Nobody should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times. It changed the course of my life.
~ David Ogilvy
These words represent the highest praise from the person who’s really considered the father of advertising.
I remember when I first got the book, Scientific Advertising, written by the legendary Claude C. Hopkins, it was very thin, under 90 pages, and I wondered if it was all that it was hyped up to be. The book was being hailed as one of the most important works on marketing ever written.
I quickly realized this little book was jam-packed with some of the most important foundational lessons we could learn in Advertising.
Here are some 4 of my favorite lessons learned from the book:
[Editor’s note: all blockquotes are taken directly from Scientific Advertising.]
1. The importance of human psychology
Does human psychology play a part in advertising? The times change, the tools certainly change, but basic human emotions do not. Despite cultural shifts and the evolution of trends and tastes, human nature is perpetual as Hopkins points out.
“The competent advertising man must understand psychology. The more he knows about it the better.”
Side note: Some of you reading this may not know that my degree is in Human Relations Psychology. Yes, the major at William Penn University when I attended was actually called “Human Relations” because the department head was adamant about teaching from the humanistic psychology framework. This means I was studying Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, who’s teachings went beyond (and often opposed) the teachings of Freud and Skinner. It was a “positive” vs. pessimistic” view of psychology. In contrast to the behavioral approach, the humanistic approach works on individual empowerment.
I believe my intense drive to continue studying psychology has been an important part of my own personal success in business. It’s helped me understand myself and other better. As a result, business is better.
2. Copywriting is part science
“The time has come when advertising has in some hands reached the status of a science … The causes and effects have been analyzed until they are well understood. The correct methods of procedure have been proved and established.”
The “science” in this sense comes from our ability to learn from the testing done by others. The language and copy we use is appropriate: there is a reason expert copywriters like Ray Edwards teaches headline formulas to those willing to learn.
Hopkins was an early innovator in testing his ads: “To track the results of his advertising, he used key coded coupons and then tested headlines, offers and propositions against one another. He used the analysis of these measurements to continually improve his ad results, driving responses and the cost effectiveness of his clients’ advertising spend.”
So, test, test, test.
3. The purpose of advertising is…
Persuasive writing – it’s the language of a true salesman:
“Let us emphasize that point: the only purpose of advertising is to make sales … 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.”
He also states:
“An ad-writer, to have a chance at success, must gain full information on his subject … Perhaps in many volumes he will find few facts to use. But some one fact may be the keynote of success.”
I share these passages because I’m certain you needed even more reasons to study copywriting. 🙂
I recommend studying books by Ray Edwards, everything from John Caples, and The Adweek Copywriting Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Powerful Advertising and Marketing Copy from One of America’s Top Copywriters by Joseph Sugarman is pure gold. His book Triggers is also one of my favorite books on persuasion.
Hopkins offers a way to determine if your copy is crafted for selling:
“There is one simple and right way to answer many advertising questions. Ask yourself, “Would this help a salesman sell the goods? Would it help me sell them if I met the buyer in person?””
Over time we’ve gotten even better at selling with words by tying in the importance of good storytelling to better connect with our audience.
4. Your best salesman is…
Hopkins believed that a good product was often its own best salesperson.
“The product itself should be its own best salesman. Not the product alone, but the product plus a mental impression, and atmosphere, which you place around it.”
Take a look at how Apple sells you on the Macbook by “passionately describing, and showing, how the body of each MacBook Pro laptop is carved from a single block of metal.”
What impression does this ad leave with you?
Watch this video footage from Oak Street Bootmakers on why they go the extra mile to craft handmade footwear, and how this video from Strapo generated over $100k on Kickstarter, and it’s nothing fancy – the product sells itself when it’s described properly.
What does your product or service say to your customers? It’s your job to make sure it is heard.
All of these principles can and should be applied as you create your advertising strategy. Especially as Facebook advertising, Instagram advertising and Youtube advertising is becoming more and more important to businesses of all sizes.
Truthfully, no blog post could replace the experience of reading the book in its entirety, so here is a link to download the book directly as a PDF.