#156 Blog Post — Tuesday, 17 May 2022
Posted by Denny Hatch
Remembering Ed McLean and His
First and Greatest Direct Mail Letter
Peggy Hatch and Ed McLean
Once upon a time, if a marketer wanted to make an offer, lists were
selected and a copywriter hired. In the 1960s, legendary freelance copywriter
Ed McLean was commissioned to write a direct mail subscription letter for Newsweek. At the time he wrote it,
McLean was new to the business and became fascinated with the whole concept of
lists in a long discussion with Red Dembner, Newsweek’s
circulation director. McLean’s letter began:
If the list upon which I found your name is any indication, this is not the first -- nor will it be the last -- subscription letter you receive. Quite frankly, your education and income set you apart from the general population and make you a highly-rated prospect for everything from magazines to mutual funds.
nothing in the annals of direct mail has been more widely copied than this lead
paragraph of a letter used by Newsweek magazine for nearly 15 years.”
—Dick Hodgson, The Greatest Direct
Mail Sales Letters of All Time
It was an offbeat approach—one
that both flattered the reader and, at the same time, let prospects in on
how they came to receive the solicitation. It was masterful feelgood copy. Implied
but not said: “Gosh, I’m in awe of who you are and what you are accomplishing
Many people wrote in to ask what
list they were on. A few complained.
Many, many more responded by subscribing to the magazine. It was a long,
long, long-term control for many years and was mailed in the tens of millions.
Here's How Ed McLean Described It
Red's senior copywriters thought the copy approach was infantile and amateurish.
Red insisted upon testing the new approach — which he dubbed the "sincere" letter — and a five-way copy test that fall proved him right.
I brought the opening paragraph and the five remaining paragraphs of page one to the copy test meeting — along with 17 other ideas and openings. The reaction from the other copywriters in the room — all the old-timers — was negative. But Red liked the approach and told me to develop it further.
That turned out to be anything but easy. The personal approach of the opening might get me to look at the letter, I was sure. But what would get me to send away the order form?
When I had sold pots and pans door-to-door in Brooklyn, I learned quickly that I sold more when I did not stray from two key subjects:
1. The prospect's needs and wants
2. The product's benefits
I decided to focus most of the letter on the reader's self-interest and tell how he or she would benefit from a trial subscription to Newsweek.
This is called the "you" orientation of a letter. And this letter has it in spades. The words "you" and "your" appear 55 times in the copy — perhaps an all-time record. But they aren't just tossed in for effect: They fit logically into the flow of the copy.
Through test after test, this "sincere" letter remained Newsweek's control for nearly 15 years: Nothing else could beat it. And even today the idea expressed in the opening paragraph — and often the exact words themselves — is copied over and over in one way or another, making it the starting point for more direct mail letters than any approach ever developed.
I stopped collecting adaptations and outright swipes of the sincere letter opening years ago. It is interesting that few, if any, of these "take-offs" were successful. I am convinced, now, that the mailers who used the sincere opening should not have stopped there. They should have also swiped the "you'll get" litany of all the goodies on pages two and three.
If the list upon which I found your name is any indication,
this is not the first -- nor will it be the last -- subscription
letter you receive. Quite frankly, your education and income set
you apart from the general population and make you a highly-rated prospect for everything from magazines to mutual funds.
You’ve undoubtedly 'heard everything' by now in the way of promises and premiums. I won't try to top any of them.
Nor will I insult your intelligence.
If you subscribe to Newsweek, you won't get rich quick. You
won't bowl over friends and business associates with clever remarks
and sage comments after your first copy of Newsweek arrives. (Your conversation will benefit from a better understanding of the events
and forces of our era, but that's all. Wit and wisdom are gifts no magazine can bestow.) And should you attain further professional
or business success during the term of your subscription, you’ll
have your own native ability and good luck to thank for it -- not Newsweek.
What, then, can Newsweek do for you?
The answer depends upon what type of person you happen to
be. If you are not curious about what's going on outside your own
immediate daily range of concern...if you are quickly bored when
the topic of conversation shifts from your house, your car, your ambitions...if you couldn't care less about what's happening in Washington or Wall Street, in London or Moscow...then forget
Newsweek. It can't do a thing for you.
If, on the other hand, you are the kind of individual who
would like to keep up with national and international affairs,
space and nuclear science, the arts -- but cannot spend hours
at it...if you're genuinely interested in what's going on with
other members of the human race...if you recognize the big stake
you have in decisions made in Washington and Wall Street, in
London and Moscow...
then Newsweek may well be the smartest investment you
could make in the vital weeks and months ahead!
For little more than l¢ a day, as a Newsweek subscriber,
your interest in national and international affairs will be served
by over 200 top-notch reporters here and around the world. Each
week, you’ll read the most significant facts taken from their
daily dispatches by Newsweek's editors.
You’ll get the facts. No bias. No slanting.
Newsweek respects your right to form your own
In the eventful weeks to come, you’ll read about
-election strategy (Who will run against JFK? Medicare,
education, unemployment: how will they sway voters?)
-Administration moves (New civil-rights bill in the
works? Taxes: what next?)
-G.O.P. plans (Stepped-up activity in Dixie? New faces
for Congressional races?)
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New clashes with Red China?)
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America compete with the Common Market?)
You’ll also keep on top of latest developments in the exciting
fields of space and nuclear science. Whether the story describes
a space-dog's trip to Venus or the opening of a new area in the
peaceful use of atomic fission, you’ll learn the key facts in Newsweek's Space & The Atom feature -- the first and only weekly
department devoted to space and nuclear science in any newsweekly.
The fascinating world of art will be reviewed and interviewed
for you in Newsweek. Whether you are interested in books or
ballet, painting or plays, movies or music -- or all of them -- you will find it covered fully and fairly in Newsweek.
Subscribe now and you’ll read about
international film awards...new art shows at the Louvre
in Paris...the opening of the Metropolitan and La Scala
opera seasons...glittering first nights on and off
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AND you’ll be briefed on happenings in the worlds of Business and
Labor (More wage demands now?)...Education and Religion (Reforms
in teacher training? More church mergers?)...Science and Medicine
(Cancer, arthritis cures on the way?)...Sports and TV-Radio (New
world records? More educational TV, fewer MD shows?)
You read Newsweek at your own pace. Its handy Top of the
Week index lets you scan the top news stories of the week in two
minutes. When you have a lull in your busy schedule, you can
return to the story itself for full details. In this way, you are
assured of an understanding of the events and forces of our era.
Try it at our special introductory offer:
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That's about 8¢ a week -- little more than a penny a day.
You would pay $9.25 at newsstands for the same number of copies;
$4.98 at our regular yearly subscription rates.
And try it with this guarantee: if, after examining several
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your news interests, you will receive a prompt refund.
An order form is enclosed, along with a postage-paid return envelope. Do initial and return the order form today. We'll bill
you later, if you wish.
The Passing of Ed McLean
By Chief Marketing Staff, posted on September 7, 2005
legend Ed McLean died on Aug. 13 after a long illness. He was 77.
in 1927 in Chicago, McLean was possibly best known for his first piece of
creative work: a Newsweek control letter that remained unbeaten for 15 years
and reportedly reached more than 150 million people.
Reader,” the letter began. “If the list upon which I found your name is any
indication, this is not the first – nor will it be the last – subscription
letter you receive. Quite frankly, your education and income set you apart from
the general population and make you a highly rated prospect for everything from
magazines to mutual funds.”
letter was revolutionary. It actually told recipients their names were pulled
from a list – quite a gamble in 1959.
the time, right after McCarthyism, lists were rather unpopular,” said McLean’s
son, David, reached at the family home in Ghent, NY. “It beat dozens of letters
that tested against it. It was really quite phenomenal,” he said.
went on to write more than 9,000 mailings, direct-marketing print ads, radio
spots and publication inserts in a career that spanned four decades.
veteran of the U.S. Navy, McLean began his business career as a
radio-advertising salesman during which time he started a newsletter for
sharing tips with other salesmen.
constantly broke convention and did things that others might think would not to
be in his best interests,” David McLean said.
was one of the founders of the Direct Marketing Writers Guild. In 1967, for New
York University, he was the first to design a college course devoted to direct
1966, McLean created the first airline seat-pocket catalog for Eastern Airlines
where items other than airline-labeled merchandise such as playing cards and
toy airplanes were sold.
was one of the best copywriters we ever had,” said long-time friend Andi
Emerson, president of the Emerson Marketing Agency and The John Caples
International Awards. “If he were alive, I’d put him up against anybody we have
the recognition McLean’s writing skills received in the industry, they also
earned him some unwanted government scrutiny. In the late 1950s, he shared an
apartment in New York City’s Greenwich Village with liberal cartoonist,
novelist, playwright and screenwriter Jules Feiffer. At the time, some
anti-government editorials McLean wrote for the left-leaning Village Voice
resulted in federal officials paying a visit to McLean to “question him about
his intentions,” said David McLean. However, Feiffer was the cousin of
McCarthy’s right-hand-man Roy Cohn and McLean was able use that connection to
satisfy his questioners, said David McLean.
many marketing copywriters McLean apparently aspired to a career writing
fiction. David McLean said he found boxes of unfinished and/or unpublished
manuscripts – along with correspondence with editors – in his father’s
belongings. The longest manuscript was a mystery several hundred pages long.
David McLean said he hadn’t yet been able to determine if his father finished
used to say often that his marketing skills came from his skills as a consumer
and that his creative skills came as a result of his love of literature,” said
David McLean. “A lot of his letters contain narrative that is Hemingway-esque.
I think he always wanted to be a novelist, but he found his niche in direct
awards included a Gold Mailbox Award from the DMA for a letter he wrote for
Mercedes-Benz in 1965, a Volunteer-of-the-Year Award from DM Days New York, a
Silver Apple Award in 1990 and a Caples: Irving Wunderman award in 1993.
is survived by his wife of 48 years, Ylavaune, and three sons, James, David,
In accordance with McLean’s
wishes, there will be no funeral service. His ashes will be scattered in a
Takeaways to Consider
• Ed McLean was one of the greatest direct marketing copywriters — up there in the pantheon with David Ogilvy, Rosser Reeves, Bill Jayme, John Caples and Max Sackheim.
• He was also a lovely guy who traveled the country sharing his knowledge and experience at giant marketing expos and tiny local direct marketing clubs.
• In researching this blog post I stumbled on to Dick Hodgson's extraordinary anthology, The Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters of All Time. It is a billion-dollar swipe file. Here's the link: https://vdocuments.mx/gslat.html
Word Count: 2223
The Most Fun You Can Have
In the English Language
At age 15, Denny Hatch—as a lowly apprentice—wrote his first news release for a Connecticut summer theater. To his astonishment it ran verbatim in The Middletown Press.
He was instantly hooked on writing. After a two-year stint in the U.S.
Army (1958-60), Denny had nine jobs in his first 12 years in business.
He was fired from five of them and went on to save two businesses and
start three others. One of his businesses—WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter
and archive service founded in 1984—revolutionized the science of how
to measure the success of competitors’ direct mail. In the past 55 years
he has been a book club director, magazine publisher, advertising
copywriter/designer, editor, journalist and marketing consultant. He is
the author of four published novels and seven books on business and
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