One of the famous ads written by Gary Halbert for Tova Borgnine’s new perfume range. It was ‘tacky’ direct response, and it started Borgnine’s company on the road to multi-million dollar success

This is an ad written more than two decades ago for a new skin care product developed for Tova Borgnine, wife of the late actor Ernest Borgnine. Take a look at it. And before you screw your nose up, dismiss it as too ‘tacky’, not glossy and pretty, too much text and not enough glamorous pictures, consider this:

It was by far one of the most successful beauty ads ever written.

This ad was penned by the late, great copywriter Gary Halbert in the mid eighties. (Members can log into the ‘sealed section and download this and another great version in full size pdfs.)

If you did turn your nose up at these ads, you’re not alone. Back when Borgnine was starting her fledgling perfume and skin care company, she couldn’t afford to have the products stocked in the up-market shops. Instead, she used direct mail and direct response display ads extensively, many of them written by Halbert, in newspapers across the country.

Right up to (or down to, depending on your point of view) the super-tabloid National Inquirer. Her use of ‘tacky’ direct response marketing brought out the snobs.

“I love your products,” she was told by friends, “But I wish you would have them in the tops stores, like Saks – I couldn’t possibly tell my friends you advertise in the National Inquirer…”

But Tova had the last laugh. She eventually made it onto the home shopping network QVC, turning her start-up into a multi million dollar nationally-known success.

This ad had ALL of the essential elements of effective direct response…

  • Desire (To recapture youth),
  • Hope (That this will work),
  • Fear (Of plastic surgery – including a bad result),
  • Evidence (Picture of Tova – demonstrates she’s using her own product to look so youthful),
  • Social Proof (Big Name Stars use it – including Tova’s husband Ernest),
  • Curiosity (The ad never reveals EXACTLY what the gunk is – though it alludes to an “ancient” mystery discovered by Aztecs),
  • Exclusivity (“This formula is certainly not cheap”),
  • Dare (Try it for yourself – in front of a mirror – and see the amazing results),
  • Risk Reversal (If not satisfied, send it back)