Summary of Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz

  • Post category:Summaries
  • Post last modified:September 18, 2023

Short summary: 2 min

Long summary: 25 min

Book reading time: 5h13

Score: 9/10

Book published in: 1966

Access the Summary Database


  • Write a headline catchy enough so people read it and interesting enough so they read the next sentence.
  • All marketing starts with doing research about the product and the market.
  • You need to single out the strongest desire that your product fulfills and work with it in your ad.

Table of Contents

What Breakthrough Advertising Talks About

Breakthrough Advertising was written by Eugene Schwartz. It explains specific methods and principles of copywriting. I learned that ads should be written according to the state of sophistication of the market, the desire the product fulfills, and the level of awareness of the audience.


Unfortunately, the book is no longer sold.


Short Summary of Breakthrough Advertising

All ads start with research

  • Of the market: breadth, depth, sophistication, emotional forces, desire.
  • Of your product: desire, how much people know it, etc.

The second step is to write the headline. It must catch people interested in your product and compel them to read the second sentence of your ad. State the biggest desire your product fulfills in your headline.

The third step is to write the copy. The copy should intensify the desires and satisfaction your prospect thinks he’ll have once he buys your product.

There are seven techniques to do so.

  1. Intensification
  2. Identification: tell the customer he will be the person he desires to be in his head (well-read, rebel, etc)
  3. Gradualization: start with a belief your prospect accepts and extend it.
  4. Redefinition: remove road blocks before they arise.
  5. Mechanization: explain how the product works.
  6. Concentration: disqualify the competition.
  7. Camouflage: write your ad as if it was an informational article.
image 30
A sales letter.

Summary of Breakthrough Advertising Written by Eugene Schwartz

Part I: Markets and Headlines

First step: study the market

Copy starts with an analysis of your market and 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 which is your product.

Second step: study the product

Which problem does your product fixe and which desires lie behind the purchase of the product? You need to study:

  • The physical 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.

-> these make 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 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

-> 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 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.

How to Write an Ad

First stage: research

Choose the most powerful desire that applies 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 that is left for you to do is to take your product’s performance (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. Then, match these performances to the mass desires, then feature the one performance that will harness the greatest sales power.

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 performance form the core concept 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 only job is to stop your prospect and get him to read the second sentence of your ad. Your second sentence must get the 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 is, 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—needs to state a 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.

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 is 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.

Headlines and Stages of Awareness

  • A headline for one stage of awareness will not work with another stage of awareness.
  • Cold approach: solving a problem people are not 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. 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.

The last thing left to have for your headline is your market.

Call your market into your 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 – > dream of all copywriters!

If you get them interested, they become enthusiastic quickly.

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.

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 make 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.

→ 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.


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.

There 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.

Leave a Reply