10 Methods Of Scientific Advertising From The Man Who Made Toothpaste Famous

Claude C. Hopkins is not a household name, even though he helped popularize many household items like coupons, toothpaste, and even advertising.

Claude C. Hopkins, Scientific Advertising

Claude C. Hopkins, an original ad man.

Hopkins, an advertising pioneer of the early 1900s, is probably best known for his book Scientific Advertising (published in 1923). Through his book and his lifetime of work, he became a pioneer of the modern advertising industry. I suspect, though, that he would be appalled with what he saw now. In many ways, Claude wasn’t nearly as much of an advertiser as he was an expert on human psychology. He understood how we think, and that is what made a message from 1923 completely relevant today.

How we think hasn’t really changed, even though we might think we’re more “modern.”

There are dozens of useful nuggets on marketing and sales in his autobiography, a book that I would recommend for just about anyone. While the methods of advertising have changed, the principles of how we market and sell our products to consumers hasn’t changed at all. In fact, in this “new” era of content marketing, I believe that they resonate more than ever.

Ditching The Pitch

In our day, most advertising is just a new take on screaming “buy me” to the customer. Sure, we use humor, celebrities, and loud music on occasion, but at the end of the day, isn’t most advertising just begging for a sale? Hopkins says that this method doesn’t work. “[We] have to consider the woman at the front door.”

In other words, we have to ditch the pitch, and put our customer first.

One must know what buyers are thinking about and what they are coming to want. One must know the trends to be a leader in a winning trend. - HopkinsClick To Tweet

Here are ten rules of advertising that I learned from Claude C. Hopkins.

1. Consider The Man

Business is human. Hopkins says that we have to learn to consider the man. “Men are more approachable than corporations,” he says, and isn’t he right? More and more, we are skeptical of advertising and the corporate tone. Our audience appreciates the personal face on the corporation. This is why social media matters for all of us. Just think about Tony Hsieh.

2. Let Your Product Do The Talking

In part, Hopkins places the credit for much of his success on great products. He says that you have to let your product do the marketing for you. As advertisers or marketers, our job is to simply get someone to try our product once. If the product is what you say it is, it should take it from there. In his autobiography, Hopkins describes his willingness to refuse service to many products that were simply not that good. Bad products are hard to sell. Good advertising cares about great products.

3. Coupons Work

Just like blogging is all about getting the reader to read the next sentence, selling is all about getting the customer to take the next step (buy). This is exactly why Hopkins was such a spokesmen for the use of coupons. In his day, these were generally sent using direct mail, but they highly resembled the blog post of today’s age: helpful information, along with a simple offer in the form of a coupon.

On this point, Hopkins was insistent that free isn’t the right price for a coupon. According to him,  you have to give people a reason to take a chance on you, but it can’t be free, or they will never appreciate you.

4. Don’t Sell Uphill

Most of the time, when we start our first blog or Facebook page, we anxiously await an onslaught of new customers. It rarely happens. This is usually because we are doing it wrong. We are trying to ‘covert new users’, a hard game in advertising.

Hopkins advises us to sell to people already using similar products first. This method costs less money, and expends less time, making it far more profitable. We should be building audience trust with current customers, and let them to do the talking for us.

5. Test. Test. Test.

One of Hopkins most powerful points was in regard to what he coins ‘scientific adverting.’ He believed that good advertising always came with an ability to test its effectiveness. I love this, because with digital marketing such testing is actually easier then ever before (even though we occasionally ignore it).

Tests are important and help us understand our customers. Good selling is based on good testing. - Claude C. HopkinsClick To Tweet

To make this point, Hopkins cites his work with Pepsodent toothpaste, which according to him, was successful only after many failed campaigns. Because of his strategic testing (on a weekly basis), he was able to turn sales around in just a few short weeks.

6. You’re Really Doing Sales

Most of us don’t consider ourselves a salesmen, but as Hopkins says it, “advertising is simply salesmanship in print.”

An ad-writer must never forget that he is a simple salesmen, and the more he sells the better he will prosper. - Claude C. HopkinsClick To Tweet

The reality? Everyone is marketer, and everyone is selling to someone.

7. Long Copy Is Good

For decades, we’ve been told that people don’t like reading long copy. They’re busy. They don’t have time to read our ads.


old palmolive ad by claude hopkins

Long copy can work, as long is it matters to your reader.

What if the truth was that people just didn’t have time to read long ads that didn’t provide them with much value?

The Hopkins approach took this old adage to task time and time again. Long copy can sell, as long as it is helpful to the customer.

8. Platitudes Are Lame

Let’s be clear, the platitude “we’re the best” isn’t winning new business for anyone. If we trusted those ads, every business would be the best. Hopkins knew better. He believed that superlative claims like “best in the world” meant nothing and were a waste of space.

Form him, actual figures count. The reality is that customers prefer facts over platitudes. He proved this selling tungston lamps.

Say that it gives more light than other lamps, and people are but mildy impressed. Say that it gives 3 ½ times the light of carbon lamps, and people will realize that you have made actual comparisons. They will accept your claims as par. - Claude C. Hopkins

9. The Call To Action

Printing an ad is one thing. Printing an ad that actually does something is another. Hopkins was well know for his work that inspired immediate action. This is partially why he was so likely to use a coupon or limited time offer. He believed that it help consumers avoid procrastination.

This is also a major requirement of his scientific advertising method. If there is no call to action, there is nothing to test. We need to know where our success comes from. It really is the only way.

10. Tell The Truth

[Quote "Brilliant writing has no place in advertising. A unique style takes attention from the subject." - Claude C. Hopkins]

When marketing, we should always use natural language and we should never try to show off. “You are selling your product, not yourself. Do nothing to cloud your objective,” says Hopkins.

Most advertising these days is just a show of creative bravado. Ad agency against ad agency  trying to show their worth through humor and creativity. This is all fine and good, but it doesn’t usually lead to sales. People remember the ad and forget the product.

For Hopkins, advertising was selling. Nowadays we like to think of them as two separate departments, but what if they were one and the same?

They were for Hopkins, and that just may be why you brushed your teeth this morning.

What is the biggest mistake you see repeatedly happening in advertising today?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=783187415 Pam Thompson

    I think the biggest mistake is the clever, funny ad that entertains, but fails to sell. Sometimes I find myself giggling, but then end up saying, “huh?” because I’m not sure what I’ve been sold. I want to *know* what I’m being sold, so that I can decide if I actually want or need the product or service.

    • http://todaymade.com/ Julie R. Neidlinger

      I think the Super Bowl ad mentality has ruined a lot of things. Many times I find myself telling people about a funny commercial and realize I don’t remember the product being advertised.

  • Lyndon NA

    Thank you!

    I get so frustrated with all the “modern spin”, and people touting terms like “super-fans” etc.,
    when infact it’s all pretty much old fashioned, well established marketing knowledge and sales psychology.

    More please!

    • http://todaymade.com/blog Garrett Moon

      Yep. New buzzwords, but not always new techniques.

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  • http://andvertising.com/ David Wojdyla

    You wrote, “He understood how we think and that’s what made a message from 1923 completely relevant today.” I agree 100%.

    I just finished reading this book and now half of it has highlighted passages.

    A few years ago someone at HubSpot wrote a bestseller about “inbound marketing.”

    While it’s true I can’t prove the author read this book during his “research phase” of writing, I challenge him to prove he didn’t read it.

    Thanks, Garrett, for sharing these 10 timely tips!

    P.S. I agree with Lyndon…More please!

    • http://todaymade.com/blog Garrett Moon

      Thanks David. Your experience with the books sounds a lot like mine ;)

  • http://eclecticallysampling.com/ Larry Burns

    One key phrase from “Rule #2″ that is much of an issue as all the others combined ” Hopkins describes his willingness to refuse service to many products that were simply not that good. Bad products are hard to sell. Good advertising cares about great products.”

    Wouldn’t it be a better profession if we actually thought that was a core value. “Good advertising cares about great products.” What is great is a debate that could rage on, of course …. Yet, I can legitimately ask isn’t a significant portion of the noise, as well as the increased skepticism within “consumers”, actually quite directly a result of the FACT that over years so many sub-standard, poor, over-hyped and frankly not worth buying products have been sold via advertising. This sense of we can “sell” anything has permeated the industry to such a degree that aside from certain and even “safe” moral stands e.g. we will not promote cigarettes, most companies fail to ask the fundamental question of SHOULD we market/advertise this {fill in the blank}.

    In today’s ‘first world’ it is becoming increasingly difficult to promise one thing and deliver another without almost immediate backlash. Perhaps that reality can encourage some of our better marketing and advertising minds to step back and say “Thanks, but we’ll pass on this assignment as we actually believe your product is nothing more than a pale comparison to the best ones out there and we see no reason to put our reputation as a good advertising firm on the line to try and sell your inferior brand”

    I know I am dreaming because profit and billings drive so much of our actions – yet … turning down business while too many of us would say is a “luxury we can not afford” really should be a choice worth serious consideration. People (yes, people not consumers) are beginning to far more actively vote with their dollars and make choices about products and companies for reasons far beyond clever taglines ….

    I have not read the book. Now, I have to – I know history is of enormous value and far too often eclipsed by pace. We all do realize, right?, that the 1st iPhone was released on June 29, 2007 so we are not even a decade into the “smart phone” era yet and somehow everything that went before is of no consequence. I do not dispute the massive changes, I know it’s real, it’s happening and brands must adapt but – sometimes a look back can be valuable. Thanks for the post. Great stuff.

    • http://todaymade.com/blog Garrett Moon

      That’s great insight on Rule #2 Larry. Thank you for sharing that.

      Here at Todaymade we like to put that idea into practice. We generally avoid projects that won’t allow us to do great work, or projects that we simply don’t believe in. If we don’t believe in what we are trying to help sell, how can we really do it justice? Some may have an easier time overcoming that. I have always had trouble.

      Of course, it is much easier said than done :)

      Thanks for reading and for the great comment. I hope you enjoy the book.

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