Lawrence Creaghan


John Caples (1900–1990) spent most of his long and successful career writing and testing ads. He was such a brilliant copywriter that many agree he was a genius. At the age of 25, Caples wrote what may be the greatest ad of all time. It began with the headline, “They Laughed When I Sat Down At The Piano, But When I started to Play…” The ad has been copied in one form or another ever since.

Caples’ Tested Advertising Methods is one of the few books that appears on the “required reading” list for any serious writer interested in learning proven tips, tricks and advertising techniques. His other books include Advertising Ideas and Making Ads Pay. David Ogilvy praised John Caples as “one of the most effective copywriters there has ever been.”

Main points expressed in Tested Advertising Methods

The Caples 3-step approach to effective ad writing

Each of these is an essential element in making a successful ad.

The Caples 3-step approach to testing

  • Accept nothing as true about what works best in advertising until it has been objectively tested.
  • Build upon everything you learn from testing to create an ever-stronger system that you return to with each new project.
  • Treat every ad as an ongoing test of what has been learned before. Be ready to adapt when something new works better, or something old stops working.

Caples on headlines

  • If the headline doesn’t stop people, the copy might as well be written in Greek.
  • If the headline of an advertisement is poor, the best copywriters in the world can’t write copy that will sell the goods.
  • They haven’t a chance. Because, if the headline is poor, the copy will not be read. And copy that is not read does not sell goods.
  • On the other hand, if the headline is a good one, it is a relatively simple matter to write the copy.

Caples’ 5 rules for writing great headlines

  • First and foremost, try to get self-interest into every headline you write. Make your headline suggest to the readers that here is something they want. This rule is so fundamental that it would seem obvious. Yet the rule is violated every day by scores of writers.
  • If you have news, such as a new product, or a new use for an old product, be sure to get that news into your headline in a big way.
  • Avoid headlines that merely provoke curiosity. Curiosity combined with news or self-interest is an excellent aid to the pulling power of your headline, but curiosity by itself is seldom enough. This fundamental rule is violated more often than any other. Every issue of every magazine and newspaper contains advertising headlines that attempt to sell the reader through curiosity alone.
  • Avoid, when possible, headlines that paint the gloomy or negative side of the picture. Take the cheerful, positive angle.
  • Try to suggest in your headline that here is a quick and easy way for the readers to get something they want.

Caples’ 9 ways to increase the selling power of your copy

  • Use present tense, second person.
  • Use subheads.
  • Give free information.
  • Arouse curiosity.
  • Make your copy specific.
  • Use long copy.
  • Write more copy than is necessary to fill the space.
  • Get help from others.
  • Make every advertisement a complete sales talk.