Three Words Written Over 100 Years Ago That Change Advertising

Published: 18th April 2007
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In 1904, advertising as we know it today, was defined for the first time.

Sure, there was advertising before that. The very first newspaper advertisement was in 1704 when a Boston newsletter sold a piece of real estatte in Long Island. And in 1729 when Benjamin Franklin started his Pennsylvanian Gazette - which included ads.

And ad agencies started to spring up everywhere across the US from the middle of the 1800's. And in 1886, Richard Sears effectively became the world's first directmailer when he started his famous catalog company.

It took a former Canadian mountie in 1904 to change the face of advertising - foreve, with just three words.

His name: John E. Kennedy.

Many, including leading ad agencies had tried to define advertising but none of them did to any degree of accuracy. And ever since 1904, many have tried to better Kennedy's definition,but have not been able to do so.

Kennedy's career started at the Hudson's Bay Department Store in Winnipeg back in the 1890's.

After working at the Hudson's Bay Department Store, Kennedy took on numerous jobs from 1903. Writing ads for the Regal Show Company in Boston and for Dr. Shoop's patent medicine in Racine, Wisconsin. He earned around $28,000 a year. Not an inconsiderable sum even today!

After 18 months with Dr. Shoop he decided to move on by mutual agreement and was described at the time as an "intense thinker who would wear himself out and anyone he came into contact with, forcing them to concentrate."

But it was in the spring of 1904 that changed Kennedy's life,and, that of advertising - for good.

Then, at 6 p.m. one May evening, Kennedy sent a note to A.L. Thomas was the senior partner at Lord and Thomas advertising agency.

The note read: "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.

Kennedy did get an audience. But it was albert Lasker, a junior partner with Lord and Thomas who granted him an interview. Not by A.L. Thomas, but by Lasker. He too had been seeking for a definition of advertising for some time.

And when they met, Kennedy told him something that was so simple, and uttered those famous three words....

...Advertising is "Salesmanship-in-Print."

Lasker subsequently hired Kennedy and immediately commisioned him to write his breakthrough principles into a series of lessons. There were 12 articles in all and these got compiled into a book called "The Book of Advertising Tests." Lord and Thomas used these lessons to train all their Copywriters.

In fact, Lord and Thomas became a training centre for the advertising world.

But Kennedy was not just famous for his dramatic entry into Lord and Thomas.

Kennedy also became famous for his "Reason Why" style of advertising. Which quite simply gave the reader a reason why they should act on the information provided to them.

After working closely with Lasker since he joined the company, Kennedy left in 1907 but returned later in 1911 as a freelance Copywriter.

By 1912, Kennedy's "Book of Advertising Tests" was re-published as "Reason Why Advertising."

And in 1914, Kennedy was paid a phenomenal amount of money to write a report about how to improve advertising. This was called "Intense Advertising."

Kennedy's advertising career was relatively short, he died at the age of 64 in 1928.

He only wrote those two books: "Reason Why Advertising" and "Intense Advertising," but left a long lastng legacy with those three words:

"Salesmanship in Print."

His work is respected throughout the advertiisng world but the two most notable Copywriters to be influenced by him were Rosser Reeves and Claude Hopkins.

Ironically, it was Claude Hopkins who replaced Kennedy at Lord and Thomas in 1907. And he went on to make an even more profound effect on the advertising world.


Peter Woodhead is the author of Long Lost Marketing Secrets, other niche websites and a member site.

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