What you can do to be the next Joe Karbo
If you write copy and have to ask “who is 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 WE MAKE A LIVING TO MAKE MONEY.” It’s the kind of headline that makes readers shake their heads to agree… to relate, understand and agree… but most importantly, stop whatever they were doing… and start reading. the rest of (what I think is an article but is really) the ad.
His self-published book THE LAZY MAN’S ROAD TO RICHES changed the advertising industry…and millions of people along the way. Sold 2,785,500 copies through print ads… no bookstores…
But to understand how he wrote that headline, the body of the text, 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 the which is credited as one of the most effective headlines ever written…
Joe was born in Los Angeles, 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 doctor and pharmacist during World War II. He returned to start a wholesale paper business which he sold in 1950 to take acting classes at the Pasadena Playhouse…and gradually began landing small parts in movies, radio and television shows.
Along the way, he did television commercials and became the spokesperson for a Maywood California car dealership. Joe began writing ad copy… with a low-key, down-to-earth, honest approach to car sales. The result was that Joe became famous…he made a lot of money…and the dealer got rich.
Joe felt that there was a market for late night television if the quality of the programming was worth it. Back then, most TV stations went offline around midnight. Joe bought 6-hour blocks of time, from midnight to 6am, to stream movies and do 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 it was, according to Joe, the first all-night show in America.
He needed to generate revenue to cover program costs…but advertisers didn’t want to buy…so Joe bought his own wholesale products, wrote and delivered his own ads to sell those items. He got rich…very quickly.
After a few years, the station was sold. The new owners wanted the time to themselves and did not renew their contract. He faced huge debts for the inventory he stored and had no way to sell it. His income of about $50,000 a week dropped to zero and he faced bankruptcy.
He had to feed a family of 10… And he had no idea where the money would come from. They moved into a dilapidated, low-rent house, he drove a beat-up Ford Falcon and refinanced and faced $50,000 in debt. He met with several attorneys who recommended that he file for bankruptcy. Instead, he learned to negotiate with the creditors from him.
He called his creditors together and for 90 minutes argued and made statements like, “If you don’t think I’m broke, bankrupt me. If it turns out I have money stashed away somewhere, you’ll get it back.” 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 her nine years to pay off 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 GOING INTO DEBT…which he sold through newspaper and magazine ads in local media…the book was very successful and gave him the confidence to try to sell his inventory in the same way.
Before Christmas, he sold glow-in-the-dark tree decorations using (among others) headlines like “THE FUN STARTS WHEN THE LIGHTS OUT.” She sold thousands of peepholes (the peepholes you put on doors to see who’s knocking) with advertisements beginning with the headline “SEE THROUGH WALLS, FENCES, AND CLOSED DOORS”…
Although Joe had negotiated a nine-year payment with his creditors, he was able to pay off each hundred in less than three years. He took on projects for other salespeople and, being desperate for work, gave up a regular copywriter’s fee for a percentage of sales… wrote his own brochures and sold them using the direct marketing techniques he had perfected through experience …
His name and reputation grew within the local “mail order” community and he helped many others… to discover that many were not emotionally prepared for success. This led to the idea of writing a book…actually two books on one cover. The first book was about becoming a person who had the confidence, the mindset to be successful… to set and achieve goals and how to be a person that others would want to work with. A kind of combination of TM, Positive Mental Attitude and Cybernetics. The second book revealed all of his secrets on how to select and market products using mail order techniques… secrets that he had learned over the years through trial and error.
But before writing the book, he wanted to see what kind of market existed for the product he envisioned. He did something that was common at the time…a lot of mail order operators did it…but it’s illegal today. He wrote the ad before he wrote the book and then (this is what’s illegal today), he placed the test ad for a product that didn’t exist yet.
His plan was to return every penny raised with a note saying that the response was so high that he had run out… he couldn’t ship the book as promised… but that as soon as there was another printing he would contact the buyer and would offer the book again… before placing additional advertising.
The response was huge. More than she ever dreamed of. She paid every penny back and then took her family to a cabin they owned in Lake Arrowhead CA. where in six weeks she wrote “THE LAZY PATH TO RICHES”
Advertisements from the book ran for years…in newspapers and magazines published in the US, as well as on select vehicles around the world. The book (and the advertisement) was even translated into other languages. Ads are still studied today…used as templates for other offerings…used as a teaching tool in direct marketing courses…and eventually a publisher (Viking/Penguin) published an abridged edition of the 20th anniversary that sold out quickly. in bookstores.
Joe had a staff of 40 helping with media placement and production and later branched out. His financial publisher was able to provide the cash flow to create Karbo Advertising, FP 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 died suddenly of a heart attack. At the time, he is said to have been working on a new mail-order book tentatively titled “TO HELL WITH THE KIDS, WHAT ABOUT YOU AND ME, BABY?”
In previous interviews, he admitted that the book cost 50 cents to make (it was photocopied sheets of paper with a spiral binding between two sheets of heavy grade paper), and it sold for $10 a copy. It was worth much more… since the reader paid for information… not for raw materials. The section that talked about his mail order marketing secrets was worth many times the retail price of $10.
It had a unique guarantee that the buyer had to post the check date for 30 days after the order date and during that 30 day period, if not 100% satisfied, return the book and receive the original check.
So what can you do to be the next Joe Karbo?
Think about it… he was an average person… without much formal education, he had some success… some serious failures… not unlike a lot of us… the thing is… he kept trying… kept learning… kept doing… developed a positive mindset philosophy… met adversity head-on… was responsible and honest… and just didn’t give up. Need I say more?