dan_kennedyMaybe he thinks peo­ple won’t read between the lines.

Or maybe he really is brazen enough to not care if they do.  What­ever the case, the e-mails I’ve been receiv­ing from him have cer­tainly raised my eyebrows.

Long con­sid­ered the dean of hard-sell direct response copy­writ­ing, Dan Kennedy has made a career of slam­ming brand-based adver­tis­ing, rou­tinely call­ing those engaged in it, “adver­tis­ing victims.”

Dan Kennedy’s “Influ­en­tial Writing”

But Kennedy’s cur­rent info-product is NOT about how to write per­sua­sive copy that sells – a skill he now con­sid­ers below the skill level of “influ­en­tial writ­ing,” which is the sub­ject of his cur­rent mar­ket­ing push.

2010-06-10_0141Accord­ing to Kennedy, influ­en­tial writ­ing, as opposed to tra­di­tional direct response-style per­sua­sive writ­ing, is all about build­ing an rep­u­ta­tion (read, “image”) of your­self in the minds of your audience.

You can imag­ine how read­ing Kennedy’s endorse­ment of image-based brand­ing sent out to his own e-mail list is a bit like Ted Hag­gard admit­ting he’s gay to his fun­da­men­tal­ist con­gre­ga­tion – except Ted wasn’t nearly so brash as to come out before being caught, or to pro­claim homo­sex­u­al­ity as OK – let alone as being superior.“you gotta be kid­ding me” moment.

If you think I’m wrong to relate “influ­en­tial writ­ing” to brand­ing, lis­ten to how Kennedy’s own prod­uct copy describes influ­en­tial writ­ing as:

  • Writ­ing to ATTRACT peo­ple of the great­est mon­e­tary value to you
  • Writ­ing to CONNECT (impor­tant if you want influ­ence, power, sus­tained suc­cess, secure income)
  • Writ­ing to Gain Accep­tance of Advo­cated Posi­tions (it’s about hav­ing peo­ple “with you” — not just sell­ing to them)

Kennedy’s basi­cally describ­ing a method for cre­at­ing an image of your­self as heroic, on your audience’s side, a cham­pion against their ene­mies and for com­mon, shared val­ues.  He thinks you should cre­ate a tribe and have your­self not just as the tribe’s leader, but as its icon.

Theodore Mac­manus, Cadil­lac, and “Influ­en­tial Writing”

Yet, if you replace the “you” with a prod­uct or brand, it’s pretty clear that Kennedy is talk­ing about brand­ing.  In fact, I can think of no clearer exam­ple of “influ­en­tial writ­ing” than Theodore F McManuss’s leg­endary Cadil­lac ad, “The Price of Lead­er­ship,” a pure brand­ing cam­paign if ever there was one.  Here’s the copy from it:

In every field of human endeavor, he that is first must per­pet­u­ally live in the white light of publicity.

Whether the lead­er­ship be vested in a man or in a man­u­fac­tured prod­uct, emu­la­tion and envy are ever at work.

In art, in lit­er­a­ture, in music, in indus­try, the reward and the pun­ish­ment are always the same. The reward is wide­spread recog­ni­tion; the pun­ish­ment, fierce denial and detraction.

When a man’s work becomes a stan­dard for the whole world, it also becomes a tar­get for the shafts of the envi­ous few. If his work be merely mediocre, he will be left severely alone — if he achieve a mas­ter­piece, it will set a mil­lion tongues a-wagging.

Jeal­ousy does not pro­trude its forked tongue at the artist who pro­duces a com­mon­place paint­ing. What­so­ever you write, or paint, or play, or sing, or build, no one will strive to sur­pass or to slan­der you, unless your work be stamped with the seal of genius.

Long, long after a great work or a good work has been done, those who are dis­ap­pointed or envi­ous con­tinue to cry out that it can­not be done.

Spite­ful lit­tle voices in the domain of art were raised against our own Whistler as a moun­te­bank, long after the big world had acclaimed him its great­est genius.

Mul­ti­tudes flocked to wor­ship at the shrine of Wag­ner, while the lit­tle group of those whom he had dethroned and dis­placed argued angrily that he was no musi­cian at all.

The lit­tle world con­tin­ued to protest that Ful­ton could not build a steam­boat, while the big world flocked to the river to see his boat steam by.

The leader is assailed because he is the leader, and the effort to equal him is merely added proof of that leadership.

Fail­ing to equal or to excel, the fol­lower seeks to depre­ci­ate and to destroy — but only con­firms once more the supe­ri­or­ity of that which he strives to supplant.

There is noth­ing new in this. It is as old as the world and as old as the human pas­sions — envy, fear, greed, ambi­tion, and the desire to surpass.

And it all avails nothing.

If the leader truly leads, he remains — the leader.

Master-poet, master-painter, master-workman, each in his turn is assailed, and each holds his lau­rels through the ages.

That which is good or great makes itself known, no mat­ter how loud the clamor of denial.

That which deserves to live — lives.”

Remem­ber, this was an ad placed in the Sat­ur­day Evening Post. A non-targeted, non-direct response ad.  And the copy never even men­tions the product.

9780548144145And yet sales for Cadil­lac spiked and the ad was voted “The Great­est Ad of All Time” in 1948.  Peo­ple imme­di­ately iden­ti­fied with it. Elvis Pres­ley even framed a copy of the ad and hung it in his Grace­land office, and it’s been said that both Cadil­lac and MacManus’s agency received weekly requests for copies of the ad for 30 years fol­low­ing it’s ini­tial and only run in the Sat­ur­day Evening Post.

But McManus was not just famous for that copy, he was famous for that style of copy, for being the anti-Claude Hop­kins, the man who shunned reason-why adver­tis­ing in favor of indi­rect sug­ges­tion, posi­tion­ing, and, well, brand­ing through mass media.

Here’s how Mac­Manus sum­ma­rizes his approach in his book, The Sword-Arm of Busi­ness:

…[Cadillac’s Adver­tis­ing] nearly always sug­gested and sel­dom asserted. And it dealt not so much with the Cadil­lac motor car as with people’s thoughts about the Cadil­lac motor car. It did not so much say that things were true, as it assumed them to be true… It fig­ured that there are cer­tain whole­some qual­i­ties all nor­mal human beings admire, and it cel­e­brated the pres­ence of those qual­i­ties in the motives of the men who designed and man­u­fac­tured a motor car.”

And now Dan Kennedy seems to have lifted a page or two from the Mac­Manus play­book…  But can it really be? Has Dan Kennedy actu­ally come out of the brand­ing closet?

In Defense of Dan

The short answer is maybe not.  One of the major dif­fer­ences between what Dan calls influ­en­tial writ­ing vs. brand­ing seems to be that:

  • Influ­en­tial writ­ing is directed only at already exist­ing cus­tomers, peo­ple you’ve already sold to, in an effort to increase trust and purchases
  • Whereas tra­di­tional brand­ing cam­paigns have used mass media to cre­ate a com­monly held opin­ion or image of the product/company, Influ­en­tial Writ­ing is directed toward estab­lish­ing the rep­u­ta­tion of an indi­vid­ual.  [though the pre­vi­ous quote, makes it clear that Mac­Manus also used that tech­nique as well, which he most famously did for the Dodge Broth­ers and for Wal­ter Chrysler.

More­over, Dan has, in at least one blog post, explained his dis­tinc­tion between brand­ing, which he def­i­nitely rec­om­mends, and branding-only cam­paigns, which he believes are largely unsuit­able for most small busi­ness owners.

So What’s the Final Conclusion?

poct-picture-3Real­ize that when con­fronted with polar­ity, the weak stu­dent will cling to one of the poles and demo­nize the other, while the strong stu­dent will pon­der each and har­ness the dynamic elec­tric­ity that flows between them.

My per­sonal opin­ion is that Dan Kennedy’s per­sonal brand­ing neces­si­tated an anti-branding stance that he always com­mu­ni­cated a lit­tle more force­fully than he truly believed. Dan needed an enemy to stand against and he chose brand­ing cam­paigns and lack of adver­tis­ing account­abil­ity as (some of) his pri­mary ene­mies — again, as part of con­sid­ered attempt to brand his pub­lic persona.

Now that Dan’s peel­ing back the tech­niques he’s used to brand him­self all these years, he’s hop­ing that an alter­na­tive name for brand­ing will keep peo­ple from see­ing any dis­crep­an­cies or con­flicts between his per­sona and the brand­ing that he’s been engaged in over the last decades or two.

Or maybe he’s just stew­ing for a fight — some­one stu­pid enough to call him out it : )

What do you think?

P.S. Brian Clark’s Third Tribe is a great exam­ple of liv­ing in the dynamic flow­ing between the two extremes of direct response copy and community/tribe build­ing, and a highly rec­om­mended resource as well.


  1. Bryan on 07.14.2010

    I’ve been fol­low­ing Dan since 1999. No mat­ter what he calls it, he has always been build­ing his brand…his genius of build­ing a fan­tas­tic brand. The indus­try that he doesn’t like are those that just throw an ad out there ONLY to push the brand.

    Dan’s mate­r­ial pushes his brand(s), but he writes is copy to pull exist­ing and new cus­tomers in the door to drive sales.

    Dan’s brand­ing, as odd as it is works bril­liantly. Here’s my list of what makes him unique…
    Han­dle­bar mus­tache
    White bull pic­ture
    NO BS every­thing
    Using over­head pro­jec­tor, when every­one else is using pow­er­point
    Big bold fonts
    Mis­spellings in a lot of his stuff
    Dou­ble read­er­ship paths
    Cheesy, bold, out­ra­geous ads
    Har­ness Rac­ing
    etc, etc. etc.

    Dan has built a phe­nom­e­nal brand and will con­tinue to pull the levers of his busi­ness to drive more money and prof­its into his com­pany. AND he pro­vides tremen­dous value(s) to his many finely tuned tar­get markets.


  2. Jeff on 08.18.2010

    I’ve seen some of his stuff, but as you allude to in your post, he basi­cally is just sell­ing him­self. He seems to “preach to the choir” quite often.
    .-= Jeff´s last blog ..2011 Cadil­lac CTS Coupe Arriv­ing Early =-.

  3. Chuck on 08.28.2014

    Dan has always made a lot of money from big money adver­tis­ing. What he teaches though, is direct adver­tis­ing for the 95% of busi­nesses with­out unlim­ited budgets.

  4. Chuck on 08.28.2014

    Dan has made very big money con­sult­ing for big adver­tis­ing. Still, he TEACHES Direct Adver­tis­ing for the 95% of busi­ness with­out unlim­ited funds for TV ads and mag­a­zine sat­u­ra­tion. But sat­u­ra­tion does work very well.
    Chuck´s last blog post ..Tar­get­ing the peo­ple who matter.

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