Improve Your Facebook Ads With These Three Lessons from 1923

Improve Your Facebook Ads With These Three Lessons from 1923

August 5, 2020

You can improve your Facebook advertising performance by applying advertising wisdom that is nearly a century old. 

In 1923, Claude Hopkins, published Scientific Advertising, a book details the “laws” of direct response advertising. Here are three of the lessons from Scientific Advertising that you can still use to your advantage today. 

1. Facebook Ads should be designed to sell, not entertain. 

The only purpose of advertising is to make sales.

Ads are not written to entertain. When they do, those entertainment seekers are little likely to be the people whom you want.

Claude Hopkins

Throughout Scientific Advertising Claude Hopkins makes the point that direct response advertisements must be designed to sell a product.

As Hopkins notes, the point of direct response is not to entertain people, to look aesthetically pleasing, or “to get your name out there.”

In the never-ending push to “test” new creative concepts, you can save your firm a lot of time (and money) by never diverting from this principle. 

Advertising is salesmanship. Its principles are the principles of salesmanship… Every advertising question should be answered by the salesman’s standards.

Claude Hopkins

Hopkins believed that the methods that work best in advertising are those that would work best for a door-to-door salesman.

This means presenting products in your ads the same way you would if you were having a face-to-face conversation with a typical customer.

For this reason, Hopkins notes, you should ignore “people in the mass” and instead develop a deep understanding of your customer as an individual.

Understanding your customer means understanding their values; once you understand their values, you can offer them something valuable.

That means selling the product on its own merits, not trying to dress your advertisement up in fancy art or typography that has nothing to do with the value of the product.

When one tries to show off, or does things merely to please himself, he is little likely to strike a chord which leads people to spend money.

Claude Hopkins

Hopkins writes that you should consider a reader of your ad as someone who’s already half sold, seeking more information about the product.

Your job is to give them the information that will compel them to buy the product.

2. Use Profit as a Performance Metric

Hopkins believed that the correct way to measure the performance of an ad is profit: the cost of an ad vs. the sales it generates.

By relying on profit as the singular measure of advertising performance, you make the purpose of your ads clear to yourself: Selling products in a cost-efficient manner.

Relying on profit is what led Hopkins to conclude that advertising can be “one of the safest business ventures,” as opposed to the “guesswork and gambling” that characterized the industry before his time.

As Hopkins discovered, once you have a reliable way to measure performance, you obtain the ability to compare and experiment with different types of ads.

It allows you to ask and answer questions about the advantages of e.g. one style of copy over another—it allows you to learn.

Without profit as a method to determine the quality of an ad, lessons like the next one would never have been able to be unearthed and proven correct.

3. Write ad copy that’s specific

The weight of an argument can often be multiplied by making it specific… If a claim is worth making, make it in the most impressive way.

Claude Hopkins

Through non-step testing and market analysis, Hopkins concluded that specific advertising copy out-sells everything else. 

Hopkins goes so far as to write that generalities and ambiguous statements “leave no impression whatsoever.”

Imagining your ads from the perspective of the buyer, as Hopkins instructs, this makes perfect sense.

By being specific, you offer the customer specific, concrete value that appeals to them.

And at the same time, you provide credibility to your argument.

Hopkins cites the example of safety razors:

One maker of safety razors advertised quick shaves.

Another offered 78-second shaves. “That man at once made a sensational advance in his sales.”

As Hopkins writes, the second, definite claim indicates actual tests demonstrating the quality of the product.

It offers the customers something they value (quick shaves).

And it presents that value in an objective, measurable manner that the customer can relate to.

Specific claims leave no room for exaggeration, or stretching the truth. 

They present values in an objective manner and plainly tell the customer why your product delivers those values better than the competition.

That’s why they sell products.


Anyone who wants to improve their Facebook ads performance should buy and read a copy of this book. There is no substitute for wisdom that has lasted for nearly a century.


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