15 Offline Persuasive Advertising Rules for the Digital Content Marketer

 “Through persuasion, advertising creates undesirable wants.”

Shelby D. Hunt


Digitally Rich - Persuasive Content MarketingAdvertisers are often criticised for using the power of words to influence readers to become customers; putting readers under a hypnotic trance to purchase undesirable products and services by slipping them subliminal messages.

The fact is, advertisers are tasked with generating demand for a product or service. This can be executed by providing information of said product or service or by going beyond merely informing and using rules of persuasion to influence, but hopefully not deliberately deceive, the reader. I’m sure most consumers would be happy to accept the former and reject the latter. Yet, merely informing brings up a couple of issues that could threaten the advertiser’s livelihood:

  1. How could an advertiser possibly make their message stand out from the competition with an information-only strategy?
  2. When readers laid eyes on the ad, what would compel them to read the information given?

The answer to both questions is simple. Make the ad detailed and highly informative; so informative, in fact, that the now-knowledgeable reader has been persuaded to buy. Wait, what! Persuaded to buy? Information-only advertising has the power to influence readers because, while many won’t, some individuals will find significant usefulness in that content. The only conclusion, therefore, is that the point of all advertising is to persuade.[1]

The reasons for these criticisms of advertisers could be attributed to readers’ scepticism of being lied to, being deceived and being sold to rather than being informed.[2]

And it’s a similar story for digital content marketers. Whether you’re developing a cool website, an eBook, a product description, a landing page, a blog post or an article, your purpose is to inform and persuade. To succeed in this endeavour, you must know what techniques you can use to attract people to your content and, when they arrive, what words and phrases readers find so irresistible they feel compelled to read on and experience the desired attitude change, complete the call to action, and/or share your content with others.

One thing to note, however, the transition from print ads to digital marketing may not be entirely smooth. Persuasive information has been found to have different effects on readers of print versus screen; with print outperforming screen in terms of consumer recall.[3] So if you want your brand to be top of mind and tip of tongue, you may want to consider complementing online efforts with a print marketing strategy.

With that in mind, there are a number of rules from advertising – 15 in this list – that digital marketers can use in combination to hypnotise readers into becoming consumers.

Rule 1: Write A Powerful Headline

Headlines are so important. They make or break getting your ad read. According to Brian Clark over at Copyblogger, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, while just 2 out of 10 will read the content.[4]

How to Write Magnetic Headlines – Copyblogger.com

That’s why the most successful copywriters with two weeks to create an ad will spend one week on the copy and the other week entirely focused on getting the headline right. The “Father of Advertising” David Ogilvy knew the significance of a headline and rewrote his infamous Rolls-Royce ad headline a staggering 104 times.[4]


  • How To…
  • ( No. ) ( Adjective ) Ways…
  • …Revealed

Digitally Rich - Persuasive Content Marketing Ad 1

“How to buy a person computer”

Rule 2: Direct the Emotional Journey

Take charge of your reader’s emotions as they read your words. Why? Appeal to the emotions of your readers and they will carry out the behaviour you want; whether your goal is to be noticed, capture attention or make a sale.[5]

You are the director of their feelings as they read or skim your copy. Describe what your readers are likely to gain or avoid and only induce memories, moods and emotions that will make them attracted to your product.


  • Wouldn’t it be amazing if…?
  • Think back to a time when you…
  • Let yourself envision a scene of…

Digitally Rich - Persuasive Content Marketing Ad 2

“Imagine what you could do if…”

Rule 3: Support the Facts

If you have proof to support your information, state it. As mentioned above, customers buy on emotions. Factual statements ensure your readers know that your information has been proven.

Take care with this one. If you don’t have proof or if you are sloppy in your use of absolutes, you could be at risk of losing some credibility.[6]


  • Scientific Fact:
  • Many studies have already proven that…
  • Everybody knows…

Digitally Rich - Persuasive Content Marketing Ad 3

“Jimmy’s mother knows McDonald’s hamburgers are 100% beef.”

Rule 4: Embed Commands

Because people often skim or speed read articles, much of the content – around 84% on an average web page – is deemed useless to the reader and is therefore discarded by the reader’s subconscious mind.[7][8]

This makes it important to embed useful commands within the content, making it more likely to be picked up. Inserting phrases within larger sentences means your readers will accept the directive and take action without even realizing it’s a command.


  • So many people who buy an iPhone for the first time get excited and buy other Apple products, too.

(Hidden commands: “buy an iPhone,” “get excited,” and “buy other Apple products.”)

Digitally Rich - Persuasive Content Marketing Ad 4

“…smart he was to choose a Rabbit.” & “…drives the snowplow own a Rabbit…”

Rule 5: Soften the Call To Action

Instead of hiding commands in your copy, write down exactly what you want your readers to do. For this to be effective, however, you must warm up your readers first with a gentler approach.

Readers want to know what they will get out of clicking on a link, of subscribing to a newsletter, of buying your products; and it’s your job to communicate these benefits before the call to action.[9]


  • I’m wondering if… (you will buy today).
  • You probably already know… (you will visit…).

Digitally Rich - Persuasive Content Marketing Ad 5

“Get off at the fashionable…then go to Dixons.co.uk and buy it.”

Rule 6: They’re Yours Free

‘You’ and ‘free’ are the two most influential words in the advertising industry and should be used as often as possible.

The word ‘you’ gives your readers a sense of intimacy. The word ‘free’ attracts people to read more. Amazon’s free shipping offer for orders over $30 uses this principle to great advantage.

As an added bonus, give away a free t-shirt like Obama did on his fundraising website and you have a walking, talking advertising billboard.[9]

Digitally Rich - Persuasive Content Marketing Ad 6

“You’ll Like Us…Totally FREE Checking and a FREE Gift!”

Rule 7: Ask Conditioning Questions

Aim to put readers into an “agreement” trance by including or ending statements with questions that require an unmistakable ‘yes’ answer. And when your readers are in this state of agreement, they will be more likely to agree with what you say next.

Another effective question type is one which embeds a quality of the product or service being offered and intrigues the reader to find out more.[6]


  • You know what I mean, don’t you?
  • You are passionate about success, aren’t you?
  • How can we guarantee you will lose 5kg with no exercise?

Digitally Rich - Persuasive Content Marketing Ad 7

Conditioning Questions

Rule 8: Tell a Story

Mesmerise your readers with an interesting anecdote. Many successful magazine ads are actually stories with a message that lead prospects to take action. Additionally, persuasive storytelling is one of the successful methods many proficient online hate groups use of to attract new recruits.[10]

The story-telling method simply describes how you or someone else used the product or service to get the result. You can even describe how the reader’s life will be better or worse off in the future if they buy or don’t buy your product.


  • First person story: “I used the iPad for one month and amazed myself at how much work I got done.”
  • Endorsement story: “John was unconvinced but used the 21 powerful ways in this article anyway and was stunned at the results he got.”
  • Future-paced story: “It’s now three years later. You’ve been making use of the Closer Pro 3000 and raking in massive amounts of cash. What happened?”

Digitally Rich - Persuasive Content Marketing Ad 8

“…like his $14,000 watch made it ok for him to be rude. That’s when I decided
to roll up my sleeves and teach him a lesson…”

Rule 9: Cater to the Senses – Visual Phrases

Sensual words – words related to the five senses, not Barry White lyrics – evoke sensual experiences for your customers that can trigger how they respond to your content.[11]

Some people are observers. Use visual words that appeal to their sight.


  • Let me show you
  • Focus here
  • Watch this

Digitally Rich - Persuasive Content Marketing Ad 9

“You commit 4 of the 7 deadly sins just looking at it.”

Rule 10: Cater to the Senses – Auditory Phrases

Some people are listeners. Use auditory words that appeal to their hearing.


  • Sounds good
  • I hear you
  • Call me

Digitally Rich - Persuasive Content Marketing Ad 10

““My shout.” he whispered.”

317 Power Words That’ll Instantly Make You a Better Writer – Boostblogtraffic.com

Rule 11: Cater to the Senses – Kinaesthetic Phrases

Some people are feelers. Use words relating to touch that appeal to their emotions.


  • Experience this feeling
  • Stir things up
  • Throw this idea around

Digitally Rich - Persuasive Content Marketing Ad 11

“Bedrooms you feel good in”

Rule 12: Push for Action

“Advertising’s new frontier is to make people act first and think and feel later,” says advertising guru Adam Ferrier. For Ferrier, the “whole marketing communications landscape has changed” and advertisers now want readers to adopt the desired behaviour by interacting with the message first before changing their attitudes.[12]

If you want to get customers on board with your message then you want them to get into action right away. This sense of urgency can influence readers to take action towards your goal.


  • Reply within 5 days.
  • Do it now, while you’re thinking about it!
  • Hurry! Quantities are limited!

Digitally Rich - Persuasive Content Marketing Ad 12

“…start cola earlier!”

Rule 13: Stir Emotions

Trigger certain emotions in your copy. There is an absolute goldmine of emotional-provoking nouns and verbs in the English language, both positive and negative, that will encourage your target audience to respond.[13]


  • Angry
  • Dream
  • Frustrated
  • Loving
  • Regretful
  • Savour

Digitally Rich - Persuasive Content Marketing Ad 13

Experience the infinite pleasures…”

Rule 14: Include Believable Testimonials

Comments from satisfied customers mean your readers don’t have to just take your word for it – you are proving you can deliver on promises. Actual results from past successful projects, case studies and industry experts add to the credibility of your copy, while celebrity endorsements boost its appeal.[14]


“This is what one of our customers said about us:”

“Below is a list of what readers have said about ( ):”

Digitally Rich - Persuasive Content Marketing Ad 14

“What some of America’s aquatic stars say about smoking…”

Rule 15: Deliver a Knockout Punch

Close with a strong selling point. The last sentence can be the first or last thing people read yet is almost always read. It is your opportunity to convince readers to take action immediately.

Take plenty of time to create your closing. Use it to remind readers about what they stand to gain and reduce any pressure your readers have about ordering, combine a command with a question, which works to lower their resistance, or end with a cliffhanger to entice readers to return in the future.[15]


  • As you strongly consider ordering, you picture how much money you would save if you bought today.
  • S. Don’t buy our product if you can’t afford it, but do think about our easy payment plan.
  • You do want to order, don’t you?

Digitally Rich - Persuasive Content Marketing Ad 15

“You’ll be running “nuts” with energy once you consume and
the goodness of Bruno bar.”

BONUS: Search Engine Optimisation

Google rewards great copy with higher rankings in the SERPs because rather than trying to game the system – Google will ultimately catch up with you anyway – writing with the goal of informing, and ultimately persuading, demands that you take the perspective of your reader, to write in the language of your reader and use phrases your reader is likely to search for.[16]

Taken together, the collection of 15 advertising techniques above can be used to create incredible copy for the online world.


1. Hunt, S. D. (1976). Informational Vs. Persuasive Advertising: An appraisal. Journal of Advertising (Pre-1986), 5(000003), 5.

2. Koslow, S. (2000). Can The Truth Hurt? How Honest And Persuasive Advertising Can Unintentially Lead To Increased Consumer Skepticism. The Journal of Consumer Affairs, 34(2), 245-268.

3. Jones, M. Y., Pentecost, R., & Requena, G. (2005). Memory For Advertising And Information Content: Comparing The Printed Page To The Computer Screen. Psychology & Marketing, 22(8), 623-648.

4. Clark, B. (May 30, 2006). Writing Headlines That Get Results. Copyblogger.com

5. Farnworth, D. (December 3, 2012). Why Emotion-Based Writing is Crucial to Your Business Goals. Copyblogger.com

6. Vassallo, P. (2002). Persuading Powerfully: Tips For Writing Persuasive Documents. Et Cetera, 59(1), 65-70.

7. Butler-Smith, L. (November 30, 2012). Using Embedded Commands In Your Writing. Leahbutlersmith.com

8. Duistermaat, H. (January 3, 2014). 7 Simple Steps to Writing Product Descriptions that Sell. Kissmetrics.com

9. Boag, P. (January 22, 2009). 10 Techniques For An Effective ‘Call To Action’. Boagworld.com

10. Lee, E., & Leets, L. (2002). Persuasive Storytelling By Hate Groups Online. The American Behavioral Scientist, 45(6), 927-957.

11. Klest, M. (March 26, 2012). Will 5 Senses Replace 5 Ws in Customer Experience Content Writing?. Contentforbiz.com

12. Ferrier, A., & Fleming, J. (2014). The advertising effect : How to change behaviour. South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

13. Clark, B. (April 20, 2009). 50 Trigger Words and Phrases for Powerful Multimedia Content. Copyblogger.com

14. Morrison, R. (2005). Persuasive Business Proposals: Writing To Win More Customers, Clients, And Contracts, 2nd Ed. Consulting to Management, 16(1), 63.

15. Clark, B. (October 26, 2006). How to Go Out In Style With Your Ending. Copyblogger.com

16. Patel, N. (September 29, 2014). 7 Obsolete SEO Tactics You’re Wasting Your Time On. Quicksprout.com



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