What do real-estate agents and the Ku Klux Klan have in common?
Why are drug dealers so fond of living with their mothers?
What makes the perfect parent?
I don't have the answers to these questions, but Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner do.
Levitt teaches economics at the University of Chicago. Dubner is a journalist who writes for the New Yorker and The New York Times.
In 2003, The Times sent Dubner to Chicago to profile Levitt. A partnership was born and a couple years later the two published a book: Freakonomics.
Claiming to examine "The hidden side of everything," Freakonomics juxtaposes completely different topics and entities, like real-estate agents and the Ku Klux Klan. In doing so, Levitt and Dubner are able to pit human morality against world economics in a fascinating and completely original way.
Their book is creative and compelling and deep -- and yet, somehow, simple.
It sold seven million copies.
Steven and Stephen went on to publish two more books. And in 2010, they started podcasting...
As of this article's publication, the Freakonomics Radio podcast is sitting pretty at #10 on iTunes, which makes perfect sense considering the content:
The tone of Freakonomics Radio is fun and light, a lot like the books. It makes for easy listening -- and serious thinking -- and it's hard not to get addicted.
The Acid Trip
The acid trip in question belongs to Kevin Kelly, Co-founder and Editor of Wired magazine. It was skimmed over in a Freakononomics Radio episode questionably called, "Someone Else's Acid Trip."
Dubner, who hosts the podcast, interviews Kelly for the episode. The title, I'm assuming, just makes for great clickbait (that's why I stole it).
Dubner focuses on Kelly's life: His travels, family, and entrepreneurship. The trip made a brief appearance in the conversation when Dubner asked if Kelly had ever dropped acid.
That's when the heralded editor said something that I had a hard time letting go of:
"There's nothing more boring than hearing about someone else's acid trip!"
They both laughed about it -- albeit nervously -- and then Kelly said he dropped acid for the first and only time on his 50th birthday. He said he had a professional guide. He said he saw God. And then they moved on to other, "more interesting" topics.
Are you kidding me?
I was stranded: How can such a smart and worldly guy consider someone else's acid story boring?
After all, I've never done acid. According to Stephen Dubner, neither has he. So why is Kelly assuming that the audience wouldn't be at least curious about his unique experience? Is he being squeamish? Was the trip that bad?
And then it hit me: There's no "You" in an acid story. There's no "We," either. There's just "I" and "My" and "Me." As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter who you are or what you know, if those are the only pronouns coming out of your mouth, people are eventually going to stop listening.
It made sense... and Kelly's right: Acid stories are a bore.
My copywriting wheels started turning and -- in true Freakonomics fashion -- I decided to juxtapose a couple of concepts for this post...
The Copy Lesson
It's simple, really: Don't be an acid-trip-copywriter.
Don't ever expect that a prospect is reading:
- Your sales letter,
- your "About Us" page,
- your email newsletter,
- your anything
...because they want to learn more about you. They don't.
Prospects don't care about your company's story.
Prospects don't even care about your products and services.
The only thing prospects care about is the value they're going to get out of you. And delivering value starts with words like "You" and "Your" and "We" and "Us" -- words you'll rarely ever hear in a story about someone else's acid trip.
These are the words that make people perk up in their seats, rub their eyes, and acknowledge that there's something in it for them -- even if it is on a subconscious level.
NOTE: I'm not saying you can't write about your company, your products, or even yourself. You should! You must! Just make sure that the copy you produce begins and ends with your prospects. Always keep them top-of-mind:
Answer their most pressing questions -- the ones that keep them up at night.
Give them some much needed direction.
But whatever you do, never write acid copy. You'll get burned.