KittySometimes an audience’s resistance to buying has nothing to do with intellectual uncertainty.  They understand What’s In It for Them and they “get” the logical arguments, but they’re still not persuaded to act.

In these cases, audience doubt can sometimes stem from an emotional confusion. The facts may support your claim, but those facts clash with the reader’s known reality. This is when you need a (predominantly) emotional message, rather than an intellectual one.

  • Intellectual ads present the audience with new information
  • Emotional ads cause the audience to feel differently about information they already know.

Emotional ads work their magic by reconciling your claims to the audience’s  self-image and world-view, evaporating emotional uncertainty in the process and leaving your audience ready to act.

The Wizard of Ads Saves Christmas w/ an Emotion-Driven Ad

Roy Williams’ ad for Heisenberg’s Jewelers masterfully demonstrates how to write this kind of emotional ad.  Before looking at the ad itself, here’s a little background on the emotional conflict Roy had to overcome:

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.

Heisenberg'sNow 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 jewelry store in town.  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 involves coveralls, honest work, and maybe a little dirt. In other words, an image that’s in direct conflict with the idea of walking into the ritziest store in town.

So, Roy re-framed the farmer’s self-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?  Rather than thinking, “I’m a farmer and not really dressed to walk into such a ritzy store,” the ad caused men to think “I’m a devoted husband (who doesn’t want to be sleeping in the dog house come Christmas)”

Don’t Mess with Texas: the power of an emotion-driven campaign

dontAnother fine example of this strategy comes from the Don’t Mess with Texas campaign, as explained in the Heath brothers must-read book Made to Stick.

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.

In other words, the self-image of these truck-driving, young men was one inspired by strong independence, anti-authoratarianism, a rejection of anything too “Politically Correct,” AND a very strong self-identity as Texans.

So the Ad agency elected NOT to run a typical PSA presenting new facts about the damage litter causes.  Instead, they re-framed concern for litter from a pro-environmental concern to a Pro-Texas Concern.

Not littering was positioned as a matter of Texas-pride, where manly-man, undeniably Texan celebrities came out against littering, saying “Don’t mess with Texas.”

The “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign reconciled the conflicting images, and the incidence of roadside litter decreased 72% between 1986 and 1990.

A 4-step process for creating emotional messaging:

1. Find the source of your prospects cognitive dissonance. In order to do this, you have to see your customer real. To see them real, it helps to contextualize their need for your product within the entire scope of their lives and self-image.   Fully modeling your audience allows you greater insight into how they see themselves and what their preconceptions and concerns actually are.

2. Find a product or sales 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.

So tell them how their conception of things is right, then show your proposed action to be consonant with that conception. Or, at the least, show them the limits within which their conception is right, while also gently pointing out what happens beyond those limits.

If you really want to convince a kid that fluids move faster through a narrowing (a la the bernoulli’s principle), acknowledging that toothpaste doesn’t work that way (and explaining why) makes things a lot easier.  Similarly, Roy’s ad reconfirms the idea that Hiesenberg’s is an uncomfortable place to shop, and the Don’t Mess with Texas ads reconfirmed the “cowboy” image of its target audience.

3. Now, introduce a new mental image that re-frames your message & reconciles the prospects self-image with the action you want them to take. Roy introduces a new self-image for the farmer’s in his audience: that of a faithful and loving husband. The State of Texas introduced a new mental image for the “bubbas” watching the TV campaign: that of a Texan’s Texan taking litter as an assault on Texas-pride.  Both images re-framed how the audience felt about the proposed action, whether that action was walking into a scary-expensive jewelry store or refraining from littering.

4. Make sure your new image already fits the audience’s self-image or mental model. 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.

You can’t convince farmers that they aren’t farmers or that they’re really sophisticated suburbanites.  You have to pick a self-image that they are already comfortable with, like that of a devoted husband.  And you can’t convince bubba the cowboy that he’s really a crunchy granola type.  But you can convince him that cowbows have always respected and protected their own land.

[Emotioneering is a trademarked word coined by Hollywood screenwriting and video game guru David Freeman.  I’ve co-taught with David on a few occasions and can’t recommend his material highly enough, especially his book, Creating Emotion in Games.]


  1. David Stanley on 10.23.2009

    This is a timely post. It seems that a lot of emphasis these days is on the logical approach to copywriting. Humans are emotional creates. We make decisions with our hearts and look to the mind to justify with facts.
    .-= David Stanley´s last blog ..How “Old” Marketing Helps “New” Marketing =-.

  2. Mike Slover on 11.08.2011

    Jeff, it’s amazing (or frightening) how easy it is to build a cult. I remember watching a program on crime in Las Vegas, the law officer was commenting on how people come to Las Vegas with the “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” mentality and end up behind bars doing things they would have never did anywhere else, perception provoked action.

  3. Jeff on 11.09.2011

    Interesting thought, Mike. Thanks for sharing that. I wonder how many of those arrests have to do with:

    a) Prostitution
    b) Drugs
    c) Drunk Driving
    d) Public Intoxication

    I’m betting quite a few of them. And I’d bet the cop is right — the majority of those people wouldn’t have even thought of doing those sorts of things in their home towns.

  4. Matching Image to Action | Jeff Sexton Writes on 03.31.2014

    […] sees herself and how we can bring our desired action into alignment with her self image. We don't emotioneer our persuasive messages. But we […]

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