My Life in Advertising: Chapter 1

Hello PRL, thanks for joining me.

This is my first post directly related to Executive Summaries for the Persuasion Reading List. I’ll be posting notes and lessons from books focused on Persuasion and Influence, to save everyone time from reading the full text. In the process, I hope we can have some discussion and learn a lot about methods of Persuasion.

We’re going to start with My Life in Advertising by Claude C. Hopkins. Hopkins was a pioneer in effective advertising in the early 1900s, working to standardize his methods into what he named Scientific Advertising.

"My Life in Advertising" by Claude C. Hopkins
“My Life in Advertising” by Claude C. Hopkins

Hopkins was a pioneer of A/B Testing, when you test two examples against different groups. This is commonplace now on the Internet, but Hopkins did it with coupons in his time. He compared different written sales copy, to see which sales copy worked best. Based on the results and limited testing, he refined his ads to get effective persuasion with little cost to his business customers.

Hopkins wrote long, long descriptions of the products he sold, the product he was hired to sell. And he made a lot of money doing it.

He published My Life in Advertising in 1927. This is an autobiographical account of his start in business through his successes and failures in advertising.

I gotta tell you, there is very little in this book which isn’t valuable. Hopkins was a big advocate of writing a lot of sales copy, like I mentioned. Sales copy is the written version of a salesperson. It has to do a lot of work. Every word that Hopkins wrote in his copy was there to sell his product. His books are no different. Every word is selling you this skill that he painstakingly learned over his 40 year career. It’s really a great book.

The love of work can be cultivated

We open My Life in Advertising with a preface. Hopkins tells us that this is written as a guide, to save others a lot of headache and misguided efforts.

Chapter one is Early Influences. Hopkins writes about his conservative, no-gambling approach to his career. Failure is inevitable in advertising. But his slow, measured approach guarantees that failures are inexpensive, while successes scale into huge payoffs.

Hopkins says he gets this conservatism from his religious mother. She taught him industry, working hard. “The man who works twice as long as his fellows is bound to go twice as far,” he writes. His father taught him poverty, living life like the common person. Hopkins says college is a handicap to an advertising career.

Hopkins writes of working with enthusiasm. He writes of a foreman who impacted Hopkins’ life. The foreman works with enthusiasm, making his work a game. The workers work out of necessity. The foreman spends his evening building something of his own, a house in this example. The workers spend their evenings playing ballgames. Each activity is as much work as the other; the ballgame is not less work. The foreman makes building his game. In this way, he gets ahead. “All the difference lies in the attitude of the mind. The love of work can be cultivated,writes Hopkins.