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Book Summary: Breakthrough Advertising, by Eugene Schwartz

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Find below the book summary of Breakthrough advertising by Eugene Schwartz.

This book was a good book on copywriting. 9/10.

Part I : Markets and Headlines

First step: study the market

Writing copy begins with an analysis of the market of the product. You need to identify:

  • The breadth and depth of the market
  • The emotional forces that create the market
  • The main desire that drives the market

Your job will be to harness these forces towards the solution to the problem that exists: your product.

Second step: study the product

To sell a product is to know which problem the product fixes and which desires lie behind the purchase of the product. You need to study your product, and more specifically:

  • The physical product that it is: the actual product (for a car, that would be the iron, the plastic, the seats…)
  • The functional product: what the product is used for. Eg: cars are used to drive from A to B, but not always. Think Ferrari, Lamborghini.

The combination of these first and second steps gives you the theme of your ad—the desire your market demands and its satisfaction; the need your market feels and its solution; the identification your market gropes for and its expression.

Now, you’ll have to express this theme.

To do so, you need’ll to explore the state of maturity of your market. Find out:

  • How much people know about your product and what it does
  • How much they know about similar products
  • How much they care about both

Out of this analysis comes the point of entry for your headline. It’s the point of greatest interest and acceptance on the part of your prospect.

It may be located anywhere in:

  • your product itself (xbox, PS5)
  • in its price
  • in its performance (iPhone)
  • in the satisfaction your product promises (massage)
  • in the need your market demands from your product (masks during a pandemic)
  • or only in the market itself (food)

Your headline is determined by two requirements: interest and believability.

Your headline must touch the interest of the person reading it, and must be believable. This is why you can’t always use the most powerful claim from your product in your headline or even the very problem that your product solves – if it’s not believable, it won’t work. Your prospect may believe it is false, exaggerated, or doesn’t apply to him.

A bunch of facts

First stage: research

Choose the most powerful desire that can possibly be applied to your product. Every mass desire has three vital dimensions.

Every product appeals to two, three or four mass desires. But you can only use one in your headline. Only one is the key that unlocks the maximum economic power at the particular time your advertisement is published.  Your choice among these mass desires is the most important step of the entire copywriting process.

Second stage: headline

Acknowledge that desire, reinforce it, and/or offer the means to satisfy it in a single statement in the headline of your ad.

Your headline is the first step in recognizing this mass desire, justifying it, intensifying it, and directing the quench of this desire (the solution) along one specific path.

Your headline can never mention your product.

Third stage: body copy

Now all is left for you to do is to take your product’s performances (what it does) and show it satisfies that desire.

The analysis of your product

The study of your product should therefore start with a number of different performances it contains. You then should match these group performances to the mass desires that each of them satisfies, then feature the one performance that will harness the greatest sales power onto your product at that particular time.

A car, for example, offers the following performances: transportation, dependability, economy, power, recognition, value, novelty…and yet your ad can feature only one of these performances; you can only use one mass desire at a time.

Every product gives you dozens of keys. But only one will fit the lock.

Your job is to find that one dominant performance and squeeze every drop of power out of it in your presentation, and then convince your reader that that performance and that satisfaction can come only from your product.

This definition of your market, and the selection of the product performance most likely to capture that market, form the core concept, or theme, of your ad.

You will therefore have to start with your market, and end up with your product.  The bridge between these two is your ad. Your ad always begins with your market, and leads that market inevitably into your product.


The headline is based on the answer to the following three questions:

  • What is the mass desire that creates this market?

The answer to question 1 gives you the nationwide force that creates your market.

  • How much do these people know today about the way my product satisfies their desire? What is their State of Awareness?
  • How many other products have been presented to them before yours? (Their State of Sophistication.)

The answer to questions 2 and 3 gives you the location of that market in relation to your product.

Your headline’s one only job is to stop your prospect and compel him to read the second sentence of your ad. Your second sentence has only one job, to compel your reader to read the third sentence. Etc. It is your job to force the prospect to read the full story, not just a skimmed version of it.

In its natural development, every market’s awareness passes through several stages. The more aware your market, the easier the selling job, the less you need to say. The longer the product exists, the more sophisticated the market is, the harder it will be to sell.

An aware customer:

  • knows of your product
  • knows what it does
  • knows he wants it.

→ your headline—in fact, your entire ad—need state little more except the name of your product and a bargain price (if applicable).

The remainder of the advertisement can summarize quickly the most desirable selling points. Then add the name of a store, or a coupon, and close.

A less aware customer:

  • knows of the product but doesn’t yet know he wants it
  • isn’t completely aware of all your product does
  • or isn’t convinced of how well it does it
  • or hasn’t yet been told how much better it does it now.

You are dealing with a product that is known, which has established a brand name, which has already- linked itself with an acknowledged public desire, and has proven that it satisfied that desire.

Your headline is faced with 1 of 7 tasks:

First task: To reinforce your prospects desire for your product:

You can use association to do so:

  • “Steinway—The Instrument of the Immortals.”
  • “Jov—The Costliest Perfume in the World.”
  • “Tastes like you just picked it—Dole.”
  • “The skin YOU love to touch—Woodbury”

Second task: To sharpen your prospect’s image of the way your product satisfies that desire.

Third task: To extend his image of where and when your product satisfies that desire;

  • “Anywhere you go. Hertz is always nearby”

Fourth task: To introduce new proof, details, documentation of how well your product satisfies that desire;

  • “9 out of 10 screen stars use Lux Toilet Soap for their priceless smooth skins.”

Fifth task: To announce a new mechanism in that product to enable it to satisfy that desire even better.

Sixth task: to announce a new mechanism in your product that eliminates former limitations

Seventh task: To completely change the image or the mechanism of that product, in order to remove it from the competition of other products claiming to satisfy the same desire.

“This is not water. This Contrex”.

In all seven cases, the approach is the same. You display the name of the product—either in the headline or in an equally large logo, and use the remainder of the headline to point out its superiority. The body of the ad is then an elaboration of that superiority, including visualization, documentation, mechanization.

Warm customer

Sometimes, the prospect either knows or recognizes immediately that he wants what the product does, but he doesn’t yet know that there is a product that will do it for him. In this case, the problem is two-fold: one needs to define the problem, and one needs to define the solution. There are three steps to do so:

  • Name the desire and/or its solution in your headline.
  • Prove that that solution can be accomplished.
  • Show that the mechanism of that accomplishment is contained in your product.

Cold customer

How to Introduce Products That Solve Needs: The prospect has not a desire, but a need, but he doesn’t yet realize the connection between the fulfillment of that need and your product.

This is the problem-solving ad.

Start by naming the need and/or its solution in your headline; dramatize the need so vividly that the prospect realizes just how badly he needs the solution.

And then present your product as the inevitable solution.

Facts on headlines

  • A headline which will work to a market in one stage of awareness will not work to a market in another stage of awareness.
  • Cold approach: a product to solve a problem people are not even aware they have: Planning a headline for a completely unaware or resistant market is first of all a process of elimination. Here’s what NOT to include in your headline:
    • Price: it means nothing to a person who does not know nor want your product.
    • The name of your product: it means nothing to a person who has never seen it before, and may actually damage your ad if you have had a bad model the year before, or if it is now associated with the antiquated, the unfashionable, or the unpleasant. Don’t break the mood or disguise your ad with a prominent logo.
    • A direct statement of what your product does, what desire it satisfies, or what problem it solves: At this stage of your market,  this simply will not work. Your product either has not reached that direct stage, or has passed beyond it. You cannot shift from one desire to another. You are not faced here with a problem of sophistication, but one of complete indifference, or unacceptability. Therefore, the performance of your product, and the desire it satisfies, can only be brought in later.

As a result, the last thing left to have for your headline is your market. Your product and its attributes fade into the background, and you concentrate exclusively on the state of mind of your market at this particular moment. What you are doing essentially in this fifth stage is calling your market together in the headline of your ad. You are writing an identification headline.

You are selling nothing, promising nothing, satisfying nothing. Instead, you are echoing an emotion, an attitude, a satisfaction that picks people out from the crowd and binds them together in a single statement. In this type of headline, you are giving them the information they need and want, about a problem still so vague that you are the first to put it into words. Your headline no longer refers to your product, but it must therefore refer even more strongly to your market.

The first stage of sophistication

If you are the first in your market, you are dealing with customers which have no sophistication. Once you get them interested, they are likely to become much more enthusiastic. This, of course, is the dream of every manufacturer and every copywriter.  To be first.  And it happens quite often today. Sometimes because of a technological breakthrough—creating a new product – or a radically better product, or a familiar product at an explosively low price.

And sometimes, such a brand-new market is created by the insight of an advertising man, dealing with an already-established product.

In this case, the ad man visualizes the application of the product to an entirely different market. Or he reaches that market through a hitherto untapped medium. Or he discovers a previously unnoticed performance of his product that carries it completely beyond the limits of its old market.

When such a golden opportunity—to be first—presents itself, you are probably dealing with a market in its third or fourth stage of awareness.

Your prospects know that they would like what your product does, or they would like to get rid of the problem your product solves—if it were only possible.

Be simple. Be direct. Above all, don’t be fancy. State the need or the claim in your headline and nothing more.

Dramatize that claim in your copy. Make it as powerful as possible. And then bring in your product and prove that it works. Nothing more, because nothing more is needed.

The second stage of sophistication

Enlarge the claims made from the first stage.

The third stage of sophistication

Everyone is aware of the product, few can distinguish brands from one another.

One factor is vital here. That is the restorative power of the market you are dealing with. It may be a market based on a constantly recurring mass instinct (eating) or an unsolved problem.

The mass desire still exists, but it cannot be tapped by the old, simple methods any longer. What this market needs now is a new device to make all these old claims become fresh and believable to them again.

In other words, A NEW MECHANISM: a new way to making the old promise work.

A different process— a fresh chance— a brand-new possibility of success where only disappointment has resulted before.

Here the emphasis shifts from what the product does to HOW it works.

Not accomplishment, but performance becomes dominant. The headline expands. The claim remains—but now it is reinforced by the mechanism that accomplishes it

→ we go from “lose 3 kg in two hours now” to “get fat to float out of your body”.

The fourth stage of sophistication

A new stage of elaboration and enlargement. But this time, the elaboration is concentrated on the mechanism, rather than on the promise.


If a competitor has just introduced a new mechanism to achieve the same claim as the one performed by your product, and that new mechanism announcement is producing sales, then you counter in this way. Simply elaborate or enlarge upon the successful mechanism.

Make it easier, quicker, surer; allow it to solve more of the problem; overcome old limitations; promise extra benefits.

You are beginning a stage of embellishment similar to the Second Stage of Sophistication described above.

The same strategy will be effective here.

The fifth stage of sophistication

The product is dead, the market does not believe in the advertising, competitors are dropping out.

The way to get back the prospect into the ad is not through desire, but identification, where you tap into the fact that the prospect identifies with our product.

On headlines

If you are the first in your field, state the result of your product: lose weight fast, for example. If you are not the first, you need to reinforce the claim by binding it to other images, a process called verbalization. Here are 38 ways to do that.  

  • Measure the size of the claim: lose weight fast → lose 4kg fast
  • Measure the speed of the claim: lose weight fast → lose weight in 30 days
  • Compare the claim: lose weight fast → lose weight faster than athletes
  • Metaphorize the claim: lose weight fast → obliterate your fat fast
  • Sensitize the claim by making the prospect feel, smell, touch, see or hear it: lose weight fast → feel lighter fast
  • Demonstrate the claim by showing a prime example: lose weight fast → It’s just her diet!
  • Dramatize the claim, or its result: lose weight fast → they all accused me of working out in secret…
  • State the claim as a paradox: lose weight fast → lose weight by eating more!
  • Remove limitations from the claim: lose weight fast → lose weight fast without exercise
  • Associate the claim with values or people with whom the prospect wishes to be identified: Lose weight fast → Usain Bolt’s diet
  • Show how much work, in detail, the claim does: lose weight fast → burn up to 300 grams of fat per day
  • State the claim as a question: lose weight fast → who also wants to lose weight fast?
  • Offer information about how to accomplish the claim: lose weight fast → how to lose weight fast
  • Tie authority into the claim: lose weight fast → US army surgeon shows how to lose weight fast
  • Before-and-after the claim: lose weight fast → 10 kg lighter 30 days later
  • Stress the newness of the claim: lose weight fast → BRAND NEW: diet gets you to lose weight fast
  • Stress the exclusivity of the claim: lose weight fast → IN HERE ONLY: lose weight fast
  • Turn the claim into a challenge for the reader: lose weight fast → Can you sustain rapid weight loss?
  • State the claim as a case-history quotation: lose weight fast → I float in those pants!
  • Condense the claim—interchange your product and the product it replaces: lose weight fast → lose weight out of your meal!
  • Symbolize the claim: replace the direct statement or measurement of the claim with a parallel reality: lose weight fast → eat as much as you want and lose weight!
  • Connect the mechanism to the claim in the headline: lose weight fast → burn fat for energy!
  • Startle the reader by contradicting the way he thinks the mechanism should work: lose weight fast → eat as much as you can!
  • Connect the need and the claim in the headline: lose weight fast → the only way to avoid heart disease is to lose weight!
  • Offer information in the ad itself: lose weight fast → why the keto diet works
  • Turn the claim or the need into a case history: lose weight fast → she ate so much meat!
  • Give a name to the problem or need: lose weight fast → Can’t lose weight? This diet is the last solution
  • Warn the reader about possible pitfalls if he doesn’t use the product: lose weight fast → Don’t even think about working out if you don’t try this first!
  • Emphasize the claim by its phraseology, by breaking it into two sentences, or repeating it, or a part of it: lose weight fast → Finally a diet that works! The keto diet!
  • Show how easy the claim is to accomplish by imposing a universally-overcome limitation: lose weight fast → if you like meat, veggies and dairy, you can build your dream body!
  • State the difference in the headline: lose weight fast → the difference is that it actually works!
  • Surprise your reader into realizing that former limitations have now been overcome: lose weight fast → no need to be hungry to lose weight anymore!
  • Address the people who can’t buy your product: lose weight fast → if you have failed to lose weight on a diet, don’t even think about reading this – you’ll hate yourself for it.
  • Address your prospect directly: lose weight fast → to those that lost all hope of losing weight fast!
  • Dramatize how hard it was to produce the claim: lose weight fast → A diet a century in the making!
  • Accuse the claim of being too good: lose weight fast → this will bankrupt the weight-loss industry!
  • Challenge the prospects present limiting beliefs: lose weight fast → you are one meal away from “thinner”
  • Turn the claim into a question and answer: lose weight fast → Don’t know how to lose weight? We didn’t either, until we found out about this….

Don’t copy headlines. Echo-ads don’t work. The best way to develop your headline is through writing, asking questions, and rewriting.

Regarding preventive headlines: preventive headlines don’t work on problems that concern people personally. However, they do work when the problem concerns their loved ones. People won’t buy a preventive tooth-decay toothpaste for themselves, but will for their children.

Finding headlines is a process. You don’t get an idea or a headline, you need to build it, piece after piece.

What you are looking for in this product and this market is the one element that makes them unique. The idea you want— the headline you want— the breakthrough you want— are all wrapped up inside that product and that market.

Nowhere else. No outside formula will give them to you. You are facing a product-market-timing relationship that never happened before, that is unique.

And the solution you need is just as unique.

Part II: The Body Copy

Your body copy does the selling. It does this by altering your prospect’s vision of reality. It creates a world in which your product emerges as the fulfillment of the dominant desire that caused this man to respond to your headline. It creates a new world.

To create this world, your copy must expand or alter one or more of the three dimensions of his already-existing mental world. This is the task of the remainder of your ad.

Your copy must be long enough to accomplish this change—and the length of your ad will depend on three factors:

  • First, how much copy you need to build his desire for that product—and everything that the product can do for him—to its greatest possible strength.
  • Second, how much additional copy you need to make him feel both comfortable and  complimented by that product, to enable him to visualize that product as a part of the life structure that he has built, and is building, for himself.
  • And, finally, how much additional copy you need to counter objections.

The answers to these three questions determine not only the length of your ad, but also its structure, its development, its style, and its pace. Each of these questions relates to a separate dimension of your prospect’s mind—different ways he has of arranging thoughts and feelings.

Desires: they drive your prospects through life. Desires can be physical (being strong, thin, getting rid of acne), material (money), sensual (a cold beer, a hot partner).

You can’t create desires, but you can expand them, sharpen them, channel them, and give them a goal. This is the art of salesmanship.

Advertising is the literature of desire.

Your job is to fill out these vague desires with concrete images, to show your prospect every possible way that they can be fulfilled, to multiply their strength by the number of satisfactions that you can suggest to achieve them.

A copywriter’s first qualifications are imagination and enthusiasm. You are literally the scriptwriter for your prospect’s dreams. You are the chronicler of his future. Your job is to show him in detail all the tomorrows that your product makes possible for him.

This is the core of advertising, its fundamental function. To take unformulated desire, and translate it into one vivid scene of fulfillment after another.

The sharper you can draw your pictures, the greater the number of them that you can legitimately present, the more your prospect will demand your product, and the less important will seem your price.

How much space can you give to this process of Intensification?

This depends on two factors:

  • the amount of space allotted to you for the entire ad. This compression: maximizing image and emotions in a few key words.
  • the number of ways you can present your images without giving the feeling of repetition or boredom, which is the ad campaign: the repetition of these key words over and over again, along with a progression of embellishments and differentiations through an entire series of advertisements.

You are working against two opposing forces:

  • The first, as in your headline, is the amount of material which has already been presented to your prospect about similar products in other ads (market sophistication). If your prospect has read the same phraseology before, he will be bored by it, no matter where he encounters it again.
  • The second obstacle is the phraseology of your own ad. Once you have presented your basic fulfillment in a certain way, you must vary your viewpoint in your second description, or not present it again. Otherwise you will lose your reader in the middle of your ad. Don’t repeat, but reinforce. Every time the same basic promise is given a fresh outlook for your prospect, you reinforce the descriptions that went before it, and makes your prospect that much more determined to participate.

Identifications: These are the roles your prospect wants to play in life, and the personality traits he wants your product to help him build, or project. People buy a diet for health, but they also buy it to project an image of health and attraction. Your task is to put these identification traits behind your product.

Beliefs: These are the opinions, attitudes, prejudices, fragments of knowledge, and conceptions of reality that your prospect lives by. These ideas may be shallow or profound, valid or false, perfectly logical or mere wishful thinking.

But it is not advertising’s mission to argue with them. And no one advertiser can change them.

Advertising, like science, must accept reality as it exists, not as it might wish it to exist. Only then can it alter reality, not by smashing into it head-on, but by exploiting its tendencies and giving direction to its energies.

The beliefs form a filter through which the information regarding the product pass, get accepted, or rejected. You start with these beliefs as a base. You build up from them by using your prospect’s logic, not your own, to prove that your product satisfies his desires.

We will now look at 7 techniques of breakthrough copy.

Seven Techniques of Breakthrough Copy

The First Technique of Breakthrough Copy: Intensification

Intensification: the presenting of a series of fresh, new and different fulfillments for your prospects dominant desire.

 Here are 13 ways to intensify. These are the 13 parts of the body copy.

The thirteen parts of the body copy.

  1. First present the product or the satisfaction it gives directly— bluntly— by a thorough, completely detailed description of its appearance or the results it gives: MORE ROSES THAN YOU EVER SAW ON ANY ROSE BUSH
  2. Put the Claims in Action. Now that you have presented your main description, you are ready to expand the image. One of the most effective ways to do this is to PUT THE PRODUCT IN ACTION for your reader. To show, not only how the product looks, and what benefits it gives the reader, but exactly how it does this. (explain how the plane works).
  3. Bring In the Reader. If your product lends itself to this kind of treatment, put your reader right back in the middle of this product-in-action story, and give him a verbal demonstration of what will happen to him the first day he owns that product.
  4. Show Him How to Test Your Claims. But there is still more room to expand the image along these lines.  Turn the demonstration into a test. Let your reader visualize himself proving the performance of your product— gaining its benefits immediately— in the most specific and dramatic way possible.
  5. Stretch Out Your Benefits in Time. The number of variations, of fresh, startling viewpoints is endless. Here is another departure from the product-in-action theme: showing the product at work, not for just an hour or a day, but over a span of weeks and months. Here you  extend your reader’s vision further and further into time—showing him a continuous flow of benefits.
  6. Bring In an Audience.  At the end of this passage, other actors besides the reader are brought into the scene. Each one of them— each group of them— provides a fresh new perspective through which your reader can view the product. Tell the audience what happened with the people that actually got the product. Seen through their eyes— experienced through their actions and reactions— the product performances become new, vivid and completely different again.
  7. Show Experts Approving. Not only celebrities and ordinary people can be used to reaffirm the product benefits. Experts in the field can give their opinion. There is nothing so astounding as the astonishment of experts. Here the elements of surprise, competition and discovery all combine to sharpen the image even more.
  8. Compare, Contrast, Prove Superiority. Each new approach suggests others. The competition can be carried into contrast. The disadvantages of the old product or service can be laid side by side with the advantages of the new— throwing these advantages into sharp relief. Show the difference between those that have the product, and those that do not.
  9. Picture the Black Side, Too. And there’s no need to neglect the Heaven-Or-Hell approach. Here the negative aspect to every promise, the problem that you are liberating your prospect from forever, is painted in all its full black color. You irritate the wound, and then you apply the salve that heals it.
  10. Show How Easy It Is to Get These Benefits. To repeat again, the variations are limitless. At every point that your product touches the life of your prospect, price, availability, ease of use, durability, portability replacement and maintenance, even unwrapping the carton it comes in—it furnishes you with another fresh perspective in which to reiterate and reemphasize its benefits.
  11. Use Metaphor, Analogy, Imagination. There are infinite opportunities for the use of imagination to present those facts in more dramatic form, outside of the rigidly realistic approach. 
  12. Before You’re Done , Summarize. To repeat again, there is an infinite number of new approaches. No list of them can ever be complete, because new applications, new perspectives, new viewpoints are being discovered every day. Which of them, and how many of them you will use in a single ad, is a matter of timing and balance as you begin to put your ad together. As long as each additional fresh perspective continues to build the dominant desire in your prospect’s mind, use it. But if the additional perspective is not different or dramatic enough to renew your prospect’s interest in your claims, then leave it out.
  13. Put Your Guarantee to Work. And finally, as you close the sale, as you ask the prospect for action, as you state the terms of your guarantee. You can turn that guarantee into the climax of your ad—the last brief summary of your product’s performances—reinforced at every step by the positive reassertion of that guarantee.

The problem of TV advertisements compared to sale letters

sales letters are sent once for products whose lifespan is two years or less. Advertisement (TV, etc) advertise products that are sustained in time (banking services, fast food restaurants). Thus, national advertising, by its frequent insertions, soon loses its immediate novelty. The creative problem in national advertising thus changes from finding the theme for a particular advertisement to finding the theme for a series of advertisements.

And the problem of Intensification shifts from building desire throughout the advertisement to building desire throughout the series.

As a result, an entirely new problem of balance emerges: the need to keep continuity throughout the series, by maintaining the dominant image sharp enough and identifiable enough to utilize the desire generated by past advertisements, while at the same time varying that image sufficiently to induce the prospect to read it again, and therefore reinforce and sharpen that desire.

Assuming that you have found your dominant image, your creative problem now becomes two-fold. First, to compress that image into a single statement or picture, so powerful that it will sell the product the very first time it is used, and so true to the heart of your market that it will continue to sell that product, even when it is used over and over again.

It is important to realize that—as the campaign develops— this dominant image or idea cannot remain as the headline. To present the same basic headline (or lead picture) time after time to the same audience would soon make the campaign unreadable.

This leads us to your second creative problem. To present a series of variations or perspectives of that central image—each emerging from your dominant idea, but each so different from the rest that they impel your prospect to read through them, and so fresh that they make that dominant idea seem new again.

The solution is to get a central campaign idea, and to disguise that idea over and over again.

The second technique of breakthrough copy: identification

How to Build a Saleable Personality Into Your Product

The longing for identification’s rise to prominence as a buying motive marks the great revolution in merchandising of our time.

What, exactly, is this process of Identification?  Quite simply, it is, first of all, the desire of your prospect to act out certain roles in his life. It is the desire of your prospect to define himself to the world around him, to express the qualities within himself that he values, and the positions he has attained.

And how do you utilize this longing for identification when you write your copy? In two ways:

  • First, by turning your product into an instrument for achieving these roles.
  • And second, by turning that product into an acknowledgement that these roles have already been achieved.

Every product you work on should offer your prospect two separate and distinct reasons for buying it.

  • First, it should offer your prospect the fulfillment of a physical want or need. This is the satisfaction your product gives him.
  • Second, it should offer your prospect a particular method of fulfilling that need, that defines him to the outside world as a particular kind of human being.

This is the role your product offers to your prospect. It is the non-functional, super-functional value of that product. And it is built into that product—not by engineering—but by merchandising alone.

For example, only the poor man today buys food for his physical satisfaction alone.

The average American today selects the food he believes is modern, because he wishes to be cosmopolitan, adventurous and sophisticated.

The way people represent themselves (or ways they wish people would believe them to be) are called roles. There are two types of roles:

  • Character roles: progressive, liberal, sophisticated, well-read, intellectual, open-minded. These already belong to the customer who wishes to reinforce them by buying something that embodies these roles.

The product can serve the prospect in three distinctive ways.

  • First, it can help him achieve mastery of his chosen character roles, such as a book on philosophy, if he wishes to be thought of as well-read.
  • Second, it can help simplify condense or speed up this mastery, such as a Speed-Reading Course.
  • And third, and most important, it can serve as a symbol of that mastery to invoke the acknowledgement or admiration of his friends, such as a shelf to house both books.

These values go further than the mere satisfaction of a need. One buys a book on philosophy not only to satisfy curiosity but to also impress friends.

At least half of all purchases made today cannot be understood in terms of function alone. If that was the case, there would be no Lamborghini. In such products, it is the role-giving function that sells, not the performance.

Something about these character roles is that they are most of the time in the subconscious, hence can’t be tested, and hence the prospect is often unaware of them himself, making it your job to articulate these desires for the prospect.

Your prospect is more likely to believe in the character roles you assign to him, than he is in the actual capabilities of the product. Tell him that the product makes him a sophisticated, demanding person with taste and no wish for compromise (if that’s your product at least).

  • The second type of role is achievement role: executive, home-owner, entrepreneur, New-York times bestseller.

Display is vital because these are not obvious. This car is not any car. It is the number one car driven by top executives.

Products that are purchased— not by any stretch of the imagination for their physical function alone— but for the definition they give us as their possessors.

In America today we are known— not only by the company we keep— but by the products we own (I would tend to argue that this is no longer the case, especially with the surge of minimalism, and that we are, rather, defined by the things we do).

For example, newly wedded people must suddenly get a new car, do new things together, and get a ring. Suddenly, who they are changes what they buy. And they must conform to buy the products attached to their identity to reinforce that identity because it is who they are.

Thus products become more than products. In addition to their physical functions, they take on new immaterial functions as status definers. They announce our achievements, define our role in life, document our success (Rolex…).

When you have two identical products with the same price that perform the same thing, the differentiation factor will come from the achievement role the product highlights. It is your job to create this role in your ad.

First, your job is to discover the character and achievement roles your prospect wants to identify with and that are embodied by your product. Choose the most compelling one.

Then you must present those chosen roles in such a way that the role you are projecting will become virtually irresistible. Once again, it is your market itself that presents you with both your opportunities and your limitations.

You need to seek what achievement role the buyers of the product have, then build these qualities into your product.

Identification longings are a separate and immensely powerful form of desire. A desire not for physical satisfaction, but for expression and recognition.

The primary image of the product

The product you are given already has an image attached to it. That’s the primary image.

For example, a piston is a precision-made machine and full of mechanical beauty. You think you could improve the sales by making it virile and masculine. Here’s how to do so:

You do this in two ways: First, by changing the intensity of your primary image.  By emphasizing and dramatizing that primary image, if it is already acceptable, or by toning it down, if it is negative or neutral.

For example, the male virility naturally associated with cigarettes is a definite sales ad, even with women. The sheer physical act of smoking—of “playing with fire”—of “breathing fire”—has been for centuries an assertion of manhood and of daring.

Marlboro took this image of virility and intensified it in three ways:

  1. First, they presented men who were themselves, virile.
  2. Second, they presented these men in situations or occupations that demanded virility.
  3. And third, they took the further “Creative Gamble” of affixing to these men’s hands one of the most primitive symbols of virility known to history: tattoos.

Sometimes the primary image may be negative. Or it may be neutral. Some have tried to discard these images, or replace them, and it didn’t work.

You cannot contradict accepted images or beliefs in advertising. In order to overcome these unfavorable images, you simply incorporate them in a larger, overall image, lower their emotional intensity, and use them as readily-accepted bridges to lead your prospect into far more compelling appeals.

What makes the believability of a characteristic associated with a product?

Two points:

  • What people already believe about the personality of the product. Do people believe it has the traits you say it has? Can they identify themselves to these traits? If the answer is no, go to the next point.
  • What other primary image do I have to use as a believability-bridge to connect what my prospect already believes with what I want him to believe when he finishes my ad?  If he doesn’t believe that my product has those desirable character traits, then I have to start with what he already believes and move from there on, building up the desire.

If you demand that your prospect jumps across a believability chasm, your ad will fail. If, however, you build a bridge of ideas or images across that chasm, starting on his side, take your prospect by the hand and lead him over the chasm, then he will let you lead him almost anywhere.

The Third Technique of Breakthrough Copy: Gradualization: How to Make Your Prospect Believe Your Claims Before You State Them

For the purpose of persuasion, the human mind can be divided into three dimensions: desires and identification were the first two. To obtain ultimate results, these two must be merged with a third dimension: belief. The copywriter seeks the fusion between desire and belief.

What is belief?

It is your prospect’s mental picture of the world he lives in: what facts make it up, how it works, in what direction its truths and values lie. But these accepted facts, truths, values and opinions are only the raw material of belief.  Even more important is the vast amount of emotional security he derives from these beliefs.

The basic rule of belief, then, can simply be stated like this: If you violate your prospect’s established beliefs in the slightest degree, then nothing you promise him, no matter how appealing, can save your ad. But, if you can channel the tremendous force of his belief behind only one claim, no matter how small, then that one fully-believed claim will sell more goods than all the half-questioned promises your competitors can write for all the rest of their days.

This channeling of belief is so powerful that, if properly directed, it will even support otherwise-absurd claims.

Beliefs cannot be changed but must be complied with at every step.

Every one of the statements you make in your ad must fit in with your prospect’s version of “the facts” at that precise moment. It is not the function of your ad to change those facts.

But it is its function, and one of its great sources of strength, to extend them.

You need to build a bridge of belief between the facts as they exist in your prospect’s mind today.

This process of starting with the facts that your prospect is already willing to accept, and leading him logically and comfortably through a gradual succession of more and more remote facts until the sales of your product is called Gradualization.

Gradualization determines not the content of your ad, but its structure, its architecture, the way you build it.

The theory of Gradualization is based upon the fact that every claim, every image, every proof in your ad has two separate sources of strength.

  • The content of the claim, image and proof themselves
  • The preparation you have made for the claim, images and proofs, either by recognizing that preparation as already existing in your prospect’s mind, or by deliberately laying the groundwork for the acceptance of the claims in the preceding portion of the ad itself.

We can strengthen the power of each of these statements in two separate ways:

  • By increasing the intensity of the content: by making greater promises, by portraying more dramatic images, by offering more compelling proof.
  • By changing the place or position or sequence in which that statement occurs in the ad: by strengthening the groundwork for belief in that statement by the material which precedes it, and therefore increasing the intensity of belief given to it, the immediate acceptance of its content, without question, when the prospect encounters it in your ad.

Make no mistake, it is acceptance that we are looking for.

Effective advertising, like effective literature, is built not of words, but of reactions.

We put down on paper an architecture of words.

If these words are effective, they evoke, in turn, an architecture of reactions in our prospect’s mind.

We are creating a stream of acceptances, with a definite sequence and content and direction, and, if we are successful, with a definite goal the absolute conviction in your prospect’s mind that he must have your product.

This is the essence of building your ad.

We now know that Gradualization is the art of starting your ad with a statement that will be immediately and entirely accepted, and then building a chain of subsequent acceptances upon this first statement.

The purpose of this chain of acceptances is to lead your reader to a goal conclusion, which he will then accept, but which he would not as readily or as thoroughly have accepted without all of this groundwork.

Ex: selling a TV repair guide.

Before one can sell that, the prospect must believe he can save money by repairing his TV himself, and that he can actually…repair his TV himself.

These two facts will have to be established by the copywriter in the copy, so the headline cannot start with “Save thousands of dollars repairing your TV yourself”. That won’t work, as it disqualifies everyone that doesn’t think they can repair their TV themselves.

As such, the headline they chose was “why haven’t TV owners been told about these facts?”

The next sentence was “Was your TV purchased after the spring of 1947?” The answer was yes in 95% of cases to reinforce inclusion.

“Then here is the full, uncensored story of how you can avoid those $15-$20 repair bills— avoid those $30-$60 a year service fees— and still get the perfect, movie-clear pictures you’ve dreamed about”.

Nothing about repairing the TV yourself, it’s just about saving money by avoiding repairing fees.

Then they talk about how TV experts discovered the truth about the TV, that it should not break down more than once a year, and that by the way, repairing TV is so simple in fact anyone can do it.

The new claim was not written in a new sentence at the beginning of a new paragraph but was linked directly inside a claim that had been previously accepted. As such, that new claim, that new reality, that people can repair themselves their TV, is “unconsciously” accepted and disguised as being not big of a deal.

One fully-believed promise has ten times the sales power of ten partially-believed promises.

Now, how do you strengthen this believability-structure?

What are the devices you can choose from to add believability to any promise, in any ad?

  1. The Inclusion Question

Asking a question your prospect would answer yes to.

Eg: do you find it difficult to talk to girls on Tinder?

2. Detailed Identification

Here, instead of asking questions to set up your Yes-train, you detail symptoms or problems that are your prospect’s reasons for desiring your product.

3. Contradiction of Present (False) Beliefs

“I know you think this is true; but I’m going to show YOU it’s false.” Best used, of course, in conjunction with strong authority strong enough to contradict present (unpleasant) beliefs, and get away with it.

“Forget everything you think you know about…”

4. The Language of Logic

Your objective is to build belief at the same exact time that you build desire. To do this, you interlace each new promise to the language-signals that show that it logically follows from everything that has been proved before.

And that it therefore can be believed without hesitation. What are these language-signals? They are, of course, the vocabulary of logic. They are the words we use when we reason: when we argue.

Simply becauseThe reason forAs an example
HabituallyThere is a basic, underlying reason for this.Find that reason
ExplainsThe meansAs easily and logically as this
“This has been proved In/ thousands. . . .” “Sound impossible?  Not at all.  It’s actually as simple. . . .”“Here’s why. . . .”
“And, most important of all, is the fact that. . . .”“Therefore .  . .”“This was,  without a doubt,  the most thorough. . . .”
“They  discovered— in case after case—that. . . .”  

5. Syllogistic thinking

Such structure—and the copy  based on such a structure— develops the feeling of inevitability. The reader feels that the product must work. He has not only been told it works; he has been shown  proof that it works.

“The bigger the spark, the bigger the explosion. The bigger the explosion, the faster the car goes.”

6. Other Belief Forms

Once you grasp the fundamental idea that form (structure) determines believability, then all sorts of opportunities open up to you. You realize that simply by the arrangement of your claims, you can add to their believability.

  • Contingency Structures: If…..then…
  • Repetition of Proof: Echoing: These experts found… These experts found… These experts found
  • Promise-Belief-Promise Variation: every sentence of promise must be followed with another proof so that the reader does not question what is stated.
  • Paragraph Parallelism: where the same word structure used in an accepted statement is then picked up exactly, and used to borrow acceptance for a fresh claim.

The fourth technique of breakthrough copy: Redefinition

How to Remove Objections to Your Product

Redefinition is the process of giving a new definition to your product. It says that the product is this rather than that.  Its objective is to remove a roadblock to your sale, before the prospect even knows it exists.

Some products have drawbacks that repel buyers. Your purpose is to take care of the drawback before the buyer is aware of it.

There are three types of drawbacks.

  1. Too complicated to use

In that case, one needs to use simplification, which is framing the problem in another way. In the case of TV repair book, the premise was that the book would help you save money on TV repair, and the biggest drawback, the biggest problem – repairing your TV yourself – was mentioned at the very end when its very importance as drawback had already been taken care of, and when it had been simplified as “minor adjustment”.

Ex: a very effective soap had a strong smell. To turn it from liability to asset, they framed people’s need to use their soap because otherwise they would smell bad and turn their friends away. In order not to smell bad, one needs the strongest of soap, one so strong its smell is smelled miles away. Fixed.

When something new brings in a new way of doing things that people do not accept as valid or important enough, you need to redefine, then mechanize the new simplicity.

The more revolutionary your product is, the more resistance you will face.

2. Not important enough

Escalation is giving your product more importance than it is credited for. You need to redefine your product, widen its application, broadens benefits and shows it applies to a dozen of vital situations.

Eg: You are paying 20 000 dollars for your car…and a 10 dollars part could rob you from the enjoyment and service the car is providing to you.

Suddenly, that 10 dollars part seems important.

3. Too expensive

Here you have the product which, quite simply, costs too much. Your job is to make that price seem less. You do it by a very simple act of redefinition.

Why does the product cost too much? Why does anything cost too much? Because customers compare them to other products in the same field. Your purpose is to get the customer to focus on the product and its specificities, not on the competition.

The idea is therefore to inflate the value of the product and to give a great discount at the end. Say that each added to one another, the product is worth 30 or 40 dollars but if you act now you’ll have the chance to get them for 3 each.

It’s selling dollars for dimes.

The fifth technique of breakthrough copy: Mechanization

How to Verbally Prove That Your Product Does What You Claim

When your prospect reads copy, reactions are happening in his brain.

1. Demands for more information, more image, more desire. You have whetted his appetite and now you’ve got to satisfy it. He is saying to you: “Tell me more.” So, tell him more.

2. Demands for proof. He knows he wants it. Now he wants to know that whether what you are saying is true. He is telling you: “Oh yeah? Who says so? Why should I believe you”

3. Demands for a mechanism. He knows he wants the end result; now he wants to know how you’re going to give it to him. He is saying: “How does it work?”

Let’s focus on this mechanism thing. The question about mechanism is not whether you should include it in your copy or not, but merely how much of it you should include?

Stage one: name de mechanism

If your prospect is aware of the mechanism, just name it: “take astounding pictures with this Sony Camera”.

Sometimes, the mechanism cannot simply be named, and this for two reasons:

Stage two: describe the mechanism:

  1. Because the prospect doesn’t understand their mechanism.

You build a strong, quick promise—and then you follow up with the reason why you can deliver that promise.

“Who else wants a whiter wash with no hard work?

How would you like to see your wash come out of a simple soaking—whiter than hours of scrubbing could make it! Millions of women do it every week. They’ve given up washboards for good. They’ve freed themselves forever from the hard work and reddened hands of wash day. Now They just soak—rinse—and hang out to dry! In half the time, without a hit old hard rubbing, the wash is on the line, whiter titan ever!”

2. Because everybody else has the same mechanism, and the same promise, and the same price. And the market is getting tired, and you need a new way to compete.

Stage Three: Feature the Mechanism

When the market is highly sophisticated, or your mechanism is extremely strong.

Mechanism can be inside your ad, to prove your main claim, or on top of the ad, elevated by the state of your market to becoming the main claim.

The sixth technique of breakthrough copy: concentration:

How to Destroy Alternate Ways for Your Prospect to Satisfy His Desire

No successful copy ever sells a product. It sells a way of satisfying a particular desire.

And its power to sell ultimately comes from the intensity of that desire. If the desire is commercial—that is, if it is shared by masses of people, and if each of these people wants that satisfaction enough to pay the price required for a mechanism to satisfy it, then it is highly probable that many firms will try to deliver that mechanism, or product, to them.

The almost universal condition of commercial life is competition. No one who sells anything, of course, can avoid it. As you write, one eye is fixed on your market, and the other on your competitors.

Ways to beat up the competition

  • Get the best product
  • Better promise (in the copy, in the product, like “guaranteed for life”)
  • The product role, the role the person that buys the product can play (Ferrari)
  • Response and reaction: the capacity to adapt one’s marketing faced with the competition
  • Direct attack: the technique we will discuss here: it’s the art of showing your prospect the weakness of a competitor’s product that your product does not have.

Concentration is the process of pointing out weaknesses in the competition, emphasizing their disservice to your prospect, and then proving to him that your product gives him what he wants without them.

One way to do so is to explain what the product of a competitor does, and what yours does (better). It’s about comparing. “Most lamps consume huge volume of electricity while being detrimental to the eye and brain. Not Electra. Electra lamps feature a new lighting technology developed in cooperation with eye doctors and neuropsychologists that ensured is no longer detrimental to the eye, while consuming up to 40% less than the best lamp on the market”.

You point out what competitors do bad, then point out how you do it well.

Sometimes, the side effect of a competitor’s product is an experience. In that case, you want to use a method that outlines “what happens when you use the product now” (headache, unease, etc) and then explain “what will happen once you use the new product”.

Washing product ads are good at that. “On the left, a competitive product. On the right, Cilitbang”.

The seventh technique of breakthrough copy: camouflage:

How to Borrow Conviction for Your Copy

People buy magazines to remain informed of what is happening in the world. They believe what is written in the magazine (otherwise, they wouldn’t read it).

Your job is to use the phraseology, format, and font of the magazine and use it in your copy, so when people read it they are not under the impression they are reading an ad.

To conclude:

No sentence can be effective if it contains only the facts alone. It must also contain emotion, evaluation, impact, if those facts are to be given meaning and importance to the reader.

The same is true for every sentence you write of copy. That sentence should contain not only promise, not only image, not only logic, but as much of all three as possible.

You start your ad by creating your headline. You develop your copy story from that headline. But if the copy story doesn’t develop—if you gradually find that the headline isn’t really that good after all— then perhaps the very elements that are begging to come out of your 6-point type should be at the top of your ad.

This is what makes copywriting so interesting. You’re always being surprised—with ideas from the most ungodly places.

Just make sure you’ve got your eyes open wide enough to catch all of them.

Momentum: the energy which draws your reader into your copy and incites him to read it.

There are two types:

  • The actual momentum: The first type, the momentum-phrases, are time-honored. They are used in almost any sort of persuasive or educational writing. You insert them in your copy primarily in your transition sentences, to keep interest from flagging, to indicate to your reader the general type of material that’s going to follow. They are “addy,” but they work. Examples:
    • “They paid up to $22.50 a person to learn priceless techniques like these:”
    • “Here’s how”
    • “Here is the information you will find in this book.”
    • “Let me explain.”
    • “All I ask from you is this.”
    • “What you are going to do, in the very first hour that you receive the book, is this.”
    • “And yet, it’s only the beginning.”
    • “THEN put this simple trick to work for you—that VERY SAME HOUR”
    • “For example—”
    • “Read the thrilling answer below.”
    • “To start with . . .”
    • “Just wait till you try this.”
  • Incomplete statements, or teasers, that draw the reader further into the copy in order to complete them: It’s based on the simple principle that if YOU make a statement that interests your reader, and if you purposely do not complete that statement, so that there is a question of how it can be done, then he will read on to find out more. In other words, you are continually:
    • Creating interest in a specific point.
    • Raising a question in his mind about that point.
    • Implying an answer to that question later in the copy.

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