Skip to content

The psychology of effective copywriting

April 22, 2010
Image of a brochure for Velocette Motorcycles from the late 1950s

Complex topics communicated simply - effective copywriting needs to tap into reader psychology to serve its intended purpose


Marketers are very familiar with AIDA and AIDCA when it comes to writing marketing material but to make these techniques work best an empathy with your customer base is crucial. How can this be achieved – particularly if you have younger marketing staff who are keen to make an impact?  

A company which has at its core a competitive intelligence and marketing planning methodology will have deep, profound knowledge of its customer base. This is important when we consider psychologist William Wundt’s appeal curve.  

Wundt attempted to understand the dynamics between impact and appeal and concluded that the most effective messages communicated either the right degree of complexity or novelty. But crucially, messages which were both complex and novel were ineffective.  

Furthermore, he discovered that novel messages are even more effective when they are simply communicated and that complex messages are more effective when communicated in a way familiar to the audience. In this way, the audience can have their attention excited/interested (the A in AIDA) without being overwhelmed by messages and images which serve to deflect attention.Persuasion, as G P Orridge might have said, is about “convincing people” – so a message needs to hit the right button in the right way.  So any message needs to be simply absorbed, if time is short – for example on an advertising piece, an email or a brochure.  Adopting Wandt’s conclusions we can see that copywriters need to have empathy with their end users. 

Companies with strong brands, such as Apple and Coca Cola,  have strong emotional relationships with their customers which permit them to engage in simple messaging in a novel way. They do not need to revert to complex messaging but instead develop emotional straplines which fortify the bond with the consumer. Think Cola, think “Coke is it” (whatever “it” is…)  

Companies with intrinsic brands, such as Rolls-Royce, Norton Motors and JCB, will be targeting a customer base familiar with the strengths of their engineering skills and will promote their products with messages about relatively complex topics (e.g. thermodynamics, roadholding etc) in a familiar way. Think of the classic Ogilvy Rolls ad of the 1950s “At 60mph the loadest noise in this Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock”  

Rolls-Royce could not get away with a novel, simple advertisement because this would cause an emotional disconnect (not to mention the problems associated with high price). Similarly, an advertisement describing the manufacture of Coca-Cola would be otiose and ineffective. A teenager doesn’t have time for biochemical formulation.  

Customers respond to messages which they feel deserve their attention. The art of effective copywriting is to empathise with the target audience, to define the emotional approach, and to communicate a message in a manner appropriate to that audience in order to deliver the largest number of sales.  

Remember, copywriting which tries to be clever or “funny” rarely produces results. We’ve all seen the marketing agency which emails prospects with a box which says “think outside of the box”. We’ve all seen the hackneyed brochures with footsteps and the strapline “take a step in the right direction”. These techniques have no relevance to need, to emotion, to anything save an operose playing on words.  

Copywriters should ask themselves not what can my writing do for me, but what can my writing do for my client.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: