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  • Writer's pictureJon D'Alessandro

Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing by Drayton Bird: Book Review & Takeaways

Five valuable takeaways from an all-time great copywriter

Drayton Bird is a legendary Australian copywriter, ad-man, and one of the godfathers of direct response marketing.

David Ogilvy famously said:

"Drayton Bird knows more about direct marketing than anyone in the world."

How's that for credibility? For years he was Vice Chairman and Creative Director at Ogilvy & Mather Direct, at the time the world's largest direct marketing firm, before opening his own agency, Drayton Bird Associates.

His book Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing distills years of insight into a single volume and should be required reading for aspiring or pro copywriters alike. His unique, sometimes facetious, but always valuable explanations of key direct marketing concepts will leave readers inspired and reimagining the craft. Plus, he's practically an advertising historian, providing copious examples to support his lessons as well as background on where copywriting concepts and aphorisms originated.

The books audience doesn't end with just marketers — Bird also provides timeless, hard-won business wisdom for the entrepreneurial crowd.

If you want to develop the chops to become a hard-nosed direct marketing pro, or you just want to become a more punchy, compelling writer, then do not skip Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing. You can get it here, and in the meantime check out my favorite takeaways below:

1.) “Some advertising is so likable it obscures the merits of the product”

Bird hits you almost immediately with a "holy crap let me write that down" thought. It's a lesson echoed by his brother-in-arms David Ogilvy when he talks about the dangers of being "too creative" in advertising.

Your first objective is to convey - in a clear, concise, compelling way - how your product solves a customer's problem, fits into their life, and is worth exchanging hard-earned money for. Only when you master the basics should you even start thinking about getting fancy.

2.) Drayton Bird's 3 common-sense steps for business success:

  • Locate a PROSPECT

  • Make them a CUSTOMER

  • Turn them into a FRIEND

Particular emphasis is placed on the third step. Treat customers like individuals, not as a blind mass. You should be a trusted figure in their life. And with every correspondence you should build a continuous, mutually advantageous relationship over time.

Any keen businessperson knows that a repeat customer is more valuable than fighting tooth and nail for new buyers. Plus, by becoming a trusted figure in their life, they'll be more likely to hear you out the next time you have something valuable to share.

3.) Add value to the customer's life

Please write this on a post-it and stick it wherever you do your writing!

Companies perceived by customers as giving more value for money tend to be infinitely more profitable. When Bird wrote the first draft of this book, companies were still jamming product-focused advertisements down people's throats on the airwaves and TV screens. Now, hopefully, this "jab-jab-right hook" / "thank you economy" strategy is taking the place of the old in-your-face model.

Add value by providing more information or product than your customer expects, overcommunicating (e.g. about ordering processes, shipping timelines, return policies, etc.), and making your customer feel vindicated and venerated by recognizing their problems and raising them up as the hero who will overcome them.

4.) "Much copy denigrates rival products — often a waste of time, because the reader ends up believing nobody."

This is counterintuitive for most businesspeople. It's a competition, right? So why wouldn't we explain how much better we are than the competition.

Because it's a slippery slope. No one cares about your business even one iota as much as you. Your prospect won't carefully weigh the pros and cons of your claims, and whether they believe that your competitor stinks but you're actually decent and honest. They'll throw your ad away, or press skip, or hit the X at the corner as quick as their hands can move. Remember, competition is rarely what kills most startups.

5.) "We do not want 100 percent or even 70 percent of our readers to reply… We want a small percentage to whom we can make a precise offer. Precision is not often achieved briefly."

Try to please all and you will please none. It's a truism for copywriting, advertising, and essentially any creative endeavor.

When you cast too wide a net, your claims don’t align powerfully with any single person. This is how you get bland, generic copy that doesn’t actually say anything, and certainly doesn't sell anything.

Like Stephen King’s advice to target a “single ideal reader,” your copy needs to target one “ideal” customer — someone who has the exact, incredibly painful problem that your product sets out to solve. Someone who, halfway through your copy, will gasp, thinking “Finally! Someone who understands!”

I also included the second part of this quote - precision is not often achieved briefly - because it lends to the copywriting world's great long vs. short copy debate. According to Drayton Bird, it's unlikely that you can make a precise, impactful pitch without sacrificing precision. Otherwise you're scratching the surface, but not fully satisfying your ideal customers.


It was damn near impossible choosing between all the amazing content in this book (seriously, this post could have been 50+ bulletpoints long). But I didn't want to overwhelm readers. I'll just reiterate that I cannot recommend this book enough (take note, everyone who DMs me about how to get started in copywriting!).

In addition to conveying essentially everything worth knowing about direct marketing, it has reminders, techniques, tricks, and even multiple checklists that will help you create better ads, develop a unique style, and build a cult-like following around your and your clients' business.

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ (5/5 stars!)

Again, you can pick up Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing here, and if you like this book you'll love these copywriting and direct marketing classics:


P.S. - Want more copywriting and direct marketing book recommendations? Subscribe to my newsletter below — you'll be kept up to date on my wild goose chases through libraries and used book stores to find rare advertising and writing gems!


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