The Case Against Knock Off Artists

It’s a shame the word ‘artist’ is connected to that small yet unimaginative segment that pilfers both successful products and advertising copy.

Case in point.

Sometimes an ad comes along that totally tips the scales of the market. Usually, it’s for a combination of reasons.

  • The headline is attention grabbing on a gut level
  • The layout is loaded with proof mechanisms
  • The offer makes it easier to say “yes” than to turn the page

You undoubtedly remember Dr. Robert Atkins? The great popularizer of the low-carbohydrate, high protein diet and the front man of a $100 million company.

He was a player in the weight loss industry for over three decades until he met an untimely end while traversing an ice patch on Lexington Avenue in 2003.

Considering how fast the door revolves on diet gurus, Dr. Atkins had the equivalent of several lifetimes worth of super success.

Breakthrough ad that launched a $100 million business


You’re looking at the 1972 ad that shook up the world of weight loss.

If you went back in a time machine to 1972 and opened up enough newspapers or magazines, you would surely bump into this ad for “Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution.”

Though by today’s standards, there are several flaws in the copy and the bullets are rubber on impact, the headline, layout and offer were powerful enough to carry the ball into the end zone for two solid years.

Imagine resuscitating this headline in 2007?

Do you think it would grab some attention? How about the layout?

While today having an MD (and even a few PhD’s) after a diet promoter’s name is a given, back in 1972, a white coated doctor seated at his desk with arms folded was a powerful proof mechanism that leapt of the page.

This ad not only had as great a run in the diet market as one could dream for but it paved the way for the decades of success that followed.

Enter stage right: Knock-off artist

“Hey, if Robert Atkins can do it than so can I.

Not only that, let me attach an unbelievable promise to the seemingly successful: ‘Now you can command your body’ lead in.”

This is what always trips up knock-off artists, as well as the “plug-and-play” variety of swipers.

They fail to grasp the subtleties that make up a breakthrough ad and crudely attempt to plug in their details into a winning template.

So while the ad on the left “looks” a lot like the Atkins’ ad it’s really Sears & Roebuck faking at Savile Row.

So what’s wrong with this ad? A few things.

  1. Unlike the startling power of the headline, “Now you can command your body to melt away fat,” the knock-off tries to trump the original by adding the unbelievable claim: “stay permanently slim!” Hey, most people would accept six months of slim.
  2. Replacing the powerful visual “melt fat away” with the generic “lose weight” only weakens the headline.
  3. Because this ad closely followed the Atkins’ control, the market perceived it as derivative. “Command you body” had already worked its magic and on some level, the market was still aware of this.

It didn’t take more than a few insertions to see this ad was a bomb.

But what about wielding the core of Atkins’ idea in 2007?

Something like: “Now you can command your body to shed 13 pounds of fat in the next 30 days using the xyz plan.”

Just like investments and even fashion trends, advertising to a degree is cyclical.

Surprisingly, reaching back into the bank of winning ideas from just five to ten years ago can open up fresh avenues of attack in your marketplace.

Yours for bolder ideas,

P.S. I’ll actually be back with some new content soon. And don’t believe everything you read about the recession.  Remember, tough times don’t last — tough people do!


  1. says

    Great points and a great comparison. That original is Schwartz, right? It at least has the mark of a Schwartz ad, which was the powerful and direct focus on one very strong proposition — something the knock-off add clearly lacks, as you point out.

    Related story: I had the fortune/misfortune of working on an ad for Dr. Atkins’ newsletter some years back. My idea was to write a behind the scenes ad as someone tasked with writing about the Atkins diet… and trying it out during the process of researching it to write about it.

    I actually did the diet and kept track of what I was eating, taking photos of the succulently rich Atkins-safe food I’d prepared as well as keeping track of my weight loss (about 20 lbs overall, which took me back to normal weight) and wrote up my own story along with sharing the proof from Atkins bulging file of other success stories, all of the before-after variety.

    The misfortune was simply that he slipped on ice and eventually died from his injuries while I was writing it, so of course everything related to his health center and personal projects went on hold. Ah well.

    P.S. Caleb, click on the image of the original ad above or check out Lawrence’s swipe file of Schwartz ads.

  2. Voice of UnReason says

    Honestly, who gives a fuck about whether a bunch of ads with very little or no merit, and whether they knock each other off while trying to sell a silly bunch of consumers a bunch of goofy products and weight-loss regimes based on the most obvious ideas? What a redundant worthless post and blog, contributing to the mind-numbing of society. Boring.

  3. admin says

    Hey Unreason, I approved this one post to let you know I ditched the other 5 or so comments of yours in various other posts.

    Perhaps you have a masochistic streak in addition to your “unreasonableness?”

    Whenever I encounter a “worthless blog,” I generally don’t spend half a morning leaving comments.

    Love your email address though:


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