You Don’t Have to Be an Engineer to Be a Great Copywriter… But It Helps!

Two of the greatest copywriters and advertising minds the world has ever known have one thing in common.

Something you would not expect in an industry obsessed with visual creativity, verbal persuasiveness and a dollars-and-cents, laser-like focus on sales and marketing, on motivating and educating people with targeted messages designed to guide them toward taking decisive, profit-enhancing action.

I’m talking about Bob Bly and John Caples.  Both of these men started out their professional careers as ENGINEERS before entering into the wild and wooly (and seemingly unrelated) world of commercial advertising and direct-response marketing.

That’s right. Engineers.

Bob Bly graduated from the University of Rochester (NY) with a degree in chemical engineering and went to work for White Westinghouse.

John Caples graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and went to work as an engineer with the New York Telephone Company.

From such non-literary beginnings, both of these men parlayed their analytical skills, rigorous academic training and innate scientific bent into enormously successful, lucrative and legendary careers as copywriters and master marketing strategists.

Caples passed away in 1990, at the age of 90 after a stellar, path-breaking career as a direct-response advertising genius.

Bob Bly is still burning up the Internet and drawing crowds at conferences and seminars after more than 30 years building a successful copywriting and marketing empire that began from humble beginnings as an industrial writer and marketing manager for an electrical appliance company. I have read his excellent books and articles over the years.  They are must-reads for anyone interested in copywriting and improving their direct marketing skills.

Now, you wouldn’t think being an engineer would make somebody a good copywriter, let alone a great copywriter.

But the fact is, the key to success as a direct-response marketer and advertiser is to approach the advertising business analytically, scientifically, precisely, relentlessly.  Attention to detail is an absolute MUST.  Measuring results and making adjustments and course corrections as needed are the hallmark of successful advertising and marketing campaigns.  And in this business, success is measured in sales (dollars and cents) not industry accolades and awards.

That is why advertising legend David Ogilvy spoke so highly of John Caples. And why he wrote, in his Foreword to Caples’ classic, Tested Advertising Methods:

“This is, without doubt, the most useful book about advertising that I have ever read.”

I am taking to heart (and head) David Ogilvy’s recommendation to emulate John Caples’ approach: be empirical, pragmatic and highly creative (which actually does make for a good engineer!). So without further ado, I will commence reading Caples’ classic, Tested Advertising Methods.  I will report back to you on my reading with a subsequent post offering a review and comments.

Stay tuned!


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