While it’s not the only point that Claude C. Hopkins makes in Scientific Advertising, it’s one of the big takeaways that reminds us of our job as advertisers and the end goal of all advertising endeavors. Published in 1923, Scientific Advertising
may be a dated book, but its relevance to contemporary advertising hasn’t disappeared. It is still provides valuable insight into the craft and purpose of advertising.
Divided over twenty one chapters, Scientific Advertising was written as an early manual to instruct advertisers to hone their craft and to help their clients fatten their wallets. He makes his points according to the principles of what he deems “scientific advertising” – advertising that has had any and all guesswork stripped from it. He preaches safe advertising, proven to be effective in reaching consumers and selling products.
Hopkins emphasizes that advertising is salesmanship, with the only “difference [being] in degree.” He posits that many problems advertisers face can be solved by asking two questions:
1. Would it help a salesman sell the goods?
2. Would it help me sell them if I met a buyer in person?
He warns against flashy ads or large type unless they achieve a particular purpose, adding that we wouldn’t trust a salesmen who acted larger than life or eccentrically and positing that a straightforward sell is often the best technique to use. According to Hopkins, ads should not be designed to entertain because they rarely entertain the people most likely to purchase the product being sold. His belief is that too often ads are written to please the seller and the writer, rather than the people who will do the actual buying, an attitude he considers dangerous to the industry.
Another large part of the book focuses on advertising by mail and its techniques, referring to the whole thing as “the severest test of an advertising man,” wherein all mistakes are exposed and lacking returns become increasingly visible. In reducing advertising to what Hopkins considers its most efficient form, the advertiser is pressed to make the optimal use of the space available, whether he fills that void with copy or pictures. Every penny spent can be traced to the profits garnered by the mail order sale. Again, the principles of appropriate cost-cutting and efficiency are stressed.
While I won’t go into detail about every lesson about the book, I’d highly suggest that you read it if you’re in any way involved with or have an interest in the advertising industry. It’s lessons are a solid reminders of how to go about our business and most of its advice has withstood the test of time. But don’t just take my word for it, take David Ogilvy’s (who suggests you read it seven times through, by the way).