Ivan Levison —
Direct Mail, E-mail and Advertising Copywriting


Action Ideas For Better Direct Mail,
E-mail, Web Sites & Advertising

Published by
Ivan Levison, Direct Response Copywriting

April, 2005
Volume: 20 Number: 4

Three mistakes made by a (slightly) repentant copywriter

When you write an e-newsletter like this one, it's easy
to become an unrelenting critic of others.

For example, if you've been a regular reader of mine
you've heard me say things like this a hundred times:

"This ad is boring." "That letter is pompous." And so on.

So in this issue, I'm going to turn the tables on myself
and confess to three mistakes I have made . . . three
times when I was oh-so-sure-of-myself and got things

By the way, the first mistake has absolutely nothing
whatsoever to do with email copywriting, so if all you're after
is writing advice, skip the following item . . .

Mistake #1: Ivan goes to the eye doctor.

My name is Ivan Levison but lots of people don't hear it
that way. Instead, they call me Ira Levinson, Isaac
Livingston, Ivan Longston, Ira Leverton, you name it. (If
you have a name other than Smith or Jones, you've been

So when the nurse came out to get me from the
ophthalmologist's crowded waiting room and said, "Miss
Iverson please," I was a bit ticked. I got up, walked
over to him, and replied with weary superiority, "It's

He looked at me calmly and said with a slight superior
smile of his own, "No. It's MISS, and it's IVERSON." He
then turned to a woman who was seated next to me and
said, "Miss Iverson, this way please." Miss Iverson got
up and followed him into the office while I looked for a
hole to crawl into.

Postscript: Five minutes later he came into the waiting
room for me, looked me squarely in the eye and said with
great precision, "Mister LEVISON." I replied quite
casually, "Actually, I pronounce it 'Iverson.'" He didn't
even crack a smile. Well you can't win them all.

O.K. Enough. Now let's get down to business . . .

Here are two mistakes I made that emphasize the need for
constantly testing your assumptions and relying on facts,
not instinct.

Mistake #2: Being committed to an old idea

Years ago I wrote a letter for a client, Kristi Skiba at
Inset Systems, then the publishers of HiJaak for Windows.
I suggested that the letter be printed in a Courier or
Elite typeface so that it would look like it was typed on
a typewriter.

Kristi suggested we use a Times Roman, or some other
attractive serif typeface, and give the letter a more
finished, "professional" look. I really thought this was
a mistake. For me the answer was always clear . . . make
your letter look as if it were typed. Why? Because all
the copytesting results I had come across over the years
had always been clear and persuasive. The "typed look"
consistently outpulled the "typeset look." However these
tests were not that recent and I should have been alert
to that.

Anyway, my client decided that the typeface question was
important enough to test so she split her list and
dropped 25,000 pieces with my letter typeset in Courier
(for the typewriter look) and 25,000 pieces with my
letter typeset in Times Roman. That was the only
variable. Everything else in the package, including the copywriting, was exactly the

What were the results? Very interesting -- it was a tie.
That's right. The response rates were virtually
identical. What this taught me, of course, was that you
should never be wedded to old facts, but constantly let
the marketplace tell you what works. In retail they say
"location, location, location." In direct marketing we
should remember to "test, test, test."

Mistake #3: Pretty much the same mistake as number two.
(Hey, I'm a slow learner!)

I was working for a company called DocuMagix that was
selling a shrink-wrapped product through the mail.
(Remember those days?) Anyway, my client said "Let's
sweeten the pot and offer the prospect free shipping and
handling if they order right away."

I argued that the software had so much appeal that the
company would be leaving money on the table if they gave
up the shipping and handling fee. They said, "Let's test
it." I said, "Great," but made a gentleman's bet that
their offer would not ultimately be profitable.

WRONG! The free S&H offer was a TREMENDOUS winner,
they made a lot of money, and I ate a large slice of humble

The moral of this story is, yet again, "test, test,
test." Next time you think YOUR instincts are right, let
your prospects decide. Their votes, after all, are the
only ones that count.

How To Get In Touch

Ivan Levison
Direct Response Copywriting
14 Los Cerros Drive
Greenbrae, CA 94904

Phone: (415) 461-0672
Fax: (415) 461-7738
E-mail: ivan@levison.com
Web Site: http://www.levison.com

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