Direct Response Copywriting for marketing that works:
You’re about to read a remarkable true story.
Before you do, some words to guide you…
If want a “fast food” approach from a direct response copywriter you’re on the wrong page. That’s not me.
If you’re looking for a strategic results-driven copywriter we could be in business. You’re choosing someone who knows how to:
Position your business the right way
Get deep inside the buying mind of your customers
Craft the correct messages for your target market
Deliver copy driven by results
Increase leads, response rates, conversions and sales
More about this in a moment.
First, here’s that remarkable true story…
“The Story Of A Lone Genius Who Solved The Greatest Scientific Problem Of His Time”
Picture a globe.
The first line your eyes will rest on is probably the Equator, running horizontally around the centre of the sphere. Then perhaps the parallel lines of latitude, including the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.
Your eyes will rise to the globe’s pinnacle, the North Pole, and back down to the base and the South Pole. Connecting the two poles vertically are a series of spaced out, curved lines.
The lines of longitude.
They may not look that important on a globe or map. But at one time, centuries ago, they posed one of the greatest problems known to man…
How do you measure longitude?
Without the answer, navigation at sea was left to an unsatisfactory mix of latitude and luck. Thousands upon thousands of sailors lost their lives because ships did not know where they were or where to turn.
There’s more than a history lesson here if you read on…
In the 16th Century, there were plenty of guesses but no reliable answers to the longitude question. The same could be said for the 17th Century and early 18th Century. Some of the brightest minds on earth attempted to find a solution… without success.
Today, with our sophisticated clocks, stylish watches and easy internet access we can tell the time in different parts of the world at a glance. Back in the 18th Century it was considered the “Holy Grail” of science.
So why was longitude so crucial out at sea?
Well, your position on the earth is pinpointed by two measures – latitude and longitude. You need both to provide your coordinates, your exact location.
Here’s the thing.
Any self-respecting 18th Century sailor could work out latitude from the length of the day, the height of the sun in the sky or known stars sparkling above the horizon. Latitude is fixed by the laws of nature.
Longitude was a different story…
The sailor needed to know two things. Firstly, what time it was on board ship. Secondly, what time it was at their port of departure (or other place of known longitude) at that precise same moment.
The time difference between the two readings would allow the navigator to calculate distance travelled and therefore pinpoint the vessel’s location. We know the earth revolves 360 degrees in the 24-hour day. So one hour represents 15 degrees of travel, East or West.
It was this crucial longitude data that was missing.
It meant a ship’s captain would have a pretty good idea how far up or down the globe they were but not how far across it they were.
Having no accurate way to measure longitude put sailors in peril every time they set sail. It didn’t matter whether you were an English man-of-war festooned with mighty cannon firepower, merchant vessel, pirate ship or whaler. Without full navigation you could end up lost at sea.
As you’re about to find out.
This is more than a story about a science puzzle…
The problem so worried the governments of maritime nations that they began to offer cash prizes to anyone who could find the solution. The British Parliament set the record with its Longitude Act of 1714. Its bounty for a “Practical and Useful” answer to the puzzle was equivalent to almost three million pounds in today’s money.
That’s the value the powerful leaders of the day chose to invest in finding the right solution.
There had been no shortage of theories, thinking and suggestions during the 200 years before the Act.
The popular expert view was there would be just one way to provide the answer – through astronomy.
In 1514, the German astronomer Johannes Werner proposed a model based on mapping stars against the moon’s movements. It didn’t crack the problem. In 1610, Galileo Galilei founded an argument based on observing eclipses of the moons of Jupiter. That was not the answer either. It did, however, play a large part in revolutionising mapping on land.
Astronomy was not providing the solution. It didn’t stop astronomers continuing to believe it one day would.
That was all they knew.
That was what the biggest crowd seemed to be doing.
That’s the path they would follow regardless of the results.
Not everyone thought the same.
Others believed the answer lay somewhere else. Some clock enthusiasts thought that a good timekeeper on board ship would do the job.
As early as 1530, the Flemish astronomer Gemma Frisius put forward the mechanical clock as a contender.
Some big names either gave vocal backing to his idea or had a go at making something themselves. Names like William Cunningham, Galileo, the renowned horologist Christiaan Huygens and Robert Hooke (a biologist, physicist and surveyor who helped rebuild London after the Great Fire of 1666).
All efforts resulted in failure.
It didn’t look like time was… well, on the side of time.
But a solution was about to be found because of the brilliance and tenacity of one man.
Not an astronomer.
No, this man started out as a carpenter. He would go on make a set of the most remarkable timepieces the world has ever seen.
In doing so, he solved the greatest scientific problem of his time.
The man’s name? John Harrison.
Some of his life and technical achievements remain a mystery but this is what we do know.
John Harrison was a Yorkshireman born in 1693, the eldest of five children. From modest beginnings he became well known and his inventions brought him riches.
He was an expert in one field (carpentry) and applied it to another (clock-making).
In 1713, Harrison built his first pendulum clock. It was made almost entirely from wood, with oak wheels and axles from boxwood. He was aged just 20. He would construct two similar ones in 1715 and 1717.
This achieved with no formal education or watchmakers apprenticeship. He was a craftsman with an eye for detail and perfectionist manner. Characteristics required to complete the most complex of challenges.
For the clock “solution” to work at sea it had to overcome a series of problems. It would not be enough to solve one on its own. Without a breakthrough for each and every issue the task would end in failure.
This was the challenge facing Harrison.
The clock had to be accurate. Making such a timepiece for use on land was not difficult, of course. Making a machine that would work at sea was another matter.
If there was even a fraction of inaccuracy it could throw a ship off course by many miles – on the long-haul trade routes by hundreds of miles.
Navigation failures led to vessels being lost at sea or becoming shipwrecked on rocks. Navigation failures delayed journeys so long some crew members died from scurvy or other illnesses before they reached land again.
Here were the main challenges to the maker of the sea clock – or maritime chronometer…
Friction. It could make the clock “slow” and lose accuracy.
Lubrication. Mechanical parts required oil to keep them moving, reducing friction and wear. Being a liquid, the lubricant moved about and changed viscosity and acidity.
Dirt. Ships were dirty, damp and routinely under attack from sea salt. Clocks would need constant cleaning.
Metal. Most metals rust. This would affect the reliability of the timepiece.
The ship’s movement. The rolling and pitching of the vessel affects the balance of a typical clock, for example one with a pendulum.
Temperature contrast. Heat expands components, cold contracts. This affects the ability of the clock to maintain constant time.
Harrison was not only up against complex technical challenges.
He had to endure derision from some within the astronomical and scientific elite. He was forced to overcome regular “moving of the goalposts”, when it came to the Longitude prize. He also needed to keep his focus despite almost certain foul play by at least one rival.
By 1722, Harrison had found a solution to one of the problems. The workings of his tower clock for Brocklesby Park in North Lincolnshire did NOT require oil for lubrication.
He also recognised early on something other experts failed to see. A pendulum clock would never be practical at sea.
Harrison was unlike any other.
His ideas and concepts were ahead of their time.
The approach he was taking went against the grain of the mainstream. His strategies were very different to ones employed by the experts of the day.
The stakes were high.
And things were about to get very interesting…
The bounty offered in the 1714 Longitude Act was managed by a carefully selected Board of scientists, naval officers and government officials. The Board could not only award the main prize but also dish out cash incentives for promising ideas.
John Harrison approached a member of the Board – Dr Edmond Halley, England’s 2nd Astronomer – for help. Halley sent Harrison to watchmaker George Graham.
At first the clockmaker feared the watchmaker would steal his ideas. But Graham became his patron. Five years later, in 1737, Harrison created the first of his sea-faring clocks.
Called H-1, this ornate beast weighed 75 pounds (about 34 kilos) and measured four feet in all directions.
But the machine was not shown to the prize Board straight away. It was revealed to scientists at the Royal Society first and then sent on a successful return trip to Portugal.
The test wasn’t good enough for one man.
Harrison was a perfectionist.
He did eventually present H-1 to the Board but didn’t claim the prize. Instead he asked for more time and more cash to make the clock even better.
Four years later it was 1741 and the birth of H-2. Yes, it came in a smaller box as promised. But it was heavier than the original at 86 pounds (about 39 kilos). This version came with improvements to the drive mechanism and its ability to deal with temperature change.
It won much praise. Harrison, as you may have guessed, was not content. It still wasn’t right.
This fuelled the fire for the sceptics in the science establishment. It encouraged those seeking a “clock in heaven” solution to believe the only answer lay with the moon.
Harrison was undeterred.
Along came H-3. More improvements.
It included caged ball bearings to make the mechanism work more smoothly – a technology still in use today. There was also the introduction of a bimetallic strip, able to instantly and automatically compensate for any change in temperature.
Harrison wasn’t finished there.
The first three versions of his chronometer were similar in make-up yet each had a distinct appearance.
It was a chance gift that inspired the clockmaker to come up with something even more astonishing.
Through his attention to detail and quality, Harrison came across many artisans in the trade. One of these was John Jeffreys, Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers.
In 1753, Jeffreys made a pocket watch for Harrison. It incorporated many of the technical features of Harrison’s magnificent clocks, including the bimetallic strip.
This has been described as the first precision watch ever made.
It was clearly destined to lead a charmed life. It survived a direct hit from a bomb on a jewellery shop in London during the Battle of Britain. The building was a pile of burning rubble for 10 days. The watch, hidden in a safe, stayed intact.
When Harrison received the elegant pocket watch he began to wonder if something like this could be made to work at sea.
In 1759 he answered his own question.
He crafted the first “sea watch”. Here was H-4.
More like a pocket watch, it was five inches in diameter and weighed just three pounds (less than 1.5 kilos). Cases of paired silver and a soft white face hid internal workings which included precision-cut rubies and diamonds.
This was a contender for the Longitude prize.
The bounty was subject to a “successful” test during a return journey to any island in the West Indies.
For political, personal and rivalry reasons, H-2 and H-3 were never put to that challenge. The earlier H-1 had only completed a round trip to Portugal.
It was all down to H-4.
It’s moment came in 1762 with an Atlantic crossing to Port Royal in Jamaica.
The journey took almost three months. The Board’s representative John Robison set up his astronomical instruments to establish the time there. This was compared with the clock time…
During 81 days at sea, the amazing H-4 had lost only FIVE seconds.
On a rougher return journey the timepiece lost more time but the combined total inaccuracy of under two minutes was well within the competition’s requirements.
Harrison never received the big prize.
Members of the Board came up with excuses, complaints and more rules.
Harrison was given £1,500 for his efforts and the promise of more. And indeed he did collect HALF the bounty… but only if he agreed to hand over everything he knew about his clocks.
Harrison agreed. Effectively becoming an employee or consultant to the Board.
He continued to make refinements, as instructed by his new paymasters, and the plain-looking H-5 arrived (33 years after H-1) in 1770.
With most of his clock-making secrets out, others were able to replicate versions of the sea-faring “pocket watch”.
Timepieces by clockmaker Larcum Kendall are reported to have travelled on some epic voyages. A North Polar expedition. Journeys around North America. Captain Bligh’s adventures on the mutinous HMS Bounty. With Captain Cook on HMS Discovery.
Harrison died in 1776 aged 83. His legacy has saved the lives of countless sailors.
When HMS Beagle set out in 1831 to map foreign lands she carried 22 of these timepieces with her. In 1860 the Royal Navy had fewer than 200 ships across the world yet owned almost 800 chronometers. It soon became the norm for anyone who set to sea.
They said John Harrison couldn’t do it.
They said his plans would never work.
They said he was a fool to go against the grain of contemporary thinking.
Harrison proved them wrong.
P.S. Footnote #1
An elegantly gripping account of his story is written by Dava Sobel in the book Longitude…
P.P.S Footnote #2
If you read the story from start to finish then consider this.
If I am able to grab your attention and hold your interest in an 18th Century clock through to the end…
Imagine how a powerfully written story could help you do the same with messages to your prospects, clients and customers.
Imagine working with a direct response copywriter who can write the Harrison way.
Imagine what it could do for your business.
No more dull marketing. No more vanilla marketing. No more wasted thousands on ineffective marketing.
Since 1988 my writing has been my living. It’s played a part in all my work. Millions and millions of words later, I have a good idea what I’m doing.
Marketing is not really about websites, sales pages, squeeze pages, landing pages, adverts, emails, video scripts or sales letters. They are simply means to an outcome.
Making a special emotional connection with people is what matters.
What counts is knowing how to get inside your customers head, understand what they’re thinking and find the right way to share your message with them.
This allows you to use the right strategies. To find the right angle. To work out the type and length of copy required.
As an experienced writer, a premium-level direct response copywriter I know this.
There is so much free information out there about marketing. Everyone these days thinks they’re an expert. Few understand what really works. The obsession with Social Media proves it.
Direct marketing. Strategic and effective use of direct response copywriting has proven over the decades to deliver successful results.
So why should it be any different now?
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