The Declaration of Independence: America's Most Famous Direct-Response Ad
By Gary North
Most Americans know little about the background of this event. The details they recall from a high school textbook are incorrect. There is great confusion. The amount of misinformation is shocking. I am here to clear up some widely held misconceptions. (Note: I have a Ph.D. in colonial American history. I have also been involved since 1974 in direct-response marketing. As far as I know, no one else has combined these two careers.)
With the Tea Act, The British East India Company (BEICo) was back in control of the tea business in the colonies. Hancock was New England’s #1 middleman for tea. He was cut out of the deal.
BEICo now had a new marketing slogan. “Lower taxes. Lower prices.” (Walmart’s recently adopted slogan is similar: “Save Money. Live Better.”) Hancock had to do something, and he had to do it fast. Fortunately for Hancock, Sam Adams was up to the task.
Back in 1765, Adams had helped organize a regional sales force, the Sons of Liberty. This group had made tax collectors offers that they simply could not refuse. He had recruited Hancock into the organization. They had worked together ever since. Adams had revived the organization in 1774. It called for a boycott of tea sold by retailers for British tea. This campaign led to the first Continental Congress in September.
Adams was highly successful in politics but in nothing else. So, honoring market responses, he specialized in politics.
Earlier in the year, Paine had proven himself to be a highly skilled practitioner of direct-response marketing. His January 1776 marketing campaign was based on a classic long-copy ad with this headline: Common Sense. The campaign pulled spectacularly. It still does — a phenomenon known in the direct-response trade as “drag.”
It was sold and distributed widely and read aloud at taverns and meeting places. In proportion to the population of the colonies at that time (2.5 million), it had the largest sale and circulation of any book published in American history. As of 2006, it remains the all-time best selling American title, and is still in print today. . . .The pamphlet was also highly successful because of a brilliant marketing tactic planned by Paine. He and Bell timed the first edition to be published at around the same time as a proclamation on the colonies by King George III, hoping to contrast the strong, monarchical message with the heavily anti-monarchical Common Sense. Luckily, the speech and the first advertisement of the pamphlet appeared on the same day within the pages of the Pennsylvania Evening Post.
Paine’s marketing was revolutionary. Literally.
Summary: In July 1776, Hancock was in charge of a national marketing campaign against the British East India Company. Yet the company was never mentioned. Officially, he was fighting Parliament. This was why he signed the parchment.