The “With-Without” Formula

A client I hadn’t heard from in a while contacted me at the end of last year.

He had a print ad pulling a very respectable three times ad cost and wondered if he could get it even higher.

His objective went beyond merely trying to bump response since he was close to getting his product in a national retail chain, and he was looking for the tipping point to get there.

But as bright an aura as his ad seemed to have, it also cast a dark shadow.

The market clearly wanted the benefits his product offered. But for a large segment of them, it meant accepting a disadvantage they assumed went along with the benefits.

I’m an eternal optimist but when he told me his ad was doing 3-to-1, I didn’t hold out high hopes for significant improvement given his media costs. So it was a relief to spot some low hanging fruit when I finally got my hands on the ad.

It was time for the old…

“With-Without” Formula

As in, with all the benefits showered on you… but without any of the drawbacks.

In these cases, with the dark shadow of some assumed disadvantage looming in the background, there’s no time to mess around and address it in the fine print.

You’ve got to let the market know they get everything they want without the thing they clearly don’t want, and do so right away.

I made only two changes to the control ad.

1) I used the “with-without” construction and…

2) I made some tweaks to the CTA (call to action.)

This took all of about an hour or two, but I followed the rule of waiting three days before sending it to the client.

Clients are often usually a pain in the ass, so when we next spoke and his first words were, “That’s it?,” I insisted he test the new headline without changing the CTA, until we had feedback on the new headline.

He did so reluctantly.

When I heard from him several weeks later, he sounded as ecstatic as a 5-year-old playing with his first puppy. He had run the ad with the headline change the week before and it pulled just under five times ad cost while the inbound calls were still coming.

It’s rare to get a quick 60% bump for a well performing print ad these days, so take it when it comes.

And always show some respect for the “old school.”

Like the ads from these guys.

Get out of debt in 90 minutes without borrowing!

Joe Karbo’s Lazy Man’s Way To Riches is one of the great self-publishing success stories. His ubiquitous print ads sold over two and a half million copies of his book by 1980 with insertions in everything from The Wall Street Journal to biz-op magazines.

But few know of his earlier blockbuster.

“Get out of debt in 90 minutes without borrowing!” was Joe’s ad for “The Power of Money Management” and had a five year run in multiple formats and sizes in newspapers all across the US.

It’s a prime example of the “with-without” formula.

Things have changed in this market but the pain of being in debt still keeps people awake at night, and they’d do almost anything to get out from under. But at the time this ad ran, respondents did not want take out a loan or go further into debt.

The “claim-time frame” headline like, “Get out of debt in 90 minutes,” is an old stand-by.

And it was aided all the more by the “without” construction because it immediately addressed the main concern most prospects had with such an advertising claim.

Lose Ugly Fat — While You Eat the Foods You Love!

This one was also written by Joe Karbo and he often paired it as a half-page insertion with “Get out of debt in 90 minutes.”

It uses a variation of “with-without” we’ve all heard thousands of times related to weight loss. It was written over forty years ago but practically, how much has changed in this market? It’s still easier to sell an overweight 40-something on the idea of eating pre-packaged meals of lasagna and a scrumptious desert than it is to sell him on benching his body weight, doing road work and laying off the carbs. No offense, Joe. 🙂

Rom continues to sell a near $15,000 piece of home exercise equipment on a similar premise, Exercise In Exactly 4 Minutes Per Day.

Amazing New Formula from Beverly Hills Lets You Take Up To 10 Years Off Your Looks Without The Scars and Expense of Surgery

Of Gary Halbert’s print ads, this ad, and the entire Tova campaign, are some of his most memorable.

This ad sold Tova Borgnine’s rejuvenating cream in the 1980s and had plenty of insertions to back up its success.

The now slowly creeping up to $300 billion anti-aging industry exploded on the scene over a decade after this ad.

But at that time, claims about looking ten years younger instantly triggered the thought of plastic surgery for many 1980’s beauty respondents.

Halbert displaced this fear right away: “Without The Scars and Expense of Surgery.”

How To Buy And Sell Houses In The New York Area Without Using Your Money Or Credit!

Ron LeGrand made money hand over fist in the nothing down real estate market and his infomercials ran daily.

But when the days of money rolling uphill during the sub-prime fever came to a screeching halt, Ron and the other real estate gurus vanished overnight.

Here’s one of his typical lead gen pieces you could find in any publication from coast to coast.

People saw their neighbors getting rich doing quick flips and wanted in on the action. But many did not want to front their own money or use their credit.

Uncle Ron got them to pick up the phone and call by letting them know they could buy and sell without using their own money or credit.

To download the PDF of these ads, click here.

Coming Soon: “The Death Of Print Advertising?”


  1. says


    Once again you nail it. It comes down to letting the reader know they have what they want (right now) and not have to deal with what they don’t want to get it.

    Simple brilliance Lawrence. Keep it coming – I’ll keep the music playing.


  2. says


    “Tradition”, like the lead song in ‘Fiddler-on-the-roof’ is why your
    headline strategies work-like-crazy. We human beans change every
    ten-thousand years, so what worked 50-years ago, still does.

    Please check out by website for We have been
    consistently teaching these live workshops at major universities (Columbia
    in NYC), and doing mail-order successfully since 1959.

    I created the orginal ‘headline’ that sold 2-million students at $150 each,
    and the White House staffs of four U.S. Presidents. It just told the
    benefits. “Triple Your Reading Speed, Double Your Memory.”

    Today, I would add, “In Five-Hours!” Would you add the phrase,
    “Triple Your Reading Speed, double your memory, in Five-Hours.
    And it’s almost F-U-N.”

    Happy Holidays,
    Hal W
    Educational Director

  3. says

    Aloha Lawrence,

    That was just an amazing blog post. Very helpful to me.

    I’ve already come up with a new headline that I’ll be using it with.

    I love this “with – without” formula.


    Roger Haeske
    The 45-Year Old Teenager

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