True About Advertising Then, True Now
Claude Hopkins is called one of the greatest copywriters of all time. He invented risk-free trials, money-back guarantees, and market testing, among other then-imaginative advertising techniques.
In 1923, Hopkins wrote Scientific Advertising. You’d think with all the advances and changes in the market and in advertising since then that his book would be obviously dated, like the difference between a black and white silent film and today’s effects-heavy blockbusters.
Yes, some of his opinions have been replaced by changes to consumer preferences, but Hopkins’ book has some solid marketing ideas.
Rather than explain what Hopkins said about advertising, I’ll simply pull a few quotes from his book. The language is a bit formal, but the core ideas are amazingly contemporary.
From Chapter 2: Just Salesmanship
“The only purpose of advertising is to make sales. It is profitable or unprofitable according to its actual sales.”
“There is one simple way to answer many advertising questions. Ask yourself, ‘Would it help a salesman sell the goods?’ ‘Would it help me sell them if I met a buyer in person?’ A fair answer to those questions avoids countless mistakes. But when one tries to show off, or does things merely to please himself, he is little likely to strike a chord which leads people to spend money.”
“Measure them [your advertising] by salesman’s standards, not by amusement standards. Ads are not written to entertain. When they do, those entertainment seekers are little likely to be the people whom you want.”
“Ads are planned and written with some utterly wrong conception. They are written to please the seller. The interests of the buyer are forgotten. One can never sell goods profitably, in person or in print, when that attitude exists.”
“Many think of advertising as ad-writing. Literary qualifications have no more to do with it than oratory has with salesmanship. One must be able to express himself briefly, clearly and convincingly, just as a salesman must. But fine writing is a distinct disadvantage. So is a unique literary style. They take attention from the subject.”
How do these few quotes apply to today’s advertising? Let’s quickly look:
a) The first quote is self-explanatory for advertising. If your ad agency’s focus is winning awards, spend your money elsewhere.
b) Good advertising copy is like a face-to-face conversation.
c) Don’t be cute or funny. Promote your product the best way possible.
d) Tell the prospect how your products and services benefit her. You and your company are not the focus.
e) Don’t be guided by grade school grammar books. Learn to write accurately in the style appropriate for the advertising niche.
If you read through the blog posts here, you find Hopkins’ ideas expressed in contemporary terms. It’s like the old saying that’s as old as Hopkins’ book, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
Because you’re wondering, the old adage that ends my post is attributed to Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1908-1990). He was a French journalist and novelist. If you want to impress your co-workers, quote Kerr in his native language, “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.”