DR. ELIOT'S FIVE-FOOT SHELF - "This Is Marie Antoinette Riding To Her Death"

. Tuesday, September 26, 2006
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THIS ad belongs in my book for two reasons: first, it worked! And second, it is probably the first important copy ever written by one of America's truly distinguished copy men: Bruce Barton.

I wrote Mr. Barton for the story and I could give you no more interesting information about this significant demonstration of his ability than this quote from his letter:

"Tom Beck, who had been sales manager for Procter & Gamble, was hired by Robert Collier to take charge of sales of Collier's Weekly and the Collier books including the famous Five-Foot Shelf of Books selected by Dr. Eliot. Beck came from a business that depended wholly on advertising into a business that never had had any advertising, a business in which the salesman did not want advertising because every salesman worked his own way and sometimes his way was open to considerable ethical debate. Each salesman pretended to be the general manager out on a special trip to consult subscribers; or an executor of the estate of the publisher who was seeking to dispose of a few fine sets at bargain prices in order to close up the estate, etc. "Beck believed that books could be advertised and sold ethically and he hired a great national advertising agency to prepare advertisements for the Five-Foot Shelf of Books to be run in Collier's Weekly. A number of these advertisements were double spreads. Their theme was the joy and satisfaction of owning and reading great books.

"Part of my duties as Beck's assistant was to supervise the advertising, and I complained to the agency that, while the advertisements were very fine advertisements, they did not produce any coupons and without coupons which the salesmen could follow up we had no chance to recoup our advertising expense from added sales.

"One day the superintendent of the press room called me up and said the magazine was about to go to press and that there was one vacant quarter-page which we of the sales department might have for a book advertisement if I could get the copy through immediately. I took a volume from one of our pulled sets (sets on which the subscriber had failed to keep up his payments), opened it almost at random, tore out the picture of Marie Antoinette, had a cut made, and wrote under the picture: This is Marie Antoinette riding to her death. Have you ever read her tragic story?

"Marie pulled eight times as many coupons in that quarter-page* as we had ever received from a double-spread! She was such a good puller that she continued to run in the magazine for years after I left Collier's. "While I had written one or two pieces of copy previously, she was my first major operation.

"I don't know how you could get a'photostat of her except from the files of Collier's. She must have appeared first somewhere between 1910 anc: '913."