Copywriting 101: Visuals & Texts That Evoke Strong Emotions

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 7.01.06 PM

This is boooring!
Done it, seen it, move on!
Never would never be approved in the U.S.
This is racist.
This is too sexual.
I don’t get it!
Be funny! Be original! Shock the audience, if needed!
Dude, you’ve got to have a concept!
What is the idea behind it, again?
etc. etc. etc.

This is just a very short list of what your creative director can tell you – the copywriter.

So, what makes a good or, should I rather say – a great ad and/or ad campaign? The C-O-P-Y! But, how?

No matter how BIG is the medium you choose to use for your ad campaign – would it be a billboard? an ambient ad? a poster? a web banner? – always remember, it still needs to be based on a great idea. You can’t just disrupt someone’s life – with your ‘screaming’ ad on a subway, say – without something real to say.

Hence, when we work on an actual copy (text) for an ad campaign, we carefully choose what words and phrases we want to use – would be an image and/or text to shock? would it be funny? would it be so weird/wacky that one would question the ad: “What the f#$%&ck?

The ad should evoke a particular set – or at least one kind – of the emotions. One can be very talented at creating/choosing the visuals, but not as good with the actual text – copy, and vice versa – you can be a great writer/copywriter, but not as good at a physical execution of the visuals to go with your copy. However, based on what we’ve been learning as copywriters  – being able to write a talented phrase is so much more important than being excellent at a drawing.

Long story short, in the text below I’ll give you a few words and phrases you might want to know to create a compelling – emotionally driven – ad. Note, this is not the full list, it’s just a beginning!

And certain materials are coming in handy, when you try to creative – both textual and visual communications means – to convey, most of the time, a simple message – a call for action. Things like – reference to what’s been done before – try not to copy, visuals that evoke certain strong emotions – happy? sorrow? horror? shock? funny? – and trigger words and phrases to create a powerful multimedia content.

Most people would think of anything related to taxes as boring, mandane, annoying and would think that there’s little one can do to create a successful ad campaign that would get the attention they need. Well, yes, partially it’s true – we are dealing with the taxes (duhh, it’s not sexy at all!), which is the least favorite activity to do and it’s not something that not necessary evokes a good feeling. However, if it’s done right, the ad campaign might achieve certain results that even a consumer brand would be jealous about. The trick is – to be different, unique and deliver the value to the consumers that they are looking for, when the Tax Day (April 15th this year) comes. This mentioned, I might admit, it’s not an easy assignment, but who said that the creative advertising/copywriting is easy? Otherwise, anyone could do. Just ask Don Draper.

This brings me to Mark Twain, who once said the difference between the right word and the almost right word is “the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Twain had an incredible knack for nicely summing it all up, didn’t he? So, what ARE these words and phrases that evoke the most powerful emotions?

The power of the right words – is the difference between the right word and the almost right word is determined by the level of emotional identification that word prompts. In other words, the right emotional trigger words take the same basic message to all new heights. Don’t settle for lightning bugs on a clear summer night when you could be shooting for the stars.

There are way more emotional trigger words and phrases than the examples I list here. And there are many more categories of emotion to tap into. My hope is to simply get you thinking about word choice, regardless of content format.
Let’s get started.

Health and Hope

They say if you don’t have your health, you’ve got very little. And health as a metaphor also works for all sorts of other areas outside of the realm of mental and physical wellness, such as relationships and businesses.

  • Boost
  • Cure
  • Energize
  • Flush
  • Vibrant

Likewise, if you don’t have hope, life is bleak indeed. The desire to believe that things will be better in the future is a primary motivator for action, recently exemplified as a core theme of the Barack Obama campaign for U.S. President.

  • Bright
  • Destiny
  • Empower
  • Overcome
  • Undo
  • Anger and Frustration

Let’s face it, a lot of people are pissed off about a lot of things, and empathizing with that anger while simultaneously engaging it is very powerful. You don’t provoke anger for anger’s sake though; you do it to create an identification with your solution that ends the anger and moves people to a more positive emotional state.

  • Arrogant
  • Cruel
  • Greed
  • Hate
  • Unscrupulous

Tapping into the frustration your audience feels can be incredibly actionable. After all, frustration stems from the inability to solve a problem. If you have a real solution, identifying with the frustration first intensifies the immediate desire for that solution.

  • Had enough?
  • Never again…
  • Pointless
  • Temporary fix
  • Tired
  • Betrayal and Revenge

The word betrayal itself is a powerful emotional trigger word. As a theme, it powers Shakespeare’s most powerful works, and runs repeatedly though current headlines regarding the economy, Wall Street, Big Pharma, and on and on.

  • Burned
  • Conspiracy
  • Disinformation
  • Fleece
  • Swindle

Revenge is the desire that results from betrayal, and it’s so powerful because revenge connotes action. The action you want people to take, however, is more along the lines of “living well is the best revenge,” not something ugly or destructive (unless you’re selling something ugly or destructive, but that’s your issue).

  • Avenge
  • Payback
  • Reclaim
  • Turn the tables
  • Vindication
  • The Forbidden and the Powerless


The power of the forbidden is why banning books to prevent exposure to the ideas in them is a stupid strategy. It’s why we’re drawn to secrets and why Adam took the apple from Eve. In a nutshell, we want what we can’t have (or what we’re told we shouldn’t have), and respond favorably to a solution or promise that we can now have it.

  • Banned
  • Controversial
  • Exposed
  • Insider
  • Taboo

Try to search “banned commercials”  on YouTube and you might be surprised to see some excellent (mostly foreign) commercials that are banned by the U.S. because they contain the content – visually and textually – that is not approved and can be show in the U.S. And that’s unfortunate!

Screen Shot 2013-03-06 at 11.50.13 AM

Powerlessness is frustration taken to the extreme, and we’ve all felt it. Beyond that which is forbidden, we feel a solution is literally unattainable. Beyond anger, we feel intense resentment. The ability to empathize with and empower those who feel this way makes you a hero.

  • Agony
  • Floundering
  • Helpless
  • Paralyzed
  • Surrender
  • Passion and Urgency

When your audience is passionate about what you have to say or sell, there’s no need to convince them of need, it’s all about want. Beyond attaining the objects of our desire, we love to experience excitement along the way. So don’t take passion for granted; enhance it!

  • Blissful
  • Delightful
  • Jubilant
  • Rave
  • Thrilled

Screen Shot 2013-03-06 at 11.52.47 AM

It’s not enough to make someone want to do something, you’ve often got to get them to take immediate action if they’re to take action at all. A sense of urgency is an emotional response that can range from fear of loss to unbridled enthusiasm, and one way or another you’ve got to create it at your close.
Before you forget…

  • Deadline
  • Limited
  • Seize

That’s said, try not to overwhelm your copy with too many ‘powerful’ words, otherwise, the main idea of your message might get lost. Choose one-two powerful words and compliment them with an effective image(s).


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