There are a few books that I consider “classics” for advertising. Tested Advertising Methods is one of them.
I can’t remember when I picked up this book to read for the first time. It must have been in college — or while I was a disc jockey and radio salesman.
Today, when I get stuck on a copywriting assignment, I often pick this book up again for inspiration.
John Caples was born in 1900 and passed away at a remarkable 90 years. He began taking writing courses at Columbia and set out on a career in copywriting. In 1925, Mr. Caples got a job at Ruthrauff & Ryan, a well-known mail-order company at the time. He quickly learned the secret behind mail-order copywriting. The Responses from an ad (or letter) will show which ads are successful and which are not. Today we call this “Direct Response.”
As a pioneer in the advertising world, he was always looking for ways to improve his craft. He spent most of his career writing newspaper and direct mail letters. I’m not sure he ever wrote a TV commercial, but his techniques are used today in hundreds of direct-response commercials on cable television.
Chapter 5 is worth the cost of the book – “Twenty-Five Proven Formulas For Writing Headlines and Direct Mail Teasers.” Pick up any national publication and look at the ads. You will find five out of ten of the ads use one of his headline techniques. Why? Because they still work today.
Caples was one of the first advertising professionals to really test which ads worked. His methods outlined in this book make perfect sense even today.
The current fifth edition has some updates written by Fred E. Hahn. I can’t tell exactly what has changed, but I believe the fourth edition is most faithful to the original writing.