Make Your Copy More Believable – Gradualize Your Claims

In Breakthrough Advertising, Eugene Schwartz codified a system for making your copy more believable.

He called it Gradualization and the basic gist of it is…

You take a bold claim that’s hard to accept upfront – then unpack it into a series of smaller, more easily accepted beliefs, concluding your point with the same bold claim that you couldn’t have gotten away with initially.

For a simple example:

“Joe makes the most delicious cotton-candy in the United States”

The natural reaction to such a bold claim is, “Oh yeah? What makes it so special?”

But by gradualizing that same claim, you help the reader make a logical and rational jump to belief much easier:

“Americans love their cotton candy, we’ve been gobbling it up since the 1900’s.

Joe is a California cotton-candy maker with a unique new “spin” on twirling the fluffy web of sugar onto 100% edible sticks infused with flavors like vanilla, chocolate, caramel and sugar-cookie.

Joe makes, hands-down, the most delicious cotton-candy in the United States.”

In the first example, you’re not ready to accept such a bold, unproven claim.

There’s no framework where the claim can be placed into a plausible, even reasonable context.

And so, our BS detector fires.

Silently, in the background, we now judge everything that follows with a more skeptical, jaundiced eye.

But in the second example, we lead using a statement with which any reader can easily agree. Cotton-candy is irrefutably one of America’s favorite sweet treats.

“Okay,” says our BS detector, “go on…”

Next, we introduce the concept of “Joe”, the cotton-candy maker.

We describe him, where he’s from (California), and what he’s got that’s new (a unique ‘spin’ with 100% edible, flavored sticks).

The reader now forms a mental image of Joe, from California, who spins yummy cotton-candy some cool new way.

You decide which flavor you’d want to try as you imagine what Joe’s new cotton-candy breakthrough tastes like.

And so finally, when we say…

“Joe makes, hands-down, the most delicious cotton-candy in the United States”

…not only are you prepared to accept and believe it’s true, you’re excited by the idea and want to know more.

That is the power of Gradualizing your Claims in your copy.

Thank you, Eugene Schwartz (I say that a lot…)


  • Shameless Shamus

    Reply Reply March 27, 2015

    Good strategy. So how would you apply this insight to a headline? Where you want to a make a big claim, a big promise… It’s a true one, but it’s so big it’s not believable until the reader has some foundational intermediate steps of belief?

    • Brian McLeod

      Reply Reply March 27, 2015

      Great to see you here in the comments, Shamus.

      So, the thing about headlines… we’ve got precious little space to work with, visually and in terms of mental bandwidth of the reader.

      But we can still cover a lot of ground inside the deck, within that crucial first fold.

      The headline has one mission-critical job to do – arrest the attention of the reader and pull them into the ad.

      From that perspective, you can pay off a big, bold promise in the headline by Gradualizing it, piece by piece, right after the claim.

      I like to do this with what I call “Mechanism Graphics” – (thanks again, Eugene Schwartz for the concept of Mechanization… next post?)

      Mechanism Graphics instantly clarify ideas for the reader through visual illustration of how the big promise works, how it delivers on the promise.

      Think: “The Secret’s In The ___________”

      DRTV spots frequently do this so well, so quickly.

      • Shameless Shamus

        Reply Reply March 29, 2015

        Good insight – thanks!

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