Ads That Command: Defiant Child?

Why do some ads hit the white hot center of a market and become the control ads remembered years later, while others fall by the wayside?

This long running ad from the child psychology market sheds some light.

Here’s the powerful, yet economic headline that froze frustrated parents in their tracks for years:

Defiant Child?

“Mouthy, disrespectful or resistant to authority?”

As a father of three young kids, it’s something I experience daily. And, this ad nails that feeling in the copy. 

Though the product, The Total Transformation Program, is still going strong, the print ad is no longer running. (Don’t ask why.) But any ad that’s had hundreds of insertions over the course of five years is worth understanding.

After this quarter page ad hit the press in mid-2005, the advertiser couldn’t buy enough space.

Defiant Child? was the control during the ad’s run and we know this because the advertiser tested it! This is what direct response is all about — the only data that’s worth anything comes from testing.

Once you know you’ve got a winner out there, it gives you tremendous leeway. The ad went from 1/4 page to 3/4 page insertions and from regional market newspapers to The New York Times.

Other than the overuse of ” How To…” in the bullets — which is a mistake even pros make — I like everything about this ad.

The pictures played a big role in the success of the ad, as did the bonus, “10 Ways To Turn Around Your Child’s Attitude in One Minute or Less.” Ditto for the product name, Total Transformation.

And, Defiant Child?  is proof that the two-step ad is still alive and well in many markets.

Little ads like these can make a mint and when you see them running over and over again, don’t just tear them out and put them in a folder. Take the extra step and phone the call center. That’s where the magic really happens.


  1. Aaron says

    What a great swipe! And want value you continually bring your readers. Lawrence, you are a pretty amazing influencer.

    Thanks for this,


  2. Michael Winicki says

    It’s stunning that they aren’t running this ad anymore. How many marketers would give their left and right arms for a control like this?

    It’s a great headline made even better because it’s a massive headline (compared to the other headlines) – size wise.

    Wasn’t it Ginsburg that loved the short headline because you could make it literally dominate a page? This one certainly is.

    I won’t even try to explain this organization’s pricing scheme for this product but go to the website listed on one of the ads and check it out!

    They use an angle that goes well beyond what I thought they were doing.

  3. Michael Winicki says

    The other thing I was going to ad is that I’m surprised that there aren’t more marketers/businesses at least testing 1/4 page newspaper ads.

    I’ve tracked the pricing on remnant newspaper ad space for about 15 years and I’ll tell ya the cost is still a relative bargain… especially compared to many Internet advertising sources which have gone through the roof.

  4. Lawrence Bernstein says

    Hey Mike, all’s good. Took a short hiatus and now I’m back to work.

    Yes, it was Ginburg (Shoshana!) who popularized the one and two word zingers. I’ve got to ask her for an interview, she’s still a dynamo.

    Totally agree with you about the 1/4 page ad and my favorite, the 1/2 page vertical, when you can get it as a remnant.

  5. Michael Sutton says

    Oh wow, I remember seeing this ad all the time back in the day (when I, myself, was one of those defiant and disrespectful kids).

    I never saw it in print, but it must have ran on TV every weekday afternoon for years.

    As soon as I saw the photo of James Lehman here (he has a very memorable moustache) I had a flashback…

    Here’s the commercial:

    Thanks for sharing, Lawrence!

  6. Lawrence Bernstein says

    Thanks for the link to the spot, Mike!

    Many mouthy kids are now mouthy CEOs.

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