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About Advertising — Personal from the Editor

ON MY MOST RECENT visit to our campus in England, I was accompanied by the Managing Editor of The PLAIN TRUTH, Dr. Hoeh. He was reading a book. It seems he is always reading a book, for he is a scholarly man. The book's title caught my eye. It was My Life in Advertising.

That pricked interest. The first twenty years of my adult life were spent in advertising. When Dr. Hoeh laid down the book, I opened it at random. Casually I read a paragraph or two.

Immediately I was startled!

It sounded like my writing!

I looked again in the forefront for the author's name. It was Claude C. Hopkins. Well, no wonder! It was the autobiography of one of the men who taught me how to write advertising. And, for that matter, how to write articles or anything else.

Claude Hopkins, of course, never knew that! He never heard of me, I'm sure. Notwithstanding the fact that for seven years in Chicago I had contact with most leading advertising agencies — including Lord & Thomas, which he headed. But my contacts were with space-buyers and contact men, and they never took me to Claude C. Hopkins.

I entered the advertising field at eighteen. Mr. Hopkins was probably a generation older. He had arrived before I started. Our older subscribers know that I was born and reared in Des Moines, Iowa. There I procured a book in the public library titled Choosing a Vocation. It took me through a thorough self-analysis — likes and dislikes, talents (if any) and faults, strengths and weaknesses. Also the requirements for success in the many different professions, occupations, businesses and jobs. It fit me into the advertising profession.

It happened that my uncle, Frank Armstrong, was then the leading advertising man in Iowa. He steered my advertising life, first into the want-ad department of a daily newspaper; then three years on a national magazine with experience in both advertising and editorial divisions. Then I became a publishers' advertising representative for seven years in Chicago.

All the while I was continuing my education — in the school of practical experience, hard knocks — and carefully selected books, over which I "burned the midnight oil." And part of that education was learning how to write.

When Elbert Hubbard — in those days the sage of East Aurora, New York — was asked how he learned to write he replied: "I learned to write by writing."

Yes, so did I — but one learns also to do a thing by watching others do it. I learned, for example, to play tennis as much by watching such world champions as Bill Tilden, as by playing myself on tennis courts. So, in developing effective style in writing, I did three things. I spent much time in writing; I placed myself under the most competent instructors I could learn of, I studied the writing styles of those I deemed most successful.

On my uncle Frank Armstrong's advice, I "hired myself a job" on the largest trade journal in America, The Merchants Trade Journal, in Des Moines. There I was trained under two men he considered the most expert advertising and merchandising men in the nation.

Mr. R.H. Miles, the Advertising Manager, wrote in a fast-moving, short-sentence, staccato style. His ads produced amazing results. I saw much merit in his short-sentence, smooth-flowing, euphonious style. It was easy to read. It made his meaning clear. No one could fall asleep reading Miles' writing — it rippled along too fast for drowsiness. Yet somehow I felt his style was too snappy — too staccato. Too unnatural to sound sincere.

Mr. A.I. Boreman, then Service Department head — later owner and publisher — on the other hand, wrote in a very intimate, personal, sincere style. His sentences were not so short, so rapidly smooth-flowing or so dynamic. So I strove to develop a style that was reasonably fast-moving, euphonious, smooth-flowing — with sufficient short sentences to achieve this advantage — yet with a sprinkling of enough longer sentences to avoid monotony, and at the same time making my writing personal, and sincere.

But I devoted much time to studying the writing of still others. I read Elbert Hubbard's two magazines — the Philistine and the Fra. I read many of his books and pamphlets. He was said to possess the largest vocabulary of any man since Shakespeare. So I had set out, at eighteen, to acquire a greater. But Mr. Boreman wrecked that ambition.

"Herbert," he said, when I submitted copy for an ad filled with big words, "in advertising we are not writing for the exclusive readership of the highest-educated 2%. We want to reach that other 98% of the people, too. So throw out of your vocabulary all those big words you've been using. Make what you write simple, plain, easy to read by the WHOLE public. Acquire writing excellence by the unique, yet plain and simple way you group words together in sentence structure — not by showing off your vanity in big words. Learn to write so that you make what you intend to say SO PLAIN that every reader will UNDERSTAND! Strive to acquire the largest possible vocabulary of common, simple words within the reading vocabulary of all."

So that ended the use of big words. Others may, foolishly, try to impress audiences with their big words. But I take far greater satisfaction in receiving many thousands of letters, through the years, saying that I make what I write so PLAIN and so CLEAR that even a child can understand!

In those days — from 1910 — there was a half-page philosophical commentary appearing in metropolitan Sunday newspapers, written by Herbert Kaufman. His writing attracted my attention, riveted my interest, and gave me much to think about. His writing, too, was super-effective. He had a way of driving home his points by use of continual emphasis where he desired readers to place it. He accomplished this by emphasizing many words in italic type — others in all-capital letters. I noticed, too, that this unique process seemed to make his articles more READABLE. They made his writing stand out. A few, academically minded and inexperienced in winning people through writing, have criticized this emphasis in my writing. They judge excellence in writing by the theoretical, impractical, professorial criterion. I judge effectiveness by the practical RESULTS — the responses of millions of people through many years of experience. So I ignore the pedantic criticism. I prefer to make truth easy to read, plain, and convincing to the greatest number.

Then, there was ad-writer Claude C. Hopkins. He knew nothing of it, but he was one of my teachers, too. I knew little about him as a person. But I knew all about the ads he wrote. I read and studied them constantly. It seemed every issue of a mass-circulation magazine or newspaper had one or several of his ads. They stood out, uniquely distinctive from all others.

For example, there were his ads for Palmolive shaving cream. They convinced me that Palmolive had what I wanted in shaving cream. I wanted abundant lather. The ads said: "Palmolive Shaving Cream multiplies itself in lather 250 times." I wanted quicker shaves. Hopkins wrote: "Chemists' tests show that within one minute the beard absorbs 15% of water." Then, "Palmolive maintains its creamy fullness for ten minutes on the face." And further: "the bubbles are strong and enduring, wedging in between the hairs to hold them erect for cutting."

Whoever put words together like that? In short, simple sentences, in crisp, unique word-grouping, easy to read and fast-moving, fluent and euphonious, almost like poetry, these ads SAID SOMETHING! They induced MILLIONS to buy. That included me — and I continued using that brand fifty years!

Hopkins' ads built many businesses. From obscurity to giant industries — even from bankruptcy to major success. Of course, there was merchandising analysis and effective planning. But MY interest was in his writing style.

Among his clients, whose businesses were built by his methods and his advertising, were Pepsodent tooth paste, Quaker Oats and their Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice. And Palmolive facial soap — "the school-girl complexion" — and "the skin you love to touch." There was Goodyear Tire advertising — remember? "No-Rim-Cut Tires, 10% oversize." They made Goodyear number one — so rivals had to "try harder." Then came what Hopkins called the anti-skid "All-Weather Tread." No one ever heard of Ovaltine, until Hopkins-written ads made it known, and used by millions. There were Blue-jay corn plasters.

The Hopkins style in ad-writing contained these elements I looked for — and strove to develop.

I never knew Claude Hopkins — but I knew well his writing style. Of course he was probably a generation older than I — sitting on the pinnacle of advertising success nationally when I was a boy just learning. But I knew he was with the Lord and Thomas Advertising Agency, then one of the three biggest (later changed to Foote, Cone and Belding). It was often mentioned in advertising circles that his salary was $50,000 a year (later it was $100,000) — the equivalent of $150,000 to $200,000 today. Yet it was said that he was one of the major owners, who took his earnings in salary instead of dividends. He probably became a multimillionaire.

And so it was, that when I picked up this book Dr. Hoeh had laid down, the writing style rang a loud bell. It sounded strangely familiar. For I had absorbed at least a portion of the Hopkins style in writing.

I had never known much about the man himself. So I began eagerly reading this autobiography. And I encountered many surprises. These inspired this Personal Column. I want to share with you some interesting things I read there.

Claude Hopkins is, of course, dead now. He died in 1932 — more than a year before The PLAIN TRUTH was born. He wrote his autobiography in 1927. In that year began my transition from advertising into the Ministry.

Paradoxically, Hopkins' autobiography reveals that he switched from the ministry to advertising!

His forebears had all been ministers. On graduating from high school, the ministry was his ambition. "I was," he stated, "an earnest Bible student." His Bible studies, he then revealed, consisted of memorizing Bible verses. An exciting game at home was repeating Bible verses, like in a spelling bee — "going around in a circle," he wrote, "until all dropped out save one. I was always that one. I had memorized more verses than anyone I met." He knew, he said, several times more verses than the local minister. He spoke of it as "Bible competition."

But there is a difference between being a Bible verse-memorizer and being a Bible student. He memorized hundreds of verses he didn't UNDERSTAND. I have never tried to memorize Bible verses. It is too easy inadvertently to misquote them. I am more interested in their MEANING — their MESSAGE.