A version of this entry was originally posted on December 26, 2006 at the old Brandstory blog (link available for a limited time).
Last week, Martin Conroy, the man famous for writing the “two young men” letter for The Wall Street Journal, passed away (New York Times article). The letter was used by The Journal continuously for twenty-eight years and is revered by writers in direct response advertising for its creativity and success. It is the longest running direct response letter ever used, and has been called the most successful advertisement ever run. I still have a copy of the letter in my swipe file.
Why was this letter so successful? Because it tells a compelling, relevant story. And it sold subscriptions. Millions of them. One source says it was directly responsible for bringing in more than a billion dollars.
The letter reads:
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.
What Made The Difference?
Have you ever wondered, as I have, what makes this kind of difference in people’s lives? It isn’t 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.
The Times quotes Direct Response Guru, Alan Rosenspan, who uses the letter in his seminars, saying: “I ask people to read out loud the first paragraph of the letter. And what’s astonishing to me is that they never stop at the first paragraph. They keep on reading. And I tell them: ‘You have just proven why this letter’s so powerful. It’s a story.’ ”
Sifting through the stack of junk mail (credit card solicitations, non-profit fund raisers, cable subscription offers) on my desk this morning, I wish there were more writers like Martin Conroy who believed in telling a relevant story. Sadly, they are, very literally, a dying breed.