Herschell Gordon Lewis: Direct Marketing Renaissance Man

Herschell Gordon Lewis’ name may be familiar to cult movie fans who know his 1963 flick Blood Feast. Lewis is known in some circles as the 'Godfather of Gore,' for his influence on the splatter film genre. Lewis even got a shout out in last year’s hit movie Juno, which featured a shot of a scene from his film Wizard of Gore. But Lewis has a second career as well as a direct marketing copywriter. Lewis, 79, is working on a campaign for Omaha Steaks, a client of his for 30 years or so. Lewis has carved out a living penning direct marketing columns over the years, not to mention authoring books such as Creative Rules for the 21st Century, Effective E-mail Marketing and On the Art of Writing Copy. Lewis recently spoke with Brandweek about his direct marketing strategies and what life has been like post-Juno. Below are some excerpts:

Brandweek: So, what’s happened to you after Juno started picking up buzz?

Herschell Gordon Lewis: One morning, I got a phone call, telling me that this [entertainment] company wanted to use a scene out of Wizard of Gore. That didn’t bother me or surprise me because [director] John Waters had used some of my scenes in his films. Well, quite a while later, I got a phone call from a friend about Juno. I said, “What is that, a new planet?” I had no idea what he was talking about. Once that thing hit the streets, I was getting e-mails from people I hadn’t heard from in ages.

BW: How has it affected your appearances at shows as a direct marketing expert?

HGL: In years past, I’d be giving a speech on marketing and someone would come up to me afterward and say, ‘Do you know there is this guy who used to make these goofy movies that has the same name as you do?’ Now, I will be speaking about marketing and afterward people will ask me to sign DVDs and photographs. And I was in Los Angeles a few weeks ago for a [filmmaking seminar], and four or five people came up to me wanting me to autograph my books on marketing. It’s like I am standing on the middle of bridge with people coming up to me from both sides now.

BW: Let’s talk copywriting. What makes your style effective?

HGL: I suspect that the reason I have had such good fortune in the direct marketing business is that I try to project the copy inside the brain of the recipient. My wife, Margo, and I were going over the mail today, and some of the pieces— which cost a lot of money— were totally off target in that all of the attention was given to production rather than generating an emotional message. If you were to ask me in one sentence how my copy becomes effective, I’d say it mirrors the experiential background of the message recipient.

BW: What’s one piece of advice you’d want to share with young marketers entering the profession?

HGL: The main tip I would give to anyone invading our field is to read as much marketing material as you possibly can find— sent out by anyone. Then, analyze it and think, “If this was aimed at me, what would my reaction be? Would my heart beat a little faster? Would my blood pressure be a little higher because I didn’t have the product?” If you can build a library, even internally, of what you recognize as motivators, then you will be a success in this business.