Scientific Advertising


Concise, no-nonsense guide to advertising. Advertising was a gamble - now it's an exact science. Meticulously measure the results and nuances of every single advertising action in small tests, and you can identify fixed principles for large campaigns - proven methods that will allow people to guarantee what will or won't be successful in selling.

Scientific Advertising
Claude Hopkins


Chapter 1 - "How Advertising Laws are Established"

"When one method invariably proves best, that method becomes a fixed principle"

Everything is compared, one ad with another, one method with another, headlines, sizes, settings, arguments, pictures.

Old advertising:

"Men were guided by whims and fancies - vagrant changing breezes. They rarely arrived at their port. When they did - by accident - it was by a long roundabout course"

  • The condition of advertising as it used to be, a gamble/speculation

Now, "the only uncertainties pertain to people and to products".

  • Selling in the most effective way is a concrete science, learned through repeated tests and measuring the results.
  • Conspicuous success is certainly possible, and advertising a safe venture with solid returns
  • "Every course is charted. The compass of accurate knowledge directs the shortest, safest, cheapest course to any destination"

Chapter 2 - "Just Salesmanship"

  • Advertising is multiplied salesmanship - "it may appeal to thousands while the salesman talks to one"
  • "Mediocre advertising affects all of your trade"

On the qualifications and rhetoric of a salesperson:

  • "Fine talkers are rarely good salesmen. They inspire buyers with the fear of over-influence. They create the suspicion that an effort is made to sell them on other lines than merit."
  • Successful sales-people aren't great speakers - they are plain, sincere, and know their customers. They know how to use words that convince.

On selling to customers:

  • "One must be able to express himself briefly, clearly and convincingly"
  • "The only readers we get are people whom our subject interests. No one reads ads for amusements, long or short...Give them enough to get action"
  • Don't be abnormal - if someone was speaking loudly or dressed wildly, it detracts from the essence of what they're saying.
  • "Some poorly dressed ads, like poorly dressed men, prove to be excellent salesmen. Over-dress in either is a fault"
  • Greatest advertising flaw is to try to perform and seek applause, instead of seeking a sale.
  • "The advertising man studies the consumer - he tries to place himself in the position of the buyer. His success depends on doing that to the exclusion of everything else."
  • Don't sell people what they don't want.

Chapter 3 - "Offer Service"

  • The people you address care nothing about your interests or profit, they seek service for themselves.
  • "Best ads ask no one to buy" ⇒ best ads "are based entirely on service. They offer wanted information. They cite advantages to users"
  • Salesmanship results in the "natural result" of buying.

Send out product without any prepayment, until the natural result is to buy:

  • "I was sent here to give you a brush. I have samples here and I want you to take your choice".
  • "Accept this package and try it. I'll come back in a few days to ask how you liked it."
  • "Let us help you for a week without cost or obligation"
  • Cigar makers - "Smoke then, then keep them or return them, as you wish"

"People can be coaxed, but not driven. Whatever they do they do to please themselves".

Chapter 4 - "Mail Order Advertising - What It Teaches"

  • "Advertising must be done on a scientific basis to have any fair chance of success"
  • Selling a $5 article. One man sold ad that cost $.85, with replies costing $14.20. Another person had an ad with replies for an average cost of 41 cents each. The difference on 250,000 replies is huge.
  • Optimized ads result from "many traced comparisons"
  • "Larger type does not pay"
  • "A large percentage of people who read ad and decide to act will forget that decision in five minutes"
  • If you use pictures - they need to be to the point ("They are salesmen in themselves")
  • Buyers are practical people - they are "looking for attractive offers, not for pictures". Pictures can also increase the cost per reply.
  • "Mail order advertising tells a complete story if the purpose is to make an immediate sale"

Chapter 5 - "Headlines"

  • Difference between advertising and personal salesmanship lies in personal contact. But salesman wastes time on prospects he can never hope to interest.
  • Purpose of headline is to pick out people you can interest. Headline is only for certain people and for certain reasons.
  • "Headlines on ads are like headlines on news items. Nobody reals a whole newspaper"
  • "We may pick out what we wish to read by headlines, and we don't want those headlines misleading. The writing of headlines is one of the greatest journalistic arts. They either conceal or reveal an interest."
  • "People are hurried - they skip 3/4ths of the reading matter they pay to get"
  • People don't choose to be bored in print - they intentionally choose the subjects they read. They will never know these subjects if the headline tells them.
  • Changes in headlines can drastically multiply returns (the author claims to have used nearly 2,000 headlines on a single product). Use a lot of headlines to test.
  • "Address the people you seek, and them only"

Chapter 6 - "Psychology"

  • Identical offers made in different ways may bring multiplied returns based on how we treat people or get their attention.
  • "Human nature is perpetual. In most respects it is the same today as in the time of Caesar. So the principles of psychology are fixed and enduring"
  • "Curiosity is one of the strongest human incentives"
  • People wants "bargains but not cheapness. They want to feel that they can afford to eat and have and wear the best. Treat them as if they could not and they resent your attitude."
  • People judge by price - if we advertise a valuable formula, that might not be impressive. But if we say we paid $100,000 for that formula, the statement has a ton of respect.
  • Selling under a guarantee sparks interest - "Try it for a week. If you don't like it we'll return your money" vs "Pay in a week if you like them."
  • "Try the horse for a week and then come back for your money if you don't like it" is worse than "Try the horse for a week - then pay me then"
  • Psychology trick - putting buyer's name in gilt lettering on each book - added value to the books.
  • Sending a form letter to someone that they had a book with their name on it induced action - nearly all men who received it filled out the form. "When a man knows that something belongs to him - something with this name on - he will make an effort to get it, even though the thing is a trifle."
  • Advertiser suffering from substitution - "try our rivals." Inviting comparison shows there was no fear of competition. "Buyers were careful to get the brand so conspicuously superior that its maker could court a trial of the rest."
  • "It is vastly different to pay 15 cents to let you try an article than to simply say, "It's free."
  • "Hand an unwanted product" to someone they won't care. But get them to ask for a sample, they'll be in a different position.
  • "Submit five articles exactly alike and five people may each choose one of them. But point out in one some qualities to notice and everyone will find them. The five people then will all choose the same article."
  • "If people can be made sick or well by mental impressions, they can be made to favor a certain brand in that way."

On creating personalities to relate to the target customer:

  • "One treated [girls who desire to dress better] like poor girls and made the bare business offer. The other put a woman in charge - a motherly, dignified, capable woman. They did business in her name, used her picture, signed all ads. She wrote to these girls like a friend. She lad long sought a chance to supply women good clothes and give them all season to pay. Now she was able to do so, with the aid of men behind her."

Chapter 7 - "Being Specific"

  • Don't use platitudes and generalities to reach an audience. They express a tendency to exaggerate, or are careless truths, and lead readers to discount all the statements you make
  • Salespeople can be expected to be overly enthusiastic, but for that reason general statements mean little.
  • People who make specific claims are either telling a truth or a lie, but people err on the side of trusting their judgment.
  • The weight of an argument may often be multiplied by making it specific
  • One statement may take as much room as another, yet a definite statement be many times as effective

Examples of being specific conferring an advantage:

  1. "Our prices are reduced by 25%" vs "Our prices are reduced"
  2. Women's clothing ⇒ "Lowest prices in America"/"Guaranteed lowest price"(underselling other dealers) ⇒ "Out net profit is 3 percent". The latter shows the volume of business, the former was copied by other rivals until it became commonplace
  3. Shaving soaps ⇒ "Abundant Lather" ⇒ "Multiplies itself in lather 250 times". "Acts quickly" ⇒ "Softens the beard in one minute". "Maintains its creamy fullness for 10 minutes on the face". "The final result of testing and comparing 130 formulas"
  4. Advertising a "78-second shave" to sell a safety razor ⇒ indicates actual tests
  5. Used the world over ⇒ Used by the people of 52 nations

"No generality has any weight whatever. It is like saying, 'How do you do?' when you have no intentions of inquiring about one's health."

Chapter 8 - "Tell Your Full Story"

  • Advertisement should tell a story reasonably complete. "Every traced ad tells a complete story, though it takes columns to tell."
  • "When you get a person's attention, then is the time to accomplish all you ever hope with him.". You're dealing with someone willing to listen. Then do your best - this is your once chance to get action with an unconverted prospect.
  • "One fact appeals to some, one to another. Omit any one and a certain percentage will lose the fact which might convince."
  • "Present to the reader, when once you get him, every important claim you have"
  • Accumulate a list of claims to use by comparing the results of various headlines.
  • On the topic of brevity, there's no fixed rule. Depending on whether or not your story is long or short, an advertising story should still be reasonably complete.
  • Advertisers don't expect re-reads when running ads again - they expect returns to come from getting new readers. In every ad, only consider new customers.
  • "A man interested enough to buy a car will read a volume about it if the volume is interesting."
  • "Take the opinion of nobody, the verdict of nobody, who knows nothing about his returns."

Chapter 9 - "Art in Advertising"

  • Remember - ads are not written to interest, please or amuse. "You are writing on a serious subject - the subject of money spending. And you address a restricted minority"
  • Use pictures only to attract those who may profit you - when they form a better selling argument than the same amount of space set in type.
  • Picture what people desire, the positive effects/perception that a product will solve, rather than the state that the product is trying to solve.

Examples of this:

  1. In using pictures in advertising for selling clothes, picture men whom others envy. In surroundings others covet. Pictures suggest that selling these article will "aid men to those desired positions"
  2. Beauty articles - picture beautiful women, but also fascinated men. "Women desire beauty largely because of men. Then show them using their beauty, as women do use it, to gain maximum effect."

Two things men should not joke about - business or home. Don't cheapen your message through frivolity or eccentricity. A picture that is eccentric or unique takes attention from your subject.

"Be normal in everything you do when you are seeking confidence and conviction"

"Many pictures tell a story better than type can do....they awake curiosity".

  • although some pictures can form a total loss

Does it pay better to use fine art work or ordinary?

  • Some advertisers may spend a lot of money for drawings. However, few people have an education in art. They wouldn't know the difference between a fine art work or an ordinary one, so choosing the one at a fraction of the cost is better to go with.

"Do nothing to merely interest, amuse or attract. That is not your province. Do only that which wins the people you are after in the cheapest possible way."

"One man may do business in a shed, another in a palace. That is immaterial. The great question is, one's power to get the maximum results."

Chapter 10 - "Things Too Costly"

"Changing people's habits is very expensive". Yet countless advertisers try to do this.

"What cannot be done on a large scale profitably cannot be done on a small scale."

  • e.g. trying to educate people on the use of oatmeal. Results too small to discover. Everyone knows of oatmeal. People who don't serve oatmeal therefore difficult to start. Maybe their objections are insurmountable, thus the cost is too high to try and convert them

Watching a trend grow ≠ creating that fashion, taste, or influence for all in your field to share. For trends that are developing, take advantage and offer to satisfy those desires.

"Costly mistakes are made by blindly following some ill-conceived idea."

  • e.g. an article may have uses, like preventing a disease
  • prevention is not popular even if it should be. "People will do much to cure trouble, but people in general will do little to prevent it.
  • toothpaste ⇒ "beautifying teeth" > "preventing decay". focus on the appeal - don't feature troubles
  • "soap may improve complexion" > "soap may cure eczema"
  • some subjects may have merit but don't have enough people to justify pursuing them, and the costs will be too high.

"Groping in the dark in this field has probably cost enough money to pay the national debt"

Chapter 11 - "Information"

"An ad-writer must gain full information on his subject"

  • this can mean reading for weeks on some problems which comes up, through hundreds of volumes of data and information

"Genius is the art of taking pains. The advertising man who spares the midnight oil will never get very far."

  • chemists are employed to prove or disprove doubtful claims. An advertiser should aim to do the same.

On conducting user interviews:

  • "A $25,000 a year man, before advertising outfits for acetylene gas, spent weeks in going from farm to farm. Another man did that on a tractor."
  • "Before advertising a shaving cream, 1,000 men were asked to state what they most desired in a shaving goap"
  • Canvassing thousands of homes of people in order to gather data on pork & beans consumption, found that only 4% of people used any canned pork and beans. 96% baked beans at home. Without this knowledge, any advertising would have failed

"Impressive claims are made far more impressive by making them exact."

  • e.g. finding out how many calories are in a good. Food has a large food value < "425 calories per pint"

Ads appear simple, but belie the amount of data and interpretation that goes into their reading.

Chapter 12 - "Strategy"

Sometimes the name matters. If you choose a named like "Toasted Corn Flakes" you may ironically invent the competition/new demand and invite other people to stand out in your newly created field.

Some names have no meaning, but through branding can become defined by the thing they're selling - e.g. Kodak, Mazda. Names that tell stories have been worth millions of dollars.

Price is variable. High price creates resistance and limits one's field. Greatest profits are made on great volume at small profit.

Rivals' positions have to be carefully considered.

  • How strongly are they entrenched?
  • "What have you to win trade against them?"
  • "What have you to hold trade against them when you get it?"
  • The appeal must be strong enough to win those people from long-established favor
  • Offer exclusivity and a seeming advantage

Chapter 13 - "Use of Samples"

"The product should be it's own salesman. Not the product alone, but the product plus a mental impression, an atmosphere, which you place around it."

"Samples form the cheapest selling method".

  • Enable one to use "Free" in ads, which multiplies readers. "That word, 'Free', ...will generally more than pay for your samples"
  • Gets action. Buyer may not be convinced to the point of buying. But he is ready to learn more about the product you offer. Gives you information about the person as well, and can follow up with them.
  • Sometimes a small sample may not be a fair test, an order for a full-size package on a follow-up might be better.
  • It's expensive to get a prospect's attention. Don't stop at the minor additional cost to make that interest valuable.
  • Samples also register the interest you create and one can compare them with other ads, headlines, plans, and methods
  • Give them to interested people only. Create an atmosphere of respect, desire, and expectation - when samples are given, they usually confirm the qualities you claim.

"Most people will pay carfare to get a sample rather than two cents to pay postage"

  • samples/coupons will drive people to stores/call-to-actions to redeem or buy

Do not introduce unfavorably - the impression is important (e.g. pop-ups, or leaving a card on someone's windshield". The product will be cheapened.

Samples - when used right - "almost invariably form the cheapest way to get customers"

Answer arguments against samples through tests. Try some target audiences/towns with them some without them, and measure the results.

Chapter 14  - "Getting Distribution"

  • Start with local advertising, and then gradually escalate to national advertising.
  • The benefit of coupons to local vendors is that it assures the influx of more customers, incentivizing them to use coupons in and promotions and ensures distribution through local channels

Chapter 15 - "Test Campaigns"

"Try out plan after to plan to constantly reduce costs."

"Never state a supposition without proving it."

Almost any question can be answered by a test campaign, rather than debating about it.

"When we learn what a thousand customers cost, we know almost exactly what a million will cost. When we learn what they buy, we know what a million will buy."

  • establish averages - know your cost, profit, loss, and scale from then on
  • there is minimal risk from extrapolating from a few thousand what millions will do. Then act accordingly. If you branch, you will know to a certainty what your results will be.

Testing can help save costly mistakes based on incorrect ideas tested on a small scale (changing the form of a product, or labeling is better to test with 1,000 people even if you're sure the change is favorable. The audience might not agree)

  • an advertiser submitted a question to a 1,000 women about a change in a product's form. The response was almost unanimously disapproval. After suggesting in another form, there was far more approval and the advertiser knew which one to go with.

Even if advertising is going well and you don't want to disturb the campaign, if you want to tweak it try it somewhere else (if possible) and compare the results with the original campaign.

Chapter 16 -  "Leaning on Dealers"

Considering your profit margins, be careful to give away or spend money on unnecessary deals or efforts to appease others (like unnecessary display ads).

Rely on tests to compare cost and result on every form of expenditure, and eliminate waste through these results.

"Your object in all advertising is to buy new customers at a price which pays a profit. You have no interest in centering trade at any particular store. Learn what your customers cost and what they buy. If they cost you one dollar each, figure that every wasted dollar costs you a possible customer"

Chapter 17 - "Individuality"

If you want to make an impression, you need to stand out. But being eccentric or abnormal is not the way to do it. Do admirable things in different ways to get an advantage.

"There is uniqueness which belittles and arouses resentment. There is refreshing uniqueness which enhances, which we welcome and remember. Fortunate is the salesman who has it."

An advertiser should have a becoming style.

  • "We make him distinctive, perhaps not in appearance, but in manner and in tone. He is given an individuality best suited to the people he addresses."
  • Where it's important to appear rugged and honest, or standing out as an authority, do so (e.g. case with woman who wrote letters appealing/relating to girls wanting to dress better)
  • personal authority (signing ads) can be favorable
  • people > "soulless corporation". Introduce personality in ads. "When we make a man famous we make his product famous, when we claim an improvement, naming the man who made it adds effect."

Don't change tone - "In successful advertising great pains are taken to never change our tone. That which won so many is probably the best way to win others."

  • "That which won so many is probably the best way to win others."

You don't want people to consciously think that an ad is made to sell, or that the appeals you make are "created, studied, artificial. They must seem to come from the heart, and the same heart always, save where a wrong tack forces a complete change."

"Remember that a change in our characteristics would compel over best friends to get acquainted all over."

Chapter 18 - "Negative Advertising"

Don't point out others' faults. Positive ads are always > than negative ads.

  • "Show beauty, not homeliness; health, not sickness. Don't show the wrinkles you propose to remove, but the face as it will appear."
  • "Show pretty teeth, not bad teeth. Talk of coming good conditions, not conditions which exist"
  • "Picture what others wish to be, not what they may be now."
  • "We are attracted by sunshine, beauty, happiness, health, success"
  • "Picture envied people, not the envious"
  • "Tell people what to do, not what to avoid"
  • "Assume what people will do what you ask. Say, 'Send now for this sample.' Don't say 'Why do you neglect this offer?' That suggests people are neglecting. Invite people to follow the crowd."
  • "Never let [people's] memory lead you to picture the gloomy side of things"

Chapter 19 - "Letter Writing"

  • Keep an eye on letters or things you receive that stand out or got your interest. They may offer something you want, or may wish to know.
  • Collect what gathers attention

Before sending out millions of letters, put a few thousands to test.

  • e.g. 25 letters each with a thousand prospects. Learn what results cost.
  • "A general letter is never used until it proves itself best among many actual returns"

The physical qualities of a letter doesn't matter - don't sell on lines other than merit

  • e.g. "a two-cent letter gets no more attention than a one-cent letter"
  • quality of paper is no more important whether it's fine or poor paper

"A letter which goes to an inquirer is like a salesman going to an interested prospect."

Get immediate action. "People are naturally dilatory. They postpone, and a postponed action is too often forgotten."

  • Emphasize scarcity/expiring offer. If an offer expires on a certain date, it will emphasize a prompt decision to overcome the tendency to delay.
  • "Strike while the iron is hot"
  • "You can afford to pay for prompt action rather than lose by delay"

Chapter 20 - "A Name That Helps"

Some long-continued advertising gives meaningless names (Kodak, Vaseline) meaning.

  • Great majority do not get this status

Service of the product > name, when it comes to importance in advertising

"When a product must be called by a common name, the best auxiliary name is a man's name. It is much better than a coined name, for it shows some man is proud of his creation."

Chapter 21 - "Good Business"

"Don't spend money blindly merely to satisfy some advertising whim"

  • Runs directly contrary to the tenet of "eliminate waste".
  • Paying for advertising ≠ results
  • "I'm spending money on advertising so it must work". Not necessarily causative but makes you "feel good" that you're doing something ("If the business thrives, the tonic gets credit. Otherwise, the failure is due to fate")

"The writer did not know whether his advertising was worth anything or not. Sometimes he thought that his business would be just as large without it"

  • writer replied "I do know. Your advertising is utterly unprofitable...End an add with an offer to pay five dollars to anyone who writes you that he read the ad through"

Again, ads that won on a small scale won before they ever ran on a large scale.

"Small expenditures made on a guess will grow to big ones on a certainty."