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Did you brush your teeth? (Part II)

February 15, 2013 in Marketing, Media, Smart thinking

So, how did Claude Hopkins create the most effective ad campaign of all time?

The story is beautifully told by Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit  ( was on my recommendations for the end of year  beach reading!).

First: Claude Hopkins understood that the purpose of advertising was sales and secondly he believed advertising could be better than hit and run, he believed advertising could be scientific. If advertising had to change behaviour, you had to understand human behaviour and Hopkins (probably because Pavolv’s famous experiments with dogs had already been know by then), believed there were scientifically justified beliefs about human behaviour.

Hopkins believed that people needed two things to act:

1. A cue to prompt them to action – a kick in the pants, sort of – and secondly

2. A reward for having followed the action.

So this is what the Pepsodent campaign looked like: He told people to feel the film on their teeth (no matter that this was natural and no indication of unclean teeth! Then he told them that after brushing their teeth with Pepsodent they would have beautiful teeth.

But you don’t only want consumers to act, you want them to act repeatedly, you want to create a habit so that buying your product becomes a natural process that people do almost without paying attention. And Hopkins indeed cracked the code of habit. What made his campaign so successful – remember other toothpastes also promised white and beautiful teeth – is that Hopkins gave them a cue, a clear, indisputable indication that they had to brush their teeth!  Study after study have shown that to create a habit

Hopkins first understood human behaviour and then asked his creative people to execute on that, rather than relying on ideas and art to make it work.

But Hopkins did not entirely crack the code of human habit?

Decades later scientists and marketers from Proctor and Gamble would find that their was a third ingredient to Hopkins success with Pepsodent that he did not realise.

That’s for monday. In the meantime, Harvard Business Review for March has an entire section devoted to advertising that works. We will get to that too.


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