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Copy Perspective Monday: #6, Pain vs. Gain

Posted By Jeff Sexton On July 16, 2007 @ 6:43 am In Articles,Copy Perspective Monday,Copywriting,Improving Conversion,Persuasive Online Copywriting | 16 Comments

gain.jpg [1]

Don’t think of a white bear.

Are you thinking of a white bear? Stop. Don’t think of them.

Not to sound too much like the Verizon guy, but how about know? Still thinking of a white bear?

Ahhh, the power of a mental image. So what does this have to do with Perspective No. 6? (As you may recall from last week [2], this is a six-part series.) And why am I jumping past numbers 2 through 5? Because there are powerful reasons to evoke negative mental images in your copy, and equally powerful reasons not to — and they both involve the persistent power of white bears, er… negative images, that is.

Oh, and because Perspectives 2 and 3 provide the answers to this problem.

In his Monday Morning Memo of December 4, 2006 [3], Roy Williams wrote that:

Happiness rarely triggers commerce. Unhappiness often does.

Purchases are triggered by dissatisfaction with the way things are. We purchase when we have a need, a desire, an itch to scratch. We want to change our condition, our surroundings, our state of mind. We buy because we are dissatisfied…

…To increase your sales volume, you must identify the dissatisfaction that lurks in the heart of your customer.

And then you must shine your flashlight of words into that darkness…

This would seem to be a powerful reason to evoke negative images in your copy: remind the buyers of the itch, then present your solution as the ideal way to scratch that itch, right? Aye, there’s the rub…

Like white bears or WMDs, negative images persist. And it’s somehow easier to create powerful negative images than it is to produce powerful positive images.

Emotionally speaking, worries trump daydreams.

Worse, most copywriters create a powerful negative image and then try to counter it with a logical or syntactical argument. Which is kind of like letting a skunk loose at work and trying to keep the smell away from your desk with a cubicle partition.

As an example, a copywriter just can’t get away with something like:

“Having trouble getting to a second or third date? It could be your facial acne – now you can get rid of painful acne with Wonder-X!”

What do you think is going to be associated with Wonder-X: the cure, or the painful emotions stirred up by the copy?

Dismissing a logical argument from the mind is all too easy. It’s why rationalizations work. The good angel on your shoulder gnashes his teeth at that all too often, doesn’t he? Mine sure does.

But a powerful mental image is almost impossible to dismiss.

So, does that mean you should always go with gain over pain? With positive mental images rather than negative? Frankly, no. It means:

  • that negative mental images are extremely powerful;
  • that they have to be used with restraint;
  • that sometimes it’s better to hint-at or suggest the negative than to address it directly.
  • (and, most importantly) that negative images ALWAYS have to be countered with a more powerful positive image and never with logic or syntax alone.

In fact, psychologists have done research on white bears [4] (really!), and the only way not to think of a white bear is to consciously think of something else. As the copywriter, you must provide something else that’s sticky enough to effortlessly displace the negative image you created.

How do you do that? Well, you have 3 choices:

  1. Don’t use negatives at all; only talk about the positive. Depending on your product, this might be the smartest move of all. Of course, depending on your product (insurance?), this might not be an option at all, either.
  1. Only hint at the negative (e.g., “Because so much is riding on your tires.”)
  1. Modulate the intensity and vividness of a negative image to ensure it doesn’t overwhelm your copy and that you can easily replace it with your more powerful, positive mental image.

And how do you modulate an image’s intensity and vividness? With perspectives 2 and 3. But that’s for another post…

Catch me next week when I show how it’s done.

[*Editor's note: This is actually the second part of our Copy Perspective Monday series. Make sure to read part one [2] and its follow-up [5] if you missed them. Follow along as Jeff Sexton, Future Now copywriting instructor and Persuasion Architect, guides you through an in-depth perspective on the six copy perspectives. You can also read more posts from Jeff at his personal blog jeffsextonwrites.com [6]]

Article printed from Conversion Rate Optimization & Marketing Blog | FutureNow: http://www.grokdotcom.com

URL to article: http://www.grokdotcom.com/2007/07/16/copy-perspective-monday-pain-versus-gain/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.grokdotcom.com/wp-content/uploads/jeff/gain.jpg

[2] last week: http://www.grokdotcom.com/2007/07/09/copy-perspective-monday-intellect-vs-emotion/

[3] Monday Morning Memo of December 4, 2006: http://www.mondaymorningmemo.com/?ShowMe=ThisMemo&MemoID=1651

[4] psychologists have done research on white bears: http://www.rice.edu/sallyport/2004/spring/whoswho/whitebear.html

[5] its follow-up: http://www.grokdotcom.com/2007/07/12/emotional-perspective-redux/

[6] jeffsextonwrites.com: http://www.jeffsextonwrites.com/

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