Conducting a study with students at New York University, psychologist John Bargh told the student the first part of the test would take place in one office, and then the students would be asked to walk down a corridor to another office for the second part.
Half of the group was asked to arrange brief sentences including at least one of the words: Florida, forgetful, bald, gray, or wrinkle. The other half were presented with a completely random list of words.
He didn’t include the words old or age in that first list. He simply used words associated with being old.
Once each group had completed their task he asked them to walk down the corridor to the other office.
What was John Bargh trying to measure?
What he actually wanted to measure was the time it took for them to walk from one office to the other.
What he found was that the students in the group which had filled their heads with words associated with old age took significantly longer to walk to the second office.
That’s right. Thinking about old people made them walk like old people.
This is now called the Florida Effect.
Think about that for a moment. It’s kind of scary.
Those students weren’t asked to think like old people or put themselves in the minds of old people. They simply completed a short test which included words associated with old people.
They weren’t aware that this exercise would have any effect on them at all. The effect was totally unconscious. But still, having these words in their minds actually changed their physical behavior.
The words in their minds primed their behavior.
Now consider the implications of the Florida Effect when you are writing copy or content for a client, or for yourself.
The words you use can significantly impact the actions your readers take. I’m not talking about the words you use in those lines of copy specifically written to sell. I’m thinking more about the words you use in the setup, in the more conversational elements of your copy.
As copywriters we focus a great deal of attention and skill on the direct selling parts of our copy, but perhaps less than we should on the setup and more conversational parts.
For example, let’s say we are selling a skydiving package for first-timers - one of those dives where you are strapped underneath an instructor. It’s a fun, exciting thing to do. A bit scary. Tons of adrenalin. A real thrill.
Now, taking from John Bargh’s study, let’s consider some of the phrases that might find their way into our copy.
“Not your grandpa’s idea of a fun time!”
“This will put a wrinkle in your plans to spend the weekend on the couch!”
“Don’t forget to bring your camera!”
“Take the gray out of your life!”
In each phrase there includes at least one word associated with old age. And let’s say that on the first half of your sales page you inadvertently use five or six words associated with old age. You may not even be aware of doing this, and your readers will almost certainly be unaware that they are being primed.
But they are being primed. They are being primed to think and act like old people.
Now consider the impact of this on the number of people who sign up for your skydiving package.
The takeaway here is that you need to be very careful about your choice of words, and not just when writing the call to action. You need to take note of EVERY word you use.
Understand that the words and phrases you include anywhere on a sales page have a priming effect, for better or for worse.
Your job is to prime your readers to say yes to your offer by including words that are positively associated with the product or service you are trying to sell.
For example, if I used the phrase, “Feel the wind in your hair” on my skydiving sales page, I will be priming my readers in a positive way. Why? Because we associate “wind in your hair” with fast cars, speed boats, action sequences in movies etc. The association is in line with the promise of the service I am offering.
I know, I just made your job harder. You’re going to have to think a lot more carefully about your word choices on every line of copy you write.
But if you get this right and harness the power of the Florida Effect to your advantage, you could see a big jump in response rates.
BTW – Images can be used to prime your readers in a similar way. But that’s a topic for another article. Stay tuned.
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About the author: Nick Usborne is an online writer, copywriter, author and coach. Read more…