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Episode 053 - Fear and Greed

Published by: David Garfinkel on 04-23-2018

Meeting with editor from large subscription newsletter publisher in 2006, at conference. Editor didn’t understand copy all that well – joked that “In our copywriting department, we have two divisions: The division of fear, and the division of greed.”

This is a commonly accepted assumption among many copywriters AND among many copywriting gurus… fear and greed are IT.

True? We’ll look at that today.

Here’s something that’s definitely true:

Copy is powerful. You’re responsible for how you use what you hear on this podcast. Most of the time, common sense is all you need. But if you make extreme claims… and/or if you’re writing copy for offers in highly regulated industries like health, finance, and business opportunity… you may want to get a legal review after you write and before you start using your copy. My larger clients do this all the time.

Why do people say this?

1. What is fear?

2. What is greed?

Example of fear that works:

from / looks like it was a product on Clickbank, but the page has been taken down.

Hypothetical example of fear that doesn’t really work so well

For a pest-control product:

Ants have been found to carry deadly diseases including E. Coli, Strep and Staph infections, and Salmonella. What if your family came down with one or more of those diseases?

Among other reasons this is not good…

Example of greed that works:


Hypothetical example of greed that doesn’t really work so well

Warren Buffett sold packs of chewing gum when he was a kid, and now he’s worth $85.8 billion dollars.

But you don’t know how to teach your kids how to sell gum. We’ll show you and you can take a cut of their profits.

What about the other motivations?

- Discount coupon in retail advertising

Everyone loves a deal. Is that greed? Not exactly.

- Free trial

It’s true, people are afraid a new app or a new membership site might not work for them.

But is that fear? Or low risk tolerance. Risk-reversal. Not exactly fear.

Maybe we should call all this “50 Shades of Fear and Greed”

Because there are degrees of emotion that drive, and prevent, purchases. Nuances. Subtleties.

And what about fundraising letters?

- Richard Armstrong sea turtles letter (1988)

- Political fundraising

email from Sen. Al Franken’s Senate re-election campaign, 2013, which he won:

Let’s circle back to where we started – a subscription dm letter, and the most profitable ad of all time (that’s been tracked): Wall Street Journal “Two young men” letter. (include text-first 5 paragraphs)

Is that fear? Well, FOMO.

Is that greed? Wanting to be CEO.

Also… envy; desire for power, success; wanting to increase career odds.

So, not exactly.

Major certainty:

Copywriting won’t work without stirring some emotion.

And nearly all emotions are some form of moving away from something you don’t want (which can be construed as fear) or moving towards something you do want (which can be construed as greed). But there are a lot of steps in between raw fear and raw greed.

Keywords: fear and greed in advertising

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