How to Write Emotive Copy

Delicious white cake with strawberries, cream and a pistachio crumbWe’re all aware of M&S’s food adverts – the ones with sizzling butter atop caramelised steak or crisply snapping crudités. How those adverts LOOK is how emotive copy should read.

Humans are emotionally and sensually reactive things. We cry at films. We find our mouths watering while reading a recipe. Our imaginations are so easily manipulated that we catch a zephyr of vaguely familiar perfume and we’re catapulted 20 years back in time to a tiny restaurant in East London, and the delicate wrist that bore the scent.

That? That was emotive copy.

Things that create emotive copy

1. Verisimilitude

That means a sense of place. A touch of realism. I use this all the time by working little stories into my copy. It sets the reader’s imagination going, making them picture the scenario and identify with it more deeply.


So, next time you’re about to headbutt your own steering wheel out of boredom, try the JourneyFace podcast.

Going home to a messy house is just depressing. Odd shoes by the door. A slight stickiness to the worktops. That little spot of something you notice every time you look out the window but never get around to. Look, enough is enough – it’s time to call in the professionals.

It’s been shown through studies of cognitive bias that we’re often more convinced by anecdotes (for which read: stories) than statistics. Verisimilitude or creative realism has the same persuasiveness.

2. The senses

Your yummy words. Humans seek comfort, pleasure and sensation. When they read about those things, they feel good and want to fulfil the promise of the words. All you have to do is engage your inner Nigella.

Yummy words are all about a treat for the senses: sight, touch, taste and smell. Rich colours, luxurious textures, irresistible scents and mouth-watering flavours.

They can work for nearly any subject but to a great and lesser extent. Yummy words fit much more easily into, say, interior design copy than steel fabrication.

In most functional copy, you want to avoid adjectives (words that describe an object) and adverbs (words that describe an action) because they’re clutter. But if you’re selling something that can be differentiated from other, similar products by its appeal to the senses…go for your life.

Some yummy phrases:

Olive green velvet with burnt-orange silk tassels

Buttery puff pastry folded around a sticky damson jam

The sculpted bodywork is hand-finished in scorching crimson

Cleans with the bright, sharp scent of lemon oil and Himalayan river balsam

It’s almost obscene, isn’t it?

3. The unexpected

Words that don’t traditionally belong in an industry are just PERFECT for capturing your audience’s attention. We tend to easily pick out things that are different from the stuff around them. Check out my post about cognitive bias for more on that.


BugOff, the gentle exterminator

In that one, the close-to-oxymoron (complete contradiction) of ‘gentle’ and ‘exterminator’ creates such a high contrast that you can’t help but double-take, focusing on the bit that sticks out: gentle. Most of us are icked out by having to call in pest control, so ‘gentle’ could be a big selling point to address the customer’s guilt.

Accounting is horrible. Don’t do it.

We’re used to accountants using dull, grey language. To have one actually admit that everyone hates doing their accounts (and you definitely shouldn’t because you’re probably screwing it up) could be refreshing. Certainly eye-catching.

Be wary though: your audience’s perception of what’s professional is important. Chucking ‘lovely’ or ‘biscuit-obsessed’ in front of ‘criminal defence barrister’ may not work.

99% of copy is boring

Whatever industry you’re in, your copy doesn’t have to be boring. I guarantee it. Bringing in the senses people love to indulge, playing with surprise and contrast – that’s enjoyable copy.

Get Nigella out the next time you write a direct marketing mailshot. Dare you.