Claude C. Hopkins Advertising

Advertising Lessons From Claude C. Hopkins

Claude C. Hopkins is the man that popularized toothpaste with his advertising campaign for Pepsodent.

He’s the man that advertised Palmolive soap, Goodyear, and Quaker Oats and at the end of his career companies were spending over $5,000,000 per year on ads created by him.

He published his books Scientific Advertising and My Life In Advertising almost 100 years ago, but the principles in his books are even more true now than they were before. (You can read Scientific Advertising for free here).

He believed in honest and transparent advertising which is something that Reddit appreciates.

I read through both of his books 3 times.

The first time I simply went through and read it normally.

The second time I paid special attention to how he ran his campaigns, and the third time I wrote down the lessons that everyone should know if they’re going to become a successful advertiser.

You can click here to go the the TL;DR section that only contains quotes if you’re not interested in reading my commentary on the subject.

P.S.- I used this book while reading so the page numbers in the quotes correspond to the page numbers in this book. 

The 3 Key Lessons

It was difficult to determine the 3 most important lessons from the books, but I was able to narrow it down to the most useful ones.

I recommend reading this whole thing as Claude C. Hopkins is a goldmine of knowledge, but if you read anything today you should read the following 3 quotes

Advertising often looks very simple. Thousands of men claim ability to do it. And there is still impression that many men can. (281)

With the explosion of the Internet advertising became accessible to everyone.

It didn’t matter who you were or what you did as long as you had the money to spend on ads,and this led to a larger number of individuals to suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect.

We think we’re good at something while in reality we’re average at best.

The idea that advertising is simple can also be dangerous because there are people out there who will “advertise” anything and everything for you as long as they get their money.

However, the Internet also made it much easier to split-test, keep track of your old ads, and learn new strategies and tactics.

Don’t be the person who claims to have the ability to advertise. Be the person who reads about it, learns about it, and strives to improve his ads every single day.

Remember that the people you address are selfish, as we all are. They care nothing about you or your interest or profit. They seek service for themselves. (226)

People are inherently selfish.

We seek out things that we enjoy, or that will make us look better, feel better, or that we feel are somehow better.

We don’t buy things because we want to give the company money or because we feel bad for the salesman.

Most of us are motivated by the desire to improve our lives and have the best X, so when you create ads you should focus on that.

Talk about the benefits of the product and how it can help the buyers achieve the image of themselves that they want.

Show them that your product or service is the best for them and you’ll have yourself a buyer, but if you try to use the logic of “Well you buy this other firms products and our products are pretty similar so why not buy mine?” it won’t work.

Platitudes and generalities roll off the human understanding like water from a duck. They leave no impression whatsoever. (249)

Even now companies try to use this form of advertising.

Think of how many #1 doctor recommended toothpastes there are. It seems that every toothpaste commercial claims that their toothpaste is the best without backing up the claims.

The same happens with other ads. “We are the best, because we are the best, and you should buy our product because we’re the best!”

That sounds silly, but if you listen closely that’s exactly what many commercials sound like.

Later on the same page Hopkins says “… superlatives suggest looseness of expression, a tendency to exaggerate, a carelessness of truth. They lead the readers to disregard all of the statements that you can make.”

What does “best” really mean?

Something that’s the best for one person might not be the best for another, and at this point people are nearly immune to shouts of “I’m the best, I’m the best!”

What should you do instead? This leads right into the next lesson:

… a definite statement is usually accepted. Actual figures are not generally discounted. Specific facts, when stated, have their full weight and effect. (250)

Using specific facts works better than generalities.

In my experience people aren’t as trusting of specific facts anymore as advertisers are known to exaggerate, but it still works better than using superlatives like best, most, etc…

Imagine I told you that my vacuum is the best vacuum ever created. Would you buy it? Probably not.

What if I told you that we completed lab tests and my vacuum was shown to get rid of 35% more dust, 23% more pet-hair, and that it used 50% less energy than the other vacuums on the market? You might give it some more consideration. (This is why you see ads on TV where they do a side-by-side comparison of using “our” product vs a different product)

Other Lessons

If you don’t want to read the whole thing, you can go down to the TL;DR part of this page.

People will do much to cure a trouble, but people in general will do little to prevent it. (268)

We all known that exercise is good for you.

We all know that eating veggies and fruits is better than fast food.

However, many of us still don’t exercise and eat healthily (prevention), but end up spending thousands of dollars on doctors later on in life trying to cure our problems (cure) that could’ve been prevented by exercise and healthy eating.

The same idea goes for other products. Preventing something isn’t attractive. No one wants to prevent something because “it might not happen to me,” but once you already have a problem you’ll be willing to spend money on curing it.

… cheapness is not a strong appeal. Americans are extravagant. They want bargains but not cheapness. They want to feel that they can afford to eat and have and wear the best. (243)

If the only selling point of your product is the fact that it’s cheap you should rethink your marketing strategy.

People want to feel that they’re getting a great deal for a great product, and if you cry out that your product is the cheapest on the market most people won’t be attracted to that.

Don’t think of people in the mass. That gives you a blurred view. Think of a typical individual, who is likely to want what you sell. (224)

Imagine one specific member of your target market when you’re trying to advertise something and write your ad as if you’re trying to sell your product in person.

Trying to please the crowd almost never works, but if you imagine one specific individual in the crowd and pretend you’re selling to him you’ll get better results.

There are many surprises in advertising. A project you will laugh at may make great success. A project you are sure of may fall down… None of us know enough people’s desires to get an average viewpoint. (295)

Even some of Hopkins’ ads ended up bombing.

Not every project will be a success, but it’s important to try and learn from your mistakes.

Figure out what went wrong. Was the product simply not good enough? Were you selling to the wrong audience? Did your ad get a good CTR?

It’s also important that we can never know exactly what the customers know unless we survey enough people in the target market or do a quick advertising test.

Picture what others may wish to be, not what they may be now. (307)

Most people already know how they look and what problems they might have.

Showing their faults to them won’t help you convince them to buy your product, but showing what they can look like after they buy your product will be more effective.

If you’re selling a course on public speaking show them a successful client of yours.

If you’re selling a fitness course, show them a video of one of your customers after using the program.

Changing people’s habits is very expensive. (265)

If you’re ever tried to change one of your bad habits you’ll know that it’s an extremely difficult thing to do.

Think about how hard it might be to change someone else’s habits if it’s already nearly impossible to change your own.

Human nature is perpetual. 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. (242)

Understanding how people think and why they do what they do can greatly help you in advertising.

If you read the books and learn something new, you will not have to unlearn it as people’s brains don’t change that quickly.

People will never be bored in print. They may listen politely at a dinner table to boasts and personalities, life histories, etc. But in print they choose their own companions, their own subjects. They want to be amused or benefited. (238)

On the same page he says that the “average person skips three-fourths of the reading material that they pay to get.”

This means that your headline needs to be good enough to attract the right kinds of customers. Otherwise they won’t even glance at your ad.

You are the one courting interest. Then don’t make it difficult to exhibit that interest. (285)

If you have a goal for your campaign make it easy for your customers to accomplish that goal.

If you want to collect emails take them to a funnel/freebie for email page, if you want to sell them something take them straight to the product page. Don’t make it more difficult than it has to be.

The only purpose of advertising is to make sales. It is profitable or unprofitable according to its actual sales. It is not for general effect. It is not to keep your name before the people. (220)

I think this quote speaks for itself.

…one must consider that the average reader is only once a reader, probably. And what you fail to tell him in the ad is something he may never know. (255)

With online advertising there is a higher chance that someone will see an ad once, but if you already get someone’s attention you might as well tell them everything there is to know about the product.

Maybe one feature that you think is insignificant will convert one interested person into a buyer.

Before a prospect is converted it is approximately as hard to get half price for your article as to get the full price for it. (285)

If you don’t want to buy something for $100, why would you want to buy it for $50?

It’s simple.

TL;DR

  • Advertising often looks very simple. Thousands of men claim ability to do it. And there is still impression that many men can. (281)
  • Remember that the people you address are selfish, as we all are. They care nothing about you or your interest or profit. They seek service for themselves. (226)
  • Platitudes and generalities roll off the human understanding like water from a duck. They leave no impression whatsoever. (249)
  • … a definite statement is usually accepted. Actual figures are not generally discounted. Specific facts, when stated, have their full weight and effect. (250)
  • People will do much to cure a trouble, but people in general will do little to prevent it. (268)
  • … cheapness is not a strong appeal. Americans are extravagant. They want bargains but not cheapness. They want to feel that they can afford to eat and have and wear the best. (243)
  • Don’t think of people in the mass. That gives you a blurred view. Think of a typical individual, who is likely to want what you sell. (224)
  • There are many surprises in advertising. A project you will laugh at may make great success. A project you are sure of may fall down… None of us know enough people’s desires to get an average viewpoint. (295)
  • Picture what others may wish to be, not what they may be now. (307)
  • Changing people’s habits is very expensive. (265)
  • Human nature is perpetual. 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 need to unlearn what you learn about them. (242)
  • People will never be bored in print. They may listen politely at a dinner table to boasts and personalities, life histories, etc. But in print they choose their own companions, their own subjects. They want to be amused or benefited. (238)
  • You are the one courting interest. Then don’t make it difficult to exhibit that interest. (285)
  • The only purpose of advertising is to make sales. It is profitable or unprofitable according to its actual sales. It is not for general effect. It is not to keep your name before the people. (220)
  • … one must consider that the average reader is only once a reader, probably. And what you fail to tell him in the ad is something he may never know. (255)
  • Before a prospect is converted it is approximately as hard to get half price for your article as to get the full price for it. (285)
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