The $1 Billion Sales Letter

bike_mailboxFor some time now, copy has been given short shift in creative. It’s the pictures art directors and awards judges prefer. Find an arresting image and you’re off to the races with your advertising creative. Headlines can have sex appeal but body copy, good luck. Even in movies, it’s the actors and directors who get the most credit – without a writer tjhough the movie doesn’t exisit.

What about a direct mail letter – when was the last time you got a great one that really moved you?

Students of this art form can buy ‘The Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters Of All Time’ on Amazon for $370!, but I thought it would be fun to look at THE best one of all time. I have referred to this letter many times in my career when talking about how to set up ‘control’ versus ‘test’ cells in direct marketing. This grandadaddy is said to have generated more than $1 billion in revenue for The Wall Street Journal (, 2011). In March 1993 Target Magazine called it the most successful advertisement in the history of the world. Written and first mailed in 1975, to this day it has never been beaten.   

Here’s a short excerpt to give you a sense of what amazing copywriting looks like:

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 two men returned to college for their 25th reunion.

They were still very much alike. Both were happily married. Both had three children. And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same Midwestern manufacturing company after graduation, and were still there.

But there was a difference. One of the men was manager of a small department of that company. The other was its president.

What Made The Difference

Have you ever wondered, as I have, what makes this kind of difference in people’s lives? It n’t always a native intelligence or talent or dedication. It isn’t that one person wants success and the other doesn’t.

The difference lies in what each person knows and how he or she makes use of that knowledge.

And that is why I am writing to you and to people like you about The Wall Street Journal. For that is the whole purpose of The Journal: To give its readers knowledge – knowledge that they can use in business.

And then the letter goes on to talk about how the WSJ can be as instrumental in your career. Beautiful writing.

Full letter:

If you think this lesson only applies to direct mail, think again. In the age of social marketing we are all writers – at least those who create content. The point here isn’t to write long but rather write well. One of the best places I have found with tons of great copywriting advice is or check out their fantastic podcast on iTunes (if you’re from the UK try James Daniel at

Long live the copywriter in us all.

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