Best direct mail headlines

If you read nothing else here, read this tribute to the remarkable Bill Bernbach.

I found several sites claiming to house the world’s best advertising headlines. One is something of a misfire. Yes, I would read — make that have read — these headlines, and their ads, probably in an advertorial in older issues of Reader’s Digest. Here’s an example:


This must be from the 50’s or early 60’s. $2.50 is the full price of the best seller. Nowadays, the local used bookstore charges more for worn, old paperbacks with torn covers.

Or this one:


This to me conjures up the original version of the 1896 Sears catalog, the one with all the pages missing.

Incredibly, the site seems to be run by a writer in his forties, and not by John Caples, the dean of American direct response advertising who passed away in 1990 at the age of 90.

You may not know the name, but he started the idea of rigorously testing direct mail copy, so that the direct mail that covers America is the most likely to make you get your checkbook. He wrote “They laughed when I sat down at the piano, but when I started to play ….”

You often hear that he wrote that super pulling ad, but you don’t hear that he wrote it two months into his 50-year copywriting career in 1925. See his Tested Advertising Methods, first published in 1974 and never out of print since then.

Or get a copy of his first book, co-written by Bruce Barton (who is the second B in BBDO) Advertising for Immediate Sales, $355 in a first edition from 1936.

For more on John Caples’ life and career, see this research.

For lighter reading, catch this at It lists the the Top Ten Advertising Icons and it doesn’t mention John Caples or David Ogilvy or even Bill Bernbach once.

How is that possible? Ten advertising icons and they missed these greats? That’s easy. These icons aren’t real people, they are imaginary characters that represent their brands — like the Marlboro Man and the Green Giant.

I recommend if you are looking for any out of print book on advertising or anything else, go to the Addall used and out of print (or OOP among book people) book search engine. There’s the other in-print book search as well at, which is more about saving a few bucks than discovering a tough-to-find classic or irreplaceable rarity.