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9 Top Copywriting Books That Can Make You an Advertising Rockstar

How much do you know about advertisement?

Before reading these books, my understanding of advertisement was from what I learned watching Mad Men.

Donald Draper tells us in a pitch to a cigarette client: “Advertisement is based on one thing: happiness. And you know what happiness is?

Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams, with reassurance, that whatever you’re doing, is OK. You are OK.

Wow. Mad Men made me feel like an advertisement expert.

But, if you sat me down at a desk and told me to create an advertisement for a new brand of sportswear, I wouldn’t know where to start. 

If you face the same dilemma, here is the list of top copywriting books that can help you decipher the code. You need not read every book on the list; reading 2 or 3 of the lot would also bring you to speed.

1. My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins

Claude C. Hopkins (1866-1932) was a pioneer in the advertising industry.

His two books – “Scientific Advertising” written in 1923 and “My Life in Advertising” written in 1927 – are considered by many as gold standards in copywriting even today.

While some of the techniques from Hopkins’ time may no longer be effective, the fundamental message of Scientific Advertising is timeless.

Seth Godin recommended this vintage gem way back in the year 2003.

With today’s trend towards data-driven decisions and increased scrutiny of marketing budgets, these old books are surprisingly relevant.

2. Ogilvy on Advertising (1985)

What’s it like to gaze into the mind of one of the ad world’s biggest icons? Reading this book will get you the closest to it.

You are sure to come out with a dramatically changed view of how the industry works and doesn’t.

Although this book was written in 1985, many of the concepts and anecdotes in it hold up well. The landscape has changed, but Ogilvy’s main points about facts, emotion, narrative, and connection still apply.

Since David Ogilvy passed away in 1999, much before the rise of digital media, this book lacks on that count. However, if you are willing to learn the fundamentals, Ogilvy on Advertising will teach them all to you.

To whet your digital chops, I recommend reading “Ogilvy on Advertising in the Digital Age” by Miles Young, an official sequel to Ogilvy’s original.

3. How to Write a Good Advertisement (1985) by Victor Schwab

This neat little book is a super condensation of the key elements necessary to put together an effective ad. It is easy to read and is all meat. You could read the entire book in under an hour.

I couldn’t believe this book was originally published in 1962. The headlines and advice he offers could easily be used for teaching a masterclass on writing or YouTube clickbait titles in 2020. 

For seasoned copywriters, it might not be groundbreaking, but it is a welcome reminder that we shouldn’t expect books to single-handedly revolutionize our ad-writing skills either.

4. Breakthrough Advertising (1984) by Eugene Schwartz

Eugene Schwartz is considered a wizard of direct response. His book talks a great deal about the psychology of advertising and the stages your product or service goes through in consumers’ minds.

This book is for the advanced student and creator of copywriting for direct response campaigns.

If you want to dig deep into the subject of copywriting and go beyond the ‘paint-by-numbers,’ training wheels approach that’s so widely taught these days, this is a good book to work with.

If you are not familiar with “direct response,” you are not ready for this book.

5. The Robert Collier Letter Book (2000) by Robert Collier

This book constantly comes up when top copywriting books are mentioned. Focussing on sales letter writing, this fascinating book teaches you to write copy that strikes at the emotional heart of your prospects.

The book, while being a logbook of the author’s most successful work, is actually a full-on courseware in direct-mail advertising.

No copywriter or marketer or advertiser worth his salt should go without reading it cover to cover. It’s an absolute goldmine of great examples, regarded as a classic in the advertising industry.

6. The 100 Greatest Advertisements (1959) by Julian Watkins

Great resource from the pioneering days of modern advertising.  A fun journey back in time, and a super learning experience!

This book shows the most interesting examples of advertising until the 60s. While some of the ads in The 100 Greatest Advertisements may seem outdated – there are many others that one can learn from. 

Some people may believe that today’s advertisements are better than they were back then. Not so. Direct response copywriters know that yesterday’s copywriters are the ones to learn from.

7. Words that Sell (2006) by Richard Bayan

This is an indispensable reference book for the small business owner.

It works like a thesarus. Words and phrases are grouped by situation, description, etc so you can quickly find the right word or phrase to accurately describe your service or product.

Whether you’re an advertising newbie or an old pro, it’ll come in handy. Today, when everyone and their brother is on social media, has a website, is trying to vie for your attention, what makes you stand out from the rest is how you word something.

8. The Copywriter’s Handbook (2006) by Robert Bly

One of the top copywriting books that’s invaluable for anyone who writes or wants to write winning headlines and body copy for ads.

This book is not some academic theory stuff from someone who’s never really worked in the business. It is written by a working copywriter who has practically done it all in a variety of industries, styles, and settings.

Do I recommend it? Yes, but not as a book to read from beginning to end, but as a book that is intended to be consulted recurrently, to find suggestions in the everyday work

9. Copywriting Secrets (2019) by Jim Edwards

If you are a marketer or business owner and want faster answers, I suggest reading Jim Edwards’ Copywriting Secrets – an alternative to Robert Bly’s The Copywriter’s Handbook.

The author gives plenty of headline templates, and gives examples of their use. He explains several ways to structure a sales presentation and again, gives plenty of examples.

I think many books, gurus, etc miss the mark and forget the example portion of teaching. Jim Edwards does a good job.

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Top Copywriting Books

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