Ads That Command


Why do some ads hit the white hot center of a market and become the control ads remembered years later, while others fall by the wayside?

This long running ad from the child psychology market sheds some light.

Here’s the powerful, yet economic headline that froze frustrated parents in their tracks for years:

Defiant Child?

“Mouthy, disrespectful or resistant to authority?”

As a father of three young kids, it’s something I experience daily. And, this ad nails that feeling in the copy.

Though the product, The Total Transformation Program, is still going strong, the print ad is no longer running. (Don’t ask why.) But any ad that’s had hundreds of insertions over the course of five years is worth understanding.

After this quarter page ad hit the press in mid-2005, the advertiser couldn’t buy enough space.

Defiant Child? was the control during the ad’s run and we know this because the advertiser tested it! This is what direct response is all about — the only data that’s worth anything comes from testing.

Once you know you’ve got a winner out there, it gives you tremendous leeway. The ad went from 1/4 page to 3/4 page insertions and from regional market newspapers to The New York Times.

Other than the overuse of ” How To…” in the bullets — which is a mistake even pros make — I like everything about this ad.

The pictures played a big role in the success of the ad, as did the bonus, “10 Ways To Turn Around Your Child’s Attitude in One Minute or Less.” Ditto for the product name, Total Transformation.

And, Defiant Child?  is proof that the two-step ad is still alive and well in many markets.

Little ads like these can make a mint and when you see them running over and over again, don’t just tear them out and put them in a folder. Take the extra step and phone the call center. That’s where the magic really happens.


How my insomnia led to over $200 million in sales…


(The following is reprinted with permission from Boardroom Head and previous Direct Marketer of the Year, Brian Kurtz. His site has a treasure trove of interviews, presentations and articles for serious direct response marketers.)

I hope I got your attention with that subject line…and no, it is NOT an exaggeration…

As you can tell if you’ve ever read my weekly propaganda, mentors are quite important to me… and I have stressed how important they should be to you too.

One of my mentors may not be as well known to you. His name is Adolph Auerbacher… and he may have been the most logical person I have ever met.

Adolph was a senior executive at Meredith Corporation (one of the largest magazine publishers in the world at the time he worked there) and the brains behind the tremendous growth of magazine brands like Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies Home Journal.

I know those under 30 are saying, “What’s a magazine?” :-)

Adolph spoke softly, always gave sage advice, in very few words, and he was always on point.

One of his famous quotes to me is one I featured in a blog post entitled, “Where Your Best Ideas Go To Die.”

The quote is:

“Where Does The Money Flow?”

In that post, I encouraged you to always ask this at the end of ANY brainstorming meeting when everyone in the room has fallen in love with ALL the ideas on the whiteboard… especially their own.

Another Auerbacher classic became religion for me when he said it in the early 1980s, and it’s how I operate every day as a marketer and businessman:

“Follow the anecdotal evidence.”

That simple premise really did lead to a franchise at Boardroom that created sales well over $200 million in the trifecta of media: Direct response television, direct mail and online display.

And, there was some print and telemarketing mixed in for good measure.

How my insomnia led to
over $200 million in sales…

This “case history” which included two books and ancillary products, “The World’s Greatest Treasury of Health Secrets” and “Bottom Line’s Ultimate Healing,” will be talked about at “Titans” when our “Mount Rushmore of Copywriters” are on stage… since one of those four copywriting heroes is Arthur Johnson who co-wrote the scripts, the direct mail and even appeared on screen.

And, when Greg Renker takes the spotlight at “Titans,” we will discuss in depth how Guthy-Renker looks at TV as a multi-channel opportunity and not just one-off infomercials.

(Reminder: Greg Renker rarely speaks at events or in public…and I promise you many actionable case histories from him that helped Guthy-Renker become the $1.8 billion business it is today).

But what I want to share today is how this incredible franchise came to be…which is all about “following the anecdotal evidence” (combined with a little insomnia)…

Flashback to 1988 (or so)…when every magazine seemed to be on TV selling subscriptions using one minute or two minute spots…remember the “sneaker phone” premium from Sports Illustrated?

I was jealous…why couldn’t WE sell our incredibly popular consumer newsletter Bottom Line/Personal (BL/P) or one of our fantastic broad based books like “The Book of Inside Information” (“BII”) using short form TV?

We had crushed it (hate that term but love using it talking about stuff from the ’80s when the term didn’t exist!) in direct mail for “BL/P” and “BII” to the tune of 200,000 (plus) active, paid subscribers and over 3 million books sold.

But short form TV for both products proved to be a disaster.

Even with as “long” as 2 minutes, there was no way to adequately sell products like ours–which were basically unknown except to the lucky millions who were in our direct mail universe…

Then Tony Robbins came along in the late 1980s, through Guthy-Renker, and helped create a new “medium” called long form TV (i.e. infomercials).

I keenly observed that twenty eight and a half minutes was a lot longer than 2 minutes to tell a story… told you I was smart…

So Marty Edelston and I met with Bill Guthy and Greg Renker around that time… told them about our amazing “Bottom Line franchise” helping millions of consumers with life changing information… and we asked:

“How can we create a program from our (virtually unknown) brand like Tony Robbins did from his?

The logic was good too:

“Sports Illustrated sells with simple #10 envelope mailings in direct mail and then 2 minute TV; Bottom Line sells with long 12 page letters, 16-32 page magalogs and even 64 page bookalogs in direct mail, so that should translate on TV to this new “infomercial thing.”

That is, a 32 page magalog needs 28.5 minutes to sell!


And the idea went nowhere… and not because of Guthy-Renker… but because we didn’t see the model that made sense to invest the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to test.

Trying to figure out the “Bottom Line program to a better life” was more than one book (or so we thought)…Tony Robbins had tapes, CDs, workbooks… and my concept went from brilliant to something that simply died under its own weight.

But I never lost my desire to get our products on TV.

I had billed myself as the direct marketer who never met a medium he didn’t like… and one who was prepared to test everything.

Go ask my co-workers at Boardroom about how excited I was about advertising on the back of ATM receipts or under yogurt lids.

Both very “sticky” for different reasons… and yes, both huge losers.

However, I knew that if we ever could make it on TV, one medium we had not conquered, it was clearly a medium that I knew would scale.

We went back to our knitting (which still kept us pretty busy as Boardroom was close to a $100 million business at the time)…while TV seemed elusive…

Fast forward to 2005… right after New Year’s… and I was having a bout of indigestion at 2:00 in the morning. (Boy, am I glad I’ve given up sugar!)

I flipped on the TV to watch super pitchman, Kevin Trudeau, sell a single book for 28.5 minutes… at $29.95… no company, no brand, and frankly not a whole lot of credibility.

I won’t comment on Kevin Trudeau’s business practices, how he sold or what he delivered… just the fact that someone was using my favorite medium that I couldn’t get to work (i.e. an infomercial) to sell something that I knew was inferior product-wise to what we could create at Bottom Line with all of our fantastic material and experts.

Then it was time to follow the anecdotal evidence…

I ordered Kevin’s book and I think I was on the phone for 6 or 7 hours (only exaggerating a little) being sold every version of the book–CD, digital, maybe one wrapped in a “Snuggie”–followed by a Wal-Mart discount card, a travel club, and a host of other offers.

Now, I saw the model that would work for Boardroom. We went on to create some insanely successful long form TV spots all because I never gave up on my idea. I trusted the logic and it was only a matter of time before i found the path.

I was always “in action” in my mind to make long form TV work between 1989 and 2005 (I’m a slow learner, I guess)…but knowing that I didn’t have to invent everything myself and having confidence in my ability to steal smart… and then following the anecdotal evidence…got me where I needed to go.

And, this is not the only time in my career where this happened.

I actually have a one-page sheet taped to my computer (which I read to myself every morning):

“I am six bold moves a day… I am in action all the time… and I am the follower of anecdotal evidence (while being completely open-minded to all that has not been invented yet)”

There’s some other woo-woo stuff on that sheet too… I just gave you the business stuff…

Of course, I get frustrated like everyone else when I just can’t “figure it out”… but I encourage you to stay in action every day, full of momentum and focused on things you have thought through but not yet implemented.

And, don’t be a hermit because much less will happen if you hang out by yourself all day.

I saw Cabaret on Broadway last week…

(Brian singing out of tune): “What good is sitting alone in your room?”

At least get out of your room and go watch some infomercials… or look through the latest thousand e-mails in your in box… or just phone a friend…

Until next week,


P.S. I’ve been on the phone with all of the Titans of Direct Response and the content will be so valuable. Can’t wait to see many of you there.

P.P.S. Lots of registrations have come in this week and the hotel block is just about sold out…it actually might be sold out already since I last checked earlier this week. The $139 per night price is as low you will ever see in these parts… and we are talking with another neighboring hotel to give us more rooms for any folks who get shut out. It will be a great rate but probably not as low as $139. So reserve you room ASAP and let me know if you get shut out for some reason.

Ads That Command: The Outrageous Challenge


Through the lens of 2014, this ad’s copy might not be up to snuff.

But it wasn’t scintillating ad copy that kept Robert Allen’s ads and spots going strong for decades.

Allen had countless competitors in the “nothing down” real estate market — a market that’s making a minor comeback after years of hibernation.

Late night TV junkies during the 1980s are sure to recall one or more of these pitchmen:

* The avuncular Carlton Sheets with his trustworthy Midwestern accent. (Now retired.)

* The rags-to-riches Vietnamese immigrant, Tom Vu, usually surrounded by bikini clad women. (Now a poker player.)

* And the gritty salesman to the masses, Dave Del Dotto. (Now a winemaker.)

But of all the “nothing down” and real estate investment marketers, Robert Allen is one of the last standing after 35 years at it.

Why so?

Chalk it up to…

The Outrageous Challenge!

“Send me to any city in the United States. Take away my wallet. Give me $100 for living expenses And in 72 hours I’ll buy an excellent piece of real estate using none of my own money.”

Allen’s been faithful to this copy approach for decades and it’s packed more prospects into hotel ballrooms than you can count.

Why has it worked so well for so long?

In the “nothing down” market the promise is high but so is the skepticism. The outrageous challenge combats the skepticism AND boosts readership/viewership.

Take a look at the ad in the thumbnail above. Most copywriters would cringe to see so much copy blotted out by the black banner with reverse type, “Los Angeles Times Challenges My Claim.” But the “black banner” walloped the earlier ad and became the control.  It turned out all the prospect needed was the date, time and venue of the seminar.

And, when you add to this that Robert Allen is one of the the most formidable front-of-the-room persuaders and closers, you’ve got a formula for long lasting conversion in a (usually) evergreen market.

The “send me to any city” was no flash in the pan. The outrageous challenge was Robert Allen’s staple copy approach. Take a look at the “I MUST MAKE YOU A MILLIONAIRE” print ad which had 50 or so full page insertions in the New York Times in the early to mid 2000s. It uses the same successful formula at a later stage of market sophistication.

You rarely see full page DR in a newspaper like the Times, so when you see something repeated, pay heed!

So, the question is, “why aren’t more marketer’s using the outrageous challenge?”

Some ad libs.

  • “Send us to the coldest, most windswept patch of Canadian Arctic. Give us 3 days on snow mobile to distribute free samples of Miracle Moisture and we’ll conquer your driest skin problem!”
  • “Bring us your most ‘down on his luck trader’ who can’t remember his last winning trade. Give him a subscription to our Awards Alert Service, and let him prove to himself that he can get back on the winning track the very same day, as he watches us make successful trade after successful trade… with our own funds… and in real time.”
  • “Give us your most cash strapped brick-and-mortar service business. If they’re not in receivership and have a current customer file, we’ll engineer a Total Turnaround in 30 days or less.”

Notice how Allen’s ads employ one of the hallmarks of direct response copy, gradualization, defined by the late, great ad legend, Gene Schwartz.

“Send me to any unemployment line in America. Let me select someone who’s broke, out of work, and discouraged. In two days time, I’ll teach him my strategies for Creating Wealth. In 90 days, he’ll be back on his feet with $5,000 in the bank.” The couple I chose earned $5,000 cash in 90 days and over $100,000 in the next 12 months.”

As usual, you can grab a PDF of the ads by clicking the thumbnail above.

The crimes they commit against their ads


Advertisers sabotage themselves in countless ways.

But of all the ways to go wrong, this one is the CAPITAL crime of direct response advertising.

And, while it’s a crime of omission, it murders sales (and growth) like no other.

What is it?

It’s this.


Direct response is a game of constant measuring… and observing cause and effect.

Take an action, see what happens… tinker with a break-even headline and perhaps, turn it into a winner… change up an offer and see what effect it has on response rates.

If you’re not testing, or not testing as vigorously as you should, (I’m also in this group) then take heart. There are some pretty big players in the game who’ve been doing things the same way because that’s how they’ve always done them.

Take Fisher Investments. I wrote about them in 2013 and was promptly contacted by their marketing director. He was a pleasant fellow and we had a 10-minute chat, but nothing he said contradicted what I wrote in my original post.

Fisher has $40 BILLION in managed assets and that makes them one of the biggest investment/mutual fund companies in the United States.

They also are reputed to spend $30 million a year on direct mail marketing.

But does that mean they know what they’re doing in direct mail?

The answer is a resounding “NO!”

I’ve been on their prospect list for SEVEN years and counting without taking a single action. Yet, I still keep receiving the same oversized 11 x 14 inch direct mail piece that challenges even the largest of mailboxes.

The idea of the oversized envelope is simple — it’s the antithesis of the Gary Halbert “sneak-up” approach that uses a plain #10 envelope with only a street, city and state in the return address.

Fisher’s DM is so massive, there’s no way you can miss it and the recipient is almost guaranteed to open it.

But it’s a one-trick pony.

The hulking size that compels opening on the first mailing is exactly what works against it on subsequent ones.

The bulky carrier combined with the billboard-sized font screaming “FISHER INVESTMENTS” telegraphs it all because…

The reader already knows what’s inside the envelope…

and the mail piece winds up in the round file.

Now, to be fair, Fisher does some direct mail testing.  I’ve seen the old and tired envelope teaser copy, “The favor of your reply is requested,” switched out for “A Special Invitation” in Gold cursive with a corresponding change of their premium. They’ve also tested the faux “security seal” popularized by Suarez Corporation.

But their overall DM approach hasn’t budged in years.

I wasn’t looking for a new client, and I had no qualms about sharing a few simple ideas with their marketing director when he asked: “How can we make it better?”

With a whopping $40 billion under management, you’d think they’d go a little deeper, like adding ascension into their marketing mix.

After all, how much easier would it be selling a newsletter on the front end and getting a crack at establishing some credibility and rapport with paying customers… and only then persuading them to invest?

And adding ascension has an even bigger advantage because paying newsletter subscribers almost ALWAYS OPEN their mail. So, instead of the atrocious waste circulation involved in bombarding one prospect with the same limp mail piece, you get a chance to sell an existing customer once a month in a variety of ways.

Fisher’s other BIG problem is their one-size-fits-all approach. “If you have $500,000 to invest, then download this free report.”

Yes, it’s a mechanical approach and yes, it works. As marketers, we need to qualify the right prospects but it ignores a fundamental factor.

What drives most investors and financial markets respondents isn’t money itself… but devotion to their particular money “channel”

There are a myriad of motivations and mindsets among these investors.

Here are a few:

  • Retirees looking for bigger returns but terrified of risk
  • Dividend investors searching for near perfect safety
  • Crisis investors ready for social chaos to break out
  • Technology investors waiting for the discovery of “the next Google”
  • And dozens of others from emerging markets… to utilities… to energy investors

When you can speak to the dreams and desires of individual groups of investors, then you get a crack at driving response way up.

 #2: BIE Health’s Choose Life… Grow Young with HGH

 A competent C-Level copywriter could go to town with this ad, IF he were allowed to do some testing!

It’s been running unchanged for 15 years and hardly a month goes by that I don’t come across a full page insertion.

Take a look at the ad and you’ll notice it has a year 2000 copyright notice. Purple headline font… purple text box… nothing’s changed in 15 years. I know some writers who were in pre-school when this ad had its first insertion!

Obviously, this ad is making money, but how much money has been left on the table after all these years by NOT TESTING?

When you’ve got a full page ad that works for so long, it’s your obligation to test.

 #3 Athena Pheromones

This fractional ad is one of my favorites.

The company’s been running 1/8th of a page insertions for almost as long as BIE’s HGH ad.

If you were running an 1/8th of a page insertion that brought home response month in and month out, what would you do?

Perhaps, try a 1/4 page insertion, or… heaven forbid… a half-page vertical!

Experienced print advertisers know a full page ad that’s working doesn’t outpull a quarter page by four times but by FIVE or SIX times.

But you’d need SOME COPY to achieve this — and that would mean sacrificing the 50% of the ad taken up by the founder’s head shot.

In parting, here are three little letters to live by: A.B.T.

Always be testing!

Copywriting: Headline Nightmares


Whenever I interview a prospective copywriting or consulting client, one of the first questions I usually ask is: “who’s this product for?”

And more often than I’d like to hear, I get the answer: “it’s for everyone.”

Experience has taught me to defer on such projects because the prospective client has no idea who his or her target market is. And that signals there’s usually a basket of oversights and problems in addition to this biggie.

Conversely, when you ask the question, “who’s this product for?” and get an answer like, “it’s for single executive women who live in Tribecca, have aspirations to be a managing director and spend their summer weekends in the Hamptons,” then this is as green as lights get.

These clients not only know who their target market is but they’ve likely designed the product with this demographic in mind.

Does this mean there are no products with “everyone” as the target audience.

Well, yes and no.

Here’s a headline for a product that’s theoretically for “everyone.”

“A CLOGGED COLON is a Deadly Colon. Unclog now — before it’s too late!”

A clogged colon is certainly an urgent health problem.

Wouldn’t such a product be for everyone?


To be in the target audience for this product, the prospect has to not only 1) have a colon but 2) be conscious of this fact and 3) care about it.

And in our direct response world, this consciousness of the condition is usually rooted in a health problem, which we as copywriters must agitate if we want them to respond.

A “Headline Nightmare” analogous to “This product is for everyone.”

Take a look at the mess of an ad on top — the one with all the headlines.

It’s all over the place.

Here’s a re-cap. Take a deep breath.

It has a newsletter type header, “The Better Vision Revolution,” then a headline in red, “Your Eyes Are Your Windows to the World,” then a sub-headline with”Astonishing European Breakthrough,” then another sub-headline in the form of a question,” Can You Think of Anything More Devastating Than Going Blind?,” then a text box with an image of a woman’s face and the product…then a pre-head, “Thousands of grateful customers swear by it” and again…another bold red headline, “Are YOU ready to beat the “POOR” VISION BULLET?”…whatever that means.

Geez, that was exhausting.

Are you still there?

I’ve seen some ad writers go astray but rarely as flagrantly as this.

Is there any reasoning behind it?

Yes, it bears resemblance to the marketer who claims his product is for everyone.

One Headline That Strikes at the White Hot Core

Instead of picking one hard-hitting headline and focusing all energy on it, like the exemplary “Never Worry About Your Eyesight Again — Guaranteed” or Gene Schwartz’s “Your Eyes Can Heal Themselves,” this ad writer reasoned that the more headlines he crammed onto the page, the higher the response.

But copywriting doesn’t work this way.

It didn’t work when Claude Hopkins penned his immortal headlines over one hundred years ago, nor when Gene Schwartz wrote his giant promise headlines forty years ago, nor does it today.

This kind of copy approach is like grabbing a shotgun and firing pellets in every direction without striking a single target.

It’s no surprise that the Botanic Choice magalog mails over and over and the Gene Schwartz space ad had years worth of insertions.

Look at Botanic Choice’s “Never Worry About Your Eyesight Again — Guaranteed.”

They know their target market and strike at the white hot core of it — the fear.

Have you ever seen the look of fear on someone’s face who’s losing his eyesight? It’s palpable.

“Never worry…again” addresses this fear, arguably the most important driver, right in the headline.

Ditto for Gene Schwartz’s ad which centers on a non-intervention approach to healing eye troubles.

Gene would not write the headline until he vaccuumed all the claims out of a book, prioritized them, then let them percolate for a while.

But it doesn’t really matter which headline school you belong to — crafting the headline as your first copywriting step or waiting to the end.

What matters is knowing your target market so well, you know what your average prospect eats for lunch, which magazines he reads and what his secret aspirations are. Once you know this, the headline is often more than halfway written.

Wrinkles FEAR Her


Helena Rubinstein came to the United States as a penniless Polish immigrant who went on to build one of the largest cosmetics empires in history.

And direct response advertising played a key role in pushing her products at retail stores from coast to coast.

This ad was created by Ogilvy and Mather in 1952 and is part of an incredible series of 20 or so “page-one advertorials.”

Unlike ordinary advertorials, which are ads formatted to look like editorials or news, these ads are laid out like page one of a major newspaper.

And just as the lead page of your favorite newspaper has a dozen different ways to hook you, this ad has multiple avenues for grabbing any prospect’s attention.

Yes, this ad is from fifty years ago, but just imagine how a health and beauty advertiser could use this approach today.

In a single print ad insertion, you can promote products for hair, skin, nails, weight loss and even fashion. It’s as wide as the advertiser’s imagination and product lines.

Important caveat: this is for retail advertisers whose brands and products are already known. This is not nearly as effective for a pure DR offer — note the absence of an order coupon.

You can download the PDF of this ad and easily spend a half-hour studying all the copy and design elements.

Back to Helena Rubinstein.

She was not an easy client to work for.

One day, she phoned David Ogilvy and complained that his ad agency was ignoring her account.

Ogilvy responded by taking the 30 employees devoted to her account and marching uptown to her Park Avenue apartment. When they went upstairs, Ogilvy ushered them into her bedroom to confront the prone Rubinstein: “these are the people devoted full time to your account, don’t doubt us again.” It took someone with the gusto of an Ogilvy to get her to acquiesce.

Rubinstein was a powerful personality and if I had her for a client, I’d lead with this: “Wrinkles FEAR Her!”

Most beauty and rejuvenation advertising today is so regurgitated and boring that when I found this front page advertorial, it was like discovering a completely new approach.

Ogilvy’s work still has power all these years later.

Interview With Former Ogilvy & Mather CEO, Ken Roman


In February of 2010, (Yes, years ago but it was a great interview!) I had the chance to chat with author and former Ogilvy & Mather CEO, Ken Roman, at the invitation of my friend, Byrne Hobart. (I’m reposting with some edits in April of 2014.)

What did we talk about?

Byrne and I, of course, grilled him on his latest book, The King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising.

Like a typical, turbo-charged CEO, Ken called into the conference line from the back of a yellow cab cruising through the snow covered streets of Manhattan.

This is a book that tells the rest of the story about David Ogilvy, the most famous advertising man in the world, from someone who worked shoulder-to-shoulder with him for decades.

More than just a book about Ogilvy, The King of Madison Avenue reveals the evolution of modern direct response advertising in the 20th Century.

Kenneth Roman has co-authored several acclaimed books including: How To Advertise and Writing That Works and he maintains an active speaking schedule.

Byrne Hobart has left the world of technology and pursued his other passion on Wall Street.

The highlights are mine.

Lawrence Bernstein: Hello, this is Lawrence Bernstein and today I have the privilege of being on the line with Kenneth Roman and Byrne Hobart.  Kenneth Roman is the former CEO of Ogilvy and Mather and the co-author of How to Advertise and Writing That Work. Today, we are going to be talking to him about his most recent book, The King of Madison Avenue, David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising.  And we are also on the line with Byrne Hobart of Blue Fountain Media.  Blue Fountain Media is a boutique website development and online marketing firm located in New York and Byrne is a rare expert bridging both new media and classic direct response advertising — the kind that David Ogilvy helped to make famous.

Kenneth and Byrne, welcome to the call.

Kenneth Roman: Thank you very much, can I also add that Blue Fountain designed my website which is how I got involved in this whole thing and they did a terrific job for me.

Lawrence Bernstein: Well, that’s great.  Thank you.  I thought before we just dive into a couple of questions, we might just preface it by letting you tell us, Kenneth, a little bit about your work at present day.

Kenneth Roman: Well, I’m out spending a lot of time talking about the book.  I just have done some work on the paperback edition, which is coming out in this spring and I’m thinking about what I’m going to do next.

Lawrence Bernstein: Do you want to lead with a question then, Byrne, and then I’ll follow up?

Byrne Hobart: Sure, so as I was reading the book, I noticed that Ogilvy goes back between the soft sell and hard sell traditions.  Do you know which one he ended up settling on?

Kenneth Roman: The idea of soft sell verus hard sell is one that a lot of people in the business reject a little bit.  David Ogilvy believed in only one thing and he really believed this passionately, which is, in selling, he did some of the classiest, most interesting advertising that’s ever been done from historic edit, but as he was proud of saying, “Every ad I ever wrote sold.”

Whether he was selling the man in the aristocratic eye patch for Hathaway shirts or the most famous headline in the car business, “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.” He said, “Every ad I ever wrote sold. And that came from his background.  He came from a very eclectic background.  He dropped out of school  He had a bunch of strange jobs.  One of which was selling Aga cookers, these high end cooking stoves, door to door to housewives in Scotland in the depths of the depression.

And as he said, “I learned early on, no sale, no commission.  No commission, no eat.” That left a mark on me, but it turned him into a salesman, so even though he was doing very classy advertising, it was in good taste, very classy.  He said, “Ever ad I ever wrote sold.”  So he would, I know hard sell or soft sale.

Lawrence Bernstein: That segues into my question, Kenneth and Byrne, about one of the ad men I’ve always been fascinated with, Rosser Reeves. I enjoyed the sub-story in the book about the relationship between David Ogilvy and  Rosser Reeves.  As most know, Rosser Reeves coined the term, “the unique selling proposition, ” and that he was one of the early pioneers of television advertising.

Most don’t know he was an incredibly strong chess player and even reached the rank of master. He and I even served on the same corporate board at the Marshall Chess Club, albeit in different generations.  Let me read one quick passage from page 118 as it relates to Rosser.

And it starts, “Ogilvy always acknowledged his debt to Reeves.  In one testimonial placing him in the direct line of apostolic succession from Claude Hopkins.  In 1938, you gave me a typed copy of the Hopkins book.  It changed my life.  I know it by heart. Every year I give away 20 copies to wordsmiths, they never comprehend.”  And here’s another one on the following page.

“Rosser taught me that the purpose of advertising is to sell the product and he taught me how to sell. Some people tell you that that Rosser and I were rivals even enemies, I was his disciple.”  What else can you tell us, Kenneth, about the ongoing relationship of  Rosser Reeves and David Ogilvy, who were at one time brothers in law?

Kenneth Roman: That’s a terrific question because it was a very complicated changing relationship.  David married  Rosser’s sister-in-law, so for a while they were brothers-in-law.  And then, as David acknowledges when he came to New York,   Rosser mentored him.  And he interviewed him.  They used to have lunch and  Rosser would talk to him about advertising.

See, Ogilvy didn’t learn much from academia, he sought out smart people and interrogated them and he remembered everything. But then they were rivals for a while.  And then at one point after he divorced  Rosser’s sister-in-law, they were enemies for a while.  But in the end, David always acknowledged his debt to  Rosser.  But it was a funny relationship too.

They were always putting each other down.  For example, like one point Rosser wrote a book, called Reality in Advertising, which is a terrific book, where he outlines the U.S.P. (unique selling proposition)  And  Rosser said, “You know, David, I’ve given my papers to the Minnesota historical society.”  And David said, “Congratulations,   Rosser, that’s wonderful news.  I wish I could do that, but I can’t.”

And  Rosser said, “Why not?”  And he said, “I’ve given my papers to the Library of Congress.”  And you know,   Rosser would go off and they would go to a big advertising convention.    Rosser would go to Jamaica and develop this deep tan and he put on a white suit, all white suit and he came into the convention just looking resplendent.

And then Ogilvy would upstage him by wearing a kilt. They were always doing that kind of stuff.  But it was a funny relationship, but David acknowledge his debt to   Rosser in that way.

Byrne Hobart: Lawrence and I were discussing this before you got on the call — we’re both really impressed with the depth of the research you’ve done, especially since you’ve also knew David Ogilvy and would have been able to have a lot of information at your finger tips already.  What was the most surprising thing you found out when you did the research?

Kenneth Roman: Well, that’s another thoughtful question.  When I started out, I knew I had a terrific subject.  There’s no question in my mind about that.  And I kept on debating whether I should really write a book.  Ogilvy had written three books and told his story and interviews and everything else. Was there anything else left to be told?

And I finally decided I would take it on.  I said, I could do two or three things he couldn’t do.  I could bring alive his  idiosyncratic personality.  I could place him in advertising history.  You know how important really was he?  And I could give a sense of his quotable kind of brilliance.

And so I started doing the research and I spent eight days in the Library of Congress going through 30,000 papers and let me tell you, that was interesting.  And I visited his homes and I went through other files.  I did other research and what emerged is very interesting.

The story he told was essentially correct, but not quite.  David was an actor in his personality.  He dressed for his parts. He had a dramatic flair in his presentation and he embellished things, so the stories were almost true, but not quite.  For example, he always said, “I was thrown out of Oxford.”  He said, “I was sent down.  I failed every exam.  It was the worst mistake of my life.”

Well, I went through the files at Oxford and there is no evidence that he failed any exams and no evidence that he was thrown out.  He dropped out.  You know, he was bored, he didn’t really like academia.  He didn’t know what he wanted to study, but that doesn’t make a very good line in saying, “I was sent down.  It was the worst mistake.”

He also said things like, “I made a list of five clients I  wanted most: Lever Brothers, General Foods, Shell, Bristol Myers and so forth.”  So, when I went through his files and found his target list, there were really 19 clients on it.  The first one on the list wasn’t Shell or General Foods, it was Cunard Lines — a tiny account — and some of the other names that he mentioned weren’t on the list.

But he would embellish, like an actor, he wanted to give himself better lines. That was a surprising thing, to find out that this character aspect of being dramatic in everything he did even carried over into telling his own life story.

Lawrence Bernstein: I was going to add to that, Kenneth, you were recounting from the chapter titled, “I Failed Every exam.”  I was a bewildered, why would somebody with such perfect  characteristics for Oxford , decide to drop out and you point out at the end of the chapter that Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Bill Gates never finished university and numerous other high achievers like them.  You mentioned the dramatic effect of Ogilvy which I find entertaining.  Is there a quirky element that’s attached to genius that just doesn’t let guys like that sit still and they have to get out into the world?

Kenneth Roman: I don’t know if it’s quirky or not, but I’ll tell you what I think the thing that made Ogilvy different from most other people is that he never stopped learning.  He just didn’t like going to classes.  He didn’t like going to schools, but he learned all his life.  Even when he became the most famous advertising man in the world, he would never pontificate. He would never talk about what he did.

He would interrogate, people would say, I had dinner with David the other night and I sat next to him, and at the end of dinner he knew more about me than my mother does.  He would ask questions.  Tell me about this.  Tell me about that.  He read.  He read about famous people and how they succeeded.  He would seek out important people.

He sought out Marvin Bower, the guy who really built McKinsey and he would study with Marvin.  How do you build an organization?  How do you do this stuff?  That’s different from most people for whom learning stops when they leave school.

Lawrence Bernstein: You suggested in a couple of passages in “The King of Madison Avenue” the idea bout snobbery. On page five, you mention that David Ogilvy liked to name drop and there are later passages about how that if somebody didn’t speak with just the right upper crust accent, then they were looked down upon.  Was it really snobbery?  Here in the States today, we’ve thrown off the British 200 years ago, and we’ll tolerate a lot of things, but we won’t tolerate snobbery. So was David Ogilvy really a snob or was this just part of the dramatic effect?

Kenneth Roman: Many of his personal relationships, yeah, he was a snob.  But he would also make judgments about your intelligence from the way you wrote and spoke.  But in his business dealings, he was totally different.  He had no sense of class, race, religion, anything, none at all.

Byrne Hobart: One thing that I realized when I read the book and kind of, or read some other things by David Ogilvy was a lot of people still quote him and I’ve actually quoted him without knowing who I was quoting at the time.  Are there any of his contemporaries who you think should be remembered in that way and should be quoted or referenced more?

Kenneth Roman: Very hard to pick anything out on that, Byrne, on who should be quoted.  I’ll tell you what I think is important though is to pay attention to what David preached in terms of believing in research, believing in strategies.  Believing in big ideas and most important, believing in results. Now, whether people quote anybody, it doesn’t make any difference, but the principles are important.

Before you start writing an ad, make sure you do your research, study the precedents, what went on before, look at all the research so that you swim in that kind of stuff.  And then have a clear idea of the point you are trying to make of a clear strategy and then don’t settle for second best.

Make sure you have a big idea, a campaignable ideaAn idea that will last for many years and then make sure you judge your ideas on the basis of their results in the market place as opposed to awards.  That was David’s other great bugaboo, creative awards which are given on the basis of awards contests. Those are great fun to go to and interesting to look at a lot of ads, but why should you award things, how do awards get given?

They get awarded on the basis of humor and entertainment because people don’t know what the results are, so go for things that they like and that may or may not have any relationship on how successful they are.  The most hated commercial in America, for many years — they used to run a poll of this in the newspaper — the most hated ad was the Mister Whipple “Don’t Squeeze the Charmin” campaign.  Well, which was the largest selling toilet tissue in America?  It was Charmin.  So, Proctor and Gamble didn’t care whether people liked them, they really wanted to sell a  lot of Charmin.

I’m not saying you have to have ugly ads, I’m just saying you have to judge things on the basis of their results in the market, so I wouldn’t say quote people.  You don’t quote people.  You try to understand what you’re trying to do.  This is not a form of entertainment, it’s a form of selling.  And the ads have to sell.  If it were your money, what would you want?

You want an award or you want to sell your product?

Lawrence Bernstein: That’s reminiscent of  Rosser Reeves’ line: “Do you want fine writing or do you want to see the goddamned sales curve stop moving down and start moving up?”

Kenneth Roman: Yeah, and Rosser also pushed it a little bit far into abrasive advertising.  He really didn’t think advertising could sell unless it was a little bit abrasive as well. On the other hand, he wrote some terrific ads that sold very well and weren’t abrasive.

Lawrence Bernstein: One last point about Rosser and I think we’ll move on because I know Byrne has a couple more really good questions.  On page 119 you mention Jeremy Bullmore who headed J. Walter Thompson, he mentions a copywriter who worked with both Rosser Reeves and with David Ogilvy.

And that copywriter said that the fundamental difference between them was philosophical.  Ogilvy believed that “the consumer is not a moron, she’s your wife.”  And Reeves believed that “she’s not your wife she’s an idiot,” so is that really fair to say about Reeves, or do you think that was a bit extreme as far as the copywriter’s assessment of him?

Kenneth Roman: Well, that guy is Gene Grayson who is a creative director at Ogilvy and I knew Gene quite well and I think what it was is a bit of overstatement on his part.  I don’t think that Rosser thought that the consumer was an idiot, but I do think that David really believed and preached respect for the consumer.  Respect for the consumer.

He was really the first consumerist and before consumerism had a name he said, the consumer is not a moron, she’s your wife.  You wouldn’t lie to your wife, don’t lie to mine.  He preached respect for the consumer in many ways. That was the basic difference, it wasn’t that Reeves thought that the consumer was an idiot, but that Ogilvy really did think you could have advertising that was in good taste and sold a lot too.

He didn’t accept the dichotomy that it had to be abrasive or ugly.

Byrne Hobart: That leads into my next question.  I was going to ask if his ideas were still relevant, and of course, you’ve addressed that one.  But are there any companies or practices in marketing that you think reflect the ideas that Ogilvy had and that he propounded.  Another way to put that would be, if he were getting into the business today, it wouldn’t necessarily be direct response, what would he be up too?

Kenneth Roman: Well, I know what he wouldn’t be up too.  He wouldn’t be into anything digital or online because he didn’t understand anything in terms of new technology.  He really didn’t even understand television. He owned the television set, but he didn’t know how to run it, didn’t know how to work it, but he didn’t even use a typewriter, let alone a computer which wasn’t around then.  He wrote with freshly sharpened pencils in long hand.

So he never wrote a good television commercial, so I know he wouldn’t be doing that.  What would he be doing?  I think he would be working in direct response and direct marketing.  He was very comfortable.  He understood that.  It was rational and he was a rational man, not an emotional man.  Maybe he understood consumer’s emotions, I don’t know if he did or not.

But he really understood research and he believed in research so he would be trying to write ads, he would be trying to write direct response ads that pulled coupons and sold products in the mail and he would have somebody else write the direct response television commercials because he wouldn’t know how to do it.

Byrne Hobart: Do you think he would be still drawn to the same industries that he was when he was at the height of his powers and writing great advertising?

Kenneth Roman: Yeah.  I think he was always more comfortable writing ads directly to people who were like his friends, so Schweppes Tonic, Hathaway Shirts, British Travel, Rolls Royce.  He never was any good at packaged goods advertising with one big exception called, Dove Soap.

He came up with a basic proposition for Dove, which is ¼ cleansing cream that keeps your skin soft.  He came up with that proposition, but the ads he wrote, the print ads that he wrote were pretty amateurish and he never wrote a television commercial for Dove, but he came up with that proposition. It was a sales proposition, but he couldn’t write the ads really.

One of the first ads had a lady sitting in the bathtub and she’s on the telephone, sitting in the bathtub and she said, “Hello darling, I’m head over  heals in Dove.”  They weren’t really packaged good ads and he didn’t understand that.  And he was not a mass market guy by instinct.

He did a lot of terrific travel advertising for British Travel, the “Come to Britain ads.”  Puerto Rico, Pablo Casals on the beach.  He also came up with the idea, for Puerto Rico, of an arts festival and got Pablo Casals to be the host of that, to run that arts festival.  To change the image of Puerto Rico.  But again, it was a classy kind of a thing.

He got involved with the advertising for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.  When he had to go to General Foods, he was terrified.  He didn’t know how to talk to those people. He did stand outside the coffee factory, the Maxwell coffee factory and say, gee, that coffee smells good.  I wonder if it tastes as good as it smells.  So, “Tastes as good as it smells” became a line for many years for Maxwell House coffee.

But he would be writing in the categories that he understood and that also goes over into how he traveled.  He hated to fly.  He was terrified of flying.  He had to pour himself on a plane with a couple of drinks.  But he preferred traveling to places where the British Empire had been.  He loved going to India, to South Africa.  He never went to Latin America.  Never went to South America.  He liked going where the British Empire had been.  He was comfortable in those surroundings.

Lawrence Bernstein: About six months ago, Byrne recommended the book, The Art of Writing Advertising, and I really enjoyed the interview of Ogilvy.

In that interview, Ogilvy relates the story of writing an ad for Puerto Rico Economic Development and he admits to locking himself in his apartment for 10 days and doing nothing but write the “Now Puerto Rico Offers 100% Tax Exemption To New Industry.”  And on page 94 in the “Big Ideas” chapter of your book, you mention that Ogilvy complained that he never got the credit that he felt he deserved for that ad.

And the basis of the story is when the governor of Puerto Rico says, we’ve got rampant unemployment, we’ve got poverty, the conditions are appalling and we desperately need industry, so he come sto David Ogilvy and aks, “What can you do for us?”  And Ogilvy writes this home confinement ad in ten days and the ad is so successful there was a concern that they would turn the lovely island into an industrial park. So, it’s an example of an ad being almost to successful.  Would you say that was among Ogilvy’s best print ads?

Kenneth Roman: It certainly would be among his top ads.  As was said, he changed the image of an island, of a country.  He called Puerto Rico “an island in renaissance.”  And he did change the image of the island by bringin industry and tourism and he did, in fact, go to Teddy Moscoso who was running Puerto Rico at that time and say, you know, you are going to turn this place into Detroit.

Why don’t you run an arts festival like my native country Scotland did the with the Edinburgh Arts Festival?  So he would put that right up there, but if you ask people, who did the Puerto Rico ads?  Who changed the image of Puerto Rico?  I don’t think 1-in-100 would say David Ogilvy.  They would say, I don’t know who did it.

If you asked, who wrote, who created the Dove campaign?  I mean, Dove is now the largest selling cleansing brand in the world. Who created that proposition?  But if you talk about David Ogilvy, they would say, Hathaway Eye Patch, Rolls Royce, Schweppes Tonic.  They don’t say Puerto Rico.  They don’t say Dove.  Those are huge successes, staggering successes.  So he never really got credit for that ad in that sense.  He doesn’t even get credit for Puerto Rico.

Byrne Hobart: You also mention here that he considered that the most important work that he had ever done — the campaign for Puerto Rico.

Kenneth Roman: Yeah, he was very proud of that and justly so.

Byrne Hobart: It’s fantastic.  It’s got everything. You have to read about five or six paragraphs in before you find something that doesn’t site a numerical fact about why Puerto Rico is a superior place to locate a business.

Kenneth Roman: It was an enormous success and it was the idea that he came up with, but see, once again, it was  print ad campaign, not a television campaign.

Byrne Hobart: So can you tell us any anecdotes about David Ogilvy that didn’t make it into the book, that you found interesting or amusing that just didn’t quite fit?

Kenneth Roman: Well, one of them was, he was a pretty good gardener.  He knew the Latin names.  He was walking in Savill Gardens in London in Windsor Great Park with a mutual friend and he stopped in front of a plant and he says to our mutual friend, “you know what that plant is?”  He said, “it’s called Fremonto Dendrum Californicum.  It was named for Freemont, the governor of California.  I slept with his daughter.”

But my wife wouldn’t let me put that one in.  There are so many, you could tell war stories forever about David.  The thing about him is that he was fun.  Absolutely fun and unpredictable, outrageous, idiosyncratic, but fun.  I was sitting in an executive committee meeting after Ogilvy and Mather had bought a bunch of other companies including some other agencies.  We bought Scali, McCabe, Sloves and also Cole and Weber and they are all operating under this banner called Ogilvy & Mather and some of these agencies didn’t like reporting to another advertising agency.

So, I said in a meeting, “Perhaps we should change the name of the parent company and have Ogilvy and Mather and Scali, McCabe, Sloves and Cole and Weber underneath.”  And David looks across the table and says, “That’s a terrible mistake to change a company’s name.”  And he slams his fists on the table.  And he says, “I will fight it with ever ounce of my breath.” Bang! But he says, “If you do change it, you don’t need Mather.”  But he was doing that all the time.

He was fun.  He was funny.  He didn’t tell jokes, except for one.  It’s the only joke he ever told.  We call it THE joke.  He’d get up at an occasion where he’s getting an award for lifetime achievement, big black tie event.  But he’d do it at all occasions and he’d look out over the audience and say, “Have you ever been in Tonga?  Well, I have.  It’s a small island in the Pacific.  My wife and I have walked about on it and the people there, the natives, the big black natives, very big, especially the kings and the queens.  So the King of Tonga comes to visit the Queen of England and she meets him at the station in a great carriage and they take off for Buckingham Palace.

And four gray great horses and the guardsman riding by them with their armor glinting in the sun and the flags are blowing in the wind and it’s quite a sight.  And the horse immediately in front of them farts appallingly and this cloud comes over them and when it finally clears the queen says, “Oh, I’m so sorry about that.”  And the King of Tonga says, “Oh, that’s all right.  I thought it was the horse.”

Now, you have to imagine this at a big awards dinner so we would go to some other dinner and he would get up and speak and he would say, have you ever been in Tonga?  And we would all say, “Oh no, David, don’t do it tonight.”  But he would do it.

Byrne Hobart: What kind of advice would you give to someone who is getting into the business today based on what you’ve learned both researching Ogilvy and running the firm and working at the firm.

Kenneth Roman: Well, depends on what you want to do.  If you want to be a copywriter.  If you want to be an account executive, or a researcher.  I mean, I loved my time in the advertising business.  I was very lucky.  I had a great time in the business.  I learned a lot.  It changed me as kind of a person.  It gave me a lot of different values, that agency.  So I would say, go to a great firm.

Great firm.  It doesn’t make any difference what job you have.  I tell people, young kids who are getting into advertising, or want to get in.  I said, I would rather be the janitor at Proctor and Gamble than the marketing director of the Charlie Brown Shoe Company, because at Proctor and Gamble, it’s a very smart company and you learn things there.

You work for smart people and you learn things.  So, don’t go for salary, don’t go for title.  Go for a company that’s going to teach you, a great teaching organization.  Ogilvy and Mather was one of those, so we did that pretty well.

And then try to work for smart people there and study.  Do your homework.  Get a job at Proctor and Gamble or a place like that. That’s a pretty good place to learn and if you want to stay here, you’ll be happy.  If you don’t want to stay there and you show up at an advertising agency, the agency will say, “hey, we’ve got this bright guy or this bright girl who spent three years at Proctor and Gamble, well, that’s a person with some value.”

The clients will say, that’s terrific.  Put that person to work on my business.  David would say start in direct marketing because there you know if things work or they don’t work. And he said that for copywriters or for account people.  Start in direct marketing.  Start in digital marketing so you’ll learn new media.  But start in direct marketing so that you can get a taste of what it’s like to sell things.

You don’t have to stay there.  You might like it and stay there, but you don’t have to.  You certainly ought to get some experience in digital media.  Shelly Lazarus, who was one of my successors as chairman at Ogilvy and Mather did a terrific work for us.  She was working on the American Express account as an account supervisor.

I went to her one day and I said, “Listen, Shelly, you’re doing great work here. You’re a star.  What do you think you would like to do next, ‘cause I’m not going to guarantee it, but at least I would like to know so that we could help program your career.”  I thought she would want to go work on or maybe run another account or a bigger account or be sent overseas.  And she said, “No, I want to work on in the direct marketing division.”  Well, that was a very interesting thing for her to do.

Because, the first thing she learned the direct marketing medium.  The second thing, because it was quite a bit smaller than the main general agency, she had a chance to run it.  She became president of the New York office of Ogilvy and Mather Direct, so she got management experience and she got direct marketing experience and those two things stood her in very good stead when she became chairman of Ogilvy and Mather.

So, go to a place where you can learn.  Get some direct marketing experience.  Get some digital experience.  Work for an organization that teaches you.  We put a lot of time into training programs.  Now, look, this is all a bit idealistic, because I was in the business a long time ago.  The business has changed.  I’ve not been in it recently for some years, but financial pressures on the business are just awful and it’s hard for me to relate to that.

And people can’t invest in the business the way they used to.  Clients are, in many cases, short-sighted by squeezing their agencies and Ogilvy would say, you’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope.  Instead of cutting agencies fees, increase them, you’ll get better work.

But in many cases now, clients are buying the advertising, not by the advertising director or the marketing director but by the purchasing department or the procurement department who are only interested in the numbers.  Well, how do you measure the value of an idea? I would say go for an organization, well, I think I covered it, but go for a great organization that will teach you.

Lawrence Bernstein: Who wrote the those magnificent house ads: “How To Create Advertising That Sells,” “How To Create Financial Advertising That Sells” and the whole series that lasted for over ten years.

Kenneth Roman: Those house ads, as we’ve called them, the first one, “How To Create Advertising That Sells,” was based on what David called his magic lantern which was a slide and film presentation that was required viewing for every new person in the agency.  He put up a slide that shows here is the product, here was the problem.  Here was the strategy.  Here was the research.  Here was the ad.  And then here is the result and here is the principle that came out of it, 15, 20, 30 principles, whatever it was.

The actual ad was written, I believe, by Joel Raphaelson, who collaborated with me on a book and also helped me on this book. So, that was the first one, “How To Create Advertising That Sells.”  It was a huge hit.  We were getting requests for reprints for that ad for ten years after it ran.  People put it up on their walls.

The following ads for example, new products, financial those were basically written in outline by somebody in the agency who had some expertise so that the General Foods group, my group, did one on food advertising.  We did one on coffee advertising.   Some of the people in the travel worked on KLM and British Travel and Puerto Rico.  They did one on travel advertising.

The guys who worked on Merill-Lynch did one on financial advertising.  The guys who did one on in the General Foods, we did one on new products, how to introduce new products, people who were doing our advertising for Mattel did one on children’s advertising and we kept on expanding these things, but the principle of taking the trouble to write down what you know was a great thing for training our people.

And I got to tell you, it was a terrific new business tool as well, so Joel Raphaelson helped write most of them, put them into sensible copy, but David Ogilvy himself did the basic work which was for his magic lantern.

Lawrence Bernstein: There was a derivative series in the Wall Street Journal after all of those magnificent house ads of O&M’s and it was a campaign to promote the Wall Street Journal called “The Wall Street Journal…It Works.”  WSJ would invite an agency to elaborate its principles and tell what works and what doesn’t work and they might, for example, have Foote, Cone Belding or another agency in effect partner with them for this campaign. But the road had really been paved by the O&M house ads years earlier.

Kenneth Roman: There’s another story that grows out of that.  That Wall Street Journal campaign was a first class campaign and you are absolutely right to observe that.  Some years later, I was sitting and meeting with a client and we were going through a television commercial, a story board and with the little pictures and video and the audio and the client. We had been working on that really hard.

It was a very important campaign.  We’d present the commercial to the client.  We were waiting and waiting and waiting and he says, okay, could in frame six, could the lady say this instead of that?  I said, come on.  The lady could say, Mary had a little lamb and it wouldn’t make any difference.  People pay attention to the pictures.  You got to pay attention to the video.

I realized he didn’t know how to critique a television commercial.  Our clients were really pretty good at print ads, but they weren’t so hot at television.  I said, we’ve got to write down what clients should look, what advertisers should look for in a television commercial.  So, I wrote down some things that I knew and I showed it to a creative director and I said, you know, we could put something together here.

We could do something on outdoor, something on print and we could do a little book here.  That’s how my first book got written, it was essentially, a house ad in book form called How to Advertise.  But it was basic principles of advertising.  What works and what doesn’t and why.

There’s a cute story that goes along with it.  I got a publisher and he said, this is quite good, but you need a forward.  Nobody knows who you are, but could David Ogilvy write a forward?  So I sent it off to David who was living in France and I said, “David, my publisher thinks this is quite a good book, but would you mind looking at it and see if you could write a little forward saying if you think it’s any good or not.”

I said, “I’m not very happy with my title, if you have any ideas or any better titles, let me know.”   He sent me back a note and he said, he sent back the manuscript and marked up every page.  And he said, “It was said of my friend Marvin Bowers, the great man who ran Mckinzie, if you sent him an engraved invitation to a wedding, he’ll return it to you edited.  I’m returning your manuscript with my sub-editings.  The title of my next book was going to be How to Advertise.  If you like it, you may have it and use it.  I will try my hand at a  forward and send it to you within 10 days.  If you like it, you may use it and edit it.”

So, of course, he gave me the title for the book as well, How to Advertise. Then many years later I’m walking down the street in London with him and he says, “By the way, I’m writing another book.”  I said, “Really, David, on what?”  And he said, “On advertising, that’s all I know.”  He said, “Do you have any titles left over?”  And I said, “No.”  I reminded him he had given me the title, but I said, “The title of your next book is easy.”  And he said, “What do you mean?”  And I said, “Well, David, you are the most famous advertising man in the world, you should be the title.  It should be David Ogilvy on Advertising.”

He said, “You think so?”  And I said, “Yeah.”  So that became Ogilvy on Advertising.  So he gave me the title for my book and I gave him the title for his.

Byrne Hobart:: What do you think of some of the more recent Ogilvy and Mather campaigns?  Some of the ones since Ogilvy left and since you left?

Kenneth Roman: I’ll tell you a couple I admire, I think they continue to evolve the Dove advertising very successfully.  They are keeping the idea of taking care of your skin — a very consistent image.  So, I think the Dove advertising is and remains outstanding.  I think the American Express advertising remains very strong.  I spent some time watching over that account.

So, I think that’s quite good.  And I think their new ad, their advertising over the years for IBM that’s an account I never worked with, but came after I left has been brilliant, both the television and the print.  So, I think there are some very strong campaigns.

Those three stand out for me.  And I think the agency continues to be a very strong agency, although the pressure on the whole agency business is very tough and I don’t think, as I said before, I don’t think very productive in getting advertising that advertisers need.  Maybe they’ll change, who knows.

Lawrence Bernstein: I want to thank both of you, Kenneth and Byrne, for making the time and I really enjoyed getting together today.

Kenneth Roman: Thank you for taking the time and, Byrne, thank you for putting this together.

Marshall McLuhan Says That TV Killed Bob Kennedy (Gene Schwartz Newsletter Ad)


Just when you thought you’ve seen every Gene Schwartz print ad there is, another one creeps up from his seemingly endless oeuvre!

This one promotes the Marshall McLuhan Dew-Line Newsletter which looks like it had a modest run between 1968 and 1970.

Gene was probably a partner on this one and you’ll notice one of his easy to identify corporate name selections, Human Development Corporation, as well as the ubiquitous Schwartzian word, “instant,” in the copy: “INSTANT SEX.”

(Darn, I was too late to register the domain!)

Supposedly, McLuhan had a casting call for several Madison Avenue agencies before settling on Eugene Schwartz.

There was an even shorter lived collaboration with the Buddhist author and thinker, Alan Watts, who Gene wrote a successful ad for —  his best-selling, The Book, through the same corporate entity.

Marshall McLuhan Says That TV Killed Bob Kennedy

He also says that:

The TV Generation of students will continue to battle colleges (and the rest of the Establishment) until they rule them! (A Mcluhan warning: The real activists are only fourteen years old, and have not yet reached the scene of action!)

Mini-skirts are only the first step towards “Instant-Sex”!

Experience is now of no use in business. Therefore, look for a twenty-year-old president of IBM!

Here’s what Media Power wrote of the ad and newsletter.

Marshall McLuhan Says That TV Killed Bob Kennedy!” reads the headline of a full-page advertisement for McLuhan’s expensive newsletter in mid-1969. “Kennedy misused television,” explains the copy. “Although he was supremely aware of its strengths, he was fatally unaware of its dangers. Thus-by heating up this essentially cool medium at a critical point- he practically begged for a try on his life.” McLuhan’s thesis, as usual, is dubious, to say nothing of his taste, but his commercial sense, as always, is infallible: The life-and-death connection between the Kennedys and the media is a fact that surely must have intrigued his potential customers.

20 Year Direct Mail Control: Burn Disease Out Of Your Body


How many direct mail packages in the alternative medicine market can boast two decades of mailing?

This one, written by Eugene Schwartz and first mailed in 1979, had more stamina than the Energizer Bunny.

It finally stopped mailing in the early 1990s, but not before it raked in untold millions.

The ad sold the book by Dr. Stephen T. Chang: The Book of Internal Exercises.

It’s not to be confused with the ad he wrote for Rodale’s The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing, which sold two million copies of that $25 book — though I often confuse them myself.

If you want to really understand what it takes to create a winner, then this package is worth your while examining. Here it is in all its glory with the teaser copy on the front and back of the envelope, 6-page sales letter, lift letter and reply card. (10-page, 2.2 megabyte PDF)

A big thank you to my friend in Switzerland, Christian Godefroy, for sending it to me. Christian was a colleague and confident of Eugene Schwartz’s for over a decade.

To many, this package looks like a barrage of unbelievable claims:

  • “How Modern Chinese Medicine helps both men and women BURN DISEASE OUT OF YOUR BODY Using nothing more than the palm of your hand!”
  • “Flushes Fat Right Out of Your Arteries”
  • “How To Rub Your Stomach Away”

Throughout his career, there have been a fair share of critics who attacked Gene’s advertising approach. The main criticism was he “hid” under 1st Amendment protection offered to authors of books by deriving their claims in his ads. Though his ads may have been challenged, I don’t know of a single instance where even one was judged to have been anything other than legal.

Gene not only believed in Dr. Chang and the ad he wrote for his book, but credited him with saving the use of his arm after suffering a massive stroke. As he mentions in this interview from the now defunct publication, The Capitalist Reporter, he never wrote an ad for a bad product and even turned down a huge fee when he was flat broke because he did not believe in the promotion.

I doubt the ad would do so well today.

Schwartz’s style of “giant claim” copy has been mimicked so often, the market is less sensitive to it. Additionally, the alternative medicine market has mushroomed many multiples more than where it was in the 1980s and 1990s.

A Tale Of Two Copywriters


One late summer evening, two copywriters sat down at their keyboards to craft sales letters for almost identical products.

They were very much alike, these two copywriters.

Both had years of experience writing every type of ad and were dynamos at selling to their core markets.

Both writers were also dedicated students of direct response marketing and were up on the latest trends and techniques for making their clients (and themselves) ever larger profits.

But while one writer spent an entire week on writing and edits, his leisure-loving colleague cranked his final draft out within hours of sitting down that first evening.

And here’s the capper.

The ad that was written in mere hours buried the week-long effort by many multiples.

What Made The Difference

While one writer spent days building the perfect lead, piling layers of proof into his ad and extracting every conceivable hot button to boost response…

The other writer had a hunch that a good, old-fashioned story was called for to sell the dickens out of his particular product.

And he was right.

But where did he get such a brilliant idea?

Glad you asked.

No doubt you detected the above story wasn’t conjured up by me but by the legendary copywriter, Martin Conroy, whose direct mail letter about “two young men” sold over a billion dollars worth of Wall Street Journal subscriptions over the course of three decades.

Conroy could’ve just as easily taken a mainstream, “quant’s” approach to selling The Journal, using the kind of cold hard data and statistics the paper is famous for.

But he didn’t do that.

Why not?

Because he knew the first few seconds the prospect was into the piece would have told him in no uncertain terms…

This Guy Is Trying To Sell Me Something!

Just think of how many times a day people take “evasive maneuvers” when thrown into a sales situation.

The average prospect has a little voice inside screaming: “En garde!”

And it’s very difficult to sell once that’s happened.

One way around this is to tell a story.

And the great thing about telling stories is they don’t necessarily need to relate to the product we’re selling.

Look at Martin Conroy’s ad.

Nowhere does the ad state that the successful man was a Journal reader and the other wasn’t.

It’s implied.

And just as importantly as getting our prospects to read our ads without their sensors buzzing, storytelling has almost magical powers of suspending disbelief.

A good story — and hopefully one that’s also relevant to our product — sails past left brain logic and scrutiny and into that much more welcoming realm for selling of right brain feeling and imagination.

When prospects read Martin Conroy’s mail piece, they didn’t need any facts, surveys or studies showing conclusively that Wall Street Journal readers out-earned and out-performed those who didn’t.

They were left with only one thought: I want to be like the successful guy in the ad!


I’ll let you in on a little secret.

As triumphant as Conroy’s ad was for The Journal, he didn’t come up with the story of “two young men” any more than I did “a tale of two copywriters.”

As a matter of fact, he lifted the story line from another famous 20th Century ad man, Bruce Barton.

Barton wrote a space ad in 1919 for his long time client, The Alexander Hamilton Institute, the premier self-help and business development entity of the early 20th Century.

The headline for the ad was “The Story of two men who fought in the Civil War” which opened like this:

“From a certain little town in Massachusetts two men went to the Civil War. Each of them had enjoyed the same educational advantage, and so far as anyone could judge, their prospects for success were equally good.

One man accumulated a fortune. The other spent his last years almost entirely dependent upon his children for support.”

If you look at Martin Conroy’s and Bruce Barton’s openers side-by-side, it’s clear they were created from the same mold.

But guess what?

Just as Conroy was inspired by Bruce Barton — Barton took his plot cue from a successful ad written the year before — with what should now be familiar deck copy:

“The story of two clerks in New York City who started together a few years ago, side by side, each earning $12 a week.”

This 1918 ad sold the memory course du jour, the Roth Memory Course, and told “the story of two clerks.”

The clerk “with the memory” went on to become the head of a giant publishing enterprise. The other became “a petty bill collector.”

So much for creativity!

The memory ad hails from the ad agency of Ruthrauff & Ryan, which was a veritable all star team of copywriters, including on staff at various times: John Caples, Maxwell Sackheim, Victor Schwab, Wilbur Ruthrauff and Lillian Eichler Watson of Book of Etiquette fame.

We may never know who among these world-class writers actually wrote the ad.

And it really doesn’t matter.

That’s because…

Story Telling Is In Our D.N.A

It’s likely the “story of two young men” was originally etched on a Sumerian cuneiform tablet.

And it’s made its way down our human story chain over the course of centuries.

It’s based on the age-old plot of rivalry.

Like the “two young men” graduating college, I may not be in an actual contest with my neighbor but you’d better believe I’m checking to see if the car in his driveway is faster, shinier or more expensive than my own.

That car in his driveway is just one of life’s many score sheets.
As William James said:

There is very little difference between one man and another; but what little there is, is very important.

So, how do you incorporate the right story into your ad copy?

Of course, there are no hard and fast rules, otherwise fiction writers would be calling the shots here, instead of copywriters.

One of the best ways is to look at successful ads that tell stories and notice how the plot relates to the product being sold.

The Wall Street Journal, The Alexander Hamilton Institute training and the Roth Memory Course were products with big promises, so the rivalry plot works well here.

Another famous ad that told a story was that of Charles Atlas, where the skinny kid in the ad is humiliated in front of his girlfriend when a beach bully kicks sand in his face. The skinny kid orders the Atlas course, gets ripped and returns to the beach to pummel the bully.

This is the revenge plot in action and it worked like a charm to sell millions of Charles Atlas Courses.

The bottom line: stories can work marvelously.

And if you really want to get into story telling for copy, here’s a great book to consider for your bookshelf.

It’s called 20 Master Plots And How To Build Them.

If you’re interested in what motivates middle aged men to watch movies like Rocky and The Karate Kid for the umpteenth time at 3:00 am…or why young children are endlessly enchanted by Cinderella, you’ll find 20 master plots in here to get you going.

Happy story telling!