#008: 2 Million Books Sold In 2 Years – Part 2

Lillian Eichler, Image Courtesy of Luke Spencer and Messy Nessy Chic
Lillian Eichler, Image Courtesy of Luke Spencer and Messy Nessy Chic

In the previous issue of Stories Behind Successful Ads, I talked about Lillian Eichler.

A very brave young woman who walked into the biggest ad agency in Manhattan to ask for a job. They told her she had no chance because she was Jewish and a woman.

Yet she still managed to get a job from the strength of a spec ad she wrote. This happened in 1919.

Two years later, a book publisher asked her to advertise a book on etiquette.

Her ad sold the book in days, but they were all sent back. Buyers thought the book was too outdated.

The publisher, Doubleday Publishing, asked Lillian to update the book. And when she finished a few months later, they asked her to write an ad to sell this new book too.

She wrote a set of at least 5 ads. These ads ran for 26 months in national magazines used for mail-order business.

Combined with direct mail costs, the campaign cost $1,500,000 ($22MM today). It sold 2,000,000 copies and raked in about $4,000,000 ($60.6MM today).

And in the process, Lillian became very rich.

Someone Got Mad

Lillian’s book was different. It was livelier, friendlier and easier to read. Just as you’d expect from a copywriter.

Her success made Emily Post, a big name in the etiquette world, very angry. The story is that Emily was so upset that “this teenage daughter of Jewish immigrants would write a book about etiquette!”

She felt that only someone with “proper” social standing could write a book on etiquette.

But Lillian couldn’t care.

She had made a killing from the book, supposedly becoming a young millionaire.

In 1925, she retired from advertising.

She got married to Dr. Tobias Watson. She built a mansion with the money from her book sales. She raised her children in this large home and wrote more books on etiquette in her spare time.

Her living descendants describe Lillian as an “elegant, refined, self-educated lady.” She had impeccable manners. And a habit of handing out copies of her book to people she felt needed it.

Is There More?

Sadly, no.

Lillian’s copywriting career was short. She never wrote a book about her career, about writing copy or about her life.

Most copywriters we know from this time usually spent decades in the business and wrote books about the craft or their lives.

They also worked in or started agencies that survived for decades. Some in business to this day. And those agencies kept records of their work.

But the Ruthrauff & Ryan agency was closed in 1964 and there are no archives of their lesser-known ads.

This young advertising prodigy wanted to have a quiet, family life. And she got what she wanted.

Here’s the second ad that has survived to modern day.

Lillian’s Final Ad?

Are You Haunted By The Ghosts Of Your Social Mistakes 1920 Ad Lillian Eichler Lillian Watson Book of Etiquette

The Images

This is the first ad I’ve seen that makes callbacks to multiple, previous ads. As far as I can tell, these ads weren’t written to be a series. So that makes this even more unusual.

This is a unique spin on “brand recognition.” This book was sold by direct mail and isn’t the type of book that would get word of mouth going. So the most recognizable thing would be the ads.

It is also an emotional shortcut. Just by the way humans work, there will be a large number of people who wanted to buy the book. But they didn’t do it for whatever reason.

Using the pictures, headlines and a short blurb of the ads they were interested in will stir up that desire quickly.

Then there’s the centre image.

This image perfectly captures the emotional problem. We have a lady who looks like she’s sad, with something on her mind. And a caption that reads:

Mistakes that leave you shaken and ashamed, sudden conspicuous blunders, embarrassing moments that rob you of all poise and self-possession—do you recall them with a pang of regret that you were not better prepared to meet life’s social problems, that you were not better protected against the humiliation of social errors?

Notice the repetition here?

Could Lillian have summed it up in one sentence? Yes.

She could just say, “Do you remember all your social blunders?”

But she’s a copywriter.

She’s using repetition to describe the problem (remembering your social mistakes) in different ways. This takes the basic pain point and sharpens it. Refines it. Hones it until it can really dig its claws into the prospect’s emotions.

Are You Haunted by the Ghosts of YOUR Social Mistakes?

This time, we have a direct headline.

It’s also important to point out how it is similar to the story of how Sherwin Cody sold $70 million in English courses to native English speakers . Both ads use the theme of mistakes in the headline.

Like I said in that article, the fear of making mistakes is a powerful motivator. This headline targets the mistakes people know they’ve made.

It also describes them as a ‘ghost’ that haunts them to make it more interesting.

As you read this, perhaps there come to you, out of the past, memories of your experiences in social contact.

Do you remember the dinners you attended, the dances, the parties? Do you remember the acquaintances you made, the strangers you met—men and women who pass through the pattern of your thoughts like shadows?

Are your memories pleasant? Do you recall with a little thrill of exultation the dinners and dances you attended, proud to know that you impressed the people you met, glad to know that you were poised, confident and at ease, happy to know that you never betrayed yourself by conspicuous and embarrassing blunders?

Or—do you bring to mind an occasion of painful humiliation to you, when you wished yourself miles away? Do you recall a dinner party spoiled for you because of your discomfort and uneasiness at the table? Do you remember parties and entertainments and dances for which you planned with eagerness but which—a little later, you were sorry you ever attended?

Plenty of repetition here. Asking the same basic question with multiple angles and visuals.

Notice that the headline primes the reader to think about their social mistakes.

Then the first two paragraphs guide the reader into thinking about past social experiences. Lillian is quite literally guiding the reader’s thoughts with questions.

She starts by asking if the memories are pleasant. I know most people might not consider themselves super smooth, but they think they’re okay.

But the headline doesn’t give you that chance.

The headline already has you focusing on your social mistakes. We’ve all made a few. Lillian asks this to create contrast.

The second question is dials up that sense of embarrassment. Poking at that insecurity. It makes you uncomfortable before quickly offering relief.

How Etiquette Protects You Everywhere From Embarrassment

Note the word ‘everywhere.’ Again Lillian shows she knows her product.

Her book is an updated encyclopedia of etiquette. This extra word is to hint at how complete the book is.

Unquestionably the greatest value of etiquette is that it gives you complete ease and poise of manner. Not etiquette in the sense of petty rules and regulations—but the kind of etiquette that shows you how to overcome timidity and self-consciousness, the kind of etiquette that makes it possible for you to do and say the right thing without stopping to think about it.

Notice how Lillian starts off with ‘unquestionably’?

Lillian does not leave the prospect room to debate what she’s about to say.

She also expands what she means by etiquette. It’s not just knowing the right thing to do. It’s confidence and automatically doing and saying the right thing.

She’s already ‘upscaling’ her product before she mentions it.

And that, precisely, is what the Book of Etiquette does for you. This famous work now being used in more than half a million families, tells you, primarily, what to do, say, write and wear on every occasion of social importance.

Status (‘famous work’).

Social proof (‘more than half a million families’).

And how comprehensive the book is.

But more than that, it dresses your personality as clothes dress your body. It gives you a marvelous new ease of manner. It makes you sure of yourself. It smooths away all the little crudites, gives you the confident, self-possessed manner that is so important in social and business life.

This is a fantastic example of ‘upscaling’ a product.

It’s not a book. It’s something that dresses your personality as clothes dress your body. Just as you wear clothes to look good, you use this product to make your personality look good as well.

And the emotional benefit of confidence and social graces? Look at how many different ways she talks about it. Lillian keeps going.

Be haunted neither by the memory of social mistakes in the past, nor the danger of social mistakes in the future! Let the famous Book of Etiquette be the armor that protects you from the embarrassment of humiliating blunders. Let it be the silent social secretary in your home. Let it remove all doubt, clear away all uncertainty, tell you precisely what is correct and what is incorrect.

Some more ‘upscaling.’

The book isn’t a book. It is armor from embarrassment. It is a social secretary in your home.

And again, many descriptions of the same core benefits. Confidence. Social graces.

May we send you these two famous volumes at our risk? If you aren’t delighted with the wealth of valuable information they contain, they will not cost you one penny.

Regular $3.50 Edition
Now Reduced to $1.98
Send No Money

Here’s something interesting.

The previous ad Lillian wrote used a limited quantity discount as the offer. Send money. Get the book.

This time, she makes a “no money upfront” offer.

My best guess is one of three things.

One. Everyone who would be convinced enough to buy the book already had it. So Lillian made an offer to lower that paying barrier.

Notice that, unlike some of the other ads we’ve looked at, she doesn’t offer a lead magnet or lower-priced sample.

She doesn’t need to. It’s not a “high ticket” product. The $1.98 she’s charging is the modern day equivalent of $30.

She probably might have sold all the people who would buy her book and pay upfront. So she offers the book with a “no money upfront” offer.

Two. A split-test happened somewhere between these ads.

They found this “no money upfront” offer got more sales. So they used this.

Three. They just didn’t want to repeat the same offer.

It wouldn’t be believable. Or it just wasn’t fresh.

The tremendous popularity of the Book of Etiquette has encouraged us to make this special reduced price offer. Rather than publish these helpful books in cheap bindings—for a low-priced edition requested by people all over the country—we offer you the regular, original $3.50 edition for only $1.98 if you act promptly.

She explains why they are making this low-priced offer. It’s always good to give an excuse to please the logical side of the reader’s brain.

People buy with emotion and justify it with logic. A copywriter’s job is to spark that emotion and give logical excuses to buy now.

And she explains that it is good value—you will get the same book at a lower price but not lower physical quality (binding).

No money is necessary. We want you to see the famous Book of Etiquette, to hold it in your hands, to judge for yourself of its great value. Therefore we are willing to send it to you, even at this reduced price, without any money in advance.

Just clip and mail the coupon. When the books arrive, give the postman only $1.98 (plus a few cents delivery charges) in full payment for the $3.50 edition.

Just some extra info on the offer. Nothing to analyse here.

The books are now yours. Read the chapter on Wedding Etiquette, on the Etiquette of Games, Introductions, Dinners, Dances. Find answers to the problems that have been puzzling you. Watch yourself become more confident, more sure of yourself than you ever were before.

As always, give instructions on using your product. Lillian tells the prospect how to use it and adds benefits.

And then if you are not delighted in every way, return the books to us within 5 days after you receive them—and we guarantee to refund to you the purchase price.

Act NOW before you forget. Nelson Doubleday, Inc., Dept. 34, Garden City, New York.

Standard money-back guarantee with a very basic CTA.

Key Takeaways – Part 2

In your copy…

  • Repeat. But don’t be repetitive. The more ways you can make your prospect imagine the same few benefits of the product, the stronger you can make them desire it. But you must do it in a way that is NOT boring. Look at the introduction to see how Lillian does it.
  • Use mistakes as a theme in your ad. Nobody likes making mistakes. You can use this in your headline by calling attention to mistakes that apply to your product. In the ad that sold $70 million in English courses, the mistakes were about English. In this ad, the mistakes are about socialising.
  • ‘Upscale’ your product. This book has been described as armor, a social secretary, something that dresses your personality, overcomes shyness and makes it possible for you to do and say the right thing without thinking about it. How can you ‘upscale’ the product you’re writing about?
  • Make things seem obviously true. Just like in the previous ads, Lillian states things matter-of-factly. Like something is an obvious truth that the reader knows.
  • If your ads are recognizable, use them! While the Book of Etiquette might not have been a household name, many people would recognise the ads. This takes advantage of the huge ad spend to create an emotional shortcut of trust and/or desire.
  • People buy with emotion and justify it with logic. Write your copy to spark that emotion. And then give their logical brains excuses to justify and act on it.


Credits to Luke Spencer and Messy Nessy Chic for interviewing Lillian’s surviving family members for this story.

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