Greed vs. Fear: Test Your Copywriting Instincts

Ted Nicholas, the author of “How To Form Your Own Corporation Without a Lawyer for Under $50″, also happens to be a copywriter. He wrote two ads for his book and did a split test to see which ad was creating the most sales.  The results were surprising.  One of the ads about broke even, but the other ad was a huge hit that made him millions. Here are the two headlines for the ads.

Ad 1:

Only Way Left For Little Guy To Get Rich …

Here is the uncensored message my wife asked me not to write

Ad 2:


All Your Personal Assets Could Be Wiped Out Overnight

There is only one completely safe way to protect your car, home, cash, and other personal assets from business risks

You can read the full text of both ads here: Can You Tell A Break-Even Ad From A Blockbuster?

I’m not going to repeat the full ads here, though I highly recommend reading them.  The first ad appeals more to greed through the tax benefits of incorporating, while the second ad appeals to the fear of losing all your assets if you don’t incorporate. What I found so surprising is that the two ads aren’t even close in performance. The lesson here is to split test your ads!

Which do you think was the blockbuster?

My bet’s on Ad 2.  Fear trumps greed.  It also seems to me that the second ad appeals more to professionals.  I would expect the book to appeal to them more, and that they would be the larger market.   I could be wrong.  The answer will be posted next week on  I’ll post it here as well.

Update (8-21-09):
Well, the results are in. I was wrong. The blockbuster ad was Ad 1.  You can read Ted Nicholas’ million dollar lesson here:  The Blockbuster Ad Revealed..

What was the key to the difference?  Recall that Ad 2 is fear based.  There’s always a danger with a fear based ad.  When you evoke negative emotions too much and for too long, the audience feels the heaviness and wants to exit.   If you use fear to draw an audience in, you must quickly transmute it into something more positive (e.g. by offering a solution).  Another drawback of Ad2 is that it is selling prevention.  Moving away from a hypothetical danger is a harder sell than asking someone to move toward something they want.

Ad 1, on the other hand, uses anger as the dominant emotion.  Anger is more actionable.  While fear gets your attention, fear is more likely to cause the audience to shut down or run away.  But when people get angry, they want to do something about it.  Ad 1 offers them something they can do.  Buy the book.

Perhaps the most important element that makes Ad1 a blockbuster is the way it is not only story based but speaks in an authentic voice.  It’s not just text, but a character right off the street.  The character is speaking with intimacy and talking directly to you.  These elements taken together create believability and trust.

Incidently, the vote from the commentors was 65% thought that Ad 1 was the blockbuster, while 35% thought Ad 2 was the blockbuster.

Quite a nice lesson.

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