The Amazing Power of the Dear Abby Principle

The Amazing Power of the Dear Abby Principle

by Pete Godfrey · 8 comments

The Amazing Power of the Dear Abby Principle

Remember the Dear Abby Column?

People would write in with deep, provoking questions like:

“I’m not sure about marrying my boyfriend. He slept with my sister and now Mum and him are getting real friendly. He says he’ll stop. Should I trust him Abby?”

Without a trace of sarcasm and keeping a poker face, Abby would answer even the most childish and ignorant questions.

It was an addictive column for the masses.

They got their questions answered.

They could hand over responsibility.

You see, most people fear the decisions they make; many of them have a history of making bad decisions. That’s why the Dear Abby Column was so popular. That’s why the Dear Abby Principle is so powerful.

Years ago I saw the power of the Dear Abby Principle up close and I was hooked. I sat in as a guest at a high priced consulting day hosted by well-known marketing guru Mal Emery. I was Mal’s guest, not the client’s, so my job was to observe and only occasionally contribute.  Anyway, the client asked him a direct question, one that carried the weight of the client’s company on its shoulders; a question that if answered correctly, would ultimately save the client’s business.

Without hesitation, Mal said: “This is what you have to do.”

It was a big lesson for me; seeing how my friend handled this situation. Most would be cautious, carefully sitting on the fence covered in shades of grey.

But people don’t want that! They are uncertain enough as it is!

They will not throw money at you if you dance around a question like a politician two days out from Election Day.


People demand black and whites answers. They pay for certainty. Below are 3 points taken from my Last Ever Copywriting & Marketing Master Class; the subject was on handling clients.

  • Clients will throw money at you if they see you are confident.

  • Every one craves certainty; give it to your clients.

  • Never show weakness, always be certain. (Language: “This is what needs to be done.”)

The power of the Dear Abby Principle is simply: People want to be told what to do.

How do you apply this in normal, everyday business?

Well here’s a story that illustrates my point.

Last year my daughter Chloe got it in her head that she wanted some Hermit Crabs. “There so cute Daddy,” she pleaded, looking at me with those big brown eyes. I made a mental note that YES, drama classes were working. Anyway, next minute, we found ourselves in our neighbourhood pet shop where I enquired about Hermit Crabs. I made it obvious I didn’t have a clue, I just wanted the crabs and… what else would I need?

First the sales girl grabbed a small fish tank. Then she added fine sand (you can’t just use normal sand you know), then she added in a couple of half coconut shells with pretty pictures painted on them, threw in a round ball-like object (Hermit crabs love their football), grabbed a packet of special hermit Crab food, threw in a packet of powder that makes normal tap water turn into some kinda Hermit Crab-friendly elixir, then placed two crabs inside.

I didn’t get much change from a $100. (Think about what happened here; how can you apply this?)

2nd Example: Dan Kennedy taught me a big lesson which boosted my copywriting fees almost overnight. I followed his advice, and instead of just accepting assignments from clients, I would tell them what the assignment should be. Instead of just writing their ad, I wrote the whole damn marketing system. They accepted because I told them too… the advice coming from a position of power, not need.

POST SCRIPT: I’m sure you are smart enough to realise the power of what was revealed here. This one should definitely be placed on the top-shelf in your marketing armoury. And please don’t sit there and say it won’t work because you’re not a consultant or you don’t run a pet shop. THINK! That’s all it takes. In all markets, all businesses, people crave certainty; people want to be told what to do. Tell them!

OH COME ON! YOU WANT MORE? Okay, if you’re in retail, say Men’s fashion. Sell the shirt, tie and the suit. Choose the shoes for the customer. Throw in the socks. Tell them what’s needed; what to buy. Selling cosmetics?… no worries. “Yes you do need this eyeliner but without our hydrating foundation the look is lost. Plus, this lipstick really goes with it, and a nice blush will really compliment your wonderful skin.”

DISCLAIMER: (Legal Speak) For those readers who use cosmetics, the author apologises in advance. In no way should the line above be construed as professional make-up advice. The author has limited knowledge of the application of make-up and the line was used for demonstration purposes only.

The point is to take charge and tell your customers what to do; what they need. Folks crave certainty in an uncertain world. No more examples, that’s it.

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About The Author

Copywriter, Sales Strategist - Pete GodfreyPete Godfrey, The Wizard of Words, from rebel without a clue to one of the most in demand and highest paid Copywriters and Sales Strategists in Australasia… all with the power of his emotionally charged words that sell… Discover the “Secret Weapon” to increasing your Sales and Profits by downloading the valuable report "The Ultimate Copywriting and Marketing Secret" While you're at it, follow Pete on Facebook

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben Wendel May 24, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Damn You Pete… You got me again!!! – I was listening to Mal’s CD of the month where he interviewed you about Email marketing and since then I’ve been very aware of your subject line and little teaser intros… I keep trying my hardest not to be roped in… but can’t help it.. curiosity always draws me to click that link!

Nice post also. -need to apply some “This is what needs to be done’ to my consulting.


Ewen May 24, 2011 at 2:58 pm

True story.
Recently a young man went on to a copywriting forum asking how to write a love letter.

After some proding, this love struck puppy confesses she is jerking him around.

Another words, she had lost respect for him because he didn’t take the leader role.

It was pointed out to him that’s what he needed to do…would he listen…NO!

Money, Power and Sex await those who take the leadership role.

A King never says “Gee, I can never get laid!”


As you point out, most people want to be lead, especially women.


Kurt Johansen May 24, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Great point Pete. I have people ask me, “How do I start email marketing to my clients?” The answer I give: 1. “You need a professional email sending program”; 2. “You need email marketing plans and strategies.” “Anything less won’t give you the best results.” “And this is how you how you can get them.” – Once you know what business you are in, the confidence soars. Cheers Kurt


Steven Difabrizio May 24, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Hi Pete,

You are spot on once again!

I was fortunate in my early days as a coach that a very experienced individual told me “To Be The Coach”. Simple I know but very effective.

Love your work



john May 24, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Love it Pete. Morale of the story for me – Back yourself! 🙂


Bonnie May 24, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Hi Again Pete,

You’d so right in what you say in the above article.
I guess it’s because people come to us with their problem.
They want it solved, and they will go with the person/company who appears most confident to solve it. This is also true when talking on the phone with prospsective clients, you’ve got to assure them in the first 2 minutes, or you lose them forever.

I can’t wait to read your next post.


Hugh May 25, 2011 at 12:36 am

It’s the little things that count. For example, clients dont want you to tell them ‘I think you should do XYZ’. They want you to tell them ‘You should do XYZ’. Framing things as your opinion instead of a categorical fact is weak positioning. Nobody wants to pay you for your opinions. They want to pay you for the facts.


Susan Connors May 25, 2011 at 9:04 pm

People have enough to worry about without the added burdens of exploring unfamiliar territory. Create a picture, create a map for them to follow with suggestions, your client will be very grateful to you.

Sometimes we cringe away from putting ourselves “out there”. To sit back and hope that something, a miracle with little effort is going to happen. No – change is going to happen whether we like it or not. So have some courage and give your client the best service you can.

Sometimes words work magic and sometimes they don’t. Unless you stick your head out and have a go you will never know what is possible.

“The point is to take charge and tell your customers what to do; what they need. Folks crave certainty in an uncertain world. “


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