Axel Andersson: Entrepreneur Extraordinaire!

He built a huge empire based on great copy

Many young direct marketers have indicated total disinterest in direct mail. “Direct mail is dead,” I have been told over and over again since the mid-1990s. “This is the era of the Internet—a new medium and a new paradigm with new rules of marketing and communication. We make the rules now.”

Everything that follows directly relates to the Internet, e-commerce, the Web or whatever you want to call it.

“Human nature is perpetual,” wrote Claude Hopkins in his 1924 masterpiece, Scientific Advertising:

In most respects it is the same today as in the time of Caesar. So the principles of psychology are fixed and enduring. You will never need to unlearn what you learn about them.

The great John Caples reduced the Hopkins dictum to four words:

Times change; people don’t.

Quite simply, if a great offer plus great copy works in print, it will work online.

Axel Andersson
Axel Andersson was a stocky little Swede with a cherubic face and a shock of wavy white hair. He cut his Terry-Thomas teeth on direct marketing under the guidance of the legendry Ed Mayer in New York.

Following World War II, Axel moved to Hamburg, Germany where he bought a correspondence-school business. He offered courses in languages, writing and art to name a few. Single-handedly he turned the Axel Andersson Akademy into the largest operation of is kind in Europe.

After 30 years, he sold out and moved to Florida so he could indulge in his passions: warm weather and studying direct mail.

Axel’s retirement beat:

  • Florida (walking the beach two hours a day)
  • The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. (where he poured over obscure tomes on marketing)
  • Europe (to visit clients)
  • Stamford, Conn. (and later Philly) to spend hours prowling through Peggy’s and my Who’s Mailing What! archive of junk mail.

Andersson cut a deal with me whereby I would send him all my leftover mail—the dupes and purges that would otherwise be thrown out of our massive library of direct mail samples.

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

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  • Ben Gay

    Thank you, Denny!
    Great, thought provoking stuff – as always!

  • Scott Huch

    Your column is always a highlight of my week, Denny, and this one was a very fitting tribute to Mr. Andersson. The "Axel Award for Actual Excellence" has such a great ring to it — perfect name! It’s a pity more of our industry awards don’t live up to the same criteria. But we only have ourselves to blame, don’t we?

    A dozen or so years ago, I was part of a huge team of sub-contractors working on a very large marketing program for a U.S. government agency. We had bi-weekly meetings at the prime contractor’s Watergate office here in D.C. I recall one colleague who had the most cynical attitude about industry awards that I’ve ever heard.

    The subject came up at one of our meetings. He laughed derisively and said, "The most important thing about those awards is that they help you keep your clients in their places. Whenever a client is upset that something we created didn’t get the results they wanted, we pay to enter it in an awards competition. Heck, you don’t even have to win. You just tell your client, ‘Hey, you remember that campaign we did back in March? Yeah, that’s up for a big industry award. Congratulations!’ It’s the perfect way to remind your clients that you’re smarter than they are, and they need you more than you need them." Like I said, cynical. And then some.

    I feel fortunate, in a way, to have been inoculated against awards very early in my career, by one of my mentors back in the late ’80s. I suggested entering a flashy direct mail package in an upcoming competition. He told me, "Scott, the only ‘award’ you should ever need is the paycheck you get in return for doing your very best work. If you ever reach the point that you need something more — like an award from your colleagues — in order to feel fulfilled by your work … then it’s time to get out of the business." He was a huge cynic, too, but that’s not bad advice. And I took it.

    So, I’ve been in the business for 27 years now and have never entered an awards competition. And that’s really kind of a pity. I’d like to learn from my peers and am willing to share in return. I’ve discussed this with several colleagues. Unfortunately, it’s hard to think of a way to do it where you’re not giving away your best trade secrets to the competition (or the political opposition, in this town) for free. And where you’re sure it’s fairly judged — by competent judges. And where you see actual results instead of some "25% better than projected" baloney.

    Maybe when you get right down to it, seeing a control in the mail year after year truly is the only way to pick the real winners. The Axel Award is a fine tribute to Axel Andersson, and a great way to recognize good work. Is it still being awarded? Is there a ceremony? A guy could learn a lot by strolling through the showcase of winning entries. Just a thought….

    Thanks again for a fascinating column, Denny!

  • Peter Rosenwald

    As ever, Denny, a marvelous and valuable column – what better tribute to your friend and colleague. Thank you for sharing your recollections and the combined wisdom.

  • Tjpnugent

    Great column, Denny. Do you think that the principles outlined above are fully or partially applicable to B2B?

  • Armando Ortega

    Amazing, a true human interest story, and many lessons to take to heart.
    Do you have something to write about the great people of Universal Bodybuilding course, the George Haylings and contemporary great copywriters?
    Armando Ortega.

  • Steve Markowski


    Great stuff, as always.

    Any news on what happened to Axel’s collection?


  • Rainer Fischer

    Terrific piece. Time flies by and old friends disappear quietly out of our lives. Time to stop and smell the roses again.

  • Mike Searles

    What a delightful read.