Conversion Writing Tips from “Mad Men” Model Rosser Reeves

Rosser ReevesWhat does a preacher’s kid do when he gets drunk, totals a friend’s car, and is expelled from school? If you’re Rosser Reeves (1910-1984), you go into advertising and copywriting. Prior to his motorized bacchanalian fiasco, Reeves had won a $100 prize for his conversion writing skills. His essay, “Better Living Through Chemistry,” captured the attention of an academic writing competition in Virginia. The prize money provided him with the funds to move from the University of Virginia to Richmond. The phrase “Better Living Through Chemistry” later became a campaign for the DuPont Corporation.

Reeves & the Unique Selling Point (USP)

Reeves was heavily influenced by Claude Hopkins and Hopkins’ belief in “scientific advertising.” Daniel Marshall Haygood of the University of Tennessee, writes the following:

When Reeves was a copywriter at Blackett-Sample-Hummert, [David] Ogilvy and Reeves had lunch together almost every week for several years. Reeves had somehow received a copy of Claude Hopkins’ manuscript of Scientific Advertising, which was kept in a safe at Lord & Thomas. According to Ogilvy, Reeves would recite parts of the book to Ogilvy and taught him how to put those principles in action (Ogilvy, 7 April 1965). It was this appreciation and reverence for Claude Hopkins’ principles of salesmanship in advertising, using best advertising practices, and holding advertising accountable for results that formed the common bond of their approach to advertising for their entire lives. Hopkins was the connection and foundation.”

For Rosser Reeves, advertising and business copywriting always shared one exclusive aim: to SELL. With this belief at his very core, Reeves published his best seller, Reality in Advertising, in 1961. In this book, he fleshed out his philosophy of the Unique Selling Point (USP):

  1. Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer. Not just words, not just product puffery, not just show-window advertising. Each advertisement must say to each reader: “Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit.”
  2. The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer. It must be unique—either a uniqueness of the brand or a claim not otherwise made in that particular field of advertising.
  3. The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions, i.e., pull over new customers to your product.

(source: Branding Strategy Insider)

Two Copywriting Tips from Rosser Reeves

Rosser Reeves believed that no amount of conversion writing would produce the desired effect if the product were not strong and unique to begin with. He succinctly shared this small business copywriting tip in two famous quotes:

  • “You must make the product interesting, not just make the ad different. And that’s what too many of the copywriters in the U.S. today don’t yet understand.”
  • “No, sir, I’m not saying that charming, witty and warm copy won’t sell. I’m just saying I’ve seen thousands of charming, witty campaigns that didn’t sell.”

(source: BrainyQuote)

What tips, ideas, and philosophies from Rosser Reeves stick out to you? Have a favorite Reeves campaign or commercial? Share your comments below.

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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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