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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