How to write copy when you have seemingly insurmountable problems with your product

When I was a sales person, I felt like the products I was selling sometimes had insurmountable problems with them (usually related to the objections that most commonly killed the sale).

Then when I became a sales manager, all of my sales people came to me with the same complaints I had when I was in their shoes — “how can we sell this product or that service when it has THIS problem or lacks THAT feature?” they would wonder.

And now I’m a copywriter and my clients struggle with the same problems: Their product or service is good but not perfect and they are trying to figure out how to sell the product or service in spite of the glaring obstacles.

The other day I stumbled across one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of copywriting “around” your product’s problems. Can you imagine trying to sell a typewriter in today’s market? How would you EVER sell it when a customer can buy a low-end laptop (with so many more features and benefits) for basically the same price? That’s exactly what this example, below, shows.

The folks at Hammacher Schlemmer sent me a catalog (not sure why. I must be on a mailing list that was rented to them) and in their magazine I spotted the following advertisement… for a typewriter. I was surprised and thought it must be a joke at first (although that’s not really the style of the magazine). And then I read the copy and realized just how brilliantly they handled the issue of selling a product with obvious “flaws” (I mean: Flaws compared to feature/benefit-rich computers).

Check out the ad below (or if you find it too difficult to read then I’ve transcribed the ad text below the image)…


This is the manual typewriter that recalls the thoughtful, well-
written correspondence of yesteryear. Devoid of technological
crutches such as spell-check and deletion, each of its 44 keys
requires a firm, purposeful stroke for a steady click-clacking
cadence that encourages the patient, considered sentiment of
a wordsmith who thinks before writing. Using a 10-characters-
per-inch Pica 87 font, it faithfully produces the eclectic
printed impressions of its forebears — variable kerning, subtly
ghosted letters, and nuanced baseline shifts — imparting
unique, personal character to every letter, piece of prose, or
verse of poetry. Updated with a lightweight yet durable ABS
housing and carrying case for easy portability. Black/red/stencil
spool ribbon. 4 1/2″ H x 12 1/4″ W x 14 1/4″ D (9 1/4 lbs.)

Do you see what’s going on here? They are cleverly taking the very things that people complain about typewriters (and have long since given them up for computers) and are making them special. This entire catalog blurb could easily be reversed and said by someone who is being offered a typewriter and instead wants to buy a computer but Hammacher has turned those very objections into this typewriter’s selling points. That is intriguing… and, in my opinion, quite a powerful way to sell.

  • The first thing they did right was to put the offer in the Hammacher. This is a catalog of unique products so it fits with the intended audience. That is key and your copy won’t work if you don’t make this the first step.
  • They start by calling it a “wordsmith’s typewriter”, elevating the status from just any old typewriter to a device that would be used by someone who fancies themselves a wordsmith.
  • The first sentence evokes a positive emotion associated with the age of typewriters — a nostalgic bygone era inhabited (presumably) by Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce.
  • The second sentence takes some very common objections (“no spell check” and “no delete key”) and reverses the way people think about them by calling them “technological crutches”… and even further suggests later in the sentence that thoughtful “wordsmiths” who write patient, considered prose don’t need those things.
  • To further bolster the “charm” of the product, the copy highlights the need for a “firm, purposeful stroke” in order to press the key, the “click-clacking cadence” that results, and even turns “variable kerning, subtly ghosted letters, and nuanced baseline shifts” from ugly and old-school into eclectically charming.
  • After building all of this up, then the ad delivers the real punchline — the biggest benefit — by suggesting that all of this quirky and nostalgic charm imparts “unique, personal character to every letter, piece of prose, or verse of poetry”, cleverly skipping over the fact that real wordsmiths impart those qualities through skill rather than the device they use to write.

This is a good little “case study” of one way that a company can turn something that seems unsellable into an attractive offer. Of course, you are probably not selling typewriters so you may not be able to dial an extra dose of “charm” into your product or service. But there might be other ways to reinterpret your product’s problems. As long as you do actually offer good value, this case study illustrates one way to handle those seemingly insurmountable objections. Use it as an inspiration to take another look at your product or service and try to figure out a way to turn those obstacles into opportunities.

Published by Aaron Hoos

Aaron Hoos is a writer, strategist, and investor who builds and optimizes profitable sales funnels. He is the author of The Sales Funnel Bible and other books.

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