Scott McKinstry

Scott McKinstry is a direct response copywriter who specializes in telling stories. You can contact Scott and learn more about using the power of stories in marketing at marketingwithstory.com.

[Story Sells] How a “Ticking Time Bomb” Helps Capture Attention

Nothing motivates action like a time limit. It’s why sales and coupons don’t last forever. Deadlines seem to be hard-wired into our brains. It goes back to caveman days: “We get home before sun goes down, Thog. That when monster attack.” And when it comes to closing a sale, time limits create urgency to act. …

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[Story Sells] The Booster Rocket Tactic to launching a product’s Big Idea

  We live in the “golden age of television”, we are told. First premium cable, and now streaming, unshackled us from the constraints of storytelling dominated by commercial breaks. Now we can enjoy long, satisfying story arcs. The Sopranos. Breaking Bad. Game of Thrones. Westworld. Etc. All well and good. But don’t throw out traditional …

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[Story Sells] Boring Story? Play This Silly Kid’s Game

Now Christmas is a distant memory, how sad does winter look without the pretty lights and decoration?  At the height of the holidays, you barely notice the inclement weather. Now, without the festive cheer masking the reality, we yearn for the return of those ornaments that stir our excitement and lift our mood. You crave …

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[Story Sells] Use this Spider-Man ‘Twist’ to Make Your Sales Story Unforgettable

There’s one story principle that’s tough to execute, but very valuable if you do it right. This principle gives a story added depth. What does that mean? Simply, the tale penetrates deeper into the audience. The story stays with them, echoes in their minds in the days after they first see it. Instead of dissolving …

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[Story Sells] “Ice-Breakers” in Ads: How To Gradually Introduce a Radical Idea

J.R.R. Tolkien had a big problem. He loved the ancient, epic tales. He began writing his own (see The Silmarillion). But he quickly discovered that these ancient worlds of honor and vengeance, with black and white heroes with little characterization, were almost totally inaccessible to a modern audience. All that oath-swearing. And listing of lineage. …

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[Story Sells] Beef Up Before and After Testimonials with this Story Technique

In Blake Snyder’s useful screenwriting how-to book, Save The Cat, he talks about two scenes you must have in your movie. An opening image. And a closing image. And one more thing: They should be OPPOSITES of each other. Why? To show how the character has changed and grown. This journey is the character’s “Arc.”. …

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[Story Sells] How to Name Your Products So They Stick

Han Solo. Gilderoy Lockhart. Benjamin Grimm. These names of fictional characters are easy to remember. Why? For one thing, they are all examples of “sympathetic naming”. That’s where you name a character after a trait they possess. So Han faces life pretty much “solo,” a lone-wolf. (Except for Chewbacca, who’s kind of like a dog.) …

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[Story Sells] How to Answer Customer Objections with the “Death Star” Solution

As I write this, San Diego’s Comic Con just wrapped up. Fans were served tasty selections of their favorite fictional universes. Predictably, some offerings unleashed a flurry of geek-citement. But others ignited a firestorm of critiques. Cause few folks are as argumentative as fanboys. As a market, they’re sophisticated and very vocal. That’s why storytellers …

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The 1-Sentence “RAD” Trick That Transforms a Commodity into a Brand

We live in the age of Branded Characters. Leave no lunchbox unclaimed by a caped crusader or a spiffy cartoon. Thank goodness. Who wants a boring blue box when you can have a universe of possibilities unfold every time you reach for a PB&J? And every single character has a little “TM” next to it. …

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How to use the “Doctors Dumbfounded” effect to Build Credibility & Desire: From Shyamalan to Schwartz

There’s a simple story technique you can use to quickly build credibility and desire for your product. The best novelists and filmmakers use it, as so do the best ad-slingers. In fact, Eugene Schwartz lists it as the 7th (out of 13) way to “strengthen desire for your product.” I recently saw this storytelling tool …

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[Story Sells] Prevent prospects from abandoning your ad by fixing the “Broken Film” mistake

I used to work at a movie theater in high school. One of my best jobs ever. I could watch any movie for free, and eat all the popcorn and drink all the soda I wanted. But some days were bad. When the film skipped — or worse — broke. (These were in the old …

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[Story Sells] How to win the war against wandering attention with the “John Ford Maneuver”

You know when you’re sitting in a movie theater and hear all the noise before the film begins? The flash of phone screens, the chatter, the rustling in seats, the unwrapping of a big box of Red Vines licorice? But then when the movie begins with a strong scene – like the “rolling boulder” sequence …

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[Story Sells] The Joy of Bob Ross: the hidden selling technique used by this mild-mannered painter in nearly every episode

When I feel stressed out at the end of the day, and I need to relax, I’ve got something better than single malt scotch. I tune in to an artist with a big ‘fro named Bob Ross, and step in his world of Happy Little Trees, in the Joy of Painting Series. (How’d he get …

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[Story Sells] The Harry Potter trick to easier storytelling

Got a “productivity hack” for you today. Especially for all you procrastinators out there, as you sit down in consternation at your vintage Corona-Smith typewriter. (If you’re a hipster or an oldster, that is.) If you don’t know how to start your story, use a trick from Harry Potter-author J.K. Rowling. To explain: You remember …

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[Story Sells] Establish Authority by Copying This Novelist Trick

  Can you establish credibility while lying your ass off? Yep. Novelists and other storytellers do it all the time. And when you tell true stories as a marketer, you can copy their technique to build trust. (Bonus: when you pull from real life, you don’t have to work as hard as professional liars.) Here’s …

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[Story Sells] How Bush beats Obama in your sales stories

  I loved watching SNL as a kid. My favorite player? Dana Carvey. You might remember some of his best characters … The very special Church Lady. The dependable Garth. And, of course, the fake George Herbert Walker Bush. Carvey’s impression of President Bush became so widespread, that the former president himself once did a …

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[Story Sells] Plunder this storytelling jewel from the British Royal Family

I’m watching The Crown on Netflix. The show follows the beginning of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign in the 1950s. If you’re into period dramas and stuffy British manners, it might be your kind of thing. But for me, it looked like a bit of a snooze fest. Nonetheless, I’d heard it was good, so I …

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[Story Sells] How to Capture Drifting Attention with the Captain “Hook” Rule

You will lose sales unless you hook your customer’s attention with the very first sentence. But what do you say? Well, to figure that out, let’s look at what not to do. And then just do the opposite. Captain Hook and his pals at Jake and the Neverland Pirates hold the treasure we seek. If …

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[Story Sells] The “Mother Rule” for Keeping Faith with your Prospect

Sell on emotion, justify with logic? Yes, but … Stories teach us that emotions have a logic of their own. We may be irrational, unknowable creatures … But at least in stories, emotions must make sense. If they don’t, then we the audience won’t believe what’s happening in the story. Like when characters do dumb …

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[Story Sells] How To Make Your “AHA!” Moment Believable with this “Dr. Strange” Magic Trick

The latest Marvel blockbuster ‘Dr. Strange’ makes you believe in magic. To the tune of $653 million and counting. And one of the secrets of the believability is a little storytelling magic trick you may use in your next promotion. We live in the Golden Age of Fantasy Movies. From epic fantasies like Game of …

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[Story Sells] Rip This Part of Your Sales Letter from Star Trek

It’s easy to bore your reader when you shift into science mode. Yeah, you often need some technical explanation to prove why your product works. But, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds of jargon and research. That’s when you lose your prospect. So how do you keep it interesting? Without your techno-babble landing …

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[Story Sells] Sell On Emotion, Justify With This …

My nephew recently asked me how The Flash got his super-speed powers. My answer: “Barry Allen was struck by lightning while standing in front of a shelf of chemicals. The combination of the chemicals and the lightning gave him super speed. Lightning is very fast, after all.”* This story made sense my nephew. Lightning is fast, …

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[Story Sells] The copywriting secret that helped this summer blockbuster rake in $1.6 Billion dollars

When I was a teenager, I stood in a long line to watch the first Jurassic Park. I had just read the novel in one big gulp and I was dying to see real dinosaurs on the screen. I wasn’t alone. The movie brought in over 1.02 billion dollars. Steven Spielberg, the director, knew how to tease …

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[Story Sells] TESTIFY, brother: How To Tell A “Conversion Story” that turns your customers into your best promoters

A few years back I followed my buddy to a multilevel marketing event for a health supplements company. It was a big event, designed to bring curious seekers into the fold. Presenters talked up the company and the products … but what I remember most were the testimonials. And when I say testimonials, I mean ‘testimonial’ in …

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[Story Sells] How to harness the power of “Authenticity” for your sales story

You can ramp up the intensity of the stories you tell when you insert one basic theme. My friend Michael Hauge revealed this to me recently. According to him, nearly all stories in the world revolve around this central dilemma. And, so too, do our lives. When you put this theme into your stories – …

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[Story Sells] Exposing the 60 Second Sales Hook: When Your Story Sucks

The 60 Second Sales Hook can ignite a timid prospect into action. Or it can freeze ‘em faster than the Ice Bucket Challenge – if you’re telling the wrong story. In a sec, I’ll give you a simple rule on how to chose which story to tell. First, a brief refresher of the Hook by way of …

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[Story Sells] The Bradbury Trick for Spinning Easy Story Copy

Ray Bradbury fumbled his early stories. They took him a long time and were boring to read. Until in his twenties he stumbled upon a “trick” that gave him an endless supply of story ideas … giving us Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, and creepy tales like Something Wicked This Way Comes. With this trick, he …

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[Story Sells] Happiness Sauce in this 2016 Superbowl Commercial

Wanna be happy in your work? Apparently, here’s the secret: Just do one thing well. That’s the message of Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism. When you pursue too many things at once, you burn out. (Or maybe even worse, never make an impact anywhere.) If you own a fancy garden hose nozzle, you know what I mean: …

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[Story Sells] Why Morgan Freeman destroys this storytelling ‘rule’

I’m six years old and everyone is staring at me. The whole class is restless. Mrs. Brown, at the back, nods her head in encouragement. I see Eric in the third row fidgeting in his seat. He’s crumpling up paper for a spitwad. No more stalling – time to pull out the big surprise. It’s Show and …

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[Story Sells] Why Steve Jobs shelled out $100,000 to a freelancer for 14 days of work

The STORY After Steve Jobs got canned from Apple in the late 1980s, he was licking his wounds, deciding what to sink his fortune in. After buying a small computer division from Lucasfilm (called Pixar), Jobs focuses on his real business: He would build a new computer company called NeXT. Eventually, he produced a groundbreaking …

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[Story Sells] Netflix shows you how to have a happy family

Last column I reprinted the Wall Street Journal’s classic “Two Young Men” story and talked about the power of parables. Brief, punchy stories. Short on plot but long on meaning. Another lesson to yank from the Two Young Men story is the power of the Comparison Story. One life-path reaches Heaven and the other descends to …

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[Story Sells] When Customers Pay You To Read Your Ads

Stories are viruses. Once you’re exposed, you can’t unhear them. Over 15 years ago, my dad put in a request for his birthday – a book. Maybe you’ve heard of it: Rich Dad, Poor Dad. At that time, Robert Kiyosaki’s publishing juggernaut hadn’t demolished sales records. My dad had read a blurb somewhere and thought …

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How Warren Buffet uses stories to lure his next billion-dollar deal

Warren Buffett’s name is magic when it comes to money. He’s the world’s greatest investor, neh? $66.7 billion net worth. His company, Berkshire-Hathaway, owns 56 different businesses, including ad-manic GEICO and railroad giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe. In fact, Buffett’s business is buying other businesses. He’s famous for not seeking out deals. You have to …

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How To Gossip

In the last post, I talked about how gossip grabs immediate attention. The brain identifies a story as gossip if: it’s news, especially a story that’s being covered up or denied there’s a credible source it’s about somebody specific and most importantly, it’s about something bad, controversial, or threatens a reputation I looked at two …

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[Story Sells] HOMO GOSSIPUS, or Why TMZ makes $2,476.21 per minute

Legend has it that storytelling began in the flicker of a campfire … when the prehistoric hunters gathered round at the end of the day and wove tales of slaying the might beasts. In so doing, they exchanged useful information, with storytelling as the vehicle. But maybe storytelling evolved someplace else; Instead of the campfire, …

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[Story Sells] An Easy Way to Tell A Story (Pixar Approved)

The STORY On the first day of my improv class, my instructor Mike Christiansen asked us what we wanted out of the class. One student offered what seemed like a no-brainer: “To be funnier.” To which Michael replied: “I can’t teach you that.” But nobody demanded a refund. Because then Michael added: “But … I …

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How to Guide Your Customers On A Journey Like “Mr. Pain”

If stories work so well in marketing, why not put them to work in other areas of your business? After all, stories arouse attention, engage interest, and ignite feelings… so why miss out on those emotional accelerators when it comes to your actual product or service? I wrote a few weeks back how you can use the …

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Can Stories Kill?

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato certainly thought so. That’s why Plato – who, ironically, flourished under Athenian democracy – was all for censorship. In his book The Republic, Plato’s mouthpiece Socrates has this to say about educating the young: “So our first task, it seems, is to supervise the storytellers: if they make up a …

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Why Your 2-Year-Old Write Should Write Your Next Sales Letter

Thank goodness for storyteller Mo Willems. He is the wildly popular children’s book author & illustrator of  Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!  and many other literary gems. Why am I so grateful to this man? Well, two reasons. First, as any of you parents know, kids (particularly toddlers) love to read the same story …

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The Real Treat hiding in a Brothel

It’s time to talk about Mad Men. After all, how can I write about stories and advertising without mentioning one of the most famous stories about advertising? I know, I know. Hard-nosed direct response marketers often have less than flattering things to say about Madison Avenue advertising methods. No accountability. Entertainment but no sales. Limp, milk-toast …

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