Brexit and copywriting: 5 reasons why feelings Trump facts

persuasive copywriting

When we talk about buying or voting choices, many of us stick to the notion that decisions are rational.

But this is wrong!

Political campaigners still canvas doorsteps and try to win over their voters with logic. Many copywriters do the same thing when trying to persuade consumers to buy.

Yet events in 2016 and into the present show us that logic doesn’t get the heart beating or the blood boiling. But copywriting is most potent when it does just that.

And this ability to rouse the emotions is a big part of why the Donald Trump and Leave EU campaigns won…

1.     Facts don’t (always) matter

According to Politifact, 69% of Trump’s statements are false

Likewise, many of the Leave EU campaign claims also proved untrue. Chief among these is the statement that leaving the EU would allow the government to inject £350 million into the NHS.

During the run-up to the referendum, Michael Gove said “we’ve had enough of experts”. That statement sounds stupid. But while his rivals mocked him, it seems Gove captured what many people were feeling.

Let’s face it, politicians and the media swamp us with pie charts and digits come election time. And it’s often hard to make head or tail of so much info.

This is especially true when it’s spun and spat at us in different ways from all corners.

So to make sense of it all, we look for ideas we can see, feel and grab hold of…  

2.     Sizzling copy speaks of dreams, not five-point plans

When Martin Luther King made his most famous speech, he didn’t describe in great detail how he, or America as a whole, was going to achieve his aims.

In other words, he didn’t say “I have a plan”.

What King did was draw a vision of a perfect future in the minds of his listeners.

And this is exactly what Trump and those in the Leave campaign achieved…

During the election, many criticised Trump for making promises without a plan. In the UK, Remainers lambasted Leavers for the same reasons.

But just like MLK, Trump focused on clear goals and outcomes.

Prime examples are the slogan “Make America Great Again”, and the oft-repeated phrase “we’re going to build a wall”.

Meanwhile the Leave campaign used the slogan “Let’s Take Back Control”.

That’s ingenius copywriting. 

This approach was bound to pull on the heart strings and offer a sense of power to those who feel ignored by ‘The Man’. And it did just that for millions of voters on both sides of the Atlantic.

So it doesn’t matter whether you agree with the underlying message or not. These techniques work.

Effective communication relies on knowing what makes your reader tick and in finding ways to tap into those feelings. This is the essence of great copywriting.  

Yet by contrast, both Hilary Clinton and the Remain camp stuck mostly to rational ideas. Remain focused on trade. Clinton hinged her campaign on her experience and Trump’s lack of it.

In fact, the two losing campaign slogans were very similar; Clinton led with“Stronger Together”, and Remain went for “Britain Stronger in Europe”.  

The word ‘stronger’ does have power. Yet the issue is that there’s nothing in either slogan to paint a clear image in the reader’s mind.

3.     A bright future tops more doom and gloom

The Leave and Trump campaigns promised to restore something lost. This romantic vision of a long-lost past was retrogressive. Yet it was also easy – and for some, pleasant – to imagine. Meanwhile, the references to old times can stir our penchant for ‘seeing the past through rose-tinted spectacles’.

This contrasted sharply with the Remain campaign’s focus on fear of the unknown. There was nothing appealing in the stark picture of doom and gloom they said lay just around the corner if we dared to vote Leave.

You might say that was the point.

But as fellow freelance copywriter Tom Albrighton points out in this ace blog post, the Remain campaign could’ve had more impact by creating a vision of our glistening future as part of the EU. Instead, it focused almost solely on the UK and on trying to discredit the other side of the debate.  

4.     We love heroes and villains


Like all good copywriters, Trump and the Leavers know the power of storytelling. As another copywriter Andy Maslen points out in his latest book on the subject, Persuasive Copywriting, there are four key ingredients to a good story:

  1. Hero
  2. Threat or problem
  3. Narrative
  4. Solution

Trump used this formula to a tee. He cast the threat as foreigners who, in his mind, are trying to change our way of life.

In his narrative, hardworking people have lost their jobs, homes and health at the hands of the threat or ‘villain’. Trump’s solutions are to build a wall and repeal global trade deals.

And the hero? None other than Trump himself.  

5.     Repetition is good. I say repetition is a good thing

Our brains are hardwired to respond to repetition. When we hear or read something over and over again, we’re more likely to remember or believe it.

There are YouTube montage videos of Trump saying the word ‘China’ over and over again. This gives some the impression that there isn’t any substance to his words. 

After all, repetition’s a bit Foghorn Leghorn or Fred Elliot, isn’t it?

Yet when Trump says things like “it’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess. I inherited a mess”, this isn’t necessarily a sign that he doesn’t have a clue. In fact, it’s a proven technique that many copywriters use to drum home their message.

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