Moving the needleTo move the nee­dle on the “who gives a sh**” dial, you need to know what’s at stake.

The nee­dle mea­sures the emo­tional stakes raised by your mes­sag­ingas per­ceived by your audi­ence.  If you don’t address, ref­er­ence, or touch upon what’s at stake, lit­tle else matters.

Get­ting in shape or get­ting stronger may be a prod­uct ben­e­fit for an exer­cise pro­gram, but that’s not what’s at stake for the prospec­tive cus­tomer.  In order to under­stand what’s at stake, you have to con­tex­tu­al­ize the desire for the prod­uct within the life of the prospect.

What A Charles Atlas Ad Can Teach You About Mov­ing the Needle

Atlas-Mac-adA per­fect exam­ple of con­tex­tu­al­iz­ing desire is the clas­sic Charles Atlas ads cre­ated by Charles P. Roman.  Get­ting pub­licly humil­i­ated in front of your girl­friend while she watches a bully kick sand in your face puts a com­pletely dif­fer­ent spin on “work­ing out” than heart-health and longevity doesn’t it?

Now we know what’s at stake: the prospect’s man­hood.  Hence the power of the famous head­line: “The Insult that Made a Man Out of Mac”

Do you see how much more emo­tion­ally gal­va­niz­ing that head­line is com­pared to a garden-variety pitch about the strength build­ing ben­e­fits of “dynamic ten­sion” workouts?

This old comic book ad is a won­der­ful exam­ple not only because of the sear­ing men­tal imagery, but because it pro­vides the first secret key:

Key #1 — The stakes are always about the customer’s self-identity; will he main­tain and grow his self-image/ego or will he suf­fer in the face of adverse reality?

And the sec­ond secret key fol­lows on from the first one, because if what’s at stake is the customer’s self image, then:

Key # 2 — The hero of the ad has to be the cus­tomer, not the product

Joe-2If the cus­tomer is the most emo­tion­ally invested in the out­come and has the power to deter­mine the out­come, who else could pos­si­bly be the hero?

Think about that Charles Atlas Ad again: who ended up kick­ing butt?  Mac — the thinly veiled stand-in for the reader — was the star of the ad; he was the one who trans­formed him­self from a 97-pound weak­ling into a muscle-laden stud — the prod­uct just helped him get there.

Back when Charles P. Roman penned his first Atlas Ad, there were any num­ber of mus­cle men sell­ing courses by mail order, guys like Joe Bonomo.  If that name doesn’t ring any bells for you, and you can’t recall any of the oth­ers off the top of you head, it’s largely because the other guys either made them­selves or their prod­ucts the star of their ads.  The Atlas Ads made the cus­tomer the hero and they’re still sell­ing courses to this day!

Want to move the needle?

  1. Speak to cus­tomer emo­tions stem­ming from self-image.  Con­tex­tu­al­ize the desire in terms of com­mon sce­nar­ios.  Under­stand what’s really at stake.
    • The fea­ture might be an easy, learn-at-your-own-pace musi­cal instru­ment course
    • The ben­e­fit might be mas­ter­ing the piano in one’s spare time
    • The growth of self image might be the trans­for­ma­tion from a musi­cal embar­rass­ment to an accom­plished (and admired) musician
  2. Pro­vide a sear­ing men­tal image of the cus­tomer kick­ing butt in the role they already desire to see them­selves ful­fill­ing. Make the cus­tomer the star, not the product.


Stay tuned for the follow-up post on how Tem­pera­ment Affects Self-Image


  1. William on 10.26.2009

    The Charles Atlas course is a god­send! I was 14 when I started the course and was attracted by the ads. It was then that I decided to begin my road to health. I am now 50 and still doing the Charles Atlas course! Thanks Charles! The com­pany is still in busi­ness after 80 years! Check it out at I never needed any­thing but the course to work out and never will!

  2. Erotic Hypnosis for Women on 11.06.2009

    I must have bought over 200 comic books when I was a kid. I never looked at any of the adver­tis­ing. To me, it was all irrel­e­vant. Maybe that’s why I’m hav­ing such a dif­fi­cult time mar­ket­ing my prod­ucts now.

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