John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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An advertising copywriter’s bookshelf: recommended books

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For information useful to an advertising copywriter – and, for that matter, to anyone in advertising – here is a short list of books that I seem to pull out on a regular basis. In listing these books, I’ve deliberately neglected the traditional bibliographical format because I’m sure there are newer editions on bookseller’s shelves than on my own.

Advertising Technique:
Many of these are unashamedly old books, and yes, I do read current business best-sellers. It strikes me time and again that new books on marketing, advertising, and sales usually consist of old ideas, regurgitated in the latest techno/psycho-babble. If that proves anything, it’s that our tools have evolved more-rapidly than our selves. No matter how much the tools of advertising change, the thinking that makes it successful remains essentially the same.

Harry Beckwith, Selling the Invisible: a field guide to modern marketing
Carl von Clausewitz, On War
Claude Hopkins, Scientific Advertising
John Lyons, Guts: advertising from the inside out
Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore: The Medium is the Massage: an inventory of effects
David Ogilvy, Ogilvy On Advertising
Al Ries & Jack Trout, Positioning: the battle for your mind
Kenneth Roman and Jane Maas, How To Advertise
Hank Seiden, Advertising Pure and Simple
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Business/Life Skills:
Advertising is a people business. That’s true whether you’re working face-to-face as part of a copywriter/art director team, or writing an ad that’ll be read, viewed, heard, or downloaded by millions. People are not persuaded en masse; they are persuaded (by the millions) one at a time.

Dale Carnegie, How To Win Friends and Influence People
George S. Clason, The Richest Man in Babylon
Herb Cohen, You Can Negotiate Anything
Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

You’ll look a long time before you find a better, more-comprehensive collection of examples of powerful copywriting than any Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog from around 1900, when mail order was the Internet of the day, photo reproduction was expensive, and every sale hung on the copywriter’s skill. The language might be dated, but the copywriting is honed to a razor’s edge. That said, most advertising copywriting guidebooks boil down to the directives contained in these tightly written books.

Victor O. Schwab, How to Write A Good Advertisement
William Strunk and E.B. White, The Elements of Style

Every copywriter has good concept days and mediocre concept days. These books are what you need to turn a mediocre day into a good day.

Roger von Oech, A Whack on the Side of the Head
Roger von Oech, A Kick in the Seat of the Pants

Life In Advertising:
Here’s some light reading for your next coffee break, each written by creative giants who were copywriters. The anecdotes contain valuable case studies.

Jerry Della Femina, From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor
David Ogilvy, Confessions of an Advertising Man
Luke Sullivan, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This

Advertising trade publications are interesting for the gossip or the classifieds, but otherwise relatively useless to the advertising copywriter. Most news weeklies are useful for their studies of popular culture, but are nothing you’d archive. A subscription to Reader’s Digest, however, is essential to anyone in advertising. First and foremost, it’s a direct line to middle America, which wields the economic clout that drives most U.S. marketing efforts. Even if you’re niche marketing, you need to be aware of where the baseline lies. Second, it’s a quick read that includes a wide range of subjects (including the vocabulary-enriching Word Power feature). Third, the front cover remains one of the best living examples of headline writing. Fourth, it’s small, so you can keep a year’s worth stacked on the toilet tank. That’s handy when it’s August and you’re trying to get into the mood to write holiday ads.

Reference Books:
One thing about being an advertising copywriter: you never know when you’re going to need to learn something about, say, the habits of wildebeest. Despite the power of web search, it’s good to have some reference books at hand:

One last word.
Reading about advertising is fun. But creating advertising - exciting, effective advertising – is even more fun. That’s why I like being an advertising copywriter.

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Advertising strategy and other lies
Brands and branding: a white paper
Do you make these mistakes in advertising?
Free (yes, free) advertising copywriting resources
Four ad copy traps that ensnare even experienced copywriters
How to become an advertising copywriter
How to take your copywriting portfolio to the next level
How to write a brochure: advice from an advertising copywriter
How to write better ads
Long John Silver on writing ads
More career advice: what’s it like being an advertising copywriter?
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part I: starting the enterprise
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part II: the entrepreneurial character
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part III: growing the enterprise
The ART of repurposing marketing copy (Or, why you shouldn’t use brochure copy as web content)
The economy (and what to do about it)
The Tightwad Marketing project
When you should consider hiring a freelance copywriter
Advertising copywriting mentorship
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