Sometimes you sell so well you end up in Federal Prison.

Legend has it that's what happened to direct mail legend Gary Halbert (1938-2007).

No, there was no Bernie Madoff style ponzi scheme, or any real malice on Gary's part.

Details are fuzzy. The following is not the definitive account of what happened. 

(Feel free to send over any corrections and we'll update the email)

But supposedly it all started like this: 

Gary wrote a direct mail promotion for an offer that did so well, converted so many readers to buyers & sold so many units... 

...That it exceeded all expectations and broke the company's back-end fulfillment.

As a result, there was a mis-match between: 

  • Money received
  • Orders fulfilled
  • And most important, ability to pay a hefty tax bill owed to Uncle Sam.

End result?

Gary Halbert sold so well, he ended up in Federal Prison.

Now Boron Federal Prison, where they sent Gary, was actually a pretty nice place.

They called it "Club Fed" and there was a swimming pool, 2 full-time recreation directors, no fences (or even armed guards), and a beautiful view of California's High Desert.

(Here is a typical Saturday afternoon at Boron Federal Prison)

 image source: https://www.thedesertway.com/boron-fpc-ca/

But don't let this cushy environment fool you.

When it came to selling with the printed word, Gary was a dangerous man.

He made clients (and himself) millions selling everything from offers in the standard direct response spaces like health / wealth / relationships... 

To more obscure offers like:

  • Dental veneers (sold via a full page text-only ad with zero images)
  • Pre-owned Rolls Royce cars (via direct mail)

 ...And his best-seller of all time, a frameable family coat-of-arms document again sold via direct mail:

 image source: https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth248340/

(This coat-of-arms offer brought in 20k+ orders per day and as a result, the company ultimately sold for $75 million.)

Thankfully Gary shared most of his secrets in a monthly newsletter, "The Gary Halbert Letter."

And his sons Kevin & Bond have generously made it all available for free on this website.

(When I was working at Golden Hippo Media ($250M+/yr direct response powerhouse), we were required to read and even hand copy the entire Gary Halbert Letter, to ingrain these marketing lessons into our memory.)

But memory is a fickle thing.

And even though we are completely obsessed with solving the problem of creating videos that sell (specifically on YouTube)... 

...I slap myself every time I open up the Gary Halbert letter today.

Because every time I read it, I see even more ways to apply these hard-earned direct response lessons - learned from the unforgiving trenches of the direct mail industry - to the videos we create. 

Things we haven't even tried yet.

Like my business partner & co-founder Brat Vukovich said recently: 

"Different medium, same principles."

What's the takeaway?

Be prepared to see more on how we are using these time-tested direct response principles from 30+ years ago, to sell at scale with video, right now. 

(Not only in traditional DR spaces but also less obvious spaces like VC-backed SaaS, CPG, and more.)

And for today, here's a quick tweet thread breaking down 2 ways to create "unskippable" YouTube ads by using Gary Halbert's "#1 principle for direct mail": 

What are your YouTube ad questions?

In the meantime though, what questions do YOU have about YouTube ads?

Let us know in the Comments section below, and we’ll make sure to cover your question in an upcoming post.

Happy New Year!

Ian Nagy

Co-Founder VidTao.com (Free YouTube Ad Research Tool)Co-Founder Inceptly.com (High-Performance YouTube Ad Creatives & Ad Management) 

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