The book featured in this post, Advertisement Copy Writing by J C Toohill
A copywriters’ bible from 1926

The business of the copy writer is to arrange these marks(1) on paper in such a manner as to make the world stand still for the man in the next street or a thousand miles away – to make him forget his wife and his income tax, his hobby and his business – to isolate him in a new world where the only fact of vital importance is that Porkin’s pickles contain no artificial preservatives, or that Blogg’s bed slats have been reduced four shillings a gross.

 It is such a miraculous thing that we can, by shuffling and re-shuffling these little signs, make a person whom we have never seen, laugh, cry or buy our goods, that it will be worth our while to find from whence came this power.”

This is an extract from The Art of Advertisement Copy Writing by J C Toohill, published in 1926. Almost 100 years ago.

And in all that time the only change I can see for copywriters is that now we also arrange our marks on screen (apart from the move to a decimal currency and probably the demise in the market for bed slats).

This is something to celebrate

Some people think of copywriting as a dark art, the cunning manipulation of people to buy what they neither want nor need.

But they’re wrong.

Yes, we measure the success of our copywriting in sales. And we can influence how people think or act to make sales.

But the most effective copywriting is still, simply, communication at its finest.

It’s listening to people and taking the time to get to know them. To understand, inform and move them.

It’s straight speaking. Cutting through the crap and saying it like it is.

Some things never change

The world around us is constantly changing, becoming noisier, faster, fuller. We’re conducting our relationships in different ways. Our family structures are shifting. Turbulent economies are forcing us to find new ways to live and work.

But in all this turmoil, our basic human nature stays the same. And as copywriters, we know this. So we connect with people as we always have done. Using simple language to make people we’ve never met stop for a moment. Nod their heads. Perhaps laugh, or cry. And buy our clients’ goods.

Long live the copywriter!

(1) He is referring to, ‘26 letters and 12 little black marks of punctuation or division – not an imposing array.’


Hello. I’m Sarah Russell, a freelance creative copywriter.

I’m of a certain age.

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