“People won’t read long copy! How often have you heard that one?”
That’s not me, that’s Julian Lewis Watkins. Writing in 1948.
No. That’s not a typo.
Nineteen. Forty. Eight.
He was commenting on an ad for Merrill Lynch that contained roughly 6,450 words, no pictures and no coupon.
I found his comments (I knew the ad already) in the latest book to arrive at Sunfish Towers: The Hundred Greatest Advertisements 1852-1958. (Before you write in about the date discrepancy, the book was originally published in ’48, then reissued, with 13 new additions, in ’58. I have the 1993 reissue.
This book is a gem.
It has a foreword by Raymond Rubicam for Heaven’s sake!
If you are a fan, or scholar, of 19th and 20th Century advertising you have to own this book. It has gems written by all the greats you’ve heard of including Hopkins, Caples, Barton, Ogilvy and Rubicam himself. And dozens you won’t have.
Here’s a life-affirming fact for female copywriters: there are 11 credited in the book:
* ‘Miss’ in the book.
** and *** You never know with US names from that period, but I’m guessing they’re dames.
Despite their virtual absence in “greatest copywriter” lists, and among the authors of books about copywriting, their contribution to the industry is examined in great depth here.
Some of the ads are hilarious (intentionally and otherwise) and one in particular had me in stitches. Others are jaw-dropping examples of the social attitudes of the time – on such issues as race, women’s roles (pace my comment just now) and the health benefits of smoking.
I said you should own this book if you are a scholar of advertising history. You should also buy it if you want to know how to write effective copy today. The lessons hold true and I immediately put one to use in a campaign I am writing at the moment.
At £13.11, it’s not a cheap book (it’s not a fortune, either) but the lessons are beyond price.