10 Marketing Books Actually Worth Reading


By Robert W. Bly



            People frequently ask me to recommend my 10 favorite marketing books:

1) How to Write a Good Advertisement by Vic Schwab (Wilshire Book Company, 1962). A common-sense course in how to write advertising copy that gets people to buy your product or service, written by a plain-speaking veteran mail order copywriter in 1960.

            Best part: 100 “archetypal” headlines that people are still using in various forms today to create new controls (e.g., “When Doctors Feel Rotten, This is What They Do”).

            Availability: Still in print (Wilshire Publishing) and available on amazon.com.

            2) My First 50 Years in Advertising by Max Sackheim (Prentice-Hall, 1970). Another plain-speaking, common-sense guide that stresses salesmanship over creativity, and results over awards. The author was one of the originators of the Book of the Month Club.

            Best part: The oversize format allows full-size reproductions (large enough for the copy to be legible) of many classic direct response ads (e.g., “They Thought I Was Crazy to Ship Live Maine Lobsters as Far as 1,800 Miles from the Ocean”).

            Availability: Out of print and difficult to find.

            3) The Robert Collier Letter Book by Robert Collier. While Schwab and Sackheim concentrate on space ads, Collier focuses on the art of writing sales letters, of which he is a master. You learn how to write persuasive sales letters in a friendly, natural, conversational style.

            Best part: While some of the letters may seem old-fashioned and dated, Collier’s timeless principles still apply.

            Availability:  Out of print and difficult to get.

            4) Reality in Advertising by Rosser Reeves (Alfred A. Knopf, 1961). The book in which Reeves introduced the now-famous concept of USP (the Unique Selling Proposition).

            Best part: The idea that every successful ad must (a) offer a benefit, (b) the benefit must differentiate your product from the competition, and (c) the benefit must be big enough to motivate buyers to purchase your product instead of others.

            Availability: Out of print and difficult to get. 

            5) Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz. A copywriting guide by one of the greatest direct-response copywriters of the 20th century.

            Best part: The notion that advertising does not create desires; rather, it focuses already existing desires onto your product.

            Availability:  Out of print and difficult to get.

            6) Tested Advertising Methods, Fifth Edition by John Caples, revised by Fred Hahn (Prentice-Hall, 1997). An updated version of John Caples’ classic book on the principles of persuasion as proven through A/B spit tests.

            Best part: The A/B split headline tests with the results (e.g., for an air conditioner, “How to have a cool, quiet bedroom – even on hot nights” pulled 2 ½ times the response of “Get rid of that humidity with a new room cooler that also dries the air”).

            Availability:  In print. Available in bookstores and online.

            7) Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy (Atheneum). Charming autobiography of legendary ad man David Ogilvy, packed with useful advice on how to create effective advertising.

            Best part: Chapter 6 on “How to Write Potent Copy.”

            Availability:  Out of print and difficult to get.

            8) Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins (Bell Publishing, 1920). A book on the philosophy that advertising’s purpose is to sell, not entertain or win creative awards – and how to apply this philosophy to create winning ads.

            Best part: His observation that “specifics sell; superlatives roll off the human understanding like water off a duck’s back.”

            Availability:  Since the copyright has expired, this book is now in the public domain and is available as a free downloadable e-book on several Web sites including http://www.marketingresource.com/html/reports/r-scientificadvertising.html. You can also buy it as a paperback on amazon.com.

            9) Method Marketing by Denny Hatch (Bonus Books, 1999). A book on how to write successful direct response copy by putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. Packed with case histories of modern direct response success stories, including Bill Bonner of Agora Publishing, and Martin Edelston of Boardroom.

            Best part: The introduction of the concept of method marketing, which states: “You cannot write copy without getting inside the head of the person to whom you are communicating and becoming that person.

            Availability:  In print and available on amazon.com; also on Denny’s Web site www.methodmarketing.com.

10) Advertising Secrets of the Written Word by Joseph Sugarman (DelStar, 1998). How to write successful advertising copy by a modern master of the space ad.  

            Best part: The 24 psychological triggers that get people to buy.

            Availability:  In print and available on amazon.com.

Have I left any out? Yes, many. But this list is a good start.  Here’s to happy – and profitable – reading.


About the author:

            Robert W. Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha). His e-mail address is  rwbly@bly.com and his Web site address is www.bly.com.