Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Old Marketing

Ran across my old copy of “Scientific Advertising,” written by one of the pioneers of the business, Claude Hopkins. The author had passed on, but the flyleaf has the autographs of three other advertising icons of the time of this re-issue (mid-1950s).  The instructor of one of my advertising courses had used his connections to invite an industry executive to address the class, and to bring copies of the book.

It had originally been written in 1923, so it contains the mailorder strategy advice “a two-cent [postage] letter gets no more attention than a one-cent letter” and some other lines we see as inadvertent humor 90 years on. There’s the reference to “soulless corporations,” for example. How could the author have anticipated that one day corporations would be people? (Whether that also imbues them with souls I haven’t seen debated yet, but if it should be judged in the future to be advantageous to increasing profits  -- why not?)

HOWEVER -- some of the book’s advice is timeless.

The premise is (1) marketing is about sales and nothing but sales; (2) one of its techniques, advertising, can be tested and the results measured; and (3) any marketing effort that can’t be measured in terms of sales is, in the author’s word, “folly.”

I’ve railed loudly and often, here and in Internet debate, against “content marketing” and its “storytelling” and “agnostic” content, but here’s support from beyond the grave. Page 60: “This is all in the line of general publicity so popular long ago. Casting bread upon the waters and hoping for its return. Most advertising was of that sort twenty years ago.”

He’s discussing general display materials, whose characteristics can be compared reasonably to today’s “content,” and it’s dismissed as already twenty years out of date. I remind us, the author was writing in 1923. That’s just five years after we defeated the Kaiser. I rest my case.