How Charles Atlas Invented One Of The Most Popular Ad Campaigns, Ever

We’re all in the business of selling stuff, one way or another. And it always makes sense for us to try to get better at it.

So how do we go about getting better at selling? We can figure it out ourselves, through trial and error. Or we can learn from the people who’ve been successful at it. The latter feels far less tedious, so let’s do that.

Enter Charles Atlas, the most popular muscleman of the 1930s.

Charles Atlas trained himself to develop from a “scrawny weakling” to one of the most popular musclemen in the 1930s. He (with others) set up a mail-order business to sell a fitness routine.

The result was one of the most popular and successful ad campaigns of all time.

Take a look:

One of the legendary Atlas ads.

1: Tell a story.

Getting people to buy something is an ardous affair. You want them to break their pattern to do something they haven’t done before. Interrupting people to get them to buy stuff is especially hard, and rarely successful. It’s also typically unpleasant for them, and it’s kinda rude.

Rather thant demand people’s attention, earn it with a compelling story that fits their beliefs and desires. We all wired to like good stories. Give your customers the opportunity to buy into a story that they believe in, and they’ll be much more receptive to you.

Shopify’s CPO Harley Finkelstein talked about this in his talk about 12 Modern Marketing Tactics used by Shopify Stores.

2: The magic word is YOU.

You can put your entire music library in your pocket. You can be the snazziest dresser among your friends. You can be a strong, confident person.

You don’t care about us, You care about what we can do for You. If we consistently do great stuff for You, then maybe You might become our fans, and You might stand in line for our future products, subscribe to our newsletters. That’s only because of the emotional connection You have with our brand. It’s a promise You trust.

Okay, we went a bit overboard there, but you get the picture.

3: The other magic word is FREE.

Giving away free stuff triggers a lot of good feelings in people.

Gifting is a fantastic persuasion tactic and communicates confidence rather than neediness. Of course, the most effective way to communicate confidence is to actually be confident. This requires you to really understand your stuff. Charles Atlas was confident that he could make you fitter, and so his sales was compelling.

Get really good at what you do, then give some of it away for free. You’ll build a thankful audience. This is a bit of a psychological hack, and it’s powerful stuff. Please be responsible with it.

4: Show proof.


Atlas’s body is right there in all his ads. He’s strong and happy, and he impresses all the ladies. He’s walked the talk, and he’s offering you a chance to do the same.

The thing about proof is… it has to be real. You can’t sell a fitness program if you aren’t fit. You can’t sell your clothes as “stylish” if they aren’t stylish. The story you tell has to be genuine. It has to withstand scrutiny and some degree of skepticism.

5: Have a clear and simple call-to-action.

All Atlas needed you to do was to mail in your name and address. He didn’t confuse his readers by asking them to sign up for this, to buy that, to look at this. No, no, no.

  1. Read the story
  2. Learn about the benefits
  3. Mail in your address

Having come this far, don’t sabotage yourself by overwhelming your customers with choices and options.

Give them one simple action to perform, and leave it at that.


17 thoughts on “How Charles Atlas Invented One Of The Most Popular Ad Campaigns, Ever

  1. Makes sense. I’m working it. Cool ad, but Charles Atlas comes across as a bully. That ad would never fly today because now there are so many fitness ads. So you have to come across as having something better and different,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yes. I agree 100% Sonny but the concept and his ideea were great in my opinion . i speack as a person who does bodybuilding/fitness for around 19-20 years now . his moment wasn’t right . indeed !


    1. Thank you ! I’m glad you apreciate it . I try to write about people/companies who succssed on internet,hoping to bring ideas and contribute to my followers succsess.inspiration is very important


        1. I’ve been writing for around 6 years . I had another blog many years ago but i had to give up on it as my time was too limited . This one,i started om 27-28 about you?i saw ur articles and are very interesting


    1. Honestly,i don’t even know If it is a side gig or i’ll do serios blogging . For now,i’m searching to find “the feeling”.
      I also have a job as pvt trainer at a gym . I do fitness or bodybuilding for over 15 years now.i’m 40yo btw . I could easilly write about that but i try to keep it diverse and mostly inspire people thru my writing
      Noane îs born a writer.just seek deep into you after each article and ur path will came naturally.important is to like writing and write about what you really like.that sau,you will find/feel the nou.whithout feeling good about your writing,it doesn’t make sense


        1. I try ! My writing is meant to motivate people but also teach them how to develop their business .
          What i love is to motivate people. That’s what i do with my gym clients.
          My true love is psichology but i do not have enough knowledge to write about that
          What would you love to write about ?


          1. I have no idea what I’m writing about. About nonstop I think, lol. I know a thing or two in real estate and I know next to nothing about starting businesses, but i believe the journey is worth be documented anyway, so maybe someone can avoid my mistakes and become successful even faster.
            You doing a good job, man! Do you really need to be an expert in order to write about something you passionate about?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Well, you can write from your daily life use words to atract the reader into your story
              If real estate is your thing , than just start writing about it . to answer your question : no . no need to be an expert in what you write about .just read on the internet articles about real estate , take notes and from those notes …you just came with a story and even if you do some mistakes in your articles…what’s wrong with that ? you have the posibility to let the readers tell their part of the story and some of them will guide you thru your mistakes and so on, you will correct them and also learn . life is about learning.there are no experts but only people know know more than others 😉 this is how i do even now with my articles. under each article there is an option to get a rating or ,if i said something wrong,i know there will be someoane to tell me .is the way it works
              Another not think to became succsessfull fast but think about learining fast . success do came from learning 😉


              1. I was more referring to you. Because you said that your true love is physiology, but you can’t write about it due to a lack of knowledge.
                I would strongly disagree with you on this. I feel like so many blogs feel forced with the template of “7 secrets of this” or “Best 10 tips on that”, and almost no opinionated rare thoughts, not filtered by readers expectations. If you focused more on what you love and less on what you audience would want to read, you would REALLY shine don’t you think? So what you dont know psychology enough, it shouldnt stop you from being an active part of community delivering a content, good, bad, doesnt matter. As long is you do YOU, everything doesn’t matter.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. yes. you may be right but at this moment i got pretty much into what i’m writing about and what you say 7 of those and 5 of those are actually not as irelevant as you may think . when you write an article,yes,you use also things/phrases like 7 of that but the thing is that i tag each article to an audience wich is into this.i’, m not talking about WP audience but the social network . guess what ? if i would invest into this blog to be promoted it would became known in less than 2 days but , no. i do not invest anything and i do not promote it other than with my hands sendining articles to social media .
                  To answer ur question …you may not see thru the words of each article or not all of them are directed to a bit of psychology but it will be a smooth transition towards that and only that . for now,instead,i write articles wich gives me also pleasure .ecommerce world is a fascinating place also(not as much as the human brain,of course) and i get satisfaction from writing this kind of articles..for now . when i won’t get any satisfaction , i will write about psychology only
                  Thank you very much ! I apreciate very much your advice and , trust me, i’m on my way but not yet there. there is a path to follow and i wil feel when the time will came 🙂


                    1. Thank you too for the good talk ! You have some great looking merchendise ! Ian i believe is your name …could’t really see ur name on ur store
                      Instead of good luck , i wish you big sales !!!


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