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.