When last we checked in on the great masters of advertising and copywriting, it was 1880. And John E. Powers – a curmudgeon of the highest order – ruled the advertising roost in America.
As you’ll remember, Powers – said by many to be the world’s first professional copywriter – doubled sales for Wanamaker’s Department Stores by creating print ads that were short, simple and brutally honest:
“Print the news of the store,” said he. “No ‘catchy headings,’ … no smartness, no brag, no ‘fine writing,’ no fooling, no foolery, no attempt at advertising, no anxiety to sell, no mercenary admiration; hang up the goods in the papers, one at a time, a few today, tomorrow the same or others.”
Now, Powers’ success at Wanamakers did more than make his client rich. It also made Powers very well-off (find out more info at www.trustmypaper.com). And of course, it revolutionized the entire vocation (it would be puffery to refer to advertising as an “industry” at the time) of 19th-century ad writing.
Powers’ frank, Spartan approach to ad copy was an order of magnitude more effective than the exaggerated promises and flowery language that had been in vogue for the century before he came along. And that made him the hero of advertisers – and students of advertising – from sea to shining sea.
By the early 1900s, every self-respecting ad man in the US could quote John E. Powers chapter and verse. And as we’re about to see, his influence reached well beyond our borders.
John E. Kennedy – a proud Canuck and by all accounts, a big, strapping lumberjack of a man – had been a Mountie, (think Dudley Do-Right) before launching his career in advertising.
Once he’d contracted the copywriting bug, Kennedy served as advertising manager for the Hudson’s Bay Department Store in Winnipeg and also created ads for Boston’s Regal Shoe Company.
He must have been doing something right. Dr. Shoop’s – a patent medicine company in Racine, Wisconsin – paid him a whopping $28,000 a year (about $575,000 in today’s funny money), to create their ads for them.
He also got around: Winnipeg, Wisconsin, Boston – and, as it turns out, Chicago.
One fine day, Kennedy lumbered up to the receptionist’s desk at Lord & Thomas – an ad agency with offices above a Chicago bar – and announced he needed to speak with someone in charge.
From there, the conversation is said to have gone something like this …
RECEPTIONIST: “That would be Mr. Thomas. Do you have an appointment?”
RECEPTIONIST: “Oh, I’m sorry, but Mr. Thomas is a very busy and very important man. Nobody sees him without an appointment.”
KENNEDY: “If you give him this note, he will see me immediately.”
And with that, Kennedy proceeded to scrawl the following pompous, condescending and insulting words on a scrap of paper …
I am in the saloon downstairs, and I can tell you what advertising is.
I know that you don’t know.
It will mean much to me to have you know what it is and it will mean much to you.
If you wish to know what advertising is, send the word “Yes” down by messenger.
— John E. Kennedy
Unsurprisingly, Thomas promptly refused to waste a minute on the author of this arrogant note. In fact, the Chicago adman is said to have muttered, “The man must be crazy.”
Crazy Like a Fox.
… And so Mr. Kennedy’s note was passed on to a junior partner; an eager young buck named Albert Lasker.
Now, like most ad men of the day, Lasker was a disciple of Powers’ “just-the-facts-ma’am,” “news-of-the-store” philosophy of advertising.
But unlike Powers – who evidently believed his approach would never be improved upon – Lasker was open to new ideas. And so he trundled down to the saloon.
Here’s how Lasker himself described the goings-on in his autobiography, The Lasker Story.
“… So Kennedy said to me, ‘Do you know what advertising is?’ I said, ‘I think I do … It is news.’
“I said I thought I knew what advertising was — news — just exactly as the old sailors and astronomers thought the world was flat, and thinking the world was flat, they had worked up a system whereby they had quite a world. But Columbus came along and showed them the world was round. And that is what Kennedy showed me.
“He said, ‘No, news is a technique of presentation, but advertising is a very simple thing. I can give it to you in three words.’
“‘Well,’ I said, ‘I am hungry. What are those three words?’
“He said, ‘Salesmanship in Print.’”
Lasker’s mind reeled. Those three words — “Salesmanship in Print” were so simple! But their ramifications boggled the mind.
Decades later, Lasker would say that his whole philosophy of advertising was revolutionized in that single flash of inspiration.
And Lasker hired Kennedy on the spot – for more than 205 TIMES MORE than he was paying another copywriter at the time.
The Astonishing Power of an Obvious Idea
Before we explore the implications Kennedy’s “three little words” have for your sales copy – and your future success – let’s take a look at what they did for Albert Lasker …
- Over the next two years, Kennedy and Lasker went to work applying the principle of Salesmanship in Print for the benefit of Lord & Thomas’ clients – and their ads were so effective, the agency began growing by leaps and bounds.
- To meet the soaring demand for his services, Lasker hired several young newspapermen and trained them to be salesmen in print – thus creating the world’s first systematically trained copywriting team.
- In 1908, Lasker hired a 42-year-old copywriter named Claude C. Hopkins for $186,000 a year (about $3.7 million in today’s money!) and together, they built Lord & Thomas into the largest ad agency in the world.
- Lasker, needless to say, became a very, very rich man: By the time he retired in 1942, his approach to ad copy as Salesmanship in Print had earned him more than $627 MILLION in today’s dollars.
What’s all the hub-bub, Bub?
Kenndy’s contention that advertising was salesmanship in print may seem like a “DUH!” moment to some folks today. But at the time, it was a revelation that sparked a revolution of monumental proportions: A bolt out of the blue that rocked Albert Lasker’s world.
While John E. Powers – America’s advertising king for the day and Lasker’s former hero – preached that advertising should be a largely journalistic pursuit, merely announcing “the news of the store,” Kennedy taught Lasker to see ad copy for what it truly is: A disembodied salesman.
In Kenedy’s own words …
“ADVERTISING is just Salesmanship-on-paper.
“It is a means of multiplying the work of the salesman, who writes it, several thousand-fold.
“With the salary paid a single salesman it is possible, through advertising, to reach a thousand customers for every one he could have reached orally.
“True advertising is just Salesmanship multiplied.”
(Fortunately for all of us, Kennedy went on to fully dimensionalize his breakthrough in three highly recommended tomes: Reason-Why Advertising, Intensive Advertising and How Shall We Know Good Copy? – all available for sale at http://www.101publicrelations.com/kennedybook.html. I bought them, studied them, marked them up, made reams of notes from them, and apply their principles in my copy every working day. I strongly suggest you do the same!)
Now, at this point, the casual readers among us are thinking, “OK … yeah. So we’re salespeople in print. Who didn’t know that?”
But NOT YOU! I can see the wheels turning, the smoke beginning to pour out of your ears and a big, bright light bulb forming above your head.
You’re getting it just like I did when I first heard the phrase some 34 years ago. Like me, you’re thinking, “HMMM … OK, let’s dig a little deeper here. So what is it – exactly – that an effective live salesman does?”
- He senses the moment when he’s said enough … asks his prospect for the courtesy of a timely decision … and then shuts the heck up.
- He guards this budding relationship jealously, avoiding claims and/or promises that could damage his credibility and carefully steering clear of words and phrases that might be misinterpreted or alienate his prospect in any way …
- He greets his prospect affably, seeking common ground to establish a cordial relationship and begin a friendly conversation …
- He attempts to sense what his prospect is feeling at each stage of the conversation and adjusts his presentation accordingly …
- He presents as many specific “reasons why” the prospect should buy this product (benefits!) as he feels will move his prospect towards a purchase …
- He cheerfully answers all questions and all objections the prospect may have to buying this product, from him, right now …
- He determines what his prospect really wants, looking past the product itself to the practical and emotional benefits it offers …
- He demonstrates why the price is a pittance relative to the practical and/or emotional benefits the product will deliver, and …
And you know what? Ninety-nine percent of the direct mail, Internet, print, TV and radio ads you’ll see today will fall far short of this ideal.
If a competitor’s ad is one of them – or if one of YOUR promotions falls short – this article presents you with a truly spectacular opportunity to multiply your response and profits!
So do this: Print this issue. Print a copy of one of your ads. Then set aside an hour this week and go through your copy line by line and ask yourself, “What could I do better here to satisfy Kennedy’s ‘Salesmanship in Print’ ideal?”
I promise: You’ll be richer – literally – for the experience!
Kennedy on Kennedy
OK. So I could stop right here and you’d have an issue that’s worth its weight in gold.
But I’m not going to.
See, I’ve only given you MY interpretation of Kennedy’s ad copy breakthrough.
Let’s see some of what Kennedy himself says in the three volumes I named earlier …
Kennedy On Image Advertising
“When we multiply nothing by ten thousand we still have nothing as a result.
“When we multiply a pretty picture, or a catch-phrase, or the mere name of a firm, or article, a thousand times we have comparatively nothing as a result.
“But when we multiply one thousand times a good, strong, clearly expressed Reason-Why a person should buy the article we want to sell, we then have impressed, through advertising, one thousand more people with that reason than if it had been told verbally to one person by the same salesman.”
Kennedy on Credibility
“We must not expect the Average of such people to have classical educations, nor an excessive appreciation of art and inference.
“Neither are they as children in intellect, nor thick-headed fools.
“They are just average Americans of good average intelligence, considerable shrewdness, and large bumps of incredulity.
“Most of them might have come ‘from Missouri’ because they all have ‘show me!’ ever ready in their minds, when any plausible Advertising Claim is made to them.
“But, they are willing to be ‘Shown’ when the arguments are sensible enough, as well as simple enough, to appeal readily to their mental make-up.”
Kennedy on Calling Out Your Best Prospect
“A given argument, presented in a certain form of thought and expression, will strike responsively in the minds of a given number, among the class of people aimed at, in each thousand.
“This peculiarly ‘Responsive’ quality in an advertisement may be called its Personality.
“Observe that it need not be the Personality of the writer at all, but the personality which he estimates will best fit the particular class of people who compose the largest field of sale for the article advertised.
“The difference in Results between copy written by two equally bright men may be, and often is, 80 per cent, though the same space be used in each case, to sell the selfsame article.
“That difference consists, first of all, in the quality of argument, the ‘Reason-Why’ that each of the two lines of copy contains, and next in the Personality with which these arguments have been invested, in either copy, so as to strike the most Responsive Chord with the class of readers aimed at.
“The faculty of taking the mental measure of a given class, and gauging their Habit-of-Thought is a sort of Instinct, such as guides the Timber-Explorer, who travels a hundred square miles of forest and estimates closely just how many thousand feet of timber are on it, though he never counts a tree.”
Kennedy on Wishy-Washy Copy
“What is the ‘something’ in a successful Mail-Order Advertisement that makes it pull equally good Inquiries at a fraction of previous cost?
“It is the same ‘something’ that would make Advertising sell goods over the Retailer’s counter, through General Advertising, at correspondingly low cost.
“That “something” is “Reason-Why” and Conviction, saturated into the copy, so that the Reader must believe the statements of merit thus claimed for the article.
“These results have invariably shown that it is far better to repeat one single Advertisement fifty times, if it be full of Conviction, than to publish fifty different Advertisements that lack as much Conviction, no matter how attractive, clever, or artistic, they may be.”
Kennedy on Product Differentiation
“First study your Customers.
“Sit down, close the door, and leisurely think out who are the Natural Buyers of the Article to be Advertised.
“Make a penciled list of some typical cases.
“Interview these typical cases.
“Ask why they have not already bought the Article you are about to Advertise, or bought more of it.
“Ask what objections they would probably raise against the article if a Salesman called upon them and tried to sell it to them.
“Then list the probable objections.
“And then find the most conclusive answer to these objections.
“Next, compile all the Selling Points of the Article in question.
“And remember that its exclusive selling points are to be the backbone of your Salesmanship.
“To say that a certain machine will cut ice would avail little in advertising it against competing machines – all of which will cut ice.
“It will be necessary to tell how much ice it would cut in a given time. At a given cost per ton.
“Contrasted with the cost by other Machines that cut ice at higher cost –
“And why at higher cost.”
Kennedy on Headlines and Openings
“Avoid by all means the far-fetched headings that disappoint the reader.
“Because, the revulsion following the feeling of being tricked would antagonize him against the Article advertised instead of leaving him favorable to it.”
Kennedy on the Writing Process
“Now we start in to write the Ad.
“And we write it as if this was the only Ad we ever meant to use.
“We write it so that it is a complete selling canvas for the Article condensed into the fewest words that will express it.
“This is the order of thoughts and requirements in writing it.
“If the title now possesses enough live News-Interest, the first few lines only need be devoted to introduction of the subject.
“Because, we should then jump into the facts at once.
“Playing up the most interesting feature, first, the most convincing one last.
“Expressing the whole matter in primer-thought, and in language forms so simple that even a child of twelve would fully understand all it meant.
“The object of this simplified language is not merely to avoid misunderstanding.
“But, to make the absorption of the meaning effortless for the reader.
“To make it so apparent that the information will almost “soak-in” without any mental labor on his part.
“For some undefined reason elaborate phrasing, intricate thought-forms, and high sounding words seem to impart suspicion to the Reader.
“Where the simpler and more familiar forms seem to disarm it and carry the message home without arousing so many unspoken questions.
“Make up your mind to concentrate all your effort and all the material you possess upon the single Ad you are writing at the time.
“Intensify it, with every selling point you know of.
“Put all of the very best your closest study can provide into the single Ad you are then writing.
“And when all has been skillfully incorporated, start in to prune it of necessaries.
“Cut out every needless word first.
“Then cut out every selling thought that can be spared without weakening the Salesmanship.
“Then review the whole work as coldly as your worst critic might.
“But, from the standpoint of your prospective customers only.”
Kennedy on Long vs. Short Copy
“How long should a good Advertisement be?
“How long should a good Salesman talk to his Customer in selling goods?
“Just long enough to make his point.
“Just long enough to clinch the Sale, if that be humanly possible.
“Provided he can make his Selling Talk interesting enough to hold his Customer’s attention until the last word needed to climax what he set out to do.
“And no longer.”
– – –
This is one of those Total Package issues that requires you to do more than just read through. You’re going to have to THINK through it – carefully considering the full import of Kennedy’s genius on your promotions and the copy you’re working on right now.
Fully grasping and skillfully applying these concepts – and many more you’ll learn when you order and read Kennedy’s three books – made Albert Lasker a multi-millionaire. They made me – and every top copywriter I know filthy, stinking rich too. And they’ve made billions for the businesses that have benefited from them.
So buy the books.
Yours for Bigger Winners, More Often,
Publisher & Editor
THE TOTAL PACKAGE