Scientific Advertising: Is Your Ad Always Closing?
Let’s answer the one question you’ve got about this series: “How can a book from 1923 help me with what I’ve got to do?” I’m giving you Helmut Krone’s answer, art director for Doyle Dane Bernbach who cut layout for Volkswagen’s "Think Small" ads with a razor blade ...
“I asked one of our writers recently what was more important: Doing your own thing or making the ad as good as it can be. The answer was: ‘Doing my own thing.’ I disagree violently with that. I’d like to propose a new idea for our age: Until you’ve got a better answer, you copy.”
That’s why I’m copying Claude Hopkins. I don’t yet have better answers. Before doing our own thing — even online — let’s read Hopkins’ Scientific Advertising. Not only did he make Americans start drinking orange juice, he worked with Albert Lasker and John E. Kennedy. They rocketed the washer that would become Whirlpool out of obscurity and moved their agency Lord and Thomas from earnings of $15,000 a year to $30,000 a month...in four months. If you’d like to learn more about that history see last week’s first installment.
This week’s chapter is called Just Salesmanship. That means advertising is only salesmanship. For Hopkins creativity is subservient to sales. It’s not the other way around. If you’ve heard of Leo Burnett who said things like “plan the sale as you write the ad” that’s just vintage Hopkins. David Ogilvy channeled Hopkins when he said: “It’s not creative if it doesn’t sell.” The book Scientific Advertising was in fact Ogilvy’s weapon. He said everyone must read it seven times for license to write an ad.
Hopkins begins, and the italics are his, “To properly understand advertising or to learn even its rudiments one must start with the right conception. Advertising is salesmanship. Its principles are the principles of salesmanship. Successes and failures in both lines are due to like causes. Thus every advertising question should be answered by the salesman's standards.”
“Let us emphasize that point, The only purpose of advertising is to make sales. It is profitable or unprofitable according to its actual sales.”
He prefers Domino's Pizza door hangers to slick Absolut Vodka posters because the latter have no tangible sales message. “Some argue for slogans,” he says, “some like clever conceits. Would you use them in personal salesmanship? Can you imagine a customer whom such things would impress? If not, don't rely on them for selling in print.”
Today we too should meditate seven times on this simple wisdom in everything we create — whether it’s an advertisement, landing page, video or even a helpful blog. Only that will pay us back. For Hopkins ads are nothing more or less than sales. They’re not creative, nor meant for writing in the high style. He felt so indomitably that an elevated tongue restrains your fiduciary ascendancy that he wrote: “Fine talkers are rarely good salesmen.”
He says, “fine writing is a distinct disadvantage. So is unique literary style. They take attention from the subject. They reveal the hook.” What is the hook? I think it’s the writing itself. Are you drawing attention to the writing? If you are, you’ve stopped communicating, which is the only hook you have.
Hopkins throttles us — advertising is not about the hook. Keep it hidden. You can do that if you consider that advertising is merely salesmanship personified. What you don’t want to see in a man at your door with a suitcase you don’t put into an ad ...
“Some advocate large type and big headlines. Yet they do not admire salesmen who talk in loud voices...Others look for something queer and unusual. They want ads distinctive in style or illustration. Would you want that in a salesman? Do not men who act and dress in normal ways make a far better impression?...Some insist in dressy ads. That is all right to a certain degree, but is quite important. Some poorly dressed men prove to be excellent salesmen. Over dress in either is a fault…
“...Some say ‘Be very brief. People will read for little.’ Would you say that to a salesman? With a prospect standing before him, would you confine him to any certain number of words? That would be an unthinkable handicap."
Today we have the same argument over copy length made complicated by the way we skim digital content. But look at the best direct response copywriters online and you’ll see the higher their asking price the more copy they write.
Copywriter John Carlton’s Simple Writing System costs $787 and it takes him 2,861 words to sell. Copywriter Gary Bencivenga’s DVD course costs $5,000 and it takes him 30,000 words to sell; pasted into Word at 15 point Georgia font it’s an astounding 183 pages. Who’s going to buy that? Selling just ten to his dedicated crowd nets him $50,000.
This helps prove Hopkins’ point about long copy. He says that an ad should never be produced for the masses but rather with the image of a single buyer transfixed in your mind. People had a hard time doing that in 1923. Now, in 2015 we’ve become screen people interacting on devices that have built-in cameras designed only to take pictures of ourselves.
We’ve got data, but psychologically it’s harder for us to reach into the prospect. Here is Hopkins’ antidote:
“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...”
The sale is not about you.
“...Some ads are planned and written with a totally wrong conception,” says Hopkins. “They are written to please the seller. The interests of the buyer are forgotten. One can never sell goods profitably, in person or in print, when that attitude exists.”
But here is the stiletto Hopkins drives into our selfie generation’s side, and I think history will never let us live it down: “Ad writers abandon their parts. They forget they are salesmen and try to be performers. Instead of sales, they seek applause.”