If you are learning to write advertising copy, the one example that you should be familiar with above others is Martin Conroy’s The Wall Street Journal letter. It’s well-known in copywriting and advertising circles, and made Conroy himself famous for it (about as famous as a copywriter can be!). The Wall Street Journal letter was used for 28 years, from 1975 to 2003, and is said to have brought in well over $1 billion in sales (some accounts put that figure closer to $3 billion). Reading through it is a lesson in excellent advertising. Before you do, though, take note of what makes it so successful:
1. Attention, Interest, Desire, Action
Attention, Interest, Desire and Action (AIDA) are the four principle stages that any copy should cover, and The Wall Street Journal letter covers them perfectly. It draws the reader in by getting straight into the story, no exposition, and provides interest with a little mystery. Two men had the same backgrounds, but one was more successful. Why? Read on. Then when you’ve got the explanation, apply it to your own life.
2. Knowing the demographic
The story directly relates to the target audience. The subjects of the story are the demographic, so the reader can immediately relate to the writing. The achievements made are the achievements the readers want: the example is directly applicable to the reader’s own life. Conroy achieves this by presenting a relevant story and giving the benefits of his features as practical points for a specific kind of reader.
3. The soft sell
This letter is also an excellent example of respecting the audience. The language is clear and direct. The story is told in a friendly, familiar way. Most importantly, it is not a hard-sell. It has a ‘Great introductory price!’ stamp, but the body of the text is subtle. It presents the benefits and suggests the reader can use them, but is perfectly honest in saying that reading the journal alone will not bring you success. It has integrity, it feels trustworthy. It shows respect.
What to take from the Wall Street Journal letter
These three aspects, done perfectly, gave The Wall Street Journal sales letter lasting appeal and success. But it should be noted that you cannot simply apply Conroy’s methods to your own copywriting. The principles behind his successes, listed above, are universal, but the execution is unique.
The informal storytelling often lapses into first-person narrative, which is usually avoided in copywriting (what reader wants to hear about the copywriter’s experiences?). Similarly, the letter would be too long for most modern copy. It would be unlikely to be read in its entirety on the internet. It worked in a magazine like the Wall Street Journal, though, because the reader was already committed to extensive reading, and was reading from a source they already trusted. It is a long sell to a familiar client. It demands time and attention that you will not usually command in copywriting.
Directly copying this example won’t get you sales. It’s an excellent piece of advertising copy done well, but if you tried to recreate this story for your own product or a different demographic it would be unlikely to turn too many heads. Conroy wasn’t the first to use this style of writing, in fact another good example existed before him, but his letter has become famous to the degree that any similar example will look like a cheap imitation.
The style, the technique and the attitudes behind this letter are what make it successful, and are the lessons you should learn from it. Don’t try to adapt the text to your own purposes, try to adapt the ethos behind it. Please do read the whole thing, though. Again and again if you have time. I’ve included the full text written out below the images.
On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college. They were very much alike, these two young men.
Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both – as young college graduates are – were filled with ambitious dreams for the future.
Recently, these men returned to their college for their 25th reunion. They were still very much alike.
Both were happily married. Both had three children. And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same Midwestern manufacturing company after graduation, and were still there.
But there was a difference. One of the men was manager of a small department of that company. The other was its president.
What Made The Difference
Have you ever wondered, as I have, what makes this kind of difference in people’s lives? It isn’t always a native intelligence or talent or dedication. It isn’t that one person wants success and the other doesn’t.
The difference lies in what each person knows and how he or she makes use of that knowledge.
And that is why I am writing to you and to people like you about The Wall Street Journal. For that is the whole purpose of The Journal: To give its readers knowledge – knowledge that they can use in business.
A Publication Unlike Any Other
You see, The Wall Street Journal is a unique publication. It’s the country’s only national business daily. Each business day, it is put together by the world’s largest staff for business-news experts.
Each business day, The Journal’s pages include a broad range of information of interest and significance to business-minded people, no matter where it comes from. Not just stocks and finance, but anything and everything in the whole, fast-moving world of business… The Wall Street Journal gives you all the business news you need – when you need it.
Knowledge Is Power
Right now, I am reading page one of The Journal. It combines all the important news of the day with in-depth feature reporting. Every phase of business news is covered, from articles on inflation, wholesale prices, car prices, tax incentives for industries to major developments in Washington, and elsewhere.
And there is page after page inside The Journal filled with fascinating and significant information that’s useful to you. A daily column on personal money management helps you become a smarter saver, better investor, wiser spender. There are weekly columns on small business, marketing, real estate, technology, regional developments. If you have never read The Wall Street Journal, you cannot imagine how useful it can be to you.
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About those two college classmates, I mentioned at the beginning of this letter. They graduated from college together and together got started in the business world. So what made their lives in business different?
Knowledge. Useful knowledge. And its application.
An Investment In Success
I cannot promise you that success will be instantly yours if you start reading The Wall Street Journal. But I can guarantee that you will find The Journal always interesting, always reliable, and always useful.
Peter R. Kann
Executive Vice President/
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