He was the first direct response copywriter…
In May 1904 a young John E Kennedy walked into the saloon at street level, downstairs from the Lord & Thomas Advertising Agency.
He sent a note upstairs with a young bell boy.
The note was addressed to Mr. Ambrose Thomas, co-founder of the agency.
The note said…
I am in the saloon downstairs. I can tell you what advertising is. I know you don’t know. It will mean much to me to have you know what it is and it will mean much to you. If you wish to know what advertising is, send the word ‘yes’ down by the bell boy. Signed, John E. Kennedy.
Sitting in the office with Mr. Thomas was Albert Lasker — eventually, head of the agency, but then just a clerk trying to make his way up.
Thomas’s reaction was, “I don’t want to waste any time on that man.”
But Lasker, curious and ambitious, was intrigued by this stunt.
So he got Thomas’s approval to meet with Kennedy, in his office.
Kennedy came up for the meeting. Lasker would later describe him as “One of the handsomest men I ever saw in my life… A Canadian mounted policeman… Every inch of him muscle, with an eye as keen as could be in a man’s head, and a forehead that showed the student.”
Kennedy challenged Lasker to define advertising.
Lasker said, “Advertising is news. News about your product or service.” Kennedy agreed that advertising could contain news. But that alone was insufficient as a definition.
They continued. Lasker would give a new definition. Kennedy would counter it as not enough. Until Lasker could come up with no further definitions. And Kennedy was satisfied that he indeed did not know Kennedy’s secret.
“Advertising is salesmanship in print.”
That was the definition Kennedy would share with Lasker that day.
Lasker would later describe, “The whole complexion of advertising for all America was changed from that day on.”
Lasker, Kennedy, and Claude Hopkins (author of Scientific Advertising) would eventually team up to form the core team behind Lord & Thomas. And they would completely reshape advertising in America, using a scientific approach to determine what worked best and was worth investing in.
And while Hopkins’s book became famous, John E. Kennedy wrote his own book, Reason Why Advertising, that hasn’t seen the resurgence of the Hopkins classic.
But its core lesson and principle is no less important.
In fact, as much as Hopkins defined the science of advertising, Kennedy defined the art.
Hopkins laid out how to test, and some results from testing. Kennedy laid out what ideas to put into your copy to make it work in the first place.
The core lesson of salesmanship in print — or, as I prefer today, “selling multiplied”…
Justify everything with a REASON WHY…
Your biggest challenge today — as it was in the days of Lasker, Kennedy, and Hopkins — is believability.
Your prospects will not respond to what they don’t believe.
If you have an offer that’s a perfect fit for your prospect’s needs, wants, and desires… But you fail to present it in a way where they can believe you’ll actually fulfill on your promises… They will choose not to respond, so they can avoid the risk of disappointment and loss, rather than respond on the hope you were actually telling the truth.
The burden of proof is on you, to make everything eminently believable.
There are dozens of ways you can do this. Dozens of proof, credibility, and believability elements that can support your message.
But at the very core, they are all contributing to your reasons why.
Your prospect wants to know…
— The reason why they should pay attention to you, and not ignore you.
— The reason why this is worth their time.
— The reason why they should believe your core claim or promise.
— The reason why your supporting evidence is true and honest.
— They reason why you’re writing or speaking to them in the first place.
— The reason why you care about their wellbeing and them solving this problem.
— The reason why they should address this problem now.
— The reason why your solution will work when others haven’t or won’t.
— The reason why your product is a superior form of the solution.
— The reason why your offer is superior.
— The reason why they should act now.
— The reason why this is a good deal and well worth their investment (versus what else they could put their money towards).
— The reason why they should believe your product will fulfill on your promises.
— The reason why you’re making this particular offer today.
— The reason why they should act now.
— And a thousand other little reasons why that come out of the nuances of YOUR message.
You should CONSTANTLY be answering the question, “Why?”
Kennedy emphasized that effective advertising has one goal — to generate orders.
And in order for someone to make an order for whatever it is you’re selling, they want to know why.
They want to have every “Why?” question answered, until they’re satisfied enough to spend their money on whatever it is that you’re selling.
If you try to do any more or any less with advertising, it’s bound to fail.
Because people buy based on a sufficient answer to this question, “Why is this thing offered for sale worth more to me than the money it will cost to get it?”
It’s seldom conscious. It’s seldom so overt.
But on a subconscious level, we’re constantly thinking about that “Why?”
We have emotional answers. We have logical answers. And when they pile up enough to tilt the scales, we order.
As the advertiser then, your job is to give those answers in a compelling way, to help the prospect tip their own scales.
And the way that is done is with believable and compelling reasons why.
Want to read Kennedy’s book?
I believe it’s now in the public domain. It’s also short. I believe it — like Scientific Advertising — was used originally as an advertisement in itself for the Lord & Thomas Ad Agency.
That is, it was an original bookalog, meant to compel you as an advertiser to want the writer of the book to write ads for you.
Considering that under the awesome trio of Lasker, Kennedy, and Hopkins, Lord & Thomas became the top ad agency in America, I think it was probably pretty effective.
But thankfully, this selfish act of trying to get clients also led to the preservation of the principles and strategies of the man who may have been THE first self-aware direct response copywriter, and perhaps America’s greatest copywriter in his prime.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,