I want to share a discovery I just made from well over a century ago and how the simple rules still apply today.
I recently got some reprints of a newspaper from the Civil War era. In its advertising section, I found an ad selling a book on how to meet and marry your ideal mate, a home study course to learn to play the piano at home, an ad for goop to grow hair, an ad for breast enlargement padded bras and corsets, an ad for a tonic that gives you energy, and an ad recruiting sales agents for a line of Union pins – “everyone will want one.” The best ad offered its booklet “free, for $2.00.”
I repeat: during the Civil War.
Who was it? – Coolidge? – who said “The business of America is business.” The one certain thing is commerce never stops, so advertising, marketing and sales never stop. Other kinds of jobs, careers and business skills may come, go, die; there are few buggy whip manufacturers left, few typesetting businesses. But there will also be salespeople, always be direct marketers and direct marketing. Different media perhaps. Same game. THE evergreen, ever-valuable skill is to put words together in a way that motivates people to buy things.
And peoples’ fundamental motivations for buying things fortunately do not change either.
People want to know how to do things, mostly to improve their lives, entertain themselves, impress others, save money or make money. People want to be attractive to others, to influence others, to impress others; to be the life of the party, the envy of the neighborhood, the leader of the pack. They want to feel good (better), emotionally and physically.
They want to know what others know that they don’t even if they are using little of what they already know. They want to get what they don’t have, get whatever’s new, even if what is old, that they already own, that fulfills the same purpose perfectly sits unused in cupboard, closet or garage.
They want to go where they aren’t, even if where they are is just fine, and they haven’t yet explored or taken advantage of the things in their own neighborhood. They want a magic potion or pill, a way to make money without work, a simple solution to a complex problem. We aren’t, after all, all that complicated.
We like to think we have evolved from primitive caveman to sophisticated, complicated creatures*.
But we remain easily mesmerized by bright shiny objects. And Robert Collier’s sales copy works just fine today.
*Dr. Laura has now famously advised women: “Offer him sex. If he’s not interested, make him a sandwich. He’ll be happy.”