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FutureNow Article
Thursday, Jul. 12, 2007

Emotional Perspective Redux

By Jeff Sexton
July 12th, 2007

Help them to daydream.Responses to my earlier post prodded me to delve further into the whys and hows of using an emotional perspective. Hope this helps…

Often, readers who sit on a psychological fence of doubt do so because your copy presents them with ideas that conflict with either their self-image or their worldview. In other words, what you claim doesn’t match the reader’s known reality.

In these cases, doubt isn’t an uncertainty to be dispelled with the light of new information, but rather the emotional confusion caused by clashing images and mental models.

Find the source of the conflict and reconcile these forces within your readers, and you’ll stand a much better chance of moving them from doubt to action. A masterful example of this is Roy Williams’ ad for Heisenberg’s Jewelers. But first, a little context:

Heisenberg’s Jewelers had been in the same building on Main Street in Cabbage Valley for 105 years. A facelift 7 years earlier had given the store white carpet, walnut paneling and a huge chandelier in a high, domed ceiling. Heisenberg’s was the Sistine Chapel of jewelry stores. Not a problem, except that Cabbage Valley is the turnip capital of the world, a little farming community of about 45,000 people. Even the wealthiest of Cabbage Valley’s farmers felt they weren’t dressed well enough to enter that store. Heisenberg’s was truly an intimidating place.

Now imagine your goal is to get these farmers to come in and buy jewelry. What you’re facing is NOT a lack of knowledge or insight: everybody in town knows that Heidelberg’s is The Premier Jewelers. An intellectual perspective would be suicide.

What you’re up against is a clash of images. The farmer already has an image of who he is, and it’s one that likely involves coveralls and that is in direct conflict with the idea of walking into the ritziest store in town.

So, Roy took one part of the farmer’s image and made it 100% congruent with the act of walking into the Sistine Chapel of jewelry stores. In fact, he made walking into that store an absolute must for the farmer who wished to keep his self-image intact. Here’s the ad:

“Ladies, many of you will be fortunate enough this Christmas to find a small, but beautifully wrapped package under your tree bearing a simple gold seal that says ‘Heisenberg’s.’ Now you and I both know there’s jewelry in the box. But the man who put it there for you is trying desperately to tell you that you are more precious than diamonds, more valuable than gold, and very, very special. You see, he could have gone to a department store and bought department store jewelry, or picked up something at the mall like all the other husbands. But the men who come to Heisenberg’s aren’t trying to get off cheap or easy. Men who come to Heisenberg’s believe their wives deserve the best. And whether they spend 99 dollars or 99 hundred, the message is the same: Men who come to Heisenberg’s are still very much in love… We just thought you should know.”

See what I’m talking about?

Another fine example of this is touched on by the Heath brothers in their must-read book Made to Stick: the “Don’t Mess with Texas” ad campaign.

In short, Texas had a litter problem — and it wasn’t caused by Austin environmentalists driving around in their Volvos. Nor was it caused by people who “didn’t know any better.” Texas surmised that their litter problem was caused by citizens who felt that a modern sensitivity to litter was a little too mamby-pamby-ish for them. It conflicted with their self-image.

So the Ad agency in charge of the campaign made concern for litter into a Texas-pride thing. They reconciled the conflicting images, and the incidence of roadside litter decreased 72% between 1986 and 1990.

If you’d like to try your hand at this, here’s my best attempt at a 4-step process for repeating this particular brand of magic:

1. Find the source of your prospects cognitive dissonance.
This is easier to do after you’ve begun to see your customer real, which is only one reason why Persona-based writing is such an effective tool for persuasion. Fully modeling your customer base allows you greater insight into how they see themselves and what their preconceptions and concerns actually are.

2. Find an image that reaffirms that preconception.
That’s right, reaffirms. Pointing out the limits within which the reader’s understanding holds true and pointing out the limits beyond which they are false are both exercises in defining limits. But the emotional distance between the two approaches separates success from failure.

In Roy’s ad, he reconfirmed the idea that Hidelberg’s was uncomfortable place to shop. The Don’t Mess with Texas ads reconfirmed the “cowboy” image of its target audience.

3. Now, introduce a mental image of an expanded “paradigm”
After you’ve validated the reader’s common sense, introduce an expanded take on that mental model or introduce a new model. Use a reality hook. Reach out and grab something well-known to the reader; something more firmly established in his conception of the world than the previous image. Use this to explain how your product or solution better fits into his worldview.

Roy anchored his message to the farmer’s image of himself as a faithful and loving husband. The State of Texas anchored its message to the audience’s perception of themselves as Texans.

4. Employ emotional persuasion to show how this new imagery better matches the reader’s worldview and self-image.
If you want full conviction from your readers, you’ll have to leave them feeling as though this new way of looking at things is really a confirmation of what they’ve truly believed all along, and that it matches the image of themselves they most want to believe.

[Editors note: the author of this post is now blogging at]

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Comments (7)

  1. [...] note: This is the second part of our Copy Perspective Monday series. Make sure to read part one and it's follow up if you missed them. Follow along as Jeff Sexton, Future Now copywriting instructor and Persuasion [...]

  2. This is so good, thx.

  3. Nice article, thak you.

  4. Very good, Jeff – I don’t write ads, per se, but the same techniques apply when speaking with clients, etc. Addressing the emotions instead of just clubbing them over the head with unassailable logic is hard for us NT’s, but it is essential.

  5. Very good summary and practical examples. I am applauding … ;-)

  6. [...] the words you choose, and how you choose to dispense them, are everything. Start with spontaneous, emotional copy at the beginning, then get more methodical toward the end when listing product [...]

  7. [...] the words you choose, and how you choose to dispense them, are everything. Start with spontaneous, emotional copy at the beginning, then get more methodical toward the end when listing product details. The second [...]

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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