The Lost Art of Marketing Hooks

…And How One Good Hook Can Make Even The Lousiest Marketing Effective

It’s Sunday night when my phone lights up with this text:

Jay wants to ideate with me over the marketing for his new documentary. Somehow we got off topic and began talking about his legendary “Mr. X” book.

I never read the book but I knew it well – I had read the ad for it dozens of times. Its hook was irresistible.

Where are hooks like that today? A great hook with mediocre copy will crush a good hook with world class copy. Marketing campaigns vanish as quickly as they appear but hooks can live on for generations.

One hook can rock a whole industry. I know personally.

What Is A Hook?

A hook is an impossible-to-ignore, attention-getting device which simultaneously starts the selling process.

While I’ll show you headlines that are examples of good hooks, a hook is not “just” the headline. Headlines will easily flow from hooks, but a headline without a hook is mediocre at best.

Claude Hopkins understood hooks better than any other marketer. Shortly before World War I, dental hygiene was becoming a national epidemic in the US. Few brushed their teeth regularly, and fewer still used toothpaste.

When Hopkins was done, an entire nation was sold on dental hygiene and a new word entered into the public vernacular where it has stayed to this very day.

The hook that started it all was around tooth “film”. Before Hopkins, the only references to tooth film I could find were in archaic medicine journals.

Here are some headlines Hopkins used to sell Pepsodent Toothpaste using the “film” hook:

  • “FILM, a dangerous coating that robs teeth of their whiteness.”
  • “The Film that discolors the whitest teeth.”
  • “Film – the robber of tooth beauty. Learn how millions now combat it.”

And the most effective of all:

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See how a great hook can spin countless marketing campaigns from it? Before you market anything, put a strong effort into coming up with a hook.

What Was The “Mr. X” Hook?

It’s not the character anonymity. It’s the story.

“How a man Jay only refers to as ‘Mr. X’ pirated $50,000 worth of Jay’s closely guarded secrets & proprietary materials, then revealed everything to the public for much less than $500…”

As you read the story, you’ll discover:

“Jay saved this ex-client a nasty legal battle by seizing his inventory, claiming back all the rights and negotiating a huge, out-of-court settlement. But what ‘Mr. X’ had done turned out to be a brilliant articulation of Jay Abraham’s life work.”

Turns out this “Mr. X” did a better job of teaching Jay’s material than Jay ever had. The problem is he charged less than $500 for it. Jay wants to raise the price to what it should be… but (1) several thousand people have already bought it at the low price and (2) many became great clients for Jay.

The result is that Jay will, for a limited time, honor this low price.

I don’t have permission to share the numbers, but Jay told me how much this campaign pulled on the front end and what it lead to on the backend. All I can say… staggering.

Hooks Make Everything Easier

When selling a product, you should always minimize price and maximize value. There are several standard techniques you can employ to position your product as the best price-for-value on the market.

Yet, when you have a hook, technique becomes secondary. As part of the hook, Jay already has a better natural argument as to why this book is such a good deal – he didn’t control the introductory market price.

He also can talk of the product’s high quality without the normal puffery. Since this “Mr. X” was unrestricted and uninhibited from putting in whatever of Jay’s best stuff he wanted… you can imagine how good the product is.

A great hook practically writes the script for you.

Coming Up With Hooks

When I wanted to master hooks, I first went out hunting for hundreds of great hooks. Next, I studied the commonalities of these hooks and noticed a few patterns that repeated over and over again.

  1. Specificity
  2. Vividness
  3. Story
  4. Breaking News
  5. Controversy

Let’s examine each.


In 2010 membership sites were all the rage. Almost every internet marketer wanted to create one. The problem was the software. It was complicated to set up, it usually didn’t work and it was expensive to boot.

I saw opportunity. I went to work figuring out the fastest way to create a “good enough” membership site with free software. That was the basis of my hook. What made it pop though was the specificity I used:

“How to set up a fully functional, password protected membership in 6 minutes, 22 seconds using 100% free software”.

It wasn’t enough to say “set up a membership in no time flat for free.” Specificity is its own hook simply because of its uniqueness. I knew my claim down to the second, because I demonstrated, in real time, how I was able to create these membership sites.

I sold over a million dollars on the back of that campaign. Once I proved with my demonstration how to set up such a membership site, I made the pitch for a product that taught how to drive traffic and fill up the membership site with content.

Remember, a hook must also set up product demand, not just capture attention.

Another example of specificity is from Jay Abraham. He was tasked with selling an inventory of collector guns. During his research he discovered that collector guns made great investments. Just how great exactly?

“From 1975 – 1980 What Single Investment Appreciated Approximately 450% Greater Than Bonds…398% Higher Than Stocks…175% Better Than Houses And 74% Greater Than Diamonds?!!”

This is specificity mixed with curiosity. The answer, as you find out in the ad, is the Luger handgun. The ad continues explaining that gun collecting can be a great investment, and invites the audience to request a free information booklet as well as a copy of collector inventory guns between $200 and $15,000.

When creating your marketing campaigns, hunt for specific, interesting facts you can use to make your claims impossible to copy and impossible to disbelieve.


Good persuasion creates vivid imagery. The more you see it in your mind, the more you’ll desire to own it.

When the iPod first launched, it was described as “1,000 songs in your pocket”. Not 5GB of storage and certainly not one thousand songs in 160-Kbps MP3 format.

1,000 songs in your pocket. You can just see it, can’t you? You’re already using the product before you own it, which makes you much more likely to want to own it.

Weight loss has always been a lucrative market. Ad men used to talk in terms of “reduction.” Then one day, a marketer got the idea to spice it up and came up with the concept of burning fat. This, like Hopkin’s “film” is now common vernacular.

The first ad I can recall to use this “burn fat” concept sports this headline and subheadline:

“How To Burn Off Body Fat, Hour-By-Hour!”

Medical Doctor’s new discovery burns away more fat and fluid than if you ran 98 miles a week.

P90X had a great hook: muscle confusion.

What a beautiful mental image this phrase creates. It sticks with you. It sells you. Just like ludicrous mode for Tesla, whose biggest hook is how fast it goes from zero to 60. This ain’t your mom’s eco-friendly prius.

Robert G. Allen had a massive ad campaign in the 90’s with this appeal:

“Send me to any city in the United States. Take away my wallet. Give me $100 for living expenses and in 72 hours I’ll buy an excellent piece of real estate using none of my own money.”


In today’s multi-media internet, you’re not limited to just words and pictures. You can use vivid demonstrations. Watch classic Billy Mays infomercials on how he made the products he pitches unforgettable. These include:

How can you use phrases and actual demonstrations to make your product simultaneously stand out, while increasing the desire to own it?


The best hooks promise a story. Looking at the “Mr. X” example, you can see how this transcends advertisement and ventures into entertainment. All without sacrificing selling power.

The most celebrated headline of all time is John Caples “They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano… But When I Started to Play!” This is story in ad form.

The Wall Street Journal had one of the most successful direct mail letters of all time. Written, by Martin Conroy, it starts:

“On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college. They were very much alike, these two young men. Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both—as young college graduates are—were filled with ambitious dreams for the future.

Recently, these men returned to their college for their 25th reunion.”

A story, but not just for entertainment. You discover one man is a smashing success, the other stuck in middle management. The difference was a Wall Street Journal subscription.

Drew Manning was a fitness trainer who had been healthy and fit his whole life. To better understand his clients, he decided to become obese. He gained 60 pounds in 6 months, documenting the whole process. Then, the next 6 months were spent getting thin again.

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Stories are the hardest hooks to use. They pack the greatest potential but are the easiest to strike out with. As such, marketers have moved away from stories, which is silly since you can test quick and cheap these days. It’s always worth it to try a story.

If you’re crafty, you can even hunt for stories. John Carlton launched a whole slew of golfing adverts for OHP Direct on the back on this first major winner:

“How does an out-of-shape 55 year-old golfer, crippled by arthritis & 71 lbs. overweight, still consistently humiliate PGA pros in head-to-head matches by hitting every tee shot further and straighter down the fairway?”

It got to the point where OHP would look for these golfing anomalies just to create products and write pitches around. Here are some real world examples:

  • “How In-The-Heck Does This 130-Pound ‘Old-Geezer’ Consistently Hit Super Accurate 300+ Yard Drives While Humiliating Younger… Stronger… More Skilled Golfers?”
  • “How A Blind Golfer Stumbled Onto The Simple Secret Behind David Duval’s Swing That Can Give Anyone Unbelievable Distance With Total Accuracy!”
  • “Amazing Secret Discovered By One-Legged Golfer Adds 50 Yards To Your Drives, Eliminates Hooks and Slices… And Can Slash Up To 10 Strokes From Your Game Almost Overnight!”
  • “Crippled Golfer Stuns L.A. Open Crowd By Crawling From Deathbed To Beat 110 Pro Golfers With a 67 (Using A Short Backswing) And Qualifies For The Last Spot In The Famous 2002 Tournament!”

Too hype-y? Maybe. But don’t you still want to know the full story?

One of the most powerful ways to use story hooks are around bonuses. Say you sell golf clubs, not golf info products. You can still go find a blind guy who can drive the ball like crazy. You then sit down and interview him on his secrets. Next, take the recording and offer it as a free gift to anyone who buys your clubs.

You can now lead with this in your marketing – “FREE! Secrets From A Blind Golfer Who Consistently Out Drives PGA Pros…” and send the information product as a bonus for anyone who purchases your clubs.

Every month you could find a new story that you could turn into a bonus that you could spin another hook out of.

Breaking News

There is a cognitive bias called recency bias which states that people remember more easily something that has recently happened. At a Genius Network marketing conference, attendees were asked what their top three business books were. At least 30% of the books reported were books written in the last few years.

Every market can more easily recall – and is more likely to respond to – something that has recently occured, so you should hook into that. You can take it up a notch when you also realize the availability heuristic bias, where that which is easily recalled is given higher importance and value.

Murder rates don’t go up during full moons, but because people can more easily remember a full moon than a quarter moon, they more easily associate murder and violence with a full moon.

Keep that in mind as we analyze this next example:

The Elevation Group was a company created on the heels of two major recessions – the 2008 real estate crash and the 2010 stock market recession. In this dicey financial climate, co-founder Mike Dillard crafts a video sales presentation that would go on to sell over $25 million worth of product.

Here’s a portion of the beginning of his presentation:

“…I’m going to show you how you can turn times of economic trouble like those we’re experiencing today into enormous wealth, I’m going to show you how you can take advantage of the single greatest wealth transfer in the history of mankind, that is happening at this very moment.”

Shortly after he states:

“Now I realize this might seem like an odd topic to discuss right now… After all, the economy is in the verge of depression. Over 20% of the US workforce is unemployed. The average baby-boomer’s portfolio has lost 30-40% of its value, and there’s no true recovery in sight. So giving a presentation teaching people how to become financially wealthy, during the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, seems a little counter-intuitive, if not downright silly.”

Full transcript available at:

Mike is addressing what is happening in the financial world in the very moment it’s happening. This is what’s fresh on the minds of the audiences he can reach, and he’s entering into the conversation in their mind.

He’s then making predictions of what’s going to happen, and what you should do about it. Because he is making certain facts easy to recall, you start to place greater emphasis on his set of information, and as an extension, his recommendations.

This is why fundamentals are almost impossible to sell. Yes, we should eat more vegetables. Yes, we should meditate. Yes, we should stay hydrated. But that’s old hat. Did you know that magic mushrooms were recently linked as a successful way to treat depression?

Now that’s news.

My most successful webinar was on how to sell private labeled physical products on Amazon. I would change the beginning of my presentation every six months to tie into a news event.

During his run for president Trump went after Bezos, Amazon and China. My email copy promoting my webinars hooked into that. In 2017, more major retailers filed for bankruptcy than any year in the history of commerce. I hooked into that. When Amazon bought Whole Foods, I hooked into that. When Alexa took over voice search and voice purchasing… I hooked into that.

I’d read patents and press releases. I’d deep dive into Google news. I’d combine all the latest news I could into a short, punchy intro to make you feel like trying to make money online without using Amazon was like bringing a wet spaghetti noodle to a gunfight.

By being able to cram pack many different new developments into a mega “here’s what’s going on at this moment and here’s how you can profit from it” argument, my pitch always stayed fresh and commanded attention.

Often you can take an old ad, tie it into what is going on right now in your market, create a new headline, opener and close, and see a resurgence in sales from an otherwise dead campaign.


One of the first info products I bought online was from the Rich Jerk. Here’s an excerpt from one of his earlier sales letters:

Don’t Waste My Time….. Lets get something straight. I am a jerk. I am obnoxious. I am lazy. And I don’t care, because I am FILTHY RICH. I am much too important to even be sitting here writing this right now. So I’ll keep it short. I make several million dollars every year on the internet, doing almost nothing. Heard that before? Well you can see proof of my earnings here. Have you seen proof like that anywhere else? Didn’t think so. Do you make that much money? Didn’t think so.

I’m the real deal. Whether you like it or not, you want to be rich like me, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. And since you are here, I’m sure you already know that there are thousands of “get rich quick” programs on the internet today. You’ve probably even bought some of them yourself. Well, are you impressed with them? I’m not. Not even close. What proof do these losers have of their earnings? That they make a few thousand dollars a month? Big deal. I make millions. And I barely even do anything to earn it. It’s so automatic it would make you sick.

So Who the Hell am I? I’m the guy you see driving down the street in a Ferrari with the top down, and you think to yourself, “What an ass!” And you know what? You’re right. But so what? Do you think I really value your opinion? I’m a rich jerk, so I couldn’t care less. I cut through the BS. If you find me offensive, obnoxious, or whatever….feel free to leave my website at anytime.I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to show you EXACTLY how I make millions. It’s no secret that I’m selling something here. And when you see what I’m offering, you will be blown away.


Rich Jerk uses controversy as a finely wielded weapon of persuasion. You want to buy his product to prove to him you’re not an idiot. You trust him more because he’s rude. You can’t stop thinking about him. You tell others to check him out.

Sometimes controversy in story form can be as simple as this famous ad: “I haven’t had a glass of water in over 20 years…” This is an example of taking a controversial position against commonly accepted “wisdom”.

My friend and webinar services client, Ben Hardy, wrote this best selling book:

The title says it all doesn’t it? Again, this is a direct challenge toward conventional wisdom.

Colin Kaepernick is one of the most controversial figures in recent times. When Nike made him the star of its 30th-anniversary “Just Do It” campaign, protesters started burning shoes in social media.

Flash forward to the year end earnings announcement and according to NBC:

“Nike shares are up 8 percent in premarket trading Friday, after the athletic apparel company turned in quarterly earnings and revenue that beat analysts’ expectations…”

This reminds me of a scene in Howard Stern’s movie, Private Parts:

Researcher: The average radio listener listens for eighteen minutes a day. The average Howard Stern fan listens for – are you ready for this? – an hour and twenty minutes.

Kenny: How could this be?

Researcher: Answer most commonly given: “I want to see what he’ll say next.”

Kenny: All right, fine. But what about the people who hate Stern?

Researcher: Good point. The average Stern hater listens for two and a half hours a day.

Kenny: But… if they hate him, why do they listen?

Researcher: Most common answer: “I want to see what he’ll say next.”

I’m not a fan of manufactured controversy but I can’t deny its effectiveness. I don’t create controversy, but when it inevitably occurs, I pounce on it.

I had a product I used to sell on time management. My pitch was try it for just $4.95 and if it didn’t significantly improve your productivity within 7 days then cancel before the remaining balance of $39 was due.

One customer bought and complained to the help desk that my product wasn’t even worth the trial price. I responded with an aggressive refutation to this customer’s claim… via a public mass broadcast to my entire email list.

This spiked sales and also built a deeper connection to my audience.

A few weeks later I had a consult scheduled with a new client. Shortly before the call my assistant informed me this was the same guy I roasted in my broadcasted email. I get on the call and he was all apologies. He had also bought several of my other products in between my public tongue lashing and this consult.

I don’t try to be controversial but when controversy pops up, I don’t hide from it either. I go on the offensive and watch sales increase as a result.

Hook Implementation

Hooks are hard. When clients hire us to develop their webinars, my team does a bang up job of following my $100 million webinar formula. My main contribution for clients is searching for that hook.

I’ve gotten pretty good at conjuring up hooks quickly that have a high degree of success. However, it’s still a guess. The good news is that it is a low risk guess, most often, that can be easily adjusted if it doesn’t hit right away.

Just go through the “hook list”. As an example, let’s look at one of our clients. He is in the weight loss space and one principle he teaches is how poor sleep is linked to obesity.

Visiting our list, let’s see what we can come up with:

  • Specificity
    • 53 Million Americans suffer from this “invisible” cause of fat gain. Are you one of them? If so, here’s what you can do tonight to destroy this weight loss enemy…
  • Vividness
    • “I lose weight with my eyes, not my mouth…”
  • Story
    • “How several of my formerly overweight clients slept themselves thin…”
  • Breaking News
    • “Scientists discover a free and easy way to induce rapid fat loss by manipulating these two hormones…”
  • Controversy
    • “Forget No Carb, Low Carb and Keto diets. This is the secret to quick and sustainable weight loss…”

Naturally, there can be crossover. You can use a story that evokes a vivid image and has specific detail to it. Often breaking news and controversy can go hand in hand.

Just like Hopkins focused in on film for his hook to spark a dental hygiene revolution, we picked an interesting fact about weight loss – sleep deprivation – as the springboard to come up with our hook.

For my client, sleep is one of the seven principles he talks about that helped him lose over 220 pounds without focusing on diet and exercise. Another principle he talks about is how he “healed his digestion” – this could be a jump off for a whole slew of hooks as well.

My point – pick out an element you think has hook merit. Then brainstorm different ways to present the hook using specificity, vividness, story, breaking news and controversy to see what comes out. If something gets you excited, put it out there and see what happens.

P.S. Eugene Schwartz was another “hook genius.” Here are a few of my favorite hooks from him:

  • Burn disease out of your body using nothing more than the palm of your hand
  • How to stroke wrinkles right out of your face
  • If You’re Over Thirty — This Is The Best Exercise You Can Do For Your Face, Your Body And Your Heart!
  • How to eat your way out of fatigue
  • Her Eyesight Was “Born Again”…Returned To Normal In A Single Day
  • This Woman Is Slimming Her Waistline – By Blowing Out the Candles On An Imaginary Cake!
  • AT 42, I HAVE TO CUT 2 INCHES OFF MY HAIR EVERY TWO MONTHS otherwise, it might very well grow right down past my waist.
  • Take Food, Not Medicine, If You Suffer From Any One Of These Ills!
  • Can You Make Onions Into Medicine That Rids You Of A Dripping Cold?
  • “I Write With My Ears”