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

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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 it might be a fun read.

As I tore off a piece of wrapping paper for the book, I read the subhead: “What the Rich teach their children about money that the poor and middle class do not.”

That intrigued me. I was middle class, and there hadn’t been a lot of money discussion tables at my dinner table. (The irony of a son buying this book for his father isn’t lost on me.)

So I started reading. I tried not to crease the corners.

A few hours later, I was halfway through the book. Noticing that the party was going to start soon, I hastily folded the book in the wrapping paper and slapped some Scotch tape on the sides.

But it was too late. The damage was done.

Kiyosaki had implanted a virus inside my head – a meme about money – that would never leave me.

Rich Dad relates the tale of how, as a plucky youngster in Hawaii, Kiyosaki learned the fundamental lessons about wealth creation from his best friend’s dad.

In one vignette, he relates how he was forced to cool his heels outside the office of his “Rich Dad.” Young Robert watched as two grown up women and one man did the same thing. They were all on the same level – employees. Working for a buck, instead of a buck working for them.

That image has never left me. The lessons were memorable because of the story that Kiyosaki wove around them. I doubt that a direct statement of his principles would have been nearly as effective.

What does this have to do with writing sales copy?

It turns out that Kiyosaki intended the book to be an ad for his high priced product, his board game “CashFlow” that originally sold for over $200.

You can buy Monopoly for $15. So why the heck would you spent a couple Benjamins on knock-off?

Well, if you read Rich Dad, Poor Dad, you no longer saw it as a mere board game. The book transformed your concept of what the game actually was: your own chance to learn from a “rich dad” in a box.

The book did its job. Kiyosaki sold a lot of cardboard and plastic game pieces.

And this was a “sales letter” you had to pay for! A sales letter that became a New York Times Best Seller for years in a row.

Other business gurus have inked stories to spread their message, book speaking gigs, and establish themselves as experts.

Like the One Minute Manager, which tells the story of a young whippersnapper just out of college who hangs on the word of a local manager hero.

Or Who Moved My Cheese, which is even more abstract – it’s a story within a story about two pairs of rats: one pair fears change, the other embraces it. (Guess which one wins in life?)

And for you copy hounds, you should definitely find a copy of Obvious Adams, a story of an upwardly mobile all American man of common sense, based, no doubt, on the life of legendary adman Claude Hopkins.

We all know that writing a book can be a great way to establish our expertise and authority.

But if the prospect of plunking out a non-fiction tome bores the heck out of you, consider clothing your message in a fiction story. You might find it’s even more memorable than a direct statement.


A book-length story can be the perfect delivery vehicle for your main message as an expert or brand. And might be a whole lot more fun to write.

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Scott McKinstry
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.
Showing 7 comments
  • Rob Jones

    William O’Neil and Investor’s Business Daily is another great example. They’ve built a massive paid newspaper subscription and recurring membership site with multiple high ticket automated investment products by selling tons of books that pretty much tell his rags to riches stock investing story, sell you on the dream and then pitch you on their various products.

  • Reply

    Rob, thanks for calling out the “Rags To Riches” element, something I’d overlooked. The Rich Dad, Poor Dad is a great example of such a story, a story template we never tire of hearing (whether the riches are literally money, like Kiyosaki’s story, or the riches are broader, like in Cinderella.)

    On a side note … in telling a Rags to Riches story, it’s good to begin in childhood, just like in Rich Dad does. In his tome on storytelling, “The Seven Basic Plots”, Christopher Booker notes that Rags To Riches stories “first introduces us to our hero or heroine in childhood, or at least at a very young age.”

    Course, there are exceptions — Colonel Sanders of KFC comes to mind.

  • Reply

    Great piece, Scott.

    On the rags to riches tip, I also love when we get to take the ride of discovery along with an enthusiastic guide. It doesn’t have to be money (although Mike Dillard played that role to great effect in launching Elevation Group, as one example), it can also be travel or music – or both, as Dave Grohl did so well in Sonic Highways.

    The key is a host who is qualified enough to be regarded as an expert, yet is completely willing to embrace a beginner’s mindset in interviews.

    Thanks for always inspiring us with new insights, my man.


    • Reply

      Thanks, Kev.

      Good point about the enthusiastic guide. Jimmy Fallon is a good example — he genuinely seems excited to talk with his guests. He’s got that “gee wow, this is cool” vibe going.

      But he’s also a seasoned entertainer himself, so he can keep up with his guests without trying to one up them — like this recent impression-off with Dana Carvey [http://www.nbc.com/the-tonight-show/video/wheel-of-impressions-with-dana-carvey/2929488]

      When I watched it, I felt like I was in watching the other team play a kind of charades in my living room.

  • Reply

    > consider clothing your message in a fiction story.

    Which ironically is exactly what Kiyosaki did. He was poor when he tried to sell the book. It actually exploded into fame first through MLM channels. Even to this day, his book is a staple in all the major MLM “organisations”, where story is paramount.

    Even to this day he seems to be “stuck” in the MLM world – even though his book is “supposed to be” about business. And he isn’t really a highly-regarded business expert, either.

    But none of that matters, since it’s his *story* that works all the magic.

    And, I have to say: to me, YOUR story here is a thousand times more exciting and useful than Kiyosaki’s one …

    • Reply

      Thanks, Cezary. Yeah, his story is so big it kind of eclipses everything else.

  • Rory Mach

    The real magic of the Rich Dad Poor Dad narrative is that it radically redefined the meaning of wealth and success. You know, Kiyosaki’s “Poor Dad” (his real, or at least biological, father) was at one time the head of Hawaii’s public school system, if I remember correctly. The real thrust of RK’s story was the power of “passive income,” and I think everyone who read that story walked away saying, “Yeah man, that’s the answer…I want to be earning money even when I’m sleeping! ”

    By the way, Kiyosaki is a great practitioner of the copywriter’s art of making a powerful story resonate in a big space, small space, any space. I wrote and helped produce an infomercial for him maybe 10 years ago, and he was a genius at getting his message into your head–even when he had only 15 or 20 seconds to work with.

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