Last week I showed you what it looked like to make copy compelling by raising the stakes with cancer and death.
This week we are going to expand on that, but ultimately boils down to this: show your reader something she wants–and then threaten it.
1. Threaten Their Lifestyle
Threaten their home with the pool and five acres, their freedom to roam and crash anywhere (think of the new nomad), the parties they get to have with all the cool kids.
Show them how if they don’t do X then life as they know it will come to an end. Amp it up: fail to do X and then you could be shunned, you could become an outsider. No more parties with the cool kids for you.
2. Threaten Their Security or Privacy.
On the one hand, think door locks, car alarms or self-defense classes. On the other hand, tell them someone is prying into their lives–their secrets–and that threatens to blow their cover.
Microsoft used this strategy with their “Are You Scroogled?” ad, suggesting that Google is looking at your emails to generate relevant text ads–text ads that might get you in hot water.
3. Torment Their Vanity
Or suggest that someone else might take their glory if they don’t do X. Threaten their job–a promotion, the corner office that they feel they deserve–with outsourcing or some punk upstart who did Y before them.
4. Put Public Safety At Risk
Think toxins in the drinking water, rising sea levels, extinction of animals. This could be about terrorism. A meth problem spiralling out of control. Out of control government debt that could lead to bankrupt police forces and roving bands of ruthless thugs who want your daughters.
5. Drum Up Impending Doom
Not like the end-of-the-world type doom–although some marketers will want you to feel that way about a coming catastrophe. This is a ticking time bomb, the thought that we can’t go on like this. If we don’t prepare for X–which will come because my research proves it–then bad things will happen.
This could be as subtle as the encouragement of getting a flu shot or other vaccines (if you don’t then we might experience another flu epidemic like 1917). Or it could be as dramatic as a religious overthrow or the collapse of an entire generation because of educational failure.
6. Spook Them with a Deadline
This sweet deal closes at midnight. I need to hear back from you by the end of the business day or I’m giving this project to Billy. Her train leaves Friday afternoon.
7. Entice With an Impossible Journey, Huge Pay-off
You see this tactic at work in shows like The Amazing Race, The Apprentice, American Idol, or Survivor. Only one person can be crowned–only one person will survive the unfathomable quest–but the rewards are massive. This doesn’t always have to be physical. It can be mental, emotional.
8. Do X Now–Or ELSE
If you don’t quit that job in time–you’ll remain a miserable cubicle cog for ever. If you don’t lose that weight you’ll get diabetes, be shunned at the beach and die in a casket big enough for a John Deere tractor.
9. Introduce the Higher Stakes First
The law of the web demands you get to the point fast. You grab their attention–and you do that by presenting an undeniable and irresistible situation. That’s done when you introduce the higher stakes. The higher gets them in the door. The lower solidifies the threat.
10. Leak in Lower Stakes to Agitate
Once you’ve got the reader hooked, now you can agitate the problem and raise the stakes to a more personal level. You focus on their demographic, age, and income. You show them how their marriage is at risk. Their job. Their lifestyle. Just see points 1-9.
11. Threaten the Life of Someone Innocent
This is the arena of social justice. Of providing fresh water to rural villages in India. Homes for orphans and former child soldiers. You are not personally threatened. Your family isn’t threatened. But your conscience is. Can you sleep at night knowing that woman are forced into sexual slavery–right here in the United States?
12. Present an Opportunity to Fix a Past Wrong
Guilt over our past can grind away at us. Show your reader how she can apologize to a boyfriend she has betrayed and win him back. Or complete that degree that life seems to keep at bay. Or that depression that dogs them.
13. Resolve the Stakes
If you get them excited, you have to satisfy them. In the business world this means rolling out the solution–your product. Make sure, however, that your product will solve their problems. Make sure your product is actually the answer to eliminating that looming threat. And make sure it does it one hundred percent. No short cuts for short-term gains. Tone down and stick to the believable.
The stakes must be meaningful. They must be personal. And they must hit close to home. You might catch a little hell, but that’s how you raise the stakes in your copy.
Share your thoughts. Brutal and all.