60%!
Here are two more:
 Copy Point A-"Cut three strokes off your score with Bobby Jones Non-Slip golf shoes!" Copy Point B-"Your pair of Bobby Jones golf shoes will outwear any other brand!"
Any real golfer will gladly buy a new pair of golf shoes every summer if necessary-if it will lower his score. The wearing quality of the shoes is only secondary.
Keep in mind the test question as you look at these pairs:
X - "How to become a good dancer in one week.
“Y - "Avoid these embarrassing mistakes On the dance floor."
X - "Clean your rugs quickly without Fuss, muss, or bother."
Y - "This cleaner has only seven moving Parts."
X - "You absolutely can't cut yourself While shaving."
Y - "Saves you five minutes every morning."

Although each is a selling point, some are certainly secondary in importance.
The would-be dancer wants to become popular by learning to dance quickly. He can avoid mistakes by staying away from dances altogether.
The housewife doesn't care as much about moving parts as she does about cleaning rugs quickly without muss or fuss.
And most men aren't particularly interested in saving five minutes in the morning. They would much rather escape cut, nicked faces.
And remember
"To sell John Jones What John Jones buys, you must see John Jones through John Jones' eyes."

Section 5
The structure of the letter

It's quite important, in a book of this kind, to move in a logical order from a broad view of the subject to a study of details. So we will look at:
1. The STRUCTURE of the letter itself.
2. The SENTENCES that go into letters.
3. The WORDS that go into sentences.
As we consider STRUCTURE, we come face to face with the often-asked question, "Should I write copy by formula?"
You probably will-whether you consciously try to do so or not. A copy formula can be a useful tool for the man or woman who is studying the art of successful copywriting. It need not stifle creativity or imagination. You may actually become more creative. Properly used, a formula can keep your letter moving in a logical order.
Perhaps the oldest of all formulas is A-I-D-A-which means (a) attract attention, (b) arouse interest, (c) stimulate desire, and (d) ask for action. There's nothing wrong with this formula except that it doesn't tell "how to do it," and that's what we are interested in
Your letter starts by being dramatic, continues by being descriptive (of your product or service), continues further to be persuasive, and ends by clinching the sale.
Frank Egner's Nine Points
Years ago the late Frank Egner listed these nine points:
1. Write a lead to create desire as well as get attention,
 2. Add an inspiration beginning,
3. Give a clear definition of the product.
4. Tell a success story about the use of the product.
5. Include testimonials and endorsements from satisfied customers.
6. List the special features of the product.
7. Make a statement of the value to the purchaser.
8. Devise an action closer that will make the reader want to buy immediately.
9. Conclude with a P. S. rephrasing the headline.
Picture - Promise - Prove - Push
This is one of the simplest formulas of all-- because you can picture it mentally.
Direct mail pioneer Henry Hoke invented it, and the late Ed Mayer liked this formula and used it often. You start by painting a word picture of what the product or service will do for the reader. Then promise that the picture will come true if the product is purchased. Offer proof of what the product has done for others. Finally, end with a push for immediate action.
Jack Lacy's Five Points
When Ed Mayer and I staged a series of DMA Business Letter writing Clinics, we found that the audiences reacted favorably to this excellent adaptation of other formulas: Lacy visualized the reader as asking these questions:
 1. What will you do for me if I listen to your story?
 2. How are you going to do this?
 3. Who is responsible for the promises you make?
 4. Who else have you done this for?
 5. What will it cost?
 And we added a sixth point, "How do I order from you?"

The Seven Step Robert Stone Formula
There are many fine formulas, and most of them have good points. Just as many routes lead to the center of Chicago, so can these formulas help you get to the heart of the matter at hand.
One of the most successful of all is this one invented by the distinguished direct mail professional Robert Stone when he was at National Research Bureau.
The seven steps in it:
 1. Promise a benefit in your lead or first paragraph-your most important benefit.
2. Immediately enlarge upon it.
3. Tell the reader specifically what he is going to get.
4. Back your statements with proofs and endorsements
5. Tell the reader what he might lose if he doesn't act.
6. Rephrase prominent benefits in the closing offer.
7. Incite action NOW.
You may feel, and perhaps justifiably, that the formulas are simply different ways of saying the same thing. But what's important to remember is that every letter must proceed in a logical order. Good letters never just happen. They are planned!
If you plan your work-and work your plan-you will be well along the road toward success in writing good direct mail copy.
Keep the formulas in your storehouse of knowledge. Put them to work for you as the direct mail experts do-as useful habits ingrained in the subconscious mind.
Once you have the structure of the letter clearly in mind, as outlined in whichever formula you like best, you are ready to get down to brass tacks and consider how to write your lead, how to keep your copy moving through the middle, and how to close.

Section 6
How to write leads
As soon as you have done your homework, you are ready to write. You have defined your objective, decided upon your offer, analyzed your market, and listed your sales points. Now...
.. Try phrasing your lead at least six different ways on the note pad in front of you;
Space them well enough apart so you can study them carefully.
Don’t throw away the bad ones, they may suggest good ones: then
. Based on all you know so far, pick out the lead that seems to you to have the most appeal to your reader,
 As Elmer "Don't Sell the Steak-Sell the Sizzle" Wheeler once said, "Your first 15 words are more important than your next
One of the greatest mail order men of the century, Maxwell Sackheim, writes:
"What is said about headline writing is equally true of letter writing; your opening sentence may make or break your letter, no matter what is said afterward."
You may start with......
a two or three line running head like this:
 You are cordially invited to subscribe to XYZ magazine at a special introductory rate of the next 27 issues for only $7.77.
 a salutation and lead-in paragraph like this:

Dear Friend of XYZ:
You are cordially invited to subscribe to XYZ Magazine...
... At a special introductory rate of the next 27 issues for only $7.77.
Or you may use an over-sized message at the top of the letter (sometimes in an asterisk box), followed by lead-in copy that goes right to the heart of the message.
It is not possible to make a general statement that one of the three forms is better than the other two. Each has its place.
When you have trouble getting a lead that satisfies you, look down into the body of your copy one, two or three paragraphs. This was a favorite device with Ed Mayer. It works -a surprisingly good share of the time. From our LOOK magazine experience this letter worked extremely well. Study it for a moment:
"When Japanese bombs shattered the early Sunday stillness ... in a tranquil Hawaiian harbor on that fateful morning, the whole world suddenly teetered on the brink of chaos.”Numbly we watched the Japanese overrun Bataan, then spill out into the jungle empires. Stunned, we read of massive German thrusts into Russia, of British disaster in the African desert.
"But somehow-as the free nations of the world found new strength in their common danger-the tide eventually began to turn. "Then one day-silhouetted against the sky over Japan, a weird mushroom closed the war, opened a new age. Standing in the war's rubble, men pondered this thing that seemed too much to grasp.
"Science had leapt ahead an age, human nature had stood still."

But the opening was too long. Successful as it was, we thought we could do better. Now see how one of the above paragraphs is transformed into a lead for a drastically different letter-that outpulled its predecessor by 10%!
"You will never forget that fateful week in the summer of 1945...”
... When a weird mushroom silhouetted against the sky over Japan-closed a war, opened a new age.
"Thus ended the most uncertain period in all our history-a period that changed our lives tremendously-a chapter in our lifetimes that can never be forgotten.
 "But as one chapter ends, so must another begin ... for our story isn't over!"
You can often find a good lead a few paragraphs down in your letter. And sometimes you can reverse the technique by putting a new paragraph above an old lead. LOOK once had a successful subscription letter that began:
"Out of the chaos of the last decade has come a new type of historian-armed with flash bulb and camera-to add new meaning to the printed pages of history."
Now see how the letter changes when we add a paragraph above it:
"For thousands of years men have recorded the story of human experience-have labored at this task so that their fellowmen might benefit from knowing. Find new hope in understanding. "Now-out of the chaos of the last decade come a new type of historian ...etc.
The new version pulled a 25% greater response than the original.
Small wonder, then, that there should be so much emphasis on writing good leads. Keep thinking of good leads-while you read newspapers, magazines, books-while you listen to the radio-while you watch TV-all the time, It will pay big dividends!
One method of writing a good lead is to tell your prospect exactly what your proposition is-right at the beginning of your letter. One such classic lead, used by the New Process Company of Warren, Pennsylvania is this:
"If I send you within the next few days a box of five genuine broadcloth shirts the

Best-fitting, the best-looking, the best-wearing shirts you've seen in years... "... Will you try them on, wear them, make up your own mind about them-and let me know your decision?”
That's the whole story, isn't it? No chance to miss the point of the letter, even if the reader gets only as far as the end of the second paragraph.
It may help you in shaping your leads to consider the types of leads that are available to you. Mark Wiseman, in his book, Advertisements: How to Plan Them, Make them and Make Them Work, lists six types of leads for you to consider:
1. News
Do you have a proposition which really is news? Then you have the makings of an effective lead. For there is nothing more exciting than news. Examples:
"Now you can broil a steak in 3 minutes-electronically!” "For the first time! Profits guaranteed on summer clothes."
2. "How"... "What"... "Why"
Remember the credo of the newspaper man-how, what, when, where, why. (And for our purpose, sometimes who). Consider this technique for leads for your letters.
"How to enjoy a Millionaire's Vacation' on a clerk's salary!” "What it takes to be a success in advertising!"
3. "1-2-3 Ways"
This is often an effective type of lead because it sets the stage for an organized mail presentation. Examples:
"Three ways to avoid the drudgery of doing your own house cleaning!" "Ten ways to cut down on your income tax!"
4. Command
If you can use a lead which will command, without offense and with authority, you have taken a big step toward

Getting the reader to do what you want him to do. Examples:
“See us before you trade in your car!" "Don't let lack of education hold you back socially!"
5. Narrative
This is one of the most difficult types of letter leads to write, but it often can prove to be one of the most effective. For it capitalizes on people's interest in stories. But keep in mind that you must lead into the sales story in a natural way and hold the reader's interest. Examples:
"Did you hear the story of what happened to Bill Jones when he met Mary Bliss at night school?” "There is a merchant out in Iowa whom you should know. There are only 360 people in his town, but what a business he does!”
6. Question
If you can start with a question-the kind of question that won't elicit a smart-aleck answer-you might put your reader in the right frame of mind. But be sure your question can't be answered in a way that will be detrimental to your cause. Make sure it promises benefits and
Make certain it will be answered in the affirmative. In other words, work for a "Yes" response. Examples:
"Would an extra $300 a month help you when you retire?' "If I can show you a way to increase your income substantially, without any obligation on your part, will you give me a few minutes of your time?”
Now-let me make a suggestion that will give your letter lead a better chance to do well. TRY NOT TO MAKE IT MORE THAN TWO LINES LONG-THREE AT THE MOST!
You can use this technique of breaking the opening sentence so that your lead might look like this:
"You are cordially invited to subscribe to XYZ Magazine at a special winter-time introductory rate... "... which will bring you the next 10 exciting, inspiration-packed issues for only $2.77-saving you 50% from the price you
Would normally expect to pay!" It is an artificial rule to be sure. But my observation has been that a lead stands a better chance for success if it is only two or three lines long. But since there are exceptions to every rule, don't let it hamstring you!

Section 7
As Your Story Unfolds

Once your lead is written and you progress to the body of the letter, remember these four little words:
Say what you have to say in an interesting way. Work hard at it. Write and rewrite and rewrite if necessary. You will find considerable help in the sections THE SENTENCES THAT GO INTO LETTERS and THE WORDS THAT GO INTO SENTENCES.
This can become one of the greatest of all social assets. It is a trait worth working to acquire. For as someone once remarked "there are no dull subjects-only dull writers.'
Read good books by authors who have a definite style. When you read fiction, try studying the style, not the plot. If non-fiction, read only the paragraphs that interest you and then go back to analyze why you skipped over the other parts. See if it's because those parts should have been written in a more interesting manner.
Subscribe to magazines that seem to have a style of their own-TIME, NEWSWEEK, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, READER'S DIGEST. Read local and national columnists who have a knack of being interesting
Try consciously to make your daily conversation more stimulating. It will help your copywriting-dramatically!
Another way to keep your copy moving through the middle is to-FORM A "BUCKET BRIGADE."
You do this by using connecting links
These connecting links are simple "signpost" devices that make your sentences
March After a few years of writing subscription promotion letters for LOOK magazine-all the while studying the letters of master copywriters like Robert Collier and Henry Hoke and others- I became aware of this technique.
No one had put a name to it at that time, but it was quite obvious that successful letters had freedom, swing, and movement. So we studied ways and means of injecting this valuable quality into our own letters.
Soon we discovered an amazing thing! Under actual testing conditions, sales promotion letters with this vital element consistently outpulled letters without it.
In a sense, it might be called an "IFTHEN-SO" technique. Its connecting thread could look like this:
"IF you would like to ..." (followed by several paragraphs) "...
THEN you will find that ... (showing how what you offer will solve the problem)
 "SO make up your mind now to ... (closing with clinching copy)
 Besides IF, THEN, SO, other connecting link words are NOW, BUT, YET, OR, AND, FOR and WHEN, plus many more.
Now let me show you how these words can be put into BUCKET BRIGADE sentences-sentences that will almost automatically make your letters swing along:
"But that's not all."
"And now you can..."
 "So that is why ..."
 "Or if you prefer ..."
 "But there is one thing more."
 "Now- here is all you have to do."
 "Better yet..."
  "More important than that ..."
  "And in addition ..."
  "You see ...”
  "But perhaps you would ..."
   "So you may have ..."
 "When you first ..."
 "But please remember..."
 "So you'll be glad to know..."
"Let me show you how ..."
"Now- here is the next step."
"Whether you do this now or later..."
"Within the next few days..."
 "As you probably know..."
"You may wonder why ..."
 "But there is one way to be sure that ..."
"Here is the reason why."
"Now-here is what you can do to help."
 This is not a complete list. Not by any means. There are probably hundreds of connecting links you can use, but this list will constitute a beginning for one of your own.
Some people say you should write as you talk. But actually they mean write as you talk if you could edit what you say. Which is a strong advantage for these connecting links because they make your copy sound more like conversation.
Try a simple test. The next time you find a piece of copy that seems dull and uninteresting; see if it isn't full of "island paragraphs."
These paragraphs are not joined with what has gone before nor what comes after.
But the minute you construct "bridges" between those islands-using the "Bucket Brigade" technique of connecting links-you can turn the piece of copy into a readable one.
Of course, you don't use a connecting link with every single paragraph. What you are striving for is an invisible thread through your letter.
You can do this in thought, too. Study the style of Reader's Digest for outstanding examples of this. When you learn to connect your paragraphs with words, you will subconsciously start connecting them with thoughts.
One more thing. Read your copy aloud and see if your writing needs more punch. By reading the copy aloud, you'll determine whether this conversational ingredient is part of your copy

Section 8
The Formula that Works Like Magic
So many copywriting techniques depend upon practice before you can use them successfully...
... But here is a secret you can put to work
This is not an original formula in the strict sense of the word. It is merely a simplification of the Flesch readability formula.
Few men of our time have had such a deep effect on the trend toward clear writing as Dr. Rudolf Flesch. From the moment he turned his Ph.D. thesis on readability at Columbia into the best-selling "THE ART OF PLAIN TALK," his impact on modern writing has been unmistakable.
Among other things, he gave the world two formulas-one based on "reading ease; "the other on human interest." In his book "THE ART OF READABLE WRITING," Dr. Flesch explains how to pick samples of your writing, count the number of words, figure the average sentence length, and then count the number of syllables-arriving at a "reading ease" score by joining lines across a bar graph. You find your "human interest score by counting the number of personal words and personal sentences.
It is a scholarly, authoritative formula. But it may be a bit too complicated for you to use as much as you will want to. This is not intended in any way as a criticism, for most certainly you will want to become familiar with the Flesch Formula.
What I've done here is make it easier to use the good sense of the Flesch Formula by simplifying the scoring. Here is how the words of-five-letters-or-less formula works:
 1. Take the copy draft you have written and count the number of words.
 2. Omit the salutation (unless it is a running head) and also omit the complimentary close.
 3. Omit any proper names used.
 4. If you have used numbers, any with five digits or less count to your credit.
  5. If you hyphenate a word, give it the full letter space count.
  6. Now determine how many words with five letters or less you have used.
7. Divide this total by the number of words in your copy draft-and you have your score.
 If you are in the vicinity of 75%, you are probably all right. Under 70% is a danger signal.
Sooner or later, someone will scoff at you for using this formula. Don't worry. You will be in pretty company. Shakespeare, the Bible, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address-all measure out well.
You see, as Rudolph Flesch says, the trouble is rarely that a reader's vocabulary is too small. He simply can't cope with the way the words are used. It is the length of words that cuts down readability.
Short words, happily combined for the sake of rhythm with an occasional longer word, will give you the right combination. Learn the technique and you'll stamp yourself with the mark of a gifted writer when you do.
When this formula is applied to sales promotion letters, you'll be amazed at how consistently letters which conform to the formula outpull those which don't.

Section 9
How to ask your action In the close of Your Letter
So many letters carry the reader right up to the point of doing what they want the reader to do, but then stop cold!
Your letter may be a masterpiece, but if it lacks a good closing, if it doesn't suggest buying, or taking a specific action-in short, if it doesn't tell the reader what to do and when to do it, then its mission may fail.
Don't leave it up to the reader to decide what you want done.
Don't omit "the next step." If the reader has to check the enclosed order form and mail it in the postpaid reply envelope that you are providing, explain that. Make it so plain, so simple that there is no way to misunderstand!
Don't hide the price or details-paragraph them separately, indented, so they can be found easily.
It's true enough that your first few words are most important --but your last words are the ones that will be remembered!
Just as the lead of your letter can be presented in different ways. So can the close. Here are a few of the techniques you may Lise:
"Limited" Close
a. Time. Your offer may expire on a certain date, or it may be in effect only for a limited number of days. For example:
"This offer will expire at midnight. January 31." OR "This offer can be held open only for the next 14 days.
 b. Quantity. If you have only a limited number available, say so in specific terms:
"There are only 980 copies of this book on hand. When they are more can be printed." But don't use this is a club over your reader's head if you don't mean it. Avoid the temptation of putting a quantity limit in effect if such is not really the case. c. Non-Transferable. You can add distinction and exclusiveness with this kind of close:
**Please keep in mind that this offer is available only to current subscribers of XYZ Magazine. It is not transfer able."
"Satisfaction" Close
People like to buy with confidence and primarily without risk. So if possible offer: a. Free Trial Period. It's often true that no matter how well you describe your product, people want to see for themselves. So you can break down buying resistance by letting people examine your product or service for a limited time:
"But we want you to see for yourself that everything we say is true. So try the PDO device in your own home for 10 days and then if you aren't convinced, just return it to us and no questions will be asked." b. Money Back Guarantee. Sometimes your marketing plan may not lend itself to a free trial offer. In that case, try a money back guarantee close, like this:
"You take no risk whatsoever when you order the PDO device, for if you are not completely satisfied, you may return it within 10 days and we will refund every cent you have paid." c. Installment Close. When your product is too expensive to offer in either of the above ways, or if you have other reasons for not doing so, then make a convenient payment plan available:
"You need not pay the entire amount of 500.00 at one time, but can stretch payments over a period of 00 months -sending only $0.00 each month."
In almost all cases, it is a good idea to re-state your entire proposition in the close of the letter. One way to do it is like this:
"Remember-we will send you the next 10 exciting issues of XYZ Magazine for only $2.97. And if you aren't completely satisfied after reading the first issue or two, just send back the invoice and you owe us nothing."
Make Good Use of Postscripts
Nearly all letters will be more effective if they have a postscript. The postscript can take several forms:
a. Extra Inducement. You might offer a special quantity discount, a discount for prompt payment, or perhaps a premium. At LOOK we had excellent success with extra issues for cash:
"If you will send your $3.00 now. Thus saving billing expense, we will ADD TWO EXTRA ISSUES, making a total of 28 issues for $3.00."
b. Testimonial P. S. Sometimes a powerful testimonial can be the clincher, especially in the P. S. An example:
"P. S. You will be glad to know that world famous Chef Pierre of the Hawaiian Rainbow Room has referred to the XYZ Cake Jubilee as "the most exciting dessert I have ever seen.' You will find the recipe on page 00 of your cookbook."
 c. Reminder P. S. Sometimes the postscript is an excellent place for a restatement of the entire proposition:
**Remember-we will send three of these internationally famous shirts for you to try on and wear--without obligation-for 14 days. Then, and only then, do you honor the invoice that will accompany the package of shirts."
So remember-your letter's ending...
... Must suggest thinking.
...or must suggest buying,
 ... And certainly must tell the reader exactly what to do,
 ...and when and how to do it.

Section 10
The Sentences that GO into Letters
Keep in mind that we have just examined THE STRUCTURE OF THE LETTER. Now we are ready to tackle the SENTENCES THAT GO INTO LETTERS and then next THE WORDS THAT GO INTO SENTENCES.
Whether they realize it or not, it is at the sentence level that many copywriters run into trouble. Webster's Unified Dictionary calls a sentence "a group of words which expresses a single thought."
There are three requisites for good sentence structure:
1. FRESH phrasing.
2. FRIENDLY phrasing.
3. WELL-FORMED phrasing.
How to Keep Your Phrasing FRESH
When a letter has freshness and sparkle, it is more welcome! So get rid of stock phrases... cut down sentence length ... avoid cliches ... and think in a straight line (WHO... DID ... WHAT).
But most important of all, use picture building words. When you create a mental image, your meaning is easier to absorb. Here is how Westinghouse used figures of speech in the printed text of a business report:
"The most delicate meters made by Westinghouse use wire like the strands of gossamer, .0008 of an inch in diameter, or about one-fourth as thick as a human hair."
"The wheels turn on pivots ten times as sharp as a sewing needle." Consider how dull and lifeless this report could have been without the photo-speech technique.
The best known figures of speech are:
Similes ... which compare objects with some resemblance. For example, "The ship. like a plow, cut through the heavy seas."
Metaphors ... which differ from similes in that they imply a comparison. For example, "The ship, plowing her way through the heavy seas, arrived on schedule." Personification ... which gives life to inanimate objects. For example, modern jets are **the eyes of the army."
Study the section in Reader's Digest entitled "Toward a More Picturesque Speech." You'll find it of great help in learning the technique of mental imagery. Here are some examples:
"Balconies stuck out like open drawers all over the walls of the hotel." "As inevitable as a path running across a corner lot." "Lakes like scratch pads on which the winds scribble idle messages.
Try to be vivid and forceful instead of general. Like this:
INSTEAD OF "We have received an extremely large number of orders." SAY "We have been deluged with an avalanche of orders.
“INSTEAD OF "Many paved roads have been built in the county.
SAY "The county is now rib boned with paved roads.
“INSTEAD OF "Let's approach the fundamental factors involved here." SAY "Let's get down to bedrock facts."
Let the pen be "mightier than the sword." It says a lot more than "Thought is more powerful than force." But watch cliches--people sometimes forget their real meaning and miss the impact.
How to Keep Your Phrasing FRIENDLY
This point is so important in doing series letter work-or in single purpose letters that involve collection or adjustment. Here are five simple suggestions to make your copy more friendly:
1. Learn the art of putting yourself in the proper frame of mind toward your reader!
Certainly it is important to put your reader in the right frame of mind, but even more important is the right mental attitude toward your reader when you sit down to write. It is like the smile with which you are greeted by a gracious host. Above all, give your reader the benefit of the doubt! So be gullible if that's what it takes.
2. Learn the art of being courteous!
The warmth of courtesy can work wonders. Customers are often won at great expense, but just as often whisked off to a competitor by a careless word, a tactless comment, a blunt phrase-lacking in common courtesy. Watch out for phrases like "We must insist that ..."_"You had better ..."-"You should not ..."-"You must know ..."Instead say "Would you mind ..."-"Do you think it would be better if..."-"Perhaps you could ..."_"Will you tell us what you think."
3. Learn the art of being gracious!
A friendly smile costs so little, yet creates so much. When you smile at people you meet in everyday life, you will notice that they smile back. That's what happens when you put a smile in your letters. The people you write to will smile back! The smart copywriter will start with a smile if he possibly can.
4. Learn the art of avoiding an argument!
Some people think of successful salesmanship-either in person or in print-as argument. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Sometimes in series work, you may be tempted to argue. But remember,
"Men must be taught as if you taught them not and things unknown proposed as things forgot."
5. Learn the art of being sorry!
There will be little need of it in most direct mail copy, but frequently in the correspondence going out from your company, there will be reason to say, "I'm sorry. It was my fault. I should have made it more clear." When you are self-effacing enough to say you are sorry, your adversary will be quick to come to your rescue. He is likely to say or think, "Oh, no. It isn't your fault at all. I just didn't understand."
And now, try taking the blame even when you are not at fault! You will be amazed at the results.
How to be Sure Your Phrasing is WELL-FORMED
You are quite likely familiar already with the principles of grammar, and if not you can review them in any authoritative text. We do want you to observe these basic principles, but we don't want you to become a slave to grammar.
1. Don't end too many sentences with a preposition Note that we said "too many." End a sentence with a preposition as often as you need to. I just did. The sentence is more natural that way. But you can kill your style if you do it all the time. The President of the National Council of Teachers of English once referred to the preposition as a good word to end a sentence with." When Winston Churchill was criticized for having done so, he acidly remarked. “This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I shall not put." And Dr. Flesch aptly put it, "The preposition at the end really doesn't belong with doubtful or controversial usages. It is one of the glories of English prose." But don't end TOO MANY sentences with prepositions. You are inviting trouble if you do 2. Don' split too many infinitives.
Do it when you need to-when no other construction is clear. But you needn't do it too often. Now, let's pay attention to a few DO's and DON'Ts that will help keep your copy in good form:
3. Don't use too many prepositional phrases.
 When you over-use prepositional phrases, you rob your copy of strength. Until we fixed it, the impact of this letter was dulled by so many prepositional phrases in a row:
"... and decide for yourself whether you want to continue your insurance at the regular rate shown for your age on the enclosed table at the end of 30 days ... The remedy is simple enough. Just shorten your sentences. And in addition, try to get variety in your style.
4. Don't use too many "THAT's."
Too many people overload letters with the word "THAT." For example:
**Mr. Smith says that the dealer is upset about several items that he has ordered and that he is not too happy about. You have indicated that these items are out of stock and that we are preparing new models. You understand, of course, that the dealer doesn't know that we are not prepared to ship the new models for two months."
But beware. If you cut out all the THAT's, you slow down the reader. Just don't go overboard with your THAT'S.
5. Don't use your company name too many times. Don't repeat the company name over and over, like a TV commercial especially if it's a long one. Instead, say "we" or "it." It helps, too, to have a company symbol-like IBM for International Business Machines.
6. Don't use too many numbers within a sentence or paragraph.
See how you bog down as you try to read this Federal Reserve Bank report: "Wool prices received by farmers declined to a low of about 50 cents per pound in September, 1955, as compared to nearly 53 cents in September, 1954; which means that the 1954 average price received by farmers was almost 54 cents as compared to nearly 55 cents in 1953. Cash receipts to growers were slightly less in 1954 than 1953. Although final 1955 data shows ..." By now you give up. Again, the remedy is simple. Translate your statistics. Say things like "down 13 cents from the year before."
7. Use verbs instead of nouns.
 It is a common fault to write:
“We will hold a meeting" (instead of "We will meet").
"This message is of vital concern" (instead of "This message vitally concerns...").
**This report has a direct bearing on our future progress" (instead of "This report directly affects our future progress"). Verbs are action words. They help give our message force and clarity and movement. Get into the verb habit and you will keep your writing from being stuffy!
8. Use periodic sentences for emphasis.
When you put the most important clause at the end of a sentence, it is called a periodic sentence. If you place the most important first, then you have a loose sentence.
"When you put your most important thought at the end, your expressed idea has more impact and sometimes achieves surprise." That sentence is a periodic sentence. Periodic sentences command greater attention and interest, but they require greater care in handling. And by all means, don't overuse them.
9. Use the technique of parallel construction

This is one of the most useful devices of all to help make your writing clear. It's hard to describe, but you can see what we mean by the following examples:
"When we have provided for the future, we can stop worrying about the present.
”There is only one thing worse than a home without a mother-and that is a mother without a home."
"The longer a man puts off buying life insurance, the more he needs it, the less chance he has of qualifying for it, and the more it costs him if he does get it."
10. Use the active voice.
You can't use it to the exclusion of the passive voice, but most of the time put the person doing the action first.
This way it is more readable. It packs more force. It takes less room.
11. Use punctuation to make your meaning clear.
Grammarians may frown upon it, but very often you can use punctuation to save the sense of what might otherwise become a complicated sentence. The most helpful forms of punctuation for this purpose are the dash (-) and three dots (...). And if you call for an occasional word to be underlined, you can put emphasis where it belongs. All caps will work the same way. But be sure not to overdo it! Too much emphasis is no emphasis at all. Sometimes you can use punctuation to save words. The colon, for instance, is one of TIME magazine's space-saving devices. As they would put it, "TIME's favorite: the colon." So remember that you can extricate yourself from a long-winded sentence quite easily-by using a dash or three dots ... just as has been done in this sentence
Keep your sentences fresh, friendly, and well-formed and people will stay with you longer, enjoy you more, and do what you want them to do.

Section 11
The Word that Go into Sentences
If you can know ahead of time how a reader will react to the words you use, you will enjoy a tremendous advantage in creating successful copy.
But our language is ever-changing and ever growing. Words are the living elements of language. So if we are to write effectively, we must grow with our language and have an abiding awareness of the nature of the words we use.
Words have two kinds of meaning. The first is recorded in the dictionary and is called its denotation. But there are additional meanings or undertones that most words come to suggest. This extra meaning is called its connotation. Take the word "democracy." Its dictionary meaning is "government by the people." But ask any group of people what democracy means and you will get widely different answers.
Someone once wrote: "Democracy... liberty... freedom...courage ... fortitude. These are precious things-so precious perhaps that we should ration the number of times a man may speak of them during his life-lest the ear become dulled to them, and the things themselves lose their sharp-edged meaning."
The famous advertising man Arthur Kudner once wrote:
*Big, long words name little things, All big things have little names, Such as life and death, peace and war, or dawn, day, night, hope, love, home. Learn to use little words in a big way: It is hard to do, but they say what you mean. When you don't know what you mean, Use BIG words.
That often fools little people." In his book, "How to Make More Money with Your Direct Mail," Edward Mayer quoted a Christian Science Monitor article by H. Phelps Gates who says:
"There is strength and force in short words that blast and boom, throb and thump, clank and chime, hiss and buzz and zoom.
"There is grace and charm in short words, too-in words like lull and hush and purr. There are short lush words like dank, muck, drench, parch, and husk." He adds: "There are words that work hard at their job, that pry and push, that slash and hack, that cut and clip, that chip and saw."
He ends with a tribute to workhorse words that know how to sell:
"Scan the best sales jobs in print and you'll find them rich in short words that tease the taste, make glad the eye, whet the nose, and please the ear.
 "There's nip, twang, bite and tang in short sales words. They are sweet, sour, tart, or dry as the need be. "Yet often as not in talk or script, we'll force the use of some long hard word and with it blunts the keen edge and dull the sharp point of what we want to say."
These are great passages. When you need an inspiration to make the most of short words, come back to this section and re-read it.
How to Say What You Mean
One of the greatest aids to straight-forward, clear writing is a thorough knowledge of words at work. In my earlier years one of the finest books on the intricacies of word usage was John Opdycke's "Say What You Mean," a book that really belongs in every copywriter's library. Five of his chapter titles are:
 1. Don't Confuse Words.
 2. Don't Abuse Words.
 3. Don't Overuse Words.
 4. Don't Underuse Words.
 5. Don't Misuse Words.

Don't Confuse Words
Words can be confused in two ways-their meanings and their pronunciations. But right now we are concerned with the shades of meaning which sometimes lead to confusion.
Take the word scan. Many people use scan in the sense of skim over lightly. Actually scan means to scrutinize, or examine carefully.
Take the word epitome. People are surprised to find that the true meaning is "a condensation or abridgment, a part to represent the whole." Not so long ago an advertisement stressed the point that its product was the epitome of all the products in its field. Yet the entire reading public accepted the word for what the copywriter wanted it to mean.
It would be easy to write page after page about the confusion over words. But these few brief examples will show you how important it is to spend some time in word study.
Don't Abuse Words
"When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean; nothing more; nothing less." Humpty Dumpty was not alone. There must be thousands with the same philosophy.
When a word is accepted nationally, it can be considered reputable. Words become accepted through use. But there are certain abuses of words that, by their nature, will probably never become accepted. They are:
Provincialisms. Some words are common only to a certain part of the country. For example, in New England, "We spelled each other at driving" means "to take turns." "Right smart" in the South is used to mean "very smart."
Colloquialisms. They are best defined as expressions permissible in informal discourse, but probably should be used sparingly in formal writing. Their advantage is clear-they lend vigor and earthiness. Many colloquial words eventually become recognized as good dictionary words. Examples: boycott, fad, mob, punch, shoddy. Wire (for telegram). But you must be sure that your readers will understand the way you use a word.

Vulgarisms. Even though a vulgarism is defined as an expression lacking in good taste, the fine line is often hard to draw. Invite is a vulgarism for invitation, Combine is a vulgarism for combination. Gent, of course, is a vulgarism for gentleman. But some words outgrow this stigma. Pants was not so long ago considered a vulgarism for trousers.
Barbarisms. Barbarisms are coined words without authority from words in good standing. Used once, they sometimes have freshness, but they scarcely are good for much longer than that. They border on affectations. Examples: swelegant, beanery, delovely, globaloney, slanguage. Improprieties. When you use a word to fulfill a part of speech to which it does not belong, that's an impropriety. "I suspicion" is an impropriety. You mean "I suspect." "I'll chance it is in the same category. “Canine" and "feline" are adjectives, so it is an impropriety to say "a canine" when you mean "a dog."
If you are in doubt about what is good usage, let an up-to-date dictionary be your final authority.
Don't Overuse Words
This is one of our common faults. Sometimes it is difficult to economize on words and still make our meaning clear. But often as not, we confuse the meaning even more by over-using words. When you say "Please reread this paragraph again," you imply that it has already been reread once and should be reread again.
Sometimes doublets, a popular form of overusing words, actually do provide emphasis. But usually you'll be better off not to say "first and foremost"... “Right and proper" ... "few and far between"... or other doublets that simply constitute overuse.
Watch out for such expressions as:
Ask this Question (instead of ask)
Consensus of Opinion (consensus means "general opinion")
Basic Fundamentals (instead of fundamentals)
Just recently (instead of recently)
Still Remains (instead of remains)
Very Latest (instead of latest)
 Carbon Copy of (instead of carbon of, or copy of)
 Don't Underuse Words
You can waste words, true enough, but you can also fail to use enough words.
When you say "I like Jack better than Joe," it isn't clear whether you mean (a) you like Jack better than you like Joe, or (b) you like Jack better than Joe likes Jack.
One of the chief faults is leaving out an article (a, an, the) when it is needed to make your meaning clear. "We will write the secretary and treasurer of the company doesn't explain whether we are going to write one man or two. If we are referring to one man, hyphens before and after "and" would solve the problem. If we mean two people, then we need the article "the" before "treasurer."
And be sure your reference is correct. "His principal faults are coherence and style" is not correct because we mean "His principal faults are lack of coherence and style."
Don't Misuse Words
One common misuse of words is to put them in the wrong place. See how important the placement of words is by looking at these sentences, each of which has a different meaning:
 "I asked John to do only this job."
 "I asked John only to do this job."
 "I only asked John to do this job."
 "I asked only John to do this job."
 "I asked John to do this job only."
 "Only I asked John to do this job."
 Here is a humorous example:
NOT THIS "I saw a large cow driving down the Interstate this morning."
  THIS   "Driving down the Inter- state this morning, I saw a large cow."
Don't leave doubt about the antecedent of pronouns:
 NOT THIS   "He followed the accountant to a high desk where he placed the report in a drawer." (Who put the report in a drawer?)
THIS   "He followed the accountant to a high desk and saw him place the report in a drawer."
 Don't separate correlative conjunctions from the words they connect:
 NOT THIS "We neither manufacture windows nor doors."
 THIS "We manufacture neither windows nor doors."
 Don't shift subjects when two clauses are connected: NOT THIS "We finished the dictation promptly and the letters were soon mailed." THIS "We finished the dictation promptly and soon mailed the letters."
If you need additional grammar review, you will find it helpful to consult recent references. Libraries often have grammar books so old that they are out of date.
But the important thing to remember about rules of grammar is that they help make your meaning clear. Look at your copy and ask "Is there any other possible meaning this copy could have? Make the rules of grammar useful servants for you!
(Recommended Reading "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White)

Section 12
The technique of Getting Copy Down on Paper Properly
So far we have been concerned with what to say and how to say it. Now let's study the seldom-discussed technique of getting copy down on paper. Although there is a thirst for information on this subject, little has ever been said or written to slake it.
Quite often at direct mail gatherings around the country these questions are asked:
"What is the very first thing you do when you tackle a copywriting assignment?'
Make all the notes you can about what you want to say and what you want your mailing to do. Study your company's past literature-direct mail pieces, advertisements, pamphlets, house organs, scrapbook clippings. Also study competitors' material that may have been accumulated by your company. Important: Put your selling points on paper.
"Suppose that doesn't work out exactly as it should. Is there something else to suggest?"
Yes-try writing the close of your letter first. Do this before you write anything else. You will then at least have determined the purpose of your letter.
"This may seem like an odd question. But once you have made your notes and ready to write, how do you get into the proper frame of mind? Isn't this important?"
It most certainly is! There are many times when a copywriter sits down to write, but nothing comes. When that happens, it is better to postpone the job if you possibly can. Work on another task for a while.
"How can a copywriter keep attention focused on the task at hand?"
This is quite a problem. Start with a clear mind and a clear desk, except for notes, papers, books, and other material you will refer to as you do the job. (Even if your desk is ordinarily an unholy mess, as mine is, clear away space to work-free of distraction.)
"Do you think a copywriter should have an office of his or her own?"
If possible, yes. But there are a number of reasons why it isn't practical in many companies. Even then, copywriters should be away from streams of traffic, away from windows, out of sight of pretty female employees (if men) or handsome males (if women).
"Suppose everything is ready, suppose the words don't come, but what do you do if there isn't time to delay the work any longer?"
Make a phone call, drink a cup of coffee, or occupy yourself momentarily with something far removed. Then come back to the job in five or ten minutes. Now start writing. Start in the middle if you have to-but begin!
Should you submit your copy to others for advice?"
It doesn't hurt-and frequently helps. Actually you may not always have time to check with others before you submit it for final approval. But if you can get one or two people whose opinions you value highly to look at it first. More than likely, they will come up with a suggestion you may not have thought of.
What about the final form of your copy before you submit it for approval?"
Set it up as attractively as possible. If you have the final draft typed by someone else, be sure there are no really distracting ink corrections. Minor alterations are all right, but you will want to submit the neatest-looking copy possible. Keep in mind, too, that some executives have a hang up about copy that is not neat. Be sure to keep carbon copies in your files on all projects submitted. And don't throw away rejected pieces of copy. Sometimes the good ideas of the future come from rejected copy of the past.

Section 13
Twenty Checklist Points to Help You Write Better Copy

After you have written your rough draft, go down this checklist, point by point, and see where your letter may need strengthening. Be ruthless and impartial. Out of such self-discipline can come great copy.
(Although there are many successful letters with longer leads, this point serves as a guide-post.)
(It is surprising how many times a good copywriter will forget.)
(Don't hold back. If you save the best till last, your reader may be gone by then.)
(The Big Idea is important for every company. Its absence is one reason why some direct mail ventures fail.)
(This is where mastery of formulas helps. See pp. 18.)
(An extremely important point.)
(Try to write with the ease with which you talk-or to put it another way, write the way you would talk if you could edit what you are going to say.)
(NOTE: Apply the 20-Point Checklist religiously to your letters. Even use the checklist to score letters formerly in use, or current letters which are not performing as effectively as they might.)

Writing successful direct mail letters is a humbling business-especially when you stop to think that:
 ... Just because you WROTE it doesn't mean that anyone READ it.
... If they READ it, that doesn't mean they UNDERSTOOD it.
... If they UNDERSTOOD it, that doesn't mean they'll REMEMBER it.
 ... Just because they REMEMBER it doesn't mean they will ACT UPON IT.
 ... And if they do ACT UPON IT, that doesn't mean they will DO IT RIGHT.
Not a reassuring picture, is it? Yet that is precisely the way the world works-and is a set of circumstances we must face up to. All of us.
So the more you know about writing successful direct mail letters, the more likely you will get people to do what you want them to do.

(courtesy of the Direct Marketing Association)




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