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Car crash copy: why bad news is better than good

August 11, 2012 | By | 3 Replies More

You get an email telling you the good news…

If you act in the next two hours, you can claim a £100 discount on so and so’s latest copywriting seminar.

That’s great news. But is it the best way to promote that offer?

Is good news always a good thing?

Not necessarily.

When it comes to good copy, it’s worth thinking twice about leading with good news – it could actually be better to lead with bad news!

It might sound a bit strange, but in my experience and testing, I’ve found that on a number of occasions bad news beats good news.

An example…

Mr So-and-So sends out an email offering people a £100 discount on his latest copywriting seminar, if you reply in the next two hours. The subject line of his email reads:

GOOD NEWS: Claim a £100 discount in the next two hours

That seems reasonable enough. It gets across the discount and it manages to incorporate the urgency element of the offer too – you must act in the next two hours.

Mr So-and-So gets a 15% open rate and he’s happy. He’s a copywriting genius after all!

Thing is, that same day his main competitor, Mr Clever Test, sends out a very similar email with a slight difference.

Because they’re direct competitors (and, for the purposes of my explanation…) they have exactly the same readers on their lists. And it just so happens that Mr Clever Test is running the exact same offer for his new copywriting seminar – a £100 discount for those who reply in the next two hours.

Everything is the same except the subject line, which reads instead:

BAD NEWS: Your £100 discount runs out in two hours

Now, would you think this subject line would do better or worse than the first, which was billed as good news?

If you guessed it would do better, you’d be spot on. You see, based on my own testing, you’d generally find that the bad news out-pulled by about 30-40%, at least.

You see, it’s all to do with what I call ‘the car crash principle of copy’.

For good or bad, us humans are a rum bunch. We can’t help but watch bad stuff happen. These days we even have a genre of television dedicated to the concept.

The thing is, we all do it. We’re programmed to. If you see someone fall off their bicycle on the road, you can’t help but look. You justify it with concern, but in truth you’re not that bothered: it’s just funny.

And it goes further…

Our human psyches are even more screwed up. We’d often rather see someone fail than succeed. Chances are if you heard about an old friend who’d won the lottery, you’d be pretty dismissive and think they didn’t deserve it… but when you hear two weeks later that there was an error and they haven’t won a thing… you’d secretly celebrate their misfortune.

Yup, we’re a bad news bunch.

But what the heck, as a copywriter, you’re not looking to solve the ills of the world… you’re looking for ways to connect with your fellow humans and seeing as bad news is such a universal ‘turn-on’, it naturally follows that you should use it in your copy.

So, next time you’re thinking about spreading the good news about a great new offer, think twice. It might be better to find a way to flip the good news on it’s head and piqué your reader’s interest with an irresistible bit of bad news!

Best,
Glenn

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Category: Emotionals

About the Author ()

Glenn Fisher is a professional copywriter, founder of AllGoodCopy.com and author of Write Better Copy. He is an expert in long copy sales letters, having written copy that has so far generated more than £10 million in revenue. Born in Grimsby, he now lives in London.

Comments (3)

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  1. Steven45 says:

    Great insight, Glenn. Will try it out this week. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Margaret says:

    Very interesting. I always bring out the positive in my offers but you think different. I’ll split test it this week and see how it does.

  3. TheCopyGuy says:

    Let us know how it does Margaret. I think Glenn might be right on this, I’ve seen similar when I’ve gone with ‘bad news’.

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