John Caples, one of the 20th century’s most successful advertising men, was not only a great copywriter, but also an avid copy tester. Here was one bit of Caples wisdom that tells the whole story:
“Test everything. Doubt everything. Be interested in theories, but don’t spend a large sum of money on a theory without spending a little money to test it first.”
Caples and his team spent millions of dollars to learn the answers to questions like:
What kind of headlines attract the most readers? And, What kind of copy will be most successful in persuading people to buy your product or service?
He spent millions – but he used his findings to make many more millions. In spite of his success, however, he knew there was no end to the discoveries that could be made. And He encouraged the next generations of copywriters and ad makers to come up with new questions and new sales appeals.
But, how would these new ad creators know which of their new ideas were the most effective? They would require testing to make sure advertising dollars were spent where they would bring the best results.
In his classic book, Tested Advertising Methods, Caples offered a list of 17 ways one could put an ad to the test. These 17 ways ran the gamut, from simple to complex, and the test one would choose would depend on the type of issue you were looking at, and how much time and money you had to throw at the problem.
You might be surprised to see some of the methods that Caples suggested. So, here are some of the testing methods he described in his book.
Put Your Newly Written Ad Aside Until the Next Day
As a copywriter, your first, best line of defense is yourself. There are different stages of creating an ad. There’s the stage where you’re full of enthusiasm, dashing off your brilliant ideas.
But when you look at it again the next day, you’re a different person – cool and objective. Now you can see where your language can be simplified, where you’re missing a clear call to action, where you can bring in the reader more quickly by deleting that opening paragraph that you were so in love with the day before.
Always look at everything again the next day and you will find many things that need fixing.
Ask Somebody to Read Your Ad Copy Aloud to You
Does this sound strange? Maybe you’re thinking, shouldn’t you read your copy aloud to someone else?
But Caples said the problem with that is simple: you know your own copy too well. If you read it, you’ll read it with the right emphasis, you’ll correct small errors, or pause in all the right places… and you learn nothing from the process.
When someone else reads your copy cold, you can tell right away where the stumbling blocks are, where the person obviously misunderstands your unclear copy, where sentences are awkward or too long.
Now, use what you learn. If the person doesn’t understand something, don’t blame him or her for that; look at how you can change the copy. If the person stumbles over your wording, smooth out the wording. This is a very useful way to perfect a piece.
Opinion Test By Interview
Now that you’ve perfected your ad to some degree, you want to get people’s opinions of the ad itself. Caples suggests the best opinion tests use people who are actual prospects to use the product. For example, show ads for dog food to dog owners.
Always give people a choice of which ad, headline, illustration, etc., they prefer. If you just show them your ad and ask them if they like it, they’ll probably say yes because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. But if you show two headlines, and ask which one they like better, you’ll get a more honest opinion.
However, be aware that opinion tests by themselves are not enough; they are only opinions, and only form a small group of prospects. Caples said you should always back up opinion tests with sales tests.
Caples offered a number of different types of sales tests. These included looking at responses to mail-order tests, testing the use of coupons, testing the value of following up coupons with calls by a sales representative, offering samples and free literature, using coupons versus “hidden offers” that were described in the text but not made obvious with a coupon, and split-testing.
By testing selected variables in ads against one another, and seeing which produced the greatest response, Caples developed the most scientific approach to creating the most effective ads.
Caples acknowledged that advertising could never be an exact science like chemistry. In a chemistry lab you can have complete control over all the variables. But in advertising, there are too many unknown variables
How many other emails is your prospect seeing? Are you catching your prospect at a time that they’re too busy to read, and will likely forget to do so later? There are endless things that can affect the success of your advertisement that you simple can’t control.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t great advantages to running tests. You can never predict with precision how an ad will do. But you can quickly identify ads that don’t work at all, and ads that work very well. And then you can improve those ads that work well, to make them work even better.
As Caples said, an automobile manufacturer would never buy a trainload of axles or seat fabric without running many pretests to insure the money was well spent.
Why would he buy trainloads of advertising with nothing more to go on than his own personal opinion? Advertising would never live up to its full potential to benefit business until testing was made part of the process.
We’ll finish by looking at Caples’ “one rule that never changes”:
“Test everything on a small scale before you spend money on a large scale. Testing enables you to keep your finger on the public pulse. It enables you to sense trends in advance. It enables you to separate the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, the winning ideas from the duds. It enables you to multiply the results you get from the dollars you spend in advertising.”
I think that says it all, doesn’t it?