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The Secrets of Joe Sugarman Revealed: A Review of Three New Marketing Books

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I don’t know Joe Sugarman. Never met him. Never spoke to him. Never bought a pair of his famous BluBlocker sunglasses. Never seen him in any of his successful infomercials, or on the home shopping channel, in one of his marketing seminars or anywhere else. I’ve never seen his JS&A mail-order catalog gadgets or any of his unusual hard-sell full-page ads. But after reading his three new books, I’ll never forget him. Partly because I now think Sugarman is a genius. And partly because I’m now mad at him.But let me tell you the whole story . . .

Writing Spice

A month or so ago, I received an e-mail from David Deutsch, a brilliant copywriter and a personal friend, urging me to drop everything and order Joe Sugarman’s new book, Advertising Secrets of the Written Word: The Ultimate Resource on How to Write Powerful Advertising Copy from One of America’s Top Copywriters and Mail Order Entrepreneurs. Since I am a copywriter and collect books on marketing (about 5,000 in my library so far), I immediately called 1-800/323-6400 and asked them to send me the book by Fed-X. I wanted it NOW! As it turns out, Fed-X had problems with their flights and their deliveries, and the book didn’t arrive for two l-o-n-g, dreary, frustrating, hair-pulling (and I’m bald), impatient days.I was not happy.But then I opened the package. I was stunned to see how beautiful the book looked: Hardcover, dust jacket, high-quality paper, 312 large pages-truly an impressive (and expensive) work of production. But the best was yet to come. Inside this book were Sugarman’s hard earned secrets of persuasion. I don’t know how to convey how impressed I am with this. In my giant library of books on marketing, only two or three books stand out as true bibles on how to write copy that sells, and they are out of print. When I saw Sugarman’s explanation of the 24 psychological triggers that cause prospects to buy from you, I knew this was a living work of sheer genius.In fact, I used Sugarman’s concepts to rewrite my ad for my new home-study course on sales and marketing. Where my original headline was long and wordy, I replaced it with one inspired by Sugarman’s tendency to come up with two- or three-word headlines that rattle the brain with curiosity-invoking images. For example, one of Sugarman’s ads began “Pocket Yellow Pages” (for a 1978 calculator). Another’s headline read “Pickle Power” (for a 1982 battery-charging system). I retitled my ad “Barnum’s Secret,” since the course deals with the secrets of P. T. Barnum. Will the new headline work? As Sugarman teaches, only testing will tell.I spent a week slowly devouring every word in Sugarman’s new book. I loved the fact that he included ads by his students, such as Joe Karbo’s famous “lazy man’s way to riches” ad, and the Victoria’s Secret ad that began with the headline “Lingerie for Men.” Most of the ads are by the master himself. One print ad by Sugarman, titled “Pet Plane,” actually sold a plane by mail for $240,000-when it was valued at $190,000, a truly staggering feat. All of these ads, with Sugarman’s commentary, are very instructional. All in all, Advertising Secrets of the Written Word is worth gold and worth getting right now.As it turns out, Sugarman has written an entire trilogy on marketing.All of these new books are based on an exclusive seminar Sugarman taught for 12 years, attended by Joe Karbo, Federal Express, Victoria’s Secret, and a long list of other now successful people and companies who paid the $3,000 fee to sit in Sugarman’s shadow. The first book is the one I had just reviewed. After I read it, I called their 800 number again and told them to send the other two new books to me by UPS next-day delivery. (Heck with Fed-X.) An hour later, someone from Sugarman’s office called to say the third book was not printed yet, and would not be for maybe four months. Four months! I was disappointed, but told them to send the book they had.To my surprise, on the next day both new books arrived. I was confused, but glad to have both books in my hands.

Marketing Spice

Marketing Secrets of a Mail Order Maverick: Stories and Lessons on the Power of Direct Marketing to Start a Successful Business, Create a Famous Brand Name and Sell Any Product or Service is another beautiful work of production: Hardcover, dust jacket, 396 pages. This meaty book is packed with stories, lessons, ads, tips, and techniques. In it, Sugarman reveals the story of how he cleverly wrote a retail ad that sold thousands of computers in one morning, causing a line of people for blocks. And I nearly cried reading about the ad Sugarman ran to raffle off his services as a copywriter to help raise money for the American Cancer Society after his mother’s sad death. Clearly, Sugarman has been around the block (often chased) in the world of marketing. He tells stories about his successes, as well as his failures, and they are riveting.The success story about the software program that could accurately predict the stock market (which made many people wealthy) made me drool to get my hands on it. The failure story about the “Laser Beam Mousetrap” that went for $1,500 reveals how your ego can cripple your success. Then there are Sugarman’s thoughts on type fonts, layout, photography, pricing, publicity (it doesn’t sell much), humor (avoid it), and much more, that make this book required reading.

Television Spice

Television Secrets for Marketing Success: How to Sell Your Product on Infomercials, Home Shopping Channels and Spot TV Commercials from the Entrepreneur Who Gave You BluBlocker Sunglasses is yet another gorgeous book: Hardcover, dust jacket, 314 pages. Sugarman’s stories about the products he loved and spent a fortune on (like the pill that removes wrinkles) are entertaining as well as educational. You learn that the product is king, the public (and only the public) is the voter, and a sound way to discover what will work or not is by testing your product first in print (another reason to read his first book). That’s how Sugarman knew BluBlocker sunglasses could do well on TV. In print, he sold 100,000 sunglasses in six months. On TV, he sold that many in one month. (He’s sold 20 million total.) You also discover ways that an infomercial is like a Hollywood screenplay. It’s got three distinct parts, and keeping the viewer entertained during the infomercial is more important than virtually anything else.While I loved this third book, I have to admit I found it the weakest of the three. I don’t want to decry the value of this work, but I have to point out that Sugarman says he got out of the infomercial business in 1993 because of problems he foresaw (raising costs being a biggie). To write a book on how to create winning infomercials when he now believes infomercials aren’t what they used to be seems like a very mixed message. His concerns about infomercials may be why his enthusiasm isn’t in this last, and thinnest, book. He simply doesn’t believe in them as much as he used to. Still, make no mistake, this is a terrific book.Actually, all three books are outstanding, with the second one-Marketing Secrets of a Mail Order Maverick-being my favorite. Since there is very little repetition in them, and each contains ads that aren’t in the others, you really have to have the set to feel like you’ve learned all of the secrets of Joe Sugarman. I’d say these books comprise a 20-year education in direct response marketing, which can be the road to riches for virtually anybody. The only thing missing in this trilogy is material on marketing online. But stay tuned: Joe’s next book is Computer Secrets of a Marketing Guru.I mentioned at the beginning of this review that I am mad at Joe Sugarman. Here’s why.When I called his office to find out why the first book-which was to be delivered by Fed-X the next day-hadn’t arrived, they blew me off. They said that Fed-X had tried to deliver the book but I wasn’t home. Nonsense. I stayed home to receive the book. I had to call Fed-X to discover the book wasn’t delivered due to flight delays. I also asked for a refund of the extra money I paid for overnight delivery, but neither Fed-X or Sugarman’s office has yet to return a cent.When I called to order Sugarman’s other two books, someone told me the third book wasn’t in print yet. As you now know, I received the third book with the second one. Sheesh. Doesn’t anyone communicate in Sugarman’s office? I was not impressed.Finally, when you call their 800 number and buy all three of Sugarman’s books, as I have done, you are supposed to get a free slipcase to hold the books. Well, I never received it. I’d love to have one too, as these wonderful books beg for a protected spot in my library.Oh, I guess I’m not really mad at Sugarman. When I think of the three absolutely terrific new books he has given the business world, and when I delve into those books and relish the stories and learn from his tested theories, I can’t help but smile, relax, and forgive.And maybe one day I’ll even buy a pair of his sunglasses.Joe Vitale is the author of numerous books including his newest title, “There’s a Customer Born Every Minute: P. T. Barnum’s Business Secrets” (AMACOM, 1998). You’ll find free marketing advice at his Web site, http://www.mrfire.com. Contact him via e-mail at: joe@mrfire.com. For further information on Joe Vitale, e-mail info@mrfire.com and receive an automatic reply.

Joe Sugarman’s Books on MarketingThe Sugarman books reviewed in Vitale’s article are: Vol. 1: Advertising Secrets of the Written Word; Vol. 2: Marketing Secrets of a Mail Order Maverick; Vol. 3: Television Secrets for Marketing Success. Each one costs $39.95, plus shipping.To order, call 1-800/323-6400, fax 702/597-2002, or write to JS&A Group, Inc., 3350 Palms Center Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89103.

This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor August, 1998, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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