Facebook Advertising: How to Stand on the Shoulders of Giants

Inherit the secrets of the world’s most legendary copywriters, using timeless, proven conversion tactics to achieve stunning ROI on every ad.


Cheat Your Way to Advertising Success

Facebook hasn’t been around all that long, and its advertising program only really stepped into high gear in the last few years. So we are all learning as we go. And with Facebook changing the rules of the game week by week, it can be hard to keep up.

At the same time, we must deal with a huge growth in competition. Not so long ago, Facebook had less than a million advertisers. Now the number has surpassed five million, and thousands more are joining the fray every day. So if we are all competing against each other, and all using the same cool features, options and placements, how can you get one step ahead? How are you going to crush your competitors and clean up with your ads?

One simple way to give yourself an unfair advantage is stand on the shoulders of giants. For sure, the Facebook platform is a masterwork of technical genius, the likes of which had never been seen before the 21st century.

Yet people have not changed. Today, we have the same basic fears, frustrations, emotions and desires as the generations of the Swinging Sixties, the Great Depression and even the Great War. We might think we are much cooler with our iPhones and Fitbits, but we respond to offers in exactly the same way our great grandparents did.

Advertising during the 20th century was infinitely harder than it is today. Before the Internet, almost every ad campaign involved substantial expense. You couldn’t run a test ad for $10…you had to invest thousands of dollars in every campaign, just to get started. Targeting was broad at best, and everything was difficult, slow and clumsy.

Yet despite the odds stacked against them, the best marketers learned how to beat the system and generate millions of dollars in sales. And the uncrowned kings of advertising were the ad copywriters. Armed with nothing more than a typewriter and a willingness to learn what works, these masters of persuasion minted mountains of money for their clients.

Although the technology of advertising has changed beyond recognition, the basic principles have not. Understanding these principles and how to apply them will do more for your Facebook advertising ROI than any fancy new feature or software tool. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Stand on the shoulders of these giants and you will have an unfettered view of the path to greater profits.

#1. The Man Who Mastered Facebook Advertising 100 Years Ago

You clean your teeth at least twice a day, right? You can thank Claude C. Hopkins for that. Before he launched Pepsodent toothpaste and turned it into a household name, people generally didn’t worry about dental hygiene. His campaign was so successful, it not only made himself and the product owner tons of money, it created the entire dental care industry, too.

Poor old Claude was born in the wrong era. Heck this guy even drove a steam-powered car! Born in 1866, he was active in advertising from the end of the 19th century until he died in 1932. If he was alive today, he would be agog with excitement over the possibilities in Facebook advertising.

But Claude had to do things the hard way. TV had yet to be invented in his time, and even commercial radio didn’t get going until his retirement. His advertising options were mostly limited to newspapers, magazines and ‘pamphlets.’ But he managed to turn all of them into dollar printing presses.

Claude took a whole host of unknown products and transformed them into massive global brands. He was the man behind the success of Goodyear tires, Palmolive soap, Puffed Wheat and many other products that are still booming 100 years later.

While Claude never got the opportunity to experiment with Facebook advertising, he mastered the principles that make Facebook ad campaigns successful. In fact, he invented most of them. What self-respecting marketer would run a Facebook campaign that didn’t employ tight targeting, social proof, split testing and conversion tracking? Claude pioneered all of these, although the terminology didn’t exist then…he had to make up his own. Here are some examples from his books:

“Don’t think of people in the mass…think of a typical individual who is likely to want what you sell” (targeting)

“The most effective thing I have ever found in advertising is the trend of the crowd.” (social proof)

“This is done through keyed advertising.” (split testing)

“I have learned those principles through thirty six years of traced advertising.” (conversion tracking)

Claude unwittingly created the concept of the Unique Value Proposition (UVP) when he took on Schlitz Beer as a client. At that time, beer was a commodity product, with all brewers producing similar products using similar methods. Claude created a UVP by telling the story of how the beer was made – the lengthy and careful processes used to ensure that the beer was truly pure. Although every brewer used exactly the same processes, no-one else had ever talked about them. The ads positioned Schlitz beer as a more desirable product, rapidly rising from obscurity to become one of the best-selling beers in the US.

I strongly recommend you read Claude’s two classic books – Scientific Advertising and My Life in Advertising. As well as offering outstanding insights into the profession of advertising, these books give us a glimpse of marketing in a bygone era…and remind us just how lucky we are to be advertisers in the 21st century.

#2. The Man Who Wrote the Most Successful Ad Ever

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr said: ‘plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose’ – ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’ He could have been talking about advertising. Back in the 1920s, John Caples started his copywriting career writing ads for hair growers, fat reducers and products on personal magnetism. Nearly a century on, similar ads are all over Facebook!

In 1926, John wrote the ad that would become his legacy. The U.S. School of Music was struggling to get sales. Ads that simply promoted the features of the course brought dismal sales. But John revolutionized their business by writing an ad that pressed all the right emotional buttons.

His great insight was to realize that nobody bought a piano course because they wanted to spend hours practicing scales. What they wanted was the admiration from others that piano proficiency could bring. He skipped the features and honed in on the emotional benefits:

You can see the complete version of the ad here. It deserves careful study. The ad is made even more powerful because it uses storytelling. None of us can resist a good story. Over half of the ad copy is devoted to telling the tale of how an ordinary guy stunned his friends – and impressed the opposite sex – by unexpectedly playing an immaculate version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

The ad was so successful that it ran for decades, and turned the U.S. School of Music into the powerhouse of its industry. John reveals his theories of marketing in Tested Advertising Methods – a classic that deserves a place on your bookshelf.

#3. The Father of Modern Advertising

David Ogilvy was the founder of Ogilvy & Mather, one of the world’s most successful advertising agencies. But he was also personally responsible for creating some of the agency’s best work. His most notable success was the creation of ‘The Man in the Hathaway Shirt.’ This simple ad campaign transformed a small shirt-making business into a substantial concern.

At first glance, the ad might seem pretty ordinary. But it brilliantly stimulates one emotion that makes it work like gangbusters – curiosity.

David understood that the first thing an ad has to do is draw attention. In magazines crowded with ‘me, too’ ads, how do you stop the reader from flipping the page? The answer is to engage their curiosity. When you see this ad, you immediately ask two questions:

Who is the man in the Hathaway shirt?

Why is he wearing an eye patch?

Readers had to study the entire ad copy in an attempt to find the answers. And seeing as the answers aren’t there, they had to read it twice to double check. By this time, they had absorbed the entire sales pitch and understood all the reasons why they should buy shirts from Hathaway. And they did…in their thousands.

His book Ogilvy on Advertising is another time-tested classic that should be on your bookshelf. There are some great insights from large-scale ad campaigns that you can apply in your business today.

#4. The Maverick Marketer

Gary Halbert was a colorful marketer whose career included some great highs and some not-so-great lows – culminating in a brief spell in jail for mail fraud (probably undeserved). His Boron Letters, written to his son from his jail cell, contain some classic nuggets of advice that are as valid today as they were 30 years ago. If nothing else, read his letter on the topic of the ‘The One Advantage’that will tell you more about how to do Facebook targeting than any blog post online today.

Gary’s greatest success was an ingenious campaign that succeeded in what everyone thought was impossible – turning the telephone white pages into a profitable mailing list. Conventional wisdom said that you could not make a profit sending direct mail to lists obtained from phone books. They were not targeted in any way. And in general, this is correct thinking…but Gary found a way to pull highly-targeted lists out of the morass of names.

This is a perfect example of defining an audience first, and then finding a product that will serve them. Gary realized that every phone book contains long lists of people with the same surname. From New York to San Francisco, every American phone book had pages and pages of people with surnames such as MacMillan, DeVere, Wilkinson, etc.

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Everyone with the surname MacDonald, for example, has something in common. They all share the same name, and with it a sense of identity. Gary focused in on this and mailed them with an offer for a MacDonald Coat of Arms. Each batch of letters was tailored for a certain surname, and mailed to the people with that particular name. The legendary Coat of Arms letter was so successful it was mailed to Americans no less than 600 million times over a period of 30 years.

By the way, here’s another interesting aside for Facebook advertisers. This mammoth campaign only became profitable when Gary figured out a profitable upsell. The main offer merely broke even – all the profit came from the upsell. If you don’t have upsells in your offers yet, it’s time to get thinking…

 #5. The Direct Mail Superstar

Gary Bencivenga attained a deserved reputation as the world’s best copywriter by consistently beating controls over a 30-year period. And here is the good news…you can steal all his conversion secrets by reading his Marketing Bullets free.  

There are lots of gems in here, and every bullet is well worth a read. Interestingly, Gary cheerfully admits that most of his control-beating campaigns used a very simple formula. Instead of trying to sell a product outright by mail, he would first send out an offer for a free book on the topic in question. The inquirer then received a small book that contained useful content, but also included an offer for the product he was promoting.

In other words, Gary was using lead magnets and sales funnels long before online marketing was even a thing.

My favorite story from the Marketing Bullets tells of a business that sold apples. This is a perfect example of how to create a Unique Value Proposition for a challenging product. One year, the company’s entire crop was ruined by hail that left black pockmarks all over every apple. Rather than ditch the entire crop, they came up with an ingenious way to sell it. They turned a negative into a positive – saying that only pockmarked apples have the special crispness and freshness that comes with hailstorm weather.

The result was a stampede that sold out their entire stock. The pitch was so successful that many people were disappointed when all the stock was gone…only pockmarked apples were good enough!

#6. The Ace Marketer on a Giant Harley

If you ever find yourself driving around North Carolina, watch out – should two giant Harleys storm past you, you’ve probably just been buzzed by Clayton Makepeace and his wife, ‘The Redhead.’

Clayton is not short of a bob or two to indulge his noisy hobby with. Over a long career as a direct mail copywriter he has notched up some hugely successful campaigns. You can find lots of valuable insights and actionable nuggets in the archives of The Total Package.

One secret of Clayton’s success is his focus on ‘dominant resident emotions.’ This involves digging deep into a product to discover which triggers will make people buy. Perhaps the best example is his ‘Morgan Silver Dollars’ campaign.

His client had been selling silver dollars as an investment opportunity, and sales were reasonable at $360,000 a month. But Clayton thought they could do much better if they hit emotional rather than rational triggers. His copy read:

“If these coins could talk, what wonderful stories would they tell?

“They would speak of a time gone by. Of the hardy prospectors who mined their silver. Of smoky saloons, honky-tonk pianos, raucous poker games, and painted ladies.

“They would speak of freedom. Independence. Honor. The code of the West.

“The Morgan silver dollar was there with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday at the gunfight in the O.K. Corral. And it was on the poker table when Wild Bill Hickock drew his “dead man’s hand” and succumbed to an assassin’s bullet.

“They only look like beautiful and potentially profitable ‘rare coin’ investments. And while they are, they are also more: Each is a touchstone with our colorful, uniquely all-American history that you can hold in the palm of your hand.”

He transformed a silver dollar from a simple investment opportunity into the chance for Americans to own a piece of their history. And buyers responded in droves – within 30 days, sales had risen to $3.6 million a month…a ten-fold increase inside a month!

#7. The Man who Invented the One-Legged Golfer

John Carlton’s career began in the direct mail era, and continues to flourish in the online marketing era. Check out his website to get some great tips and ideas that will help you write copy that converts.

John is most famous for his ‘one-legged golfer ad’ – a highly successful campaign that sold a ton of golf training products and ran successfully for many years. Here is the ad: 

The headline for this ad hooks us with curiosity. How the heck can a one-legged man play good golf? What’s his secret? Then it immediately follows up with no less than three powerful benefits that would appeal to any golfer.

Just in case that’s not enough to convince, the sub-head follows through with more benefits – creating a vision of the kind of result every golfer is struggling to attain. Benefits, benefits and more benefits…no wonder this ad was such a success!

#8. The King of Late-Night TV Turned Online Marketer

Dan Kennedy earned his chops selling products in late-night infomercials. That’s a brutal business to be in, and you have to be at the top of your game to succeed. Now Dan has parlayed that experience into a much broader marketing and advertising career.

One principle that has helped him achieve great success is the use of the ‘golden ladder’ approach to marketing. This is based on the principle that your best customers are your existing customers. Many of these will be raving fans who want the opportunity to purchase higher-value products. Therefore, you should have a ‘golden ladder’ of products that allows customers to ascend your value chain.

If you are selling website memberships, for example, have several levels at different price points – perhaps Bronze, Silver and Gold. You will be surprised at how many people will climb the ladder and purchase your most expensive products.


Start Mining Solid Gold

Make no mistake about it, when you start studying these classic copywriters, you are mining gold. Just one or two nuggets of quality information can turn your losing Facebook ad campaigns into winners.

Right now, we are heading into uncharted waters as we work with the fast-changing and improving Facebook ads platform. But if we stand on the shoulders of these giants, we can see the rocks ahead and navigate safely around them to reach the Promised Land.