What content writers should take from “the power of the printed word”

power of the printed word, content writingI often see content marketing heralded as a novel concept in modern online advertising, with some writers even making the distinction that they are a content writer and not a copywriter. But the idea of writing helpful content as a form of business promotion is not a new one – International Paper were doing it very successfully in the 1980s. And I doubt anyone involved in that campaign would kid themselves into thinking they weren’t writing advertising copy.

The Power of the Printed Word

International Paper’s campaign, if you don’t already know it, was a series of spread adverts offering writing advice from famously educated celebrities. It started by targeting students, under the name College Survival Kit, and proved so popular that they produced a second series of ads entitled Business Survival Kit. The contributors ranged from Walter Conkrite and Malcolm Forbes to Bill Cosby and the great Kurt Vonnegut. In actuality, though, the articles were produced by Ogilvy’s adman Billings S. Fuess. Yes, he worked with the celebrities to research the pieces, but it was a copywriter who produced the final ads.

The Power of the Printed Word was a hugely successful campaign, with over 27 million copies of the ads requested, and publishers wanted to turn the adverts into books (now available for over $100). It got International Paper’s name out there, making an impression in a market that might otherwise seem dry, where it was difficult to distinguish between the competition. It worked because it provided useful information. By offering content, not just trying to persuade.

The collection of articles is still discussed online. Info Marketing Blog, for instance, highlighted it as an example of producing effective copy from a seemingly empty field. The advice remains valuable, varied and worth reading, just look at the the full list of titles:

  • How to make a speech by George Plimpton
  • How to write a resume by Jerrold G. Simon
  • How to spell by John Irving
  • How to read poetry by James Dickey
  • How to read an annual report by Jane Bryant Quinn
  • How to enjoy the classics by Steve Allen
  • How to use a library by James A. Michener
  • How to write with style by Kurt Vonnegut
  • How to write clearly by Edward T. Thompson
  • How to improve your vocabulary by Tony Randall
  • How to write a business letter by Malcolm Forbes
  • How to read faster by Bill Cosby

If any of that sounds useful to you, you can download the full PDF of articles here.

Advertising copy and content marketing

This campaign is a brilliant example of how copy can be informative and genuinely worth reading, but still steer towards a result. It’s something worth keeping in mind as writers start to make a distinction between writing copy and writing content. A content writer who says they write to inform and not to produce results is basically removing their accountability. Content writing should produce results no different to copywriting – if it doesn’t drive sharing, boost email subscribers, and ultimately sell it’s not good content.

Online content writers should take their lead from examples like this campaign to promote the printed word. When I suggest that people produce business blogs, I am advising content marketing. Give your audience what they want, help them and inform them. But do it for a purpose – in the short term you might hope to increase brand awareness, to build trust and to create a lasting captive audience, but at the end of the day it is all about one thing: increasing sales. Content writing is copywriting, no matter how it is veiled, and it should produce results. The Power of the Printed Word did so, demonstrably so, and online content writing should do so too.

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