by Claude C. Hopkins, published 1923
The “Benjamin Graham of advertising”?
Claude C. Hopkins was not only a contemporary of Benjamin Graham‘s, but apparently a man after his own heart, for if the essence of “Scientific Advertising” were to be boiled down to one phrase it would be:
Advertising is most successful when it is most business-like
Anyone who follows the writings of Benjamin Graham should immediately understand what that means. For those who are unfamiliar with Graham, the idea is that advertising has its biggest impact when its goals and results are examined as to their practical effect– your advertising is a sales person for your organization and it should earn its keep; advertising is not about being witty, creative or memorable, it’s about buying customers at the lowest cost possible.
This has much in common with Graham’s concept of value investing, whereby the objective is to buy future investment returns potential at the lowest cost possible. Just as Graham would advise us not to overpay for anticipated business growth and the eagerness of the investment crowd, Hopkins advises us to study our costs and profits from our advertising campaigns scientifically, to ensure we’re getting the most bang for the buck without wasting money on entertaining and amusing those who never intended to buy from us in the first place.
Advertising as sales force multiplier
The role of advertising within a business organization is best thought of as a sales force multiplier. Accordingly, Hopkins stresses that,
The only purpose of advertising is to make sales… treat it as a salesman
This line of reasoning anticipates some self-check questions when considering an advertising campaign, namely:
- Would this help a salesman sell the goods?
- Would it help me sell them if I met the buyer in person?
When crafting an ad campaign, it’s important to think of an individual buyer of your product, what they look like, what they need and want, how they like to be communicated with, etc. You should consider how you would entice them if you were selling them face-to-face. Ultimately, it may be “the masses” who create volume markets for your products, but it is individual buyers who will read your ads and actually place orders.
The making of a great ad
The best ads:
- based on the service rendered by the product in question
- offer wanted information
- cite advantages to users
- often do not quote a price
They play to the ego of the individual buyer, because “whatever they do, they do to please themselves.”
Headlines are about grabbing the attention of people who are interested in your product. Not everyone is going to be a buyer of your product. You only have to get the attention of people who actually might buy.
The use of psychology is critical to ad programming. Human psychology is mostly constant and has been “since the time of Caeser”:
- “Americans are extravagant. They want bargains, but not cheapness”
- create a feeling of possession, ownership of property; when people feel something belongs to them, they’ll go out of their way to obtain it, even if it’s a trifle
- limited offers applicable to restricted classes are more appealing than general offers available to anyone; “those seemingly entitled to an advantage will go a long way not to lose that advantage”
- invite comparisons to your rivals, which demonstrates you do not fear them
Specificity is also another powerful tool in the advertiser’s arsenal– whereas an advertisement is a sales force multiplier, specificity is an authority multiplier for an individual ad.
Platitudes and generalities roll off the human understanding like water from a duck
Specific claims imply engagement with truth; something which is precise and “tested” demonstrates accuracy and experience which is usually accepted. To make a specific claim, one must have made tests and comparisons. This is why they have more force in the buyer’s mind. Further, standard, essential ingredients or functions of a product’s make or capabilities can be addressed in a specific way which creates a sense of differentiation (eg., two beer makers use the same pure, filtered water but one advertises that he “drilled 4,000 feet into the earth” to obtain the proper purity for his product).
Another principle of good advertising is “telling your full story”:
When you once get a person’s attention, then is the time to accomplish all you ever hope with him. Bring all your good arguments to bear
Think of the readers of your ad as new customers. Those who use your product don’t read your ads and you don’t care if they do anyway as they’re already happy customers.
The use of art in advertising should be made according to similar guidelines as those followed for writing headlines. Art, like headlines, use critical and costly advertisement real estate; they should be used in such a way, if at all, that they pay for their cost. Art should only be used to attract those who can profitably be sold to, and then only when the same message could not be conveyed as efficiently through a similar-sized amount of text.
Information, strategy, samples and more
It’s important to know your market, how big it is and what it’s worth. You never want to make the mistake of spending more than you could ever hope to earn because you were ignorant of the market you were advertising into.
You must also keep in mind your competitors: what do they have to offer? What kind of price, quality or claims can they weigh against your own? How can you win trade from them, and how can you hold it once you’ve got it?
We cannot go after thousands of men until we learn how to win one
Further, never forget that people don’t change their habits without a reason. And that it’s costly to create a non-specific market through your advertising that can be served by others than just yourself– then you make the mistake of advertising for your competition.
As far as samples are concerned, they are ineffective if wasted on people who have no intention or no ability to purchase your product. Give them only to those who show and interest, and then, make them exhibit that interest by exerting some effort.
Test campaigns can be used to establish the effectiveness of particular strategies on a small scale (say, thousands versus millions); then, using the law of averages, we can expect the results to hold at greater scale if the campaign is to be expanded or incorporated into the standard strategy set.
Whenever possible, introduce a personality into your ads and then, stick to it. If you change the personality, you’ll force people to continually refamiliarize themselves with your product and you’ll give up all past prestige you’ve managed to build up.
Negative advertising is not a good strategy:
- never attack the competition
- show the bright side, happy side, attractive side
- beauty, not homeliness; health, not sickness; envied people, not the envious; tell people what to do, not what to avoid
Unless you have a catchy name that has become a household replacement word (like Kleenex, Vaseline, etc.), remember you’re advertising the service of the product, not the name.
When you think of your advertising efforts, imagine a rapid stream passing by in front of you. Without scientifically testing the results of your advertising efforts, the potential power of your advertising effort is wasted like the water rushing past. Scientific measurement and testing of your ad campaign is akin to placing a water wheel in the middle of the stream and channeling all that potential energy into actual energy which can be useful as a multiplier to the efforts of your sales force and your business organization as a whole.