Scientific Advertising
Mark Kilpatrick

Mark Kilpatrick

20 Lessons from Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins

This one book changed my business life and here is my summary.

Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins is a classic. It was published in 1923, but it still has lessons for today’s marketers.

In this article, we’ll share some of the main ideas from the book and how they can help you become a better marketer. Hopkins was one of the first admen to apply scientific methods to advertising, and his ideas have stood the test of time—which is why his book continues to be so popular among marketers, business owners and entrepreneurs!

Advertising has moved from art to science

The scientific approach to advertising success is to continually test and compare advertising concepts with keyed response devices (like coupons) so the effectiveness of each advertisement can be compared. The results of these tests will then be used in the next campaign where even more money can be saved by using only those ideas that tested best.

This method is being used by some very large companies today with great success because it eliminates all guesswork from their advertising campaigns.

1. Advertising Laws

When Hopkins wrote Scientific Advertising in 1923, advertising was still widely considered an art form by its practitioners. While some had begun to use scientific principles to test the effectiveness of their ads, few considered that approach as a way to create better ads.

Advertising has moved from an art form to a science based on well-proven principles, facts, and established procedures. What’s more important is that this has led not only to more effective advertising but also fundamentally changed the nature of how people buy products or services today.

2. Just Salesmanship

In its purest form, advertising is a form of salesmanship. That’s because advertising does not exist independently; it is created as a tool in the process of making sales. The only criteria by which to judge an advertisement is the same criteria by which to judge any other step or act in selling: Will it make more people want what you have for sale? Can you prove that it does so?

In other words, your ad must make potential customers believe that buying what you have for sale will benefit them. An effective ad will persuade enough people to buy from you often enough and easily enough so that their purchases will yield profits that are worth more than their costs (including time and effort).

3. Offer Service

Effective advertising is based on the reality that people do things for their own reasons. People buy what they want, not necessarily what you offer. The display of a business name is far less significant to a prospective customer than a statement of the benefits they can personally obtain from a product.

Therefore, your selling message should be expressed in terms of those benefits. You don’t try to tell people what you have and where it can be found; instead, you describe its value in terms of how it will benefit them if they buy it.

4. What Mail-Order Advertising Teaches

In mail-order advertising, results are immediately calculated and analyzed. Mail order is either profitable or it is not. If the average order from a certain source is larger than the cost of filling it, that source pays for itself. If the average order from any source falls below its cost of fulfillment, that source must be dropped at once. The principles of success in mail-order can be applied to all forms of advertising if we will but study them closely enough to learn their meanings and methods; but this study can never be complete until we have learned these things:

  • How to analyze our own business by accurate measurement;
  • How to use each dollar spent as though it were ten dollars;
  • How to make every item sold pay in full for itself before another item is offered for sale;
  • What kind of customers we should seek after – those who will spend money freely on other things besides what we sell – so that when they buy from us they do not mind spending a good deal more than our price;
  • Why some people seem hard to get and others easy prey for even small sales efforts.

Once we have mastered these points, we are on the way to mastering all problems of merchandising. We can then apply these principles to any form of advertising. We may not know how to write copy that will sell, but we can at least tell whether it is good copy or bad copy.

5. Headlines

A good headline tells us something about our problems and how they are going to be solved by using your product or service: “You Can Stop Smoking by Smoking More Cigarettes!” It gives us a reason why we should care about this particular product or service: “Get Rid of That Belly Fat Forever!” It makes us feel like part of something special: “People Are Talking About Us…Do You Want To Know What They’re Saying?” And it’s written in such a way that even if we don’t have time for reading long paragraphs (or anything else), we’ll still find it irresistible enough that we’ll stop scrolling through our newsfeeds long enough to click through at least one link from an article titled with something short and intriguing like “why did I eat those cookies?”

6. Psychology

It is a fact that human nature is perpetual, and the underlying principles are fixed, enduring and unchanged down through the ages. The same principles that swayed men in Rome swayed men in Athens; they swayed them in London during Victoria’s reign as they do today.

The principle of sex appeal will always be effective in advertising. It may not be explicit but it will always be there as a fundamental element of our appeal to customers.

The same can be said of other emotional appeals. The reason they are so effective is that they touch on our emotional needs and, therefore, we respond to them. This is not the case with rational appeals. When we are rational, we are thinking rationally and logically.

7. Being Specific

As we’ve already seen, being specific is one of the most effective ways to make an impact when promoting a product or service. It’s also one of the least used tactics in advertising today.

Being specific isn’t just about being factual and informative. It is about making a positive emotional connection with your audience by showing them how their lives will be better if they use your product or service.

The most effective way to do this is by offering a specific promise of how your product or service will improve their lives.

The most effective promises are clear and specific. Don’t just promise that your product will make a person’s life better, explain how it will do so.

The human brain is wired to seek out connections, and being specific in advertising provides one. When someone reads an ad or hears a radio spot and sees how they can relate to it, they are more likely to respond favorably.

8. Tell Your Full Story

If you want to be successful with advertising, you must assume that you will only ever manage to catch a person’s attention once. Therefore, every ad must be self-contained and make its point in one sentence or even one word.

Even if your product or service is complex, you can still do this. For example, in advertising for Apple products, there are so many features and functions to talk about that it would be easy to get lost in the details.

Instead, Apple focuses on the main benefit of their products: making computers accessible to everyone. Their ads focus on one idea and make it simple for consumers to understand what they are about. This kind of thinking leads people to believe that Macs are better than PCs because they don’t require much technical knowledge.

This concept is just as relevant today as it was in 1923. Think about the last time you saw an ad that didn’t tell the whole story right away. You probably didn’t remember what it was for or who created it because advertisers were so busy trying to cram every bit of information into their ads instead of focusing on one message.

9. Art in Advertising

In scientific advertising, pictures are a luxury. They should never be used to attract attention or because they’re interesting. Use them only when they form a better argument for your product than the same amount of space in type.

In Claude Hopkin’s time, every space on a newspaper or every space on a mail letter was expensive. The use of images was more expensive than the type and therefore had to be justified by its superior effectiveness at selling goods and services.

This is a lesson that’s important to remember today. We live in an age where images are extremely cheap and easy to produce, but this doesn’t mean they should always be used. If you’re going to use images make sure they are actually better than text at selling your product and not just because you like them.

Images are often used to grab attention and make a brand look more interesting or exciting. If you want people to really remember your brand or product, they need something more than just an image.

10. Things Too Costly

You will find that many things can be achieved by advertising which are too expensive to attempt. All advertising projects must be determined by a known scale of cost and benefit. We make no attempt to try out an idea at a cost that seems likely to put us out of business if it fails, unless we have some other source of income with which to carry on until the new way proves itself. Otherwise, every one of our efforts is confined within the limits set by our existing business volume and profit margin; unless we know exactly how much money we can afford to spend on a trial without endangering our established business, we don’t start any test.

When your business is small, or in an untried field, there are many enterprises you cannot attempt. You must wait until your earnings have grown to a point where a large failure would not damage you. Every scheme of expansion must be carefully weighed and tested before it is tried on a big scale.

11. Information

You must labor to learn the product from every angle. It is not enough to know it from your own point of view. You must study it from the customer’s standpoint and try to see exactly what he will see when he looks at or hears your advertising.

You must analyze its advantages, how they are presented, and how they appeal to customers.

Do not pay any attention to what other people may have said about this product or service in their advertisements, but find out what has been said by them and judge for yourself whether you can improve upon it. Then set down on paper just how you would present those same things if you were trying to sell that particular article.

12. Strategy

It’s tempting to think that advertising is a simple matter of buying an ad, writing some copy and sending it out. But if you are a business owner who believes that, you’re in for a rude awakening. As we have seen, marketing is not merely advertising; it is far more than this.

Advertising often looks very simple compared with other forms of business activity because the product being sold is simple itself. The result is that many business owners conclude they can do it themselves—or at least hire someone from outside their company to handle the job. In reality, advertising requires not only skill but also vast background knowledge of human behavior and attitude toward products or services offered in competition with yours; moreover, as Claude Hopkins pointed out long ago: “No one knows what will sell until after he has tried many things which failed.”

13. Use of Samples

A good product is its own best salesman. Therefore, samples are of prime importance if you want your ads to pay off in the long run. If expensive, their cost should be built into your selling price and not counted as an extra expense that can be avoided by reducing space or other costs. The cost will be repaid many times over in increased sales on account of the interest aroused by using samples in large measure—even if it means some loss on this particular order!

If you have a good product, don’t skimp on samples. They will pay for themselves many times over.

14. Getting Distribution

You should never start advertising without having in place a distribution network to fill the anticipated demand. This can be accomplished by selling your product through wholesalers, or retailers who will then hold it until you deliver it at a later date. If you have no other way of getting your product into the hands of consumers, then plan for a large order to be placed with the manufacturer directly upon learning about an opportunity for advertising. This may seem like unnecessary caution, but remember that a single unsuccessful ad campaign can sink your business!

The importance of this step cannot be overstated; without proper distribution there is no point in even starting an ad campaign because all its benefits will go unrealized. It’s not uncommon to see otherwise successful businesses go down due to poor planning when it comes to distribution strategies.

15. Test Campaigns

The court of last resort for any advertising are the buyers of your product or service. No amount of conjecture outweighs experience in the marketplace.

If you find that your test campaign fails to increase sales, consider whether the fault lies with your product or some other factor (such as a bad location). If it’s not due to either of these factors then you have no choice but to accept the fact that your advertising just won’t sell it!

Now this may sound like an easy solution but there’s another important thing we need to mention here: You must wait until after your test campaign has run its course before making this decision because as Claude Hopkins says at another point in his book “There is little chance for honest error where one has used all possible care.”

16. Leaning on Dealers

It is a fact that dealers will buy your goods only at prices which will make them a profit. Therefore it is obvious that you can’t expect to sell any goods without advertising, and if you do not know how to advertise effectively, then you are doomed never to have a successful business. But there should be no misunderstanding about this: Your business will never be built by relying on dealers to do your selling for you. The object of all advertising must be to buy new customers at whatever price will pay a profit on the sales made by those customers—and then repeat the process all over again with the next set of new customers who are brought in by your advertising campaign.

17. Individuality

You must be different from others to stand out from the crowd. This must be done in a pleasing rather than an eccentric or abnormal way.

The first thing you have to do is stop trying to imitate others, even if they seem to be successful at what they do and have been doing it for years. The second thing you should do is apply your own personality, style and flair into whatever it is that you are doing. If someone else has achieved success by being unique then this should only provide inspiration for you so that hopefully one day you will achieve similar success yourself.

18. Negative Advertising

Negative advertising is never good advertising. It looks unfair, and it rarely convinces. In fact, if you want to build a strong brand image in people’s minds, negative ads will destroy your brand image faster than anything else!

This doesn’t mean that you can’t criticize your competitor’s product if it isn’t as good as yours. But when you do this, be sure that the comparison is fair and accurate; otherwise you’ll end up looking like an idiot rather than a smart marketer (and no one will buy your stuff).

19. A Name That Helps

In your business, you have a name that tells a story. It is not just a name; it is an identity. You want that identity to be as powerful as possible—and to tell the world who you are and why they should buy from you.

In fact, this may be one of the most important things in branding your company: choosing the right name for your business. It’s not simply about being clever or catching people’s attention; it’s about being honest and clear about what it is that makes you different (and better) than other similar products or services on the market today .

Hopkins’ approach was to find ways in which he could justify his claims or promises with an impressive explanation behind them—such as using scientific studies from universities or even hiring doctors who would confirm his claims with their own credentials and research findings.

20. Good Business

You are an effective business manager if you don’t take unnecessary risks. Good business managers always think about their long-term goals and how to reach them. They also make sure that the money they spend on advertising is well spent, because good advertising will help them meet their goals over time—and bad advertising won’t.

Good advertising is based on scientific principles that have been proven to work by testing them in one way or another over and over again until they’ve been proven effective again and again (and again). The scientific test-based approach is ultimately the safest way of all to build and sustain a business over the longer term, nothing else even comes close.

In summary

Scientific advertising is a powerful tool for driving sales and building brand loyalty. By using scientific advertising to test and measure the effectiveness of your ads, you can make sure that your investment in marketing pays off.

Take notes of this book summary and apply all the principles (as I have done too) and you will on the road to having a successful profitable business using advertising as the driver.

Section: Use facts and figures rather than opinions when describing the product or service being sold.

Takeaway: Using scientific methods to test ad copy can improve results substantially—but only if you take the time and effort necessary to do so properly!

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