We have had advertising for thousands of years; ancient civilizations including those of Greece and Rome had their own forms of advertising. Admittedly, they didn’t have glossy billboards or men in bad polyester suits trying to sell you some magic beans but like it or not, advertising has been part of our lives for longer than we realise. The history of marketing only began to resemble what we know today in the 19th century with new roles being created including researcher, copywriter and advertising agent.
It is important to look at advertising history because it may provide you with some fundamental insights into the human condition you may have forgotten. It is easy to be overtaken by the archetypal arrogance of the modern man who believes he is superior to all those who have gone before him.
I say this is folly and one of the many reasons we are not progressing as much as we should as a species. Anyway, this is a preamble to the purpose of this post which is to illustrate some outstanding ideas for copywriters long since deceased. This shows us that we owe what we have to these so-called ‘inferior’ generations of people.
What Effect Do You Want To Have On Your Reader?
This idea was first espoused by Robert Collier, author of The Secrets of the Ages and known as one of the great writers of inspirational books. He believed happiness was within the reach of everyone and became a master of developing winning sales letters. According to Collier, one of the secrets to his success was an ability to consider the effect he wanted to have on a reader and then write his copy in the appropriate manner. Even 100 years ago savvy copywriters knew emotion was the key to great sales success.
Show What You Have
This advice comes from Victor Schwab who may well be one of the best direct marketing copywriters in history. He worked with Dale Carnegie and helped How to Win Friends and Influence People to become a success and also created copy for Charles Atlas. That’s right, if you were ever roped into buying some crappy exercise equipment as a youth you can probably blame Schwab!
He was an expert when it came to research and paid great attention to detail in order to determine the best performing headlines while also testing elements such as copy length and even the layout. According to Schwab, the best way to make a sale is to show your product in action; this allows the reader to understand how the product works and what it can do to improve their life. Schwab didn’t have YouTube but his assertions did help pave the way for the awful infomercials that still plague our screens!
Make the Audience Desire What You Have
Eugene Schwartz is yet another legendary name in the field of advertising and copywriting and he always advocated creating copy that tapped into the innermost desires of the reader. Again, this is a common copywriting tool today and while it is a simple enough idea, Schwartz was rather complex in the way he approached it. He wanted to provide readers with instant gratification when showcasing a product and enjoyed a fabulous career.
Everything Schwartz said made perfect sense when you think about it; regardless of how amazing your copy is, if you can’t tap into the desires of your target audience, if you can’t make them want your product to satisfy their needs and wants this minute, all hope will be lost. Incidentally, he also had a simple copywriting system that helped him produce book after book and a living most writers can only dream of.
You may roll your eyes at what you’ve just read (and also at shameless Ronnie Reagan above; is there anything he wouldn't do for corporate cash?) because it doesn’t offer you anything new but that’s kind of the point. The basic principles of copywriting have not changed in over a century and they are not likely to in the future. The goal remains to give customers what they want and you can put any spin you like on it because success will continue to elude you until you go back to basics and do things like the greats once did.