Say No to Resistance and Reactance

by Lou

This is going to be the best copywriting post you’ve ever read, and I guarantee I’ll convince you to buy my book by the time you finish.

STOP. What was your internal experience after you read the above sentence? I’d bet you were annoyed and put up some resistance. (Notice the embedded command in the first sentence?)

Reactance is the term used to describe the feeling someone gets when they realize they are being manipulated. As you can imagine, most forms of advertising cause reactance. And with reactance comes resistance – and no sale.

I saw copywriter Joe Sugarman do this in a talk he gave in New York City a few years ago. He started by telling the story of his life and how he got into copywriting. After about 20 minutes of this talk, he launched into a sales pitch for his books. Audience members who didn’t know Joe complained, and some walked out. For such a brilliant copywriter he didn’t deal with his audience’s resistance.

So, a couple of ways to stop reactance and resistance are to not use superlatives (best, biggest selection, etc) unless you can really quantify them with numbers. Hype will also cause resistance, so don’t use it. Don’t tell your prospects what they are going to do after they’ve finished listening to/reading your ad. Tell them what to do, of course, just don’t tell them that you are causing their actions. A lot of this is common sense really. Take second position when writing your ad and ask yourself if you would believe what you’re saying.

Right. Now say you want to make a claim that your prospects might not believe. It’s not BS, but it’s not part of your prospect’s model of the world. How do you get them to believe you? Resistance and Reactance theory suggests that you “address resistance by simply acknowledging that the message recipient would probably disagree with the message.” This is reverse psychology at its best.

Joe Sugarman used the same principle in his multi-million dollar ads for Blu-Blocker sunglasses.

“I’m about to tell you a true story. If you believe me, you will be well rewarded. If you don’t believe me, I will make it worth your while to change your mind. Let me explain.”

Here are some similar patterns you can use:

  • • “You’re going to find what I say next hard to believe: (STATE YOUR CLAIM).”
  • • “You’re not going to believe this. (YOUR CLAIM).”
  • • “You are probably going to disagree with what I have to say next. (YOUR CLAIM).”

You are probably not going to use this pattern in your ads because you think it’s outrageous.

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