From Beer to Toothpaste: Claude Hopkins and the Evolution of Strategic Brand Storytelling

In the fasting-moving world of marketing, some principles remain timeless.

Claude Hopkins, a pioneer in the field, revolutionized marketing with his strategic approach and data-driven techniques. His groundbreaking work, Scientific Advertising, continues to influence how brands tell their stories today.

As Founder of a social media agency in Bangkok, I cite many great writers, comedians and gurus in my stable of influence. But, arguably, nobody has had a greater influence on Lexicon’s approach to storytelling than Hopkins.

One of his most celebrated achievements was transforming Schlitz beer into a market leader through a campaign that perfectly exemplified the power of first-mover advantage.

The Power of First-Mover Advantage

Claude Hopkins propelled Schlitz from fifth place into a tie for first in the market by highlighting a common practice among brewers—pure bottled beer—something no one else was advertising.

Hopkins’s strategy to focus on the purity of Schlitz’s brewing process, complete with images of gleaming bottles being washed with live steam, offered consumers transparency and a narrative of quality, setting Schlitz apart in a crowded market.

When approached by Schlitz beer, Claude Hopkins initially declined the project as he didn’t drink and refused to work on projects that he himself couldn’t validate his promises for.

However, after agreeing to tour the brewery, he discovered a process he hadn’t seen before: the beer was purified through an elaborate filtration process.

Although he learned that all major breweries actually used almost identical methods, this production process was not known to the general public. Recognizing the potential for a unique selling proposition, Hopkins decided to center the advertising campaign on this purification process, despite it being a common industry practice.

This strategic move to highlight a little-known aspect of beer production, framed as a novelty and assurance of purity, successfully differentiated Schlitz in the market.

This campaign positioned Schlitz’s as offering something unique in the market and catapulted Schlitz from fifth place into first, demonstrating the power of strategic storytelling and market positioning.

Hopkins utilized the first-mover advantage, effectively making the common extraordinary.

Pepsodent Toothpaste

Another campaign which defined Hopkins’ approach was for Pepsodent toothpaste.

Hopkins’ Pepsodent campaign capitalized on the aesthetic appeal of whiter teeth, introducing the concept of the “Pepsodent smile.”

Incredibly, before this campaign only 7% of the American population used toothpaste, upon its conclusion, that number had risen to 65%.

This focus on a specific, desirable outcome—similar to how he emphasized the purity process in Schlitz beer—revolutionized the way toothpaste was marketed.

He used catchy, easy-to-understand benefits that directly appealed to consumers’ desires for beauty and health, driving the brand to massive success.

Similarly, Edward Bernays, as discussed in a previous article, utilized psychological insights and the concept of social prestige to shift public perceptions, such as turning cigarettes into symbols of feminist liberation with the “Torches of Freedom” campaign.

Both Hopkins and Bernays excelled at connecting products to deeper social or personal aspirations, fundamentally transforming advertising strategies.

This narrative alignment across different campaigns demonstrates the enduring power of storytelling in marketing, an approach that both Hopkins and Bernays mastered to create lasting impacts on consumer behavior, which continue to influence modern marketing.

Testing and Refinement: The Science of Precision

Claude Hopkins was truly ahead of his time in applying what we now recognize as A/B testing within his advertising campaigns.

In “Scientific Advertising,” Hopkins states, “The only purpose of advertising is to make sales. It is profitable or unprofitable according to its actual sales.”

To measure profitability, he meticulously used coupons and specific codes within his ads to track their performance across different variables.

Remember that Hopkins was operating in the era where his ads were primarily featured in print media, which meant customers had to go to the effort of cutting out his promotions, heading to the post office and sending them in.

Hopkins pioneered the use of A/B testing within advertising long before the term existed. He systematically employed coupons and coded messages in his advertisements to track their effectiveness meticulously.

By using A/B testing to identify which advertisements worked best, Hopkins invented what became known as Scientific Advertising.

This wasn’t just to see what worked and what didn’t, but to understand why certain messages resonated.

By changing one variable at a time—be it the phrasing of a headline, the offer made in the copy, or even the layout of the ad—Hopkins could gather concrete data on consumer behavior and preferences.

This empirical approach allowed him to gather data on what messages resonated best with audiences, leading to optimized advertising strategies.

By methodically testing variations in wording, offers, and placement, Hopkins could scientifically determine the most effective elements in his ads, paving the way for data-driven marketing practices seen today.

This strategic use of testing helped transform the approach to advertising from guesswork to a more rigorous, results-oriented practice.

Clarity and Specificity

Claude Hopkins was a master at harnessing the power of precise communication in advertising.

His belief in making specific, clear claims helped transform vague assertions into tangible, trustworthy advertisements.

This clarity was not just about being transparent; it was a strategic approach to build trust and reliability with the audience. By specifying what a product could do, Hopkins’s ads delivered promises that were measurable and verifiable, setting a new standard in advertising honesty.

Educational Marketing

Alongside his scientific approach, Hopkins often educated consumers about a product’s unique benefits.

He believed that informed customers were more likely to appreciate the value of a product and make a purchase decision. This educational approach did more than just inform—it engaged the consumer intellectually, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the product.

By explaining how a product worked or why it was superior, Hopkins’s campaigns did more than sell; they enlightened, adding a layer of value that emotional appeals alone could not achieve.

This combination of clarity, specificity, educational content, and rigorous testing formed the backbone of Hopkins’s advertising philosophy.

It not only changed how products were marketed but also left a lasting impact on the industry by setting a high standard for what effective advertising should look like. Today, these principles remain as relevant as ever, continuing to influence modern marketing strategies across the globe.

Modern Application of Hopkins’s Strategies

Claude Hopkins’s principles of advertising are not just historical notes; they continue to shape much of today’s digital marketing landscape. The core of his approach—clear, data-backed messaging to educate and engage—is vividly reflected in contemporary strategies.

Today, companies like Google and Amazon epitomize Hopkins’ legacy through their rigorous use of A/B testing to optimize user experience and marketing messages.

For instance, Amazon’s recommendation algorithms and Google’s search engine refinements are contemporary reflections of Hopkins’ commitment to data-driven advertising. By continually testing and refining their strategies, these tech giants ensure their messages resonate with consumers, much like Hopkins’ meticulous coupon tracking.

Content marketing has also evolved as a primary strategy, heavily leaning on educating consumers—a concept championed by Hopkins. Platforms like HubSpot, which provide value through educational content, owe their strategies to Hopkins’s approach. This method has proven effective in building consumer trust and authority, much like Hopkins’s detailed explanations of product benefits.

Additionally, the principle of first-mover advantage, which Hopkins effectively exploited with Schlitz beer, remains powerful today. When Dollar Shave Club launched, it used a viral video to promote its subscription razor service.

While mail subscription for razors wasn’t new, the humorous and unique delivery of the message made it seem innovative, contributing significantly to the brand’s early success and visibility. This strategy mirrors Hopkins’s use of the first-mover advantage, transforming the commonplace into a unique selling proposition that captivated the market.

These modern examples, including the clever marketing of Dollar Shave Club, demonstrate how Hopkins’s strategies are adapted to the digital age, maintaining their core principles of clear communication, customer education, and strategic use of novelty to capture market attention. By understanding and applying these timeless principles, modern marketers can create campaigns that not only capture attention but also build lasting relationships with their consumers.


Claude Hopkins’s contributions to marketing extend far beyond his era. His methods underscore the importance of innovation, precision, and customer education in building compelling marketing narratives. Today’s marketers can draw on his timeless wisdom to craft strategies that not only resonate with consumers but also foster lasting loyalty and differentiation in the market.

As a marketer, I think of Hopkins’ approach to storytelling and positioning on a daily basis. It’s no coincidence that Lexicon is Bangkok’s #1 Digital Storytelling agency. We identified and then carved out that niche long ago, and have marketed ourselves ever since using many of the lessons Hopkins has passed down through generations to also become Bangkok’s best video production agency with our own green screen podcast studio.

Often as marketers we can get caught up in the newest of the new things. Yet, in reality, very little has changed in the fundamentals laid out by Hopkins. Good copy, a compelling headline, an interesting story with eye-catching visuals aimed at a specific audience. Add to that A/B testing built into the process to refine the output and I could easily be describing best practice for a Facebook advert.

Hopkins’ books are almost a century old at this point and are available online to download for free. If you’re a marketer looking for some classic insight to give you an advantage, do yourself a favor and check him out.

About the Author

David Norcross is an award-winning LinkedIn & marketing & Executive Branding expert with over 15 years of experience in the industry and over 20,000 followers on LinkedIn. He’s the founder and CEO of Lexicon as well as the Chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in Thailand Marketing & Communications Committee.

Lexicon is an award-winning brand storytelling agency focusing on telling impactful stories for clients based in Thailand and South East Asia.


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