Trigger Happy

by Rick Petry on Jun 15, 2016 12:00:00 AM DRTV

Trigger_Happy-311407-edited.jpgGood advertising engages its audience on both a rational and emotional level, using a series of levers—or triggers—in an attempt to persuade prospects to buy a product or service. Tactics run the gamut, from the formulaic approach of many “As Seen On TV” pitches to Super Bowl commercials that rely on creative ploys that are often completely tangential to what’s being sold in an effort to arrest attention by any means necessary.

In a world with so many distractions, arresting attention has become increasingly difficult to do. At the same time, it’s worth remembering that every advertising professional is also a consumer, and making an assessment of which advertising triggers work effectively on oneself can yield inspiration and fresh ideas.

Rational triggers are a function of classic left-brain thinking. They include such factors as:

  • Logic: Does the argument the advertiser is making make sense?
  • Utility: Practically speaking, will I use the product or service, how often, and under what circumstances? (Hint: More often is better.)
  • Validation: Are the claims of the advertiser supported by social proof such as word-of-mouth, online reputation, or professional endorsement?
  • Value: Is it a good deal? Will I get my money’s worth?
  • Risk: How much am I putting at risk in terms of money, commitment, time, etc.—and what guarantee do I have against buyer’s remorse or dissatisfaction?

Emotional triggers are a function of the right hemisphere of the brain, and include:

  • Aspiration: Is the scenario portrayed something I aspire to? Can I see myself in the picture?
  • Vanity: Will it make me look younger, skinnier, shrewder, more desirable, cooler—or placate my ego in some other way?
  • Greed: Is it a good deal? Will it make me richer or enrich me disproportionately to the economic risk taken?
  • Scarcity: Is it something that may not otherwise be available, or that I might miss out on?
  • Humor: Does the advertiser make me laugh, and does that sense of delight translate into brand affinity or loyalty because I can relate to the humor or wish to be associated with it?
  • Empathy: Is the messaging or testimonial something that engages my empathy? Can I relate to the ad on not only a rational level, but also on an emotional one? Am I having an involuntary physical reaction to what’s onscreen? (Example: pet adoption ads).
  • Senses: Is there something about the ad that engages my senses in a compelling way not only visually, but also on an auditory level? Or in the case of a retail environment, does the product and packaging please other senses such as touch and smell?
Examine the next ad that compels you to embark on the path to purchase and overlay these attributes and questions on top of the experience. What do you notice? If you were to rank these attributes in order of their importance to your purchase decision, what stands out? What can you learn about that hierarchy and its effect in persuading you to buy that you, in turn, can parlay into your own advertising efforts?

I suggest there is a direct correlation between how many of these triggers are pulled effectively and the depth of engagement a consumer has with a product or service at the outset. For example, consumers can’t even remember what’s being advertised by many Super Bowl ads that rely on clever gags or high concepts—they are expensive one-trick ponies. On the other hand, ads that pull multiple levers stand a better chance at being indelible.

Direct response marketers have the advantage of more time and therefore, a broader canvas to paint. The end result of such advertising is not just fewer returns and chargebacks, but a deeper commitment to the product, service, and brand because the consumer is fully engaged on a practical and an emotional level. Simply put, there is more at stake for the buyer, and that can translate into a deeper desire to have a successful consumer experience. It’s proof positive that happiness is indeed a state of mind.

Photo by Idea go/

Rick Petry is a freelance writer who specializes in direct marketing and is a past chairman of ERA. He can be reached at (503) 740-9065 or online at and @thepetrydish on Twitter.

The above originally appeared in the May-June 2016 issue of ER magazine.











Rick Petry's blog
New Call-to-action
Subscribe for tips on how to grow your direct response marketing business!
Subscribe Now!

Follow Us

New Call-to-action

Editorial Disclaimer

The statements, opinions, and advertisements expressed on the ERA Blog and other online entities owned by the Electronic Retailing Association are those of individual authors and companies and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Electronic Retailing Association.