The Art and Science of Influence and Leadership (Part II: The Art)

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Influence and leadership

Original Sun-Maid package, Designer unknown, incorporates painting by Fanny Scafford, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

At some point, any effective exercise merges theory (the “science”) into practice (the “art”). Ironically, the following analysis of the art of influence and leadership predates the previously discussed science by roughly half a century or more.

That doesn’t mean this art didn’t follow science as you will immediately see.

The convergence of the art and science of influence and leadership can best be found in the field of advertising. Before Mad Men, before Madison Avenue, this field first blossoms in the not-so-quiet offices of the Chicago firm of Lord & Thomas.

You remember Lord & Thomas, don’t you? They were the “McMann and Tate” of the first quarter of the twentieth century. While it’s president Albert D. Lasker (a.k.a., “The Man Who Sold America” who The New York Times once called “The Father of Advertising”) gets most of the credit, it was his acute ability to hire—and learn from—the best that sets him apart.

Among his first hires was Claude C. Hopkins, perhaps the greatest copywriter of all and most definitely the first to merge the science of market research into the art of advertising. He literally wrote the book on the subject (titled Scientific Advertising). In this book, as well as his biography (My Life In Advertising), Hopkins offered case studies of his work.

Today, we think of advertising as color images, both pictures and video. In the early 1900s, however, advertising relied most on the written word. Those words became the art upon which the copywriter attempted to both capture the attention of and then motivate the reader. An ad was otherwise worthless if it failed to spur the reader to action.

Similarly, leaders use their words to inspire their followers to take action. The most effective leaders—both for good and for bad—use rhetorical tools to hone their oratory skills. These rhetorical tools reach back to the works of Aristotle and Cicero.

Men like Hopkins and Lasker took the theory of the Greek and Roman paragons and updated them for modern audiences.

Like Cicero, Hopkins stuck to basics, diligently focusing in his efforts to promote Palmolive soap, Quaker Oats, Schlitz Beer, and Pepsodent toothpaste, the latter of which is credited with teaching a nation the value of brushing daily.

Like Aristotle, Lasker applied his knowledge to a wide array of fields. He used his skills to rescue baseball from its 1919 Black Sox Scandal, invent the soap opera (yes, to sell soap), get Warren G. Harding elected president, come up with the names “Planned Parenthood” and “American Cancer Society,” and establish Sunkist oranges and Sun-Maid raisins as American staples.

Today, we benefit from Hopkins’ books as they outline both his thinking and his market-testing process. This scientific method of advertising continues through today anywhere from A/B tests we see in email subject lines to traditional test markets.

Lasker never wrote a book explaining his intuitive method. He did, however, regularly offer insights in talks to his executives. These were compiled and published posthumously in the book The Lasker Story As He Told It. In this book, we see who and what Lasker credits his success to.

In 1905, a year after being named a partner at Lord & Thomas, Lasker was sitting in Mr. Thomas’ office when a note arrived from “John E. Kennedy.” Kennedy asked Thomas to meet him downstairs “in the saloon” and he’d tell him what advertising is. Thomas rebuffed the offer, but Lasker went instead.

In that saloon, Kennedy told Lasker advertising was “Salesmanship-on-paper.” He then explained the “reason why” technique. As the name suggests, to get readers to act on your advertisement, you must give them a reason why. Later copywriters expanded on this.

Borrowing from two of Aristotle’s three rhetorical strategies – Pathos (emotion) and Logo (reason) – veteran copywriter Victor O. Schwab suggested advertising should include both emotional and rational “reasons why” readers should act. Leaders know they must pull these two strings to effectively move their team to action.

Ultimately, though, the message must first attract the audience with a hook. This is Schwab’s first step in his 5-step copywriting process (“Grab Attention”). How do you do that?

Rosser Reeves came up with the answer. In 1952, Anacin wanted to run an advertisement on a blossoming medium – television. They needed a hook, and they asked Reeves to come up with it. He used the slogan “fast, incredibly fast relief,” repeating it three times in the commercial.

It worked.

It also worked when Reeves came up with the slogan “M&Ms melts in your mouth, not in your hands.”

Just as Palmolive, Quaker Oats, Schlitz, Pepsodent, Sunkist and Sun-Maid did in an earlier generation, both Anacin and M&Ms became leaders in their market.

Reeves later published a book on his method, calling the use of this and other similar slogans the “unique selling proposition.” In a sense, it derives directly from Hopkins’ early experience with Schlitz beer where the famed copywriter rejected the tired perspective of the beermaker and instead trained his eye on a unique aspect no one had previously claimed.

Whether the written word of newspapers and magazines, or the spoken word of TV and radio, influence and leadership ultimately come down to the words you use.

Now, just because you know the recipe doesn’t mean the cake you bake will turn out good.

The same could be said for influence and leadership. Just because someone knows how to influence and lead people, doesn’t mean that person won’t be tempted by the Dark Side.


  1. […] of advertising have to do with influence and leadership? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “The Art and Science of Influence and Leadership (Part II – The Art)” and discover what some familiar products can teach you about […]

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