[Story-Driven Marketing of the Week #5] The Most Swiped Ad of All Time: The WSJ

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Clients often come to me asking if Story-Telling is a fad that will go out of fashion. 

‘Everyone’s talking about it – it just feels very “NOW”’

They wonder if learning to tell stories is a skill worth investing in or if it’s yet another marketing fad that will go out of style faster than the automated chatbot.

It’s why I want to talk to you today about one of the most swiped ads ever written.  It’s an ad that the WSJ ran from the 1970s.  It ran for almost 20 years and it helped the WSJ generate over $2 billion dollars in subscriptions.

This ad is proof that storytelling is here to stay and it’s why I’m going to break it down for you today.

Check out the video to learn some of the techniques they used to create this winning ad.

Story Objective : Sell WSJ Subscriptions to a cold audience

Method: Third person emotionally-charged story

Core Desire: Success, status accomplishment

Section 1 Time Stamp: 1:04 – 2:40

Summary of Key Points –

  • The letter sets the scene, so the reader can visualise the story and place themselves inside the ad.
  • It introduces the moment of emotional conflict in the story (i.e. The 25th Reunion)
  • The ad uses a relatable story as the emotional hook to agitate the pain point.
  • The story raises the reader’s awareness of their pain points and desires, by ‘showing’ the pain rather than describing it explicitly.


Section 2 Time Stamp:  2:40 – 3:33

Summary of Key Points –

  • Section 2 invites the reader to question what made the difference between the successful man and the less successful man
  • The reader can picture themselves in the same situation. It brings forth a sense of shame and fear as the reader wouldn’t want to be the lesser man at their own reunion

Section 3 Time Stamp: 3:33 – 4:25

Summary of Key Points –

  • The copy anticipates the very question that the reader will be asking themselves. ‘if the two men had the same upbringing, what IS it that made the difference between success and mediocrity?’
  • It then refutes the other possible answers to that question


Section 4 Time Stamp: 4:25 –

Summary of Key Points –

  • ‘The Turn’ – the letter changes gear and explicitly states why they’re sharing this story. It begins to introduce the product on offer

Section 5 Time Stamp: 4:25 – 4:48

Summary of Key Points –

  • Introduces the most appealing features and benefits of the WSJ through visuals
  • The reader can picture themselves enjoying their copy of the WSJ


Section 6 Time Stamp: 4:48 – 6:13

Summary of Key Points –

  • Adds social proof to the key features

Section 7 Time Stamp: 6:13 – 6:28

Summary of Key Points –

  • Explicitly states the WSJ’s USP

Section 8 Time Stamp: 6:28 – 8:40

Summary of Key Points –

  • The letter makes a low-commitment starter offer to the reader
  • NB – the letter continues beyond this point with a CTA but for brevity I’ve ended my break-down at the offer.

Turn Casual Subscribers into Obsessed Buyers

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