Breakthrough Advertising: A Summary of Eugene Schwartz’s Classic Marketing Text

eugene schwatz breakthrough advertising

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Breakthrough Advertising: How to Write Ads That Shatter Traditions and Sales Records is an absolute classic in the field of marketing.

Its publisher claims that the ideas in Breakthrough Advertising have generated millions of dollars in revenue for its readers, and this is one of the few books that I would believe that claim.

I highly recommend you get a copy from your public library (if you can find a copy), or buy it from BottomLineSecrets

But if you don’t have the $95 to splash out on a copy, I’ve summarized the book in this post. If you like this summary, please leave a comment!

First job of the copywriter is a thorough analysis of a market:

  • To detect existing mass desires that created that market
  • To define and focus those desires in terms of a single image or desire or need
  • To channel those forces toward once inevitable solution – your product

How to channel mass desire onto a product:

  1. Choose the most powerful desire that can be applied to a product
  2. Acknowledge that desire, reinforce it, offer a means to satisfy it – in a single statement in the headline of the ad
  3. Take the features/performances of the product and show your prospect how these product performances inevitably satisfy that desire

Once the “theme” of the advertisement is determined, the process of expressing that theme begins:

  • 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

Questions to ask in developing a headline:

  1. What is the mass desire that creates this market?
  2. How much do these people know about the way your product satisfies this desire? (Their state of awareness)
  3. How many other products have been presented to them before yours? (Their state of sophistication)

States of Awareness in a Market:

  • Most aware – the customer knows your product, and knows he wants it

In this case, the headline need state little more than the name of the product and a bargain price

  • Customer knows of the product but doesn’t yet want it

The headline should display the name of the product – either in the headline or in a prominent logo – and use the remainder of the headline to point out its superiority

  • New products – the prospect recognizes immediately that he wants what the product does (i.e. he recognizes the benefit), but he doesn’t know that there’s a product that will do it for him. (This approach is appropriate for advertising e-books for “solution-related” searches)

Three steps in developing the headline:

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

Example headlines:

“Light a lucky, and you’ll never miss sweets that make you fat”
“Who else wants a whiter wash – with no hard work?”
“To men who want to quit work some day”
“Now! Run you car without spark plugs!”
“Who ever heard of 17,000 blooms from a single plant?” 
  • New products – the prospect recognizes the need, but not the connection between the fulfilment of that need and your product

Three steps in developing the headline:

  1. Name the need and/or its solution in the headline
  2. Dramatize the need so vividly that the prospect realizes just how badly he needs the solutions
  3. Present your product as the inevitable solution
  • How to open up a completely unaware market

The approach in this stage is essentially to call your market together in the headline. You are writing an identification headline. You are selling nothing, promising nothing, satisfying nothing. Instead, you are echoing an emotion, an attitude, a dissatisfaction that picks people out from the crowd and binds them together in a single statement.

States of Sophistication in a Market

If you are first in your market:

  • Be simple, be direct. Name either the need or the claim in the headline – 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.

If you are second in your market, and the direct claim is still working:

  • Copy that successful claim, but enlarge on it. Drive it to the absolute limit. Outbid your competition

The third stage of sophistication – prospects have heard all the claims, all the extremes:

  • Here the emphasis shifts from what the product does to how it does it. Not accomplishment, but performance becomes dominant

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. 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.

38 Ways to Strengthen a Headline

  • Measure the size of the claim
  • Measure the speed of the claim
  • Compare the claim to its (unnamed) rival
  • Metaphorize the claim (e.g. “Banishes corns!”)
  • Sensitize the claim by making the prospect feel, smell, touch, see or hear it (“Tastes like you just picked it!”)
  • Demonstrate the claim by showing a prime example
  • Dramatize the claim, or its result (e.g. “They laughed when I sat down at the piano – but when I started to play…”)
  • State the claim as a paradox
  • Remove limitations from the claim
  • Associate the claim with values or people with whom the prospect wishes to be identified
  • Show how much work, in detail, the claim does
  • State the claim as a question (e.g. Who else wants whiter wash – with no hard work?”)
  • Offer information about how to accomplish the claim
  • Tie authority into the claim
  • Before-and-after the claim
  • Stress the newness of the claim
  • Stress the exclusivity of the claim
  • Turn the claim into a challenge for the reader
  • State the claim as a case-history quotation
  • Condense the claim – interchange your product and the product it replaces
  • Symbolize the claim – replace the direct statement or measurement of the claim with a parallel reality
  • Connect the mechanism of the claim in the headline (e.g. “Flots fat right out of your body!”)
  • Startle the reader by contradicting the way he thinks the mechanism should work
  • Connect the need and the claim in the headline
  • Offer information in the ad itself (e.g. “What everybody ought to know about the stock and bond business!”)
  • Turn the claim or the need into a case history
  • Give a name the to the problem or need
  • Warn the reader about possible pitfalls if he doesn’t use the product
  • Emphasize the claim by its phraseology – by breaking it into two sentences, or repeating it, or a part of it
  • Show how easy the claim is to accomplish by imposing universally-overcome limitation
  • State the difference in the headline
  • Surprise your reader into realizing that former limitations have now been overcome
  • Address the people who can’t buy your product
  • Address your prospect directly (e.g.”To the man who will settle for nothing less than the presidency of his firm”)
  • Dramatize how hard it was to produce the claim
  • Accuse the claim of being too good (e.g. “Is it immoral to make money this easily?”)
  • Challenge the prospect’s present limiting beliefs (e.g. “You are twice as smart as you think!”)
  • Turn the claim into a question and answer

How to Write Body Copy

The purpose of body copy is to alter the prospect’s vision of reality, to create a new world – a world in which your product emerges as the fulfilment of the dominant desire that caused this person to respond to your headline.

Three dimensions of thought and feeling:

  1. Desires. These are the wants, needs, cravings, thirsts, etc. that drive your prospect.
  2. Identifications. These are the roles your prospect wants to play in life, the traits he wants to build, etc. Your task is put them directly behind your product, and to make him feel part of a select group when he becomes a user of that product.
  3. Beliefs. These are the opinions, prejudices, fragments of knowledge, and conceptions of reality that your prospect lives by.

Believing is a process – a process of fitting new facts into certain established patterns of thought and conviction. Beliefs form a filter through which your product information must pass or be rejected. You start with these beliefs as a base, and build up using your prospect’s logic to prove that your product satisfies his desires, to prove that your product works, that his kind of people rely on your product.

7 Techniques of Breakthrough Copy

1. Intensification

  • Present the product and the satisfaction it gives bluntly, with a complete description of its appearance or results
  • Put the claims into action – show exactly how the product delivers benefits
  • Bring in the reader – describe what will happen to him the first day he owns the product
  • Show him how to test your claims
  • Stretch out your benefits over time – show the product at work over not just hours, but months
  • Bring in an audience – each new member brings a fresh perspective (e.g. testimonials)
  • Compare to the competition
  • Accentuate the problem, then apply the salve (i.e. your product’s solutions)
  • Show how easy it is to get the benefits
  • Use metaphor, analogy
  • Summarize
  • Put your guarantee to work

2. Identification

It is the desire of your prospect to define himself to the world around him. Every new role that he covets gives you one more mass desire to harness for your product

Two kinds of roles (find out what roles prospects identify with):

  • Character roles (e.g. “progressive”, “chic”, “well-read”)
  • Achievement/status roles (e.g. “executive”, “home owner”, “good mother”)

Every social role that we achieve in life is immediately translated into those possessions which we believe express that position most clearly

3. Gradualization

This is the process of starting with the facts that your prospect is 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 to accept.

  • Need to create a “stream of acceptances” (“the ad is talking about me”)
  • Start ad with a statement that will be immediately and entirely accepted, and then build a chain of subsequent acceptances upon this first statement:

a. Ask a question to get the reader to self-select as a member of your audience.

b. Detailed identification – detail symptoms or problems that are your prospect’s reasons for desiring your product

c. Contradiction of present (false) beliefs (e.g. “I know you think this is true; but I’m going to show you how it’s false”)

d. Use the language of logic. Example logic statements:

This has been proven by thousands…
Sound impossible? Not at all. It’s actually as simple as…
Here’s why…
And, most important, is the fact that…

4. Redefinition (how to remove objections to your product)

The purpose of redefinition is to redefine the drawbacks of a product, so the perceived drawbacks don’t kill a sale.

Three general categories of drawback:

1. Product is too complicated

    • Remedy this by simplifying the product.
    • In the ad copy, first talk about the prospect’s world, then describe a far more promising world. Finally, join the two worlds with your product
    • After the redefinition is accomplished, proceed to state how much money the prospect can save, and where he can buy the product

2. Product is not important enough

Remedy this by escalating the importance of the product: broaden the horizon of benefits of the product; redefine the role that the product plays in the prospect’s life; widen the area of reward that your product yields to the prospect – showing him that it enters into dozens of vital situations every day, paying off for him when he might least expect it.


Yes. You pay $2,000…$3,000…$4,000 for your car. And a single 99 cent part robs you of the real power and enjoyment that a car should give you.

3. Product simply costs too much

Problem is that the product is being compared with other products in the same field

Solution: switch the comparison by relating the product to some other, more expensive standard – make the product cheap

5. Mechanization (how to verbally prove that your product does what you claim)

Amount of mechanism copy that is necessary depends on the State of Awareness of the target audience

Stage One: name the mechanism

  • Use when mechanism is already widely known

Stage Two: describe the mechanism

  • Use when the mechanism is not well-known, or not known at all
  • Build a strong, quick promise – and then follow up with the reason why you can deliver that promise
  • First rule of mechanism: never turn the copy about mechanism into scientific discourse. You must load it with promise, load it with emotion.

Stage Three: Feature the mechanism

  • Use when your market is highly sophisticated, when promises sound alike, when price competition is suicidal
  • Mechanism can be inside your ad, to prove your claim, or on top of the ad, elevated by the state of your market to becoming the main claim

6. Concentration (how to destroy alternate ways for your prospect to satisfy his desire)

Concentration is the careful, logical, documented process of proving ineffectual other ways of satisfying your prospect’s desire.

By pointing out the 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.

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

Tacticsto accomplish Concentration:

  • Contrast the performance of features. Off repeated, direct, one-for-one contrast, exploring the performance factors of vital interest to the prospect
  • Contrast how the prospect will be before and after use of the product, ideally by describing a common experience (e.g. for a weight-loss product, describe the problems that a woman goes through in trying to lose weight with other (inferior) products)

7. Camouflage (how to borrow conviction for your copy)

Purpose of Camouflage is to borrow believability from all the places in society where it is stored up

Tactics for borrowing believability:

  • Adopt the formatof the publication that an ad is being displayed in (e.g. Schwartz gave example of using Wall Street Journal format)
  • Adopt phraseology. E.g. in newspapers, there is usually an issue date, a city of origin, and perhaps a by-line. Each of these news indicators may be picked up by a copywriter to add believability to his opening
  • Study the format of communication that people believe in. Adopt their tone, feel, style, their sincerity. Make your ads blend in, so there is no jarring transition. Camouflage them

Mood adaptations.

  • The first mood adaptation is understatement, e.g. simplicity, a lack of color or words, no superlatives, short sentences.
  • The second mood adaptation is deadly sincerity, where the copywriter leans over backward to point out the flaws in an offer, so when the benefits are subsequently described, they’ll be believed much more deeply

How to achieve believability. Use:

  • Proof
  • Statistics
  • Testimonials
  • Quotes from authority figures
  • Tests
  • Trends (i.e. social proof)
  • Seals of approval/authority
  • Awards won

How to transition from one paragraph to another:

  • Use transitional elements, such as different type faces and sizes

How to build momentum in your copy:

  • Use momentum phrases in your transition sentences to indicate to your reader the type of material that’s going to follow. E.g.:
They paid up to $22.50 a person to learn priceless techniques like these:
You can learn them all, in your own home next weekend, without risking a penny. 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 this 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.
  • Use incomplete statements to make the prospect read on. E.g.:

And you will do it using nothing more than ordinary tap water, your own ten fingers, and the contents of your garden and your refrigerator.

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  1. says

    What a great summary of Breakthrough Advertising.

    I have read many of the classic copywriting books but I have not yet turned my attention to Eugene Schwartz masterpiece.

    It sounds fascinating.

    • moe says

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your comment. You should *definitely* pick up a copy of Breakthrough Advertising. As I said, many books claim to have made millionaires – this is one of the few where I actually believe that claim. Gene Schwartz was a genius!


  2. Rocky says

    Looks like ole harlan snookered you. That link went dirty. . .now it’s just some spam site.

    The ole bait & switch huh. hahaha

    • Moe says

      Hi Rocky – I checked out Harlan’s link again, and it still goes to an email opt-in page. But I agree that it looks a little spammy 😉

  3. Dan says

    Thanks so much for these notes! I just read the book and took my own notes but yours are better. What a book, Gene Schwartz was on another level.


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