A test copywriters had to take in the 1940s

My new copywriting hero is Bernice Fitz-Gibbon (1894-1982), who was a famous retail copywriter and ad manager from the 1920s – 1960s. Her ads routinely appeared in the New York Times during that time period and she’s on Ad Age’s list of Top 100 people of the century.

Another reason I’m fond of her is because she grew up on a farm just 10 miles from me near Madison, WI and attended my alma mater, UW-Madison.

I recently read her delightful book Macy’s, Gimbels, and me; how to earn $90,000 a year in retail advertising, which she wrote in 1967 (and I suspect many copywriters today, 43 years later, would be happy with a $90K income).

In this book she includes a copy of a test of mythology, grammar and literature she gave to prospective copywriters when she ran their advertising department in the 1940s.

Before you read this test, keep in mind there wasn’t the slightest thing boring or stuffy about her copy (as you’ll see in my upcoming posts about her copy).

Rather, she believed knowledge like this was important because “it’s much easier to write with that what-the-hell abandon when you know and observe all the ground rules.” She also said “nothing else will give you the same surge of self-confidence that knowing the English language will give you.”

Here goes:

Who was sulking in his tent and why?

What was the Buddhists’ law of karma?

What is the Plimsoll mark?

Who was Lucullus?

What was the name of Don Quixote’s horse?

Why did Alfred let the cakes burn?

What was Veblen’s theory of conspicuous consumption?

Who was Caligula?

Why did Diogenes carry a lamp?

Explain Scylla and Charybdis.

What is a Judas goat?

Locate the Flea Market, Rotten Row, Epsom Downs.

Why did Thales fall into the well?

What is a Pythagorean theorem?

She also gave synonym tests. If the person couldn’t rattle off a sufficient number of synonyms, she didn’t hire them. If they told her that there’s no such thing as a synonym because each word has a different meaning, no two words are alike, she hired them.

In my next post I’ll feature some of her headlines and copywriting tips.

In the meantime, check out the book The 100 Greatest Advertisements 1852-1958 on Google Books. It’s only a preview, but you can see some cool vintage ads there. Enjoy!

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  • http://www.ryanhealy.com/ Ryan Healy

    Those questions make me feel like a mental midget. 🙂

  • http://www.Guydz.com/moneypowerwisdom/ drmani

    Loved it! I could answer 2 of those questions, and (almost) did another two (Alfred's cakes, and Don Quixote's horse – Sancho's name kept popping into my head, tho'!)

  • http://www.AnitaAshland.com/ anitaashland

    Wow, I'm impressed you could answer two questions. I couldn't. Thanks for your comment and for visiting my blog.