Aaron Orendorff
Aug 8, 2014 · 6 min read

Mass Desire: The First Unbreakable Law of “Breakthrough” Copywriting

Where the Right “5 to 10 Words” REALLY Come From

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I started last week with a story.

Actually, more of a legend … one that just happens to be true.

In 1976, Eugene Schwartz wrote a single ad for Boardroom Inc. founder Martin Edelston that set Boardroom on its path to becoming the multinational and multimillion-dollar company it is today.

At the time, that one ad cost Edelston over 70% of his entire operational budget, today’s equivalent of just under $10,500.

Think about it. 70% of everything.

Imagine not only asking but getting 70% of your next client’s entire operational budget?

Even if you’re not a copywriter, all of us are in the business of selling. How’d you like a bankable and rock-solid formula to unleash your product or service on the world?

So, what was Schwartz’s formula?

“5 to 10 words.”

To get the full scoop on Schwartz’s epic success check out the first post in this series here: The 3 Unbreakable Laws of Breakthrough Copywriting.

Within his 228-page classic Breakthrough Advertising, Schwartz unveiled three laws to mastering the only 5 to 10 words that matter.

This week we’ll examine …

The First Law: “Mass Desire”

Let’s start with a simple definition.

Another word for “mass desire” is emotion: “the public spread of a private want.”

An ad’s ability to sell begins and ends with identifying a “private want” and then channeling that want into “public” words. Only when an audience and an ad share the same dominant emotion does that ad stand any chance of compelling, converting, and closing.

Put more simply …

“Breakthrough” advertising lives or dies by the right “mass desire.”

A friend of mine calls this the “Puppy Principle.” If you’re trying to sell puppies, forget about all the logistics of dog ownership.

Just show ‘em the puppy!


Because unless how you’re presenting your product makes your audience want to hold it, love it, and give it money … you’re not selling it right.

And chances are, you aren’t selling it at all.

Mass desire means majoring on dreams, fears, desires, needs, pains, and pleasures.

However, this means the real question isn’t “What?” or “How?” but “Where?”

Where does your market’s “mass desire” really come from?

The answer might surprise you.

It doesn’t come from your product, your benefits, your USP, your value proposition, your copy, or even from you.

It comes from your market itself.

Schwartz explained:

The power, the force, the overwhelming urge to own that makes advertising work, comes from the market itself, and not from the copy.

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 copy writer’s task: not to create this mass desire — but to channel and direct it (3).

Naturally this assumes that you have a market — a narrow and clearly targeted group of people whose lives your product would be legitimately improve.

You can read more about exactly how to choose and narrow your market here.

Once that group is fixed, the next step is to make a list of all the possibleemotions — the raw emotions — that might inspire someone in that specific market to act.

On the negative side, it might be:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Rage
  • Uncertainty
  • Embarrassment
  • Envy
  • Resentment

On the positive side, it might be:

  • Joy
  • Happiness
  • Accomplishment
  • Satisfaction
  • Elation
  • Desire
  • Lust
  • Pride
  • Comfort

After you’ve selected two or three dominant, raw emotions, get specific.

For example, the most dominate human emotion is fear. But nobody (despite FDR’s sound advice) fears fear. What we fear are people, places, things, and events. We fear the future. Or we fear situations that may arise in the future. We fear loss. We fear uncertainty. We fear failure.

On top of that, every market — just like every person — has its own unique list.

Take the real estate market for instance. What do new homebuyers fear most?

Some of the obvious boogiemen are …

  • The fear of being overwhelmed by the process.
  • The fear of being turned down for a loan.
  • The fear of picking the wrong neighborhood.
  • The fear of not having enough money for a down payment.
  • The fear of something better coming along and missing out.

Whatever it is, by selecting one of those fears and placing it front and center in your copy, you “enter the conversation already taking place in the customer’s mind” (Robert Collier).

Actually, what you enter is the conversation already taking place in the customer’s heart.

Either way, the keyword is “customer’s.” Their mind. Their heart.

Mass Desire … in Action

To put a little more flesh on this idea, here are some classic examples of wildly successful headlines from Schwartz’s era that tapped into their market’s mass desires:

  • “Hair Coloring So Natural Only Her Hairdresser Knows For Sure”
  • “At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in a Rolls Royce is the electric clock.”
  • “The Skin YOU Love to Touch”
  • “How to Win Friends and Influence People”
  • “Stops Maddening Itch”
  • “Do YOU make these mistakes in English?”
  • “How a bald-headed barber helped save my hair.”

Of course today, with advertising exposure rising exponentially, you may think that such straightforward appeals no longer work.

Just to prove they do, here are a handful of my favorite mass desire headline from the web …

Apple’s MacBook Air: “The notebook people love.”

iTunes: “You’ve never been so easily entertained.”

Unbounce: “Build, publish & A/B test landing pages without I.T. The landing page builder for marketers.”

Square: “Start Selling Today. Accept credit cards from iPhone, iPad, or Android with Square. We’ll mail you a free card reader to get started.”

Evernote: “Remember Everything. Evernote apps and products make mondern life manageable, by letting you easily collect and find everything that matters.”

The Ladders: “Your career is our job. Get matched with the job that’s right for you.”

eHarmony: “Beat the odds, Bet on Love with eHarmony. Our bold, scientific approach to matching means more quality dates with deeply compatible singles that truly understand you.”

What each of these headlines (classic and contemporary) does beautifully is identify and channel one desire: love, greed, entertainment, the fear of inability, or the fear of difficulty. They use emotive language to capture their audience’s hearts and minds. Emotive language that already exists in the market they’re trying to reach.

To breakthrough, your ads must do the same.

One final thought about the word “one” …

Having generated a powerhouse list of market-inspired mass desires, your greatest temptation will be to employ them all, like a sort of emotional machine gun.


You only get one.

(Well, you may get to split-test more than one. But each ad only gets one!)


Because, as Schwartz put it:

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.

So remember …

Just. One.

Next week we’ll discover Law 2: “State of Awareness”

Why does your market’s understanding of their desire and your product unlock even the most difficult audience? (Here’s a clue: it all comes down to time of day, and I’m not talking about when you post or publish.)

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