By Joe Vitale
Bruce Barton was a celebrity in the 1920s. He was a bestselling author, confidant to presidents, master copywriter, philanthropist, congressman, and co-founder of the largest advertising agency in the world, BBDO. He helped five men become US Presidents. He wrote a fund raising letter that got a 100% response. The only book ever written on Barton and his ideas is “The Seven Lost Secrets of Success”. I recently discovered Barton’s six points for writing ads, which he probably delivered in a speech in the early 1930s. Here they are, as Bruce Barton himself delivered them:
1. The theme. “A lot of time and money is wasted by our failure to think through and get a theme before we start. The theme ought to be based on two principles—first, that a man is interested in himself; second, that he is interested in other people. Our formula for Every Week (magazine) was Youth, Love, Success, Money, and Health—all things in which people are vitally interested.”
2. Interesting headlines. “I think any public notice I may have had has come from titles. Nobody was more surprised than I when The Man Nobody Knows became a best seller. The title is what sold the book.” Barton also mentioned that when he edited magazines, he often used provocative titles to stir up controversy and interest. Examples included, “Why I never hire any woman under 30,” “How my wife has hindered me in business,” and the other side of the question, “How my wife has helped me in business.” These interesting headlines guaranteed readership.
3. The visualization. Barton didn’t elaborate on this. But I’m sure he was referring to the layout of any sales piece. He once said, “A picture is worth two pages of type, and a headline is worth almost all the rest of the ad put together.” For Barton, the illustration, headline, and body copy made up the layout, or visualization, of any sales piece.
4. The copy. “The introduction can be eliminated almost always. The mind starts cold when you begin to write, and you don’t get into high until the second or third paragraph. Cut out the introduction, and then you have a good hot start. “Another elementary fundamental of advertising is to make the copy fit the space. To this day, I never write a piece of copy without counting the words. The picture, the headline, and the layout should be set before you begin the copy. To me, writing the copy before you have visualized the layout is backwards.”
5. Adjectives. “After you finish a piece of copy, go back and cut out all the adjectives. Henry Ward Beecher’s father was once chairman of a committee to draw up resolutions on slavery. One sentence in his resolution read: ‘It is an outrage.’ Some one suggested that it should read: ‘It is a terrible outrage.’ Beecher said that was the way he had it in his first draft, but he had cut out the word ‘terrible’ for the sake of emphasis. “Adjectives are like the leaves on a switch. They make the switch look pretty, but if you want to hit a blow that will cut, you take off the leaves. Literature that cuts has very few adjectives. The greatest things in life are expressed in one-syllable words—love, hate, fear, home, wife, child.”
6. A purpose. “We should never write an ad without the idea that something is going to happen. What do we want the reader to do? Write with the conviction that he is going to do something when he gets through reading—go to the store and buy; clip the coupon and mail it. And remember the power of the direct command. Don’t say, ‘If you would like this beautiful booklet, we will be glad to send it.’ Say, ‘Sit down right now and fill in this coupon.’ People want things made easy; they want you to make up their minds for them.”
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