Finest Form of Flattery. Indeed.

"Good artists borrow. Great artists steal."

Picasso is sometimes credited with this adage (which is interesting, because Stravinsky is, too. But I digress…)

Steve Jobs drew on it as his defense for using the Xerox-developed graphic user interface.

So, does "stealing" make you a genius?

Last week I got a promotional email from ManageElite, a weekly newsletter designed to support corporate training and drive traffic to a (sub)site with specific topic offerings.

It opened:

Bob,

Picture this ...

On a wintry day one year ago at different organizations two employees, Charles and Susan, were promoted to managers. They were very much alike.

Both had been better than average students, both became strong employees and both – as new managers – were filled with potential and ambition.

Sounds remarkably like that classic Wall Street Journal appeal, doesn’t it?

Dear Reader:

On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college. They were very much alike, these two young men. Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both–as young college graduates are–were filled with ambitious dreams for the future.

There are obvious differences here. The original is two men; the more recent a man and a woman. The former takes place in spring; the latter in winter. Old school (literally!) was on a college campus; new media is in the workplace.

But both stories lead up to the same question: “What Made the Difference?”

“The difference lies in the management training each manager gets (or doesn't get) and how they apply it” the email opines.

“The difference lies in what each person knows and how he or she makes use of that knowledge” the letter concludes.

Really???

Flattery is fine, but does this stuff work?

I clicked through the email and followed a few links from the training company’s site to find the parent company, Progressive Business Publications. I called, and asked to speak to the person responsible for the marketing emails, and was transferred to Danny.

Danny explained that the training product is a new offering, introduced about five months ago. He acknowledged the “Charles and Susan” email was a “take-off” of the Wall Street Journal “two young men” letter and is one of two “story” appeals in the email rotation.

In addition to the story appeals, the marketing program includes a range of time-sensitive offers, niche topic promotions and generic, program appeals.

“So how does the story perform,” I asked.

“Time sensitive offers generate the best clickthrough and conversion rates,” Danny relayed. “But the stories generate the highest open rates. So even though they’re second in clickthrough rate, they deliver more total clicks.”

The generic, program-as-a-whole appeals deliver the lowest results.

“Paul,” by the way, outpulls “Charles and Susan.”

That's good, but is it genius? (Although I do love a marketer who knows his numbers!)

I didn’t ask if Paul was an original story or another take-off.

I’m not sure I want to know.