Diary of an Ad Man

February 28, 2008



The Greatest Advertisement Ever Written.

Over the years, I’ve notice the question of “Who is the greatest advertising writer?” Or… “What was the greatest ad ever written?”

Some of the top names in copywriters are Gary Halbert, Clayton Makepeace, Brian Keith Voiles and I might include my name among them.

Why? Some twenty years ago, when I started, I wanted to be one of the top copywriters in the world. I feel I finally arrived when Denny Hatch, in writing in “Who’s Mailing What” some 10 years ago… put my name right next to Gene Schwartz and Geoff Hasler as the top three “California Hype” copywriters in America.

Denny meant it as a put-down. But I was thrilled to be cast alongside Gene Schwartz in any mention. (Who hasn’t read Schwartz’s book BREAKTHROUGH ADVERTISING… at least once and thought “Damn, I wish I was that good.” I’ve read that book at least 8 times over the years. And each time I marvel.

As to the greatest ad ever written: Posted nearby is an ad created by John Caples. It is without a doubt the greatest ad ever created. Why? Because it ran profitably for over 40 years. Most ads, sales letters, web sites, etc. have are lucky to have a one season shelf life. If they work at all.


Not only is the ad built to be charming and informative… but the MARKET WAS HUNGRY for this kind of information from the 1920’s through the 1960’s. What changed? The market changed. In the 1960’s the biggest wave of immigrants switched from being European to Mexican. The Europeans wanted to assimilate. They wanted to learn English. By the 60’s the politically correct crowd had taught us all that “multi-cultural” was the way to go. No need to become “American”… when all cultures are equal and beautiful. We changed from being a “melting pot” to “celebrating diversity”.

(Aside: Some of us have learned that you can celebrate diversity or celebrate excellence. But not both.)

There are two lessons to learn from this ad. Anyone who studies it, line by line, will discover “service”. And after all… all good “selling” is “serving”.

The ad SERVES with good information before it asks for the order.

The second lesson is a lesson on demographic shifts.

You can only sell what the crowd wants to buy. When the crowd changes, you have to change with them. Advertising cannot change desires. If the desire is not there, you will waste your money trying to create it.

But if the desire is there, a skillful copywriter can enhance and focus the desire toward a specific solution. But desire must come first.

Here are some basic human desires:

1. Aliveness
2. Autonomy
3. Beauty
4. Caring
5. Challenge
6. Compassion
7. Contribution
8. Courage
9. Creativity
10. Dignity
11. Elegance
12. Excellence
13. Excitement
14. Fairness
15. Freedom
16. Fulfillment
17. Fun
18. Grace
19. Happiness
20. Harmony
21. Helping
22. Honesty
23. Humor
24. Innovation
25. Joy
26. Justice
27. Learning
28. Love
29. Making the world a better place
30. Mastery
31. Order
32. Perseverance
33. Playfulness
34. Revolution
35. Safety
36. Security
37. Self-reliance
38. Service
39. Simplicity
40. Solving problems
41. Stimulating change
42. Synergy
43. Truth
44. Uniqueness
45. Using my abilities
46. Vitality
47. Wisdom
48. Zest
49. Peace

If we were to get down and dirty… raw… we could say the basic desires are for more TIME more SEX and MORE MONEY.

Do you make these mistakes in marketing? Do you ignore these desires? Do you just hang a sign outside your door hoping buyers will throw money at your feet?

Let’s change that.

Linwood Austin


1 Comment »

  1. […] a famous headline, written by John Caples, “Do You Make These Mistakes in English?” It was enormously successful, because the specificity […]

    Pingback by The Art of Persuasion: How to Craft Words That Sell - Digital Marketplace — July 10, 2016 @ 9:04 pm

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