A tale of 2 young men. Known also as the wall street journal sales letter…

What has a story about these 2 fine gentlemen got to do with marketing people from freelance copywriters to professional agencies today?

Nothing much actually… except that it was a 2-page letter which brought in over $2 Billion dollars of sales for the Wall Street Journal publication over a period of almost 30 years. With very little edits during its run. This is why it is continuously used and referenced against. And to a certain extent… it’s the goal of any copywriter. To create a control that can withstand the ultimate test… time.

But what made this letter great?

Interestingly, it is believed that its writer, the late Martin Conroy, actually swiped the idea from older ads. In fact, doesn’t this title sound familiar?

A Tale of 2 Cities.

The famous novel by Charles Dickens.

And that’s the beauty about sales letters… many of the ideas doesn’t have to be original. You can take existing ideas and convert it into a powerful and persuasive message. First you need to understand the sales concept.

So let’s dive into this copy.

A Captivating Story Lead-in

Read this amazing lead and think about what made it so popular:

Dear Reader:

On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college. They were very much alike, these two young men.

Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both -– as young college graduates are — were filled with ambitious dreams for the future.

Recently, these men returned to their college for their 25th reunion.

They were still very much alike.

Both were happily married. Both had three children. And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same Midwestern manufacturing company after graduation, and were still there.

But there was a difference. One of the men was manager of a small department of that company. The other was its president.

Notice how the story is easily relatable. Most people have been through college, especially in Singapore. So as a graduate, you’ll immediately relate with the 2 characters Martin was writing about. It is true that as a young graduate, you’ll naturally believe you can accomplish anything. Yet the reality tend to prove otherwise. Which our heroes discovered 25 years later.

And that’s where the story gets interesting…

Despite the years that have passed, both of them were still very similar. Then the twist comes in…

One of them was working for the other. This naturally raises the question which they posed as their first sub-heading…

What Made The Difference

Have you ever wondered, as I have, what makes this kind of difference in people’s lives?  It isn’t always a native intelligence or talent or dedication. It isn’t that one person wants success and the other doesn’t.

The difference lies in what each person knows and how he or she makes use of that knowledge.

And that is why I am writing to you and to people like you about The Wall Street Journal. For that is the whole purpose of The Journal: To give its readers knowledge – knowledge that they can use in business.

At this point, his reader is thinking… there must be something one of them did differently to achieve this result. And he agrees with them. The 1 single difference was a subscription to the Journal.

But what made it so powerful?

Copywriting Ninja Art: Transmutation

Again he uses another copywriting technique known as transmutation. Take a look:

A Publication Unlike Any Other

You see, The Wall Street Journal is a unique publication. It’s the country’s only national business daily. Each business day, it is put together by the world’s largest staff for business-news experts.

Each business day, The Journal’s pages include a broad range of information of interest and significance to business-minded people, no matter where it comes from. Not just stocks and finance, but anything and everything in the whole, fast-moving world of business … The Wall Street Journal gives you all the business news you need — when you need it.

Knowledge Is Power

Right now, I am reading page one of The Journal. It combines all the important news of the day with in-depth feature reporting. Every phase of business news is covered, from articles on inflation, wholesale prices, car prices, tax incentives for industries to major developments in Washington, and elsewhere.

And there is page after page inside The Journal filled with fascinating and significant information that’s useful to you. A daily column on personal money management helps you become a smarter saver, better investor, wiser spender. There are weekly columns on small business, marketing, real estate, technology, regional developments. If you have never read The Wall Street Journal, you cannot imagine how useful it can be to you.

Much of the information that appears in The Journal appears nowhere else. The Journal is printed in numerous plants across the United States, so that you get it early each business day.

Notice how you aren’t just subscribing to another publication? Instead what you’re purchasing is knowledge. That’s what buying. And not just any knowledge, but the knowledge of some of the most successful people. This is why they’re all successful and it is possibly the reason why you’ll be successful as well.

A common sales mistake many marketers make (both offline and online) is to promote the features of their product. They fail to help their audience visualise the many benefits they’ll be receiving. This is where great salesman understand the power of perceived value. Especially before the close.

A Fantastic Offer You Can’t Get Anywhere Else

Ask anyone who practices direct response copywriting and they’ll tell you the most important part of a copy is your offer. You could have a weak copy that isn’t persuasive but if you have a strong offer… people will still buy from you. This is where using a technique like transmutation will drive up your value. Your audience will be hungry for your offer even before you mention your price. Once you’ve done that… as Martin Convoy did here… you can bring in the price.

A $28 Subscription

Put our statements to the proof by subscribing for the next 13 weeks for just $28. This is the shortest subscription term we offer – and a perfect way to get acquainted with The Journal.

Or you may prefer to take advantage of a longer-term subscription for greater savings: an annual subscription at $107 saves you $20 off The Journal’s cover price. Our best
buy -— two years for $185 – saves you a
full $69!

Simply fill out the endorsed order card and mail it in the postage-paid envelope provided. And here’s The Journal guarantee: Should The Journal not measure up to your expectations, you may cancel this trial arrangement at any point and receive a refund for the undelivered portion of your subscription.

If you feel as we do that this is a fair and reasonable proposition, then you will want to find out without delay if The Wall Street Journal can do for you what it is doing for millions of readers. So please mail the enclosed order card now, and we will start serving you immediately.

About those two college classmates, I mention at the beginning of this letter. They graduated from college together and together got started in the business world. So what made their lives in business different?

Knowledge. Useful knowledge. And its application.

Here again another secret technique was used. He had just closed a loop. Throughout the copy, he had been implying the reason for the president’s success. You may have also started to come to your own conclusion. But he never did state the reason. Until now. Here he confirmed that the secret to success was knowledge. That is why he succeeded and became a president of the company.

Injecting a Disclaimer

There is a risk to using this technique. You may paint a picture where your audience expects a little too much. So you need to manage their expectations. Here’s what he did in this copy:

An Investment In Success

I cannot promise you that success will be instantly yours if you start reading The Wall Street Journal. But I can guarantee that you will find The Journal always interesting, always reliable, and always useful.

Sincerely Yours,

Peter R. Kann

Executive Vice President/

Associate Publisher



P.S. It’s important to note that The Journal’s subscription price may be tax-deductible.

Final note about the Wall Street Journal Sales Letter

As you search for this copy online, you’ll find some variations to the copy. As with any letter, the writer will do split-test to fight the control. This copy wasn’t any different. However, after years of testing, the control beat many other variations that came after it. This is why it ran continuously for many years before finally retiring in 2003.

That’s the true mark of a great sales letter.

If you’re interested to read another review of this copy, Mike Schauer from SwipedCo, did a great job analysing the copy. And you can even download a pdf version on his page.