Friday, January 30, 2009

Good Old Advertising Advice

Charles here.

Every day at work I post a photocopy of an old ad on the company fridge in the break room. Not an old one we did, I mean an old ad. My favorites date from the late 1800s but I post stuff that was done up to around the mid 1960s. I do this for several cliché reasons, (you can learn from past trends, you have to know where you’ve been to see where you’re going, classic ideas never go out of style) and a few not so cliché reasons (they’re unintentionally hilarious, it give the copywriter intern some photocopying to do). In my hunt for more ads, I hit the local library where I found a half-dozen books on advertising that were all published before 1940. I checked them out and settled in for a fun night of outrageously dated advice. Only thing was, it wasn’t so dated. Here’s a random sampling:

“It would be obviously unwise to pitch the key of the copy so low as to miss the preferred prospects, but dignity is never inconsistent with simplicity.” G.B. Hotchkiss, Advertising Copy, 1936, Harper & Brothers, p.266

“Someone has said that genius is simply capacity for hard work. There is no sort of work in which a combination of genius and hard work is so necessary as in advertising. A good idea happens to almost anyone at almost any time. A trained advertising man recognizes a good idea when it comes and sees a way to work it out. The hard work comes in working it out, for even a good idea requires a lot of patience and careful work before it is ready to use. I am inclined to believe that hard work on a bad idea is better than no work on a good idea. I am inclined to believe that painstakingly carefulness counts as much in advertising as brilliancy.” Earnest Elmo Calkins, The Business of Advertising, 1915, D. Appelton & Company, p. 335

“…it has not been established that copy that is nothing but a bare statement will not sell goods. It will. It always has. But the office of advertising is to produce maximum results, in excess of any results that can be got by simply offering, and exposing, the goods. To accomplish this there has got to be an appeal in the advertising that transcends the mere talk about goods – the personal equation.” George French, 20th Century Advertising, 1926, D. Van Nostrand Company, p. 274

Sure, it’s common sense stuff, but what is now common sense was once keen insight and unique perspective. And it’s fun to see how writing styles and word choices have changed over the years, with all those double-negative clauses and run on and on sentences. This experiment was fun, so now I’m hunting down old books on writing to see what gems they have to offer. I’ll keep you posted.


Jared said...

Whoa. Plug in "writing" for "advertising" and "book" for "copy" and I think you've got the beginnings of a new Writers and Books class!

Susan D said...

"Dignity is never inconsistent with simplicity."

I like it. (Except for the double negative, which renders it less simple but no less dignified.)

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