Hopkins was possibly the highest salaried copywriter in history — he pulled down today’s equivalent of $4.5 million a year.
There was a reason his boss, Albert Lasker, paid him so much. He brought in more revenue for his agency and their clients than any ad writer had ever done before.
Here’s how “$100 Million Wasted On Ads That Never Pay” starts out:
“We estimate that every year is wasted $100,000,000 on ads that should never run.
That $125,000,000 is being spent annually to accomplish what $25,000,000 should do.
If such ads were put to comparative test, they would all be discarded. And each would teach a lesson which one never could forget.”
In 2013 dollars, $100 million translates to $2.5 billion dollars.
For all the waste circulation in advertising today, $2.5 billion seems improbably low. Keep in mind that print advertising was largely the only game in town back then.
But what Hopkins railed against a hundred years ago is still as true as ever.
Even today… most advertisers never test!
As impossible as it is to fathom, it’s completely commonplace.
Take Fisher Investments.
It rides on the reputation of it’s founder, Ken Fisher, who’s been a long time columnist for Forbes magazine. Few have made as much hay out of being a columnist as Ken Fisher and his firm is reputed to spend $30 million a year on direct mail marketing.
After receiving the same oversized direct mail piece from Fisher Investments — for perhaps the 50th time (really) — I was tempted to write a mini expose about them.
Until now, I haven’t written one word about them, and in the interim, absolutely nothing has changed in their marketing.
They continue to send the same 11 x 14 inch direct mail piece with the same envelope teaser copy: “The favor of your reply is requested.”
I’ve probably received over 100 of them by now in total.
To their credit, they seem to have some competent creative for their online advertising. The preamble for every ad they run — “If you have $500,000 to invest, then download this free report — is mechanical, yet effective.
But as far as direct mail goes… testing is non-existent.
So, when I got in a discussion with a colleague about this, I was prepared when he answered:
“Fisher is a billionaire with over $40 billion in managed assets…
he must know what he’s doing.”
“If he knew half of what you and I know about direct mail marketing,” I told him, “he’d be worth three times more and his firm would have over $100 billion under management.”
He’s succeeding in spite of himself.
No one carries on such madness unless he’s completely in love with his own ideas and surrounded by “yes people.”
Then I asked him to take a look at this.
Establishing the credibility of the sender is necessary but 14 first-person references is beyond the pale for even a direct mail neophyte.
And, Fisher loves the word “proprietary.” It shows up in the current DM almost as much as the word, “I.”
So, I had to laugh when I read this quote from Fisher.
“There is a proprietary art in getting people to open the mail, read it and respond to it,” Fisher says. “If you can get them past the first few sentences, you’ve got a good chance you can keep them going to the end.”
Yes, that’s true, but he’s ignorant of the basic direct mail fact.
“People sort their mail over a waste basket.”
Gary Halbert was on the money about this.
Sure, the first time a prospect gets Fisher’s “big white envelope,” which is larger than even a tabloid sized magalog, it gets his attention.
But the third, fourth… and twenty-second time a recipient get it… it goes in the trash.
Because the reader already knows what’s inside.
He doesn’t need to open it.
Why not alter the tired ten-year-old teaser copy, “The favor of your reply is requested,” and try something prosaic like, “Why I’m betting on biotech again.”
Now, the prospect can’t say, “I’ve seen this before” and toss it.
But where Fisher really falls on its face is the lack of ascension.
How much easier would it be selling a newsletter on the front end and get a crack at establishing some credibility and rapport with paying customers… and only then persuading them to invest?
Prying even as little as a dollar from a prospect sets incredible things in motion.
Fisher will probably never find out.