Making Ads Pay: Timeless Tips for Successful Copywriting

by John Caples

John Caples was a pioneer of direct-response copywriting.  In Chapter 8 he presents as series of paired ads which were tested, followed by analysis of why the winning ads outperformed.  The winner often outperformed the other by a wide margin—up to five times as many responses.

Caples emphasizes the importance of headlines throughout the book.  “If the headline doesn’t induce reading, it doesn’t matter what the copy says. Because copy that isn’t read, can’t sell.”  He suggests starting the body copy by continuing the thought from the headline. “You will never lose a reader in the first paragraph by amplifying the idea which stopped him in the first place.”

The author cautions that clever ads tend to underperform because they lose clarity. He observed that “so-called clever ads are sometimes published for products where it is impossible to check sales results from ads.”

Caples retired as Creative Director of BBDO in 1982 after 56 years in the advertising business; he died in 1990.  The world has changed a lot since he wrote this book in 1957. While his ad copy is dated, his focus on copy testing and conversion is as relevant as ever. “Styles may change in advertising, but not the basic principles.”

Caples, John. Making Ads Pay: Timeless Tips for Successful Copywriting. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 2011. Buy from

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