I recently read a vintage ad-writing book by Victor Schwab, one of the kingpins of direct mail copywriting in New York during the mid–20th century.
Think a decade or so pre-Mad Men and a little further down market. Reading How to Write a Good Advertisement today felt a little uninspiring, to be honest. Schwab’s methods, or perhaps the methods of the time, focused firmly on the market as a starting point, rather than the product and its company. Manipulating words and content to hook readers.
The problem with this type of ad writing was that it wasn’t really concerned with creating a relationship with potential customers, as in, this is who we are, here’s who we think you are and here’s why it matters. It was more about saying what needed to be said to make the sale. Insert stereotypical image of the used car salesman of the day. This may be unfair as a generalization, but I think the tone and quality of the message in advertising has largely changed, and it can be argued that consumers today are looking for more honesty and the accountability gained through a relationship.
Good copywriting today needs to reveal more about who the company is and what they’ll do for their customers. It absolutely needs to be relevant and hook them, but it needs to first give the reader an idea of who they’re dealing with.
To be fair, Schwab didn’t promote dishonest tactics. He did advise the copy man (no copy women apparently back then) to really examine the product and glean some new and unique detail about it for ad copy. And outlining the details, or proof, behind the claims is one of the elements in basic ad composition:
- Get attention
- Show people an advantage
- Prove It
- Persuade people to grasp this advantage
- Ask for action
- But it was more a step in clinching the deal than a part of building any relationship.
Schwab should also be recognized for his rigorous testing of ad response and sales results to show which copy details were effective or not. Measuring ROI should be a must for the client, of course, but for marketers as well in learning to be more effective in our craft. But Schwab was exclusively driven by the sales numbers. He wasn’t concerned with creating the artful ad, nor in purposefully contributing something pleasing or rewarding to the marketplace. I think the better, bigger-picture strategy is to aim for both targets – developing ads that get results and that build loyal relationships with a company and their brand in the process.