“There are, then, these three means of effecting persuasion. The man who is to be in command of them must, it is clear, be able (1) to reason logically, (2) to understand human character and goodness in their various forms, and (3) to understand the emotions--that is, to name them and describe them, to know their causes and the way in which they are excited.”
Aristotle is one of the most influential philosophers of all time, but he was also a master of the art of rhetoric, otherwise known as the art of persuasion.
In fact, he wrote three books about the topic:
- Rhetoric Book I
- Rhetoric Book II
- Rhetoric Book III
And rhetoricians generally agree that these three books are the most important books on the topic of persuasion ever written.
Although he started writing these books all the way back around 367 BCE, many believe that all work on the art of persuasion after these books is merely a response to what Aristotle wrote all those years ago.
If you think about what the ultimate goal of copywriting is, which is to persuade someone to take action, you’ll see why the ideas in these books are relevant and useful to this day.
So, let’s go back in time thousands of years to see what lessons Aristotle can teach us about copywriting and, more specifically, emotional trigger words and phrases we can use to persuade our audience.
What Is An Emotional Trigger?
To get at what an emotional trigger is, we need to dive just a little bit into some of the theory Aristotle laid out in Rhetoric.
See, in Rhetoric, Aristotle says that there are three modes of persuasion:
Now, what exactly are these and what do they look like in practice?
Let’s have a look.
Ethos is a Greek word that means “character”, and in Aristotle’s modes of persuasion, ethos is an appeal to the authority or credibility of the speaker.
Essentially, it’s how well the writer or speaker can convince the audience that they’re an expert.
A few examples of how someone could achieve this would be:
- Having a position relevant to the topic (i.e. being an experienced college professor)
- Having testimonials from other experts in the field
- Having proof of knowledge (i.e. a college degree or certificate)
In short, how are you going to convince your audience that they should trust you?
Logos is derived from a Greek word that roughly translates as “reason”, and it’s the root of the modern word “logic”.
So, logos is a logical appeal.
Some ways someone could attempt to persuade an audience with logic would be:
- Providing facts
- Highlighting relevant statistics
- Examples or scenarios
Using logos can also enhance your ethos.
Pathos is a Greek word that roughly translates to “experience” or “emotion”, and it’s an appeal to the audience’s emotions.
Some ways you can use pathos would be:
- Using metaphors or storytelling, otherwise known as a hook in writing
- Displaying passion
- Using anecdotes
This is the mode of persuasion where you would focus on using specific emotional trigger words and phrases to elicit your desired emotion in your audience.
And that’s what I’ll focus on in the rest of this article.
9 Emotions (& How To Use Them In Copywriting)
To give you a practical application of ethos, I’m going to walk you through 9 of the most universal emotions that people experience, ads that appeal to each of the emotions, and emotional trigger words and phrases to appeal to each emotion.
When to use it: Anger is especially powerful when your goal is to garner support for a cause or get people to share content.
Anger is a common tactic used in political advertising because it’s an effective way to rally people around a single message.
That’s why you see so many anger-inducing memes and ads going viral on social media.
People love to talk and share when they’re outraged.
Look at this ad, for example.
This is certainly an anger-based advertising campaign because the goal of the ad is to get people outraged that the children of the president get healthy lunches, but normal children do not.
However, there may also be an unintended consequence here.
The ad may also anger the president because they targeted his daughters. In that case, the ad may not be persuasive to the person who can actually make the change.
So, be careful with anger-based messages because they're divisive and tricky.
Trigger words and phrases: ordeal, provoke, repulsive, scandal, shocking, corrupt, atrocious, disgusting, offensive, inconsiderate, malicious, violent, spiteful, seething, retaliation, despicable, unjustified, violated
When to use it: Appeals to friendship are good when your goal is to make people feel that you’re bringing them together in a positive way.
Friendship is similar in a lot of ways to anger in terms of advertising because your goal is usually to bring people together.
The difference is that it’s in a more positive way.
Take a look at this ad from American Eagle, for example.
American Eagle wants people to have positive associations with their clothes and brand, so they’re appealing to our sense of friendship and belonging both in the image and in the text.
Essentially, they’re saying that if you wear American Eagle, you’re going to fit in and have friends.
Trigger words and phrases for copywriting: community, join, become a member, mutual, we, together, love, peace, commitment, faithful, consistent, common, society, safety, neighborhood, civil, devotion, inseparable
When to use it: When you want to scare your audience by describing a serious threat to them.
Fear-based advertising is tricky.
It’s tricky because it works, but it’s controversial since you’re playing on people’s biggest fears and insecurities. So, while it’s certainly an effective form of advertising, you have to be careful with the power that it wields.
But let’s look at an example to see why it’s so effective.
Anti-smoking campaigns are a perfect example of fear-based advertising.
Because it’s such a serious topic, people are generally ok with how far anti-smoking campaigns go with their advertising.
They essentially say, “If you smoke, you are significantly more likely to die a terrible death.”
And it seems to have worked.
Trigger words and phrases for copywriting: worry, anxiety, concern, terror, death, toxic, mistake, embarrassed, nightmare, doubt, phobia, horrific, disastrous, plummet, warning, danger, looming, shattered
When to use it: Shamed-based advertising is good for when you want your audience to make a behavioral change in their lives.
Similar to fear-based advertising, shame-based advertising is powerful and useful as long as its used appropriately.
You don’t want your audience feeling like you’re constantly shaming them.
However, shame-based advertising is effective if your goal is to inspire a behavioral change in your audience.
For example, look at this anti-littering ad.
This ad is directly shaming people who litter by calling them lazy.
However, it’s effective and accepted because society as a whole generally accepts that littering is bad. Where you want to be careful is shaming people for things that are difficult to change about themselves.
The last thing you want is for your audience to think that you’re a jerk.
Trigger words and phrases for copywriting: lazy, deadbeat, slob, slacker, careless, can’t, irresponsible, fool, no, failure, bad, ashamed, in the way, incompetent, disappointment, don’t, wrong, boring
When to use it: Appealing to kindness is good for when you want to bring people together or make them feel like they belong.
While not as action-provoking as anger or fear, kindness is a powerful emotion to tap into in advertising campaigns.
Kindness is great for instilling positive feelings in your audience and making them feel that they belong.
For example, look at this ad for Kind Bars.
On one hand, they’re saying they like Kind Bars more than pizza, but they’re also saying that they like YOU more than they like pizza.
It’s an appeal to kindness and to the audience’s sense of belonging.
Kindness is similar in a lot of ways to friendship.
Trigger words and phrases for copywriting: you, us, nice, kind, friendship, peace, together, all of us, neighborly, caring, courteous, sympathetic, empathetic, respectful, kindhearted, hospitable, acceptance, appreciation
When to use it: Appealing to pity or guilt is useful when asking for donations.
Appealing to pity or guilt is when someone tries to win support for an idea by exploiting the audience’s feelings of pity or guilt.
It’s a popular tactic amongst non-profits and charities.
Look at this anti-circus ad, for example.
The goal here is to make the audience either feel pity for the animal or feel guilty for supporting circuses.
Either way, their goal is to make you feel bad about attending circuses.
Pity is similar in many ways to shame.
Trigger words and phrases for copywriting: goodwill, humane, disgrace, shame, disgusting, charity, donation, mercy, kindness, empathy, generosity, compassion, bleed for, sympathize with, feel for, grief, sorrow, understand
When to use it: Anticipation is great for building excitement for an event or a product release.
Anticipation is probably one of the most important emotions to understand as someone creating advertisements.
Rarely do people release a product without doing some pre-selling.
You aren’t going to spend months (or years) developing a product without hyping up the release before you actually make it available to the public.
That would just be poor marketing.
Movies are notorious for playing on the anticipation emotion.
They release trailers, promotions, and posters in the months leading up to the movie release to generate excitement and interest.
You should be doing the same for every product you create or promote.
Trigger words and phrases for copywriting: coming soon, release date, announcing, amazing, sensational, revolutionary, magic, offer, upcoming, get ready, secret, big, discount, sale, limited release, soon, save the date, get notified
When to use it: Appealing to envy is powerful when you’re product acts as a status symbol.
Appeals to envy are something you see in the online world all the time.
Internet marketers love to show off their wealth and possessions because it makes their audience envious.
Take this Facebook ad, for example.
It’s a simple ad, but there’s a lot of appeal to envy here.
Both of the people in the picture are dressed well, which implies wealth. The ad copy, “He went from homeless to this??” makes people envious because they want to go from their current financial situation to being wealthy as well.
So, appealing to envy can be powerful with the right audience.
Trigger words and phrases for copywriting: wealth, freedom, rich, make money, get out of debt, unlimited, work for yourself, be your own boss, limitless, infinite, get what you want, like me, deep pockets, abundance, power, travel, in control, influential
When to use it: Appealing to your audience’s sense of love is great for anything relationship-based.
Love is a powerful emotion to tap into.
If you’ve been around for a while, you know how far people are willing to go to either find or prove their love for another person.
Whether we’re talking about marriage or improving other relationships in our lives, people are always going to want to bring more love into their lives.
So, let’s look at an example of something that appeals to love.
This ad is essentially saying, “If you love your spouse as much as you say you do, you should spend at least two months of your salary on an engagement ring.”
The thing that’s crazy about De Beers is that they essentially created the diamond engagement ring industry. Before their advertising campaigns, people didn’t even buy each other diamond rings for marriage.
That’s how powerful an appeal to love can be.
Trigger words and phrases for copywriting: love, relationship, happiness, marriage, dating, forever, eternity, adore, cherish, lifetime, by my side, need, unconditional, eternal, admire, acceptance, beauty, attraction
What Will You Do With These Emotional Trigger Words And Phrases For Copywriting?
Copywriters have a lot of power.
Just based on the words that you choose, you can elicit a range of reactions from people. Thus, it’s important that you wield this power responsibly.
Now that you know how you can elicit specific emotions, think about how it applies to you and your own advertising.
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