Claude C. Hopkins was a whiz at writing effective advertising copy back in the early part of the last century. But what really made him stand out as a legend was that he tested everything he presented to the public. As a result he knew, for a fact, what kind of copy worked and what didn’t.
In his classic book, My Life in Advertising, Hopkins had a chapter on “Scientific Advertising” where he laid out some of the basic laws of writing copy that sells based on years of testing different ways of presenting his sales pitch, and analyzing the resulting response rates. Here are just some of these laws that worked back then – and still work today:
Brilliant writing has no place in advertising.
The novice copy writer writes to impress, and makes the mistake of putting the reader’s attention on the copy, instead of back on the reader himself and how his life will improve by using the product in question. The less noticeable the copy is, the better it will do its job. Just present the facts and benefits, and let them do the selling. If the copy appears to be trying to persuade, the reader will reject it out of “fear of overinfluence.”
Language should be natural and simple.
Don’t let the writing be conspicuous. As Hopkins put it: “In fishing for buyers, as in fishing for bass, one should not reveal the hook.”
Never try to show off.
The whole point of the sales letter is to sell the product, not the writer. Sincerity, not fancy words, is what is called for.
From start to finish offer service.
What the prospect wants to know is what you will do for him. Anything that smacks of being self-serving on your part and manipulative of his behavior, will make him suspicious.
Hopkins said he had seen many ads ruined by inserting phrases like, “Insist on this brand,” or Avoid imitations.” These phrases hint at a motive on the part of the seller that is of no interest to the prospect. Tell prospects how they will benefit by buying from you, rather than warning them against buying from someone else.
Forget yourself entirely.
In putting together your sales copy, leave yourself out of the equation. Imagine your prospect is standing before you, a specific individual, and think about what you would say to that person to convince him that getting his hands on this product would be a great thing for him personally. Imagine what a good salesman, talking to the prospect in person, would say. That’s what you should say in your copy.
Do not boast.
You may be tempted to say that your operation is the largest in the county, but that’s really not of any interest to the prospect. It’s just a boast, and as Hopkins reminds us, “Boasting is repulsive.” Don’t tell prospects how great you are. Tell them how great they will be with your product.
Aim to get action.
You have to put something in your ad that will inspire people to take action. One way to do this is to include some kind of coupon that signals people that they should place an order.
This is especially useful in print ads, allowing people to clip out the coupon and then keep it as a handy reminder. This can also work well in direct mail ads, and this is certainly something I would test with direct mail ads today. Even if people call to order or go to a website, just seeing the coupon is a powerful cue to action. Limited time orders are also very effective.
If people are afraid an offer will soon go away, they may act quickly. But if they feel time is not an issue, they’ll defer action until later, and then more than likely will forget about it. Adding a sense of urgency increases response rates and this should be carefully built in to your sales pieces.
Frivolity has no place in advertising.
Hopkins felt that advertising was serious business and should not include humor. For Hopkins, money represented life and work and asking people to spend their hard-earned money should not be taken lightly.
We must realize, however, that much of Hopkins working life occurred during the depression when money was indeed a very serious subject for many people. I agree that building an entire sales piece around humor would be a mistake. First, it would grow old fast.
Second, what one person considers to be funny may just seem weird or stupid to someone else. However, injecting a bit of humor may add something positive to a piece. I think that here we should take a cue from Hopkins and test it out.
If you have an idea for something amusing – maybe a joke or a cartoon, see if it improves response. But if it doesn’t, be ruthless and cut it out.
Ads should tell the full story.
Never assume your reader knows anything about you, or has read another ad in a series of ads. Each ad should be able to stand on its own. So, if you’re sending out a sales piece followed by additional letters or emails, make sure you put all the important information in each piece, including your major arguments and bullet points.
Perhaps later pieces can be pared down in size, but don’t assume that your reader will remember points he may have read in earlier pieces. Also, realize that you put several different appeals in a single sales piece, and some will work better with some prospects, while others will work better with other prospects.
Make sure that all the appeals are presented in every piece, or you could be losing prospects who would otherwise buy.
So, that is some of the wisdom Claude Hopkins has shared with us, based on his many years of “scientific advertising.” Examine your own sales pieces in light of these laws.