Thursday, January 11, 2007

Death of a copywriter

Over at Brand Story, I read that the writer/story teller Martin Conroy died last week. To be honest, until a few moments ago I had no idea who Martin Conroy was or why he is famous. As it turns out, he's famous for writing the "two young men" letter 28 years ago for a direct Wall Street Journal direct mail piece. A piece that is one of the longest used ads in our history. It hasn't been altered. It tells the same compelling story today as it did in 1980.

Conroy died of lung cancer last week in Connecticut at the age of 84.

His story reads:

On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college. They were very much alike, these two young men. Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both — as young college graduates are — were filled with ambitious dreams for the future.

Recently, these men returned to their college for their 25th reunion.

They were still very much alike. Both were happily married. Both had three children. And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same Midwestern manufacturing company after graduation, and were still there.

But there was a difference. One of the men was manager of a small department of that company. The other was its president.

Clearly, Conroy wrote a great story. But, I would add that he also followed a great strategy. The target is clearly defined and the Wall Street Journal is depicted in a useful way.

In The Brand Gap, Marty Neumeier says that brand messaging has evolved from saying what it is, to what it does, to how you feel, to who you are. 28 years ago I don't think it was common practice to take this kind of stance in an ad. Conroy's copy draws a clear line between the Wall Street Journal reader and nonreader. It's bold and very clear. Not everyone wants to be the president of the company, but it is nice to see yourself out ahead of the pack.

The story follows the Ruler archetype. According to Margaret Mark & Carol S. Pearson's The Hero and the Outlaw:

People with high Ruler archetype tendencies are concerned with issues of image, status, and prestige-not because they are superficial, but because the understand how the way things look can enhance power. They act with natural sense of authority that makes it easy for others to follow them. at their best, Rulers are motivated by a desire to help the world. At their worst, they are just domineering or controlling.
Conroy was clearly appealing to the Rulers. Or, at least, the part of people that desires to be a ruler. The Wall Street Journal is represented as a tool for the bosses, leaders, politicians, responsible citizens, managers and administrators among us. Great writing, clear strategy.

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