Monday, December 1, 2014

“The Power of the Printed Word”

In 1979, International Paper began a print-ad campaign, “The Power of the Printed Word,” a series of fifteen ads offering how-to wisdom from household names. I have a vague memory of these ads: two-page black-and-white magazine spreads with columns of text broken up by silly photographs. Looking for Merriam-Webster ads via Google Books, I spotted a “Power of the Printed Word” spread in Ebony, with George Plimpton’s advice for making a speech. And the chase was on.

It turns out that this campaign was a terrific (and terrifying?) public-relations success, generating twenty-seven million requests for free reprints. International Paper put together selections of ads as “survival guides” (also free) for business people and college students. Thirteen of the fifteen ads became a book, How to Use the Power of the Printed Word, edited by advertising man Billings S. Fuess Jr., the Ogilvy & Mather creative director who created the campaign and wrote the first drafts. The complete series:

Steve Allen, “How to enjoy the classics”
Russell Baker, “How to punctuate”
Erma Bombeck, “How to encourage your child to
Bill Cosby, “How to read faster”
Walter Cronkite, “How to read a newspaper”
James Dickey, “How to enjoy poetry”
Malcolm Forbes, “How to write a business letter”
John Irving, “How to spell”
James A. Michener, “How to use a library”
George Plimpton, “How to make a speech”
Jane Bryant Quinn, “How to read an annual report”
Tony Randall, “How to improve your vocabulary”
Jerrold G. Simon, “How to write a resume”
Edward T. Thompson, “How to write clearly”
Kurt Vonnegut, “How to write with style”
Here from Info Marketing Blog is an unofficial PDF of the series, nearly complete. And here, from Paper Specs, is one more, also nearly complete. Missing from the first: Simon. Missing from the second: Baker and Cronkite. Missing from both: Bombeck.

I know: it’s advertising. But I like the idea that these ads might have inspired readers to think about punctuation and card catalogs and etymologies. And anyway, I’m a sucker for a free PDF. How about you?

[The details of the campaign’s success come from the introductory pages of the Info Marketing Blog’s PDF. I wish it were Cosby not Bombeck who was missing.]


January 23, 2015: As reader Kayhan Vayuz has noted in a comment, Garrison Keillor’s “How to write a personal letter” is also part of the ad series. It appears to be a late addition: the earliest appearance I can find is from 1987. (Here is a more readable 1988 version.) The essay was republished as “How to write a letter” in Keillor’s book We Are Still Married: Stories and Letters (1989) and has often been anthologized.

comments: 5

Diane Schirf said...

These are great, and I look forward to learning how to write with style. Scrolling through quickly I did misread one headline as "How to enjoy puberty."

Michael Leddy said...

Don’t know who could’ve written that one.

Kayhan Yavuz said...

Missing from the list: “How to write a personal letter” by Garrison Keillor

Michael Leddy said...

That’s a lovely addition — thank you. It’s easy to find online: here, for instance.

Michael Leddy said...

Kayhan, I didn’t know what you must already know: that the Keillor piece was published as an International Paper advertisement. I found a copy here, from 1987.