The genius of Claude Hopkins, the original dude

Claude-Hopkins (1)
The original dude

Every once in a while, someone writes a blog post about the genius of Claude Hopkins. Well, since I am not feeling particularly original today, I’ll tag along and do exactly the same thing, but perhaps with a different twist. After all, one can’t talk about Hopkins enough.

Despite what Bill Gross says (the success of startups is largely timing), you can control your destiny, and it comes down to not only the right product, but the right marketing.

There are three marketing legends, that if you read their books and apply their methods, will considerably impact your chances of success: Claude Hopkins, David Ogilvy and Al Ries.

Most anybody who has worked in marketing or advertising knows of Claude Hopkins. The ones, however, who take his words to heart, are the successful ones.

Hopkins was a rock star in his day. In 1907, he earned several million a year (in today’s dollars) at Lord and Thomas. He was the genius behind many of the biggest brands, and most are still here with us today. Heck, you can blame the fact that people use toothpaste on this guy. He made it popular.

David Ogilvy famously said “Nobody should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times. It changed the course of my life.”

The free trial model, the freemium model, coupons, campaign tracking… so much came from Hopkins and other greats like him.

The reason? Despite what anyone thinks, what motivates people are the same factors today as they were 100 years ago. Or 2,000 years ago, for that matter. Now, obviously, tastes, technology and styles change. But the fundamental drivers of humanity are still there.

I’ll give you an example: Many years ago, I was a young product manager who had recently read some of David Ogilvy’s worksNow, if you’ve ever read Ogilvy (who came from the Hopkins school), he repeats one thing tirelessly: use plenty of copy. 

I met with our agency and they presented some design for an ad. Very light on copy, with a big headline. So, I asked the question: “Why not use more copy?”

The answer: “People don’t read these days. It’s a visual world”.

Oh really? People don’t read? Nah. They read blogs, magazine articles, trade publications, emails, Facebook posts, etc., etc. People read.

Claude Hopkins, 100 years ago, ran into the same thing. Here’s what he wrote:

Some say “Be very brief. People will read for little.” Would you say that to a salesman? With a prospect standing before him, would you confine him to any certain number of words? That would be an unthinkable handicap.

Like I said, some things never change. Once you get a person to read the headline, why not have some copy to finish off the sales message? (Now, I’m not actually in favor of the landing pages with endless, schlocky copy. Creating good landing pages and web sites with an artful mix of headlines, subheads and copy is, itself, a fine craft. But don’t worry about writing a bit. You might find that people actually read it.)

Hopkins in his own words
Let’s look at some classic Claude Hopkins quotes:

  • Advertising is salesmanship. Its principles are the principles of salesmanship…The only purpose of advertising is to make sales.
  • People don’t buy from clowns.
  • Don’t think of people in the mass. That gives you a blurred view. Think of a typical individual, man or women, who is likely to want what you sell.
  • People can be coaxed but not driven. Whatever they do they do to please themselves. The best ads ask no one to buy…The ads are based entirely on service. They offer wanted information. They site advantages to users.
  • Human nature is perpetual. In most respects it is the same today as in the time of Caesar.
  • The product itself should be its own best salesman.
  • Almost any questions can be answered, cheaply, quickly and finally, by a test campaign. That is the way to answer them, not by arguments around a table.
  • A person who desires to make an impression must stand out in some way. Being eccentric, being abnormal is not a distinction to covet. But doing admirable things in a different way gives one a great advantage.
  • Show a bright side, the happy and attractive side, and not the dark and uninviting side of things. Show beauty, not homeliness; health, not sickness. Don’t show the wrinkles you propose to remove, but the face as it will appear. Your customers know all about the wrinkles…We are attracted by sunshine, beauty, happiness, health, and success.
  • …the love of work can be cultivated, just like the love of play. The terms are interchangeable. What others call work I call play, and vice versa.
  • I know of nothing more ridiculous than gray-haired boards of directors deciding on what housewives want…We must never judge humanity by ourselves. The things we want, the things we like, may appeal to a small minority.
  • The greatest two faults in advertising lie in boasts and in selfishness. The natural instinct of a successful man is to tell what he has accomplished. He may do that to a dinner partner who cannot get away. But he cannot do that in print. Nor can he put over, at a reasonable cost, any selfish, undertaking. People will listen if you talk service to them. They will turn their backs, and always, when you seek to impress an advantage for yourself. This is important. I believe that nine-tenths of the money spent in advertising is lost because of selfish purposes blazonly presented.

Hopkins wrote My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising. You can pick up both, combined. Since they are both public domain, the books are readily available for download online. Ian Dewar has also put up a version of Scientific Advertising and you can also read a PDF version of My Life in Advertising.

Here are some example ads. Yes, they are dated, but in their day, they were very powerful and were behind the success of so many major brands, it’s a bit mind-blowing. And the fundamentals, again, are timeless.

Schlitz Beer
This is a famous example Hopkins used to catapult Schlitz from 5th  position in the market to #1. Before he came out with this campaign, Hopkins did an enormous amount of research, even going to brewery school to teach himself how beer is brewed. Nothing was clicking.

Then, he actually went to the Schlitz brewery, and found some amazing things: Schlitz was using water from ancient artesian wells, and going to great lengths to insure its purity.

When he asked the folks at Schlitz why they had never told anyone about these advances, they answered that “everyone in our industry does this”. But Claude realized that no one outside of the beer business knew these things. The irony is that every beer brewer advertised “purity” but, since everyone was saying it, it had zero impact on the public.

So, he simply highlighted what Schlitz was doing (again, that everyone else was doing as well).

As Hopkins says (relevant today in technology marketing), “The situation occurs in many, many lines. The maker is too close to his own product. He sees in his methods only the ordinary….That is a situation which occurs in most advertising problems. The article is not unique. It embodies no great advantages. There are few advertised products which can’t be imitated. Few who dominate a field have any exclusive advantage. They were simply the first to tell convincing facts.




Good old Claude convinced women to wash their faces with soap before their applying makeup.



Hopkins’ employer, Lord and Thomas (of Albert Lasker fame), landed the Southern California Fruit Grower’s Association account for oranges grown in California (“sunkissed”, later changed to “Sunkist”). Back then, people didn’t drink orange juice. They just ate the orange.

Homeboy Claude changed that. He marketed drinking an orange, and included a coupon for an inexpensive squeezer. Huge success. We now drink our oranges.

Thanks for the OJ, Claude!



Van Camps beans

Do you know that before Claude got involved, people didn’t buy canned beans? They cooked them themselves. Claude changed all of that.

I started a campaign to argue against home baking….I told of the sixteen hours required to bake beans at home. I told why home baking could never make beans digestible. I pictured home-baked beans, with the crisped beans on top, the mushy beans below. I told how we selected our beans, of the soft water we used, of our stream ovens where we baked beans for hours at 245 degrees. Then I offered a free sample for comparison. The result was an enormous success.


But then all the competitors caught on. So, Hopkins did a campaign reminiscent of the Progressive Insurance’s successful campaign comparing their rates against others.

He told people to buy his competitor’s product. And it was wildly successful.

After a while, when others followed us, we suffered substitution. Our rivals tried to meet it by insisting on their brand. They said in effect, “Give me the money which you give to others.” And such appeals fell on deaf ears.

I came out with headlines, “Try Our Rivals, Too.” I urged people to buy the brands suggested and compare them with Van Camp’s. That appeal won over others. If we were certain enough of our advantage to invite such comparisons, people were certain enough to buy.

That’s another big point to consider. Argue anything for your own advantage, and people will resist to the limit. But seem unselfishly to consider your customers’ desires, and they will naturally flock to you.

You can google around and find other great examples of Claude Hopkins’ genius.

The key point is that a lot of companies waste money on branding and marketing that doesn’t succeed. And while print advertising is largely dead, the principles of good advertising and marketing are timeless and are ignored at one’s peril. I have certainly used them to great success myself in every company I’ve been at.

So, the next time you’re eating a breakfast of Quaker Oats, having a nice glass of orange juice, while reading the Wall Street Journal, then brushing your teeth, then driving a car with Goodyear tires, then coming home and having a Schlitz beer with baked beans, while shopping online at Sears (well, the last three were a stretch, unless you live in a, err, certain part of the country), you can give a hat tip to Claude, the original dude. Because he was the marketer behind all of these ideas and brands, and many more.


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