The Truth About Recycled Ads & Pickup Lines

Chuck McKay demonstrates that reusing someone else's advertisements generally produces the same results as using old pick up lines.

Swipe Files / Headline Banks

Have you seen those ads for “headline banks” or “swipe files?” Collections of the 100 greatest advertisements of all time so you don’t even have to learn anything about marketing or advertising. You just have to copy these “proven ads” and you will, of course, have success.

If you believe that.

You know, you’re going to get about the same one hundred ads from every one of these suppliers and they’re all approaching one hundred years old, because those are the ads that the copyrights have expired on.

And seriously, these were great ads when they came out.

Great Advertising Examples

Max Sackheim’s ad for Sherwin Cody’s home study course in the English language was brilliant: “Do you make these mistakes in English?” You know, that ad made money for Cody for over four decades, and they never changed the copy ’cause it just kept on working. This was a great ad.

John Caples classic for the U.S. School of Music, “They laughed when I sat down at the piano, but when I started to play…” In those years leading up to the great crash of ’29, when money was easy and confidence was everywhere, thousands of (largely rural) Americans looked at this and thought, “Hey, maybe the key to becoming popular is mastering a musical instrument.

Then there’s the Wall Street Journal ad that asked, “Who else wants to get promoted?

No Thinking Necessary

The idea is you take your name and put it where their name used to be, and you put your offer where their offer used to be. And now you run the ad.

And because these ads were so brilliantly written they’re going to pull in hundreds of thousands of sales for you.

For your heating and air conditioning company.

For your family restaurant.

For your income tax service.

If you believe in magic.

Here’s the reality. Those ads were so good because they were designed to work in a specific time, in a specific market, against specific competitors, in specific media… and none of those conditions exists anymore.

So, recycling somebody’s old ads makes as much sense and recycling old pick up lines, for pretty much the same reason.

He: “Do you make these mistakes in heating and air conditioning repair?”

She throws her drink in his face.

He: “They laughed when I sat down at Mom’s Family Diner, but when I started to eat…”

She throws her drink in his face.

He: “Who else wants to file Schedule A with their long form 1040?”

She throws her drink in his face.

Here’s What Really Works

Find out what your potential customers are already talking about, and join in on that conversation.

He: “If you wake up every morning with a backache, maybe it’s time for a new mattress.”

She: “Tell me more.”

Stop Using Other People’s Ads

You can’t afford to lose any sales, and the right bait is the right information for your customers, at this point in time, in the medium you’re choosing, against the competitors you’ve got.

Yes, there are magic words, but they’ll be unique for your company. And you need that kind of powerful customer bait when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about expressing the specific values and advantages of what you sell? Drop Chuck a note at Or call him at 760-813-5474.


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