If you write copy and have to ask “who’s Joe Karbo”, you’ll need to see this… and if you don’t, you’ll want to see this.
Joe Karbo is the man who wrote the headline “MOST PEOPLE ARE TOO BUSY MAKING A LIVING TO MAKE ANY MONEY.” It’s the kind of headline that causes readers to shake their heads in agreement… to relate, to understand and agree… but most important, to stop what ever they were doing… and start reading the rest of (what they think is an article but is really) the advertisement.
His self published book THE LAZY MAN’S WAY TO RICHES changed the advertising industry… and millions of people along the way. He sold 2,785,500 copies through print ads… without book stores…
But to understand how he wrote that headline, the body copy and the book itself, we need to take a closer look at the life experiences that led him to extraordinary riches… to overcome poverty and failure, to create what is credited to be one of the most effective headlines ever written…
Joe was born in LA, the son of immigrants who operated a tailor shop. He went to Manual Arts High School and served in the Navy. He was in the South Pacific as a medic and pharmacist during WW II. He returned to start a wholesale paper business which he sold in 1950 to take acting classes at the Pasadena Playhouse… and slowly started landing small character roles in movies, radio and TV shows.
Along the way he did TV commercials and became the spokesman for a Maywood California car dealer. Joe started writing the copy for the ads… with a low key, down to earth and honest approach to car sales. The result was Joe became famous… made some very good money… and the dealer became rich.
Joe felt there was a market for night time TV if the quality of programming was worthwhile. Back then most TV stations would sign off around midnight. Joe bought 6 hour blocks of time, from midnight to 6 AM, playing movies and doing interviews with well known celebrities like Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Dinah Shore and many others. His show was “The All Night Show” in LA on KTTV, Channel 11 and was, according to Joe, the first all night show in America.
He needed to generate income to cover the show’s costs… but advertisers wouldn’t buy… so Joe bought his own products wholesale, wrote and delivered his own ads selling those items. He got rich…very quickly.
After a few years the station was sold. The new owners wanted the time for themselves and wouldn’t renew his contract. He faced huge debts on the inventory he stocked and had no way to sell it. His income of approximately $50,000 a week went to zero and he faced bankruptcy.
He had to feed a family of 10… And didn’t have any idea where the money would come from. They moved to a run down, low rent house, he drove a beat up and refinanced Ford Falcon and faced a debt of $50,000. He met with several lawyers who recommended he go bankrupt. Instead he learned how to negotiate with his creditors.
He called his creditors together and during 90 minutes of arguing and making statements like “If you don’t believe I’ve gone bust, force me into bankruptcy. If it turns out I’ve got money hidden somewhere, you’ll recover it and maybe put me in jail… but if you believe me, let me do what I do best: sell merchandise. You have my word. I’ll pay you back”. They gave him nine years to repay his debt.
In the process he wrote a book called THE POWER OF MONEY MANAGEMENT or HOW TO GET OUT OF DEBT IN 90 MINUTES WITHOUT BORROWING… which he sold through newspaper and magazine ads in local media… the book was very successful and gave him the confidence to attempt selling his inventory in the same way.
Pre-Christmas he sold glow in the dark tree ornaments using (among others), headlines like “THE FUN BEGINS WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT”. He sold thousands of door viewers (the peep holes placed in doors to see who’s knocking) with ads that started with the headline “SEE THROUGH WALLS, FENCES AND LOCKED DOORS”…
While Joe had negotiated a nine year pay out with his creditors he was able to pay back every cent in less than three years. He took on projects for other marketers and, being desperate for the work, waived a normal copywriter fee for a percentage of sales… he wrote his own booklets and sold them using the direct marketing techniques he had honed through experience…
His name and reputation grew within the local “mail order” community and he helped many other people… to discover that many were not emotionally prepared for success. This led him to the idea of writing a book… actually, two books in one cover. The first book talked about becoming a person who had the confidence, the mindset to be a success… to set and achieve goals and how to be a person who others would want to work with. A sort of combination of TM, Positive Mental Attitude and Cybernetics. The second book revealed all his secrets on how to select and market products using mail order techniques… secrets that he had spent years learning through trial and error.
But before writing the book, he wanted to see what kind of a market existed for the product he envisioned. He did something that was common at the time… many mail order operators did it… but it is illegal today. He wrote the ad before writing the book and then (this is what’s illegal today), he placed the test ad for a product that didn’t yet exist.
His plan was to return every cent collected with a note saying response was so high he had run out… was unable to send the book as promised… but that as soon as there was another printing he would contact the buyer and offer the book again… before any additional advertising was placed.
The response was huge. More than he ever dreamed for. He returned every penny and then he took his family up to a cabin they had in Lake Arrowhead CA. where in six weeks he wrote “THE LAZY MAN’S WAY TO RICHES”
The ads for the book ran for years… in newspapers and magazines published in the USA as well as in select vehicles worldwide. The book (and ad) was even translated into other languages. The ads are still studied today… used as models for other offers… used as a teaching tool in courses on direct marketing… and eventually a publisher (Viking/Penguin) published an abridged 20th anniversary edition that quickly sold out in bookstores.
Joe had a staff of 40 people helping with media placement and production and then diversified. His financial publishing company was able to give him the cash flow to create Karbo Advertising, F. P. Schools, Northwestern Pharmaceuticals and a company to oversee international marketing.
In 1980, Joe, at the age of 55 was being interviewed at his home in Huntington Harbor CA by a morning news crew and suddenly died of a heart attack. At the time, it is said that he was working on a new mail order book tentatively titled “TO HELL WITH THE KIDS, WHAT ABOUT YOU AND ME, BABY”.
In earlier interviews he admitted that the book cost 50 cents to manufacture (it was photocopied sheets of paper with a spiral binding between two heavier grade cover stock sheets), selling for $10 a copy. It was worth much more… since the reader was paying for information… not raw materials. The section talking about his mail order marketing secrets was worth many times the $10 retail price.
He had a unique guarantee stating that the buyer should post date the check for 30 days after the order date and during that 30 day period, if not 100% satisfied, to return the book and receive the original check back.
So now, what can you do to be the next Joe Karbo?
Think about it… he was an average person… not much formal education, had some success… some serious failures… not too different than many of us… the thing is… he kept trying… he kept learning… he kept doing… He developed a philosophy of positive mental attitude… faced adversity head on… was responsible and honest… and just didn’t give up. Need I say more?