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7 of The Greatest Masters of Persuasion (And What You Can Learn From Them)

Who are the top 7 all-time most influential people in the world of advertising, marketing and persuasion?

Last year at Kreativ Copywriting we asked ourselves this exact same question, and as a result, came up with our very own shortlist which we proceeded to share every week for nearly two months via our #MediaMastersMonday LinkedIn weekly posts.

They proved to be a big hit, and because not everyone is on LinkedIn, we decided to compile them in one easy to read ‘bumper’ article.

And here it is, our top 7 media masters, all together at last – in the order they first appeared.

1) Gustave Le Bon (aka The Grandfather of Public Relations)

Born in 1841, Gustave Le Bon was a prominent social scientist who specialised in group psychology.

He is probably best remembered for his extremely influential book called; The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. In it, he developed radical new theories concerning what he pejoratively called ‘herd behaviour’ but we now more politely call ‘crowd psychology’.

His ideas were later picked up on by future legendary thinkers such as Sigmund Freud and eventually used as a platform to develop the field of ‘Public Relations’.

In short, Gustave observed that crowds could cause individuals to go into a highly suggestible state in which they will sometimes act irrationally. He also noticed that they act less intelligently (than the individuals in them) and – just as worryingly – increasingly antagonistic to other groups.

What’s even crazier is that their irrational behaviour spreads quickly throughout the group; an effect known as ‘contagion theory’.

To find out more about his work and what a big influence it has had, especially on how we interact on social media, see the link here.


2) Vance Packard (Revealer of the Hidden Persuaders)

Vance Packard was an American journalist, social critic and author of the groundbreaking book ‘The Hidden Persuaders’. In it, he blew the lid off how marketers ingeniously, and arguably rather unethically, applied psychology to get consumers to buy their goods and services.

Obviously the book contains heaps of revealing inside information, but the key takeaways were:

1. Motivational researchers know how to manipulate us because they’ve studied:

• Our dreams, hidden desires and secret distresses

• Why we do things

• All our weaknesses

2. There are 3 kinds of consciousness:

• Conscious mind – everything within our field of awareness

• Pre-conscious mind – just below the level of consciousness

• Semi-conscious – things we are not consciously aware of and could never explain even if we knew them

3. We all have the following hidden needs that agents of influence can manipulate to make us act in specific ways:

• Emotional security

• Reassurance of self-worth

• Ego gratification

• Creativity

• Love objects

• Power

• Roots

• Immortality

The Mad Men knew all this psychology back in the 50s. It helped create the ads that made the world we live in. Makes you wonder what they know now?

Interested in psychology? Check out this link. 😉


3) Rosser Reeves (Co-founder of Ted Bates and Co.)

It might sound like a line from a Dusty Springfield song, but Rosser Reeves quite literally was ‘the son of a preacher man’. Which is ironic, because in his youth it seems he very well may have been the type of bad boy she was singing about!

As a student he basically got booted out of college for too much partying and crashing his car while drunk. However, it seems academia’s loss was the world of advertising’s gain!

A consummate salesman, his major contribution to marketing was the concept of the unique selling proposition (USP). For him, the most important thing about an ad was that it sold the product. He did this by highlighting one advantage that set it apart from the competition and provided a special unique value.

There are lots of anecdotes about Reeves. But the best is also, probably, one of the most famous in the history of marketing. It’s about a lunchtime stroll in Central Park where in just four words he dramatically improved the life of a blind beggar – and taught us all a great lesson!

I made a short post and video about it (see the link here.)

On top of creating the USP concept, he also wrote an influential book called ‘Reality in Advertising’ that ‘back in the day’ was pretty much required reading for all ambitious ad men (or women).


4) Edward Bernays (aka The Father of Public Relations)

We are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.” – Edward Bernays

There are many distinguished people I could have included in this list but wasn’t able to. But there is one person I really could not have left out under any circumstances, and that is Edward Bernays.

It is no exaggeration to say that Bernays was an absolute total master of media manipulation.

Born in Austria in 1891, and bizarrely ‘double’ nephew to Sigmund Freud, Bernays had a genius for marketing, publicity and politics that he put to good use in his exceedingly long life. He lived to the grand old age of 103, and there is no doubt about it during that time he changed the world!

Among his many notable achievements, he got us eating bacon and eggs for breakfast, accepting male ballet dancers, changed how the world viewed women smoking and cleaned up the image of soap.


5) David Ogilvy was (aka The Father of Advertising)

It is safe to say that David Ogilvy as well as being a bona fide media master superstar is someone who lived a very full and exciting life.

It included a spell at Oxford, working as a chef at the Hotel Majestic in Paris, time served as a secret agent during WW2, and as an associate director at Princeton for George Gallup the man who more or less created the idea of market research.

Interestingly, it seems fame and fortune must run in the family, even his nephew became famous. His name is Ian Ogilvy, and he played the dashing Simon Templar in the hit 70s TV series Return of The Saint!

Anyway, back to David. These days he is mainly remembered as the clever ‘Mad Man’ behind famous quotes such as:

If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”


The headline is the ‘ticket on the meat’. Use it to flag down readers who are prospects for the kind of product you are advertising.”

But in truth he has had a much bigger influence on advertising than just notable quotes, hence his impressive nickname; The Father of Advertising.

Who knows why he was so good at what he did?

Whatever it was, it gave him the right set of skills to set up the legendary ad agency Ogilvy & Mather. It also enabled him to write one of my favourite books on advertising; ‘Confessions of an Advertising Man’.

It really is a great book. If you’ve never read it, and are interested in the subject, I would strongly recommend getting a copy. It may be old but is full of eternal wisdom and brimming with good advice, great tips and wonderful stories!

Love copywriting and advertising quotes like the ones above? Check out the link here for some more top marketing-related quotes.


6) Eugene M Schwartz (Copywriter Extraordinaire)

Born in Montana in 1927, Eugene Schwartz moved to New York in 1949 and from lowly messenger boy, worked his way up to became chief of copy at Huber Hoge & Sons before going off and starting his own business.

He came up with unforgettable headlines such as; ‘Give Me 15 Minutes and I’ll Give You a Super-Power Memory.’ He also wrote influential marketing books such as ‘Breakthrough Advertising’. But is probably best remembered for his 8 Great Rules of Marketing:

1. Be the best listener you ever met.

(so you can)

(i) Write copy that directly targets their minds

(ii) You are able to market your products more effectively because you know

2. Work extremely intensely, in spurts.

3. Never “create”- know the product to the core and combine the details in new ways.

4. Write to the chimpanzee brain – simply and directly.

5. Channel demand – never sell.

6. Think about what your product “does”, not “is”- and demonstrate this.

7. Make gratification instantaneous.

8. Failing often, and testing big differences, shows you are trying hard enough.

Love to hear your thoughts on Mr Schwartz and his rules. Do they still stand up to scrutiny today? I think they do!


7) John E Kennedy (Ad Man Legend)

To my mind, John E Kennedy gave one of the best answers ever to the often asked question; “What is advertising?”.

This was his reply…

“Salesmanship in print.”

Well, I think it’s great anyway!

Born in Canada, where he worked as a Royal Mountie and copywriter until 1904, at which point he used his well-honed persuasive skills to land a job in Chicago at Lord & Thomas.

Apparently, he won the job on the strength of a message he sent up to a senior partner from the lobby, it read, ‘I can tell you what advertising is…’. Legend has it that the partner passed the note to a junior manager and said to him; “Well, you have been asking this question for years and nobody has yet satisfied you. Maybe here is the answer…”.

It seems like it was a very good answer, as sales revenue at the agency went from $2.5m to $3.2m by the time he left just 2 years later!

He was so good at copywriting that one of his first jobs at Lord & Thomas was to write down his basic principles so they could be taught to everyone else. In fact, his text still exists and can be found in the book ‘Reason Why Advertising’.

Unsurprisingly really, he went on to have a long and distinguished career, became one of the highest paid copywriters ever, and influenced other later famous copywriters such as Rosser Reeves and Claude C. Hopkins.

Have you ever read his book? If you have, we’d love to hear about it!


What do you think of our list of media masters? Is there anyone you think we have missed that you would have included? We’d love to know. Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

Do you want to become a Media Master? Why not enrol in one of our Academy courses and start your journey today. You never know, maybe one day you’ll feature on a list like the one above!

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