Martin Conroy (December 13, 1922 – December 19, 2006) was best known for the Wall Street Journal sales letter he wrote that ran continuously from 1975 to 2003. It’s widely known as the “most successful” sales letter of all time.
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…
The letter goes on to show the vast difference in success obtained by the two men. One went on to become the President of a company while the other man became and remained a low-level manager. It’s implied in the sales copy that the Wall Street Journal made the difference for the man who became president.
Now let’s look at an advertisement printed in March of 1919…
From a certain little town in Massachusetts two men went to the Civil
War. Each of them had enjoyed the same educational advantages, and so far as anyone could judge, their prospects for success were equally good.
One man accumulated a fortune. The other spent his last years almost entirely dependent upon his children for support…
I found this ad in 2003 right around the time that the original Conroy Wall Street Journal ad was beaten (with a similar ad). I shared it with a list of about 200 marketers and copywriters. Since that time it’s appeared in copy writing books, sales letters for copy writing services, blogs and as a bonus to a copywriting course on swiping- but always in the exact form that I transcribed it. I have never seen someone publish the actual ad as it appeared. I find this strange (after 7 years) only because I found the ad in one of the greatest books on copy writing ever written and the fact that the ad has never appeared in it’s original form makes me think many of these “great” copywriters never read this book. I could be wrong.
The reason this is relevant to the story is that I feel it is most likely that Martin Conroy got the idea for the Wall Street Journal sales letter that he wrote from seeing this ad in the same book I found it. Who knows – maybe he first saw it when he was just a student of copy writing.
And what a book it is. You could spend $1000’s on a copy writing guru’s training course or buy this book for less than $20. I would bet on the $20 book reader.
I’m not going to reveal the name of the book in this post, but I’m certain it will appear in the comments.
But I digress from the ad itself.
The Civil War ad above was written by a writer for the Alexander Hamilton Institute. I read one blog that claims Bruce Barton wrote it and while Bruce Barton did write for the Alexander Hamilton Institute I have found nothing that points definitively to Barton as the writer of the Civil War ad. I hope that someone reading this can shed more light. [Update 09/17/2010: Two copywriters I respect have suggested that Bruce Barton *is* in fact the author of the Civil War ad. In addition, I happened to be going through Julian Lewis Watkin's book of ads and he has this to say: "REMEMBER the advertisements for the Alexander Hamilton Institute? Bruce Barton wrote them in his human, inspiring style, and they remain to this day, among the finest examples of narrative technique in advertising."]
This ad was used as an example in multiple editions of the book that Conroy most likely studied. It appeared under the chapter “Story and Dramatic Copy.”
It’s also likely that Conroy studied other AHI ads. There are in fact more “two men” ads that AHI ran after this one.
Here’s how one starts:
“…The story concerns two young men who owned very modest homes in a middle western city. Their wives were friends. In the winter they played bridge together and tennis in the summer. One worked in a railroad office, the other for a manufacturing concern, and their incomes were almost the same. On Saturday afternoons they mowed their lawns shouting good naturedly to each other across the fence.”
This above ad seems to belabor the point that they were buddies and very alike before getting to the point, but the ad does the same thing as the Civil War ad and the Martin Conroy ad – the one man reads the Alexander Hamiltion Insititute book and becomes VP of a coal mining company. The other man is still where he was when the story started. Notice that The Civil War ad mentions “two men” but this ad mentions “two young men” – just like the Martin Conroy letter.
Here’s another one:
“In the Fall of 1949 two business men will be sitting in a mid-town restaurant. ‘I wonder what’s going to happen next year,’ one of them will say. ‘My business if fine now-but the next few years are going to be the hard ones, and we may as well face the facts.’
The man across the table will laugh…”
This ad goes on to say how even though this is a fictitious conversation, conversations very similar are happening all the time and ten years from now – one man will be feeling regret while the other is at the pinnacle of his career.
Are you starting to see a trend here?
The correspondence schools of the early 1900’s were exceptionally good at writing advertisements and the Alexander Hamilton Institute had some of the best of the best copywriters. Many of these advertisements were used as instructional examples to new copywriters.
It seems as if Martin Conroy took this to heart and translated the success of correspondence schools to a newspaper. Pure genius.
Before I sign off…
Would you like a 13 page PDF with all the ORIGINAL ads I referenced in this post plus several other ads?
Would you like to see the three OTHER ads that Martin Conroy might have used for inspiration for his “Two Young Men” letter?
If you answered “yes” then read this…
I was originally going to sell this but at the suggestion of some people I respect I’m going to give this PDF to you at no cost when you sign up for my newsletter (also free). Just fill out the subscription box below and my robot will RUSH you a confirmation e-mail. Once you have confirmed you really are who you say you are, the same trusty robot will fire off another e-mail with the download link for the 13 page PDF that – if you are an ad collector like me – you will cherish dearly as a part of your digital swipe file. So – Fill out the form and feel the joy…
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In 1924 a George Burton Hotchkiss copywriting book suggests that people use social proof in ad copy but calls it “imitative suggestion”. Are imitative suggestion and social proof the same and are they a form of hypnosis? Continue reading
October monthly update that includes a story on how the massive success of the Salty Droid blog has spawned a bunch of clones that make a mockery of the robot. Also how a motivational blog post by Frank Kern is really a disguised pitch. And finally some feedback I received on the Bill Bonner Video Sales Letter Post. Continue reading