Friday, 13 February 2015

The unmatched power of emotional truths

To produce great copy, the writer must truly connect with the subject at hand – and then tap into a universal emotional truth.

Every copywriter knows what it’s like to slog away at a piece of copy for a product or service they just don’t believe in. It’s tough. Every benefit feels a little flat – every promise a touch empty.

That’s why it’s so important to establish a genuine emotional connection with what you’re selling. Find a way to channel your own emotional drivers, link it to a particular feeling from your own life and it’ll make for more authentic, passionate and powerful copy. There’s a reason for this. On a fundamental level we all feel the same things, no matter our personality, social status or culture.

The truth doesn’t age
That’s why Bicycle Thieves, a film written in 1940’s Italy about a guy looking for a bicycle is still relevant today. The film isn’t really about looking for a bike. It’s about a desire for order amongst chaos.


Netflix’s new film categories
A few years ago we edited a 70,000 word Introduction to Screenwriting course for Creative Skillset’s Film Council working for the brilliant script consultant, Phil Parker. (You know we’re big on using screenwriting techniques in copywriting.) In chapter four, he discussed the eight, distinct, themes one of which you’ll find in any classic film. Each one expresses a common human experience or emotional need. Each one is a universal truth. Everyone has felt these things. Everyone sympathises with others who are feeling these things. And everyone’s curious about how others cope. This is the stuff of life and it counts – for all of us.

1.    The desire for justice
2.    The pursuit of love
3.    The morality of individuals
4.    A desire for order
5.    The pursuit of pleasure
6.    A fear of death
7.    Fear of the unknown and unknowable
8.    The desire for validation
If you can channel one of these emotional truths into your copywriting, you’re onto a winner.

Validation? Pursuit of Pleasure? It’s tapping into something.

The Validation Marathon – sponsored by Nike
Of course, the real holy grail of marketing is locking your brand against one of these eight truths for good. Many have. Insurance companies like Zurich and AXA frequently play on number seven - Fear of the unknown and unknowable. The cosmetic and beauty industries alternate between the pursuit of love and the desire for validation. Meanwhile, Nike has built its sporting empire on the back of slick marketing that evokes number eight – desire for validation. Our favourite is this gem featuring Michael Jordon. The universal truth here is: there are always going to be setbacks. However, if we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves down, we can rise above them and earn the respect we deserve.

“I should know…”
Authenticity is a major part of establishing an emotional connection. Whenever you can, link the product or service to something from your own life. This may just inform your writing. However, when appropriate, it’s great to actually reference it directly.

That’s what I aimed to do recently when I wrote an article on notes for the Guardian’s Mind Your Language blog. By starting his piece with an anecdote about a note my mother left for me, the article became slightly more engaging and poignant for the audience.

Surrender something personal and the audience feels a moral obligation to give something back – even if it’s just their attention for a couple of minutes. There’s a reason why we use this technique every time we ghostwrite a speech: it works. Don Draper knows – as you can tell from this classic Kodak Carrousel clip.

The difference between good and great
Every experienced copywriter knows enough tricks of the trade to a ‘wing’ a job. However, for truly powerful copy, you really need to dig deep to find your emotional connection with the product or service – then you need to focus this emotional truth so the audience will connect with it. Do that and you’ll have a hit.

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