The purpose of character roles in advertising
Written by Rod Bland on Aug. 8th 2020 - 3 min read 

Who can forget these iconic Charles Atlas advertisements, which appeared in a form similar to this from the 1930s onwards? I remember these from the back of Archie comics more than I do the contents inside.

They are a classic example of character roles in advertising. The copywriting genius Eugene Schwartz defined this technique as "Identification", which is the desire of the prospect to act out certain roles in his life.

Here, the reader identifies with the cartoon image of Joe, the 97-pound weakling being bullied at the beach. He feels the humiliation of being overpowered so easily and the pain of rejection from Joe's female friend saying "don't let him hit you, Joe!" The ad then speaks to the reader's desire to attain the character roles of being seen as a "real man" with the strength to stand up for himself and be admired by his female friends.

What makes this technique powerful is that it requires no direct claim of the performance of the product being sold. Its strength lies in its ability to appeal to the subconscious fantasies of the prospect that they themselves might not have even been previously aware of.

As Eugene Schwartz also said, at least half of all purchases made cannot be understood in terms of function alone. So the next time you're drafting copy for an ad, think about the character role that the prospect may be wanting to attain and use it to supplement your verbal claims.


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