Scientific Advertising: The Great-Grandfather of A/B Testing

This is the first article in an ongoing series on Claude Hopkin’s 1923 classic Scientific Advertising. Here you will find an introduction to the crucial ideas contained in Hopkins’ seminal work.

A/B Testing From Way Back When

A/B testing has been on the lips of marketers and copywriting professionals for years–but is this business practice actually that new?

Not a chance.A Single Beachhead, Really_ (4)

It doesn’t take much imagination to picture vendors back in ancient Greece testing out different ways of arranging their vegetable stands.

Being aware of (and tracking) why some marketing configurations work and why some don’t just makes sense. And yet so many marketing campaigns pay only lip-service to this crucial practice.

Enter Claude Hopkins’ 1923 classic Scientific Advertising. In this masterwork, Hopkins goes to great lengths to disabuse the reader of their dream that by tapping into the eccentric genius of a marketing team one can produce consistently profitable results.

You will get results, of course, and sometimes they will be good and sometimes they will be bad. And then you’ll change your strategy, and you’ll wind up with more results. And more results, and so on and so on.

Do you see the problem?

Without a rigorous method for understanding why one piece of copy succeeds and why one fails, you’re results will continue to be erratic while also wasting precious resources.

Hopkins assails this debilitating myth that an advertisement is somehow fundamentally different than a salesperson. Your ad, just likes a salesperson, costs money and generates money. If you spend hour after hour developing a sales script, seeing what works and what doesn’t, why wouldn’t you do the same for your ad?

Criteria must be developed for understanding why one piece of copy barely makes a ripple in the pond and another generates wave after wave of leads.

Here’s Hopkins himself:

“The only purpose of advertising is to make sales. It is profitable or unprofitable according to its actual sales.

It is not for general effect. It is not to keep your name before the people. It is not primarily to aid your other salesmen. Treat it as a salesman. Force it to justify itself. Compare it with other salesmen. Figure its cost and result. Accept no excuses which good salesmen do not make. Then you will not go far wrong.”

David Ogilvy, one of the great masters of 20th century advertising, states bluntly that Hopkins’ book changed his life. “Nobody should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times.”

Hopkins was right — and you can be as well

Despite nearly a century passing since Scientific Advertising was first published, its arguments and their applicability to online advertising remain unsurpassed.

A/B testing is the latest incarnation of Hopkins’ dream to see the scientific method replace the ad-hoc, willy-nilly style of advertising that is the perennial disease of advertising departments.

B2B copywriting relies on providing potential clients with the information they need to  quickly grasp the potential value of your product. Their time, like yours, is a valuable resource. And like you, they’re inundated with reams of flabby content and products that make promises that are never fulfilled.

Hopkins realized this over 100 years ago. Writing powerful copy that targets mainstream business requires direct, informative and engaging prose.

“Ads are not written to entertain. When they do, those entertainment seekers are little likely to be the people whom you want. That is one of the greatest advertising faults. Ad writers abandon their parts. They forget they are salesmen and try to be performers. Instead of sales, they seek applause.”

Are you seeking applause or are you actually trying to guide your potential customer towards a sale? Every line of copy in an email or on a landing page must be moving the customer towards a state where the only thing left to do is to buy.

The best part about Hopkins’ Scientific Advertising is that it’s free, and a quick read. There’s no excuse not read, and read again as Ogilvy suggets, the essential advertising truths contained in this canonical work.

Click here to read the next article in this series that takes a look at the relationship between copywriters’ egos and their writing.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s