- By Jimmy Cox
- Published 12/15/2009
Believe it or not, copywriting goes back a long way. The phrase itself: “Believe it or not” dates back to 1918 and was originally used as the title of a cartoon feature in the New York Globe that dared the audience to accept the most unusual events as true. It is still the reason many people even buy the newspaper at all. Anyway, sales copywriters have been around approximately since the early 1920’s doing their best to get people to purchase their clients’ goods and services. One of the earliest well-known sales copywriters was Claude Hopkins, who penned the trademark for Goodyear tires as being for “all weather” that earned the company its current fame. He was famous for taking the benefits of the product and making it the main attraction so potential clients felt the need to purchase it. Another famous sales copywriter of the early years was John Caples who coined the phrase “They laughed when I sat down at the piano. But when I started to play…” You might not recognize it (it’s from a U.S. School of Music ad from 1920) but its numerous imitations and spin-offs are still found today. John Caples made sales copywriting an art by making the ad a story.
The man behind the original Carnation Milk cows commercial is Owen Burtch Winters. He is considered one of the greatest copywriters ever and is part of the Advertising Hall of Fame. Owen B. Winters’ most important piece was called “The Handwriting on the Wall”, a marvelous work that convinced 12 small independent food
companies to merge into the now famous General Foods Corporation. A prominent female sales copywriter was Mary Wells Lawrence. She is the mastermind behind the timeless phrase: “Try it, You’ll like it”. Mary Wells Lawrence introduced the longest television commercials of her time. Mini-movies lasting around 60 seconds, her ads employed techniques usually used in film and theater productions. Who hasn’t heard the catch phrase for General Electric? “We bring good things to life” is the work of sales copywriter Phil Dusenberry. This creative copywriter is also known for countless Pepsi and Pizza Hut commercials. He is well-known for introducing emotion and increased energy into the field of sales copywriting. William Bernach is famous for Polaroid’s “It’s So Simple” campaign and Lewis Bunnell Jones made the Kodak brand an household name with the slogan “You Press the Button – We do the Rest”. Those testimonial ads we are so accustomed to seeing nowadays were first introduced by J. Walter Thompson and were used to market Pond’s beauty care products. And of course one of the first Clairol hairdye commercials’ famous phrases: “Does she… or doesn’t she?” was coined by sales copywriter Shirley Polykoff.
Whatever the product or service, sales copywriting has always been about getting the message across to the audience in a way that entertains, informs and attracts them. Be it a short radio ad for a breakfast cereal or a mini-movie for a Savings and Loan institution, sales copywriting is still about compelling copy. This in turn will make for better business. Some rules just don’t change.