bentley-series-1-sDoes your copy lack a certain emotional resonance?

Maybe you have a relevant, credible message, but it just doesn’t have that, for lack of a better term, magnetic ability to move readers to decision.  Well, here’s one way to add that:

Present the mind with a compelling mental image, and the emotions conjured by that image will persist in the mind like the bright dots you continue seeing well after the flash from flash photography.

It doesn’t matter if you look away from the camera and shield your eyes from future flashes, you’ll still see the dots.  And in the case of mental images, your readers will continue projecting the emotional atmosphere of the image onto succeeding topics of conversation.

And what makes a mental image “compelling”?

Compelling mental images are emotional, non-nuanced and require no analysis to take in.

Deep down, where it counts, in the emotion-driven unconscious, we are all still operating at the level of foolish children responding to bright shining objects.  Make your image in tune with this bright shining object mentality and then borrow that “halo” for whatever product or service you’re hoping to sell.

Here’s a rather artful example taken from J. Peterman:

“I have a friend in New York who has a 30-year-old Bentley, aluminum-bodied, quite fast, and quite beautiful. People driving Mercedes, BMWs, Jaguars, look over their shoulders in despair as he passes by. Where did I go wrong, their faces say.

The thing about his Bentley is that the oil-filler cap, which is springloaded for quick opening, is identical to, and unchanged from, the oil-filter caps on Bentleys made fifty years ago. In other words, get it right, then don’t mess with it. Go on to something else.

This is by way of introducing the best umbrella in the world. How can I be so sure of that? Because the Queen of England and the Prince of Wales buy their umbrella from the same source: Swaine Adeney Brigg Limited, makers of hunting crops, canes, and umbrellas since 1750.

The royal family, I think, can afford a very good umbrella. They can also afford to not get stuck with an experimental model, a provisional model, a see-how-it-goes model of umbrella (or anything else).

The Swaine Adeney Brigg umbrella is made from one piece of wood. It’s solid and thick exactly where other umbrellas snap and fall apart. The runners, caps, and ferrules are made of solid brass; the hand spring and top spring are nickel silver. The cover is cut, sewn, and tied painstakingly to each rib. The shape (open) is domed (more room to get under it).

How long will the best umbrella last? I don’t know. My Bentley friend told me about a man who bought a Bentley even older than his. It had 250,000 miles on it when he bought it. He’s already driven it now an additional 127,000 miles.

The Swaine Adeney Brigg Umbrella (No. 1957). Black, of course. Cherry handle; with the Warrant of the Prince of Wales engraved on the plated gold collar.”

img10052880632OK, so we’ve got all the wonderful associations of Bentley, British, and Royalty baked into this copy.  All wonderful stuff when you’re appealing to the aspirational shopper.  But the most powerful image in the copy is this:

“People driving Mercedes, BMWs, Jaguars, look over their shoulders in despair as he passes by. Where did I go wrong, their faces say.”

The core emotion presented is: “I’m the object of envy even amongst my peer group (aka, upper-class owners of luxury cars).”  And it’s neatly tied to, the only slightly more nuanced thought of “…because I own something awesome that they don’t have.”

A four year old with a brand new bicycle can experience and understand the emotional and social dynamics involved in those images – images and emotions that color everything that follows.  From “something awesome (that’s a preferred choice of British aristocracy)” to “mechanical simplicity and brilliance that works” to Swaine Adeney Brigg Umbrellas.  The logical chain of reasoning within the copy is almost laughable, but it’s irrelevant: the emotional and thematic associations are what matter, and they are powered by that one, very simple image of envy over a coveted symbol of aristocracy.

So while everyone wants to rave about J. Peterman’s magnificent prose style and sophisticated cultural allusions, these aren’t the elements that sell; they’re simply the adult clothing used to disguise the far more child-like emotional images that do.

What about you?  Are you presenting your audience with a compelling mental image?

Or are you skipping all that to get into technical details, features, or garden-variety benefits?

P.S. As you may have guessed, the mental image doesn’t have to be directly, logically related to your product or service. It’s the emotional associations that count.

P.P.S. This technique works even better when you have some logical fig leaves to offer your readers.  The Swaine Adeney Brigg Umbrella IS a premium quality, highly-covetable object, after all.


  1. dirt on 12.14.2010

    Saliva …

    Pretentious-ness …

    Always a salable item in the realm of tribishness.


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