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The Secret That Makes Copy Soar

Published by: David Garfinkel on 02-22-2021

We are back with another show in the Old Masters series. Today it’s How I Learned The Secrets of Success in Advertising, by G. Lynn Sumner.

Guy Sumner originally published the book in 1952, and it was recently reissued. You can get it on Amazon now. We’ll put a link in the show notes.

I only heard about this book from friend of the podcast Don Hauptman. The author Sumner was really an Old Master -- here’s an article about him from the New York Times of May 15, 1940, announcing he was re-elected as president of the Advertising Club of New York. That was 81 years ago!

There’s one secret that’s particularly important, as important today as it was when the book was written. It has to do with the one thing that separates ordinary copy from blockbuster copy, and that’s imagination. Sumner has some great ideas about how to develop it, and that’s what we’ll talk about today.

A lot of people believe that imagination in advertising is just coming up with some wild and crazy idea… throwing it up against the wall… and then hoping and praying it will stick.

The problem is, sometimes it does, but almost all the time, it doesn’t.

Let’s talk about how to vastly increase your odds by using your imagination to increase sales.
We’ll start with an important question:

What is creative thinking?

Some creative people truly believe creative thinking is a magic thing you can’t describe, learn or teach. And for them, that may be true.

A lot of people who haven’t learned how to think creatively yet think the same thing.

So what follows from this is the idea: “Creativity — either you get it, or you don’t.”

Guy Sumner doesn’t see it that way, and neither do I. Sumner says, “It is taking known facts, known elements, known functions and arranging them in new patterns.”

He admits this is not easy, because it requires focused thinking to do this rearrangement.

Now, what about creativity and copy?

That’s where Sumner talks about another important quality, imagination.

If creativity is the lab where new stuff gets designed, imagination is the art department where it gets put together in the most appealing way.

Stated another way, imagination is what you use to make your creativity add value to your copy.

Sumner talks about watching his mother make a cake. The flour, sugar and eggs would just sit there in the pan. The flour, sugar and eggs were the creativity.

Then, his mom would in that magic ingredient, baking powder. Then, when you put it in the oven, the ingredients would rise and form a delicious cake!

Sumner goes on to say that imagination is the “baking powder” of copy.

We go on to detail the four steps of feeding the imagination that leads to blockbuster copy ideas. I know from personal experience, and the experiences of my clients, that these are as good today as they were in the 1940s and 1950s, when Sumner was writing about them.

Here’s the link to Sumner’s book:

How I Learned The Secrets of Success In Advertising:

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