funny-dog-pictures-expect-believeAny copywriter worth a darn has heard of WIIFM – What’s In It For Me. Every prospective customer is constantly asking that question and copy that fails to provide a compelling answer, well, fails.

But prospective customers want to know more than just WIIFM, they want to know What’s In It For You (or WIIFY)?  In other words, why are you offering me such a good deal?  What do you get out of it?

WIIFM grabs attention, but WIIFM without credibility comes off as a scam.  You could be literally mailing people $100 bills free of charge and get no conversions, because people can’t possibly see the upside for you.  The more the deal sounds too good to be true, the more the copy has to answer WIIFY, typically in the form of “How we can afford to sell at these prices.” And perhaps the greatest example of WIIFY is the legendary “Frustrated Contractor” letter.

2010-10-25_1605Written by John Young for Jim Abrams’ HVAC company, the direct mail sales letter made both of them rich and has since been used by every every single HVAC business in the US and credited with producing $1 billion in HVAC sales. What does it say? Well, you can download a current version of the letter – still in use – here. But the short answer is that it headlines with WIFFM and then immediately switches to WIFFY.

In other words, the letter promises to sell the customer a brand new, high-end furnace and A/C unit for thousands less than normal price – so long as the customer buys in the winter. Why?  Because HVAC guys are busy in the summer but unable to keep their employees busy in the winter, creating frustrated businessmen watching their installers get paid to sit around watching day-time TV. Prospects get a great deal (WIIFM) and contractors move some inventory during the slow season while keeping their guys busy (WIIFY).

Variations on the letter will also mention the owner having ordered or been left with too many HVAC systems in inventory and the need to clear them out, etc. But the point is that the letter’s sounds-too-good-to-be-true offer gained credibility in the eyes of the prospect by addressing WIIFY – what was in it for the contractor.

How This Applies to Branding

used-car-guyThe problem with WIFFY as it is applied to sales letters and event advertising is that the level of your credibility is often tied to a passing or seasonal dynamic. To use an example from the Robert Collier Letter Book, a clothier was able to offer incredible prices on Madras Shirts because the mill was all-but out of business and sold it’s inventory of shirting fabric at once-in-a-lifetime prices. Obviously, that’s a message you can only get away with saying once, otherwise you look like the cheesey car lot guys who hype inventory clearance sales on a year-round basis.

Branding requires a WIIFY that retains relevance and credibility today, tomorrow, next year, etc. That could be a new technology, a direct to the consumer pricing model, or the like. But that doesn’t do you too much good as a copywriter. Either a client has a legitimate competitive edge – and is likely already advertising it – or not.

So what to do?

Nothing Says Your WIFFY Has to Be Economic

As an example, here’s an ad featured in Roy Williams’ recent Monday Morning Memo:

“When I was seven years old, I held my father’s head in my hands as he took his last breath and died. A thing like that stays with you. It helps you understand that relationships – people – are what life’s all about.You gotta tell’em you love’em. This is J.R. Dunn. So now you know why I became a jeweler. Fine jewelry is one of the ways we tell people we love’em. When I got older and fell head-over-heals for Ann Marie, the love of my life, I didn’t have enough money to buy her an engagement ring. She married me anyway. Go figure. But I can promise you this: If you’re thinking of getting engaged to the love of your life, come to J.R. Dunn Jewelers in Lighthouse Point. No one in Florida, no one in America, is going to give you a better engagement ring for your money than me. One of the great joys of my life is to make it possible for guys to give the woman they love the diamond she deserves. There was nobody there for me when I needed an engagement ring. But I promiseI’ll be there for you.”

Do you think this ad provides the listener with a WIFFY?

2010-10-25_1319Of course it does, but the WIFFY is emotional, not economic. The listener – or this listener, at least – believes that J.R. Dunn will give him a great deal on an engagement ring because there’s an emotional pay-off for Mr. Dunn. And as always, deep emotions are always linked to self-identity, hence the opening story / Mental Image.

So if you want to create credibility, go beyond WIIFM to WIFFY.  And if you want that credibility to last beyond a single sales event, try tying your WIFFY to emotion.

* Photo credit to ihasahotdog


  1. Chuck McKay on 10.25.2010

    Excellent analysis, Jeff. The Frustrated Contractor letter usually works quite well the first time its used in any given market for the reasons you’ve listed. Unfortunately, nearly every contractor who had great results resent it to the same mailing list the next season… and then sent it again… and again.

    And if a second contractor tries it in the same market? Pffffftttttt.

    As good as this letter is, it keeps producing less with each use. How many times can a major manufacturer make the same costly mistake before people no longer believe the story?

    Plus, after the second time around, how many people with elderly HVAC systems, who didn’t NEED immediate replacement, are still on the fence about buying? One is reminded of the “Employee Pricing for Everyone” programs which ultimately killed immediate sales for the auto industry.

    The worst thing about overuse of the Frustrated Contractor letter is the damage it does to the contractor’s reputation. No matter what he follows it with, the list he’s been mailing already considers him to be a liar.

    Ironic, isn’t it? All across the country the very element which first creates credibility whittles away at it with repeated use.

  2. Lorraine on 10.25.2010

    Thanks for this post, Jeff.

    Your example of the emotional WIFFY got me thinking about using WIFFY for non-profit marketing and development tools. Contrary to what many imagine, successful non-profit marketing doesn’t focus only on the cause (i.e., organization-centric messaging) but also on benefits to audience/donors and what’s in it for them.

    I can also see how WIFFY would work beautifully for non-profit appeals: It not only offers a fresh way to hook attention, but also bolsters credibility and trust.

  3. Jeff on 10.26.2010


    Thanks for reading and I’m thrilled you found it useful. Would love to see an example of WIIFY applied to non-profit marketing! Do you have any examples on-hand?

    But I definitely agree that in a blood-is-thicker-than-water sort of magical-thinking way, non-profit marketing has to make supra-rational appeals that touch an emotional, almost primal place in our psyches. And when dealing with that, the last thing donors want to see or feel is that the people working at the non-profit are just going to a 9-to-5 job.

    – Jeff

  4. Holly Buchanan on 10.27.2010

    Great examples Jeff.

    I especially like the jeweler ad at the end.

    I see this working well in the financial services industry. Many folks think those folks are just out to make a buck.

    I was speaking to a group in Atlanta. And there was a young hot-shot guy in the back row who was a Long Term Care insurance guy. I asked him why he got into the business, expecting an answer like “control your own destiny” and “make unlimited income” typical lines.

    Instead, he said, “I was very close to my grandmother. After she died, we found out she’d been abused in the nursing home. It is my life’s mission to make sure that never happens to anyone else’s grandmother.”

    Wow talk about WIIFY. I told him to tell that story in every single sales meeting he goes into.

    Thanks for another great post.
    .-= Holly Buchanan´s last blog ..Women and Finance Survey with Vibrant Nation =-.

  5. Jeff on 10.28.2010


    That is AWESOME! Thanks so much for the comment and for sharing that way-cool story.

    – Jeff

  6. Jeff on 10.29.2010


    You’re right that a passing good deal has to be, in fact, passing – has to, at some point, pass – to have real credibility. In the case of the Frustrated Contractor Letter, it could reasonably be construed as seasonal: you’re always going to get good deals on Christmas decorations AFTER Christmas and you’ll always get a better price on air conditioning units in winter than in summer. But the extra, time-pressure elements they put in the letter just don’t hold up well to repeated use.

    All that said, the letter still pulls and the economics continue to work for HVAC companies that do the mailing. Hard to argue against that. But really, what this points out is most businesses – and sadly, most copywriters – over-eagerness to cut and paste rather than to look at first principles and come up with and test original material. It’s why there are all those “Who else wants…” headlines out there.

    – Jeff

  7. Chuck McKay on 10.29.2010

    Jeff, in general I agree, but “All that said, the letter still pulls and the economics continue to work for HVAC companies that do the mailing. Hard to argue against that.” requires a slight caveat. It continues to pull well for HVAC companies which use it for the first time – as it should. The Frustrated Contractor is an example of an exceptionally persuasive direct response letter.

    However, having personal experience with two HVAC companies that have burned it out in their markets, I can attest to its declining effectiveness with repeated use.

  8. Jeff on 10.29.2010

    That might be the case, Chuck. I haven’t been actively involved with any clients in that industry in a year and a half or so, but the last time I checked, I personally knew of several HVAC companies that had been running that letter, with very minor tweaks, for years. And while the response rate had gone down dramatically, the letter still more than economically justified itself with less than a .1% response rate.

    These numbers are approximate, but if you send 10,000 such letters out at a cost of a few thou and you get 10 respondents back for 5 sales, and if the sales are for $10K systems made at a 100% mark-up, well, you just made a handsome profit. You can only imagine how well the letters worked back before they were over-used and mis-used! But even at a dismal response rate, they can still more than economically justify themselves, on the short-term. That’s what I meant about “being hard to ague with.” Didn’t say you couldn’t argue with it, just that putting five figures in your back pocket makes a powerful counter-argument.

  9. Chuck McKay on 10.29.2010

    Excellent points.