Transcript – The Founding Fathers of Copywriting, Copywriters Podcast with David Garfinkel & Guest Sean Vosler
Link to the podcast – Founding Fathers of Copywriting – Copywriting History
Nathan [00:00:12] All right, welcome back to the Copywriters podcast with your hosts, The World’s Greatest Copywriting Coach, David Garfinkle. David, how are you doing today, man?
David [00:00:21] Nathan. I’m pretty good. How about yourself?
Nathan [00:00:23] I’m doing fantastic. And it looks like we’ve got a pretty special surprise lined up for the listeners today.
David [00:00:30] We do. Our guest today is a copywriting historian and eight figure practitioner of direct response copy. His name is Sean Vossler and I’ve wanted to have him on the show ever since I saw some of his detailed comprehensive mind maps on Facebook connecting early pioneers of advertising to the world of today. Now here on Copywriters podcast, as many listeners know, we have our old Masters series and we’ve gone as far back as one hundred years ago to the 1920s. But Shawn has some great information that was new to me as of this week. Two important influences and people back in the late eighteen hundreds, Seans, also the founder of Increased that academy and author of the best selling guide seven figure marketing copy. And he specializes in helping businesses scale to seven and even eight figures. And we’re going to talk about a bunch of things today, including how he scales businesses with direct marketing copy. But just as important is his unique and penetrating research back into the 1980s and 1990s, where he is on a mission to find out how we got to where we are today. In the world of direct response marketing, of course, one of the reasons Copywriters podcast got to where we are today is this. Coffee is powerful, you’re responsible for how you use what you hear on this podcast, and most of the time common sense is all you need. But if you make extreme claims and or if you’re writing copy for offers in highly regulated industries like health finance and business opportunity, you may want to get a legal review after you write and before you start using your copy by larger clients. Do this all the time. So, Shawn, welcome and thanks so much for being here.
Sean [00:02:29] Dude, I am I am honored to be here, so excited to share some some nuggets on what we’ve been doing on the research side of the nerdy history side of this stuff and kind of the journey that got me to exploring that cool.
David [00:02:43] Well, you know, we’re at a point now where the pandemic and restrictions are coming to an end. And you told me when we were having a chat to prep for all of this that you can’t wait to go to New York City. And it’s not for a Broadway show. It’s not for the pizza. It’s not for a bagel. Would you mind sharing with us to start why you’re going there?
Sean [00:03:07] Yeah. So there’s been I tend to get on these research beans and for writing my own book, it was this whole thing. But then I started exploring this whole concept of where all these ideas and direct marketing and copywriting, whether it’s online or off, where they all came from and in York City, to sum it up in a in the New York Public Library, often their hidden archives somewhere, there’s a book I’m really looking forward to finding I haven’t been able to find online. It’s the only one in existence that I know of. And it’s, of course, written by it’s the first edition or the first part of a bunch of books written by this guy named Charles Austin Bates. And it’s a name you won’t hear a ton of. He’s he’s in if you Google him, he doesn’t really even have a Wikipedia article, but he is in the quote unquote advertisers Hall of Fame and in a lot of footnotes, in a lot of books about marketing. But he’s actually written tons and tons of content and has eleven hundred page book on copy and direct marketing from 19 to. And then he actually had a the one I’m really looking for is the first of his periodical. If you’re familiar with printers ink around the the turn of the century, there were a lot of these periodicals. Right. And there’s one that’s out there that I cannot find. The first of 12 written by this guy that’s in the New York Public Library that I’m going to go get soon as it opens back up. And I’m in California, so it’s going to be a bit of a hike, but it’s going to be fun to find it for sure.
David [00:04:49] Sounds like it’s worth it, especially for what you’re doing. Why don’t you tell us about some of these really old masters and maybe we could start with Charles Austin based what you found out about him and and why you think they’re so important.
Sean [00:05:02] Sure. Yeah. And in the show notes, we’ll we’ll try to link to the the mind map I’ve been working on is this I’m calling it the lineage of thought to to to give it a really dramatic name. But the idea is mapping out where in the nineteen forties and fifties where they started using the term unique selling position in the nineteen twenties, really the reason why advertising terminology came around in the nineteen thirties, the idea of products, its personalities started where all this stuff came from and why, why it started being used and how it was used. So that started me on a journey of like looking back through time, trying to find the earliest bits of information I could find on certain things we’re all familiar with idea, right. Like the actual framework that a lot of marketers derive from. The first kind of rendition of that I found was to in a book that’s sitting on my shelf. And I was surprised to find that a lot of this stuff was starting to turn up in the the late eighteen hundreds. So the people around that time who were practitioners of this, they weren’t even really called copywriters at the time. That term wasn’t used as much as the term. It was either like admen or or ad writers. But there’s there’s a few names that stick out and they all kind of come back to a central point that a lot of us look back to, which is the fella named David Ogilvy in the 60s and and a lot of his influence. It’s funny you’ll find him quoting a lot of people. And if you trace it back and keep going back to the people, like he said, a big influence of his. What’s Claude Hopkins? Right. Scientific advertising, huge, huge influence to us, of course, today do mainly because he wrote a book about it and we still have access to it. But if you look at it like who is Claude’s major influences? And if you keep going back, you start to find a few key figures that were kind of the the father figures of much of the direct marketing pieces that we see today or the tools that we use. And I mentioned Charles at the outset. He is one of the really the first people to start collecting. The information about what makes advertising work and his big influence is around the time was a fellow named John Powers, who has a lot more written about him. And he actually was I was literally just. Looking at this book called Scientific Advertising Origins, which is kind of the history of clodhoppers and Larcker and those guys, and it just noted out Clyde Hopkins was actually taught by John Powers. So there’s all these these different connections. In the further back you go, the the more entwined all these stories start to get. And there’s there’s a few good books written about the early days, but there’s they generally kind of glaze over that time period. So I’m I’m really interested in seeing where those all stem from.
David [00:08:20] What’s like one great takeaway you got from John Powers or from Bates?
Sean [00:08:27] Yeah. So Powers and Bates, they kind of come from this this new school of thought at their time, which was advertised based on just how they were probably the first ones really to facilitate the the reason why advertising like they just told people why they should buy stuff, which seems pretty obvious today, like here’s the features and benefits, right. Like, you know, here’s a hair blower. It dries, it will dry your hair quicker and you’ll be able to have better hairstyle. Right. Like just tell people what it does. But at the time, that was pretty revolutionary because before then you had people who it was mostly advertising was mostly in the realm of what they called patent medicine, which was kind of the early day, like put cocaine in a bunch of water and charcoal together. And you’ve got this this new revolutionary thing that cures baldness or whatever. Right. And and that was really the earliest realms of advertising, as we might consider today. We’re in in newspapers. These patent medicines would advertise in regular business businesses, then advertise as much. In fact, I mentioned this yesterday. Most banks didn’t like to loan to companies who did advertising like eighteen sixties and seventies because they thought basically the rationale was if they have to advertise, the product can’t be good, right?
David [00:09:55] Oh, we cannot approve this loan. You’re an
Sean [00:09:57] advertiser. Yeah, exactly. So there was the earliest advertising firm in the United States was it wasn’t founded until around 1870. And you would you would think companies even at that that time, Industrial Revolution was going pretty strong. You I assume that advertising had gone since way before then, at least in the the way we would understand it. But it really wasn’t there wasn’t as much there was instances of advertising being used, obviously, but it wasn’t really formalized until about the 18 eighties were really started getting some traction. And companies started realizing, hey, if we tell people about what we’re selling, they’ll come and buy it, as opposed to just walking by the store and seeing it and buying it. And that that was pretty fascinating at the time. Like, wow, who knew, right?
David [00:10:49] Yeah. I mean, advertising today is international. Even Ogilvy has branches and offices all all around the world, maybe not all around the world, maybe not in Russia, for example, but India and Singapore and all over Europe and of course, U.K. But I’m getting the sense from you that advertising as we know it today, really started in America. Is that a fair thing to say?
Sean [00:11:19] Well, there was it was kind of like the the discovery of the atom bomb was going on in Europe and in the United States at the same time, but separate. But at the same time, there was advertising. In fact, the first real kind of examples of traditional advertising was by this guy named Thomas Barrett. And this was in the early, early days. He made ads for soap. And this was in the U.K. or England. I’m not sure it was the U.K. at that time. I think it was. Yeah, something like that. Right. So he was really one of the first folks to to start doing advertising. But at the same time, it so it’s around the same time companies on both sides of the Atlantic started seeing that they could influence people to buy their products. And it was mainly done through newspaper advertising and then magazines and periodicals as time went along. But then also really started gearing up in the nineties when it started to formalize as more of a a more agency started going. James Walter Thomas R. Thompson, who is that agency, is still running today, is one of the top ten agencies in the world. That agency started you started in about eighteen sixty five. You started working with one of the first agencies out there. But but yeah, it was on both sides of the the Atlantic. But as it started getting more formalized, this is where folks like Charles Osbert started coming in and printer’s ink, which was a periodical at that time. I’ve got a few. My goal is someday to own all the printers, the bound volumes. But if you’ve ever seen them in a library, it has the whole collection. It literally spans. It’s been it ran from, I think, the eighteen eighties to nineteen sixties and it’s like a whole, you know, 30, 40 foot shelf of, of bound volumes. Yeah. Wild.
David [00:13:30] So you were telling me yesterday about a. An ad that was like disarmingly transparent, almost frighteningly honest, it was, I think, Bates’ or maybe Powers did. Could you talk about that?
Sean [00:13:45] Yeah. So Powers who? John Powers. He was really what if you look him on Wikipedia, his is given the title. The world’s first full time copywriter might be a computer, one of the books they got around here. So he really was the kind of first practitioner of advertising, just kind of normal products. Right. Like the clothing and just just everyday products where before him there was a few incidents of it. But for the most part, it was like patent medicine and kind of snake oil stuff. Right. Or the circus. So they called him polyrhythms later on where he just he just made it almost like news. It was just just here’s what’s going on. Hyper transparent. And he was in one of the top paid individuals in the United States in the eighteen hundreds like he I think it is in the top 20. I’d have to verify that. But it was he was a millionaire as a copywriter because he could just bring tons of business because no one, no one was doing advertising. People didn’t really get it at the time. So he would actually partner with companies, use one of the first maybe JBI brokers back in the day, you would say. But he did take part of the business that came in so he would work with department stores and things. The specifics of one of the first ads that he started running with was interesting in the sense that it literally was the company came to him and said, hey, we’re overstocked, we’ve got too much of this product. We can’t seem to move it because people know we have it. Something like is just this like list of of like what sounded like bad things. Right. And he wrote the ad literally just what the guy told him. And they were so pissed at him because they’re like, you can’t say that, you can’t say that we’re overstocked and that we’re selling at a discount because we have too much of it. But the next year, over the next few days, they completely sold out of the stock because really what he was doing was giving the public a reason why they should buy this thing. And that was that was fascinating to me to look at it and say we’re still doing that today. We’re we’re giving people a reason why they should buy something, whether it’s we’re doing a limited time deal, a discount or or a special offer, bonuses, whatever it is, we’re really just giving them an excuse to buy. And that was revolutionary at the time when John Powers was doing it. But it was hyper transparent. Just here’s what’s going on. And that influenced Claude Hopkins, obviously a ton. And then David Ogilvy was obviously the famous ad man from the 60s. He was hyper influence from Hopkins. So it’s all kind of this this downward train of thought back to these guys in the nineties who really had the the just started that movement.
David [00:16:48] OK, that’s great. And, you know, you told me well, we were talking yesterday. Well, many people believe that nobody understood what advertising was in nineteen for ninety three. And and Johnny Kennedy, the Canadian Mountie copywriter, is sitting in a saloon in North Michigan Avenue and he sends a note up with the bellman to Claude Hopkins. I know what advertising is. If you will meet me in the saloon, I will tell you so he says. Well, it’s now he says to Lascher and then Lascher comes down and he says it’s salesmanship in print. And and the whole world changed like all of the dead trees of winter suddenly bloomed with these green and gold leaves and and business with apparently wasn’t quite that way.
Sean [00:17:43] Well, that story, whether it’s editorialized or not, history can tell us that Lascher for those who aren’t familiar. He ran one of the most successful agencies in the early nineteen hundreds. But they they advertised as much for themselves and how much they how awesome they were than just about anybody else at the time. So they, they were good at sharing that story. And they actually they paid John F. Kennedy really well, like he was one of the best paid writers, but they made sure clients knew that to the association that they paid him. So I think it is like seven hundred fifty grand or something like that, which at the time was just insane. Right. But the the result of that was they were able to basically say we’ve got the highest paid copyists in the world. We’re going to get you a great copy. And they did great work. You can go. And still, I’ve got a collection of a lot of there there ads and stuff. But but really at that time, not to undervalue their quality, but it was like if you did advertising, you’re going to beat your competition because normally they weren’t doing it. So Procter and Gamble, those kind of companies at the time who really were doing a lot of advertising, it was the use the kind of shoot fish in a barrel kind of stuff. But but yet that great story of the Canadian Mountie down at the bottom of the saloon, I found that such an awesome story. In fact, it’s in the scientific advertising origins, which that story is told by Lascher because Larcker published these were called the Lascher talks or something like that, and he tells that story a lot. But Johnny Kennedy, he’s kind of set up is this mythical Canadian Mountview, which just off into the wilderness and had this realization of salesmen in print. Well, if you start digging into it, there’s not much written about it. But I came across in my my PhD field. I read everything I can written by these guys in printers ink, actually there’s an article because Charles Austin Bates, who I’m kind of obsessed with, he was an ad critic here for four printers. So he was one of those. And it’s still done a lot today. He would you would find advertisements, right, about what was good about him, what was bad about him to educate people in printers. And if you go back far enough, you’ll find I’ll have to I should pull it up. I should have been able to get you the exact date. But there’s a critique that Bates did of Robert Kennedy’s work way before he, you know, positioned the reason why advertising. And so there’s this connection there. And then Charles Austin Bates has a one hundred page book from nineteen to and then another book from eighteen ninety six, where he basically coined that term salesman in print when he was teaching about what copy is. And so Kennedy is generally given the credit for that. But I tend to think it was Bates. Not that it’s dramatic in the sense that at the time it probably would have been a big deal. But for now, who cares? I mean, it’s just it’s just stories. Right. But but I found that fascinating, that there’s that connection there and there’s not much written about Bates. I hope to write a book on him one day.
David [00:21:15] It’s interesting that that would be like me saying, well, I invented the bullet point and then we, you know, create all of this mythology around it. And I may have know my templates. I may have actually improved it a little bit, but I sure as hell didn’t invent it. All right. So, you know, I am very curious as to how you got into all this because you didn’t start out as a copywriter, did you?
Sean [00:21:42] Right. Yeah. So my own journey into this this realm of the dirty stuff we’ve been talking about with the history of it was born out of my own little journey of becoming by accident, really a copywriter. To put it simply, I I started in the technical technical world. I was a website builder and I got in the world of just literally just agency work, of building out websites. I didn’t even know what the term copywriter was or copy or anything like that. So early, probably 10 years ago now I, I just literally set up WordPress sites for people and I tended to find the clients that were happiest and the ones that, you know, always pay their bills on time and didn’t complain and didn’t nit pick every little shade of color on the website were the ones who had great content on their website. They were just
David [00:22:38] doing some pretty famous clients, didn’t you?
Sean [00:22:41] Yeah, yeah. So after the agency stuff, then I started working with Internet marketers. At that time I didn’t know really what that was either. But I saw this guy named Lewis House sitting in Infinity Pool in New Zealand and I basically was like that. Wall Street is like whatever that guy’s doing, I’m going to I just want to do that. I don’t know what he’s doing, but I want to learn it right. So I stopped him and his business partner for a couple six months to a year just trying to add value and started the conversation. And eventually they hired me as a web tech. And so I helped build a lot of their funnels and things like that. But the that kept going for building out websites. And I still more on the building side, in the writing side. And then I got to work with a fellow named Andy Jenkins, who just brilliant marketer, who unfortunately recently passed away and at the time, his business partner, Michael Same. So they hired me as a website. And that’s really where I started to get my education of here’s how messaging works. Here’s why we’re using this.
David [00:23:45] They train. You do it all by you observing and analyzing or sometimes would they explain stuff to you in conversations? I mean, how did that go?
Sean [00:23:54] Sure. So at first it was more like we’re doing these launches and making a bunch of money. And it was more like, you know, every hand on deck. And sometimes I’d be like, put it put a show on headline in there. And that was kind of the term of like, it’s going to be a crappy headline, but we need something to write it up. And so at the time, I just like you don’t know what you don’t know. Right. And over time I started getting just it was more absorbed. And then Andy personally started helping me understand the mechanics of it all and how how this headline helps people come down the page to read the messaging. And we made it entertaining so that people would would watch it and all the different things that go to drive a direct marketing piece and even branding to a certain extent. And then after that, I started doing more. More. The same kind of stuff, but now that I knew how it all worked, I started transitioning into doing it profit share only so I would build out funnels and webinars and do all the copy stuff and build out the tech. But I started working with folks like Ty Lopez and Sam Evans and a lot of these guys who in their own rights are brilliant marketers. But I was able to help come in and facilitate some new copy pieces and an webinar pieces on a chair. So I really had to put my money where my mouth is. Right, because I couldn’t just get paid to write a thing. I had to to to get paid. I had to make it work and I had to bring the traffic and stuff like that to.
David [00:25:31] There’s nothing like having your feet to the fire, right. Exactly. I mean, I don’t mean this the wrong way, but do you think that Andy Jenkins’, when they said put a short headline in there, eventually start to have some pity on you should really maybe.
Sean [00:25:50] Yeah, well, you know, it’s like they didn’t hire me for that, right? It was they hired me protection and and it was more of a we just we had a good relationship near the end of my tenure with them. And and I just I was just very curious. And they would they would go on their little rants of of getting the launch ready. And I just sit there and listen. I didn’t really understand all the terminology and stuff, but it starts to starts to get in there. And and then it the studying really started for me because I was like I started writing out standard operating procedures, whatever you want to call them, of my own, because I would like folks like Lopez. I’d be writing five or six emails sometimes a day just to get, like, content together. Right. And I wrote very, very long content, even in emails. It wasn’t like, you know, but anyways, it worked really well. We did lots of lots of sales for high end products. So I started to create like my own little template. So here’s what to do so I could do it faster and for more people. And that’s really what birthed the book, because I had a lot of these these processes that I used in my own business.
David [00:27:11] Yeah, well, why don’t you tell us a little bit about the book and how people can get it in.
Sean [00:27:16] The book itself was the culmination of like I think it’s it’s safe to say I’m doing OK at this. I’d like to help other people. And and that’s really where the birth of it was. So I started collecting a lot of the methodology and digging into the deeper parts of the as you put your book together, it’s like as you start to teach it, you learn it even better and recommend that to everybody. Right. And they can pick up a copy. We have a special link just for you guys. Shaun Botsio, slash copywriting podcast, all one word, put down description and stuff like that.
David [00:27:55] So copywriters podcast, right?
Sean [00:27:58] Yes, correct. We’ll make both work just OK with an acid without bill. Both work, but they the book itself, it’s really geared towards entrepreneurs who they may or may not be full time copyists, but they’re looking for strategies that they can start implementing pretty quickly. So there’s a lot of the book is front loaded with a lot of just like shortcuts and templates and and like strategy guides. But then in the second part of the book, I really get into the more the psychology and the depth of what makes it work for those who are maybe a bit more advanced in the copywriting world. But that’s really what drove that dove into the history of this stuff that I wanted to know where it came from. Like, it’s just it’s fascinating as you start. Looking into this world, it’s been going a long time and it just keeps evolving and folks like yourself in modern day, just masters of the craft are moving it forward. But we’re still able to look to the past to pull a lot of great concepts and and knowledge out of these these masses from from one hundred and twenty years ago now.
David [00:29:11] Oh, yeah, I totally agree. I mean, the one thing anybody in any market, whether you’re an Instagram influencer or a hardcore direct marketer, the psychology is the same in once you master the psychology, you can go this way or that way. That way. Give us the link again, if you would.
Sean [00:29:32] Sure, Sean. So CNN dot com slash copyrighter podcast spirit without it both work.
David [00:29:42] Oh, OK. Very good. All right. Multiple. Well, great. Nathan, you’ve been patiently flying the you probably have a million things going through your mind. Want to share any of them?
Nathan [00:29:52] I just want to say that I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of the book. And yeah, I’ve just been quiet because this is such a fascinating topic to me. So thank you, Sean, for first of all, for coming on and sharing your story with us, but also for putting together this work, because I feel like it’s going to be something that a lot of copywriters out there find incredibly valuable.
David [00:30:16] Yeah, Nathan, you love history anyway, right? You love all the historical stuff, a bit of it. This is driving you crazy. Just hearing about all these books. You can’t even get even. He can’t get his Evenson can’t get his hands on.
Nathan [00:30:29] Yeah, but I’m going to definitely get my hands on Sean’s book, Sean, one more time before we’re out of here. Where’s the best place for people to go to find out more about you and your work?
Sean [00:30:40] Sure. So the book link there is Sean Doxiadis Copywriters podcast. And if you want to disconnect, Facebook is probably the easiest way to just if you want to interact. I interact a lot on their Facebook dotcom site. Sean Vossler. And personally, I love just connecting with folks who. Find this stuff interesting, but understand that a big part of their business is the messaging, right. And any business has been doing this long enough, knows that the product needs to be great. There’s no doubt that that’s just the base level today. So a lot of times the way you’ve got to stand out is elevating your messaging and the better we get it that the more people we can help and the more influence we can build with the people we need to help. So appreciate you guys having me on. Helped me bring that message out to the world and look forward to keep the conversation going.
David [00:31:34] Yeah, me too.
Nathan [00:31:36] Until next time. If you want to catch more episodes of this podcast, you can head on over to Coffee Writers Podcast Dotcom. We will see you next time, Synacthen.