Contrast In Copywriting Hurts So Good

If you’re not using contrast in your copywriting  you’re doing your customers a huge disservice. 


Shine the spotlight on the challenges/crap/nonsense/pain people endure because they don’t know — yet — what you can do for them.

contrast in copywritingCold rain = yucky               Warmth = Ahhh

If you’re writing copy for a new or innovative product, you have a special challenge. Your customers don’t know what they don’t know, and that’s a difficult barrier.

But then there’s the rest of the marketing/copywriting world where the real barrier is your reader’s memory and current beliefs. Who wants to remember a moment of misery? (Besides Catholics descended from Eastern European immigrants, as I should know.)

People forget details. They repress facts. They tell themselves it wasn’t so bad. They sentimentalize discomfort. [I remember reading a young pioneer girl’s account of her older sister’s selfless act of love during winter. The older girl would get up out of bed early in the morning, retrieve a hot stone from the fire, wrap it up in a blanket and bury it under the covers near her siblings’ feet to warm them before they got out of bed. This was before central heating and cooling, so yes, that’s love; can you imagine their desire for central heating once it was invented?]

And sometimes your readers just plumb forget what they already know so well.

Remind them in your copywriting! You must do them that service. That’s the whole point of learning to write copy for your business…to get people to look again and say “Ah-HA! Yes, I need to do something about that.”

The best way to do that is to illuminate the dark, cold, ugly, uncomfortable, mean parts and then… show them something different. Contrast the two states and let them decide for themselves.


This idea about contrast in copywriting is front and center this week. 

First, you should know that I would be a ripe target for a cottage rental in Honduras. Heck, I’m ready to pick up now and just head down there. Enough of this cold!

See, Endless Winter (yes, naming the enemy keeps it close. It’s initials are “EW.”)… Endless Winter settled in Texas this year. It’s April and we still turn up the heat, keep scarves and mittens in the trunk for after school ball games, light the fireplace when we get home. Endless Winter won’t leave.

April! Twenty days after the vernal equinox and my bones are cold.

I don’t want to be here in North America where it’s cold. When winter overstays its welcome I want to go someplace warm. If only someone would call and say they’ve cleared my calendar and there’s a property for rent in Ecuador or some other toasty place. I’ve had it with winter. 

Here’s the rub, though. This desire fades when it’s 100 degrees here in Austin. 100 degrees makes this heat monger very happy, by the way.

Nor is my aversion to cold as strong when I’m putting on the first sweater of the season heading out to shop for Thanksgiving Day groceries. In fact I can never seem to conjure up the appropriate detestation when it’s actually the ideal moment to plan a spring vacation, which is sometime in fall. I can’t quite put my finger on it until, well…the misery is here and now.

Why doesn’t someone email me an alert in November (before I’m fed up) and remind me of this early April disposition? In fact (is this weird?) I may sit down and write copy just for me, myself, because I know where it really hurts. I may be able to sell me on a real vacation. 

Just tell me something good and hot. I’ll be there.

I would write about someplace that’s always warm. As warm as the planet will suffer. Warmth is the predominant factor I’m looking for. Trees, I don’t care, Ocean, that would be nice, but not necessary. I’m freakin’ cold in my bones NOW and I’m looking for hot. As Neil Simon writes in Biloxi Blues, “Africa hot.” By the way, I’ll up the ante and exclude civil unrest, riots and military coups. Just warmth and peace, come to think of it. Somewhere neither cold nor crazy.

When you write copy, it’s the contrast that ignites your reader’s imagination. Just like bitter, cold rain drives people indoors, writing about your customer’s pain makes them want to pull away from it. Whatever icky space they’re in, they don’t want to be there.

You’ve done your job as a copywriter if writing about the current situation makes your reader squirm in discomfort, then practically beg for a solution.

When I first started writing copy, I thought I should slowly peel back the onion layers, building a case like en essay. Start slowly, I thought, and then move in toward the real point, as if the reader has all the time in the world to go there with you. HA.

Now I know that’s not how you do it. Good copywriting goes right to the pain. Rip off that band-aid. One quick swipe and it actually feels good, the pain. Expose the harsh reality. Stay there awhile and get real cozy with the discomfort, the frustration, the worry… humiliation even.

Bizarre details come out only after you’ve spent some time there. So spend some time understanding your customer’s problem so you can accurately describe it. They’ll know it if you’re faking…

Get wet! Stand out in the rain with your reader.

There’s nothing quite as compelling as an exotic vacation in a hot land, let alone a warm dry kitchen, when you’re standing in 45-degree drizzle.

But unless I am actually out in it, just saying “cold and rainy” doesn’t quite plunge me into an authentic  memory of the misery. I’m not “feeling it.” I don’t really care and I’m not going to do anything about it.

Now here’s what would actually pique my interest. A Gauguin-inspired picture of a woman holding a lovely pink, sun-drenched mango… and this: a detailed description of what I actually endured yesterday:

Me in cute sandals, weight on the balls of my feet so my princess heels don’t embed into the stoney sledge of the parking lot, standing behind the muddy back end of my minivan. Rain soaking between my icy-cold freshly pedicured toes, giving new meaning to the nail polish name “Snappy Sorbet.” I’m heaving the trunk door open and rooting around for my scratchy, lavender acrylic scarf which I left there last winter. Great gusts whip my skirt so it clings against the rainwater-splattered rear bumper. Can you picture it?

Now contrast the gray, cold scene with the sensation of warmth and light — not to mention the feeling of serenity and vibrancy that go along with being in a warm, exotic place.

Ahhh, perfect. I’m sold.

Now tell me again about that beach in the Maldives.

Shell pic: Flickr Creative Commons, Moyan_Brenn