Claude C. Hopkins (1866-1932)

Claude Hopkins was one of the greatest advertising pioneers who ever lived.

Claude C. Hopkins (1866-1932) worked for various advertisers including Bissell Carpet Sweeper Company, Swift & Company and Dr. Shoop's patent medicine company until. at the age of 41, he was hired by Albert Lasker to write copy for Lord & Thomas advertising agency (forerunner to today's Foote, Cone & Belding). He stayed for 18 years.

In 1923 he wrote a slender book, which was published by the advertising agency Lord & Thomas (lineal antecedent of the Fotte, Cone & Belding advertising agency of today). He called it "Scientific Advertising" and almost 30 years later it was re-published by Alfred Politz, eminent researcher and devotee of the scientific marketing and advertising because "the most concentrated wealth of useful discoveries [about advertising] was presented by Claude Hopkins" and because "present-day advertising research has a long way to go before it reaches the level of Claude Hopkins' contributions to efficient advertising". In 1927 Mr. Hopkins wrote an autobiographical work, "My Life in Advertising", which was first serialized in ‘Advertising and Selling’ magazine and subsequently was published in book form by Harper. In 1933 you could buy a copy [even one personally autographed by his widow - Claude had died in 1932] for 10 cents at almost any second-hand bookstore. But by 1946 Advertising and Selling was reprinting the volume, with an interpretive foreword by Walter Weir, who concluded:

"There are few pages in "My Life in Advertising" which do not repay careful study- and which do not merit rereading. Before your eyes, a successful advertising life is lived- with all that went to make it successful. The lessons taught are taught exactly as they were learned. They are dished up dripping with life. It is not a book, it is an experience- and experience has always been the great teacher."

Hopkins is hopelessly out of date, and amazingly current. He was the outstanding copywriter and strategist of his time. He made $100,000 a year and more writing advertising when that kind of money was important even to the U.S.Treasury.

Hopkins talked about scientific advertising in an era when there was very little science, and much of what he says seems terribly dated to the sophisticates of today. Some of it, indeed, is dated, or disproved; times and circumstances have changed.

But despite it all, Claude Hopkins laid down the guidelines that are too important, too eternal to be forgotten. The reader will find himself alternately shaking his head in violent disagreement, and applauding vigorously in complete agreement. He will be annoyed at Hopkins' conceit and arrogance, intrigued with his stories, an impressed with his short, staccato sentences - pre-Flesch example of the best in punching home the message. Short. Simple. To the point.

Claude Hopkins believed advertising existed only to sell something. His copy, notably his Schlitz beer slogan, "The beer that made Milwaukee famous," led Lord & Thomas' Albert Lasker to hire him (for $185,000 a year) in 1907. Hopkins insisted copywriters acquire detailed knowledge of client products and produce brief, dry, reason-why copy. He also promoted couponing, premiums, free samples, mail order and copy testing. For Pepsodent toothpaste, he "discovered" plaque; he then invested in the company and made another fortune. His classic, "Scientific Advertising," was published in 1923, after he retired from L&T, where he had served as president and chairman.

In the book "Twenty Ads That Shook the World", author James Twitchell examines a century's worth of groundbreaking advertising, along with who created the ads and how they changed the way products are marketed.

One of the trailblazers featured in the book is Claude Hopkins, who did much of his most notable work in the 1920s. In that era, mass marketing was in full swing. Most of the clients that Hopkins worked with promoted products that were very similar to their competitors. Hopkins believed the best way to market a product was to exploit a specific characteristic shared by all other products in the same category.

Here are some of the products for which he created ad campaigns and their corresponding advertising "hooks":
· Bissell carpet sweeper was the "Queen of Christmas presents."
· Schlitz beer used "bottles washed with live steam."
· VanCamp's pork and beans were "baked for hours at 245 degrees."
· Goodyear tires were made for "all weather."

He never compared his product with a competitor or mentioned price. What he did was use some aspect of the product that was not unique, and then attempted to "own" that aspect. But, curiously, every aspect he exploited pertained to all the competitors. Every carpet sweeper could be given as a Christmas present, all beer bottles were washed with live steam, every pork and beans producer baked them for hours at 245 degrees, all tires could be used in all types of weather. What set these products apart was that they were the first to use these aspects as their primary marketing focus.

Rosser Reeves of Ted Bates agency in the 1960s carried this on and created the "unique selling proposition"(USP) - create a benefit of the product, even if it doesn't really exist, then promote it with authority and repeatedly as if the competition doesn't have it. For instance, apart from Schlitz beer bottles "washed with live steam", Colgate toothpastes "Cleans your breath while it cleans your teeth."