“They all laughed when I said I’d use this headline …”

“– but then it began to work!” For those of you who have made a study of ad writing, you’ll recognize the name John Caples. His work continues to be extensively studied and copied. Not too shabby for someone whose seminal book, Tested Advertising Methods, was written almost 80 years ago!

Workers or Wackers? CareerBuilder AdHow often is his work mimicked?

Well, how often have you seen an offer for a guide that offers “12 secrets to X,” or “9 tested ways to Y?” Perhaps a million times?

Each writer of those headlines was — knowingly or not — following in Caples’ footsteps. I was reminded of how common these offer headlines are, especially online, where free whitepapers abound, when I saw this recent ad for CareerBuilder (the image to the right). Thank you, by the way, to Adverlicio.us for tipping me off on this one. You can see their Flash animated version here.

And that inspired me to do a Google search for all mentions of the phrase “They all laughed when I.” These happen to be the first five words of Caples’ famous headline for a music correspondence school: “They all laughed when I sat down at the piano — but then I began to play!”

It’s a killer lead that broke all the school’s sales records, paired as it was with gutsy, testimonial-style direct response copy (example: “Someone asked about the maestro’s execution. Someone else called out ‘I’m all for it.'”).

So how many online ad writers are using this technique? The Google results suggested as many as 731 matches. Here are the top five, to give you an idea how this technique is being applied:

  • They All Laughed When I Said I Could Turn Their Relationship Around In Just 10 Minute.
  • They All Laughed When I Spoke of Greedy Doctors
  • They all laughed when I said I was going to tell a joke. Well, they’re not laughing now.
  • They All Laughed When I Sat Down at the Computer: And Other True Tales of One Man’s Struggle With Personal Computing.
  • They All Laughed When I Said I Was Going To Become A Millionaire… But Then I Did It In Only 4 Years!

And then there is this one, which comes the closest to Caples’ original (it even includes quotes, which Caples said was de rigour):

“They All Laughed When I Told Them I Don’t Spend A Penny To Promote My Website — But When I Showed Them My Web Stats!”

In what I suspect will come to be known as the Golden Age of Internet Marketing, it’s fun to see just how much hasn’t changed since advertising was in its infancy.