#170 Claude Hopkins A Life in Advertising

Summary Notes


In this episode, the host discusses the influential work of Claude Hopkins, a pioneer in the field of advertising, focusing on his autobiography, "My Life in Advertising." Hopkins shares his journey from poverty to becoming a highly paid ad executive, emphasizing the importance of learning from experience, the power of demonstration, and the significance of serving customers over self-promotion. He advocates for treating ads as personal sales pitches, the necessity of experimenting, and the timelessness of human nature in advertising. Hopkins' philosophy is to work not for money or fame but for the joy of the craft and the satisfaction of contributing to the industry's growth. Despite his success, he reflects on the value of simplicity and the rewards beyond money that come from understanding and connecting with the common people. The host and guest also explore the impact of Hopkins' strategies on modern advertising and the lessons that can be applied today.

Summary Notes

Purpose of the Book

  • Claude Hopkins wrote his book as a business story, not a personal history, aiming to provide instructive interest.
  • He wants to offer helpful suggestions and save others from the same struggles he encountered.
  • Hopkins believes in recording research and experiences to guide successors in the field.
  • His claim to credit is based on his extensive work and experience in advertising, which he wishes to pass on to others.

"The chief object behind every episode is to offer helpful suggestions to those who will follow me and to save them some of the midnight groping which I did."

This quote expresses Hopkins' desire to provide guidance and prevent others from facing the same challenges he did in advertising. It shows his altruistic motive behind writing the book.

David Ogilvy's Recommendation

  • David Ogilvy, another prominent figure in advertising, acknowledges the influence of Claude Hopkins on his career.
  • Ogilvy recommends reading both "My Life in Advertising" and "Scientific Advertising" by Hopkins.
  • He suggests reading "Scientific Advertising" multiple times due to its value, despite its age.

"He says, in fact, on scientific advertising, you should read it seven times."

The quote highlights Ogilvy's strong endorsement of Hopkins' work, specifically "Scientific Advertising," emphasizing the importance of thoroughly understanding its contents.

Importance of Hopkins' Autobiography

  • The autobiography provides a real-life account of a successful advertising career.
  • It is praised for its practical lessons and insights into Hopkins' experiences.
  • The book is considered an experience in itself, teaching through the life it describes.

"It is not a book. It's an experience. And experience has always been the great teacher."

This quote underscores the value of the autobiography as more than just text; it's a learning journey through Hopkins' life.

Early Life and Influence of Claude Hopkins

  • Hopkins credits his mother with instilling conservatism and caution, which he deems crucial in advertising.
  • He emphasizes the importance of safety and frugality in both personal and client expenditures.
  • Despite later estrangement, Hopkins acknowledges the significant influence of his mother on his work ethic and success.

"A Scottish mother is the greatest asset a boy can have who desires a career in advertising."

The quote reflects Hopkins' belief that his mother's influence was fundamental to his success in advertising, particularly her conservative and cautious approach.

Work Ethic and Dedication

  • Hopkins describes a rigorous work schedule from an early age, supporting himself since nine due to his father's death.
  • He continued this intense work ethic throughout his career, often working past midnight and on Sundays.
  • Despite his dedication, Hopkins expresses doubt about whether this was the right choice, recognizing the value of a more balanced life.

"For 16 years after entering business, I rarely had an evening or a Sunday not occupied by work."

This quote illustrates Hopkins' extreme dedication to his career, sacrificing personal time for work.

Benefits of Poverty

  • Hopkins views poverty as a blessing that taught him hard work and gave him insights into the common people's lives.
  • He believes that understanding the common people, who make up the majority of customers, is key to successful advertising.
  • Hopkins stayed connected to his roots, which he credits for his ability to communicate effectively with the masses.

"Through father, I gained poverty, and that was in another blessing."

The quote conveys Hopkins' perspective that poverty provided valuable life lessons and a deep understanding of his future customers.

Practical Experience vs. Formal Education

  • Hopkins values practical experience over formal education, especially in the field of advertising.
  • He criticizes formal advertising courses as impractical and misleading, potentially hindering rather than helping students.
  • Hopkins learned from practitioners and older individuals, gaining insights that he applied to his work.

"I am sure it would be better if we did not have them. Now, I have read some of those courses. They were so misleading, so impractical, that they exasperated me."

The quote reveals Hopkins' disdain for formal advertising education, believing that it could lead students astray from what is truly effective in the field.

Treating Work as Play

  • Hopkins was influenced by a railroad foreman who treated work with enthusiasm and made it a game.
  • This approach to work as a game, rather than a chore, stayed with Hopkins and influenced his career philosophy.
  • He contrasts this with the attitude of workers who did the minimum and spent their earnings quickly.

"The helpers worked from necessity. They did as little as possible. They counted the hours to quitting time. [...] But the foreman made the work a game."

This quote contrasts different attitudes towards work, highlighting the foreman's positive and game-like approach, which inspired Hopkins.

Constant Learning and Childlike Curiosity

  • Claude Hopkins and David Ogilvy discuss the importance of maintaining a childlike curiosity throughout life.
  • They highlight how some individuals, like Charles Kettering, retain their curiosity and continue learning, which adds value to their lives.
  • The conversation transitions to a story about a railroad foreman who shares wisdom with Claude.

"As we age, we lose that childlike curiosity. And harem sweet never lost that childlike curiosity." "Charles Kettering didn't lose it either. And I think there's a lot of value in that lesson."

These quotes emphasize the value of preserving a sense of wonder and eagerness to learn as we grow older, as exemplified by individuals like Harem Sweet and Charles Kettering.

Work vs. Play and Attitude of Mind

  • The railroad foreman's story contrasts the attitudes of workers who are content with minimal knowledge and those who strive for more.
  • Claude and David discuss how the foreman built a porch and enjoyed time with his wife while others simply loitered.
  • The foreman's philosophy is that the difference between work and play is a matter of attitude, and both can be enjoyable forms of rivalry and struggle.

"If a thing is useful, they call it work. If useless, they call it play. One is as hard as another. One can be just as much a game as the other. In both, there is a rivalry, there's a struggle to excel. The rest, all the difference I see lies in the attitude of mine, of mind."

The quote from the railroad foreman suggests that the distinction between work and play is subjective and depends on one's mindset, with both potentially being enjoyable and competitive activities.

Perspective and Optimism

  • Henry Kaiser's story illustrates the power of perspective and optimism in the face of challenges.
  • Claude and David discuss how Kaiser, despite a storm turning everything to mud, remained optimistic about the outcome.
  • The discussion includes a comparison of two bricklayers with different perspectives on their work, highlighting how attitude can transform the same task into something meaningful or mundane.

"There's another quote. I can't remember which book. It's one of the ones we've talked about recently. And it talks about two bricklayers. One says, I'm laying bricks and the other one says, I'm building a cathedral. They're doing the exact same thing."

This quote illustrates how perspective can drastically change one's perception of their work, with one person seeing a mundane task while another sees the creation of something grand.

Traced Results and Value of Comparison

  • Claude learns the importance of providing superior service and comparing results to stand out in the marketplace.
  • He shares a story from his youth about distributing flyers and how offering better service led to a monopoly in the business.
  • The concept of "traced results" is introduced, emphasizing the need for measurable effectiveness in any endeavor.

"I would offer to place one bill. One flyer, one flyer in each home for $2. It meant traveling some 35 miles. Other boys offered to do the same job for a dollar 50, but they would place several bills in a home and would skip all the faraway homes. I asked advertisers to compare the results. I soon obtained a monopoly. That was my first experience with traced results."

The quote describes Claude's early lesson in business about the importance of providing quality service and how it led to his understanding of the importance of measurable results, or "traced results," in advertising and beyond.

The Value of Free Samples and Demonstrations

  • Claude discusses the effectiveness of free samples and product demonstrations in convincing customers to make a purchase.
  • He recounts his mother's silver polish business and how demonstrating the product in person significantly increased sales.
  • The conversation touches on Estee Lauder's autobiography and her successful use of samples as a sales technique.

"But when I could get into the pantry and demonstrate the polish, I sold nearly all. That taught me the rudiments. Of another lesson I have never forgotten. A good product is its own best salesman."

Claude's quote highlights the lesson that a product's quality can be best showcased through direct demonstration, leading to a higher sales conversion rate.

The Importance of Research and Understanding Human Nature

  • Claude and David stress the significance of research and understanding the diversity of human preferences.
  • They note that personal preferences are not universal and that advertising should cater to a broad audience.
  • The discussion includes a nod to David Ogilvy's research for the Rolls-Royce account, demonstrating the value of thorough study.

"We must never judge humanity by ourselves. The things we want, the things we like may appeal to a small minority."

This quote from Claude emphasizes the need to avoid projecting personal preferences onto others, as individual tastes can vary greatly, and successful advertising must appeal to the majority.

Recognizing Talent and Understanding People

  • Claude shares a story about hiring a night cook with keen insight into human nature to work in advertising.
  • The conversation revolves around the idea that understanding ordinary people is key to success in advertising.
  • Claude's hiring practices focused on recognizing individuals who could connect with the masses, regardless of their formal education.

"But let a man prove to us that he understands human nature. And we welcome him with open arms."

Claude's quote conveys the principle that a deep understanding of human nature is more valuable in advertising than formal educational credentials.

Career Advice: Love What You Do

  • Claude offers career advice, suggesting that individuals should find work they love or seek another profession.
  • He shares his own approach to business as a game he enjoys playing, which has contributed to his devotion and success.
  • The idea that enjoyment in one's work can lead to excellence is discussed.

"I consider business as a game and I play it as a game. That is why I have been and still am so devoted to it."

This quote from Claude reflects his philosophy that treating business as an enjoyable game can lead to a successful and fulfilling career.

Learning from Others and Building on Advertising Fundamentals

  • Claude acknowledges the influence of John Powers, an advertising writer, on his own career and the fundamentals of advertising.
  • The discussion highlights the importance of learning from predecessors and building upon their principles.
  • The lineage of advertising knowledge from John Powers to Claude Hopkins to David Ogilvy and Ross Reeves is traced.

"In some respects today, the principles for which John Powers stood are still among our advertising fundamentals."

The quote acknowledges the enduring impact of John Powers on the field of advertising and how his principles continue to serve as a foundation for modern advertising strategies.

Theme: The Nature of Ideas and Learning

  • Ideas are not owned by anyone; they are learned, borrowed, and adapted from others.
  • This concept is fundamental in various fields, including advertising and business.
  • An example is given of a clothing concern on the verge of bankruptcy that used an honest approach in their advertising campaign, which turned out to be successful.

"Everybody learns from somebody else. They steal, borrow, copy, whatever word you want to put on it, and then use those ideas in your career."

The quote emphasizes the common practice of adapting and reusing ideas in one's career, highlighting the non-proprietary nature of ideas.

Theme: The Power of Truth in Advertising

  • Powers' successful advertising campaign for a bankrupt clothing retailer was based on telling the truth to the public.
  • The honesty in the advertisement was a rarity and created a sensation, leading to the store's survival.
  • The campaign's message was that the store was bankrupt, and it needed immediate sales to avoid collapse.

"Tell the truth. Tell the people that you're going bankrupt, and that your only way to salvation lies through large and immediate sales."

The quote outlines the strategy proposed by Powers, which was to be transparent with the customers about the company's financial state to encourage immediate purchases.

Theme: Claude Hopkins' Approach to Advertising

  • Claude Hopkins believed that existing advertisements did not compel people to buy.
  • He offered to create a more effective advertising pamphlet based on a deep understanding of the company's problems.
  • Hopkins' approach was to create targeted advertising that addressed the specific needs and desires of potential customers.

"There's not one word in the pamphlet which will lead people to buy. Let me try my hand. In three days, I will hand you a book to compete with based on knowledge of our problems."

The quote demonstrates Hopkins' confidence in his ability to craft more persuasive advertising by focusing on the specific problems the product could solve for customers.

Theme: Innovative Marketing Strategies

  • Hopkins used the Christmas season to market carpet sweepers as gifts, a novel idea at the time.
  • He created a display rack and promotional materials with the headline "The Queen of Christmas presents."
  • The campaign was successful, resulting in a significant number of mail orders, which was a new marketing method for the company.

"I designed a display rack for exhibit. I drew up cards. They say the Queen of Christmas presents was the headline."

The quote describes the creative marketing materials Hopkins developed to position the carpet sweeper as an attractive Christmas gift.

Theme: Claude Hopkins' Career Advancement

  • Hopkins realized he was on the "wrong side of the transaction" and sought to move closer to revenue generation.
  • He saw an opportunity to use his knowledge of woods to differentiate carpet sweepers by offering various wood finishes.
  • This strategy led to an increase in sales and gave the company a practical monopoly in the market.

"I'm on the wrong side of the transaction. I'm going to stay closer to the money."

The quote reflects Hopkins' strategic decision to shift his focus from cost management to revenue generation, which ultimately led to his success in sales and marketing.

Theme: The Importance of Differentiation in Marketing

  • Hopkins drew inspiration from his personal experiences and interests to create unique marketing propositions.
  • He emphasizes the importance of standing out in the market, using the metaphor of a purple cow to illustrate the concept of differentiation.
  • Differentiation can come from highlighting the unique aspects of a product that are ordinary to the maker but extraordinary to the customer.

"If one of them is purple, you'd stop and be like, what the hell's happening here?"

The quote uses the purple cow analogy to explain how something unusual or unexpected can capture people's attention and interest, a key principle in marketing.

Theme: Adapting to Customer Perspectives

  • Hopkins advocated for treating each customer as an individual rather than as part of a mass audience.
  • He emphasized the importance of understanding and catering to the specific desires of each customer.
  • This approach was exemplified in his work for Montgomery Ward, where he changed the process of responding to customer inquiries to provide more personalized and relevant information.

"Treat everyone as if it was one person, an individual, standing in front of you."

The quote encapsulates Hopkins' philosophy of personalizing advertising and sales approaches to treat each customer as a unique individual with specific needs.

Theme: Leveraging Product Processes in Advertising

  • Hopkins discovered that the processes and efforts involved in making a product are often unknown to customers and can be used as a selling point.
  • He successfully used this approach in an advertising campaign for a brewery, highlighting the meticulous process of beer production to differentiate the brand.
  • This strategy led to a significant increase in the brand's market position and became a foundation for many of Hopkins' future campaigns.

"I told a story common to all good brewers, but a story which had never been told."

The quote illustrates how Hopkins used the untold story of the beer-making process as a unique selling proposition, which resonated with customers and distinguished the brand from competitors.

Theme: The Dilemma of Ambition

  • Claude Hopkins reflects on the choices he made in pursuit of ambition, questioning whether they were worth the sacrifices.
  • He contrasts the tranquil life he could have had with the turbulent life he chose and finds no clear answer as to which path was wiser.
  • Hopkins' introspection serves as a reminder that ambition can lead to success but can also come with trade-offs that may affect one's happiness.

"Ambition is everywhere applauded. But I have often returned to Grand Rapids to envy my old associates."

The quote reveals Hopkins' mixed feelings about his ambitious career path and the simpler life he left behind, highlighting the complexity of personal and professional choices.

Unique Selling Proposition of Albert Lasker

  • Albert Lasker's selling proposition is highlighted as unique and highly successful.
  • Lasker is described as a wild individual with a significant impact on the advertising industry.
  • David Ogilvy acknowledges Lasker's financial success in the advertising business.

"Albert Lasker is a very unique individual. David Ogilvy in Ogilvy in advertising says that Albert Lasker made more money than anybody else in the entire history of advertising business."

The quote emphasizes Lasker's unparalleled success in the advertising industry as recognized by David Ogilvy, a prominent figure in the same field.

Career and Life of Albert Lasker

  • Lasker's career spanned multiple decades in the advertising industry.
  • He sold his firm for a nominal fee and completely walked away from advertising.
  • Lasker's approach to his work was unique and successful, leading to a potential biography covering his life.

"Winds up selling his firm to three people that work for him for, like, a token payment of $100,000 and then just walking away, never dealing with advertising again."

This quote details the unconventional end to Lasker's career in advertising, selling his firm for a surprisingly low sum and completely severing ties with the industry.

Principles of Effective Advertising

  • Boasting and selfishness are identified as the greatest faults in advertising.
  • Advertising should focus on the customer's desires rather than the advertiser's advantage.
  • Effective advertising involves serving customers and understanding their needs.

"The greatest two faults in advertising, lie in boasts and in selfishness."

This quote encapsulates the idea that advertising fails when it centers on self-promotion and does not consider the customer's perspective or benefit.

Innovative Advertising Strategies

  • Claude Hopkins discusses the strategy of incentivizing dealers to stock products by offering advertisement space.
  • The Goodyear tire campaign successfully changed the tire business by encouraging dealers to stock inventory.
  • The strategy leveraged the dealers' desire for recognition and competition to drive stocking behavior.

"In a few months, we induced some 30,000 dealers to stock Goodyear's tires on that basis. And the campaign did much to change the whole complexion of the tire business."

This quote shows the effectiveness of Hopkins' advertising strategy, which led to a significant shift in the tire industry by motivating dealers to stock Goodyear tires.

Staying Within One's Circle of Competence

  • Diversifying into unfamiliar businesses can lead to failure.
  • Success in one field does not necessarily translate to success in others.
  • The principle of focusing on one's strengths is echoed by Warren Buffett's advice.

"Men make money in one business and then lose it in many others. They seem to feel that one success makes them super businessmen as well."

The quote reflects the common mistake of overestimating one's business acumen based on success in a single domain and the pitfalls of venturing into unfamiliar territories.

Free Trials and Customer Interest

  • Free trials should be given only to interested customers.
  • Distributing samples without request can diminish product value and respect.
  • Generating customer interest is crucial before offering any product value.

"I have never found that it paid to give either a sample or a full-size package to people who did not request it."

This quote underlines the importance of targeting free trials to genuinely interested customers rather than indiscriminate distribution, which can have negative consequences.

Advertising as a Service

  • Advertising should be seen as a service to the customer, not a platform for self-promotion.
  • The approach to advertising should be similar to that of a considerate salesman.
  • Selfish phrases in advertising can repel customers and should be avoided.

"Forget yourself entirely. Have in your mind a typical prospect interested enough to read about your product."

The quote advises advertisers to focus solely on serving the customer's interests, which is a key principle for creating effective advertisements.

Personal Connection in Advertising

  • Personalities in advertising can be more appealing than faceless corporations.
  • Creating a famous personality associated with a brand can enhance the brand's fame.
  • People are interested in individuals and their stories, which can be leveraged in advertising.

"Whenever possible, personalities appeal. While soulless corporations do not."

This quote highlights the advantage of using personal connections and individual stories in advertising to create a more engaging and appealing message to consumers.

Remote Work and Teaching in Advertising

  • Claude Hopkins discusses the benefits of working remotely and teaching others in the industry.
  • He emphasizes the importance of sharing knowledge and helping others improve their skills.
  • Hopkins' teaching and service within his agency contributed to his eventual promotion to president.

"I was doing more than just serving myself. I was doing my best to teach other copymen in the agency."

The quote illustrates Hopkins' dedication to teaching and serving others within his agency, which ultimately led to his promotion and recognition within the company.

Learning from Mistakes and Taking Risks

  • Hopkins reflects on his regret of not starting his own business earlier due to a lack of courage.
  • His greatest mistake was not taking a chance on himself and remaining an employee for too long.
  • He eventually started working for himself and achieved significant financial success.

"But I'm sure that men can be as happy on one plateau as another."

This quote suggests that happiness is not solely dependent on financial success or status, but can be found at different levels of achievement and lifestyle.

Advertising Insights and Experimentation

  • Advertising should be approached with the mindset of continuous experimentation and learning.
  • The world is complex and unpredictable, necessitating ongoing trials to gain insights.
  • Understanding customer service and personalizing advertising are crucial for success.

"To apply scientific advertising, one must recognize that ads are salesmen."

The quote emphasizes the need to treat advertisements as if they were salespeople, with the same expectations for performance and accountability.

Money and Happiness

  • Claude Hopkins discusses his experiences with both poverty and luxury, finding little difference in happiness between the two.
  • He highlights that happiness can be achieved at various income levels and is not solely tied to wealth.
  • Hopkins attributes his advertising success to his love for simple things and common people.

"I have worked for the fun of working and because work became a habit with me."

This quote reflects Hopkins' intrinsic motivation for his work in advertising, which was driven by passion and habit rather than financial gain.

Enduring Principles of Advertising

  • Hopkins compares his work in advertising to scientific research, emphasizing the discovery of lasting principles.
  • He argues that while advertising styles may change, human nature and core principles remain constant.
  • The book aims to pass on these enduring principles to future generations.

"The principles set down in this book are as enduring as the alps."

The quote conveys the belief that the principles of advertising outlined in the book are timeless and will remain relevant despite changes in the industry or society.

Reflecting on Life and Work

  • Hopkins reflects on his life's work and the contentment he has found in simple living and nature.
  • He believes that advertising offers rewards beyond financial gain, such as knowledge and happiness.
  • Hopkins shares insights on balancing work, personal values, and the pursuit of contentment.

"Here at our weekend parties I meet many successful men in the most intimate way. I envy none of them."

This quote captures Hopkins' sense of fulfillment and lack of envy towards others, highlighting his satisfaction with his own life and achievements.

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