Copywriter Claude Hopkins was paid $185,000 a year by his advertising agency … in the 1920s. That’s over $4.7 million in today’s money. What could anyone write that is worth so much? And why is the knowledge of it absent from our high school English and writing classrooms?
Lord & Thomas, Hopkins’ agency, was one of the three largest in America at the start of 20th century. According to Ad Age, the agency was earning $900,000 prior to hiring Hopkins, and paid nearly all of its copywriters far less. How much did they make? $1,600. Their job was to write descriptions of merchandise, and how it could be had. They were sign posts. Not salespeople. They’d never chanced on how to convince a person to do something.
For that, the agency first brought in John E. Kennedy. He was a Canadian mountie turned clothier who’d penned robust copy to sell his threads all over the country. He enhanced the way just about every man in Canada is dressed. While a marketing miracle man, he wrote too slowly for his boss Albert Lasker. Kennedy left in 1906 to write as a freelancer but suffered an early demise two years later; perhaps from the excesses Lasker had provided with his $60,000 Lord & Thomas salary.
Not all was lost. Kennedy left behind the original definition of advertising, which he not only called “salesmanship in print,” but “reason why” copywriting. Here it is, according to Bruce Bendinger’s Copy Workshop Workbook:
“True reason why copy is Logic, plus persuasion, plus conviction, all woven into a certain simplicity of thought – predigested for the average mind, so that it is easier to understand than to misunderstand it.”
That Canadian nugget was inspiration for Kennedy’s eventual replacement, Claude Hopkins, an acolyte of Kennedy’s philosophy who eventually became the lodestar of Lord and Thomas. Hopkins became the first to sell Sunkist oranges by convincing people to drink orange juice and forced his client to create the first citrus juicer, only to increase demand. His thinking made a lot of people many millions.
Then he wrote the first manual on his craft, titled Scientific Advertising. He believed: “Any man who by a lifetime of excessive application learns more about anything than others owes a statement to successors.”