Swipe Files – August 23, 2008

Today I will talk about swipe files. Before we discuss them, let’s look at a definition from Wiki, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swipe_file:

“A swipe file is a collection of tested and proven ads and sales letters. Keeping a swipe file (templates) is a common practice used by advertising copywriters and creative directors as a ready reference of ideas for projects.”

Now this raises a couple questions for me:

  1. How do we know that something is tested and proven?
  2. How should we use swipe files?

Something is proven if it generates a significant amount of sales volume, or whatever is our criterion for measuring. Let’s just focus on the sales letter. Shall we? A sales letter for the consumer is to generate a response, usually to buy a product. So if I sent out a million copies, for an item that sells for $10, and one hundred thousand people send in orders, then it is successful. And you can also test different components of a letter, through small samples. You need to at least have 31 observations for a test to be statistically relevant, and you can sometimes test components through a mechanism, like Google Ad Words.

Suppose I collected all my swipe files, and I amazed a good collection, of classic ones. What should I do with them? Well, what I would do is take a half hour a day, and practice copying them. This is the same technique that monks in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches did in times past. It is the same technique that Asian and western philosophers and students, used in times past. Shortly, you will discover the gems and methods, and they will become part, of your internal psychic. If you look at my profile on FaceBook or Linkedin – or view my Google and Yahoo groups – you notice I join many things. I might belong to a group on philosophy, Reiki or Homeopathy, while at the same time, and join a group on Software Engineering, Creative Writing, or Six Sigma statistics. I am getting swipe files, from topic components. And by copying ads, or responding to questions in discussion groups, I am internalizing the swipe files. It’s almost like the process found on a Yahoo group discussing Christian Science healing:

It’s a Buddhist thing…being one with the swipe files

“Even on a ship out in the middle of the ocean, you have to see that you are not in the ocean, but that the ocean is in you. I told this to a friend of mine who was going on a voyage, and was most afraid of being seasick. He had always been violently ill on every trip he had ever made over, the water. I said: ‘the water can’t do anything to you. You are not in it. It is in you.’ He never had a bit of trouble from that time on. It proved to be a rough voyage, but he never experienced any nausea at all.”

So you want to get to the stage where you are not viewing the swipe files, but the swipe files are in you. When I was doing consulting working at Transamerica – during the time I ran my own consulting business – there was an interesting company worker there. He was an IT project manager, who had almost completed a Ph.D. in music, except for the thesis. Now why he didn’t complete it, I don’t know. I do know of another person who almost completed a Ph.D. in physics, except for the thesis. Later the music person did a career transition to sales. But in the graduate music program, he had to play music in a variety of classical styles – Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, etc. One could say he would probably compose great original music, after having internalized the playing styles of masters.

An example of a classical one-page ad is found at
One page classical sales letter

Can others besides copywriters use swipe files?

In order to answer the question, let’s look at the website, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swipe_file

Copywriters are not the only ones who can benefit from having a swipe file. As book publishing coach Diane Eble points out, authors and publishers can benefit from creating a swipe file of best-selling titles to give them ideas for their own titles. Publicists can create a swipe file of great press release headlines. Swipe files are a great jumping-off point for anybody who needs to come up with lots of ideas.”

An example would be published authors. A few months back, the Dupage Country system of libraries sponsored workshops by various published authors. One author was J. A. Konrath, who used the character Jack Daniels as his main mystery novel character. His books had titles like Rusty Nail Or Bloody Mary. During the presentation, I asked him why he used famous drinks in this novels and characters. His response was it worked as a marketing gimic, so readers will associate drinks with his novels. He probably used a swipe file of drink names, so he could crank out titles and characters.

Randy Kemp




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