Sunday, July 4, 2010

What Tom, Ben and John Know About Marketing

I wrote this years ago when I was in the Marketing Consulting business. (with liberal passages taken from the excellent business author Roy Williams) A friend asked me to re-post it here. It was written for marketing professionals, so it's a little out of place. Still, I think it's a good story, and I think of it when the 4th rolls around. I hope you enjoy it.

Tom had a problem. No one had ever had the job of producing so much with such a tight deadline. Tom was a copywriter, and the marketing piece he had to write was the most important job of his young life. He could not believe how much responsibility had been placed on his shoulders. “But there is so little time”, Tom thought. “Just days to write something that will change my life forever.” Tom stayed up through the night laboring over the job. The sun was high in the sky when he finally collapsed into his bed.

Later that day, Tom showed his work to his partners Ben and John. They were impressed, but they had several suggestions to make the ad stronger. It simply had to be. The client was tough and their careers, and much more, were on the line. They worked feverishly into the night. They knew that the words that they wrote had to persuade people as they had never been persuaded before. In the quiet hours before dawn they finally finished. It was done.

The next day he it was time to present the ad. That job would fall to Ben, the oldest member of the group. As Ben stood to make the presentation his large hand trembled a bit, his audience was tough, smart and discerning, and he was very unsure of how they would react.

Ben cleared his throat and in the strongest voice he could muster began reading the ad:

“When in the Course of Human Events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another…”

His audience sat up, many piercing eyes locked on him. They were riveted, transfixed by his words. Ben continued,his voice gaining power and confidence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

You see, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams knew that the ad they had to write, the advertisement for the establishment of a new nation, could only work if the words they wrote had such power and such eloquence as to sway the minds of their countrymen. They must sway their minds regardless of the fact that to respond to this “ad”, this call to arms, this Declaration of Independence, would make them the targets of the most powerful nation on earth. The words had to be so influential as to convince men to sign their name to what would be their death sentence if they failed. But, Tom, Ben and John were masters of their craft. Few before or since have so understood the unimaginable power of the word.

The Energy of Words
You study pivotal people and events in history, searching for a common denominator. You strive to identify the recurrent elements of greatness, the keys to phenomenal success. You search for the secret of miracles. After years of study and hundreds of books read, you reach an utterly escapable conclusion: words are the most powerful force there has ever been.

Monumental events explode with energetic words, and great leaders are remembered for the things they say. Although a grand idea may carry the seeds of change, it takes powerful words to launch the idea skyward, words strong enough to carry the full weight of vision. Likewise, great ad campaigns begin with grand ideas and come alive with vivid words.

Oddly enough, most businesspeople have fabulous ideas; they simply don’t have the words. Their wonderful ideas are sadly short-circuited when they cannot find the words to carry them forward.

Words are electric; they should be chosen for the emotional voltage they carry. Weak and predictable words cause grand ideas to appear so dull that they fade into the darkness of oblivion. But powerful words in unusual combinations brightly illuminate the mind.

Yes, words are electric. If a sentence does not shock a little, it carries no emotional voltage. When the hearer is not jolted, you can be sure he is not moved. Remember the words of Napoleon: “Small plans do not inflame the hearts of men.”

Words start wars and end them, create love and choke it, bring us to laughter and joy and tears. Words cause men and women to willingly risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Our world, as we know it, revolves around the power of words.

In your advertising, use words that are majestic, words that have the power to inflame people’s hearts and illuminate their minds.

Remember Tom, Ben and John on this 4th of July weekend. It’s their gift to you. And remember that powerful words, properly delivered, can move mountains, change history, or… birth a new nation.

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.
-Rudyard Kipling

Of Further Interest for the Historically Minded
Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died.

Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.

Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured.

Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.

They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

What kind of men were they?

Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners; men of means, well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.

Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.

Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.

At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.

Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.

John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year, he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later, he died from exhaustion and a broken heart.

Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.

Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. These were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more.

Standing straight and unwavering, they pledged: "For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

They gave you and I a free and independent America. If you were educated in the American school system in the last 40 years you likely never learned a great deal about what happened in the Revolutionary War. We didn't fight just the British. We were British subjects at that time and we fought our own government!

How many of us today take these liberties, bought with blood and grief and death, for granted? How many of us would fight for them today? How many of us realize that they are slipping away?


  1. Thanks for posting this Gary, it's one of the coolest things I've read about the 4th.!

  2. Cool post Gary! Thanks - John V.

  3. I read this every 4th of July since you sent me a copy three years ago. Very cool post G!