5 Reasons This 97-Year-Old Marketing Book Is More Relevant Than Ever


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The 1923 book Scientific advertising by Claude Hopkins spawned the modern world of . He is hailed by many legendary marketers and copywriters of the 20th century, including agency king David Ogilvy and legendary copywriter Gary Halbert, and his message has only grown in relevance in the digital age.

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Whereas the controversy still simmers as to whether our attention spans have actually shortened, the opportunities to fracture our focus – whether it’s multiple tabs on a browser screen or texting while driving – have likely arisen with the proliferation of smartphones. Entrepreneurs are tasked with capturing their prospect’s full attention faster than ever.

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Video marketingperfect streams, and the awesome TikTok filters are blasting us with flashing lights and novelty. But when it comes to influence and sales, the pillars of described in Scientific advertising remained largely the same. (The book is even in the public domain and you can read it in its entirety for free right now.)

As a content marketer, I work day in and day out to capture and hold users’ attention in the most cost effective way possible. The principles of Mr. Hopkins’ seminal book allow me to deliver this, as they are considered the cornerstone of direct response marketing.

Here are 5 important points from the book that still apply nearly a century later

1. To capture attention, create clarity

Mr Hopkins swings out, noting that “sweet talkers are rarely good salespeople”.

It can be tempting to slip into industry jargon or fancy language, but often this attempt to come off as smart or bossy backfires. When your reader has to struggle to understand your pitch, they lose interest and move on.

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Chipotle nailed this approach in a recent poster campaign. Rather than wasting space on high-definition close-ups of airbrushed burritos, they used the entire billboard to display a single sentence:

“We wanted to write about our natural, locally sourced ingredients, but short display titles are best.”

The sentence was then grayed out except for four words, which remained in black capitals, spelling out a new sentence: “OUR INGREDIENTS ARE BEST”. The title is witty and economical, and even when driving on a freeway, you get the message at a glance.

An example shown in Scientific advertising displays a Mead Cycle Company advertisement; the business owner found the ad so lucrative that he didn’t want to change a single word. The opening paragraph below makes a clear and compelling proposition.

“Try before you buy. Select your favorite bike from 44 styles, colors and sizes of the famous Ranger line. We ship it upon approval and 30 DAY TRIAL, freight prepaid to your city. Return if you are not satisfied and the trial will cost you nothing.”

Add charm or detail later. Your first objective in tighter marketing is to communicate your quick and well.

2. Measure data or risk losing money

Scientific advertising is considered one of the first books to tout the benefits of split testing. You need to test, measure and adjust your approach based on the feedback your numbers give you.

Many modern online marketers encounter split testing through the glory of email marketing for the first time, as they use an email service provider to automatically send different subject lines from the same newsletter to a list and determine which topic gets a better engagement rate.

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But even Mr. Hopkins’ data measurement techniques of coupon redemption and tracked phone calls hold their weight today, in both analog and digital form. Google UTM parameters are essential for an online business owner to properly track where their website traffic is coming from and custom links from did it a double-digit growth industry every year.

The approach is simple: test different campaigns, cut initiatives that fail, and do more of what works.

3. Leverage human psychology

We can try to tell ourselves that the world is different now and that humans have different motivations than almost a hundred years ago. But part of what makes Scientific advertising so timeless is that the fundamentals of human psychology haven’t really changed much.

The good news, as Mr. Hopkins notes, is that since human psychology is immutable, once you learn these critical marketing triggers, you’ll never have to unlearn them again.

A few particularly praised tactics in chapter six of the book include

  • Curiosity. Unexpected and exciting details capture the heart and mind of an intrigued consumer.

  • Price. Mr. Hopkins points out that nobody likes cheap products, but everyone likes the idea of ​​a deal.

  • Guarantees. The ability to try a product risk-free changes the psychology and defense mechanisms in a buyer’s mind.

  • Samples. Rather than desperately giving out samples to everyone you see, educate your followers first and let them ask for a sample or try the product. When the initiative is taken by the prospect, psychology is in your corner.

Nectar uses the psychology of guarantee to great effect. When Nectar wants to sell you a mattress, they give you a 365 day trial, over 3 times their industry competitors. “Which of these proposals do you think is better, a 100-day trial period or a 365-day trial period?” is a powerful title rooted in psychology.

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Even as photography, videography, and other forms of content production grow in popularity, these psychological triggers continue to run the show behind the scenes. Any entrepreneur looking to market or sell must employ one or more of these tactics to snag a prospect’s interest.

4. Tension Relief Surpasses Prevention

The sad truth is that it is much easier to identify a consumer’s pain and offer to remove it than to encourage precautionary measures. This doesn’t mean you have to be dire, but you do want to stir up tension in some way when trying to persuade others.

A large number of Scientific advertisingThe examples of still apply today. Toothpaste ads that promise whiter teeth outperform those that tout ongoing cavity prevention. Soaps that promise more radiant, glowing skin will always outperform a title like “keep clean.”

To get others to act now and not later, focus on the problems and how your product, program, or service alleviates those problems.

5. Consumers Buy Complete Stories

A Nielsen report found that Americans spend 11 hours and 27 minutes each day consuming media, a number that has been growing year over year.

It’s because stories sell, whether we pay with our dollars or our time. Mr. Hopkins notes that it’s an advertiser’s job to sell a complete story or proposition in a single ad, and then let the consumer decide whether they are for or against the proposition.

Hopkins notes that, at $10 a word (about $151/word in today’s dollars), every word must be a “super seller.” It seems like every word has to be a “super-storyteller” too, and in this scenario, your value proposition is the story.

Master the marketing

Regardless of your area of ​​expertise, it’s a valuable use of time to learn and master the strategies that persuade people to click or buy.

Whether your dominant marketing approach is SnapChat or direct mail, the principles of Scientific advertising are timeless, proven, and a tactic you can start implementing for free today.

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