The basic principles of advertising have not changed in the past century. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE

IT’S YOUR BUSINESS: Learning from the past has its advantages

By Joe Smith

Special to the Record

“The time has come when advertising has in some hands reached the status of a science. It is based on fixed principles and is reasonably exact. The causes and effects have been analyzed until they are well understood. The correct methods of procedure have been proved and established. We know what is most effective, and we act on basic laws.”

–Claude C. Hopkins.


It seems remarkable that these words are as relevant today as when they were penned nearly 100 years ago in 1923.

In Hopkins’s mind all advertising – or in today’s world, marketing and communications – served one purpose… to cause people, consumers to take some form of action whether it is to make a purchase, adopt a philosophy or take action with regards to a social issue.

Many advertising superstars of the past such as David Ogilvy made it compulsory for his staff to read Hopkins’s seminal book titled Scientific Advertising, which became the standard for people who wanted to get into the marketing and communications industry.

While understandably the writing may be somewhat dated the basic principles still remain pertinent to today’s marketing challenges.

For example Hopkins said “When you plan and prepare an advertisement, (read communication in today’s world) keep before you a typical buyer. Your subject, your headline has gained his or her attention. Then in everything be guided by what you would do if you met the buyer face-to-face. Don’t think of people in the mass. That gives you a blurred view. Think of a typical individual who is likely to want what you sell.”

In another observation he cites the need to understand psychology. Human nature is perpetual. In most respects it is the same today as it was in the time of Caesar. For instance, we know that curiosity is one of the strongest human incentives. You can see this technique is still used in many of today’s ad campaigns.

Throughout his book he makes reference to the things marketers must pay attention to, such as the need to offer service because consumers don’t really care about your interests or profit. They want to know what you have to offer will do for them.

He also touches on the need to ensure you are providing information that is relevant. Your copy, especially the headlines, must be written to appeal to your selected audience. In today’s world we know this is incredibly important as there is a finite amount of time – seconds, really – to capture someone’s attention or interest.

The basic principles of marketing and communication have not changed. Rather than try to reinvent the proverbial wheel it is wise to take advantage of what others have learned in order to keep moving forward.

Joe Smith is a communications consultant and an accomplished fine artist. He can be reached via email

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