Advertising Wisdom from Claude Hopkins – 27 lessons for grabs

The sole purpose of ads is to bring sales, says Claude Hopkins, in his book titled, ‘Scientific Advertising.’

For adverts to bring sales, they need to be based on established principles. They need to be based on the patterns of human behavior. Various tests have proved these principles true. And we could also model our adverts by them.

What are these principles? What brings sales and what drives it away? Let’s learn from the wisdom of Claude Hospkins. I thought it best to present these lessons in his own words. Memorise each lesson and apply them to your own adverts. And watch what the difference they make.

Listen to Claude Hospkins now as he teaches ageless advertising wisdom.

Lesson one: how you should view advertising

‘Advertising is salesmanship. Its principles are the principles of salesmanship….Thus every advertising question should be answered by the salesman’s standards.’

Lesson two: why do you advertise?

‘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 people. It is not primarily to aid your other salesmen.’

 Lesson three: should your advert be long or short?

‘Some say “Be very brief. People read for little.’” And Mr. Hopkins replies, ‘The only readers we get are people our subject interests. No one reads ads for amusement, long or short. Consider them [readers] as prospects standing before you, seeking for information. Give them enough to get action.’

Lesson four: how should you type your advert?

‘Some advocate large type and big headlines. Yet they do not admire salesmen who talk in loud voices…. It only multiples your cost of advertising.’

Lesson five: how should you write your advert?

‘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. Ad writers abandon their parts. They forget they are salesmen and try to be performers. Instead of sales, they seek applause.’

Lesson six: how should you target your prospects?

‘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.’

Lesson seven: do you make this mistake when writing your adverts?

‘Ads are planned and written with some utterly wrong conception. They are written to please the seller. The interests of the buyer are forgotten. One can never sell goods profitable, in person or in print, when that attitude exists….Remember the people you address are selfish, as we all are. They care nothing about your interests or your profit. They seek service for themselves. Ignoring this fact is a common mistake and a costly mistake in advertising. Ads say in effect, “Buy my brand. Give me the trade you give to others. Let me have the money.” That is not a popular appeal.’

Lesson eight: the best way to sell

‘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 site {sic} advantages to users. Perhaps they offer a sample, or to but the first package, or to send something on approval, so the customer may prove the claims without any cost or risks. Some of these ads seem altruistic. But they are based on the knowledge of human nature. The writers know how people are led to buy.’

Lesson nine: why you should include coupons as part of your adverts

‘Mail order advertising usually contains a coupon. That is there to cut out as a reminder of something the reader has decided to do. Mail order advertisers know that readers forget.’

Lesson ten: the advantage of long adverts

‘Mail order advertising tells a complete story if the purpose is to make an immediate sale. You see no limitations there on amount of copy. The motto there is, “The more you tell, the more you sell.” And it has never failed to prove out so in any test we know.’

Lesson eleven: why do you use headlines?

‘The purpose of 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 person’s attention. So in an advertisement. 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.’

Lesson twelve: how helpful are headlines?

‘Headlines on ads are like headlines on news items. Nobody reads a whole newspaper….We pick out what we wish to read by headlines, and we don’t want those headlines misleading.’

Lesson thirteen: why do you think people read adverts?

‘But 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 a women’s dress will not gain a glance from a man.’

Lesson fourteen: the importance of psychology in advertising

‘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 makes…Human nature is perpetual. In most respects it is the same toady as in the time of Caesar. So the principles of psychology are fixed and enduring. You will never need to unlearn what you learn about them.’

Lesson fifteen: two ways to apply psychology in advertising

‘We learn, for instance, that curiosity is one of the strongest human incentives. We employ it when we can.’

‘We learn that people judge largely by price. They are not experts. In the British National Gallery is a painting which announced in a catalog to have cost $750,000. Most people at first pass it by at a glance. Then later they get farther on in the catalog and learn what the painting cost. They return then and surround it.’

Lesson sixteen: why you should make your adverts more specific

‘Platitudes and generalities roll off the human understanding like water from a duck. They leave no impression whatever.  To say, “Best in the world,””Lowest price 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 careless truth. They lead readers to discount all the statements that you make.’

‘The weight of an argument may often be multiplied by making it specific. Say that a tungsten lamp give more light than a carbon and you leave some doubt. Say it gives three and one-third the light and people realize that you have made tests and comparisons. 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 full value of his announcement.’

Lesson seventeen: why you need to make your advert detailed

‘Whatever claim you use to gain attention, the advertisement should tell a story reasonable complete….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.’

Lesson eighteen: the purpose of each repeated advert

‘In every ad consider only new customer. People using your product are not going to read your ads. They have already read and decided. You might advertise month after month to present users that the product they use is poison, and they would never know it. So never waste one line of your space to say something to present users, unless you can say it in your headlines. Bear in mind always that you can address an unconverted prospect.’

Lesson nineteen: when to use pictures in adverts

‘Pictures in advertising are very expensive….Pictures should not be used merely because they are interesting. Or to attract attention. Or to decorate an ad….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.’

Lesson twenty: what it takes to write an advert that sells

‘An ad-writer, to have a chance at success, must gain full information on his subject….A painstaking advertising man will often read for weeks on some problem which comes up…Perhaps in may volumes he will find few facts to use. But some one fact may be the keynote of success.’

‘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. So this is no lazy man’s field.’

Lesson twenty-one: the game of advertising

‘Advertising is much like war, minus the venom. Or much, if you prefer, like a game of chess. We are usually out to capture other’s citadels or garner others’ trade.’

‘We must have skill and knowledge. We must have training and experience, also right equipment….We dare not underestimate opponents.’

Lesson twenty-two: why use samples in advertising?

‘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 of prime importance. However expensive, they usually form the cheapest selling method. ‘

‘Samples serve numerous valuable purposes. They enable on to use the word “Free” in ads. That multiplies readers. Most people want to learn about an offered gift. Test often shows that sample 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 ready to learn more about the product 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.’

Lesson twenty-three: the right people to give samples

‘Give samples to interested people only. Give them only to people who exhibit that interest by some effort. Give them only to people 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.’

Lesson twenty-four: the importance of tests in advertising

‘Almost any questions can be answered, cheaply, quickly and finally, by a test campaign….Go to the court of last resort – the buyers of your product.’

‘Now we let the thousands decide what the millions will do. We make a small venture, and watch cost and result. When we learn what a thousand customers cost, we know almost exactly what a million will cost. When we learn what they buy, we know what a million will buy.’

‘Suppose a chemist would say in an arbitrary way that this compound was best, or that better. You would little respect his opinion. He makes tests – sometimes hundreds of tests – to actually know which is best. He will never state a supposition before he has proved it. How long before advertisers in general will apply that exactness to advertising?”

Lesson twenty-five: the need for a human touch to adverts

‘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.’

Lesson twenty-six: why adverts should have a constant tone

‘In successful advertising  great pains are taken to never change our tone. That which won so many is probably the best way to win others. Then people come to know us. We build on that acquaintance rather than introduce a stranger in strange guise. People do not know us by name alone, but by looks and mannerisms. Appearing different every time we meet never builds up confidence.’

Lesson twenty-seven: why you should avoid negative advertising

‘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. The selfish purpose is apparent. It looks unfair, not sporty. ‘

‘Show a 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.’

‘We are attracted by sunshine, beauty, happiness, health, success. Then point the way to them, not the way out of the opposite. Picture envied people, not the envious. Tell people what to do, not what to avoid. Make your every ad breath good cheer.’

‘Assume that people will do what you ask. Say, “Send now for this sample.” Don’t say, “Why do you neglect this offer?” That suggests that people are neglecting. Invite them to follow the crowd.’

‘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 out pulls the other four to one, if you have our experience.’

Thanks for taking time to read the lessons. I hope you found one or two lessons helpful. Do you have anything to say about them? Feel free to share thoughts. We appreciate your contributions.


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