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“Verbalization”: The Third Unbreakable Law of Breakthrough Copywriting

In 1966, amidst a staggering career, Eugene Schwartz penned what is arguably the most profound copywriting principle ever.

As Schwartz put it: Everything comes down to “5 to 10 words.”

If you are right, they may start a new industry. If you are wrong, nothing you write after them will save your ad.

Of course, by “5 to 10 words” Schwartz didn’t actually mean that every ad should be composed of 10 words or less.

What he meant was that the success of every ad — really the success of everything you write — will always depend the simple and singular idea at its core.

The genesis of these 5 to 10 words is what Schwartz termed your market’s “mass desire.” That’s the first unbreakable law of breakthrough copywriting.

Last week we focused on law two: how to compose a market-driven headline built directly on your market’s “state of awareness.” You can check out that post here: 5 Ways to Systematically Craft Breakthrough Headlines from Inside Your Market’s Mind.

Today we’re gonna turn things up even more.

You can think about the first two laws as creating the skeletal structure of your ad: its basic appeal coupled with a deep understanding of its market’s mindfulness.

Now the task is to put flesh on that structure, to incarnate your copy in its most effective form possible.


Through “verbalization.”

Verbalization means bringing your headline to life, enfleshing it through verbal images and sensory language.

Chapter 4 of Schwartz’s Breakthrough Advertising is dedicated to “38 Ways to Strengthen Your Headline Once You Have Your Basic Idea.”

Rather than reproduce all 38, let’s simplify things and take a look at the 3 most enticing headline hacks ever and then walk through exactly how to apply them to your market’s state of awareness:

1. Power

The first headline hack is about power, what Schwartz called “strength”:

Verbalization … can strengthen the claim [of your headline] — by enlarging upon it, by measuring it, [or] by making it more vivid (52).

In other words, power intensifies your headline through:

  • Measurement: “Who Ever Heard of 17,000 Blooms from a Single Plant?”
  • Comparison: “Costs Up to $300 Less than Even the Low-Priced Models”
  • Sensitizing: “The Skin You Love to Touch!”
  • Demonstration: “At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in a Rolls Royce is the electric clock.”
  • Dramatization: “They laughed when I sat down at the piano — but when I started to play …”
  • Paradox: “How a bald-headed barber saved my hair.”

Adding power to your headline works great when your audience is fully aware of the desire driving your product (i.e., in States 1-3).

For example …

In State 1 — “Aware of Their Desire, Aware of Your Product.” — power comes from being present and personal. It comes from getting near your market (digitally or in-person) and reminding them that you and your product exist. This is especially powerful at peak buying seasons or when your leads have “gone cold” after 60-90 days.

Think back to the “magic 9-word” email from two weeks ago: “Hi [Name], Are you still interested in [Niche Product]? Cheers, [Me].”

The point is to be as obvious as possible and lean on your market’s pre-existing pains and pleasures.

In State 2 — “Aware of Their Desire, Somewhat Aware of Your Product.” — power comes from your product’s superiority. And the fuel of that superiority are its features. As long as you tie your headline to a market-specific mass desire (i.e., a benefit), then the features unique to your product are a powerful way to make its superiority real and concrete.

In the headline, pick one feature, link it to one benefit, and then tell your audience exactly how that feature performs in the real world: namely, their real world. Steve Job’s original tagline for the iPod is a perfect example of this: “How much would you pay for 1,000 songs in your pocket?”

In State 3 — “Aware of Their Desire, Unaware of Your Product.” — power comes exclusively from your market’s mass desire. Forget about your product itself. Your market doesn’t know about it … and your market doesn’t care.

The only way to hook your audience with your headline is to stick to their desires and bring one (and only one) dominant emotion to life! This is where narration, comparisons, and dramatization shine.

2. Novelty

The second headline hack is novelty. In Schwartz’s words:

Verbalization … can make the claim new and fresh again — by twisting it, changing it, presenting it from a different angle, turning it into a narration, [or] challenging the reader with an example (52).

Using novelty to strengthen your headline is most effective in State 2 — “Aware of Their Desire, Somewhat Aware of Your Product.”

A simple way to create a novel headline is to use novel words, especially at the very start of your headline. Words like:

  • “Introducing …”
  • “Announcing …”
  • “Finally …”
  • “Now …”
  • “At Last …”
  • “Just Released …”

Using a specific date in your headline also increases it’s novelty: “Announcing the September 2014 New Homes Buyer’s Guide.”

Oh, and don’t forget the most obvious word of all: “New …”

Why all this focus freshness and innovation?

Because, as long your market is “somewhat” aware of your product, then presenting that product in a fresh and innovative way is the most effective method to leverage their existing knowledge and excite their curiosity.

Just remember, the purpose here is to focus on your product’s superiority.

To flesh this out, “What?”, “Where?”, and “When?” questions help immensely.

Ask yourself…

  • What “new” feature makes my product superior?
  • Where (i.e., in what “new” setting) does my product suddenly and wonderfully work?
  • When (i.e., at what “new” time) does my product outshine the competition… and possibly it’s former self?

Again, be as specific as possible. Verbalization lives in the details.

3. Pull

The third headline hack is pull. Here’s Schwartz:

Verbalization … can help the claim pull the prospect into the body of the ad — by promising him information about it, by questioning him, [or] by partially revealing a mechanism (52).

Everyone loves to learn. Well actually, everyone loves to be in the know. This is the principle info-marketing is built upon. In fact, this is the principle content marketing is built upon. Oh heck, this is the principle all marketing is built upon.

Darkness scares. Light soothes.

By providing your audience with valuable information — and, in the headline, the promise of valuable information — you’re taking full advantage of this universal principle.

This means that adding “pull” to your headline is especially effective when your audience is in a state of unawareness … either of their desire or your product.

So …

In State 4 — “Unaware of Their Desire, Unaware of Your Product.” — what pulls your market is their problem. The mass desire here is almost always driven by fear or pain. However, don’t insult your market. So-called petty emotions — i.e., embarrassment, insecurity, anxiety, etc. — are often much more effective and “pull-ish” than unvarnished fear or pain.

Because of this, headlines that emphasize “freedom from” or “how to avoid” work wonderfully.

I recently produced a pull-focused ad for an I. T. provider with this half-page headline:

Warning: DO NOT Hire a Computer or I. T. Specialist Before You Get this Free Consumer Report!

Read this guide and you’ll discover…

»  How to Avoid 7 I. T. RIPOFFS

»  5 Simple Solutions to Maximize Your Business’ PRODUCTIVITY (without being an I.T. expert)

»  The Quick-and-Easy GUIDE to Determining Your Business’ Real I.T. Needs

In State 5 — “Unaware… of Everything!” — pull is pretty much all you’ve got.

If your audience is totally unaware of both their desire and your product, then none of the traditional focuses will work: not benefits, product, price, name, features, or needs.

So what’s left?

Your market itself.

Here’s a simple formula to make your headline exclusively about them:

For [target customers] who are [mass desire] to/with/by/of [current conditions].

In action this might look like …

For first-time fathers who are worn down by their brand-new “bundle of joy.”

  • For tax professionals who are sick and tired of hounding clients for paperwork.
  • For homebuyers who are terrified of not getting the “whole” story on their next house.
  • For young couples who are struggling to keep the fire alive.
  • For fledgling copywriters who are dying to quit their day jobs … but unsure about what comes next.

Once you’ve got your specific formula filled in, turn that statement into a question or a story.

For a question, think intrigue …

Why are [current products or brands] hiding these 7 facts from [target market]?

For a story, it doesn’t get much better than this classic from 1926 …

They Laughed When I Sat Down At The Piano — But When I Started To Play!

Whatever your particular approach, be sure the headline ends on a tone of mystery … a mystery that above all identifies and appeals directly to your target market.

Putting It All Together

We’ve come a long way over these last four posts. How do we put it all together?

Well, let’s keep it simple …

Breakthrough copywriting is systematic and formulaic.


Because if Schwartz’s success and the history of advertising teach us anything it’s that while products change … people don’t.

That means getting the right 5 to 10 words for your copy comes down to three unbreakable laws.

So ask yourself:

Law 1.

What’s my market’s “mass desire”? What is their one, driving, dominate emotion?

Law 2.

What’s my market’s “state of awareness”? Are they aware of their desire and my product?

Law 3.

What’s the most enticing headline hack possible to bring those first two laws to life: power, novelty, or pull?

Actually, we can make it even more basic than that.

The real secret to breakthrough copywriting isn’t your product, your copy, nor even you.

After all, the “5 or 10 words” that will make or break your copy, won’t actually be yours at all … they’ll be theirs.

Before you hire a strategist
or pen a single word, grab the …

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