The History Of “You”


(By Spike Santee) One of the most exciting aspects of creating effective advertising for our clients is the vast amount of foundational research, and now, compelling brain science, for us to use in our efforts. We don’t have to fly by the seat of our pants, so to speak. 

Throughout the history of advertising, advertising agencies have relied heavily upon psychologists and other behavioral experts to help develop effective advertising campaigns that can stimulate parts of the human brain in order for the advertising message to reach working and long-term memory.   

But somewhere along the way, testing the effectiveness of an advertising campaign became less important. “In the real world of making ads, it often comes down to a creative person saying ‘I like this’ or ‘I like that,’ without much reliance on research,” says Curtis P. Haugtvedt, PhD, an associate professor of psychology and marketing at Ohio State University. 

Maybe that’s why there is a joke in advertising about half of the company’s advertising is wasted, they just can’t tell which half. 

A professional advertising salesperson cannot afford to deal in 50/50 chances. You need to do everything you can to ensure your commercials are more than a 50% effective.  

John Caples was a legendary advertising executive and copywriter. He is the author of many books on effective advertising techniques. He worked for BBDO for 40 years, eventually rising to Vice President before retiring. 

Caples was a fierce advocate for a scientific approach to advertising research. He was very much concerned with learning how to make his copy more successful, and he took active steps to ensure he could do this by evaluating it in quantifiable ways.

Testing enables you to guard against an advertising manager or copy chief whose pet ideas may be hurting your advertising. Testing enables you to guard against an advertising agency whose idea of agency service is merely to turn out pretty layouts and stereotyped copy. Testing enables you to guard against mistaken ideas that you yourself may have in regard to advertising. And finally, testing enables you to keep in touch with trends in advertising. What was good advertising a few years ago may not always be good advertising today.

Caples once did a study of 100 of the most effective advertisements ever written. He wanted to know which words were used most frequently in the headlines. Here’s what he found: 

You: 31
Your: 14
How: 12
New: 10
Who: 8
Money: 6
Now: 4
People: 4
Want: 4
Why: 4

If you combine the score of the word “you” with the score of the similar word “your,” there are 45 mentions, which is almost as many mentions as the other words combined (52).

“The words ‘you’ and ‘your’ are very effective,” Caples said. “Every copywriter should remember the value of hammering away at you, you, you, both in headlines and in copy.”

Here are some well-known advertising slogans that use the word you. 

  • Be All You Can Be. – Army
  • You’re Eating Good In the Neighborhood. – Applebees
  • It Gives You Wings. – Redbull
  • Because, you’re worth it. – L’Oreal
  • You’re In Good Hands. – Allstate
  • Your World. Delivered. – AT&T
  • This Bud’s For You. – Budweiser
  • Have It Your Way. – Burger King
  • What’s In Your Wallet? – Capital One
  • You Know Us. – Farmers Insurance
  • When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best. – Hallmark
  • You Can Do It. We Can Help. – Home Depot
  • What Would You Do for A Klondike Bar? – Klondike
  • You Deserve A Break Today. – McDonald’s
  • Nationwide Is on Your Side. – Nationwide Insurance
  • This Is Your Brain, This Your Brain on Drugs. – Public Service Announcement
  • You Could Learn a Lot From a Dummy – Public Service Announcement
  • How Do You Spell Relief? – Rolaids
  • What Can Brown Do for You? – UPS
  • Can You Hear Me Now? – Verizon
  • Let Your Fingers Do the Walking – Yellow Pages
  • Melts In Your Mouth, Not Your Hands. – M&Ms
  • A Little Dab’ll Do Ya – Brylcreem
  • Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun. – Doublemint Gum
  • Once You Pop, You Can’t Stop. – Pringles

Scripts with content that appeals to people’s self-interest are by far the most emotionally engaging. Not only do they easily engage the consumer, but they are consistently effective. 

When your script targets a specific audience with something they need or want, you will hit the right emotional chords that open the gateway to the frontal lobe, and that is advertising success. 

Do a good CNA and get started.

Talk to you soon. 

Spike Santee is the author of The Four Keys to Advertising Success and the president of Contact Spike at (785) 230-5350.


  1. Kevin speaks to the rules that were developed and became dogma in the days of print, posters, bill boards etc.
    The distinction that many observers and participants failed to make at the time and still maintain as gospel is the one between print and electronic media.
    Each medium has a different neurological impact and, as such, the “rules” need to be addressed and updated for electronic media.
    All messaging and advertising do not qualify as worthwhile and effective in the same ways or across all media or platforms.
    An appreciation of that distinction is a good place to start before differences, exceptions and subtle but powerful nuances can be appreciated and applied.

  2. Great piece! I applaud.

    The rules of written persuasion were discovered long ago by mail order (now “direct response”) masters like John Caples. They are able to actually test the results of their appeals and methods. We in broadcast are forced to fly blind. Sadly, most in radio don’t know these rules. Even more don’t even know there are rules.

    The key in radio are to apply these old, “print” rules from the masters to our medium.

    Here are five right off the top…

    1. What you say is ALWAYS more important than how you say it. For radio that means copy is the art, production is the frame. Michelangelo, Leonardo, Picasso, who are these men? Most know they are famous artists. Who built the frame around the Mona Lisa? See what I mean? Now, I’m not discounting the importance of production. Like Da Vinci I want my art framed by the magnificent. But, a great frame won’t save a no-talent piece of art.

    2. Promise of benefit is heart of any great ad. Begin ALL your local direct radio ads with a promise benefit statement based on #1 appeal, ID your advertiser and town and do it all in the first 5 or 10 seconds. Don’t ask questions. Don’t beat around the bush.

    3. The three most persuasive words you can use in any ad are: #1: FREE! #2: NEW! #3: YOU! You can almost always use one these words and if you can use all three, you have a winner!

    4. Long copy outsells short copy. Tell more sell more. An equally written 60 will always outperform an equally written 30. If you play two four minute breaks to a test audience, one with four sixties, one with eight thirties, the test audience, will ALWAYS, not sometimes, ALWAYS say the eight, commercial break is twice as long even though they both occupy the same four minutes.

    5. The top three appeals you can use in any ad: #1 Self-Interest. #2 News. 3. Curiosity. Even so, Self-interest and News are almost ALWAYS the safest bet. And in a LOCAL DIRECT radio ad, you can almost always apply both and do it in the first five to ten second.

    These are but five of the bedrock rules of written persuasion, but I’m sure, someone in radio will reply to disagree.

    1+1 is 2. I learned that in the first grade. So, why in 2019 would I even consider 1+1 is 3? “Well, because it’s digital and it just feels like 3!”

    You can bring the horse to water….

    If, and only if, you are employed in LOCAL DIRECT radio advertising, send me an e-mail and I’ll send you my complete copywriting guide, filled with actual examples of successful LOCAL DIRECT retail scripts, FREE! Hey, we gotta stick together!

  3. Because Spike is an experienced, knowledgeable and credible radio professional, I owe him the respect to keep my comments to be more than a whiplash, knee-jerk reaction – even as they are available.
    After all, I am well-rehearsed, as well.
    I will be preparing another, considered and more detailed blog as a response.
    I do note that Spike presents numerous slogans, sell-lines and positioning statements that include the “You” that go back 6 decades and more.
    Besides, even with “A little dab’ll do ya”, I was still a “Wildroot” man, myself. 🙂
    Whatever impact those lines might have had is a result of:
    No Other Alternate Positions Being Considered.
    Advertisers have always bought into the “You” dogma – and still do. It’s a tradition. And it is mandated.
    So, I’d best be getting to work. 🙂


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