The dismal track record of most marketing experts

“Half my advertising doesn’t work. I just don’t know which half!”                                John Wanamaker, American retail legend

I’m constantly amazed by how many supposed marketing experts give out horrible advice. It almost seems like they’re making it up rather than carefully testing and proving something works before sounding off about it.

For example, last week I saw an article by a well-known expert recommending that you take a full year to implement an unbelievably complex social media plan in order to start seeing results from various social media sites. Really? Invest a year’s worth of effort before seeing a tangible return into media that’s constantly changing? Good luck with that.

The experts fall flat again

 Or I’ll never forget a few years ago when I was selling a training program that used four free videos packed with valuable content as the lead-up to the actual sales piece. Each video was released about three days apart.

When it came time to release the sales letter, my headline was “This is it!”. Then the sub-head elaborated on the benefits of this program.

Well, I immediately received emails and calls from 8 or 10 different experts all telling me I was committing marketing suicide by using such a meaningless headline. But here’s what they didn’t get. Whenever you’re doing any marketing, context is always a vital component.

You see, without any prior warm-up, that headline would have indeed been meaningless. But within the context of the highly compelling warm-up that proceeded it, the people who had joined my list explicitly to receive these free video trainings were waiting in eager anticipation to get the details on the complete training course. So “This is it!” made perfect sense to them.

The proof, as always, is in the results. And since we sold out the entire training and grossed $320,000 in just three days, the results prove that this headline – within the context of who it was aimed at – was a powerful winner.

Re-enrolling in old school

As a lifetime student of marketing, I’ve discovered in talking to many experts, that they haven’t really done their homework. A high percentage of them rely heavily on knocking off each other as their major form of marketing education. That’s why when you see one “guru” using some new gimmick, within a few weeks, it seems like they’ve all switched to this new gimmick.

So let me give you some advice you can’t go wrong with. If you want to build a solid marketing foundation, it’s time to re-enroll in old school marketing fundamentals. You see, times change and technologies change, but human nature doesn’t change much. So simply by reading a handful of classic marketing books, you can get a powerful education that will let you dominate your market.

Here are my recommendations for getting this kind of education. All three titles are available on

>>> My Life In Advertising / Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins

>>> Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples

>>> How to Write a Good Advertisement by Victor Schwab

You can’t go wrong with these three classics. All are reasonably quick reads, as well. So within just a few weeks, you’ll know more about effective marketing than most self-proclaimed experts could ever hope to know.

Am I nuts? Am I right on target?

Feel free to let me know – or share your own experience with this topic – by leaving your comment below.

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16 Responses to The dismal track record of most marketing experts

  1. Every marketing expert should read these three books and a few more of the classics like Ogilvy On Advertising.

    Scientific Advertising gets a bit stilted with the old fashioned language in places but Tested Advertising methods has been updated.

    The surprise (to me at least) was the Victor Schwab book. It is fantastic.

    • Bob Serling says:

      Victor Schwab’s book was the second book I ever read on marketing. The first was “How to Get Rich in Mail Order” by Melvin Powers. Mr. Powers company was the publisher of Victor Schab’s book and never failed to promote his other titles in his books.

      After reading “How to Write a Good Advertisement”, I took out an ad in Adweek offering my copywriting services – of course, using a unique twist I had learned from Schwab’s book. My friends told me I was nuts to attempt to be a copywriter with no experience. However, I landed two copywriting projects from that ad – and I was off and running.

  2. Hey Bob,

    Totally agree with the book recommendations. I’m amazed at the number of people who are spending lots of time and money every week on Facebook and Twitter for zero results. When you compare that to using something like one of your email campaigns which give great results quickly, email is a no-brainer.



  3. Matt says:

    I’d say your probably nuts, but your still right on target.
    I’ve heard Frank call you a marketing legend many times.
    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Brian Carson says:


    Excellent post and I agree with your suggested book recommendations. If I may be so forward, I would add Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz. His book isn’t as easy to read as the others but has a wealth of marketing and advertising knowledge from one of the all-time great copywriters.

    Thanks for all you do,

    • Bob Serling says:

      Thanks for the recommendation, Brian. Admittedly, many people recommend this book. But to be honest, I found it so difficult to navigate, and I’ve tried to read it a number of times, that I gave up. The other books I recommended are easy and fun to read and packed with great advice.

      That said, I’m certainly not against readers trying to tackle Breakthrough Advertising. I’m sure there are many people much smarter than me who can manage it :-).

  5. thomas says:


    Once more again rock solid advice and thanks for dissecting through all the BS. I love how you simplify the pitch and come off so genuine. So refreshing and original in this digital, hyped up world.

  6. Ed Parry says:

    Thanks Bob. I love reading your stuff. It’s always worthwhile. Top quality / satisfaction guaranteed.

    Thank you


  7. Excellent. My career also began with these books, including the Melvin Powers one. Other crucial books include Positioning, The Battle for the Mind and MaxiMarketing by Rapp & Collins. These are key to understanding not just the mechanics but the STRATEGY of selling through marketing.

  8. I just wrote a newsletter piece on “What Happens When They Do Find You Online?” What the piece does is demonstrate that all technology and traffic strategy will fall on it’s face if you forget or neglect copy.

    I’ve read 2 of the 3 books you mention and a whole bunch more. I think I even have Eugene Schwartz’s book—though I can’t remember anything about it—must not been able to read it either:(.


  9. trevor says:

    I would like to see what a successful ad written by an inexperienced copywriter looks like.
    Could you show us Bob?

  10. trevor says:

    I would like to know how you got some clients at the start of your career without actually being a copywriter.

  11. Lanae says:

    I love it when you recommend great books!
    Thank you!

  12. Josh says:

    I always like reading your posts Bob — they are always insightful. I like your comments about how the fundamentals are what is really crucial in the long run, not the flash-in-pan stuff that we get bombarded with day in & day out. I also like your reference to your MDL 2.0 launch — & the headline you used for the final pitch was perfectly congruent w/ what lead up to it with all the valuable information you put into those pre-launch videos — they are classic! —- I Camtasia recorded them for my personal reference.


  13. Melody says:

    Thank you for the book recommendations, Bob. I’m always curious what others are reading and what they learn from them.

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