Don’t Take it Personally: The Scientific Method and Your Ad

This is Copyious’ second article on Claud Hopkins’ Scientific Advertising. Click here to check out the first article in this series.

Advertising Meets the Scientific Method

Hopkins was ruthless in his dedication to being as scientific as possible about an ad’s merits. And the world of mail-order advertising was, for Hopkins, the perfect laboratory to carry out his experiments.

“The severest test of an advertising man is in selling goods by mail. But that is a school from which he must graduate before he can hope for success. There cost and result are immediately apparent. False theories melt away like snowflakes in the sun. The advertising is profitable or it is not, clearly on the face of returns. Figures which do not lie tell one at once the merits of an ad.”

Is your ad a snowflake melting in the sun or is it a continual source of value for you and your company?

Determining whatever the case may be is a crucial step towards clarifying what qualifies as successful advertising and what does not.

Hopkins was just as suspicious about pictures as we he was of words. Pictures, just like any writing in print, must continually justify themselves. Extraneous doodads or random pieces of clip art are not only distracting your reader, wasting their time, and muddling your message, but also costing you leads and sales.

“[Pictures] are salesmen in themselves. They earn space they occupy.”

Every element of your ad must be working in tandem to lead your customer towards the inevitable conclusion to buy. The more elements working together, the better chance you have of convincing the customer that your product does, in fact, contain value.

One reasonable question you might have at this point is the extent to which the total amount of information matters. If content sells, then is there a point where too much content is a bad thing?

In Hopkins’ day and age, advertising was conducted mainly through local papers or through mail-order copy. Ads took up material space in the world instead of living as little 1s and 0s within some datacenter.

If space isn’t a constraint any more, then what has replaced it?


The point of writing precise copy is not to write precise copy, but to sell.

Hopkins counsels his contemporaries to use whatever space they’re given in the most efficient manner possible–nothing superfluous, noting unearned. Drawing on his example, I recommend you do the same.

Make every word count.

With a click of a button your reader can blast off to a more promising product. If your product is complex and technical, explain it as clearly as possible, but don’t hold back from giving them information on the nuts and bolts if there is an audience for that kind of information.

Give them whatever information is required to make a sale. And only through repeated testing, trail and error, can you determine what is truly effective and what is not.

Don’t take it personally

Hopkins doesn’t mince his words when he talks about the waste of the advertising world. For him, if you’re going to indulge in frivolities, at least be honest enough to admit to yourself what you’re doing.

“We cannot often follow all the principles of mail order advertising, though we know we should. The advertiser forces a compromise. Perhaps pride in our ads has an influence. But every departure from those principles adds to our selling cost. Therefore it is always a question of what we are willing to pay for our frivolities. We can at least know what we pay.”

In other words, if you don’t want to be scientific and exacting with your ad, then at least know what this deviation is costing you.

Is your ego getting in the way of your copy’s selling power?

It may be pleasant to write flashy sentences loaded with fantastical metaphors, but if your copy isn’t generating sales then what’s the point? 

The next article in this series will focus on the specifics of your copy and how it can be scientifically improved. Curious about the first article in this series? Click here to read our introduction to Claude Hopkins’ Scientific Advertising.

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