When I started my freelance copywriting career in the early
1980s, the most lucrative assignment was writing direct mail
packages to sell magazine subscriptions.
And perhaps the toughest assignment was the “free to paid
This was a direct mail package designed to get people who
formerly received a magazine for free to now pay to subscribe.
Free-to-paid conversion is one kind of upsell, with an upsell
being any marketing that gets a customer who buys a less
expensive (or in this case free) product to buy a more expensive
Now, thanks to the internet, upselling in general is much easier,
faster, and more profitable.
A case in point: Classmates Guestbook.
This is a great website that connects people who went to the same
high school and especially those who were in the same class.
You can look at some of the content and post your profile there
for free to update your classmates on what you are up to.
Then, when a classmate looks at your profile, Classmates
Guestbook notifies you by email.
But, the person’s name and image are blurry.
So you can’t actually see who has checked up on you … unless you
upgrade your Classmates Guestbook status from free to a paid
It’s a brilliant upsell, though there have been many smart upsell
programs both pre and post internet.
The classic at Mickey D’s, which has become iconic, is: “Do you
want fries with that?”
In MaryEllen Tribby’s online newsletter, she says this upsell
increased sales of fries at McDonald’s 15%.
And in fact, the fast food chain sells 9 million pounds of fries
worldwide each and every day of the year.
An even more effective upsell was from the copywriter or brand
manager who first wrote these words on a shampoo bottle:
“Rinse. Lather. Repeat.”
This simple consumption doubled the consumer’s usage and purchase
of shampoo for a 100% upsell.
Arm and Hammer baking soda had a similar classic upsell with
their ad campaign extolling consumers to buy a second box of
baking soda to put in your refrigerator for absorbing odors.
For ecommerce businesses, the proven upsell strategy is to serve
the buyer a page with an upsell offer right before or at the
point of checkout.
We recently promoted a $19 ebook; when buyers went to the
shopping cart, they were upsold to an audio course.
The course is regularly $47, but the upsell offers it for only
$28, and about one out of three ebook purchasers takes the upsell
Opposite of the upsell is another offer that can work: the
For instance, decades ago, a company sold a business opportunity
where for a high price you could buy a “business in a box”
selling gold chains, necklaces, and baubles at flea markets, swap
meets, and such.
When someone responded to their ads in business opportunity
magazines but did not buy after getting a series of mailers, the
next mailer offered a scaled-down “start-up” kit for a fraction
of the price of the full business kit.
In restaurants, the downsell to a full racks of ribs is the half
But that usually bothers me, because although I don’t want to eat
too much, I also don’t like feeling I am getting ripped off —
which is how I feel when a rack is $17.99 and a half-rack is
Once, when we were eating out and the server pointed out this
pricing to me on the menu, I replied, “If the rack is $17.99 and
the half-rack is $14.99, can I get the other half for the
The only people less amused than our server were my wife and