Who Invented the Opt-In for Sales Pages, Squeeze Pages, and Websites?

Today, we have a name for it: Opt-In.

Back then, they didn’t.

But the principle is the same: Get a lead.

Let’s meet a few of the luminaries of the past century who instilled many of the practices we use today in our marketing and opt-in forms.

John E. Kennedy

(1864 – 1928)

John E. Kennedy was paid a princely sum. In an article that was later a part of a book, Kennedy said that the copywriters at his agency Lord & Thomas earned nearly three times more than their competitors because they had the facts to back up their claims.

“Not one Advertising Agency in America pays a third what we do (viz., $ 72,000 per year in Salaries) for a capable Copy-Staff.” [1]

Kennedy worked for Albert Lasker at Lord & Thomas. In a speech Lasker made in 1925, he said of Kennedy…

“Think of it, back in 1905 a copywriter getting $28,000 a year!” [2]

Lasker was indeed surprised that someone got so much money writing advertising copy. While working for Lord & Thomas, Kennedy was a strong advocate of reason-why copy and strongly against “keeping-the-name-before-the-people” in which he refers to as general advertising.

Kennedy coined the phrase “Salesmanship-on-paper” when he pitched his ideas to Albert Lasker at Lord & Thomas.*

(It’s interesting to note that Kennedy uses the phrase “Salesmanship-on-paper” in his book of essays whereas—as you’ll see in a moment—Albert Lasker uses the phrase “salesmanship-in-print” in his book, The Lasker Story: As he told it.)

Kennedy was adamant that salesmanship-on-paper was much better than general advertising even if there was little fame in it. He said…

“There is no Glory in this ‘Salesmanship-on-paper,’ — no applause for it, — no admiration, — just Profit.” [3]

He challenged readers to test their best “general publicity” ads through mail order and see how well they did. He was confident that the advertiser would soon see where their money was wasted.

“That is the test that shatters advertising Idols and dispels ‘Publicity’ illusions.” [4]

Kennedy had a great influence on how Lord & Thomas conducted their business after they hired him—to the point where Lord & Thomas grew to the most profitable advertising agency in America. The company dissolved after Albert Lasker retired and sold it to its top three executives, creating what is now known as Foote, Cone & Belding, which still exists today.

Kennedy heavily advocated to his advertisers that reason-why or conviction advertising was much more effective than general publicity ads. He writes:

“In other words, one sound, convincing Advertisement will sell far more goods than fifty brilliant, catchy, strikingly displayed ‘Ads’ that have less conviction in them.” [5]

He also stressed to his clients that advertising is like having a multitude of salesman out there pounding the pavement, so his philosophy was to use reason-why advertising—not silly “keeping-the-name-before-the-people” general advertising.

Kennedy sums it up nicely in his book:

“ADVERTISING is just Salesmanship-on-paper. It is a means of multiplying the work of the Salesman, who writes it, several thousand-fold.” [6]

In today’s (2018) dollars, Kennedy’s salary of $28,000 is equal to $722,311.12 (using the online inflation calculator at www.in2013dollars.com)

In 1904, there was an article written in Judicious Advertising that said Kennedy was “the highest salaried writer of advertising in America.” [7]

Albert Lasker


In Taken at the Flood, the story of Albert Lasker’s life, by John Gunther, there is the famous story of how John E. Kennedy sent a note up to Lasker as he was sitting in a saloon below the offices of Lord & Thomas. The note said…

“‘I am in the saloon downstairs, and I can tell you what advertising is. I know what it is and it will mean much to you. If you wish to know what advertising is, send the word ‘Yes’ down by messenger.’ Signed—John E. Kennedy.”

After Lasker summoned him to come upstairs, Kennedy said advertising is “Salesmanship-in-print.”*

Lasker’s agency, Lord & Thomas, had a diligent record keeping system where they had all the statistics of all their direct response advertisements. This is much like the metrics you may have with Google Analytics, your e-mail service provider or your landing page application, but it was all on paper; not computers.

With these statistics, they were able to prove that their “reason-why” advertising was far superior than the “Keeping-the-name-before-the-people” advertising that most advertisers preferred. They called this file their “Record of Results.” [8]

Both John E. Kennedy and Albert Lasker mention in their books that they use this data to leverage the Lord & Thomas agency to earn more than other agency in America.

When Lasker was just a young man at Lord & Thomas and learning the craft of copywriting, he asked his superiors for some clients so he could “practice” his copywriting skills.

One client was for Wilson’s Ear Drums—a type of hearing aid for people hard of hearing. He was so successful with his approach that he “had multiplied the yield of this account ten times!” [10]

 Albert Lasker in 1903 made $52,000 [9] which is the equivalent to $1,341,435 in 2016 dollars (according to online inflation calculator, www.in2013dollars.com ). That’s a princely sum for a twenty-three-year-old copywriter!

Lasker was not the only one who made a lot of money by being a very effective copywriter. He said this of one of his copywriters:

“I had kept on with Katz for two or three years as my copywriter. Then Katz got free lancing, everybody got using his copywriting, and Katz went in business for himself. He is retired today, a very rich man.” [10]

David Ogilvy


David Ogilvy was born in England in 1911. His father was a financial broker and his mother a civil servant. Ogilvy struggled with poverty in his early years. In fact, he had to go to school on reduced fees.

He worked hard and won several scholarships which allowed him to attend Oxford for a time, although he left before graduation.

Ogilvy engaged in odd jobs for a time, most notably as a chef and a door-to-door salesman. It was during his time as a salesperson that he wrote The Theory and Practice of Selling the AGA Cooker. This was a sales manual that extolled the virtues of the stove he was selling door-to-door.

His impressive insights into the consumer mind got the attention of Mather and Crowther, which resulted in Ogilvy being offered a position in their company in London. The London agency, run by his elder brother Francis was later acquired by another London agency, S.H. Benson.

This new company eventually branched out into New York and became Ogilvy, Benson, and Mather. It was around that time that Ogilvy put what he had learned about customers and products into practice.

David Ogilvy had just $6,000 ($59,726.72 in 2016 dollars) in his account when he started the agency. He writes in Confessions of an Advertising Man that, initially, he struggled to get clients.

Ogilvy also admitted (referring to the pioneer of British advertising Bobby Bevan, the chairman of Benson): “I was in awe of him, but Bevan never took notice of me!” They would meet later, however.

Ogilvy & Mather was built on David Ogilvy’s principles. In particular, the function of advertising is to sell and that successful advertising for any product is based on information about its consumer.

He disliked advertisements that had loud patronizing voices, and believed a customer should be treated as intelligent. In 1955, he coined the phrase, “The customer is not a moron, she’s your wife” based on these values.

Ogilvy believed that consumers were smart even though advertisers of the time often were patronizing of their potential customers. He believed that understanding the customer was the key to selling, and it turned out he was right. He knew that if he could find people who wanted his product, then selling would be much easier.

The approach he took was one of finding the right customers for his product and services. Then, he would contact them via direct mail, and the information he sent to them told them how his product could benefit them. He didn’t talk down to his customers or patronize them. He treated them with respect, and it paid off.

His careful selection of customers allowed him to offer products to the people who were most likely to want them, making selling much easier and the work per sale less. He also was more easily able to target his message to customers, because he knew who they were and what they needed. Suddenly, the return on investments, both of time and money, were spiking.

Ogilvy started out with smaller accounts such as Dove body wash. As he proved his advertising power again and again, he was approached by much wealthier clients such as Rolls Royce. He worked his magic on these bigger clients and made a name for himself in advertising.

As Ogilvy proved his methods over and over, he continued to bring in huge profits for Ogilvy and Mather and eventually became the chairman. He went into retirement in 1973, but he remained involved in the business. He came out of retirement to serve several companies including becoming the non-executive chairman for WPP (originally called Wire and Plastic Products).

Even after retirement, Ogilvy and the changes he made to advertising were not forgotten.

He was elected to the U.S. Advertising Hall of Fame, Order of Arts and Letter, and the Junior Business Hall of Fame.

Eventually, Ogilvy settled into the Chateau de Touffou, which he had purchased in 1966, where he lived out the remainder of his days until his death in 1999.The Chateau de Touffou is a castle in Bonnes, France that was converted into a mansion. It is still owned by Ogilvy’s heirs at the time of this writing.

Anyone can see that it was not a bad ending for a man who once needed reduced fees and scholarships just to help pay for his basic education.

Ogilvy achieved all of his wealth and prestige because he took the time to study customers when he was a simple door-to-door salesman. His direct mail campaigns along with the other changes he made in advertising have made him a legend in his field.

In his own words written in 1980 in Confessions of an Advertising Man:

“Fifteen years ago I was an obscure tobacco farmer in Pennsylvania. Today, I preside over one of the best advertising agencies in the United States, with billings of $55,000,000 a year, a payroll of $5,000,000 and offices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Toronto.” [11]

David Ogilvy died on July 21, 1999 at his home in Touffou, France. He was 88 years old. He is still the most famous name in advertising, and many of his ads have stood the test of time. Truly one of the greats. And this book will look at many of this principles and see how they apply today to landing pages, e-mail marketing and general advertising messages.

John Caples


As a young copywriter at the Ruthrauff and Ryan mail order advertising agency, Caples wrote what is probably the most famous ad of all time…

“They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano~”

A few months later, he also wrote another famous ad…

“They Grinned When the Waiter Spoke To Me in French”.

Both ads have been “plagiarized” and satirized continuously ever since.


Because they work!

After those successes, Caples moved to BBDO (Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn) where he spent the rest of his writing career. In 1941, Caples became a vice president, and in later years, he served the company as the creative director.

Caples’ career was interrupted for a short time during World War II when he was called back into the Navy. During this time he rose to the rank of commander.

Caples wrote two seminal books that are loved by fans today. The most well-known and cited is Tested Advertising Methods. This book has been updated many times since it’s original release. In fact, many of the examples that Caples used are no longer in the most recent editions. Newer examples of products are used to give more clarity.

However, Caples other book, How to Make Your Advertising Make Money, still retains all of his original material. Personally, I think it’s the better of two.

What’s interesting about John Caples is that his most famous headline mentioned above for the U.S. School of Music was the very first real assignment he got for writing headlines. Before that, he was only allowed to write filler copy, not headlines.

But even after this success, he didn’t let it get him down because he continued to write copy for over 40 years.

John Caples believed in testing of ads, consistency in copywriting and simplicity in advertisements.

We will see these principles at work in the coming chapters.

Robert Collier

(1885 – 1950)

Robert Collier was both a copywriter and a self-help author.

Robert Collier’s inspirational books have changed the lives of thousands. He was a prolific writer and a progressive publisher who strongly believed that happiness and abundance were within easy reach.

He was born in St. Louis, M.O. in 1885. As an adult, he moved East to find his fortune. He spent the next 8 years in West Virginia as a mining engineer.

After eight years in West Virginia, he went to New York City and worked in the advertising department of the P.F. Collier Publishing Company.

With the help and guidance of such experts as Bruce Barton and Fred Stone, he developed ideas in sales copy, persuading the top men to test them in new circulars he wrote. The results were fantastic.

He sold many thousands of the Harvard Classics–a five-foot shelf of books by Dr. Elliott. His circulars on the O. Henry stories brought orders for over two million dollars, followed by orders for over 70,000 books on “The History of the World War.” 

Robert Collier had the idea for a long time for a set of books on practical psychology. He put this idea into action, working night and day writing the books. Within six months after the books were published, he received more than one million dollars’ worth of orders for them.

The books were entitled, The Secret of the Ages. He sold over 300,000 sets of them. The books really worked. He received thousands of letters telling of results obtained from reading these books.

When you read the strategies outlined in this book, you will see how Robert Collier was way ahead of his time.

Claude C. Hopkins


Claude Hopkins worked for many advertisers, and they paid him handsomely for his income-generating copy. He was courted by many well-known brands of the day including Bissell Carpet Sweeper Company, Swift & Company and Dr. Shoop’s patent medicine company.

When Hopkins was 41, he worked for Lord & Thomas which was the same agency Albert Lasker and John E. Kennedy had worked.

While at Lord & Thomas, Hopkins received a salary of $185,000 a year which was an impressive amount in 1907.

A Strong Work Ethic

Claude Hopkins supported himself since the age of nine years old. For a while, he “distributed the Detroit Evening News to sixty-five homes before supper.” [12] He also swept the floors of schoolhouses and milked cows before most children showed up at school.

From this early experience, Hopkins gained a very strong work ethic.

“I often left my office at two o’clock in the morning. Sundays were my best working days, because there were no interruptions.” [13]

Although he wouldn’t recommend working those late hours to others, he does say in his book, My Life in Advertising that…

“But the man who works twice as long as his fellows is bound to go twice as far, especially in advertising.” [14]


Hopkins believed advertising existed only to sell something and should be measured and justified by the results it produced.

Hopkins insisted that copywriters research their clients’ products and produce “reason-why” copy. He believed that a good product and the atmosphere around it was often its own best salesperson

In his book Scientific Advertising, he stated that “The time has come when advertising in some hands has reached the status of a science.”


Hopkins essentially invented many of the concepts that so many advertisers take for granted today. The very concept of the Opt-In was practically invented by Claude Hopkins.

He invented coupons to track the effectiveness of his advertisements. Also, he incorporated the money back guarantee that is widely used nowadays.

Claude Hopkins invented test marketing, sampling technology and the concept of pre-emptive advertising. Hopkins was one of the pioneers of sampling. As you will see, this is very popular in the digital age.


His book Scientific Advertising was published in 1923, following his retirement from Lord & Thomas, where he finished his career as president and chairman. This book was followed up by his autobiography, My Life in Advertising, published in 1927 He died in 1932. 

Hopkins was a fascinating character, and he has taught many copywriters of today many life and advertising lessons. In this book, we will explore more of how Hopkins approached advertising and how he could be considered the father of the opt-in.

In the following chapters, we will their strategies put into practice in the modern world of online marketing and advertising.

*Please note that the phrase “salesmanship-in-print” has also been noted as “salesmanship-on-paper.” The quotes you see in each biography are exactly as is. Each author had their own interpretation (or recollection) of the event and phrased used.

[1] Kennedy, John E.. The What, How, and Why of Advertising: Unknown Basics That Shape Ad Response (Masters of Marketing Secrets Book 13) (Kindle Locations 421-422). Midwest Journal Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Lasker, Albert., The Lasker Story As He Told It, (p.23),  Advertising Publications 1963

[3] Kennedy, John E.. The What, How, and Why of Advertising: Unknown Basics That Shape Ad Response (Masters of Marketing Secrets Book 13) (Kindle Locations 516-517). Midwest Journal Press. Kindle Edition.

[4] Kennedy, John E.. The What, How, and Why of Advertising: Unknown Basics That Shape Ad Response (Masters of Marketing Secrets Book 13) (Kindle Locations 520-521). Midwest Journal Press. Kindle Edition.

[5] Kennedy, John E.. The What, How, and Why of Advertising: Unknown Basics That Shape Ad Response (Masters of Marketing Secrets Book 13) (Kindle Locations 565-566). Midwest Journal Press. Kindle Edition.

[6] Kennedy, John E.. The What, How, and Why of Advertising: Unknown Basics That Shape Ad Response (Masters of Marketing Secrets Book 13) (Kindle Locations 273-274). Midwest Journal Press. Kindle Edition.

[7] Lasker, Albert, The Lasker Story As he told it, Advertising Publications 1963

[8] Kennedy, John E.. The What, How, and Why of Advertising: Unknown Basics That Shape Ad Response (Masters of Marketing Secrets Book 13) (Kindle Location 587). Midwest Journal Press. Kindle Edition.

[9] Taken at the Flood (p. 57)

[10] Lasker, Albert., The Lasker Story As He Told It, (p.18),  Advertising Publications 1963

[11] Ogilvy, David, Confessions of an Advertising Man. Antheneum. 1980

[12] Hopkins, Claude. My Life in Advertising (p. 7).  . Kindle Edition.

[13] Hopkins, Claude. My Life in Advertising (p. 8).  . Kindle Edition.

[14] Hopkins, Claude. My Life in Advertising (p. 8).  . Kindle Edition.