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Advertising Strategy

Why You Should Use Counterarguments When Creating Copy That Converts

The best copywriters – the ones who really know how to make words not only pack a memorable punch, but actually convert – know that there are thousands of ways to craft your message. The most talented copywriters also realize that it’s more than a style, or a tone, or a set of words. And the most impactful conversion-oriented copy takes dozens of variables and finely selects the most powerful combination of letters to leverage mindsets, perceptions, and inner needs.

To get your copy to consistently convert, you have to look deeper into the human psyche. You have to analyze the subtle communication techniques that persuade and compel. You need to dive into social science and behavioral analysis.

And when you finally do that… your brain will probably melt. At least mine did, and continues to pretty regularly. The strangeness of the human mind blows me away, time and time again. In the simplest of terms (packed full of love): humans are freaking weird.

But beyond that realization, I have also developed a deep understanding of these strange nuances which help my clients, my team, and me on a daily basis.

So, since most people like to skip straight to the answer, I’m going to start with it. Using counterarguments in your copy is often more effective than claims on their own, no matter how powerful. For us strange humans, counterarguments tend to hold more weight than primary claims.

Rather than show you in step-by-step form how to harness the power of counterarguments yourself, I’m going to illustrate this using a true story. (If you want a step-by-step, let’s just jump on a phone call… it’ll be easier for both of us. Send me a message here, it’s free.)

This is a story all about how Big Tobacco flipped, turned their path upside down. And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there. I’ll tell you how Big Tobacco banned themselves to success.

And it all has to do with the power of counterarguments.

Big Tobacco vs. Counterarguments

In the late 1960s, Big Tobacco was facing a ~10% decrease in sales YoY. Finally, non-profits and for-good organizations were outing them and telling the world that cigarettes do NOT make you more attractive or healthy. In fact, they do exactly the opposite. (For you in the back, this was the counterargument.)

Big Tobacco said, “well… shit.” (Direct quote. I was there.) But then they realized there was really one big problem in their way: for every television or radio broadcast they sent out, these anti-organizations would be right next to them countering their tobacco-loving claims.

And those counterclaims were crushing them.

Big Tobacco had already tried to spend way more money and time coming up with bigger, better, flashier ads whose production values blew the counterarguments’ ads out of the water. But, it didn’t make a difference. The counterarguments were all most people paid attention to… and the sales proved it.

You may be wondering how on earth did these organizations afford to bat against this multi-billion dollar industry? Especially when 42% of Americans were smokers, compared to the ~20% today.

Because there was (is?) a rule that for every major controversy with opposing claims, if one side of the claim was paying for tv/radio broadcasting, the opposite side would receive the same amount of air time for FREE.

That rule did more than level the playing field. It gave Big Tobacco’s opposition a huge psychological advantage.

One point for the opposition. Zero points for Big Tobacco.

So this went on for some time as Big Tobacco kept trying to make bigger and better ads, but it just wasn’t working. Finally, they smartened up and said, “Let’s get rid of those suckers’ counterarguments and make ourselves look like we give a shit about health at the same time.” They went on to lobby and support the passage of the law banning tobacco advertisements from airing on tv and radio. This law passed on April 1, 1970 under the Nixon administration.

To the average person, the behavior of these Big Tobacco companies seemed both crazy and noble.

“Big Tobacco is going out of their way to CARE about Americans’ health?! Won’t their sales plummet?!”

The answer to both of those questions is a big, ‘heck no!’. Because Big Tobacco realized something valuable before embarking on this “noble” adventure: counterarguments hold the most weight in persuading people to believe or take action.

See, the fairness in advertising rule where airtime had to be given at an equally to both sides of a controversy only applied to tv and radio.

So they didn’t take themselves out of the game. They took out their opposition.

Without the threat of equally omnipresent counterarguments, Big Tobacco poured their new-found budget into print, product placement, and more.

And guess what happened? Big Tobacco’s sales went right back up. Just by removing the opposing claims and facts.

How To Use This Info

Now, you may not be able to remove all opposing claims and facts when it comes to your business. But, neither can your competitors. When you use this lesson for yourself, you’re not going to be Big Tobacco. You’re going to be the organizations who were calling BS on the tobacco industry’s claims.

So for those of you who can blow some competitors’ claims (or even widely accepted societal claims) wide open. You’re in luck. Go get ’em.

(PSA: Counterarguments do not need to be rude or aggressive to work. Extreme claims do perform best psychologically – another story for another day – but don’t take this as a hall pass to be a bully! With knowledge, comes power. Be a good person.)

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