James Webb Young’s Copy Philosophy
James Webb Young, the legendary advertising man wore many hats. He was great copy writer, an accomplished writer, who wrote three books – A technique for producing ideas, How to become an advertising man, and The Diary of an ad man. He served as a professor at the University of Chicago’s new Business School from 1931 to 1939.
Furthermore, Young became one of the founders of the War Advertising Council out of which grew the present Advertising Council of America. He served both organizations as chairman. James Webb Young was inducted in the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame and received many honors and awards including the Advertising Man of the Year Award in 1946.
A letter that Young wrote to Julian Lewis Watkins in 1948 describes his copy philosophy. Watkins quoted the excerpts from that letter in his famous book, The 100 Greatest Advertisements 1852 – 1958, first published in 1949. Here’s the essence of James Webb Young’s Copy Philosophy:
“ I learned to write copy as a seller of books by mail – to Methodist ministers! Hence I have always believed in two things: first, that people read ads; second, that they will respond to them if you use them to make a complete sales canvas. These convictions, in turn, have never made me afraid of ‘long copy.’
When I write an ad, I first try to get in mind a very sharp conception of the kind of person I am going to talk to. Then I try to formulate, very clearly, the propositions I am going to make him or her – why he should buy something, think something, or do something.
Then I try to think out where this person’s interests or problems and the proposition come together, and from this try to work out the headline and main illustration, which as one unit, will take hold of them. I will think many headlines before I get the one, which satisfies me. And also usually labor equally to get the right illustration for the headline. Where possible, s in the Webb Young advertising, I test headlines for their real effectiveness, knowing from these tests that some headlines can be twice as effective as others.
As I write the body of the ad I keep thinking about the reader, asking myself: Have I made this clear? – What doubt will he have here? – Have I made this interesting? – and so on.
Some ads come easier than others, of course, but usually the actual writing process is not difficult for me. I do not begin it, as a rule, until I have clearly seen the completed ad in my own mind – headline, main illustration, format, and general course of the copy story. When that has come about, then I sit down and put it on paper, and the first draft usually stands with few revisions.”
Internalize and follow Young’s copy philosophy and you would greatly increase your abilities to create winning communication strategies for your products.