The Voice | Post 1900s America
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Post 1900s America

Category: History of Advertising

Two schools of advertising emerged: Reason Why, which gave people a reason why they should buy your product, and Impressionistic advertising, which created an image for a product or service. To this day, there are ad agencies built and careers established on the tenets of these two camps.

There are no ‘answers’ to which side is right, but an effective rule of thumb is that reason why works for small, less expensive purchases, while impressionistic advertising develops the cache for large-ticket items. Think about what style you would use for selling a disposable razor vs. a million-dollar painting.

Albert Lasker took a job at the Lord & Thomas ad agency to pay off some gambling debts and was made partner in his 20’s. He was a maniac, firing people all over the place and riding herd over the rest. Lasker was one of the first to track the results of different magazines. He found that some magazines did really well for not so much money while other huge publications with expensive ad rates generated crappy response.

Two Lasker writers:

John E. Kennedy was the writer’s version of Lasker. He passionately believed in simple, unadorned copy with a single message. Give people a reason why they should buy the product (i.e., Reason Why copy). He also experimented with italics, underlining and capital letters a lot.

Claude C. Hopkins took over at Lord & Thomas when Kennedy left to be a freelancer. Hopkins lived to write, and is now considered one of the all-time great copywriters. He worked around the clock and side-by-side with Lasker for 20 years. However, late in life, he looked back with regret on what he had missed in life because of the long hours he had put into advertising. In his book, Scientific Advertising, he said it had the power to change habits, build companies and shift the values and mores of entire societies. He favored money-back guarantees and the “preemptive claim”, which is the forerunner of Rosser Reeve’s Unique Selling Principle). Today, it’s often called the Key Benefit. Find one thing about a product and sell it: Palmolive softens hands as it washes dishes. Today, Hopkins is associated with mail order advertising, and especially premiums and coupons. This is one of the strengths of direct marketing over generic, brand building advertising: it’s quantifiable and accountable. You can run an ad and measure your response. You know how much money you paid for a campaign, look at how many people sent in coupons and measure your results and adjust the message or medium appropriately.

NOTE: Freelancing is one of the cherished paths for creatives. Many can make over $1000 a day for months at a time. The drawback is the uncertainty of not knowing what next month will bring. It used to be that creatives became freelancers after long, established careers at big agencies, but the mergers and belt-tightening created this permanent colony of freelancers who have never been able to latch on with fulltime jobs again. Basically, the rule of thumb with freelancing is that if you get work, it’s great, and if you don’t get work, it sucks.

Theodore MacManus embodied the other side of the coin of Reason Why ads, which was/is Impressionistic or Atmosphere advertising. Impressionistic advertising creates an impression of high quality and honesty — it builds the product’s image and brand, vs. giving people a hard and fast reason why you should buy it. The best example of this is MacManus’ The Penalty of Leadership for Cadillac. When that ad ran in 1915, he was teased for writing corny fluff. But: sales boomed, thousands of copies were sent out on request, salesmen hung it up on their walls; included in sales manuals, cited in meetings; used in direct mail and newspaper campaigns. 30 years later, it was voted the greatest ad of all time.

Advertising was a writer’s milieu. The joke is that copywriters would slip their scribblings “under the door” for the artists to make pretty. There was no concept of working as a copywriter/art director team.