Creative Advertising vs Direct Response Advertisting 

 December 27, 2011

By  Gavriel Shaw

From a one hundred year background in advertising, gleaned by studying the history of direct response (mail order, direct mail, and print advertising)… our position on ‘creative’ advertising is this:

Combining an accurate well researched copy platform with the right mix of campaign execution, is far from being ‘creative’.

This is vitally important to any marketer or sales copywriter.

‘Creative’ agencies often miss the potency and necessity of tying the product with the markets state of awareness (needs/wants) and their level of sophistication (how defined the offer is, how many times the prospect has been exposed to it, or similar offers from competitors).

You might be interested to know that David Ogilvy quoted Rosser Reeves as saying

“creativity is the most dangerous word in advertising”.


Because it is equally important for innovative marketing success as it is a cause for possible marketing failure.

Advertising and marketing must suitably match the buying process of the target market.

It is from that direct response copywriting perspective that allowed me the 510% response increase (1900% ROI) at an Ad Agency – after which the Marketing Director had me prepare copywriting training for her staff.

Read on for notes taken from one of the legends of direct response advertising Eugene Schwartz from a presentation he made to Rodale Publishing.

Breakthrough Advertising Secrets – Gene Schwartz

I have about an 85% hit ratio.

Working with a client

“I’m going to sit and I’m going to listen and you’re going to talk… He talked about four hours… And I just sat there… taking notes.

I wrote the ad (that night). I couldn’t give it to him that same night because he would thin it was worth nothing. So I put it away for two weeks, and seent it to him.

It was his thing. It was his idea. It was his conception. It was his vision. All I did was write it out.

Writing process

After 33.33 minutes, the alarm goes and you stop. You don’t do anything from that moment on, for 5 minutes.

If you are in the middle of a sentence you really leave that sentence go. If you lose it, you list it. That’s too bad. You are under the command of something higher than you.

Simple, dramatic, move-gut copy.

I do ugly layouts. Why? Because in a beautiful world, ugly stands out.

I read the book. Four times. I underline so intensely that I get 40 or 50 pages of notes out of those readings.

Find your readers hidden desires. They are hidden, because your reader doesn’t want to really talk about them, but they are in the subculture, hidden culture, under-culture of our civiliisation. That’s why you’ve got to read the things that people buy. Anything that people buy. Vanity Fair. You’ve got to read Vanity Fair, People Magazine, The Weekly World News… because it shows the extend of people’s ability to believe.

You have no client but the audience.

Creation vs Connecting

Creation is a lousy word. It’s a lousy word that confuses what you really do to perform a simple little procedure. Creation means create something out of nothing… only God can do that

Let’s talk about connectivity – connecting things together. New means never joined before.

The creativity is in your market and in your product, and all you are doing is joining the two together.

Prospect Insight

One hour a day, read. Read everything in the world except your business. Read junk. Very much junk. Read so that anything that interests you will stick in your memory. … Get all the very low stuff. Low culture makes big money. There is your audience. There is the language. There are the words that they use.

Everybody you’re out there writing to is a good soul. They really want to be nice, honest and successful. They want to be happy.

Listen. And every time they say something, you nod. And memorize specific statements, so you can feed them back to them in the same conversation. In that way, the person goes into a talking frenzy…. People become hypnotized by their own stories.

He may logically know he can’t do that, but he would love to do it… People want to believe.

You are presenting a showcase for your product. … You want the person to be able to look through the copy like the person is able to look through the glass in athe showcase and see the prodcut inside.

Let’s talk about ‘finding’ the headline. (not creating!) The headline depends strictly on how long it gets you to stop the person and get them going… a headline doesn’t sell. It has nothing to do with selling… You must prepare. You’ve got a whole mailing piece to sell. The more tie you have, the more you can sell.

Adjectives are where you carry your emotion. Adjectives are gut words. Description words. Feelings words. Very important words.

You are not writing to a private person. You are not writing to a bunch of people. You are writing to a number of people who share a private want. Remebmer that… And you are addressing them as if they were the only person in the world.

You grab their attention. You send them into the mechanism. The first reward; pain-proof. Now that you’ve got proof, you’ve got to demonstrate. Demonstration is a form of proof… Demonstrations are sending the products to the person.

It can be very hard if you work at it too hard. It can be very easy if you flow along with it. You can’t create demand for anything because demand is too large for you to create. The demand has to exist before you even walk into the picture… If the demand isn’t there, no matter how great a copywriter you are, you are going to fail. You cannot create demand. You can only channel demand.


I’ve been doing copy now for 35 years. I’ve sold millions and millions and millions of things. What does my experience allow me to say about the power of an ad? … Absolutely nothing!

You must remember that. You don’t know anything about how an ad is going to pull. The only way you can tell is to get a test cell.

Copywriters should be completely conversant with statistics and returns.

I don’t believe in focus groups or anything else. Only the test can decide.

Copywriters are crazy. And you want them crazy. They go for the big kill.

Gavriel Shaw

Gavriel has product and marketing expertise from a variety of roles, including CMO, Head of Growth, Head of Marketing, eCommerce Director, Web Marketing Director, Product Marketing Manager, and Senior Copywriter in various sectors, both B2C and B2B.

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