You Can Make $185,000 With the World's Oldest Book on Sales
Copywriter Claude Hopkins was paid $185,000 a year by his advertising agency ... in the 1920s. That’s over $4.7 million in today’s money. What could anyone write that is worth so much? And why is the knowledge of it absent from our high school English and writing classrooms?
Lord & Thomas, Hopkins’ agency, was one of the three largest in America at the start of 20th century. According to Ad Age, the agency was earning $900,000 prior to hiring Hopkins, and paid nearly all of its copywriters far less. How much did they make? $1,600. Their job was to write descriptions of merchandise, and how it could be had. They were sign posts. Not salespeople. They’d never chanced on how to convince a person to do something.
For that, the agency first brought in John E. Kennedy. He was a Canadian mountie turned clothier who’d penned robust copy to sell his threads all over the country. He enhanced the way just about every man in Canada is dressed. While a marketing miracle man, he wrote too slowly for his boss Albert Lasker. Kennedy left in 1906 to write as a freelancer but suffered an early demise two years later; perhaps from the excesses Lasker had provided with his $60,000 Lord & Thomas salary.
Not all was lost. Kennedy left behind the original definition of advertising, which he not only called “salesmanship in print,” but “reason why” copywriting. Here it is, according to Bruce Bendinger’s Copy Workshop Workbook:
“True reason why copy is Logic, plus persuasion, plus conviction, all woven into a certain simplicity of thought - predigested for the average mind, so that it is easier to understand than to misunderstand it.”
That Canadian nugget was inspiration for Kennedy’s eventual replacement, Claude Hopkins, an acolyte of Kennedy’s philosophy who eventually became the lodestar of Lord and Thomas. Hopkins became the first to sell Sunkist oranges by convincing people to drink orange juice and forced his client to create the first citrus juicer, only to increase demand. His thinking made a lot of people many millions.
Then he wrote the first manual on his craft, titled Scientific Advertising. He believed: “Any man who by a lifetime of excessive application learns more about anything than others owes a statement to successors.”
Chapter 1: How Advertising Laws are Established
Hopkins says that the work of the early 20th century advertisers resulted in laws that when followed, guarantee a high level of advertising success. Scientific Advertising is a synopsis of these laws.
At the time of his writing, an agency’s selling weapon was to gather data by direct mail order. This form of advertising founded many of these laws, according to Hopkins, because it was the surest way to monitor response. Ads, methods, headlines, figures and everything that could be measured or compared, was. “We offer a sample, a book, a free package, or something to induce direct replies,” he says. “Thus we learn the amount of action which each ad engenders.”
This sounds like what we do; our digital world merely stands on the shoulders of Hopkins’ work, except that he worked harder:
“In a large ad 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.”
Imagine tracking and recording all of that by hand. Granted, the advertising world of Hopkins was simpler. Today with all of our technology we often agonize, seemingly without end, over the best methods to make things work.
But according to Scientific Advertising, Hopkins was quite sure he knew what he was doing. In fact, after coupon analytics, the main thing left was deciding how to write...
“Now the only uncertainties pertain to people and to products, not to methods,” says Hopkins. “It is hard to measure human idiosyncrasies, the 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 in the most effective way.”
Today, too often we’re confused about both.
How You Can Apply Scientific Advertising, Now
The longer lived the agency, the more intellectual property it has. Or should have. The more hallowed the halls, the more laws and tricks for success should be standard habit. And while the digital revolution continues, it belies this fact ... that new is not always better.
“The lack of those fundamentals has been the main trouble with advertising of the past. Each worker was a law unto 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 a Columbus starting out to find an undiscovered land.”
That was in 1923. Today we navigate much like Columbus. We spy the New World, but whichever continent this is, it will be made hospitable only with established methods.
“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, in the course of decades, such agencies become storehouses of advertising experiences, proved principles, and methods.”
Here are a few laws we can draw:
- If you’re in an old organization find those who have come before you and learn from their work.
- If you’re in a new organization be the person who is discovering ideas that have preceded you and strive to implement them.
- If you’re looking for an agency make sure they have people doing 1 or 2, because their employees will be working more efficiently with deeper principles that will help you sell more....
...You can start by reading the world’s oldest book on advertising.
Next Week ... Chapter Two: Just Salesmanship
“There is one simple way to answer many advertising questions. Ask yourself, ‘Would it help a salesman sell the goods?’ ‘Would it help me sell them if I met a buyer in person?’ A fair answer to those questions avoids countless mistakes...”