The Original Copywriting Superstar

Steve Roller here …

I love reading the old copywriting classics.

Regardless of how old the book is or how outdated the examples, I always come away with a new idea that I can apply to my business.

Breakthrough Advertising, Tested Advertising Methods, The Robert Collier Letter Book, Scientific Advertising, and Ogilvy on Advertising are five of the best, all written by copywriting legends.

But who was the original copywriting superstar?

Eugene Schwartz? John Caples? Robert Collier? Claude Hopkins? David Ogilvy?

All good guesses, and each a genius in his own right.

But to answer the question, I’d go back a bit further … and since this is "Independence Week" here at The Writer's Life, you can probably guess where I'm going with this.

I consider Benjamin Franklin the original copywriting superstar.

Here's why …

Franklin is remembered most as an inventor, statesman, and diplomat.

But if he hadn't been a writer, those things may have never happened.

Franklin only had two years of formal schooling and taught himself to write. The New England Courant published his first article when he was only 16.

At the age of 22, he became the publisher of a newspaper called The Pennsylvania Gazette. Five years later, he started writing Poor Richard's Almanac under the pseudonym Richard Saunders. From 1733-1758, it sold almost 10,000 copies per year.

It was these two publications that gave Franklin a forum for his writing. The Gazette and Poor Richard's Almanac allowed him to start selling his ideas.

"Selling in print" – we've heard that definition of copywriting before, right?

There are four things about Benjamin Franklin's writing that we can apply two and a half centuries later:

  1. Try to get ahead of the curve. Franklin was ahead of his time with his ideas about colonial unity, self-governance, and the cultural movement in general of the American Enlightenment. What can you get "ahead of the curve" on? Is there an emerging copywriting niche that hasn't been flooded yet? Do you have a different angle on an already established area? Look into trends, and like Franklin, capitalize on them.
  2. Develop a unique voice in the marketplace. Franklin used the pseudonym Richard Saunders in Poor Richard's Almanac. Saunders was a somewhat funny and intelligent country fellow who believed in hard work and simple living. It helped Franklin sell a quarter-million copies and left us with the proverb, "Early to bed, early to rise … " How would someone describe your natural copywriting voice? Claim this style and be yourself.
  3. Use your writing to build other business interests. Franklin became wealthy in large part from printing and publishing. Do you have some big ideas you could use your copywriting skills for? Do you have a book inside of you? Maybe an idea for a self-publishing niche? Once you know how to "sell in print," doors of opportunity will open. Look for one way you can parlay your copywriting skills into a further business venture.
  4. Keep it simple. Franklin stuck to one simple writing rule: Make it smooth, clear, and short. Still good advice today.

If these four ideas intrigue you, check out The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (not a light summer beach read, though).

What's on your summer reading list? Copywriting, marketing, or otherwise (even a good fluffy novel!)? Let me know by posting a comment below, or tell me about your favorite copywriting book of all time.

And consider learning a thing or two from a modern-day Benjamin Franklin this summer …

Nick Usborne has been a web writer ahead of the curve for almost fifteen years now. He's developed a unique voice in the marketplace. And he's definitely used his writing to build other profitable business interests.

His program, Copywriting 2.0, is the definitive guide to web copywriting. And this week, you can save $100, plus get a bonus 3-day webinar series with Nick, How to Discover a Profitable Niche - free.

Day one will help you uncover step by step a web writing niche that's both profitable and right for you.

Who knows? Look where the whole writing thing took Benjamin Franklin …

The Digital Copywriter's Handbook

The Digital Copywriter's Handbook

Learn how to become an in-demand online copywriter for companies big and small. Online copywriting expert Nick Usborne shows you how to write web copy that converts. Learn More »

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Published: July 5, 2011

3 Responses to “The Original Copywriting Superstar”

  1. I love those four fantastic ideas! As with all fundamentals, they aren't new but you've presented them very well. I've added The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin to my Amazon cart and will see what other ideas are buried inside.

    Thank you!

    Vanessa Long

  2. You have convinced me to read, "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin." The history of our founders have always fascinated me, especially Benjamin Franklin.I found PDF copies of Ben’s autobiography online and downloaded it. I own a hard copy of “Breakthrough Advertising by E. M. Schwartz,” and will read both books for my summer reading. Hoping to get ahead of the curve.


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