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Not sure what makes good ad copy?

In this article, I’ll be explaining the scientific side of marketing language, exploring why certain words are powerful tools in creating effective ad copy.

The difference between good and bad ad copy, in terms of results, can be huge, as we know. Even the smallest differences in word choice and punctuation are shown to have a significant impact.

It follows that, as copywriters, we must use all available information and resources to inform us on our choice of words.

There’s a lot of literature on effective marketing words – and to give you a helping hand, we’ve highlighted the main ones below, along with the science behind why some of these words are so powerful.

Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Which Brain?

It’s quite thought-provoking when you consider that various parts of your brain evolved at different times. What does this mean in terms of how we think and act? How do these different evolutionary areas interreact?

The human brain is the most complex thing in the known universe, by far, but it didn’t just appear overnight or out of nowhere. The brain has spent several million years evolving and has done so in stages, which is evidenced by its three functionally distinct layers.

The outer layer, known as the forebrain or new brain, contains the cerebral cortex and is the centre for higher thinking; logic, abstract thought, and metacognition (thinking about thinking). This part of the brain evolved last, and even though it’s the most advanced, it doesn’t have as strong a grip on our decision making as we’d like.

Surround by the cortex, we find a much older area known as the limbic system, which is responsible for lower-order emotional processing. Part of the limbic system, the amygdala, is said to have more influence on the cortex than the cortex has on the amygdala. Feelings don’t care about facts; reason serves passion, etc.

The centre section, known as the Old, Hind or Reptilian Brain, is responsible for basic, unconscious processes. All decisions need to go through the old brain, which contains the brain stem and is connected directly to the optic nerve.

The old brain evolved first so is the most primitive, thoughtless, and uncontrollable by the higher thinking cortex.

What’s this got to do with ad copy?


The most effective advertising words – which tend to be direct, simple, arresting, or visual – resonate better with the limbic system (emotional) and reptilian (instinctual) brain – which together have the most influence on decision making.


Neuromarketing’s approach to market research involves scientifically analysing the neurological and physiological responses of test subjects, rather than their self-reported preferences and experience.

According to the author of Neuromarketing: Understanding the Buy Buttons in Your Customer’s Brain, Patrick Renvoise, the primitive brain areas can be unconsciously aroused by certain types of stimuli.

Renvoise explains that, while with traditional market research we act on what the customer says they want; with neuromarketing we look at brain activity and physiological changes. This involves measuring facial expressions, eye tracking, voice analysis, skin conduction, blood pressure, ECG, and MRI.

In his research, Renvoise has identified six distinct types of stimuli or triggers for what he calls the brain’s buy button. Let’s look at these triggers and how they relate to ad copy:

  1. Ego-centrism. You. The old brain is completely self-centred, so copy which uses first/second person pronouns, placing the reader into the copy, best resonates with the old brain.
  2. Contrast. Make the value proposition salient. Small/big, light/dark, with/without. This trigger is perhaps best expressed via imagery, but language which suggests contrast or distinction from the norm may also be effective. Startling, Remarkable, Magic, Amazing, etc. These superlatives aren’t generally allowed on stricter platforms such as Google Ads, so make the most of them where it’s possible.
  3. Tangible. Make the value proposition touchable. Again, this trigger is best used with imagery and physical advertisements, but in terms of copy – focus on selling the concrete benefits and not product features. The value-based copy will tend to hook peoples’ attention easier than technical jargon.
  4. Beginning and End. The reptilian brain is awake at the beginning and end – and forgets everything in-between. It follows that the beginning and end of copy may have the largest impact on the reader.
  5. Visual. The old brain struggles with language, so make the value proposition visible. With the invention of emoticons, this could be implemented into copy of some advertising platforms. More on that later.
  6. Emotion. Considering the role emotions have on decision making, you should look to hook the audience via their emotions rather than logic. Use words that trigger an emotional response. Appeal to emotive centres of the brain, and the cortex will have a hard time overriding the decision-making process.

AI’s Take

Does artificial intelligence’s take on copywriting acquiesce with Renvoise’s findings?

Above is a side-by-side comparison between a human and computer-generated ad, from an article on AI copy writing. The computer-generated ad performed significantly better than the human created ad, lowering CPL (cost per lead) by 31%.

Unsurprisingly, the computer-generated ad appears to make better use of the buy-button stimuli. Can you spot some of the triggers?

We start on the powerful, customer-centric word ‘you’. Perfect. Now, look how the separate emoticon-rich lines ‘Sun…’ and ‘Sea…’ provide contrast and visual stimuli. The end ‘SAVINGS’ is a lot more powerful and memorable than the original, also.

It’s encouraging to know that Artificial Intelligences and Neuroscientists have reached the same conclusions on ad-copy. Remember: harness the six buy-button stimuli and include powerful words in your copy – I’m sure you’ll see great results. 


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