A true advertising classic that will teach you how to think as a professional advertiser.
Authors: Claude C. Hopkins
Originally published: 1966
Goodreads rating: ⭐️ 4.26/5
To properly understand advertising or to learn even its rudiments one must start with the right conception. Advertising is salesmanship. Its principles are the principles of salesmanship. Successes and failures in both lines are due to like causes. Thus every advertising question should be answered by the salesman’s standards.
The only purpose of advertising is to make sales. It is profitable or unprofitable according to its actual sales.
The difference is only in degree. Advertising is multiplied salesmanship. It may appeal to thousands while the salesman talks to one. It involves a corresponding cost. Some people spend $10 per word on an average advertisement. Therefore every ad should be a super-salesman.
A salesman’s mistake may cost little. An advertising mistake may cost a thousand times as much. Be more cautious, more exacting, therefore.
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 unique literary style. They take attention from the subject.
That is so in personal salesmanship as in salesmanship-in-print. Fine talkers are rarely good salesmen. They inspire buyers with the fear of over-influence. They create the suspicion that an effort is made to sell them on other lines than merit.
Successful salesmen are rarely good speech makers. They have few oratorical graces. They are plain and sincere men who know their customers and know their lines. So it is in ad-writing.
Many of the ablest men in advertising are graduate salesmen. The best we know have been house-to-house canvassers. They may know little of grammar, nothing of rhetoric, but they know how to use words that convince.
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?
The only readers we get are people whom our subject interests. No one reads ads for amusement, long or short. Consider them as prospects standing before you, seeking for information. Give them enough to get action.
Ads are not written to entertain. When they do, those entertainment seekers are little likely to be the people whom you want.
That is One of the greatest advertising faults. Adwriters abandon their parts. They forget they are salesmen and try to be performers. Instead of sales, they seek applause.
Don’t think of people in the mass. That gives you a blurred view. Think of a typical individual, man or woman, who is likely to want what you sell. Don’t try to be amusing. Money spending is a serious matter. Don’t boast, for all people resent it. Don’t try to show off. Do just what you think a good salesman should do with a half-sold person before him.
The advertising man studies the consumer. He tries to place himself in the position of the buyer. His success largely depends on doing that to the exclusion of everything else.
The best ads ask no one to buy. That is useless. Often they do not quote a price. They do not say that dealers handle the product.
The ads are based entirely on service. They offer wanted information. They cite advantages to users. Perhaps they offer a sample, or to buy the first package, or to send something on approval, so the customer may prove the claims without any cost or risk.
Some of these ads seem altruistic. But they are based on a knowledge of human nature. The writers know how people are led to buy.
Here again is salesmanship. The good salesman does not merely cry a name. He doesn’t say, “Buy my article.” He pictures the customer’s side of his service until the natural result is to buy.
Makers of books, typewriters, washing machines, kitchen cabinets, vacuum sweepers, etc., send out their products without any prepayment. They say, “Use them a week, then do as you wish.” Practically all merchandise sold by mail is sent subject to return.
People can be coaxed but not driven. Whatever they do they do to please themselves. Many fewer mistakes would be made in advertising if these facts were never forgotten.
The difference between advertising and personal salesmanship lies largely in personal contact. The salesman is there to demand attention. He cannot well be ignored. The advertisement can be ignored.
But the salesman wastes much of his time on prospects whom he never can hope to interest. He cannot pick them out. The advertisement is read only by interested people who, by their own volition, study what we have to say.
The purpose of a headline is to pick out people you can interest. You wish to talk to someone in a crowd.
What you have will interest certain people only, and for certain reasons. You care only for those people. Then create a headline which will hail those people only.
people do not read ads for amusement. They don’t read ads which, at a glance, seem to offer nothing interesting. A double-page ad on women’s dresses will not gain a glance from a man. Nor will a shaving cream ad from a woman.
People will not 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. They want economy, beauty, labor saving, good things to eat and wear. There may be products which interest them more than anything else in a magazine. But they will never know it unless the headline or the picture tells them.
You are presenting an ad to millions. Among them is a percentage, small or large, whom you hope to interest. Go after that percentage and try to strike the chord that responds.
The competent advertising man must understand psychology. The more he knows about it the better. He must learn that certain effects lead to certain reactions, and use that knowledge to increase results and avoid mistakes.
There are endless phases to psychology. Some people know them by instinct. Many of them are taught by experience. But we learn most of them from others. When we see a winning method we note it down for use when occasion offers.
To say, “Best in the world,” “Lowest prices in existence,” etc. are at best simply claiming the expected. But superlatives of that sort are usually damaging. They suggest looseness of expression, a tendency to exaggerate, a carelessness of truth. They lead readers to discount all the statements that you make.
But a man who makes a specific claim is either telling the truth or a lie. People do not expect an advertiser to lie. They know that he can’t lie in the best mediums. The growing respect for advertising has largely come through a growing regard for its truth.
So a definite statement is usually accepted. Actual figures are not generally discounted. Specific facts, when stated, have their full weight and effect.
This is very important to consider in written or personal salesmanship. The weight of an argument may often be multiplied by making it specific.
A dealer may say, “Our prices have been reduced” without creating any marked impression. But when he says, “Our prices have been reduced 25 per cent” he gets the full value of his announcement.
One statement may take as much room as another, yet a definite statement be many times as effective. The difference is vast. If a claim is worth making, make it in the most impressive way.
Tell Your Full Story
Whatever claim you use to gain attention, the advertisement should tell a story reasonably complete.
Some advertisers, for the sake of brevity, present one claim at a time. Or they write a serial ad, continued in another issue. There is no greater folly. Those serials almost never connect.
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. Cover every phase of your subject. One fact appeals to some, one to another. Omit any one and a certain percentage will lose the fact which might convince.
In every ad consider only new customers. People using your product are not going to read your ads. They have already read and decided.
So never waste one line of your space to say something to present users, unless you can say it in headlines. Bear in mind always that you address an unconverted prospect.
Any reader of your ad is interested, else he would not be a reader. You are dealing with someone willing to listen. Then do your level best. That reader, if you lose him now, may never again be a reader.
This again brings up the question of brevity. The most common expression you hear about advertising is that people will not read much. Yet a vast amount of the best-paying advertising shows that people do read much.
There is no fixed rule on this subject of brevity. One sentence may tell a complete story on a line like chewing gum.
But, whether long or short, an advertising story should be reasonably complete.
Never be guided in any way by ads which are untraced. Never do anything because some uninformed advertiser considers that something right. Never be led in new paths by the blind. Apply to your advertising ordinary common sense. Take the opinion of nobody, the verdict of nobody, who knows nothing about his returns.
Art in Advertising
Anything expensive must be effective, else it involves much waste. So art in advertising is a study of paramount importance.
Pictures should not be used merely because they are interesting. Or to attract attention. Or to decorate an ad. We have covered these points else where. Ads are not written to interest, please or amuse. You are not writing to please the hoi-polloi. You are writing on a serious subject—the subject of money-spending. And you address a restricted minority.
Use pictures only to attract those who may profit you. Use them only when they form a better selling argument than the same amount of space set in type.
Be normal in everything you do when you are seeking confidence and conviction.
The general rule applies. Do nothing to merely interest, amuse, or attract. That is not your province. Do only that which wins the people you are after in the cheapest possible way.
Things Too Costly
Many things are possible in advertising which are too costly to attempt. That is another reason why every project and method should be weighed and determined by a known scale of cost and result.
Changing people’s habits is very expensive. A project which involves that must be seriously considered. To sell shaving soap to the peasants of Russia one would first need to change their beard-wearing habits. The cost would be excessive. Yet countless advertisers try to do things almost as impossible. Just because questions are not ably considered, and results are untraced and unknown.
An advertiser at one time spent much money to educate people to the use of oatmeal. The results were too small to discover. All people know of oatmeal. As a food for children it has age-old fame. Doctors have advised it for many generations. People who don’t serve oatmeal are therefore difficult to start. Perhaps their objections are insurmountable. Anyway, the cost proved to be beyond all possible return.
No advertiser could afford to educate people on vitamins or germicides. Such things are done by authorities, through countless columns of unpaid-for space. But great successes have been made by going to people already educated and satisfying their created wants.
It is a very shrewd thing to watch the development of a popular trend, the creation of new desires. Then at the right time offer to satisfy those desires.
Costly mistakes are made by blindly following some ill-conceived idea. An article, for instance, may have many uses, one of which is to prevent disease. Prevention is not a popular subject, however much it should be. People will do much to cure a trouble, but people in general will do little to prevent it. This has been proved by many disappointments.
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.
Genius is the art of taking pains. The advertising man who spares the midnight oil will never get very far.
It is often necessary in a line to learn the total expenditure. We must learn what a user spends a year, else we shall not know if users are worth the cost of getting.
We must learn the total consumption, else we may overspend.
Thus an advertising campaign is usually preceded by a very large volume of data. Even an experimental campaign, for effective experiments cost a great deal of work and time.
The uninformed would be staggered to know the amount of work involved in a single ad. Weeks of work sometimes. The ad seems so simple, and it must be simple to appeal to simple people. But back of that ad may lie reams of data, volumes of information, months of research.
Advertising is much like war, minus the venom. Or much, if you prefer, like a game of chess. We are usually out to capture others’ citadels or garner others’ trade.
We must have skill and knowledge. We must have training and experience, also right equipment. We must have proper ammunition, and enough. We dare not underestimate opponents. Our intelligence department is a vital factor,
We need alliances with dealers,
We also need strategy of the ablest sort, to multiply the value of our forces.
Competition must be considered. What are the forces against you? What have they in price or quality or claims to weigh against your appeal? What have you to win trade against them? What have you to hold trade against them when you get it?
How strongly are your rivals entrenched? There are some fields which are almost inpregnable. They are usually lines which created a new habit or custom and which typify that custom with consumers. They so dominate a field that one can hardly hope to invade it.
We cannot go after thousands of men until we learn how to win one.
The problems of distribution are important and enormous. To advertise something which few dealers supply is a waste of ammunition.
Advertising without this preparation is like a waterfall going to waste. The power may be there, but it is not made effective. We must center the force and direct it in a practical direction.
Use of Samples
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. That being so, samples are of prime importance. However expensive, they usually form the cheapest selling method. A salesman might as well go out without his sample case as an advertiser.
Samples serve numerous valuable purposes. They enable one to use the word “Free” in ads. That often multiplies the readers. Most people want to learn about any offered gift. Tests often show that samples pay for themselves—perhaps several times over—in multiplying the readers of your ads without additional cost of space.
A sample gets action. The reader of your ad may not be convinced to the point of buying. But he is ready to learn more about the product that you offer. So he cuts out a coupon, lays it aside, and later mails it or presents it. Without that coupon he would soon forget.
Then you have the name and address of an interested prospect. You can start him using your product. You can give him fuller information. You can follow him up.
Give samples to interested people only. Give them only to people who exhibit that interest by some effort. Give them only to people to whom you have told your story. First create an atmosphere of respect, a desire, an expectation. When people are in that mood, your sample will usually confirm the qualities you claim.
Almost any question can be answered, cheaply, quickly and finally, by a test campaign. And that’s the way to answer them—not by arguments around a table. Go to the court of last resort—the buyers of your product.
There are many surprises in advertising. A project you will laugh at may make a great success. A project you are sure of may fall down. All because tastes differ so. None of us know enough people’s desires to get an average viewpoint.
A person who desires to make an impression must stand out in some way from the masses. And in a pleasing way. Being eccentric, being abnormal is not a distinction to covet. But doing admirable things in a different way gives one a great advantage.
That’s why we have signed ads sometimes—to give them a personal authority. A man is talking—a man who takes pride in his accomplishments—not a “soulless corporation.” Whenever possible we introduce a personality into our ads. By making a man famous we make his product famous. When we claim an improvement, naming the man who made it adds effect.
Then we take care not to change an individuality which has proved appealing. Before a man writes a new ad on that line, he gets into the spirit adopted by the advertiser. He plays a part as an actor plays it.
People do not know us by name alone, but by looks and mannerisms. Appearing different every time we meet never builds up confidence.
To attack a rival is never good advertising. Don’t point out others’ faults. It is not permitted in the best mediums. It is never good policy.
Show the bright side, the happy and attractive side, not the dark and uninviting side of things. Show beauty, not homeliness; health, not sickness. Don’t show the wrinkles you propose to remove, but the face as it will appear. Your customers know all about the wrinkles.
In advertising a dentifrice, show pretty teeth, not bad teeth. Talk of coming good conditions, not conditions which exist. In advertising clothes, picture well-dressed people, not the shabby. Picture successful men, not failures, when you advertise a business course. Picture what others wish to be, not what they may be now.
Picture envied people, not the envious. Tell people what to do, not what to avoid.
Compare the results of two ads, one negative, one positive. One presenting the dark side, one the bright side. One warning, the other inviting. You will be surprised. You will find that the positive ad outpulls the other four to one, if you have our experience.
A Name that Helps
There is great advantage in a name that tells a story. The name is usually prominently displayed. To justify the space it occupies, it should aid the advertising. Some such names are almost complete advertisements in themselves.
Other coined names are meaningless.
They can be protected, and long-continued advertising may give them a meaning. When this is accomplished they become very valuable. But the great majority of them never attain that status.