How a 100-year-old book could transform your B2B tech marketing effectiveness in 2023
Published in 1923, Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins marked a revolution in measuring the effectiveness of advertising. You may think it’s not relevant to you because you’re not involved in advertising, but in the broader sense, advertising encompasses all forms of communication designed to influence the decisions of others. Advertising includes the content of web pages, social media posts (like this one), email marketing, press releases, and conventional print, radio, and television advertisements.
I’m publishing Scientific Advertising’s 21 short chapters here, one each day, over the next three weeks. I’ve included my preface to the book in this first article. If you can’t wait to read the next installment, you can download the book as a PDF here – no registration is needed and it will print on US letter or A4-sized paper.
A PROMISE: If you take a few minutes each day to read and assimilate the lessons of Scientific Advertising, twenty-one days from now, you’ll know more about the subject than many of the marketing agency experts that try to sell you their services!
Before launching my first marketing communications agency in 1984, I read the famous book, ‘Ogilvy on Advertising’. The author, David Ogilvy, and his agency, Ogilvy and Mather, were giants in the advertising industry at the time. Of ‘Scientific Advertising’, Ogilvy said: “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.”
This book published a century ago in 1923, is about business-to-consumer advertising. Most of its principles apply equally to business-to-business marketing campaigns, digital or conventional, whatever the delivery channel. Marketing communications channels change constantly, particularly in social media. Human nature does not.
‘Scientific Advertising’ describes how to measure and optimize advertising. Its author, Claude Hopkins, was employed as a copywriter by the New York advertising agency Lord and Thomas. His salary of $128,000 a year was the equivalent of over $2.23 million today. The principles set out in this book made profits many times that figure for the agency and its clients. A few of Hopkins’ ideas have since been disproved by later research, but the vast majority hold as true today as they did a century ago.
I have edited the text to correct a few errors and simplify some sentences. I have kept these changes to a minimum so that Hopkins’ tone of voice remains true. If you are offended by some of his terminologies, please remember that the book is of its time.
The value of the lessons in ‘Scientific Advertising’ extends well beyond pure advertising. It will help you craft more effective marketing content of all kinds. It will help you see the wood for the trees when faced with mountains of incoherent measurement data. It will reduce the waste in your marketing campaigns and make you a better marketer. Maybe even a $2 million-a-year one!
It’s a short book, just over 20,000 words, but as it did for Ogilvy, it changed my life. It helped me to build several successful B2B technology marketing and PR agencies. I keep a copy on my desk to this day, and I commend it to you.
Chapter One (Claude Hopkins’ preface)
How Advertising Laws Are Established
The time has come when advertising has in some hands reached the status of a science. It is based on fixed principles and is reasonably exact. The causes and effects have been analyzed until they are well understood.
The correct methods of procedure have been proved and established. We know what is most effective, and we act on basic law.
Advertising, once a gamble, has thus become, under able direction, one of the safest business ventures.
Certainly, no other enterprise with comparable possibilities need involve so little risk.
Therefore, this book deals, not with theories and opinions, but with well-proven principles and facts. It is written as a textbook for students and a safe guide for advertisers. Every statement has been weighed. The book is confined to established fundamentals. If we enter any realms of uncertainty we shall carefully denote them.
The present status of advertising is due to many reasons. Much national advertising has long been handled by large organizations known as advertising agencies. Some of these agencies, in their hundreds of campaigns, have tested and compared thousands of plans and ideas. The results have been watched and recorded, so no lessons have been lost. Such agencies employ a high grade of talent. None but able and experienced men can meet the requirements in national advertising. Working in cooperation, learning from each other and from each new undertaking, some of these men develop into masters.
Individuals may come and go, but they leave their records and ideas behind them. These become a part of the organization’s equipment, and a guide to all who follow. Thus, over decades, such agencies become storehouses of advertising experiences, proven principles, and methods.
The large agencies also come into intimate contact with experts in every department of business. Their clients are usually dominating concerns. So they see the results of countless methods and policies. They become a clearing house for everything pertaining to merchandising. Nearly every selling question which arises in business is accurately answered by many experiences.
Under these conditions, where they long exist, advertising and merchandising become exact sciences. Every course is charted. The compass of accurate knowledge directs the shortest, safest, cheapest course to any destination. We learn the principles and prove them through repeated tests. This is done through keyed advertising, traced returns, and largely by the use of coupons. We compare one way with many others, backward and forward, and record the results. When one method invariably proves the best, that method becomes a fixed principle.
Mail-order advertising is traced down to the fraction of a penny. The cost per reply and cost per dollar of sale show up with utter exactness. One ad is compared with another, and one method with another. Headlines, settings, sizes, arguments, and pictures are compared. To reduce the cost of results even one percent means much in some mail-order advertising. So no guesswork is permitted. One must know what is best. Thus mail-order advertising first established many of our basic laws.
In lines where direct returns are impossible, we compare one town with another. Scores of methods may be compared in this way, measured by the cost of sales.
But the most common way is by the use of a coupon. We offer a sample, a book, a free package, or something to induce direct replies. Thus we learn the amount of action which each ad engenders.
But those figures are not final. One ad may bring too many worthless replies and another ad, valuable replies. So our conclusions are always based on cost per customer or cost per dollar of sale.
These coupon plans are dealt with further in the chapter on “Test Campaigns.” Here we explain only how we employ them to discover advertising principles.
In a large agency, coupon returns are watched and recorded on hundreds of different lines. In a single line, they are sometimes recorded on thousands of separate ads. Thus we test everything about advertising. We answer nearly every possible question by multitudinous traced returns.
Some things we learn in this way apply only to particular lines. But even those supply basic principles for analogous undertakings.
Others apply to all lines. They become fundamentals for advertising in general. They are universally applied. No wise advertiser will ever depart from those unvarying laws.
We propose in this book to deal with those fundamentals, those universal principles. To teach only established techniques. There is that technique in advertising, as in all art, science, and mechanics. And it is, as in all lines, a basic essential.
The lack of those fundamentals has been the main trouble with advertising in the past. Each worker was a law to himself. All previous knowledge, all progress in the line, was a closed book to him.
It was like a man trying to build a modern locomotive without first ascertaining what others had done. It was like Columbus starting out to find an undiscovered land. Men were guided by whims and fancies – vagrant, changing breezes. They rarely arrived at their port. When they did – by accident – it was by a long roundabout course. Each early mariner in this sea mapped his separate course. There were no charts to guide him.
Not a lighthouse marked a harbor, and not a buoy showed a reef. The wrecks were unrecorded, so countless ventures came to grief on the same rocks and shoals.
Advertising was then a gamble – speculation of the rashest sort. One man’s guess on the proper course was as likely to be as good as another’s. There were no safe pilots because few sailed the same course twice.
The condition has been corrected. Now the only uncertainties pertain to people and products, not to methods. It is hard to measure human idiosyncrasies, preferences and prejudices, the likes and dislikes that exist. We cannot say that an article will be popular, but we know how to sell it most effectively.
Ventures may fail, but the failures are not disasters. Losses, when they occur, are but trifling. And the causes are factors that have nothing to do with the advertising.
Advertising has flourished under these new conditions. It has multiplied in volume, prestige, and respect. The perils have increased manyfold. Just because the gamble has become a science, the speculation a very conservative business.
These facts should be recognized by all. This is no proper field for sophistry or theory or any other will-‘o-the-wisp. The blind leading the blind is ridiculous. It is pitiful in a field with such vast possibilities.
Success is a rarity, a maximum success an impossibility unless one is guided by laws as immutable as the law of gravitation.
So our main purpose here is to set down those laws and to tell you how to prove them for yourself. Myriad variations come after them. No two advertising campaigns are ever conducted on identical lines.
Individuality is essential. Imitation is a reproach. But those variable things which depend on ingenuity do not have a place in a textbook on advertising. This is for groundwork only.
We hope to foster advertising through a better understanding. To place it on a business basis. To have it recognized as among the safest, surest ventures which lead to large returns. Thousands of conspicuous successes show its possibilities. Their variety points out its almost unlimited scope. Yet thousands who need it – who can never attain their deserts without it – still look upon its accomplishments as somewhat accidental. That was so, but it is not so now. We hope that this book will throw some new light on the subject.
Written in 1923, Scientific Advertising is published here as 21 blog posts – one for each chapter.
Scientific Advertising - Chapter 2: Just Salesmanship - B2B Marketing to Electronics EngineersJanuary 2, 2023
[…] Scientific Advertising is published here as 21 blog posts – one for each chapter. If you want to start at chapter one, click here. […]
Scientific Advertising - Chapter 4: Mail Order Advertising - What It Teaches - B2B Marketing to Electronics EngineersJanuary 4, 2023
[…] – Chapter One: How a 100-year-old-book could transform your B2B tech marketing effectiveness in 2023 […]
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