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John E. Kennedy

Originator of “Salesmanship in Print”

Who Was John E. Kennedy?

A Short Biography

It was six o’clock on a May evening in 1905 when John E. Kennedy sent a note up to A. L. Thomas, the senior partner of the Lord & Thomas advertising agency.  Thomas was just getting ready to leave the office when the messenger brought him the note.  It read as follows:

“You do not know what advertising is.  No one in the advertising business knows what advertising is.  No advertiser knows for certain what advertising is.  If you want to know, tell this messenger that I should come up.  I’m waiting in the lobby downstairs.”

It was signed: “John E. Kennedy.”  Thomas read the note with an amused smile then handed it to Albert D. Lasker, the junior partner in the firm and said to him, “Well, you have been asking this question for years and nobody has yet satisfied you.  Maybe here is the answer…You see the man.”

Albert Lasker saw Kennedy that night.  It wasn’t until 3 o’clock in the morning before they left the building.  And when Lasker left that night, he had the answer to what advertising was.

What Kennedy told him that night was simple.  Advertising is SALESMANSHIP-IN-PRINT.  And as Lasker said at a meeting with his agency staff in 1925,

“It was that in 1905 when Kennedy told it;
it was that before anyone had ever told me,
and it will always be that, and nothing else”

(from The Lasker Story As He Told It)

Kennedy had been in the Canadian Northwest Mounted Police and had become interested in advertising.  He told Lasker tales about the long, lonesome days and nights in the snowy emptiness of Northern Canada and how he spent them in meditative concentration isolating the fundamental concept in all of advertising, which was COPY, and how he had discovered that selling copy that got results was characterized by SALESMANSHIP-IN-PRINT.

Was Kennedy right?  Was this new insight the key to effective advertising?  Kennedy’s experience with The Regal Shoe Company, Post Grape Nuts, Postum Coffee, and Dr. Shoop’s Family Medicine Co. proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he truly had isolated that fundamental concept.

After that fateful meeting with Lasker, Kennedy joined Lord & Thomas and became the highest salaried writer in all of advertising.  One of his first jobs was to write down his principles so they could be taught to other copywriters in the agency.

Today, the only documents that survive with Kennedy’s name on them are: Reason Why Advertising, The Book of Advertising Tests (which is basically the same as Reason Why Advertising but with a couple added chapters — one of which being purely promotion and non-instructive in nature), and this one, Intensive Advertising.

The value of the information you are about to gain is limited only by the extent to which you use it.  Many have made millions by following these principles.  Many more have lost millions by ignoring them.

Which path you choose is entirely your own.  The fact that you have this report in your hands and are reading it is a good sign.  Have fun and prosper.

John E. Kennedy