Purchase Motivation Primer: Greed

Courtesy of Muffet (flickr)

Very few people are comfortable being thought of as greedy.

Probably some Wall Street power brokers are OK with it.  Maybe the occasional rapper or jewel thief.

But most people, even the ultra-rich, don’t like the idea of being considered greedy.

But they are.  You are.  I am.

We’re all greedy to some extent, and copywriters the world over capitalize on that fact in innumerable ways through their advertising and content.

Basically, greed is the desire for more money or power than you’ve technically earned or deserve.

So, if you’re currently working for $8.25 per hour flipping burgers at Meat Shack and you’re grumbling to yourself that the girl at the fry-o-later is making $8.50 and you think you should too, you’re being greedy.

It’s really a fine line, because in some ways, it’s tied together with ambition and smart thinking: if you didn’t look ahead, set a goal for something better, reach for that goal and work hard to attain it, you’d never get anywhere.

But, in many cases, the kid at the grill just sits there grumbling, then does nothing else about it.

And that’s the greedy attitude that can lead to stupid, unethical and unfortunate results down the road.

Now, I’m not advocating this attitude, I’m just reporting it like I see it.  The fact is, all of us, at one time or another, have looked at what someone else has and we’ve wanted it, although we’ve given no thought at all to what it took to get it.

The difference is in what we do immediately after that thought comes up.  Do we take the high road or not?

How to Use Greed

Copywriters can effectively use both aspects of the human being’s natural greed, whether they take the high road or the low road.

You’ve no doubt seen the headlines, the infomercials, the landing pages, the books…

“You Can Make $123,422 in 30 Days, While You Sleep!”

“Live Like a King on $2 a Day!”

Usually, they’re advertising business opportunities, MLM schemes, investment advice, or some other means of (supposedly) making big money fast.

The key to these kinds of headlines and the copy that follows them is that the copywriter is focusing on the obvious human desire to obtain huge rewards without investing huge amounts of effort in exchange.

Common sense tells us that it’s not really possible to make over $100,000 in the next month.  Or, at least, it’s highly unlikely, especially starting from zero, as the target audience for this type of ad is.

But that doesn’t make the ad any less effective.  You see, we’d all like to think we could do something insanely unlikely, if we could just figure out the step-by-step process for doing so.

And inevitably, that’s exactly what the ad ends up selling you.  Headlines like that are never used to sell you an actual physical product because it would just make no sense that a particular brand of dishwasher or a luxury car could bring you unearned riches.

But a method of which you’ve been unaware up until now?  A step-by-step process for building a business or investing your retirement fund that can supposedly earn incredible dividends?

Now THAT makes more sense!

So the copywriter goes on to tell a sad story about YOU, the reader, and the horribly depressing mediocre life you live, and about how much better your existence would be if you could just stop worrying about money and spend every day goofing off with family and friends.

Of course, by the end of the skillfully crafted sales letter or landing page, you’re absolutely sure that the only way you can ever drag yourself out of the morass of soul-killing monotony that is your life is to purchase this method for instant and easy wealth, and then your new life will begin.

Taking the High Road

OK, so I’m being a touch melodramatic, sarcastic, and probably a bit too hard on the get-rich-quick industry.

Here’s my disclaimer: we see so much of it, because it works.  Plain and simple.  The copywriters who write this stuff make tons of money doing it, and in all honesty, given the opportunity I would probably do the same.  What we’re selling is a dream, a hope, a wish.  And for a lot of people, that’s all they’re really interested in.

But that doesn’t mean if feels good.

Personally, I believe there’s a better way to capitalize on the human tendency to be greedy, and I think it’s well exemplified in this excerpt from an interview with Chris Garret regarding ProBlogger (the book) by Chris Garret and Darren Rowse. (This is an affiliate link. I trust these guys, they know what they’re talking about.)

“The book actually says the same thing. Me and Darren (Rowse) emphasize a couple of times that this is not a get rich quick scheme and although there’s money, don’t think ‘pack in the day job and I’ll make a bigger income (from blogging)’. There is money to make but it’s hard work and you have to choose the right battle.”

If you want to capitalize on human greed, write your copy in such a way that you acknowledge the fact that all of us would like to have a more comfortable, less stressful life.  But then, acknowledge that a life like that needs to be earned.

And earning a full life through dedicated, sometimes really really hard, work can be so much more fulfilling than reaching for the million-dollar pipe dream.

Your turn:  Do those pie-in-the-sky ads work on you?  Have you ever purchased an e-book or membership because a skilled copywriter fed your greed?  Let me know in the comments.


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Justin P Lambert

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