Named for Johnson
In my post on June 3, I explained “halo copy” qualifies as advertising jargon. Today, I’d like to define another term that gives some marketers puzzled expressions when they hear it.
The term is “Johnson Box” and it’s not the sort of box you pack with goods.
A Johnson Box is typically used on the letter inside a direct mail envelope package. Got one handy? Follow along. If not, let me explain.
At the top of the letter, on the left, you see the company logo and probably some personalization (if it travels in a window envelope). In the upper right corner, if it’s a good direct marketing letter, you see a headline, a graphic, or something that teases the offer.
That’s a Johnson Box.
So why doesn’t it look like a box?
The term goes back to the middle of the last century. The man credited with developing the Johnson Box was Frank Johnson. He claimed he didn’t create it, but only used it successfully, resulting in the technique being named for him.
If you can imagine the time before desktop computers (or, like me, you were there), people used typewriters. Letters were typewritten. There was no desktop publishing.
Frank Johnson laboriously typed a headline or teaser surrounded by a rectangle of asterisks in the corner of his sales letter. That was about as much graphic design as you could do with a typewriter. (Think about how long that would take.)
The idea caught on. People copied it as they do with successful innovations. The Johnson Box became a fixture of marketing letters. With graphic design, there’s no need to type a rectangle of asterisks around your copy today. Punch up the size. Add color. Insert an image.
None of it may look like Frank’s old design, but the intention is still there and it still works. In fact, tests show the P.S. and Johnson Box are most-read, first-read parts of a sales letter. They’re what people check before deciding to read the rest.
Frank Johnson was given the National Association of Direct Mail Writers first annual award in 1966. He died in March 2001 at age 88.
That’s the story behind the Johnson Box.