True Confessions of a Copywriter

By Anonymous Copywriter, December 22, 2016

[Ed. Note: This piece is by a former copywriter for a major investment newsletter publisher. The author contacted us with an interest in pulling back the curtain to give our readers some insight into how these teasers are written and why. We hope it will help us all think carefully about those tantalizing, hyperbole-filled teaser ads when they land in our inbox. Enjoy!]

As a copywriter in the financial newsletter business, I would frequently visit Stock Gumshoe. It was helpful to see which promotions readers founding intriguing enough to request a Gumshoe debunk. And of course, I read the comments.

In the comments great insults – ‘snake oil salesman!’ – were hurled at our editors. Commenters were upset that the advertised ‘sure deal’ promising upwards of 1,300% gains didn’t deliver. Yeah, the editor’s pick didn’t turn out, but the editor’s only half the problem. I was the other half: the copywriter.

So, the first thing you should know is that editors rarely, if ever, write their own promos. Publishers have copy divisions and also hire freelancers. And nine times out of ten, the ridiculous claims come from the writers, not the editors.

So, why all the hyperbole?

Apparently that’s the only thing that works. I was told that in the past writers had tried more toned down promotions, promising more reasonable two-digit gains (10-99%) instead of trying to get you hooked on the hopes of nailing a ten-bagger. But these types of promos were shelved after being consistently outperformed by promos with ridiculous and unbelievable promises.

Copy should invoke greed or fear, I was told early on in my days as a copywriter. And the easiest way to elicit greed from our readers is to exaggerate the upside and hide the downside. But exaggeration isn’t the only problematic aspect of promos.

We craftily use words to obscure the truth

In some ways, all advertising is about deception, but it is especially rampant in the newsletter industry. One deceptive technique is the abuse of imprecise terms like ‘recently’ to create a false sense of urgency. For example, in a promo I’ll quote a four-year old Wall Street Journal article that supports my argument and call it ‘recent.’ Then I’ll go ahead and assert that because the mainstream media is ‘just now’ picking up on this phenomenon, that means it is about to skyrocket. So the time to buy is now! Don’t delay!

Other times we re-brand basic financial tools to create intrigue. I mean, you wouldn’t believe all the different ways thought up to disguise and dress-up dividends. We call them royalties or rebates, rent checks or secret government programs. Then, when we go to give profit examples, we look up and see how many shares company insiders have. Multiply those numbers by the dividend payout and you’ve got ‘real people’ receiving four or five figure checks every month with this ‘unique profit loophole.’

Also be aware when a promo touts an editor’s past picks by saying things like ‘my readers had access to’ or ‘had the opportunity to bank a gain of…’ Often this means the editor published a sell recommendation and the stock continued to climb. So the official portfolio will show a much smaller gain than what the promo is advertising.

When watching promos it is best to watch out for all these deceptive practices, however keep in mind…

It’s not a complete scam

Some editors work really hard for their readers, always seeking the best opportunities for them to grow their accounts. These guys really do put ‘boots on the ground’ and develop networks of industry contacts. Now, they’ll still exaggerate in promos, and sometimes their picks don’t come off, but they do care and they do work hard, and oftentimes their service really is worth it.

And while not all editors have the same level of integrity, as far as I know no one at our company was ever paid to pump a stock. Companies will work with us to get their story out there, but I’ve never heard of a bribe.

However, other times, it’s kind of a scam

This business is dominated by copy. It’s a business of ad men. They are selling you stories… selling you dreams, greed, and fear. It’s not the business of financial geniuses. The main focus of their business is on selling, not on delivering results. If it were otherwise, there would employ fewer copywriters and a lot more analysts.

To that end, sometimes the ‘big idea’ of the promo comes first, and whatever stock happens to fit the story will work, regardless of whether it is a good investment or not. In fact, I had one editor who asked what stocks I thought should be the subject of the promo’s tease. Keep in mind, I had no financial education or experience heading into this job.

And sometimes it really is just a straight-up scam

I heard this story a few times in the office, about a different financial newsletter publisher. One NFL postseason this publisher decided to ‘predict’ the result of each playoff game by sending half their readership one result and the other half the opposite result. Each time, of course, it halved the available readers, but they still had quite a few readers left by the time it was ready for the Super Bowl. To the readers that remained it looked like they had got every prediction spot on. And of course, while previous predictions were made free of charge, they billed readers for the Super Bowl prediction, this time an actual prediction.

And of course, there is also everyone’s favorite trick: sneaky auto-bills. Promos are long – and often quite boring – and auto-bill trickery is usually found at the very end or in fine print below.

Pump and dump schemes are also something to be wary of. I had a coworker tell me to front run the stocks I wrote about, but I never played the market. When I asked a writer who had been in the business for longer if he ever picked stocks based on the bevy of free editorial information we had access to he laughed and said that he learned early on to not get caught up in the hype. The owner of the company and others referred to it as ‘drinking the kool-aid.’

So how do you protect yourself? How do you separate the quality services from the fluff?

Readjust your expectations: there will be winners and losers.

If a promo promises 5,000% gains, most times you should be expecting 50%. If an editor brags about how many triple digit gains (100-999%) they’ve scored, make sure they are in the official portfolio, then pay attention to how many times their picks lost 50% or more. Services focusing on riskier stocks will often have larger winners but also bigger losers as well.

Make use of 100% money-back guarantees.

Watch out for shelving, stocking, or other fees, but a truly 100% money back guarantee is a great opportunity to evaluate a service. Take a look at the editor’s portfolio, look at how many trades they make a year. Don’t just look at the winners, take a hard look at the losers, too.

Don’t trust charts.

Charts are a copywriter’s best friend. Be skeptical of every stock chart you see. It’s easy to pull eye-watering gains out of stock charts. But no one lands these gains, and being off by just a few days can halve that impressive gain you’re seeing. Charts also allow writers to claim the possibility of four-digit gains (1000-9999%) while the editor’s best gain is in the low three digits.

Don’t fall for a false sense of urgency

Yes, sometimes there really is a limited number of overall spots for a service. But rarely do these spots completely fill up. And sometimes there actually is an upcoming catalyst that will kick a stock into high gear. But usually there isn’t any reason to panic or buy before you’re ready. Take your time, do your due diligence, and make sure you spend some time reviewing the service before you buy.

Use Stock Gumshoe

Sometimes the stocks with the best, most enticing stories end up being the duds, while a boring call doubles or even triples. Don’t just fall for the story, make sure the underlying stock is healthy, too. One of the best ways to cut through the hype is to use Stock Gumshoe. Find out what other readers think of an editor or a service. And best of all, use Stock Gumshoe to help decode all the copy bullshit writers put in there so you can evaluate an opportunity fairly and accurately.


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58 Comments on "True Confessions of a Copywriter"

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Joe
Guest
0
Joe

Hate to admit it, but he’s actually right about using our own fear and greed against us. Politicians do it as well. We’re not blameless, advertisers will use what works. Is anyone else as disturbed by the online ads and click-bait as I am? If these are the ads that get clicks it’s kind of troubling. Hope things will get better as the internet matures and people wise up but I ain’t holding my breath.

Will
Guest
0
Will
Smartest advice ever?? USE STOCK GUMSHOE!! I have been following each article for 4 years and investing accordingly. We have averaged 45-47% on returns. When I was enamored with oil (right before the crash), I invested heavily in GUMSHOE oil predictions (oops). Otherwise, we would be averaging more than 65% returns. We don’t invest in EVERY revealed stock. We take a look at the fundamentals of the company. YES, we have missed a LOT of winners. But we have steadily missed a LOT of losers. The biggest losers? Investing with EMOTION (STEV stock ticker for Stevia, a sugar substitute I… Read more »
Al in NJ
Guest
0
Al in NJ

Well, to say the least, I did enjoy reading what this writer
had to say. Thanks for publishing this letter.

pmb2pmb
Irregular
99
pmb2pmb

The great 19th century showman and circus founder, P T Barnum, is alleged to have said “A sucker is born every minute” but he was wrong – the US Census Bureau data proves that it is more frequent than that. I know because I learned the hard way that Caveat Emptor should be the rule when it comes to newsletter promos. Thanks Travis, Doc et al for helping me to save $$ by analyzing these ads (and the quote was actually about Barnum from his rival, Hanna). Best wishes and a Merry Christmas to all!!!

Joe
Guest
0
Joe

As I’ve been involved in online marketing for some time I’m not surprised one bit about this. It’s common practice in just every promotion. Never has caveat emptor been more advised.

H.G.
Guest
0
H.G.

Loved it !!! Many thanks. Wish I could find a place to publish some of the ACTUAL BULL….(catch them in the act).

oceansunlimited
Irregular
6
oceansunlimited

While i am grateful to the copywriter for making these “Confessions”, is anyone really surprised? It is heartbreaking to know that the masses are so gullible and the industry is so willing to take advantage of the Everyday working guy who is desperate for a little extra cash.
Thanks to Travis and Dr. KISS for pulling back the curtain on these clowns.

arch1
Guest
0
arch1
Caveat emptor is not new to the online world. The visual industry, primarily TV and cinema are entirely engaged in sellin,, either a product or a viewpoint. Most of the watchers never realise that, and blindly accept what is being shovelled. Perhaps that is why so much of thinking is pure fantasy as to expectation, and perception of life is the plastic portrayal they experience. It is proven that people get an entirely different view of things on radio and on television and auditory/visual are more powerful than text in moving emotion. UNLESS you are a gifted copywriter,,, polishing possibilities.… Read more »
savethemanatee
Irregular
963
savethemanatee
To the author: Thanks for sharing. This is a terrific read. If you can answer, I’m really fascinated to know how you fell into this line of work–was this a first job out of college, or a mid-career transition? Were most of the other writers in the industry at the same career point as you? Roughly what percentage of copywriters would you say are full time versus freelancers? For the freelancers, how often do they get an assignment–it is one a week, or less? As a writer myself, I know how little magazines and journals pay for articles, and how… Read more »
Lori
Guest
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Lori
As the former Marketing Director at an investment newsletter publisher, I hope everyone understands that everything this copywriter says is not true for all editors and publishers. At my company, we did not manipulate stock returns or graphs – and gave the details anyone could check to authenticate our claims. Proof of claims was available for the asking. We also offered a 100% guarantee. Lastly, the copywriters were highly invested in the success of each project – not only do they make HUGE paychecks when copy is written, but they get residuals forever. They generally make more net profit from… Read more »
MyNameisJudge
Guest
0
MyNameisJudge
I write copy for a living and 100% of this is true, if not understated. Ideas will be foisted on editors because copywriters think the idea will sell (like any time you see a specific date in coy). Editors & Copywriters will push a bad idea because marketers are on their back to fill up the marketing schedule. Without naming names, I’ve seen flagship portfolios down over 80% at some of the industry’s biggest pubs. The only redeeming factor is that 50+% of subscribers don’t read/follow their advice (despite sometimes paying thousands to see it). The only bit of advice… Read more »
Myron Martin
Guest
0
What I find frustrating as an analyst and writer is that the deceptions do not just apply to unscrupulous copywriters, it also extends to company managements promoting their stock. If you can not rely on website information it becomes very difficult to properly assess a junior mining companies prospects that have no earnings and rely on selling more stock to finance exploration. That is why I focus on following known management teams with a reputation for solid prior performance and ability to raise money from seasoned investors who trust them because of previous proven success in a sector. I have… Read more »
TampaBob
Guest
0

I wish the author of the article had told us which ones really work hard for their readers.

Jeff D.
Guest
0
Jeff D.

I agree. If he doesn’t want to name the bad guys, how about at least naming some of the good ones.

D K
Guest
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D K

What a great compliment! 🙂

Ernest
Guest
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Ernest

There is a “Vaccine”. Immunize yourself. Simply read a financial newsletter daily, then add one a month. Soon enough they all start sounding alike. One can even back check past recommendations. Then one realizes they are in the business of selling subscriptions (dreams), which they obviously make more money doing than from stocks. Otherwise why bother?

ELISSA JUNG
Guest
0
ELISSA JUNG

THERE IS A NEW PILL JUST FOR THAT. IT WILL REMOVE YOUR CONFESSIONS IMMEDIATELY…NO PAIN NO STRAIN. AN UNDER THE NEWSPAPER, UNKNOWN TO WALL STREETAND JUST ONE PENNY A SHARE…NOW, BUT TOMORROW IT WILL BE, ARE YOU READY FOR THIS EARTH SHAKING PRICE? MINUSE 10 CENTS.IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE..YOUR GRANDCHILDREN WILL TALK ABOUT IT FOR YEARS
SEND ME ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS AND YOU WILL NEER SEE IT AGAIN. I PROMISE..

Rich
Guest
0
Rich

Now that is funny!!!

Rich
Guest
0
Rich

Now that is funny!!!

Opposeablethumb
Irregular
986

Where do I send the money?

Jim S.
Guest
0
Jim S.

Not only does “hope spring eternal” and a “sucker is born every minute” or more frequently, but most of us want to get rich quickly. It is therefore not surprising that these technics continue to work. It took me a while but I never read/watch/listen to these promos any longer. At most I will skim through one every once in a while to see if there is any meat to be had. Stock Gumshoe is a great resource.

Jim S.
Guest
0
Jim S.

A further thought: too bad Travis doesn’t have a staff of Little Gumies so he could cover more ground!!!

Fabian
Guest
0
Fabian
The Agoras of this world admit it themselves regularly; the outrageous brings business not the rational (because many of their clients complain about this). As to letters, do this, be pro active; subscribe, check the closed positions. If no closed positions are published, cancel and claim a refund, immediately. Then check the performance and evaluate. Also important, do not follow any recos for at least six months even if past performance are good. That’s because you must feel at ease with the style of the publisher. A lot of recos drop sometimes violently before climbing back. For instance the Motley… Read more »
Rebecca
Guest
0
Rebecca

oh, I do love Stock Gumshoe. I used to do the research myself. Sometimes took days. So Thank You!

Lulu
Irregular
748

Dad, please read this…… as I regularly say “Dad, these guys are pushing your fear gland or greed gland and nothing else”. Just spend the $50 bucks for Stockgumshoe and subscribe to MartinArmstrong, they will tell you all you need to know. Maybe this will get through to him. Thanks for posting Travis.

Timothy Singleton
Guest
0

Always enjoy reading Stock Gumshoe. I do subscribe to some of these other newsletters simply because I decided if I am going to follow their advice maybe I should pay for it.

Going into it, I know the difference between what could be something worth owning and hyperbole.

The best thing I ever read in one of these newsletters? You don’t get rich on ten baggers; you get rich $100 at a time. ←Not even close to a quote, but essentially what was written.

Thanks for the awesome work you do. Merry Christmas.

Tim

Screw the Gumshoe
Guest
0
Screw the Gumshoe
The best part about this is that it exposes the Gumshoes complete hypocrisy. The whole article was a sales pitch for the Gumshoe. More copywriting and sales disguised as an emotional pitch around what’s wrong with copywriting and sales. Funny the final step is to read the Gumshoe. . So obvious and yet you fish still go for it. That’s how i knew Trump would win the election, cause you old fogeys are fished in by anything you see on the internet that reinforces your own beliefs. And you have no idea when you’re being fished so it can be… Read more »
Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe
Admin
5365
Normally I try to keep personal attacks and this kind of language out of the comments — but since this is about me I thought I should allow it through. Yes, we do keep the lights on here by selling ad space. Everyone draws the line somewhere, we sell ads but do not sell or share our email list. I did meet with Porter and a few other folks at Stansberry in 2007 or 2008, when Porter called and asked to talk about what I was doing with Stock Gumshoe. I wasn’t looking for and wouldn’t have taken a job… Read more »
Borealis
Irregular
134

These sort of diatribes by anonymous posters represents the garbage one has to sort through everywhere on the Internet. Thank you, Travis for providing a filter. I’m not sure I would have such a high opinion of Gumshoe if I was subjected to this kind of vitriolic.

Borealis
Irregular
134

PS – so many obvious falsehoods. Looks to me like he is suffering from being a “legend in his own mind.”

willybgood
Irregular
1

It must be Mike Ward, Money Map Press!! King of Spamalot!!

Opposeablethumb
Irregular
986

I am here because I see you are honorable and thoughtful day in and day out. As is KSS. Rare qualities to find these days (probably any others also). At any rate I would like to point out one issue. The total counter under a contributors user id needs to be able to display negative numbers. See Screw loose above for an example. Thanks for positng this. Have a wonderful Christmas Travis.

rlamore
Irregular
82

Speaking of selling ad space in Gumshoe, there is a banner ad that appears a lot when looking at the Gumshoe articles for the past year that predicts the 2016 Stock market crash!! Question, should I sell all my stock tomorrow when the market opens to avoid loosing it all before Friday? Curious minds need to know!

Exvestor
Guest
0
Exvestor

Wait for Obama’s Third Term with the selling.

liberallez
Member
8
liberallez

It’s blatantly obvious he’s a full-fledged moron. Only a bonafide “sheep” (or a political “shepherd”) could connect the search for financial truths with (for the first time in US history) the electoral victory of a true political outsider.
If he really believes that he’s a critical thinker then he’s a stark illustration of Mark Twain’s statement, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them they’ve been fooled.”

rocketman
Irregular
75
rocketman

Thanks for coming here and confirming what was written in the article. Responding with ad hominem attacks against Travis and this website must mean this website does have influence and this article hit a nerve.

Ron
Guest
0
Ron

Why don’t you tell us how you actually feel!

thinairmony
Guest
0
thinairmony

I don’t know you but I can tell one thing your not very educated in virtual stock magizines. One clue is your verbiage. On virtual reality it’s spelled phishing. And Stock Gumshoe is the best in the business. And Travis shows integerty and good character in posting your rant. If you don’t care for it don’t read it. Simple. If I read something I like I subscribe. If don’t I don’t read. It’s called manners. You must feel conviction.

goodwalkspoiled
Irregular
8
goodwalkspoiled

The Gumshoe keeps these snakes, toads, and lizards in the swamp where they belong. If these writers spent 1/10th the time and energy they waste in conjuring up such ridiculous stories, and instead focused on value investing, dividend growth, high yield, and blue chip companies, they would have something. But no, the swindle factor is just too alluring to them. Pump and hyperbole is all they do. So let the buyer beware. That is why the Gumshoe is needed. The clowns need to be exposed for what they are, and slammed as appropriate.

DGB
Guest
0
DGB

I am a big Gumshoe fan (both Travis and the good Doctor) You brought ’em out of the weeds with that one Travis! And, I for one am thankful to have found Gumshoe as I lost my arse a few times upon taking newsletter bait.

This will no longer be my fate however…

photino
Member
1
photino

Photino

Hi, please just a simple Yes or No answer. Are you saying that these newsletters DO NOT spend millions of dollars of their own money to develop Seeking Alpha and searching thru 30,000 stocks to find the ones that meet their criteria ? Really they do very very little digging and searching for their picks ? Regards a very very happy reader.

Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe
Admin
5365

I’d say there are both diligent and lazy newsletter editors out there, as in any industry — the best ones do better each year because keeping a happy reader is far cheaper than finding a new sucker.

photino
Member
1
photino

Thank you very very much.

thinairmony
Irregular
-43

Just read the DOW reports and your brokers web page.

wrkdiver
Guest
0
wrkdiver

HOORAY FOR GUMSHOE! You’ve saved me a fortune in not subscribing to all those guys’ high dollar pitches by the Thinkolater telling me what they’re tooting!
HARdeHAR as us Pirates say!

Dave
Guest
0
Dave

Funny how one of the biggest bullshit scammers Casey Research had an ad the end of this article!

Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe
Admin
5365

Funny! The ads are not selected by us, just FYI, they’re run by Google — and they’re different for each person (if you’ve been shopping for shoes, you’re more likely to see a shoe ad… otherwise it’s likely to be something related to the keywords on that particular page or on whatever Google thinks will be most appealing to you if they’ve been following you with cookies or whatever it is they use these days)

thinairmony
Irregular
-43

Just read the agreement page before you click. Tells it all.

REBS
Irregular
778

The difference I see is that the high price letter hucksters are solely money motivated, advertise without conscience (hence often end up fraudulent), and any benefit they bestow is accidental; Stock Gumshoe is primarily service motivated, has high ethics, gives more than fair value, and the money it receives is from grateful customers.

thinairmony
Irregular
-43
Well very good. Hit the nail dead center. We live in the U.S. a fast food mentality, capitalistic, environment. Since being in this game9Stock investing), I call it. How in the world can you get more than 100% on a scale .001% to 100%. Got this off of Bing search engine looking up this Question: I made 1,300% profit on a stock. Is this possible to get 1,300% profit? Answer that I got–True Confessions of a Copywriter · 2days ago. Commenters were upset that the advertised ‘sure deal’ promising upwards of 1,300% gains didn’t deliver … Then, when we go to… Read more »
thinairmony
Irregular
-43

How a trader made 1,300% of their money in minutes
Amanda Diaz | @CNBCDiaz cnbc.com
Friday, 26 Jun 2015 | 11:19 AM ET

sharonschreiner
Irregular
2720
sharonschreiner

Travis doesn’t just pay some bills with allowing ads, which are allotted a small, un-annoying, tasteful amount of space, he also makes money from willing subscribers. I enjoyed his gumshoe detective work for a short while before deciding I ought to to join up and pay the man doing the work. I think most of us who have enjoyed his sage advice would agree he gives great value for the small amount charged.

johnkerttu
Member
1
johnkerttu

Lairs are everywhere and they are all
trying to steal your money.

Exvestor
Guest
0
Exvestor
The newsletter industry is a deliberate, industrial-scale racket. If the Feds were to launch a RICO investigation into some of these companies, they’d hit instant pay dirt. The cash-flow dynamics themselves are such that each successful campaign contains the seeds of next fiscal year’s profit disaster (due to carry-over refunds and profit-based bonuses). That means the potential and frequently very real cash outflows have to be replaced with ever more shrill and fraudulent copy. However, the margins remain YUGE (in some years, 30%-plus). (Some publishers employ “legal editors” to go through marketing copy. These are NOT lawyers, but yo-yos fresh… Read more »
A-list Copy King
Guest
0
A-list Copy King
I believe the “Screw the Gumshoe” writer actually does work for Stansberry. He’s rude and aggressive – admired Stansberry traits. Because of that, I’m sure he’s a prevaricator, too, so I’d trust Travis’ recollection about any meetings with team Stansberry. “Screw” is hiding something, too. With the exception of copywriter Mike Palmer’s “End of America” promotion, which brought in $14 million+, Stansberry Research’s marketing has nearly dried up… dust in the wind. The reason? Absolutely hideously juvenile and utterly moronic sales pitches. A virus of dumb is racing through Porter’s copywriters. The proof is found in the huge failure of… Read more »
Exvestor
Guest
0
Exvestor

The most impressive thing about the sloppy, half-baked and economically illiterate clichés of End of A. and its subsequent replacement trigger-catalyst packages is how many morons still have that much money to spend on absolute trash.

eneels01
Irregular
7

I recently subscribed to Gumshoe primarily for the CEO interviews which (I found out) can be very telling. I like to pick my own stocks. I recently bought into AKAO and wanted to see details of the interview with Wise. Looks like Wise wants to expand the company rather than selling out now. While Wise’s stance could just be a negotiating tactic, it was worth $59 to know this information. I will use this newsletter to confirm or contrast my own picks.

grantco2017
Irregular
1
grantco2017

I have subscribed to several Newsletters in the last few years and noticed that they all are selling someone else’s Newsletters and scams or wanting you to upgrade to a more costly service that they offer. They very rarely tell you what to do unless you pay for something else. Since I became a member of Stock Gumshoe, I will never subscribe to another one. Thanks!

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