Written by advertising powerhouse Claude C. Hopkins, My Life in Advertising’ offers an autobiographical insight into his trials and errors in the industry, providing an invaluable resource for those in advertising, marketing or commerce. As the cover suggests, Hopkins’ expertise was cemented in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Yet despite the market looking dramatically different today, the book surprises with how many of Hopkins’ methods, tips and tricks still stand today.
Key lessons in advertising are at the very core of this book, and Hopkins explains why these methods still continue to be so tried and true. “My name has become connected with Scientific Advertising’. That is advertising based on fixed principles and done according to fundamental laws. I learned those principles through thirty-six years of traced advertising”. In an industry filled with so many failures and successes, lessons from an advertising expert are always invaluable – especially those that have been executed in such a scientific manner. Therefore, the lessons that Hopkins presents to us in the first section of the book will be enlightening for any individual in advertising, marketing or commerce. These lessons include knowing your audience, something that those high up in business still struggle with as they become increasingly alienated from the common man. Hopkins emphasizes the importance of relatability and canvassing to learn real consumer needs, and his perspective is something I feel continues to be a must-read for anyone wanting to sell a product.
The second key part of this book is Hopkins’ expertise on what sells a product. Before selling a product, every advertiser should be asking themselves what is it that sells a product? Hopkins answers this question by reminding us that “one must outbid all others in some way. He must offer advantages in qualities, service, or terms, or he must create a seeming advantage by citing facts which others fail to cite”. A product must offer something that its competitors do not in order to be successful, and Hopkins’ unique, experience-backed theories on how best to do this was an aspect of the book that I found especially insightful. Hopkins describes one of his many tried-and-tested methods, using coupons to reach his ideal customers in a personal and attractive way, and it’s easy to see how a smart marketer could adapt this exact framework to today’s online market. This is where Hopkins cements one of his foundational theories about advertising – that it should always be altruistic. I found this to be one of the most impactful takeaways from this book, remembering that advertising should never appear at all self-serving.
The final section of the book will be of particular interest to those seeking practical advice and methods that they can go away and employ, as it considers what an advertisement should contain. I found it exceptionally useful to read some of the simple tips that Hopkins, throughout his 36 years shaping the industry, considers to be vital to the success of any campaign. For instance, Hopkins insists that every advertising campaign should not flout educational or economic superiority, avoiding complicated language that could be interpreted by a consumer as pretentious or superior. Language should also be precise and avoid exaggeration, he recounts a story where beer was described vaguely as “pure”, and he found that a description of why it was pure was far more popular with customers. This section also explores Hopkins’ belief that advertising should be romantic where possible, avoid being entertaining, but should always be interesting. Hopkins’ perspective on this issue comes from a place of statistic-led expertise, however, I couldn’t help but feel that many advertisements have successfully crossed over into entertainment territory in the 21st century. Either way, this section contains plenty of practical tips and tricks to make selling more effective.
In conclusion, My Life In Advertising’ is a must-read for anyone in advertising, marketing or commerce who wants to learn fail-safe methods from the best. For those that are worried that the information in this book may be outdated and simply not relevant to a world of globalization and eCommerce – you might be surprised to see that not only did advertising efficiency exist in the past, but many of the advertising methods of the past are still just as relevant today. In a book that is all about learning from someone else’s trial and error, readers can expect to further understand the utmost significance of relatability, reliability and individualism in advertising. Overall, the book is a fascinating read that you’ll want to keep coming back to time and time again for inspiration, and the lasting message of altruism in advertising is one that should stick with you through each and every campaign.