freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, freelance commercial writer

A freelance copywriter is always looking for an edge when it comes to finding new ways to persuade in writing. Read the following facts and see if you can guess what persuasive technique they all have in common:

  • The “canned laughter” that has been an ever-present feature of situation comedies for over 50 years is based upon solid research. Despite the fact that canned laughter fools no one, sounds mechanical, and insults our intelligence; studies have shown people laugh longer, more often and afterwards rate the show as funnier with a laugh track than when presented with the same exact show without the canned laughter.

  • The same studies also show that laugh tracks are most effective when used with poor jokes. In other words, we don’t notice a joke is lame and laugh right along with the canned laughter.

  • Bartenders and church ushers have learned that “salting” their tip jars and collection plates with a few dollar bills stimulates more giving.

  • Nightclubs have been successfully creating the appearance of popularity and exclusivity by roping off long lines outside their doors, even when the club inside is not really crowded. They have found that the line outside actually draws more people, despite the obvious inconvenience.

  • Psychologists have found that children who are extremely afraid of dogs can be “cured” by showing them films of a variety of other children their own ages playing, laughing and interacting with dogs.

  • And lastly, can anyone resist looking upward on a downtown street corner when a group of other people are also looking up?

These are all examples of what psychologists call, “social proof,” a very powerful shaper of human behavior. And, in the hands of a freelance copywriter, social proof can become a tremendous tool.

In very simple terms, social proof dictates how people determine what is correct behavior. For example, have you ever attended a formal party and found yourself observing what others are doing so you would know how to act yourself?

Robert Cialdinin, in his exhaustively written book, Influence: Science and Practice, has found that social proof is especially strong in situations in which we are uncertain what to do (like the formal party). In those circumstances, we are naturally prone to observe what others do and model our behavior after them.

As a copywriting tool, social proof has few equals. For example, suppose a freelance copywriter is given an assignment to write the script for a short film to urge moviegoers to through their trash away after the movie.

I would write this script like this: One neatly dressed, likable person after another leaves the theater. Each pauses at the convenient trashcans and properly disposes of their rubbish.

Then, along comes a slovenly-looking character who has “loser” written all over him. He leaves the theater empty-handed and walks right on by the trashcan. Then the camera flashes back to where he was sitting and we see a mountain of debris, empty popcorn containers, soda cups, and candy wrappers.

The message of course is to prompt people to want to be like the many likeable people who threw their trash away rather than like that one slob who did not.

Other ways social proof is valuable to the freelance copywriter is when you mention that you have 100,000 satisfied customers, more people buy your product than its “Brand X” competitor, or show testimonials by pleasant looking people your audience can identify with.

Social proof tugs at all of us to model our behavior after the many. I recently saw a full page ad that had very little traditional “copy,” but instead it had a lot of snippets of testimonials from satisfied customers, each praising the company for the quality of its work. I found that ad to be extremely powerful.

Look for ways to use social proof to bolster acceptance of your claims. You will find many opportunities to use this technique, and will become a better freelance copywriter in the process.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, freelance commercial writer


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