On a sunny day one late afternoon two copywriters graduated from the same copywriting school. These two copywriters were roughly the same age, with roughly the same writing ability. They had both been trained by the same copywriting instructors in the art and science of writing to sell and persuade. Both were filled with dreams of becoming rich by writing ads to sell products and services.
Recently, these men ran into one another at the same direct marketing conference, 10 years after their graduation. They were both still very much alike. Both were happily married. Both had young children. And both, as it turned out, had written copy for some of the biggest direct mail publishing houses in the world.
But there was one difference…
One of these copywriters was on staff at a publishing house, making a comfortable $100,000 per year salary. The other was not an employee, but rather had started his own business, and used his copywriting skills to create copy that was raking in over $1 million dollars a year in net profits.
What Made The Difference?
If you’re like me, when you hear a story like that, you wonder: what made the difference between those two men? We all know stories like this, and we all have evidence demonstrating it isn’t always raw talent or intelligence or even perseverance or dedication. It isn’t that one person has “a burning desire” and the other doesn’t.
The difference lies in this: what each person knows, and how that person makes use of their knowledge. The difference is in continuously growing and using their knowledge.
And that is why I’m writing to you today, to let you know about how you can grow your knowledge and learn from what is arguably the most successful sales letter you’ve never heard of…
And It’s Not The Wall Street Journal Sales Letter!
You may recognize that I didn’t really come up with the preceding copy you just read – you probably in fact recognize it as an “adaptation” of the famous Wall Street Journal Sales Letter written by Martin Conroy.
You may download the Wall Street Journal Sales Letter here (and I would suggest you add it to your swipe file if you haven’t already).
You may even be thinking, “Ray, this is not ‘the most successful sales letter I’ve never heard of’, because… well… I have heard of it. A lot.”
Now, if the Wall Street Journal Sales Letter were actually the letter I was referring to in today’s title, you would be correct.
Here’s What You May Not Know
Just as I didn’t really come up with today’s article “from scratch”, Martin Conroy did not cook up the Wall Street Journal ad out of thin air, either.
In fact, he “swiped” the Big Idea for the Wall Street Journal ad (which by some accounts has made the Journal over $2 billion in sales) from another ad, this one by the legendary copywriter Bruce Barton.
In 1919, Barton wrote an ad for The Alexander Hamilton Institute.
The headline for the ad was “The Story of Two Men Who Fought the Civil War”, and the copy began like this:
“From a certain little town in Massachusetts two men went to the Civil War. Each of them had enjoyed the same educational advantage, and so far as anyone could judge, their prospects for success were equally good.
One man accumulated a fortune. The other spent his last years almost entirely dependent upon his children for support.”
Obviously, Conroy’s ad was based on Barton’s. You may download “The Story of Two Men Who Fought the Civil War” in its entirety here.
You may now be assuming that “The Story of Two Men Who Fought the Civil War” is the letter I was referring to in today’s title. But that is incorrect, also.
The Most Famous Sales Letter You’ve Never Heard Of
Just as my opening paragraphs were inspired by Conroy, and Conroy was inspired by Barton, Barton lifted the story for his own ad from one written a year earlier, in 1918. The 1918 ad began like this:
“The story of two clerks in New York City who started together a few years ago, side by side, each earning $12 a week.”
This 1918 ad was written to sell a memory course, the Roth Memory Course. I’m sure you noticed “the story of two clerks.”
The clerk “with the memory” became the head of a giant publishing company. The other guy became “a petty bill collector.”
This ad was written by the Ruthrauff & Ryan ad agency, and it’s unclear which of their staff copywriters wrote the ad. You may download the “The Story of Two Clerks in New York City” ad here.
(By the way, today’s little advertising history lesson itself was inspired by Lawrence Bernstein’s excellent blog post entitled “A Tale of Two Copywriters”.)
Because it was original inspiration for what became the $2 billion dollar Wall Street Journal Sales Letter, “The Story of Two Clerks in New York City” may in fact be the most successful sales letter you’ve never heard of.
Or … Is It?
Because long before any of those ads, there was this story…
This is the tale of two brothers, both born to wealth, privilege, and power, over 4,000 years ago.
Both were sons of the ruler of the known world. Both were princes of a vast empire.
They received the same education and upbringing. They were very much alike.
But a few decades later, one was the King, and the other was hiding in the hills far away, living as a humble shepherd.
But that’s not the end of the story – the shepherd eventually came storming back to the land of his youth, conquered his brother and his brother’s empire, and left that empire a smoking ruin.
What made the difference between these two brothers?
You may already recognize this story from the Biblical story of the Exodus. One brother was Ramses, the Pharaoh of Egypt. The other was named Moses, and he was the humble shepherd who heard the voice of God, and came back to Egypt to free the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.
This may be part of the most successful sales letter in history. I’ll leave that for you to ponder on your own.
Here’s the point of this whole article…
To Persuade Powerfully, Tell a Story That Resonates
Storytelling is the most powerful form of persuasion known to humans.
The original “tale of two young men” can be traced all the way back to the work of The Great Storyteller. It is the tale of brothers Cain and Abel, in the Book of Genesis.
To write the most successful and effective copy you are capable of, you must learn to tell great stories that resonate with the deepest fears and desires of your reader.
Now get to work on your story!