Have you ever read an advertising or marketing book more than once? How about more than twice?
David Ogilvy once insisted about a book,
“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.”
What book was he referring to?
Marketer, meet Claude Hopkins, one of the original 1920s ad men who could masterfully blend both art and the rigor of science to marketing campaigns. He is known for many iconic ads of the past, including Pepsodent Toothpaste, which some credit with getting Americans in the habit of brushing their teeth.
Hopkins was studied and admired by both David Ogilvy (who most of us know) and Rosser Reeves (who many of us know as Don Draper).
Hopkins summarized his theory of advertising in a short, easy-to-digest, book called Scientific Advertising. This was Ogilvy’s go-to book. I remember the first time I read through it. What really struck me about it was its relevance to what we were discovering (or I guess is should say rediscovering) almost a century later here at MarketingExperiments.com.
Now, I confess, I am only on my third round through this book, so I know I am not quite yet fit to work for Ogilvy, but I thought it would be fitting to share with you a few of Hopkins principles that seem relevant for us to remember nearly 100 years later.
PRINCIPLE #1: People are selfish
First, Hopkins warns the reader, “The people you address are selfish, as we all are They care nothing about you interests or profit. They seek service for themselves. Ignoring this fact is a common mistake and a costly mistake in advertising.”
Much of the advertising in Hopkins day had turned inward and focused primarily on what the business wanted the customer to do — mainly buy a product or service. They had forgotten that before you can move someone to action, you have to help them understand what is in it for them.
It’s humorous sometimes how we can fall into the same trap today as advertisers. You can see it in something as simple as our call-to-action copy. We use phrases like, “Buy now,” “Add to Cart,” “Register” or, even worse, “Submit.”
All these display the symptom that Hopkins was getting at — we are too focused on what we want from the customer, rather than what the customer wants from us.
We run simple A/B experiments (like this series) all the time in which changing emphasis from something like “Buy Product X” to “Get Product X” has a significant impact on customer response.
And it does not simply come down to using a word like “get.” It’s about the mindset behind the word “get.” As Hopkins pointed out, people are interested in what they “get,” not what the business “gets.”
This is as true today as it was then, and the most effective marketers today know how to empathize with the customer.