Claude Hopkins, advertising pioneer

Claude Hopkins (1866-1932) was one of the pioneers of advertising and lucky for us, spent some time working in Racine for Dr. Shoop and other Racine manufacturers. Here are some excerpts from his books, My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising.

While with Swift & Company I wrote an article on patent-medicine advertising. It reached the attention of Dr. Shoop in Racine, Wisconsin. He was selling medicines through agents. He had no drug-store trade. The agency business was dying, so he was seeking a way to place his line on the drug-store shelves. He wrote me to come and see him.

I spent six and one-half years in Racine. Office hours began at seven o’clock in the morning. We knew that extra hours gave us an extra advantage. And we were competing in one of the hardest fields that advertising ever knew. But my day never ended at the office. I had a typewriter in my home. I considered medicine as but one item, though a supreme test of advertising skill. So I devoted the rest of my waking hours to outside enterprises.

The J. L. Stack Advertising Agency handled the Dr. Shoop advertising. I arranged with them to write all of their advertising. Racine was a manufacturing center. So I set out to develop, after office hours, advertising enterprises there. And from each I learned a great deal.

Among my friends in Racine was Jim Rohan. He was a clerk on small salary. He was in love with a school-teacher whom his salary did not permit him to marry. But he had an idea about incubators. And he felt that exploitation of that idea would give him money enough to marry.

But Racine Incubators were high-priced. A great many converts paused when they compared the lower prices offered. So I urged Mr. Rohan to start another company, called the Belle City Incubator Company, and there to offer incubators at much lower prices on other inducements. We followed up inquiries on the Racine line for ten days. Then, when we saw too great a resistance, we offered the Belle City line. Thus we secured a double chance on incubator buyers. Otherwise, with our best efforts, we could never have earned a profit. As it was, we built a business which today is quite extensive. And I know of no rival of the old times who survived. We organized and advertised numerous other lines in Racine. One was the Racine Bath Cabinet, one was Racine Refrigerators. Those were excellent advertising experiences, because there were no uncertainties, no repeats. The Racine Shoe Company manufactured excellent shoes. They were in the center of the leather region between Chicago and Milwaukee. Their shoes at that time sold at an average of $2.15 per pair at wholesale. I organized what I called the “Racine Club.” It sold Racine Shoes to club members only at advantageous prices. I quoted to club members $3 per pair delivered, and I offered the choice of six styles. The shoes cost me an average of $2.15 per pair. The average express rate was 35 cents per pair. So my clear average profit was 50 cents per pair. But a membership cost 25 cents, and no one could buy without having a membership. The cost of my advertising was paid by my membership fees. Then with each pair of shoes I sent twelve memberships with catalogs, etc. Anyone who sold those twelve memberships could obtain his shoes at 25 cents per pair. A membership entitled the bearer to buy a pair of shoes at $3, with twelve more certificates worth 25 cents each. I was offering shoes at $3 which would cost $3.50 to $5 at the stores. But I offered them to a limited clientele. None but club members could buy them. Every buyer, if he chose, could sell the membership certificates at 25 cents each. If he did so, his shoes would cost him only 25 cents. When my advertising secured a few buyers, they became salesmen for me. So a little advertising created for me an overwhelming trade. It soon exceeded the capacity of the Racine Shoe Company, and orders were much delayed.

My years in Racine gave me unique experience in advertising proprietaries, and brought me wide reputation. My methods were new. Testimonials had been almost universal in those lines. I published none. Reckless claims were common. My ads. said in effect, “Try this cough remedy; watch the benefits it brings. It cannot harm, for no opiates are in it. If it succeeds, the cough will stop. If it fails, it is free. Your own druggist signs the warrant.”

Leaving Racine for Liquozone in Chicago

His powers of persuasion were almost resistless. So, against my wishes, he induced me to stay over and meet him the next day. That was New-year’s Day. I wanted to be at home. The Liquozone office where we met was a dingy affair. The floors and the desks were rough pine. The heat came from a rusty, round, wood-burning stove. The surroundings were disheartening, the company was bankrupt. I resented being kept in Chicago for New-year’s Day on such a proposition. So our interview was neither pleasant nor encouraging. But the man who could smile and start over, after four years of failure, was not to be blocked by my attitude. In a few days he followed me to Racine. Then he asked me to accompany him on a three-day trip to Toronto. I accepted for the pleasure of his company and because I wanted a vacation. In Toronto he placed at my disposal a vehicle and a guide. For three days I visited institutions and people who had seen the results of Liquozone. I had never heard such stories as they told. At the end of the third day I said: “I have found here a still greater reason why I cannot join with you. I am not a big enough man to tell the world about that product. I cannot do it justice. So I beg you again to forget me.” But the man was not to be denied. In a few days he came again to Racine, and we discussed the project all night. At four o’clock in the morning, worn out by importunity, impressed by the argument of duty, I accepted his meager proposals. I was to be given no salary, because there was no money to pay salaries. In lieu of that, I was to have a one-fourth interest in a bankrupt concern. I was to leave my beautiful offices and take a pine desk on Kinzie Street [ed.: in Chicago]. I was to leave my friends and go out among strangers. I was to exchange my apartments in a hotel on Lake Michigan for a dingy $45-per-month flat in Chicago, where my wife had to do her own work. I was to walk to the office to save street-car fare, so my savings might be conserved.

Chapter Ten

Automobile advertising

I wrote my first advertisements on automobiles in 1899. They referred to a steam car made in Milwaukee. My book on the car was entitled The Sport of Kings. The model I owned was the first motor car in Racine. My first day of ownership cost me $300, through the scaring of hack horses and other forms of damage.

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