In an online post, KN, a young copywriter, writes: “Can anyone recommend some up-to-date books on copywriting?
“The books by Joe Sugarman and Bob Bly are woefully out of date. I’d prefer to find a good copywriting reference that doesn’t use anecdotes from 30 years ago.”
I wonder if Joe Sugarman saw that. If so, it probably gave him a good laugh.
But I didn’t laugh. I was fuming, which is always my response to ignorance and idiocy.
One of the dumbest things I see in the marketing world today is people like KN who think marketing books published years or even decades ago have no value because digital technology has completely changed advertising.
What they do not understand is that while the channels have expanded—we now have blogs, pay-per-click ads, YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, and more—human psychology has remained unchanged for centuries.
Therefore the best marketing education you can get is to read books by Ogilvy, Caples, Hopkins, Schwab, Stone, Schwartz, Sugarman, Nicholas, Hatch, Kennedy, and other acknowledged masters of marketing.
If anything, their work is even more valuable today in an era where so many practitioners lack an understanding of the fundamentals of persuasion.
As my subscriber DL recently wrote: “I learned from the great Clyde Bedell and many others. I’m currently reading Robert Collier’s Letter Book. Long overdue. Believe it or not, the strategies he talked about for letters, all those many years ago, work in retail ads, letters, postcards, flyers, etc. of today as well.
“Whodda thunk it; virtually all prospective clients I talk with say the methods Bedell and Collier taught will never work today. But as Clyde used to say, products change, attitudes change, situations change, media changes, but principles are abiding.”
When I was starting out as a freelance copywriter in the early 1980s, all serious practitioners read the same books, which were considered absolutely essential to learning the craft of copywriting.
Now these are, in my opinion, 10 of the greatest marketing books ever written—still totally relevant today and must-reads for any serious marketer.
If your marketing is not getting the results you want…and you have not read these books…then, in the words of the late, great mail order marketer Jerry Buchanan, “You are starving to death with a loaf of bread under each arm.”
Interestingly, many of those books were out of print, even back then, and you had to search the used bookstores in the hopes of finding them (no Amazon in those days).
I remember being in the famed Strand bookstore in Manhattan and stumbling upon an original 1920 hardcover edition of Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins. I bought it for a few bucks, hurried back to my apartment, and read it that day in one sitting. I felt like I had won the lottery!
I get pretty good reviews at my talks, but after my last webinar, one viewer complained: “More up to date examples would make the viewers feel more confident about these techniques and lessons.”
More the fool him: The best examples to study are the ones that have produced the best results, not the ones that are most recent. If you want to learn car advertising, read Ogilvy’s Rolls Royce ad rather than watch the Lincoln commercial with Matthew McConaughey.
“I would like to see more recent examples instead of so many things from Bob’s history file,” another attendee kvetched. Only a few of the many slides were from my work, and I use them because I know the response rates to the second decimal point.
Bob Bly is the author of “World’s Best Copywriting Secrets” and has written copy for more than 100 companies including IBM, Boardroom, Medical Economics and AT&T. He is the author of more than 75 books and a columnist for Target Marketing, Early To Rise and The Writer. McGraw-Hill calls him “America’s top copywriter”.