Something You May NOT Know about Claude Hopkins Author of Scientific Advertising

Claude Hopkins was born in 1866. His parents didn’t have much money, but Hopkins felt this helped him in the long run, saying he grew up expecting to work hard. Hopkins understood the common man, who struggles to feed his family and pay bills, because he came from that background. As young as 8, Claude Hopkins earned money by sweeping out two school houses and starting their fires each morning, then delivering both newspapers and ‘bills’ or single page ads to homes after school.

Hopkins father died when Claude was only 10 years old putting even greater financial strain on the family. His mother made a silver polish, which Claude molded into cakes, wrapped in decorative paper and sold door to door. Hopkins noticed that if he could talk his way into the house to demonstrate the polish that he was almost 10 times as likely to sell some.

While still a teenager, Hopkins worked as: a guest minister delivering sermons, a teacher, a fruit picker on his uncle’s farm. Then as a young adult, he worked as a bookkeeper and general errand boy at the Felt Boot Company. Within a year he had meet one of the investors in the Felt Boot Company, Mr. M. R. Bissell, president of Bissell Carpet Sweepers. Hopkins soon began working for Bissell Carpet Sweepers as a lowly assistant bookkeeper at $40 a month. Six months later he had been promoted to head bookkeeper and was earning $75 a month.

Despite this rapid rise, Hopkins wasn’t satisfied. He realized that he could go no further in this position, nor expect further raises — because a bookkeeper is an expense and a good businessman must limit expenses. He realized that he could never be worth more than another person doing the same quantity and quality of work. He recognized, from keeping the books, that the large salaries were paid to the salesmen, or to men in the factory that could reduce costs. These employees contributed to the business’s profits. Hopkins quickly saw the difference between an employee who contributes to profits, versus one who is only an expense. At that moment, he decided to seek a position that contributed profits to the business.

Around this time Bissell Carpet Sweeper contracted John Powers, a highly-respected advertising man to write a pamphlet to sell carpet sweepers. Powers had many talents, but he knew nothing about carpet sweepers and didn’t think it necessary to learn about them. Claude Hopkins saw the draft pamphlet that Powers submitted to Bissell. Hopkins felt the pamphlet would not in any way create a desire to buy a sweeper. He told an office manager this and asked to be given three days to create a more convincing pamphlet.

The officer manager, probably thinking he was humoring a hard-working, overly ambitious employee, agreed. Hopkins threw himself into the project, not sleeping for two days and produced a pamphlet that all agreed would be more effective than Powers, the great advertising giant’s, pamphlet. But Hopkins went a step further.

Carpet sweeper were relatively new at this time with few users and small sales. Hopkins felt he could find new customers by increasing the average person’s desire to own one. Since it was late in the year, he came up with the idea of the carpet sweeper as a Christmas gift. He designed a display rack and wrote up cards, titled “The Queen of Christmas Presents” and asked permission to solicit stores by mail to carry Bissell Carpet Sweepers by offering the display rack and telling them about his planned promotion.

The manager, an ex-salesman, laughed saying that he would better off using a gun as a way to compel store owners to carry carpet sweepers because they weren’t selling. But since he had been impressed with Hopkins’ pamphlet he agreed to mail a few thousand letters to see what kind of response they got. Hopkins wrote a letter to store owners describing the display rack and accompanying “Queen of Christmas Presents” cards and offering it as a reward for placing an order with Bissell. For the five thousand letters mailed, a thousand orders were placed, almost the very first orders received by mail. Suddenly Hopkins had visions of a new career for himself.

The above is excerpted, with permission, from Everything You Need to Know from Scientific Advertising

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