Breakthrough Advertising

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What I had thought I had written those many years ago was a book on advertising; what I actually put down on these pages was an entirely different book, on a far broader theme: There is a way to develop an entirely new market for a new or an old product. That way involves a certain number of clearly defined steps. And in this book I show you every single one of those steps.
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People don't change; only the direction of their desires do. They cannot be made to want anything, nor is it necessary to create want. All that is necessary is to be able to channel.
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Those wants into the proper products that offer legitimate satisfaction for them.
This book is not about building better mousetraps. It is, however, about building larger mice, and then building a terrifying fear of them in your customers. In other words, it is about helping to shape the largest and strongest market possible, and then intensifying that market's reaction to its basic need or problem, and to the "exclusive" solution you have to offer it.
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Copy cannot create desire for a product. It can only take the hopes, dreams, fears, and desires that already exist in the hearts of millions of people, and focus those already existing desires onto a particular product. This is the copywriter's task: not to create this mass desire—but to channel and direct it.
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We can define this Mass Desire quite simply. It is the public spread of a private want.
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Amplification Effect takes place only when advertising exploits already-existing desire. When it tries to create this desire, it is no longer advertising but education. And, as education, it can produce at best only one dollar in sales for every dollar spent on advertising. No single advertiser can afford to educate the American public. He must rely on forces far greater than any advertising budget to build this mass desire. And then he can make those forces work for him—by directing that desire onto his particular product.
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The copywriter in his work uses three tools: his own knowledge of people's hopes, dreams, desires, and emotions; his client's product; and the advertising message, which connects the two. The copywriter performs his work in three stages. In general, they go something like this: 1. Choose the most powerful desire that can possibly be applied to your product. Every mass desire has three vital dimensions. The first is urgency, intensity, degree of demand to be satisfied.
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Every product appeals to two, three, or four of these mass desires. But only one can predominate; only one can reach out through your headline to your customer. Only one is the key that unlocks the maximum economic power at the particular time your advertisement is published. Your choice among these alternate desires is the most important step you will take in writing your ad. If it is wrong, nothing else that you do in the ad will matter. This choice is embodied in your headline.
  1. Acknowledge that desire—reinforce it—and/or offer the means to satisfy it—in a single statement in the headline of your ad.
  1. And then you take the series of performances that are.
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Built into your product—what your product does—and you show your prospect how these product performances inevitably satisfy that desire.
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Your headline is limited by physical space.
If your first thought holds him, he will read the second. If the second holds him, he will read the third. And if the third thought holds him, he will probably read through your ad.
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Your headline does not need to sell at all. It does not have to mention your product. It does not even have to mention your main appeal. To demand that a headline should do any of these is to place the full selling burden on approximately 10% to 20% of the total physical space of your ad... that physical space taken up by the headline itself.
Your headline has only one job—to stop your prospect and compel him to read the second sentence of your ad. In exactly the same way, your second sentence has only one job—to force him to read the third sentence of your ad.
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It is simply common sense that the more of your story you can force your prospect to read, the more thoroughly you can sell him. To attempt to do the same selling job in ten words, instead of a hundred, or a thousand, is to shoot craps with your clients' money. You might as well buy only enough space to print your headline, and use the rest of the budget for repeat insertions.
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The more aware
your market, the easier the selling job, the less you need to say. Let's go down the awareness scale step by step. We'll start at the Most Aware—
  1. The Most Aware The customer knows of your product—knows what it does— knows he wants it. At this point, he just hasn't gotten around to buying it yet. Your headline—in fact, your entire ad—need state little more except the name of your product and a bargain price.
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Here—in the approach to this market—is the great bulk of all advertising. Here you are dealing with a product which 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. Here your headline is faced with one of seven tasks: (a) To reinforce your prospects' desire for your product; (b) To sharpen his image of the way your product satisfies that desire; (c) To extend his image of where and when your product satisfies that desire; (d) To introduce new proof, details, documentation of how well your product satisfies that desire; (e) To announce a new mechanism in that product to enable it to satisfy that desire even better; (f) To announce a new mechanism in your product that eliminates former limitations; (g) Or 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.
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. When you have finished weaving in every strand of your product's superiority, your ad is done.
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  1. How to Introduce New Products 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—your product—that will do it for him.
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Here the problem is two-fold. First, to pinpoint the ill-defined, as-yet-uncrystallized desire that is slowly spreading through great masses of people all over America. And second, to crystallize that desire, and its solution, so sharply and so dramatically that each and every prospect will recognize it at a glance. The three steps in the process are simple. Name the desire and/or its solution in your headline. Prove that that solution can be accomplished. And show that the mechanism of that accomplishment is contained in your product.
However, starting with a market in this still-amorphous state of awareness, and continuing with each of the more difficult challenges to come, the execution becomes more and more important than the mechanics.
Here the copywriter contributes more and more to the value of the product in the public eye, and to its total volume of sales. Here the innovator comes into play. Here the ratio of salary of copywriter to production supervisor shoots up abruptly. For this is the domain of the idea man.
First, analysis. As a copywriter you will find it necessary to define the particular market most receptive to your product, its location in relation to your product in terms of awareness and sophistication, and the driving emotional forces that have created both that market and the potential for the sales of your product within it. Second, intuition, which may be described as the ability to sense a trend at its start, gauge its force and direction, determine the precise moment when it burgeons into a profitable market. And third, verbal creativity, as discussed in the next three chapters, and throughout the rest of the book. The ability to give a name to the still-undefined. To capture a feeling, a hope, a desire, a fear in words. To create a catchword or a slogan. To focus emotion, and give it a goal.
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How to Introduce Products That Solve Needs
The prospect has—not a desire—but a need. He recognizes the need immediately. But he doesn't yet realize the connection between the fulfillment of that need and your product.
This is the problem-solving ad. It might be thought of as a special case of the desire ad mentioned above, since the technique of writing it is so similar.
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  1. How to Open Up a Completely Unaware Market And finally—the most difficult. The prospect is either not aware of his desire or his need—or he won't honestly admit it to himself without being lead into it by your ad—or the need is so general and amorphous that it resists being summed up in a single headline—or it's a secret that just can't be verbalized. This is the outer reach of the awareness scale. These are the people who are still the logical prospects for your product; and yet, in their own minds, they are
hundreds of miles away from accepting that product. It is your job to bridge that gap.
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This is the most difficult, the most challenging problem of all. There are few positive milestones to guide you. But fortunately there are some completely self-evident negative rules that can eliminate many blind alleys, and set you face to face against your task. Planning a headline for a completely unaware or resistant market, then, is first of all a process of elimination. Here are the first paths:
  1. Price means nothing to a person who does not know your product, or want your product. Therefore, eliminate all mention of price, or price reduction, in your headline or prime display type.
  1. The name of your product 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. Therefore, keep your product out of the headline, and be extremely wary about breaking the mood or disguise of your ad with a prominent logo.
  1. And this is the hardest fact of all to accept. At this stage of your market, a direct statement of what your product does, what desire it satisfies, or what problem it solves, simply will not work. Your product either has not reached that direct stage, or has passed beyond it. And you cannot simply 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. You cannot mention them in your headline.
So you cannot mention price, product, function, or desire. What do you have left? Your market, of course! And the distinct possibility that by broadening your appeal beyond price, product function, or specific desire, you can reach the maximum limits of your full potential market.
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.
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In this type of headline, you are telling them what they are. You are defining them for themselves.
Here, above all, is the type of headline that never attempts to sell a product or a performance, but simply tries to sell the remainder of the ad itself—the information that follows on the page. The only function of this headline is to get the prospect to read the next paragraph.
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Keep this one cardinal rule in mind. Your prospect must identify with your headline before he can buy from it. It must be his headline, his problem, his state of mind at that particular moment. It must pick out the product's logical prospects—and reject as many people as it attracts.
If it is an effective headline, and it works, then it too will become outdated as your market moves on to a new stage of awareness. And you will be presented with another problem, just as challenging, and just as rewarding, as the one you have solved before. You never step in the same river twice.
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The second creative step in writing the ad. First, we have seen how to determine the appeal itself. And now, how to shape that appeal into its most effective form in the headline. There are, of course, an infinite number of these variations (every good copywriter invents a few himself). But there are general patterns that most of them follow. Here are some of these guideposts for your own thinking:
  1. Measure the size of the claim: "20,000 FILTER TRAPS IN VICEROY!" "I AM 61 POUNDS LIGHTER..." "WHO EVER HEARD OF 17,000 BLOOMS FROM A SINGLE PLANT?"
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  1. Measure the speed of the claim: "FEEL BETTER FAST!"
  1. Metaphorize the claim: "BANISHES CORNS!" "MELTS AWAY UGLY FAT!"
  1. Sensitize the claim by making the prospect feel, smell, touch, see, or hear it: "TASTES LIKE YOU JUST PICKED IT!" "THE SKIN YOU LOVE TO TOUCH!"
  1. Dramatize the claim, or its result: "HERE'S AN
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  1. Associate the claim with values or people with whom the prospect wishes to be identified: "MICKEY MANTLE SAYS: CAMELS NEVER BOTHER MY THROAT!" "9 OUT OF 10 DECORATORS USE WUNDAWEAVE CARPETS FOR LONG LIFE AT LOW COST!"
  1. Offer information about how to accomplish the claim: "HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE!" "HERE'S WHAT TO DO TO GET RID OF PIMPLES FAST!"
  1. Tie authority into the claim: "BOSS MECHANIC SHOWS HOW TO AVOID ENGINE REPAIR BILLS!"
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  1. State the claim as a case-history quotation: "LOOK, MOM—NO CAVITIES!" "WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT—I HAVE A COLD!"
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  1. Condense the claim—interchange your product and the product it replaces: "NOW! A RING AND PISTON JOB IN A TUBE!" "POUR YOURSELF A NEW ENGINE!"
  1. Symbolize the claim—replace the direct statement or measurement of the claim with a parallel reality: "STARTING NEXT TUESDAY, THE ATLANTIC OCEAN BECOMES ONLY ONE-FIFTH AS LONG!"
  1. Connect the mechanism to the claim in the headline: "FLOATS FAT RIGHT OUT OF YOUR BODY!" "FEEDS WASTE GAS FUMES BACK INTO YOUR ENGINE!"
  1. Startle the reader by contradicting the way he thinks the mechanism should work: "HIT HELL OUT OF THE BALL WITH YOUR RIGHT HAND," SAYS TOMMY ARMOUR!
  1. Connect the need and the claim in the headline: "THERE IS ONLY ONE SOLUTION TO AN ADVERTISING PROBLEM: FIND THE MAN!"
  1. Turn the claim or the need into a case history: "AUNT MEG, WHO NEVER MARRIED..." "AGAIN SHE ORDERS—A CHICKEN SALAD, PLEASE"
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  1. Give a name to the problem or need: "WHEN YOU'RE WEARY WITH DAY-TIME FATIGUE, TAKE ALKA-SELTZER."
  1. Warn the reader about possible pitfalls if he doesn't use the product: "DON'T INVEST ONE CENT OF YOUR HARDEARNED MONEY UNTIL YOU CHECK THIS GUIDE!"
  1. Emphasize the claim by its phraseology—by breaking it into two sentences, or repeating it, or a part of it: "A MAN YOU CAN LEAN ON
! THAT'S KLOPERMAN!" "NOBODY BUT NOBODY UNDERSELLS GIMBEL'S!" 30. Show how easy the claim is to accomplish by imposing a universally-overcome limitation: "IF YOU CAN COUNT TO ELEVEN, YOU CAN INCREASE YOUR SPEED AND SKILL AT NUMBERS!" 31. State the difference in the headline: "THE DIFFERENCE IN PREMIUM GASOLINES IS RIGHT IN THE ADDITIVES!" 32. Surprise your reader into realizing that former limitations have now been overcome: "SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU CRUSH A HARTMAN DC-8? NOTHING!" 33. Address the people who can't buy your product: "IF YOU'VE ALREADY TAKEN YOUR VACATION, DON'T READ THIS. IT'LL BREAK YOUR HEART."
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  1. Accuse the claim of being too good: "IS IT IMMORAL TO MAKE MONEY THIS EASILY?"
  1. Challenge the prospects present limiting beliefs: "YOU ARE TWICE AS SMART AS YOU THINK."
The Three Levels of Creativity
Something should be said here about the various approaches copy writers use to dig up a new headline. As far as I can tell, there are three of them: The first, the shallowest, and the most widespread and ineffective, is the Word-Substitute Technique. Here the copywriter consults a list of proven and successful headlines. He then pulls out the original product name and substitutes his own; or his own product's performance, etc.
If these ads are copied from a similar product, in the same market, at the same time, then their chance of success is good—especially if they embellish the promise in any way. But if the product, or the market, or the timing is different, then the chances of success diminish proportionately. They become Echo Ads, ads that remind people of some other product.
The second, deeper and more difficult approach is through formulas. Here the copywriter has memorized a list of rules or principles and tries to pour his headline into them like he'd pour hot lead into a mold. Such rules usually concern the way a headline is expressed. They list methods of strengthening the verbalization of the headline idea, and here they have a perfectly valid use. Several examples of these principles are given in Chapter 4. But the idea for an ad or a headline demands its own shape. It cannot be fitted into someone else's solution. The problem defies a formula. And the third, analytical approach that we have outlined above—with no answers; only guide-posts and questions—offers the only way.
This is a hard fact to accept. It means that a solution which has cost you days and weeks of painful effort, and which has done its job perfectly—can be used only once. It means that there are no creative shortcuts—that the effort must be duplicated with each individual ad. But fortunately, the techniques of probing can be learned and perfected; intuition can be sharpened; abandoning this effort leads to a reality which is even harsher. Many copywriters grow old, or tired, or afraid. They stop searching for the unique solution in every problem. From this moment on, they begin to copy instead of create. And most pathetic of all, many begin to copy themselves. The more successful the copywriter, the greater the temptation to find his new headline in his old files.
But it won't work. Copying can be done by any cub. All this process does is bring talent down to the level of file-cabinet mediocrity. The true copywriter must argue with success—he must push on past it every time he faces a new product. In advertising, as well as in science and in art, the solution to the unique lies only in itself. A motivation research finding is not a headline, nor even the central theme of an ad, nor will it ever be. Like any other fact, it is a direction. First it tells you where not to go, to avoid wasting your time. And then it indicates the general area of your solution.
But the transformation of those facts into an idea, and the expression of that idea in the strongest possible form, still requires as much creative talent as any other starting point. The source of an idea, no matter how profound, is still only the beginning. The copywriter has to take it from there.
The second great service that MR can perform for the copywriter is that of testing his own hunches, in answering the questions he uncovers in dealing with his market over a period of time. For purposes of simplicity, we have dealt with advertising strategy as though it always consisted of writing a single ad—rather than a continuous campaign. By limiting ourselves in this way, we have been able to deal with each of the phases of such a campaign as though it were a separate and distinct problem, requiring a separate and distinct advertisement to solve it. In doing this, we have emphasized that a breakthrough can occur at any stage of a campaign; and that the same breakthrough techniques can be used to produce the germ idea for the entire campaign that follows.
In reality, however, the copywriter usually works on a given product, or in a given market area, for long periods of time. During that time he will write many ads on this same subject. And during that time he will engage in a kind of discourse with his market, in which he feeds that market ideas, and it feeds back to him reactions to those ideas. The copywriter will pick up a continuous flow of the most vital information. Some of this information will be actual trends and preferences, which can be immediately translated into new ads. But much more of it will be in negative form—failures, roadblocks, limitations to the response from his ads. And only the statistical measurements of these limitations will be shown—not their causes. The copywriter will want to know why they occur. And in asking why, he will give
birth to questions like these:
What causes one woman to make most of her clothes at home, and another woman to use her sewing machine only for minor repairs? How can we convince more people that it's safe to buy through mail order? Why will men instantly buy an automatic potato peeler—and women send it right back to the store again?
These are research questions. They deal with psychological dimensions. The copywriter discovers them, and passes them along to his MR people to be phrased, tested, and answered. Thus is born a new idea, a new theme, and a new headline, perhaps even a new campaign.
On Expressing the Personality of a Product in Your Headline
One of the most potent discoveries of motivation research is that a product, or a store, or a whole group of products, has a distinct and complete personality to the consumer. This personality is a complex quality, embracing many traits. In the case of the Cadillac, for example, it consists of quality, prestige, performance, appearance, comfort, resale value, freedom from repairs, and much more. But—and this is the important point to consider in writing your headline—one of these traits will always be the most effective in summarizing and expressing this personality. In the case of Cadillac, it has always been, and will always be, quality.
Thus, the personality is simplified, symbolized, and sharpened to grasp the reader. And then—as the reader moves on through the body copy of the ad—this personality is expanded and examined in all its appeals—an ever-enlarging pyramid of persuasion, drawing in all the necessary information—charging that information with desire—terminating inevitably in the one source of satisfaction for that desire—your product.
Decay-preventing toothpaste sold so well when the ads focused the decay, not on the parent, but on the children. This is why life insurance can be sold, not by picturing the prospect's death, but the horrors inflicted upon his wife and children if insufficient money is left over to take care of them.
To sum up: A man will not visualize future disasters occurring to himself, but he is perfectly capable of visualizing, and buying preventatives from, the image of such future problems affecting others around him.
And it is a process. You don't get an idea or a headline—you either build it, or you unfold it, petal by petal. You dig it out of the market research... you wring it out of the product... you read, you listen, you experiment for yourself. You work—hard. You rub up against this product and this market so hard that they seep into your pores. And—above everything else—you remember this cardinal rule of creativity:
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. In copywriting, we say that we get the main theme for our ad, and then we put it into a headline.
And when you have finished, you have five or ten words. If they are the right words, they will be immensely valuable. The job that you have designed your headline to do—not to sell, or identify your product, or even mention the need or desire that your product satisfies—but simply and solely to flag down your prospect, and get him to read your first paragraph.
From that moment on, your body copy does the selling. It does this by altering your prospect's vision of reality. It creates a new world for your prospect—a world in which your product emerges as the fulfillment of the dominant desire that caused this man to respond to your headline.
Let us start with these three dimensions of thought and feeling:
  1. Desires These are the wants, needs, cravings, thirsts, hungers, lusts, etc. that drive your prospect through life.
  1. 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. Make him feel the prestigious and select group he joins when he becomes a user of that product. To picture for him the people who live in your product's world today.
  1. Beliefs These are the opinions, attitudes, prejudices, fragments of knowledge and conceptions of reality that your prospect lives by. This is the world of emotionalized reason that he inhabits—the way he accepts or rejects facts and builds up his universe, the types of thinking he uses to arrive at decisions, the ideas and values which give him comfort and which he believes are permanent and true.
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 is not education; it does not have society as its sponsor, nor does it have the years of time that are given to education to produce results.
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.
You start with these beliefs as a base. You build up from them by using his kind of logic, not your own, to prove that your product satisfies his desires—to prove that your product works—to prove that his kind of people rely on your product—to prove that no other product satisfies his needs as well.
The force that creates sales, that powers our present economy, is desire. Mass Desire, spread among millions of men and women. And the art of salesmanship, fundamentally and primarily, is expanding this desire. Expanding it horizontally, among more and more people. Expanding it vertically by sharpening and magnifying it—by building it to such a pitch that it overcomes the obstacles of skepticism, lethargy, and price, and results in the sale.
Advertising is salesmanship in print. Therefore, above everything else, advertising is the literature of desire. 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 minute 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.
We now have all the tools we need to build identification values for our product. We realize that identification longings are a separate and immensely powerful form of desire—a desire, not for physical satisfaction, but for expression and recognition.
These longings for identification are two-fold. We all wish to express our character, and we all wish to gain recognition for our accomplishments.
But we cannot do this openly—verbally. We cannot go around boasting how virile we are, or how rich we are. So we symbolize these prestige claims. We express them in terms of products—and we buy products that express them. A cigarette is not, by itself, a symbol of success.
But you realize that if you could make it a symbol of success, you could sell many more of them. Nor is a piston ring, by itself, a symbol of virility—even though that virility image, if you could create it, would sell many more piston rings. And, though household appliances are not, at first glance, symbols of femininity, women would buy many more of them if they could somehow be made feminine.
How do you do this? In two steps—the first of which is to identify the primary image that each of these products already has in the mind of your prospects. For instance, a cigarette is virile in almost everyone's mind. And a piston ring is precision machined and full of mechanical beauty to almost every man. And household appliances are time-saving, by virtue of the very functions they perform.
These are the primary images of the products you are called on to sell. These are the accepted images that they already have in your prospect's mind. Your job now is to use 'these already accepted images as raw material, as a starting point to construct new, double, triple, and quadruple images, that draw in more of these most-wanted roles into your product-personality, and multiply its identification appeal.
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 aid, 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.
But Marlboro took this image of virility and intensified it—deepened it—in three ways. First, they presented men who were, in themselves, virile. Second, they presented these men in situations or occupations that demand virility. 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—the tattoo. A single dominant emotion—virility—symbolized three ways.
The impact of repetition reinforced through variation. Far more powerful—far more eye-catching—far more appealing than any one of these images could have been by itself.
People just won't believe that a product is what it isn't. You cannot contradict accepted images or beliefs in advertising. This is not advertising's role. Nor is it really necessary.
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.
This is a single process, but it is made up of two steps. First, as mentioned above, a change in the intensity of your primary image—in this case, subordinating it even though you retain it.
And second, using it as a logical link to bring in any number of more favorable images.
One of the most striking examples is the Chesterfield ad of 1926—"Blow Some My Wax"—fully examined in Chapter 3. Here is pure identification advertising—dealing with an unfavorable image of two generations' standing—that cigarettes are a "man's product." Although the objective of the campaign was to make smoking, and smoking situations, more acceptable to women, it would have been impossible to do this by picturing the woman alone. The idea that women would practice this Masculine act in private, or with each other, was inadmissible. Therefore, the man must be retained. The accepted image must be acknowledged.
But he undergoes two vital transformations. First, he is subdued. His figure is darkened, almost blended into invisibility with the background. And his position in the picture—his posture—the arrangement of his hands and face as the light plays over them—all direct the attention of the viewer past the man himself and into the focal point of the picture, the woman sitting beside him.
Thus, he becomes a mere suggestion of man, leading the viewer into a far more appealing overall image—that of a handsome young couple, alone together on a moonlit beach, heightened emotionally with the carefully-blended-in suggestions of escape, intimacy, and a sense of shared daring.
Because the primary image is there—because the smoking is done by the man—the viewer, even a well-brought-up woman of the 1920s, accepts the situation. But this acceptance, once established, goes far beyond that primary image. This feminine viewer is also willing to accept the romance of the overall scene—including its emotional undertones of escape from the conventional rules and boundaries, and its feelings of relaxation and liberty. She is now willing to project herself into this scene.
Let's start with piston rings, and assume that a new type of piston ring has just been developed, that lasts longer and therefore saves oil and gas. Our body copy, of course, develops this saving theme. We have exploited the functional advantages of the product as far as possible. We are now ready to reinforce these benefits by expanding the product's social and character appeals.
We start by taking inventory. We have a product—piston rings. It has only a few primary images—mechanical, precision made, unseen. Nothing exciting here. It also has a primary situation—replacement, and always by a mechanic, and usually only when there's trouble.
These primary images are either neutral or negative. But they're all we have to work with. They, and they alone, must form the foundation, must set the direction, for every other appeal we bring into the overall image we are constructing.
So we know that we must deal with the act of replacement, and that the replacement must be done by a mechanic. These are our limitations—but once we observe them, we turn them into the starting point for the true emotional message we want to broadcast through our ad. We take each of these primary elements, and glamorize, dramatize, and emotionalize them to the brink.
The car itself—what kind of car shall it be? Certainly not a beat-up family sedan. Why not a Mercedes SL-300—a $12,000 sports car with its distinctive grill-work sides, and all the emotional extras of power, speed, skill-in-handling, plus sophistication, success, and downright excitement.
Now the garage—what should it look like? A sports-car shop, of course. Neat, clean, precise. With high-power equipment gleaming chrome and steel—hanging on the walls, ready on the shelves, being installed on other sports models in the background.
The mechanic is not young, not old, simply mature. Rugged, knowledgeable, precise. He's sure of what he's doing—there isn't a wasted motion or a wasted tool anywhere about him.
The owner of the car is young, wiry, virile, but he too has been around. (Put into words, these images must take on a measure of disbelief, which we express by saying they're "corny." However, expressed in visual terms, where they can be symbolized, and therefore implied rather than named, they enter into our minds unnoticed, and we accept them without question. Verbal terms—words and sentences—can be used to imply images of identification; but these are different types of images, and must be conveyed in a different way. We will touch on this verbal image building again, as related to excitement and mood, in Chapter 14.
The owner is not a professional driver, but he races the car for sport (we know this by the roll-over bar over the back of the seats). He
loves this car (its perfect shine, its gleaming chrome engine, its complete absence of even a spot of dirt). He too is precise (the chronometer on his wrist). And he carries his success with a complete casualness (the absence of any special driving outfit—just slacks and a sport shirt).
And what about the relationship between the two men? Knowledge complementing skill. The expert in one field advising the expert in another. Comfort, understanding, teamwork—leading to mutual achievement.
And what are they doing? Replacing rings, of course. But not because the old rings have developed trouble (nothing in this car would be left unchecked long enough to have developed a flaw). But because this mechanic is installing these new rings in this car as high-performance equipment, exactly as he would install a supercharger to increase its horsepower.
Everything about the picture—its camera angle, its composition, its lighting, the angle of the men's heads and arms as they examine the rings—develops the emotion of precision and the excitement and drama of discovering new performance through greater and greater precision.
It is a picture, a situation, and a mood that invites participation. The reader may not notice every emotional detail that you have developed; but he will sense the excitement and pleasure that you have built up. He will wish to share in this world. And he will buy the product that gives him this world—that offers it as a bonus to all its functional and physical satisfactions.
—three great rivers of emotional force that determine the reaction to your ad, and therefore its success or failure. The first of these dimensions is Desire—want, yearning, motivation—with specific goals and/or cures in mind—with the prospect begging to be shown how to obtain them. It is the copywriter's job to make sure the path to these goals goes through the product—and to make sure that the prospect can visualize every drop of satisfaction that their achievement will give him.
The second dimension is Identification—the need for expression and recognition—unformulated, unspoken, at least partially unconscious—searching for symbols, definitions, and embodiments. It is the copywriter's job to crystallize these self definitions and embody them in his product—so that the product may be used, not only as a source of physical satisfaction, but also as a symbolic extension of the personality of the prospect for whom it is intended.
But—important as they are—desire and identification alone are never enough. By themselves, they can never produce the full reaction the copywriter must have if he is to achieve the maximum success with his product. No matter how intense the desire. No matter how demanding the need to identify, both these reactions must be fused with a third great emotional force—Belief—before they can produce the final overwhelming determinant of action – absolute conviction.
What Exactly Is Belief?
It is perhaps the most complex fusion of thought and emotion in the human mind. It is, first of all, 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. It is the wonderful feeling of comfort and reassurance of living in a world that has meaning, where there are answers to be had. Where somehow the facts all fit.
The need to believe—and the need for secure beliefs—is just as powerful an emotional force as the strongest desire for physical satisfaction, or the most urgent search for expression.
The basic rule of belief, then, can simply be stated as this: If you violate your prospect's established beliefs in the slightest degree—either in content or direction—then nothing you promise him, no matter how appealing, can save your ad.
But, on the other hand, and even more important: If you can channel the tremendous force of his belief—either in content or direction—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.
It is simply a question of whether you are going to paddle upstream or down. Whether you are going to work against the tide of established belief, or with it.
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.
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—each of which he has been prepared in turn to accept—is called Gradualization. It is the third Process of Persuasion.
In Chapter 11, we will discuss the verbal demonstration that your product
does what you claim—Mechanization. In Chapter 12, we will discuss the destruction of alternate ways of satisfying that same desire—Concentration. In Chapter 14, we will discuss the offering of authorities and proof, the reassurance that your prospect has made a wise choice—Verification.
All these devices build belief. But by far the most fundamental of all—though the most inconspicuous—is Gradualization. For Gradualization determines—not the content of your ad—but its structure, its architecture, the way you build it.'
We have already seen that it is the'dominating desire of your prospect that determines the content of your ad. It is his longings for identification and self-expression that, in most cases, determine your illustrations.
But it is the facts that he believes in and accepts, and the way that he passes that acceptance along from one fact to another, that determines that ad's development—the arrangement of your claims and your images and your proofs, so that there is a step-by-step strengthening—not only of your prospect's desire— but of his conviction that the satisfaction of that desire will come true through your product.
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.
—especially in the Fifth Stage of Awareness—that the effectiveness of your headline is as much determined by the willingness of your audience to believe what it says, as it is by the promises it makes.
This is the reason that you cannot always use the most powerful claim in your headline. Or even the very problem that your product solves. Because without supporting evidence already existing in the mind of your prospect to prepare him for that headline claim, he just won't believe it. Either he'll believe that it's exaggerated or false, or he just won't believe it applies to him.
It begins this proof in the very next paragraph, in this way: "And, most important, these experts have discovered that you do not have to be a handyman or a mechanic in order to coax this performance out of your set! Here's why"
Notice that it is in this paragraph that the entirely-new (to the reader) assumption—that you can fix your own minor breakdowns—is first introduced. It is presented as though it were simply another rephrasing of the by-now already accepted dependability conclusion. There is therefore no break in the logical flow of proof. Acceptance is built into this entirely new statement in these four different ways:
  1. By paragraph parallelism. By framing the statement as the last of a series of similar paragraphs—all the others of which have already been accepted—instead of physically setting it off as a new point with its own subhead and a different construction, as the reader would ordinarily expect.
  1. By the lead word, "And," a tie-in phrase, which indicates that the sentence accompanying it is the same as those that have gone before.
  1. By immediately following "And" by a second tie-in phrase, "most important," which again implies that the remainder of the statement is part of the series that has gone before.
  1. And finally, by repeating the phrase, "these experts have discovered," which echoes the identifying subhead at the beginning of the series, and carries on the acceptance-momentum of the series as a whole.
He stage has now been set for the final conclusion— the pay-off conclusion—a conclusion with all the inevitable logical force of a syllogism—that:
  1. The owner should obtain this knowledge—make these minor adjustments himself—and therefore save the money he is paying today for service contracts, and save by far the greatest majority of the money he is paying for repair bills.
Here are the basic principles: Gradualization is the art of stating a claim in such a way that it will receive the greatest possible acceptance and/or believability from your prospect.
Belief ultimately depends upon structure. Just as desire depends upon promise, so belief in that promise depends upon the amount of preparation that promise has been given before your reader is asked to accept it.
One fully-believed promise has ten times the sales power of ten partially-believed promises. Most copywriters try to strengthen ads by piling promise upon promise. What they usually get for their troubles is greater sales resistance from their prospects and trouble from the FTC. They could far better invest the same time in strengthening the believability-structure of the original justifiable promise.
Price cuts must be justified. There must be a reason for them. A mechanism behind them. Without such a mechanism—without such a reason-why you should give this bargain—you are going to get only a fraction of its real sales power.
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.
Beating competition. Let's stop for a moment and review them: First, of course, is superiority of product.
This is the ultimate weapon in the war for the consumer's dollar. If you produce the best product, your advertising has a hundred times the chance of success than if you produce only a fair product. Most great ads have been associated with great products. Most great copy claims come from the assembly line. If yours does not, if your copy is better than your product, then send it to your client instead of your prospect, and tell him to make it a reality.
But even the best product needs equally as effective copy to induce people to try it. Otherwise, the excessive cost of getting the first purchase may drive the product off the market before the repeat sales can build up high enough to earn it through.
So we come to our second weapon to beat competition—superiority of promise. A stronger promise, that evokes more desire. A wider promise, that causes more people to buy. A more believable promise, that brings in the skeptics as well as the susceptible.
This entire book has been a blueprint for developing such promises. Third, we have the weapon of product-role. The role the product allows its consumer to play. The personality, the identification, the prestige, the status, the excitement you can bring out of your product, or graft onto it.
Fourth, we have response and reaction as a competitive force—the ability to one-up the competition: to escalate claims when necessary; to shift mechanisms; to invade new markets.
And fifth—the technique we will discuss in this chapter—is direct attack.
Direct attack—the mechanism of Concentration—differs completely from the other four methods we have discussed above. All these techniques have the common element of ignoring the competition. They concentrate on your story, your promises, your benefits, your product. They act as though there is no other way possible of gaining the satisfaction your prospect desires.
Where your advertising budget is much less than his—especially where the bulk of your prospects are already customers of his—your first problem may be to crack his image, to shatter their loyalty, before you can rechannel their desire around to you.
This process of Concentration—this careful, logical, documented process of proving ineffectual other ways of satisfying your prospect's desire—is much more than mere attack. If you can only attack another product—without showing at the same time, by comparison, how your product provides what the other lacks—then say nothing at all! Never attack a weakness unless you can provide the solution to that weakness at the same time! The reason for this is simple. Your prospect knows that your attack is biased. If, therefore, you are attacking another product only for your own good—in other words, to win the sale by disparaging your competitor—what you will probably evoke in his mind is skepticism and dislike, and very little else. But—and this is the critical point in this process—if you can show your customer that this attack is for his own good, in his service, because your product will eliminate this weakness, then you have a sales story he will accept. Then you will make him question even the most ingrained loyalty.
First method of borrowing this built-in believability: adopting format.
The second—slightly less specific—is adopting phraseology. This method stems from the fact that certain media, or classes of media, use certain stereotyped phrases over and over again, which after a while take on a believability of their own.
For the last four chapters, we have been discussing the placement and structure of claims, of promises. We have found that the more you prepare for those claims, and the more agreeable you have made your reader to accepting them, the more powerful they become.
The same exact rules hold for your proof. Proof—like claims—is most effective when the reader unconsciously demands it, and when he is ready to accept its content as necessary and logical. This is the rule. As simple and concrete as this. All the rest is application. We've gone over, quite carefully, the four processes that determine position in your ad. They are, once again:
  1. Gradualization—the development of a stream of acceptances from your reader to your statements, leading finally to an inevitable demand on the part of that reader for your product.
  1. Redefinition—the removal of preconceived objections on the part of your prospect toward your product, by providing him with a new definition of that product.
  1. Mechanization—the verbal proof that your product works—that it does what you say it does.
  1. Concentration—the verbal proof that other alternate products do not do this essential function as well.
By adding one powerful piece of copy—at precisely the right moment—to another, you can get an overall effect far greater than these two pieces of copy would ever produce, if they were just spread out all over the page.
The main problem with documentation is that it is inherently dull. Your job, therefore, is to add excitement to it. You have to stage it. You have to develop a drama, in your reader's mind, into which your documentation
enters as the hero. In which statistics suddenly become charged with emotion—because you've made them the solution to whatever stands between your reader and the satisfactions that he craves.
I could go on, and give examples of the interaction of proof and each of the remaining mechanisms, but I think you would gain far more by doing it yourself. Instead, let me sum up by saying this:
Documentation is any sort of proof—statistics, facts, tests, etc.—that your product works. Mechanization, on the other hand (in case there may be a confusion in your mind), is the verbal and logical demonstration, and thus also proof, that your product works. Mechanization does not necessarily have to incorporate any outside documentation at all to prove its point—it does this on the strength of its logic and its structure alone.
Verification—which is different from both of them—is the process of arranging your documentation within your copy so that it gains the greatest immediate acceptance from your reader, and has the greatest emotional effect on him.
The first rule of all copy, of course, is that it produce an emotional impact. As we have seen, over and over again, even in believability copy, even in documentation, every word must carry image, picture, feeling.
Now, the wonderful thing about emotional writing, of which copy is one form, is this: That if you employ it skillfully, then the impact of one emotion, plus the impact of a second emotion, will often add up—non-mathematically—to the impact of FOUR emotions.
Copywriting, in many phases, is the search for such juxtapositions. The last five chapters have been full of examples of them. I suggest that you go back and read these examples again, and underline the combination points—and junctures—where one claim blends into another, and either sharpens it, pours strength into it, or makes it more believable.
You are relying on your own powers of empathy. You must be, at the same time, not only the writer of your ad but its reader. You must anticipate that point in the copy flow—as it is transformed into a series of impressions in your reader's mind—where he is going to say: "I've read enough about this. Give me this instead."
Mail order is the longest general form of copy, because it usually sells the hardest, and because the techniques I'm talking about are usually outlined most clearly in this type of copy.
Words and rhythms. They are to the copywriter what line and color are to the painter. They set the mood of your story—carry the emotion so subtly that your reader never really realizes where the excitement or the image or the conviction is actually coming from.