The Story of Two Men

By Travis Lee

As I was preparing this tip, an issue of my Dan Kennedy No B.S. Marketing Newsletter arrived.  One of the questions asked of Dan was, “Where you get good ideas.”

Dan’s answer:  “Raid the museum, go back and look at old direct response ads, to look back before you look forward.”  This is exactly what you get here.  Long time reader’s know I often reference and show old ads in this newsletter, again, because it’s better to look back first.

(You do get Dan’s newsletter don’t you?  If you don’t,you can get a two month free trial, in addition to a bunchof other goodies.  Go do this right now at this link here.

In our marketing tips last week, I showed you a classic from the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) using “the tale of two men.”  I suggest you go back and pull out that letter to remind you before reading on.  Here’s a link to that tip, as well as the classis WSJ ad.

Did you go back and read it… Good.  You’ll notice the first thing the author (Martin Conroy) did was start with a story.  It draws you in, and actually, has very little to do with the actual product being sold.  In fact, he doesn’t reveal to you that he’s selling the WSJ until the sixth paragraph.  And that is what a good story does.

When you read a book from your favorite fiction author you don’t realize how much time has passed until you look up at the clock.  While not a novel, this short story does the same thing.  It moves your mind away from the “I’m being sold something I don’t want” reaction, to reading a story.  One where you want to know the conclusion, just like a good novel

Is Conroy a genius for creating the ad?  Maybe, this letter was responsible for millions of WSJ subscriptions.  But he wasn’t the first person to use the “tale of two men” story so convincingly.  Both ran as space ads in various newspapers and magazines throughout the country.

Here’s the first example (this will open a PDF file in your browser), written by Bruce Barton in 1919 for the Alexander Hamilton Institute, one of the first and largest “self-help” companies in the early 20th century.  See anything similar to the WSU tale of two men story?  It opens with:

“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.”

Now check out this one.  Again, is should look very similar at the beginning.  This ad was used in 1918 to sell the Roth Memory System and told the story of two clerks.  In fact, the subheading reads:

The story of two clerks in New York City who started together a few years ago, side by side, each earning $12 a week.

Need even further proof the “tale of two men” still works today?  The entire “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” empire was built on the core of a simple story about two men, which spawned even more books, seminars, courses, and more, making Robert Kiyosaki a very rich man.

Here are a few more takeaways from the two  ads.  First, these are pure lead generation ads, with both offering FREE material, the Civil War ad sells a free 112-page book, “Forging Ahead in Business,” and the memory ad sells the Seven Lesson Roth Memory Course.

The memory course does ask to send $5 once you’ve reviewed the course and find it to your liking.  However, I doubt they expected anybody to send in money.  They wanted the lead, and if they didn’t send the course back they were likely a very good candidate to buy other tools in the same genre.

I love this little bit of take away selling from exhibit 2, in the closing paragraph “…mail the coupon today – NOW – but don’t put it off and forget – as those who need the course the very worst are apt to do.”  What an ingenious way to impress a sense of urgency while, at the same time, restating the value of your product.  How can you use this in your copy?

Both ads also use subheads incredible well.  I especially like the memory ad:

  • A Good Memory is Not a Gift”
  • “What 15 Minutes Will Do”
  • “Try Before You Buy”
  • “Send No Money”

Storytelling goes back to our cavemen ancestors.  People are drawn to them and you’d be silly to try and fight this natural human instinct.  I’m willing to bet the “story of two men” is etched on a wall in a cave somewhere.  It’s been around that long.  For your next letter or ad, consider using a story instead of rambling off stats, features, benefits etc.  You may be surprised with the response.

Add Your Comments