These days there are plenty of new techniques brands can use to raise awareness, whether through recording engaging podcasts or creating flashy video campaigns to grab customer attention. But before social media, before the internet, before computers there was the written word. The written word was the first major advertising device and the influence is still seen today in headlines, billboards, websites and blogs.
Copywriting has had a long, successful history, and there have been many famous examples of advertisers who’ve tapped into the potential of words to engage their customers. But can their advice still be useful to modern brands?
As someone who works as a copywriter I found it useful to take a look at four of history’s greatest copywriters to see what modern businesses can learn from their work, as well as inform my own learning.
John Emory Powers
“If the truth isn’t tellable, fix it so it is.”
Often hailed as the world’s first copywriter, John Emory Powers wrote his advertisements using plain language and avoided exaggerating. His style stood out among other adverts that were full of embellishments. He focused on the facts and with this approach he was able to double the revenue of the Wanamaker’s department store from $4 million to $8 million.
This lesson of honesty is just as important today. Your brand should always provide a genuine message and make customers aware of the facts.
Helen Lansdowne Resor
“A skin you love to touch.”
Helen Lansdowne Resor was known for shocking the world with her campaigns, including her most famous line: ‘a skin you love to touch.’ This was included in The Ladies’ Home Journal in 1916 and featured a man and woman looking intimate on the page.
The campaign was responsible for bringing the theme of sexual contact into the mainstream. Brands can benefit from this example by pushing the boundaries of advertising.
“Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.”
Ogilvy spent long periods of time researching his target audience, having worked for years under George Gallup, founder of the Gallup Poll agency that carried out plenty of market research. His copywriting approach was methodical and focused on the key details of knowing who his customers were.
A brand who hasn’t done its research can come off as insincere and alienate its audience. Once you understand your buyer personas you’ll be able to provide copy that better mirrors their perspective.
“Put yourself into your work. Use your life to animate your copy. If something moves you, chances are, it will touch someone else too.”
David Abbot created memorable campaigns for a number of brands including Volvo, Sainsbury’s and the RSPCA. He was known for his soft-spoken and low-key approach to advertising, letting his work do the talking. He studied human nature extensively and wrote copy that people could connect with.
Brands can follow his example by remembering to advertise with conviction. Make a customer feel a specific emotion and they will be able to relate to the campaign.