3 Copywriting Tips from Helen Lansdowne Resor

Helen Lansdowne ResorYou may not have heard of Helen Lansdowne Resor, but the worlds of both big and small business copywriting certainly bear her mark. She was a master of conversion writing, leveraging her talent through long-form feature articles, as well as short and snappy copy.

Not only was Resor a talented advertiser; she was a champion for women in the early 20th century workplace. According to the AdAge Encyclopedia of Advertising, “Ms. Resor was the first woman to successfully plan and write national advertising, rather than just retail efforts.” In addition to designing large-scale advertising campaigns, her copywriting was able to persuade 3 million women to take civilian jobs during World War II.

Pioneer in Advertising

Resor got her start in small business copywriting around 1904-1905, working as a bill auditor with Procter & Gamble Co.’s in-house advertising agency. She left her position to do some retail writing in Cincinnati and enjoyed some small success writing streetcar advertisements.

In 1907, she was asked to return to her original advertising agency – this time, as a copywriter. Her clients included Red Cross, Crisco, and other notable brands.

Check out Resor’s three lessons in conversion writing from the years that followed…

Feature Story Advertising

Perhaps Resor’s biggest contribution to the world of conversion writing is the refining of the feature story ad style. Resor masterfully wrote editorial-style copy that appeared to fit right in with the magazine (à la native advertising). She used compelling CTAs, illustrations, and whatever else it took to create a page that produced results for her clients.

In journalistic fashion, she would seek “quotes” (read: endorsements) from well-known socialites, who would happily put their names behind the products in exchange for money.

While these advertising tactics are old news today, Resor was one of the first marketers to use celebrity endorsements and feature story advertising, and she did it all over 100 years ago!

The lesson? Use your advertising dollars to tell stories that connect consumers to something more than a product. Great advertising provides the consumer with identity, status, or a sense of connectivity.  

“Copy must be believable.”

This philosophy was at the core of every advertisement Resor wrote. The early 20th century was an era where too-good-to-be-true promises glided out of the fountain pens in every advertising agency between Los Angeles and New York. Copywriters and conversion writers would – and could – say just about anything to make the sale.

Resor said, “No thanks.”

The lesson? Keep your copy believable. While Resor never ventured into self-deprecatingly honest copy, many a successful campaign has taken this clever route. Check out Newcastle Brown Ale’s recent “No Bullocks” campaign as a great example.

“A skin you love to touch.”

Lastly, Helen Lansdowne Resor knew how to shock the world. Her 1916 advertisement for John H. Woodbury’s Facial Soap, which appeared in The Ladies’ Home Journal, featured the “scandalous” copy, “A skin you love to touch.”

The concept that “sex sells” may have been well known, but it had never been previously used on such a grand scale. According to AdAge, advertising executive Albert Lasker called this advertisement one of the three great landmarks in advertising history.

The lesson? Let your small business copywriting push the boundaries. A little bit of “controversy” can end up being terrific press. Take the current Cheerios advertisement, as an example. The ad got a few people stirred up on YouTube, which turned out to be great press for General Mills.

Have any favorite Helen Lansdowne Resor anecdotes of your own? Share them here…

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Ben Richardson is a writer based in Nashville, TN. While he loves writing on a variety of subjects, he's our go-to on all things related to branding and the creative aspects of content marketing. Follow him on Twitter!

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