How Joe Sugarman Sold 100K Pairs of Sunglasses with Just Words on a Page

6 principles for kick-ass copywriting

Jamie Ellis Fidler
8 min readJun 27, 2017
Kathy Mü, Unsplash

Think the most money to be made from sales is from in-person demos, phone calls or infomercials?

Actually, one of the oldest and most successful forms of sales is the written word.

No demos, no cameras or lights, just words on a page.

Let me explain. Advertiser Joe Sugarman wrote a single advertisement for sunglasses that sold 100,000 pair in 6 months. He eventually sold 20 million pairs of the glasses using the principles I’m about to show you.

Using Sugarman’s ultimate guide, The Adweek Copywriting Handbook, I’ll help distill some key information that will help you write sales copy that will sell a lot of product.

The Power of a Story

If you have any hopes of a prospect purchasing from you, there’s a very important event that needs to happen.

According to Sugarman, the prospect needs to consume the pitch. The entire pitch.

So is the same with writing a sales page, landing page, or digital advertisement: you need to get your prospect to read all of the copy.

How can you do that?

Let’s compare the words on a landing page to a sales presentation. Instead of kicking off talking about features or benefits (ughhhh boring!), salesperson Sally tells a story that has you hooked from the first word, leading you into her rabbit hole. At this rate, you’re going to hear the entire pitch.


“Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, a story can be invaluable and often creates an emotional relationship or bond that keeps your prospect riveted and listening.”

-Joe Sugarman

A story creates human interest that causes your prospects to read your entire message, a point which is illustrated perfectly in Joe’s BluBlocker ad copy, below.

Here’s the original ad

Can you see how he hooks readers in the first sentence, almost challenging you to read on to figure out if you believe his true story? It gets you to read the next line. Then he goes into a story, at which point you’re sucked in.

Sugarman calls this the slippery slide which is intended to persuade you to read the entire pitch. I’ll explain more about that soon.

Six Principles to Repeat Joe’s Results

You’ve learned that your reader needs to read your entire message in order to get to the pitch. But how do you get them to do that?

It’s about motivating them to exchange their hard-earned money for your offer.

The next six principles will explain exactly how to get your prospect to consume your entire pitch.

Principle 1: Get your prospect to read the first sentence (p. 31)

The purpose of every element of your ad should be intended to get your reader to read the first sentence.

Joe says the trick to having your first sentence read is to make short, sucking your reader into your copy so they starting reading the second sentence.

“Keep it short, sweet and almost incomplete so that the reader has to read the next sentence,” says Sugarman.

Here are a few examples of attention-grabbing first sentences he’s used in his own ads:

It’s easy.

It had to happen.

These examples inspire curiosity and pull you into the next line, and the next line, and the next. As it starts, the energy is small, but it slowly gathers more and more as it goes, kind of like a snowball tumbling down a hill.

Principle 2: Create Harmony with Reader (p. 39)

The next key to persuasion is establishing resonance with your prospect. You have to get them to start saying yes. How?

Credit: giphy

Kelly walks into a boutique on a freezing cold, blustery day. “It’s freezing out there, isn’t it, Kelly?” the sales rep says.

“Yes!” answers Kelly, (obviously that being a truthful statement so she responds affirmatively).

“I see Kelly, that you have lost weight—your jeans are pretty loose.

“Well, yes, actually I have,” she says, pleased.

And I can see that you’re wearing Citizen jeans, and we sell those, you probably could use a new pair in your new size?

“Yes, I think that would make me feel more confident.”

“May I show you a few of the latest Spring pairs that just came out?”


The rep again states the obvious to get a harmonious ‘yes’ answer and so the sale continues.

Just as the sales rep was able to harmonize with her prospect in the boutique, you want to do the same thing with your readers. Harmony is a key element in persuasion.

Principle 3: Create the Slippery Slide (p. 45)

Now that you’ve gotten your prospect to read the first sentence and is nodding along in harmony with you, now comes the slippery slide. Like you’ve learned, your prospect needs to consume the entire pitch. The slippery slide is the technique to get your reader to the end — nodding in agreement the whole way.

First — get them to read the first 25% of the ad.

“If a reader reads more than 25% of your ad, there is a great probability that he or she will read your entire ad.”

Then the slippery slide takes hold and they’re goners.

“Every element must be so compelling that you find yourself falling down a slippery slide unable to stop until you reach the end.”

The point is that people will completely read what they’re interested in and what they aren’t interested in they will hardly read. So pull your prospect in with a headline that makes them stop, then draw them into your ad in the beginning 25% and the chances they will read through are much higher.

Basecamp does a good job pulling readers into their single-page projects landing page with the header. The copy and highlighted text keeps things interesting and show how Basecamp will benefit customers.

Principle 4: Focus on the Emotions (p. 65)

When crafting a pitch, it’s key to make it to speak to the emotions. Why? Because people buy with their emotions and then justify the purchase with logic.

“You sell on emotion, but you purchase with logic.”

Christian Louboutin heels run for about $700 a pair. Do you buy them because they’ll be the perfect accent to your red blazer? No. You buy them to signal to others that you’ve made it; you do it to join the tribe of red-soled ballers. And you justify it by calling it an “investment”, tallying all of the important customer meetings and events to which you’ll be able to wear them.

Blair‘s got some very justified purchases. Credit: giphy

So how can you do this in your sales copy? You need to really get inside your prospect’s head to figure out their problems, desires, and motives. Start by:

  • Scoping out the places your prospects hang out — forums, social media, blogs
  • Talk to prospects
  • Studying successful ads
  • Becoming your target market

Principle 5: Psychological Triggers (p. 131)

You’ve just learned how powerful emotions are when used in your sales copy. If using emotions in your sales copy is what pushes your prospect to pull out their wallet, then using psychological triggers is like greasing the wheels.

Here are a few powerful triggers to use in your sales copy:

  • Scarcity
    When used properly, this trigger can accelerate readers to take action swiftly. It builds a sense of urgency into your copy.
  • Credibility
    This trigger is all about anticipating the objections of your prospects and settling them immediately within the copy. Offering a money-back guarantee is a great way to solidify this credibility and ease any potential doubts of purchasing.
  • Storytelling
    Stories have existed since the beginning of humanity and have always played an important role in every culture. Stories lie at the heart of every great film, fiction novel, and even… marketing! They weave the details of a product, company, or message into a package that’s compelling and begs to be consumed by an audience. Learn to tell compelling stories and you have mastered one of the greatest marketing lessons there is. Used successfully in advertising will do two things for you: get your customer to read all the way through your pitch; and disarm prospects by minimizing the feeling of them being sold to. It also weaves well with curiosity, which I’ll explain next.

Principle 6: Seeds of Curiosity (p. 59)

You’ve learned that in order to increase conversion rates, you need your prospect to read your entire ad. To boost readership, learn how to use curiosity. This trigger is an incredibly powerful motivator in sales.

Because of the nature of digital sales, you can’t physically touch the product (like you can in retail). To keep the reader interested, planting seeds of curiosity will keep them reading to the next paragraph.

Joanna Wiebe of CopyHackers uses the curiosity principle really well in a post she wrote about the topic. She explains:

The “curiosity gap” is a powerful copywriting technique…

It’s so powerful, in fact, that using it recently led to a 927% increase in clicks on a Pricing page.

But before I show you how we got those incredible results, let’s answer the obvious questions: what the hell is a curiosity gap? And how can you use it to a) keep visitors engaged and b) compel them to move forward?

Can you see how she used curiosity here to motivate the reader to keep reading? By introducing the shockingly impressive results first, she provokes the reader to want to know exactly how she did this. She’s created a seed that’s almost like a hook. They’ll stick with her if they want to know how they can increase their conversion rate by 926%, too.

Sugarman proves how well the curiosity principle works by selling countless products through direct mail without even including a photo (like a calculator he once sold), p.165.

“Keep the copy interesting and the reader interested through the power of curiosity.” p.63

Wrap up

To write copy that sells A LOT:

  • Use stories to engage prospects into reading your ad
  • Hook prospects into read the first sentence
  • Create harmony with your reader
  • Set up the “slippery slide” effect
  • Focus on the emotions
  • Use psychological triggers
  • Plant seeds of curiosity

Thinking of using your copywriting skills to sell a new product? Read this post on how to build products people will actually want to pay you for!

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