When Claude C. Hopkins wrote Scientific Advertising in 1923 the advertising world was a very different place. Most advertisers spent money on ad campaigns (mainly printed mailers) without being able to track results. They just spent their money and hoped for the best.
The “Science” Hopkins wrote about turns out to be what are now the fundamentals of Direct Response advertising. It was a breakthrough idea at the time and this book is the first written description of split testing on record.
Some of the terms he uses are a bit out of date. Remember, they were split testing coupons and printed mailers at the time. But the fundamentals that he breaks down about how to split test and how to make sales happen are timeless.
“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
Scientific Advertising Review with Excerpts
After reading Scientific Advertising I knew I had to share it. But instead of doing a normal review I thought I’d share some of my personal notes that I took while reading.
This way you can see a few of the things I thought was important enough to save with a brief description of why. Here they are.
Split Testing Coupons. Scientific Advertisng was written in 1923. The break through split testing tool at the time were mail order coupons.
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.
Direct Response. What made Hopkins so different was that he understood what other advertisers didn’t. When done correctly, advertising can be about more than getting your name out there – it can be about getting your name out there and making sales.
The only purpose of advertising is to make sales. It is profitable or unprofitable according to its actual sales. It is not for general effect. It is not to keep your name before the people. It is not primarily to aid your other salesmen. Treat it as a salesman. Force it to justify itself. Compare it with other salesmen. Figure its cost and result. Accept no excuses which good salesmen do not make. Then you will not go far wrong.
Long-Form Copy. In 1923, he’s already figured out long copy out performs short copy. You can see this still in practice today in 99% of the salesletters used online. And now we are seeing video sales letters that are up to 45 minutes in length. These mammoth videos out peform short copy almost every time.
Some say “Be very brief. People will read for little.” Would you say that to a salesman? With a prospect standing before him, would you confine him to any certain number of words? That would be an unthinkable handicap. So in advertising. The only readers we get are people whom our subject interests. No one reads ads for amusements, long or short. Consider them as prospects standing before you, seeking for information. Give them enough to get action
Free Trials. Have you ever seen a Free-Trial offer that let’s you try the product before you buy it? This is nothing new. Hopkins was innovating this 100 years ago.
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.
Cost per lead. Here he talks about another one of today’s standard practices, the importance of determining your cost per lead.
A man was selling a five-dollar article. The replies from his ad cost him 85 cents. Another man submitted an ad, which he thought better. The replies cost $14.20 each. Another man submitted an ad, which for two years brought replies at an average of 41 cents each. Consider the difference, on 250,000 replies per year. Think how valuable was the man who cut the cost in two. Think what it would have meant to continue that $14.20 ad without any key on returns. Yet there are thousands of advertisers who do just that. They spend large sums on a guess. And they are doing what that man did – paying for sales from 2 to 35 times what they need cost.
Headlines. We all know you can write a headline that says “CLICK HERE OR YOU’LL DIE” and your CTR will be through the roof. But by doing that you guarantee almost no one will be interested in the page you send them to. But by using a very specific headline, you can call out potential buyers only, saving you tons of money on unwanted clicks.
The purpose of the headline is to pick out people you can interest. You wish to talk to someone in a crowd, so the first thing you say is, “Hey there, Bill Jones” to get the right persons attention.
Writing Great Headlines. Upworthy.com made the news this year when they shared that their writers write 25 headlines for every article they post and then choose the best two or three to test with. Hopkins and his crew were doing that in their day as well.
The writer of this chapter spends far more time on headlines than on writing. He often spends hours on a single headline. Often scores of headlines are discarded before the right one is selected.
Being specific. Imagine you see two ads online. One says “Sweet Dreams!” and the other says “Get 2 Extra Hours of Sleep Per Night by Doing This Simple 3 Minute Trick Before Bed”. Which one would you click?
The weight of an argument may often be multiplied by making it specific. Say that a tungsten lamp gives more light than a carbon and you leave some doubt. Say it gives three and one-third times the light and people realise that you have made tests and comparisons.
Small split test. No one makes money by launching a brand new campaign with a $500k budget and hoping for the best. It’s much smarter to run a small test, see which ads, landing pages and headlines work best and then scale using only those best assets.
Before the publisher sends out five million letters he puts a few thousands to test. He may try twenty-five letters, each with a thousand prospects. He learns what results will cost. Perhaps the plan is abandoned because it appears unprofitable. If not, the letter, which pays best, is the letter that he uses.
Scientific Advertising breaks down the fundamentals of direct response advertising as seen through the eyes of one of the great ad men of the early 1900s. If you change the word “coupon” or “mailer” to “banner ad” or “PPC Campaign” you’ll see that not much has changed over the years.
It’s a quick read and highly recommended if you want to make money in advertising.