4 Email Marketing Lessons from the Greatest Advertising Campaign of the 20th Century

Do you brush your teeth?Chances are strong the answer is “yes!”

And if you include yourself in the category of regular toothbrushers….

You have ONE man to thank.

An advertiser, as it happens, who made an INSANE amount of money selling the newfangled idea of dental hygiene.

Yup, it’s true.

As crazy as it sounds today…

There was a time when NO ONE brushed their teeth


It just wasn’t a “thing to do”.

And we’re not talking about the Paleolithic Era or the Dark Ages, either.

This was actually the early 20th century.

That’s right, as recently as 100 years ago…

“Pearly whites” were NOT a point of pride.

Fresh breath and a bright smile didn’t in any way signal wealth, status, refinement, or fine breeding.

No sir!

Back then, dentists only existed to pull your teeth if they got loose or, often, were too painful to keep.

Cosmetic procedures weren’t a thing either—though dentures were quite common, as plenty of folks didn’t have teeth at all (and you need something to chew with!)

Oh, how times have changed…

And it all started with a man named Claude Hopkins

You might be familiar with the name…

Advertisers and copywriters often invoke his name and his seminal classic, Scientific Advertising.

In fact, David Ogilvy, one of the greatest advertisers to ever live, once wrote…

“Every time I see a bad advertisement, I say to myself, “The man who wrote this copy has never read Claude Hopkins.”

That’s the kind of respect Hopkins commands.

And of all his successes, the Pepsodent campaign was his biggest.

In fact, it’s arguably he most successful advertising campaign of the 20th century.

After all…

Hopkins single-handedly created the daily habit of tooth brushing


won’t find his Pepsodent campaign in Ad Age‘s

“Top 100 Campaigns” of the century…

You won’t find any other ad—EVER—that can claim results like these.

Remember, Americans weren’t brushing AT ALL prior.

And in just a decade, half of the country was brushing daily.

That’s huge!

Not only that, but…

Hopkins’ Pepsodent campaigns were successful in 52 countries and in 17 languages—using the same ads, and the same copy, all within a few years.

So needless to say, this campaign was a smashing success and made Hopkins a very rich man.

In fact, he’s said to have earned over one million dollars on this campaign.

{Cue Dr. Evil grin.}

But seriously, though…that’s was a MASSIVE amount of money at the time!

After all, you could buy a brand new Ford Model T for a cool $440 in the 1910s…

I digress.

So, getting to the point…

What was Hopkins’ secret?

There was one thing Hopkins did better than everyone else…

Which was, as implied by the title of his book, making his advertising “scientific.”

What does scientific mean in this context?

Simply that he rigorously quantified his results, split-testing many different ads, until he found a clear winner among all the variations.

This was done through what’s known as “keyed” advertising—

Where each ad carried a unique identifier, such as a code, which could be tracked back to its source.

For instance, Hopkins was big on coupons and free trials, which when redeemed, had a unique “key” identifying the publication where they appeared.

Today, you see these exact same techniques in mail order and infomercials, through the use of multiple P. O. Boxes, 800 numbers, phone number extensions, and the like.

Realizing that making an extra cent per customer added up to a massive increase in profits, at scale…

Hopkins tested his ads obsessively

First on smaller, local markets.

And only once a campaign was profitable, would he enter new markets on a national, even global, level.

Now, while it’s true that Hopkins wasn’t the first to use direct-response marketing…

He certainly was one of the early pioneers to study the market with such precision.

More on that in a moment.

But first…

Let’s begin our 4 lessons from Hopkins’ Pepsodent campaign, which you can immediately apply generally to your business, and specifically to your email marketing efforts.

After all, direct mail and email marketing aren’t too terribly different as advertising mediums.

So let’s begin…


This point cannot be stressed enough…Hopkins spent weeks pouring over every dental textbook he could find looking for a “big idea” to promote his Pepsodent campaign.

Why would he go through all that trouble?

Well, in Scientific Advertising, Hopkins makes it clear that using “specifics”—such as facts and statistics—is the most effective and compelling way to support any advertising claim.

So he took it on himself to do as much research as needed to find a factual advertising “angle” to support the notion that brushing your teeth was probably a good idea.

He commented that these textbooks were “dry reading,” but he kept going until something caught his eye.

In lesson #2, we’ll take a look at the specific angle Hopkins chose for his Pepsodent campaign.

But first, let’s talk about…

How you can use facts and stats to write compelling emails…


It’s easiest to just show you.

So here’s one of my recent fact-based emails, for example:

Subject: The Decline and Fall of the Yahoo Empire

In the year 2000…

Yahoo’s market capitalization was $125 billion.

Last week, Yahoo sold to Verizon for a mere $4.8 billion.


What happened?

A long, looong string of missed opportunities.

Here are a few highlights culled from the press coverage…

In 1998, Yahoo could’ve bought Google for $1 million.

They declined.

In 2002, they could’ve bought Google for $5 billion.

They declined again, offering only $3 billion.

(Google is currently valued at $500 billion, for reference.)

Oh, but it gets better…

In 2006, they had the opportunity to buy Facebook for $1 billion.

Unfortunately, they lowballed.

And Zuckerberg didn’t accept their $800 million offer.

(Facebook is currently valued at $245 billion.)

Those weren’t the only failed acquisitions, either…

From there, the email goes on to list a bunch of Yahoo’s other missteps over the years.

See how when you quantify a “missed opportunity,” the consequences become so much more real?

After the Yahoo story, the email switches gears to promote a webinar about a current marketing trend, before it passes the ready by.

See how that metaphor works?

This is a literary device known as a “hook.”

Now, once you’ve done your research and identified the relevant facts to support your angle…

Then it’s time to capture your prospect’s attention!

And that’s the second thing we can learn from Hopkins…


So what was it that finally jumped out at Hopkins when researching his Pepsodent campaign?

He noticed, deep in one of the dental textbooks, mention of a strange phenomena called…


Practically unheard of at the time, plaque wasn’t on anyone’s radar.

No one—including most dentists—had ever heard of it.

Hopkins knew he’d found his angle!

He called it “the film” and referenced it in all his ads.

One ad read:

Just run your tongue across your teeth. You’ll feel a film—that’s what makes your teeth look ‘off color’ and invites decay.

Here’s another:

Note how many pretty teeth are seen everywhere. Million are using a new method of teeth cleansing.

Why would any woman have dingy film on her teeth? Pepsodent removes the film.

Now, think about this…

At the time, everyone had plaque (still do, actually).

Hopkins’ insight was that you could feel it

All you needed to do was run your tongue across your teeth.

That meant everyone reading those ads could instantly verify the problem.

Everyone had plaque, and now they knew it.

Thus, Hopkins got an immediate “yes” from his audience with his marketing message.

Think about it…

If you’re asked, right now…

“Hey, do you feel a film on your teeth?”

How likely are you to give those chompers a li’l checky-checky?

Pretty likely, right?

I know I just did!

And if you feel some “film” on your teeth…

Well, you might just feel inclined to go grab your toothbrush and get to work!

Capturing your audience’s attention is critical

Hopkins emphasized this point in Scientific Advertising.

And one of the best ways to grab your audience by their eyeballs is to go for a “yes” response.


You want ’em to agree with you.

Now, keep in mind Hopkins had to work kinda hard with his Pepsodent campaign…

After all, he needed to make people self-conscious about a previously-unknown issue with “the film.”

And also get folks to agree that it was a problem worth fixing!

Yellow teeth were the norm, after all.

In comparison, you’ve got it pretty easy!

All you gotta do to get a “yes” is say…

  • Feeling overwhelmed?
  • Want more prospects and leads for your business?
  • Tired of chasing after friends and family?
  • Want to fire your boss?
  • Wish you had more time freedom?

Not too difficult, right?

Now, it’s super easy to use a question open in an email.

Here’s a recent example from our Chief Wordsmith, Vitaly Grinblat…


: Don’t fall for this LIE…

Have you ever heard this one…

“It takes money to make money?”

On one hand it’s kinda true.

If you got enough cash, you can put it into some income producing assets (like real estate, or an established business) and live the good life.

But if you don’t have lots of dough, you can still make money out of thin air.

You just have to know HOW.

Most people can’t even wrap their head around this idea.

Which is why they are stuck working a 9-5 job, without realizing that with some special knowledge they can open the door to massive paydays…

See how Vitaly asks a question and dives straight into the reader’s pains and frustrations?

That’s how you get someone’s attention.

Then it’s time to make sure they take action.

And that brings us to…


Now, we talk about “carrots” and “sticks” all the time in advertising.

And unfortunately…

It’s human nature to respond to the stick more than the carrot.

This is how come you see countdown timers and “limited time” offers.

Because if you don’t put some fear in your prospects’ hearts, and give them a bit of the “stick” to help them make the decision to act NOW…

Then they probably won’t.

And never will.


You don’t want that.

So here’s the next layer of sophistication to this idea…

People are terrible at predicting, anticipating, and planning for the future

I mean, we will eventually retire, right?

But most estimates place fully 2/3rds of the populace as short on their retirement savings.

Now, there’s more than one reason for this, of course.

But a BIG one we simply can’t ignore is that…

Our brains are not programmed to plan for the future.

It’s not an accessory we’re factory-installed with.

Hopkins recognized this.

In advertising…

Appeals to prevention NEVER work


Here’s a quote from Scientific Advertising

“People will do anything to cure a trouble, but little to prevent it.”

So essentially…

Despite the fact that present pains trump everything else.

No one cares about future pains.

It’s true.

If you’ve got a toothache, that’s all you can think about.

But eating less sugar and flossing more to prevent that toothache?

…yeeaah, maybe tomorrow, right?


Present benefits come in second to present pains.

And future benefits hardly exist.

Again, otherwise we’d all be healthy and retire comfortably, right?

So here’s what you need to keep in mind…

People want to alleviate their pains and get their benefits NOW!

For Hopkins’ campaign…

That meant that Pepsodent immediately removed the unsightly “film.”

And it didn’t mean anything about avoiding getting teeth pulled in the future.

For you…

This means you need to focus on what your product or service can do now!

When you’re writing emails…

Don’t labor over painting a picture of what your prospect’s life might look like in a year of diligent work.

Talk about what you can do for them today!

Look, if your prospects are actively looking for a solution, that means they’re currently experiencing a pain, so you need to provide a means for them to improve their situation as quickly as possible.

Otherwise, they’re going to look elsewhere.

Here’s an example email opening from Vitaly…

First, let me say this…

If you set aside 2 minutes, pay close attention and read this email to the end… it will make you a LOT OF DOUGH.

That’s pretty immediate and to-the-point, wouldn’t you say?



Do you think Hopkins wrote ONE ad and then retired?


Not even close.

He wrote MANY ads and course-corrected along the way.

Again, going back to Scientific Advertising

Here’s a quote that sums up the Pepsodent campaign nicely…

“After this experience, I can cite a hundred ways to advertise toothpaste wrongly.”

And not every campaign was a success.

In fact, Hopkins failed terribly with Quaker Oats.

He couldn’t make this campaign profitable, even after repeated attempts.

He states…

“I have never known of a line where individual advertisers could profitably change habits.”

And by habit, Hopkins is referring to the habit of what consumers eat for breakfast.

Ironically, creating the toothbrushing habit was his greatest success!

There’s even been a book written about Hopkins’ unprecedented, habit-forming achievement, titled…

The Power of Habits, by Charles Duhigg.

Just goes to show that when advertising…

Focus on the numbers and not your emotional interpretations

Easier said than done, I know.

But Hopkins, of all people, would 100% agree.

Because, you know, he did write the book on keeping your advertising scientific!

Luckily, the beauty of email marketing is that if one broadcast doesn’t get a huge response…

There’s always the next one.

And the next one.

That’s the beauty of follow-up.

You get a new opportunity to capture your prospects’ attention and compel them to take action every single time you hit “send.”

Hopkins would be jealous!

It’s incredible to think about the level of sophistication Hopkins brought to advertising before the Internet, computers, cell phones, television, and even residential air conditioning.

What’s even more incredible, though?

The technology at our fingertips.


Today, you don’t have to do practically ANYTHING to calculate your open, click-through, or conversion rate.

In Hopkins’ era, you’d have to spend hours tabulating stacks of physical mail-order forms to determine whether a campaign’s working or not.

No thanks!

With the advent of email, you can follow-up daily and cultivate meaningful relationships with your prospects, 100% on autopilot, all with a simple autoresponder.

That’s extremely powerful, because like you’ve probably heard…

“The fortune’s in the follow-up.”

In fact, creating rapport and trust with your prospects is the #1 “profit trigger” of all successful email campaigns.

And if you’d like to learn the more triggers that turn prospects into customers like clockwork…

Then pick up your copy of our 100% free

5 Winning Headline Formula report!

You’ll discover how to quickly implement five street-level, psychological email marketing tactics that convert readers into customers like gangbusters, so…

Click here to access the 5 Winning Headline Formulas free report now!

Until next time,

Cecelia Morris

CEO – Taking Charge Inc.

PS – If you enjoyed what I’ve just shared with you or you got value from it. Please leave me a comment below, I would love to hear from you.


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