Yesterday was a rare day when I went to look at server stats and noticed hundreds of visitors came to my blog via an article in “The Guardian” by Tom Meltzer entitled:
“The advert that just keeps going: It’s probably the longest-running ad in newspaper history. So what’s the secret of its success?”
Tom Meltzer’s article was eyebrow-raising for two reasons.
First, I was blissfully unaware of this “longest running ad” which supposedly originated from across the pond in England and is going on fifty years of insertions, ten years longer than copywriter Max Sackheim’s effort for the Sherwin Cody School of English, immortalized by the headline: “Do You Make These Mistakes In English?”
Second, the honest-to-a-fault publisher of this ad comes right out and reveals “the original ad was written by an American copywriter for a company called Marcus Campbell in Chicago,” he says. “We . . . well, the correct word is plagiarized, we plagiarized that ad – considerably amended, of course – in about 1960.”
I’m not sure whether the guy should be put in the stockade for a week or given a medal but in the article, he validates two timeless direct response advertising truths.
1) Your profits are highly dependent on negotiating rates well beneath the quoted ones.
2) If you have a successful ad (uh, advert) you will get tired of the ad long before the marketplace does.
And now onto the big question.
Which is really the longest running print ad in history?
The Guardian cites the ad for the (P.E.P.) Practical English Programme as having run continuously since 1960 and the face in the photo above, the then out of work accountant Derek Derbyshire, as having appeared on the front page of the Daily Telegraph “more often than the Queen, Tony Blair, or even Posh Spice.”
Ultimately, the question is a moot one because the whole idea for the product and copy had been worked as early as 1919 by Sherwin Cody and his adman, Max Sackheim. Not only are the product and ad copy for the Practical English Programme derivative of Sherwin Cody’s but so is the testing methodology for headlines and pictures.
Interestingly, the reason “Do You Make These Mistakes In English?” ceased running in 1960 — the year the P.E.P. ad debuted — was not because it fatigued or because improving one’s English was no longer a viable niche topic in America.
It was simply that Sherwin Cody had finally died at the ripe old age of 90 in April of 1959 and his company was sold to a nameless entrepreneur whose first official act as purchaser was to retire the “mistakes In English” headline.
Here’s the explanation given in 1962 by this dolt for the ages: “Other people may think it’s a great slogan,” he said . “But I think it’s old-fashioned — it no longer does the job.”