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“Copywriting?” said the bro.

“Yeh,” I said. “That’s what I do. What about you?”

“Wait wait wait,” he said. “So like patents and shit? Are you a lawyer?”

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I pursed my lips. 

“Nah,” I said. “I write the words that go into ads.”

“Oohhh sheeeet,” said the bro. “Mind control!” 

He stuck out his beer. “Hey cheers to that, man.”

“Yeh,” I said. “Cheers.”

I’ll admit I didn’t like that.

Mind control” sounds evil, is evil.

It’s taking away someone’s free will — and that’s not what copywriting does


Copywriting creates tension.

Tension is that feeling you get when something is off, or missing. And tension creates desire. And desire makes people take action.

That’s how persuasion works: tension, desire, action — in that order, always.

Tension. Desire. Action.
Tension. Desire. Action.
Tension. Desire. Action.

To the neophyte, the untrained eye, copywriting (or more colloquially, advertising and marketing) probably seems like mind control.

It’s not, of course. It’s just tension, manufactured tension. 

How to manufacture tension:

Call attention to a need. 

In his genuinely great book, Ca$hvertising, Drew Eric Whitman cites 17 innate human needs copywriters can always lean on to create tension…

People have 8 primary needs, which we’re born with: 

  1. Survival, enjoyment of life, life extension

  2. Enjoyment of food and beverages

  3. Freedom from fear, pain, and danger

  4. Sexual companionship

  5. Comfortable living conditions 

  6. Being superior, winning, keeping up with the Joneses

  7. Care and protection of loved ones

  8. Social approval

And we have 9 secondary needs, which we learn: 

  1. To be informed

  2. Curiosity

  3. Cleanliness of body and surroundings

  4. Efficiency

  5. Convenience

  6. Dependability/quality

  7. Expression of beauty and style

  8. Economy/profit

  9. Bargains

As a general rule of thumb, the strongest ads promise to satisfy desires caused by our primary needs. So, whenever possible, create tension (remember, tension begets desire) around those 8. 

If you can’t, move on to the next 9. 

And again, you can manufacture tension by calling attention to a need. 

How to call attention to a need:

Use this formula.


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Judge not lest ye be judged.