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Copywriting Lessons From Rosser Reeves (and His Masterpiece Reality In Advertising)

By Author: Juan Johnson
Total Articles: 36

A licensed pilot, yachtsman, collector of art and captain of America's first chess team sent to Moscow, Rosser Reeves also was one of the most important ad men on Madison Avenue (Incidentally, he was also David Ogilvy's brother-in-law... ).
Using his own philosophy, Reeves grew his own agency, Ted Bates & Company from a small agency to one of the world's largest. This warrants study because there is an army of marketing consultants and copywriters out there that can tell you 1,000 ways to grow your business but are struggling to pay their own light bill.
Reeves should be better remembered for his book "Reality In Advertising" than just for the USP concept but the serious students know he starts his book with a great Winston Churchill quote:
"There are two reasons for everything, a good one and the real one."
"Reality" is a complex book despite being quite short. As many great works are, they can teach beginner and veteran different things, be read many times over in your lifetime and each time provide you with new and deeper insights.
What I like about Reeves most was he was almost scientific in his approach to advertising especially the testing and measuring of marketing.
His first beef being that advertising acts in a vacuum. It doesn't. Your response rates are affected by many factors. All the direct mail campaigns in the post when 9/11 happened, bombed - not because the mailing had problems but because of external circumstances.
Many major advertisers however treat response it a campaign as if marketing happens in a vacuum. Rolling out a new campaign as soon as sales start to sag. There are external causes of drops and increases in response. You need to be aware they can happen and compensate for them when assessing test results and be sure that you have a large enough sample to be statistically relevant. Boring you may say but it is reality.
Reeves distaste for originality rivals my own. The goal of many Madison Avenue Agencies in his day was originality. Your goal in creating advertising is not originality but sales. Now and then, it is not the job of an ad agency satisfy their own artistic urges, although to this day that is what many agencies strive to do.
I will say on the subject of the USP (Unique Selling Proposition) it has needed to evolve since Reeves time in the 40s,50s, and 60s. But the question, remains pertinent to this day -why should a customer buy your 'doover' over a competitors one or any of the other myriad of options they have in order to 'scratch their itch?'
When you can answer that question about what you are writing copy for, you will always have an advantage over your competitors.

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