A few weeks back I entered a “copywriting contest.” Here were the rules:
Sell a flashlight.
But not just any flashlight. A super-special “tactical” flashlight.
I could write whatever I wanted, but it had to fit on one page.
Winner gets a $500 Amazon gift card. And a shit ton of bragging rights… I guess?
A Casting Call For Talented Writers
That’s all it was.
See, this little contest went down at Copy Chief Live… The World’s #1 Event For Learning “What’s Working Now” in the world of direct response copywriting and marketing.
One of the awesome things about this event is that there are two “round-table” sessions where writers can sit there and get pitched by clients as to why they should work with them.
There were a number of prominent DR publishers and big dogs there.
Despite this, I’ll admit… I originally didn’t plan on participating in the round-table sessions. I have a wait-list. I am currently booked up with client work and I have my own projects I’m working on.
But after talking with my coaches, they told me I should attend. And I am glad they smacked me upside the head and got me into these sessions.
One of the companies at the round-tables was Agora Financial.
They’re probably the biggest financial publisher around. Last I heard they made like $170 mil last year selling info products. So I guess that’s pretty good.
They – just like all these other publishers out there are hungry to find new writing talent.
So one of the things they did was hold this one-page flashlight sales letter contest to see who had “chops.”
Good Copy Isn’t About Length. It’s All About The Big Idea.
I knew this.
And I thought my big ideas could be better than every other copywriter who was going to enter this contest.
And I also felt very confident because…
So I knew that if I had a good big idea that hit the judge right in the feels, I might be able to win this thing.
And despite what you may think, I am not going to continue to brag about myself. Instead, the real reason I wanted to write this article was to break down this “winning” big idea for anyone who wants to learn how to write big ideas.
I really don’t give a fuck that I won some money with this contest. I used the Amazon gift card to buy a Forrest Gump costume. It wasn’t about the money.
I just like winning. And I wanted to prove to myself that I could write a halfway decent hook for a niche that I don’t really ever work in.
So yeah, let’s break that chit down, mang.
How To Take Boring Products That No One Needs And Awaken A Primal Buying Desire So Strong People Will Pull Out Their Credit Cards And Buy
Ok so one last caveat before we dive in… this copy was (at the time of this writing) NOT ever tested, to my knowledge at least.
It won a contest, not a head to head split test.
SO DON’T @ ME… I’m just breaking down some copy for ya.
Pretty fucking boring product, right?
Like why do I need a flashlight?
I probably have a few in my drawer.
Power grid is decent enough in NJ.
We have streetlights.
Why would I need another flashlight… let alone THIS particular flashlight?
Now, the context of this offer was that it was a “free + shipping” offer. These kind of offers work by giving you a “free” widget on the front end, and then getting you into their upsell flow.
Most companies that do this actually LOSE money by giving away this product. They’ll usually charge a $4.95 shipping and handling fee to get the item for “free.”
But once you hit submit, they put a few one-click upsells in front of you. What these companies have figured out is that for every 100 of these things they give away, a certain amount of people will take the upsells.
So they know that if their average order value exceeds the cost of paying for traffic and the cost of the flashlight… they are in the money.
What’s more… even if they break even or LOSE a little out on the front end, they can afford to do so because they can make up that difference on the backend.
Now, being that this is the context… we know that very few people are probably actively scanning banner ads for flashlights. If they’re a normal person, they’ll just go on Amazon or head to Home Depot and pick one up if they’re actively searching.
So, this was NOT a product that someone needs.
But maybe… just maybe, we could turn this product into something that people WANT.
And how do we do that?
How do we awaken this primal buying desire? How do we elicit an emotional reaction in the person reading? How do we slip in a hook so powerful that people stop… click… read… reach into their wallet… and buy?
Sometimes A Flashlight Isn’t A Flashlight
When you’re selling a product, there are always a few angles you could take.
There are usually multiple benefits. Multiple “results” that can be achieved through the use of said product.
For this flashlight offer, I knew that this flashlight wasn’t really a flashlight, it was a weapon.
Take a really close look at the front part of this flashlight:
You see how this thing has some “teeth” on it?
Now if you were to run your finger along that edge, it would NOT cut your skin. It’s somewhat of a serrated edge… but it’s not sharp by any means.
The thing is…
I used to be a bouncer at this rough bar down the shore. It was a glorious, magical place called D’Jais in Belmar, NJ. I worked there for one summer. And that place was like the Wild Fucking West.
As a bouncer, we had to carry a flashlight. My first day on the job, I looked around at all the other flashlights the other guys had… and they all had these tactical style flashlights.
So… thanks to social proof and that whole “wanting-to-be-part-of-the-crowd” thing that’s hard-wired into our DNA, I went out and bought one. And I am pretty glad I made this decision.
That was a rough bouncing job.
The slowest night I ever had there I ended up tossing three people. That was a slow night. And there were at least 20 of us on duty for every shift.
There were some BRAWLS at that place.
Juice-head guidos were a dime a dozen. The air was thick with Jaeger, testosterone, cocaine residue and cheap cologne.
So naturally, fights broke out all the time.
Now, I’m a big dude. But chaos is chaos. And you never know what’s gonna go down that night when you get into work.
I would stand on my box, watching the crowd, flashlight in hand. And I remember one night feeling the serrated edge of this flashlight and thinking to myself… “I bet you could crack someone’s skull with this thing.”
You need to know, I NEVER used this flashlight for that purpose. That would have probably gotten me arrested.
But the thing was… I just felt a tiny bit more comfortable than I would have felt if I DIDN’T have that flashlight.
And that’s the thing…
Most of the “self-defense” stuff you see sold on the Internet is really just a security blanket. You’re probably never going to use it, you just sleep better at night knowing you have it.
It’s an empowering tool. It gives you a “superhuman” ability. And yes… I realize that sounds a bit dramatic.
But think about the psychology of a person who’s going to buy something like this online. They, for whatever reason and whatever worldview, want to feel secure.
I mean… really that’s kind of a basic, universal need. To feel safe.
This desire exists.
And I knew that if my big idea was going to capture attention… I had to tap into this desire.
Let’s take a look at the headline I wrote for this offer…
Even the sickest, most sadistic street thugs and gang members will be begging for their lives when you defend yourself with…
The World’s First And Only
“100% Legal Lethal Weapon”
You Can Carry Anywhere
(Even On An Airplane)
This innocent little tool blinds attackers… punctures skulls… crushes orbital sockets… tears eyebrows, ears and even noses clean off an attackers face… and can even scoop out a street thug’s eyeball with one clean swipe.
The best part? It is 100% street legal. It’s so small it can fit in your pocket, purse, even your sock – completely undetected. Women and small children can use it to mutilate larger attackers. And TODAY ONLY, we’d like to send you this completely legal lethal weapon… for FREE.
Let’s unpack this…
At the top, we have a call out.
Remember, for this promotion, we are not selling a flashlight. We are selling a weapon. That’s the angle I thought would work best. I figured that people probably didn’t need another flashlight. But they might want another weapon to add to their arsenal.
The World’s First – anytime you can be first, you get to hit on that “new” factor. People love new stuff. New gadgets, new information… new anything.
An Only – this lets people know that they can’t find anything like this anywhere else. (Obviously they can find a flashlight, but this is the only “lethal legal weapon” which I’ll get to in a second.)
“100% Legal Lethal Weapon” – This is somewhat of a neologism. A phrase I kind of made up. There is a lot of power packed into these words. 100% legal makes it OK to use. “Lethal weapon” makes it intriguing… “What the hell could this ‘legal’ lethal weapon be?” There’s a lot of curiosity going on here. Or least, that was my goal. But is it really a “lethal weapon?” IDK… I mean people kill each other with their fists. I’ve heard prisoners sharpen the edges of toothbrushes into shanks and shivs… so technically THOSE could be lethal weapons too, right? I mean it’s a blunt object at the end of the day, so I thinkit’s fair to attribute this object with this label.
You Can Carry Anywhere – again this is building on the intrigue. If it’s a lethal weapon, how am I allowed to carry it anywhere? Does that mean it’s small? I can conceal it? These are things important to the self-defense market.
(Even On An Airplane) – It’s inconspicuous and legal… yet it’s dangerous. I gotta find out more!
Now, when we look at the first subhead, I tried to be as graphic as possible. I’ll admit, I was inspired by some of John Carlton’s old self-defense ads. There’s a lot of bone-crunching, visceral language in those letters… they are masterpieces and I highly suggest you give his stuff a read.
I also wanted to dimensionalize the benefits of this product.
I thought to myself… if I had to show this in an infomercial, how would I demonstrate it? Instead of saying “fend off attackers” I elected to use the whole “scoop out a street thugs eyeball with one clean swipe” angle.
I am positive that if you were to catch someone’s ear or nose or eyebrow with the serrated edge of this flashlight, you could cleave those soft, fleshy appendages clean off someone’s face. And I sincerely hope no one ever has to use this and find out.
Here’s My Formula For Headlines
I am not a MASTER headline writer. I am halfway decent. My shit gets the job done and that’s good enough for me.
But when I do write headlines, I usually take a very similar structure.
I start with a big benefit headline.
Then, I introduce an “expansion of benefit” first subhead.
And I finish off with an “objection handling” second subhead.
And if you scroll back up and take a look at this headline, you’ll see I followed that pretty closely.
Apparently, The Agora People Liked It
They chose my big idea and Kevin called me up on stage.
And if you didn’t think I was a meathead BEFORE that moment, you definitely did as I explained to a room of 200 people how the inspiration for this winning headline was because I used to postulate “how one could bash someone’s head in” when I was standing on a box for twelve hours straight as a bouncer at a Jersey Shore bar.
We all had a good chuckle about it.
And if any flashlight companies are reading this and would like to BUY this idea off of me… or hire me to write out an entire package around this idea, I welcome that discussion. (Get in contact with me on my “Work With Me” page.)
One Final Note
Will this angle perform if tested in real life?
I literally have no fucking idea. I honestly don’t. I hope it would… but currently I have no tested this out.
Like I said earlier, this idea won a contest… NOT a head-to-head split test.
I can only guess as to why I think the Agoraian’s chose this big idea above all else. And my analysis here was my best guess.
Well… What The Hell Should You Do Now?
Do me a favor…
Leave a comment for me below and tell me what you think?
And if you have questions, drop them below! I am sure there are some ideas here I didn’t unpack enough. I woke up this morning, banged out 2300 words, didn’t bother to edit and hit publish. So I welcome a discussion in the comments.
And if you haven’t already done so… join my email list! I give you some cool stuff for signing up… and I’ll teach you how to write copy that sells.
31 thoughts on “How I Won Agora Financial’s Copywriting Contest (Or At Least Why I Think I Did)”
Amazing copy! Sign me up! It’s also very Arthur Johnson esq! Congrats again.
Michele, that is a HUGE compliment… that really means a lot. Thank you
Was so damn curious what you wrote. Makes sense. Liked the headline/subheadline/objection handling formula.
thanks Gary, hope it’s useful
Love the formulas.
That was a helluva line. It’s more aggressive than anything I’d ever write, but when you unpack it like you did, I can see the science behind your thinking. There’s a lot to digest here. Maslow would be proud.
Also, I took one of those flashlights. It’s friggin’ amazing!
Thanks Justin – they are pretty awesome, aren’t they? Just don’t hurt anyone lol
Yeah, it was very aggressive. But I thought it could work for this kind of market… maybe one day I’ll be able to use this somewhere.
I didn’t mean aggressive as a negative. It’s perfect for the survivalist audience. Man, this was such a cool post.
I didn’t take it that way, I appreciate your feedback and thanks so much for sharing it! That really means a lot
Congrats again on this, Chris! An amazing hook… one I don’t think I would have come up with myself. Need to tap into my primal aggression to do right by the survival niche.
Thanks David. Yes… every good product fulfills some deep seeded primal desire.
Crikey, that is the boldest, bloodiest Big Idea I’ve ever come across! “Women and small children can use it to mutilate …” Eye-watering stuff!! But it’s clearly not just the shock value that hook’s the reader — the way you’ve broken down your thinking for us shows that there’s way more to making it stick than throwing out blood and guts. I’m not the slightest bit surprised you caught the attention of the players at Agora — excellent work friend! The more I read of you, the more the awe (and that rhymes because I’m British) ????
Thanks so much Gin!
I just tried to dimensionalize it as much as possible… tried to make it real and tangible.
Brilliant, Chris! At this time many Americans feel unsafe and worried about the real and imagined threats all around them
Just feeling safer… without likely ever having to use the “weapon”… is big. You have an impeccable ability to psych out people’s real needs…if that makes you a “psych-opath”.
Thanks Ricki… you’re right. Our Amagdylas are firing harder than ever nowadays…
A very well deserved win Chris! It really does pack an emotional punch. I can imagine any woman who has ever held her bunch of keys as a weapon from feeling unsafe whilst walking home at night (ie lots of us) would snap that up.
Thanks for providing such a comprehensive breakdown of how you got to the big idea too – super helpful.
Tanya, you’re right… every woman should have something like this.
I gave my flashlight to a friend(I may have had two).
The first words out of her mouth. This is a weapon too….Yes, I believe this angle would definitely work when a flashlight company takes you up on your offer to build a promo around this angle.
I hope so too! lol
Neat! I really like what you did there. (Shaking my head in approval)
Thanks! that means a lot
I wanna buy one one o’ them.
Actually, I’m a self defense instructor and always knew what these things can be used for. Just never thought of writing about them as a weapon.
yes, they can be a very effective tool. A lot of sites give em away as a free + shipping offer
WOW! Smooth writing. Very nice. Not to mention a great angle.
What was the avatar they gave you? It seems like your copy targets women, as well as the male prepper market which I presume was/is the low-hanging-fruit for a product like this.
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I’ve worked in the Agora world for over 3 years and have brought in 600,000 new subscribers. Agora does love BIG ideas. This is an excellent breakdown of your approach to the copy. Thanks for your insight.
Loved this writeup. I’ve found the mother load of agora-style story investments ready to launch in about a month, and no one knows about it yet. I’ll be doing a landing page video, youtube ad video, and email write up similar to what you wrote style-wise. I’ll send you a copy before I launch it for your input, will also give you a chance to take a shot at the stock before the promo, just for your feedback. Look forward to hearing from you.
It’s the transubstantiation technique. And Agora LOVES that shit. the idea of something simple being more valuable than it is.
For example, Catholics don’t just drink wine and eat bread. They’re drink the blood and eat the body of Christ, which is weird but they eat that shit up, (ha)
And your flashlight knocked that out the park. Genius stuff.
This is hand down the best article I’ve read today,
honestly, I was looking for how to find spec assignmentt from Agora, but how you won the contest caught my attention.
I deserve to be in your email list and looking forward your offers.
Mind blown with the big idea
I guess it shows exactly the reason why we need to write down all the features and benefits of a product we are selling.
This is the first article i’ve ever read all the way to the bottom… every single word. Damn you know what you’re doing! fun to read too 😉