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A Technique for Producing Winning Copywriting Ideas

I suspect I’m a lot like you. I’m constantly on the lookout to try to produce, find, or steal winning ideas for my numerous copywriting projects.

Years ago, I used to beat myself up looking for that one perfect idea. I can’t tell you how many times I would look down my list of headline ideas and say to myself, “That’s no good, that’s no good, that’s not good, that’s OK.”

I can’t tell you how much stress that would cause me.

Thankfully, I stumbled upon Roger von Oech’s Creative Whack Pack in the late 1980s, an illustrated card deck of 64 creative thinking strategies that, as the publisher puts it, “will whack you out of habitual thought patterns and enable you to look at your life and actions in a fresh way.”

A technique that works!

Roger would know; he’s not only the best-selling author of A Kick in the Seat of the Pants and A Whack on the Side of the Head but also an internationally known creativity consultant whose seminars and products have enriched the lives of millions of people.

A quick look at the companies that have hired him for his ideas on stimulating creativity and innovation and you’ll see why: Coca-Cola, GE, Disney, Intel, MTV, Microsoft, NASA, Apple, Citigroup, and the United States Olympic Committee.

So as I flipped through the card deck, I ran across one emblazoned with the headline “Use Good Ideas” that spoke to me.

It said…

“Don’t let your search for the great idea blind you to the merely good idea,” advises Bob Metcalfe. “Reject everything except for the very best and you will end up with nothing.”

Educator Donald Kennedy has similar feelings: “A lot of disappointed people have been left standing on the street corner waiting for the bus marked perfection.”

What good ideas can you use?

And boy did this “whack on the side of the head” speak to me!

It led me to see a bigger picture—that I didn’t have to come up with the perfect idea; a good one would do.

It also led me to believe that each of my begged, borrowed, or stolen ideas had their own intrinsic promotional value. It was at this point that I started ranking my marketing and copywriting ideas as I created, copied, or stole them.

As I would then lay them out, I began to see combinations of ideas that were even better than my original idea.

Not so surprisingly, Roger had a card for that too: “Combine Ideas,” which said,

“The time has come,” the walrus said, “to talk of many things: of shoes—and ships—and sealing wax of cabbages—and kings.”

Combining unusual ideas is at the heart of creative thinking. The ancients mixed soft iron with even softer tin to create hard bronze. Gutenberg combined the wine press and the coin punch to create movable type and the printing press.

What different ideas can you combine?

I often wonder if Steve Jobs had one of these little Creative Whack Packs on his desk as I revisit Roger’s card no. 18, “Think Something Different,” which reads…

Scientist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi said creative thinking consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.

The first person who looked at waste saw dust and thought “compressed fire log” did this. So did the first person who looked at packaged baking soda and thought “refrigerator deodorant.” So did the first person who looked at an oyster and thought “food.”

What different ways can you think about your idea?

That’s where the Creative Whack Pack really helped me separate the wheat from the idea, the chaff, and I started integrating many of Roger’s lessons into my own mental digestive process so that I would not beat myself up trying to come up with the perfect idea.

Some of the top idea-starters from the Creative Whack Pack were:

  • Solve the Right Problem
  • See the Obvious
  • Focus on the Truth
  • Don’t Force It
  • Pause for a Bit
  • Loosen Up
  • Think Like a Kid
  • Be Whacky!

That’s what I liked most about the Creative Whack Pack. It gave me the “kick” I needed generate new idea, trust my gut, and look at what I was doing in a fresh and exciting way.

You see, as marketers, copywriters and advertisers, we’re on the constant hunt for new bold and winning ideas.

Because there’s a lot at stake riding on the outcome of our ideas, the pressures on us to mentally produce winner after winner after winner. The pressure can create a huge roadblock to developing a winning idea.

And unless you are taking a break, loosening up, thinking like a kid, and, of course, getting whacky, you’re going to burn yourself out.

Frankly, it is that free time away from my work I have found to be the most productive in developing winning copy and marketing ideas.

When you think about it, this is no different from a farmer who allows his land to lie fallow, to naturally replenish its nutrients—rather than keep it under constant production, ultimately stripping the soil of its crop growing nutrients.

Your mind works the same way. Which is why I learned a long time ago to take some time off, stop trying to force it, think like a kid, and, of course, BE WHACKY!

Truth is, your subconscious mind is constantly recording and storing all sorts of ideas and bits of related data. By allowing your mind the freedom to pause, it can free up your subconscious to think outside the box and bring to fruition ideas that you hadn’t thought of before.

One of my best examples I can think of was an idea that I came up with for one of the subscription-based investment advisories. I had just come back from vacation when it occurred to me that a subscription to a newsletter was the same as a membership in a club.

So I pitched my publisher this idea: “How about instead of us offering the $199 newsletter for $99 as we always do, we transform this newsletter into a club? This way we can give prospects the $199 newsletter for FREE—all for simply joining our $99 investment club.”


This promotion continues to resonate as that companies’ control piece for the past eight years—all by changing the offer.

Another example:

Back in 2000, a newsletter publisher asked me to create a promotion for his general interest publication. The problem was that nobody wanted a general interest publication. None of the ideas he was generating were taking hold.

When I got back from taking some time off, I pitched him this idea: “How about we change the positioning of this piece to technology? Everybody wants technology stocks and 400% gains. Nobody wants general interest. They want to get rich now.”

His reply: “But we are a general interest publication and most of our techs are rated “avoid.”

My reply was, “Then we will tell them to avoid the ones that will send them to the poorhouse and buy the ones that will make them rich.” My “Boom or Bust for Technology Stocks?” captured over 40,000 new readers and was that publications’ best promotion ever.

And there are many other creative winning ideas I’ve developed, because I used the Whack Pack to…

  • Imagine How Others Would Do It
  • Focus On The Real Truth
  • Look to the Past
  • Listen to That Hunch
  • Ask What If?

… and, of course, by follow Oech’s advice to…

“Use a Good Idea, Combine Ideas, and Think Something Different.”

Together, they can provide you, too, with a proven technique for producing winning advertising, marketing, and copywriting ideas.

Here’s the best part:

You can grab yourself one of Roger Van Oech’s Creative Whack Packs from for about $10. I guarantee the inspiration and insights it will bring you will be priceless.

Looking for more inspiration?

Be sure to sign up for my A-list.

I’ll bring you tested and market-proven ideas that work, direct to you from my 30-year swipe file of control beating promotions.

If you’d like to learn the secrets behind my Million-Dollar Copywriting Formula, checkout my classic 1992 video, How to Write Long Copy that Makes Money.

If you are looking for more personal help, please check out my copywriting coaching.

I can work with you one-on-on, the old school way, to get you the next level in your copywriting career.

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Doug D'Anna

As a seasoned direct response copywriter, Doug D'Anna has created more than 100 widely-mailed control packages for the world's largest specialized information publishers—generating over $100 million in direct sales.