The genius of Claude C. Hopkins: Part 1 

(April 22, 2020)

Ever read My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising?

If you just said yes, then what I have to say next will be about as useful as a fur coat on a grizzly bear.

If you said no, then buckle up and call your Aunt Matilda.

The book’s author was (and still is, I guess) Claude C. Hopkins, one of the pioneers of modern copywriting and advertising.

Using only the power of his pen, he turned a tiny toothpaste startup into one of the largest companies in the world (selling in over 52 countries), made puffed grains a national fad, and lifted a beer brand from fifth in market share to number one with a one-page newspaper ad.

Yes, he was an impressive figure. But, as always, success comes at a cost. Most weeks, he racked up 80 hours at the typewriter. In fact, he says he rarely left the desk before midnight. And quite often, remained there until 2 am. 

So while he doesn’t necessarily sound like the mate you’d call up on a Saturday night, he was definitely the guy you’d count on if you had a business with a desirable product and wanted to sell squillions.

Excuse me. I’m starting to sound like a slimy used car salesman when I talk about selling squillions and stuff. But you have to admit, as far as the success of your advertising, marketing or branding goes, the number of sales is still the best metric.

In fact, what I like about ol’ Claude is that, despite his expertise, he didn’t distil marketing into a set of simplistic rules. He wasn’t dogmatic about ways of doing things, in other words. 

He noted that, although there are certain underlying principles on which you should rely for guidance, no one can tell you what will work or what won’t until you (yes, YOU) have tested your campaign or idea. After all, the context in which you appeal to people constantly changes. So the best way to know the success of your offering or marketing is by measuring how many people exchange their hard-earned dollars for your product or service.

Exhibit A: Claude's friend bought the rights to a toothpaste. Not just any tube of fang-cleaning paste, though.

This was a product that supposedly cleaned what is called the mucin plaque off your gums, which is pretty standard these days. But this was in the early 1900s, remember.

The toothpaste was undoubtedly better, but also more expensive—double the price of most other brands, in fact.

The friend tried to talk about the science behind why this brand was better. But the science only confused people. And he made no sales. So he contacted Claude. And after taking one look at the product, he, Claude, refused to take on the project.

"It was a technical proposition," he said. "I did not see a way to educate the laity in technical tooth-paste theories."

But the friend was persistent, so Claude finally agreed to the project. After researching (over 60 books on the science of toothpaste), Claude discovered that this toothpaste was not only preventative, a promise which most tooth-paste advertisers used, but also made your teeth more white.

After that, he created a new term for mucin plaque: film. He said this toothpaste cleaned the film off your teeth, which was the thing that made your fangs yellow.

In turn, he was able to explain why the product made you more beautiful, as a pose to making you less ugly. When he did this, he began selling hordes of toothpaste.

Perhaps this speaks to why western medicine is far more popular than eastern medicine which is based around more preventative measures.

I'm going to stop here, because this could be taken as me trying to promote deception to sell more. That's not what I'm saying. I'm suggesting that as Claude showed, positioning your product in a way that resonates with your audience matters. Deception implies lying. Claude’s friend, on the other hand, was trying to sell an honest product. But he evidently wasn’t communicating in a way his audience resonated with. Claude changed that. He did something which other brands had not been able to do. He understood who his audience was, in other words, and met them where they were at, which as the numbers show proved quite beneficial. 

“A hundred tooth-paste makers might start out, as a hundred have, and fall down. Simply because they were wedded to some theory which human nature failed to approve. They did not learn their mistake, because they did not quickly check results. So they have wrecked themselves on rocks which could have been avoided,” he said.

Here’s another interesting insight.

But first, context: Claude invented the use of samples when marketing products. The reason being is this: The person who argues for his own advantage is usually disregarded. So Claude began what is known as altruistic advertising, which basically means to give samples out for free. And if people like what they saw, they could buy the product again. No gimmicks, no strings. Just, “Hey, this product might help you. And if it does, you can buy more if you want.” Makes sense, right?

Since Claude invented such a way of introducing products into the market, hundreds of thousands of businesses have followed suit. 

Not toothpaste brands, though.

"In most lines, like food products, the word "free" was appealing. It multiplied the readers of our ads...But when we came to something pertaining to hygiene the psychology was different. We were professing to other people benefits of vast importance. When we featured toothpaste like breakfast cereal, it minimised our importance. It made us traders, simply seeking to sell, not scientists seeking to benefit."

Perhaps that is an important takeaway if you offer a product and service that goes above and beyond. If you discount your product or offer it for free, you end up devaluing your brand, not promoting it.  

So the takeaway is this: There are never 10 SECRETS TO MAKE YOU AN OVERNIGHT SUCCESS. Gosh, I hate people who say that shit. There are no rules. There's damn hard work. And testing. And thinking creatively. And engaging with people you aim to serve.

So there you have it: This week's micro-article.

Virtual elbow bumps, 


. . .

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