Scientific Advertising: How to Avoid Expensive Habits
“Changing people’s habits is very expensive.”
So says advertising copywriter Claude Hopkins. He measures the returns on coupons — running the analytics in 1923. What he finds allows him to write many of the principles we know of early 20th century advertising, the guide for everyone in business to be known and make sales.
If more of us played by Hopkins’ book, we’d all make more money. His guide is true for website design just as it is for space advertising — apply his writing and design principles to A/B testing and you’ll probably come out ahead each time. He’s conservative. Practical to a fault. He dashes Absolut Vodka ads that say nothing of product, waste space and tout puffery over good sentences that sell.
That was last week when we discussed Hopkins’ views on ad art, and the backwardness of branding at the expense of sales. Now he explains why even the perfected ad fails absolutely when the recipient must be converted from too far afield.
How Much Does it Cost to Change Someone’s Mind?
“To sell shaving soap to the peasants of Russia one would first need to change their beard wearing habits. The cost would be excessive. Yet countless advertisers try to do things almost as impossible.”
Note this law of Russian Emperor Peter I in 1698: A beard tax designed to help Russia appear more European. Shave or pay was the motto. Those who opted out were forced to purchase a “beard token,” carried like a weapons permit.
The anecdote teaches that one Russian emperor, with the full power of a dictatorial state, was unable to control his men’s beards. How are you, a relative nobody, going to interest people in a product they don’t use? Hopkins speaks of dentifrice makers — and the knowledge that in 1923, not so many people brushed their teeth as do today, which made products in the dental hygiene market hard sales.