What my father’s drug habit can teach you about persuasion

Chief Creative Officer

Besides the staff at my local trance record shop, nobody was more excited about New York legalizing marijuana than me.

Weird thing is, I don’t smoke. My father did though.

Every day.

This was in the late seventies—years before Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign attempted to steer me away from the schoolyard poison peddlers and neighborhood ne’er-do-wells.

I didn’t need them anyway since I had my own bad influence one bedroom over. 

Of course, that’s not how I saw it.

To me, it was simply an opportunity to witness how the modern suburban hairdresser took the edge off after work.

Each night after dinner, I’d lay at the foot of my parents’ king-size bed, my pyjamaed feet careful not to disturb the operating theater my father prepared at the opposite end. 

The setup was always the same …

First, there was what my dad called “grass” separated among a few beat-up sandwich bags. 

Then, a metal sifter on top of a folded sheet of newspaper. This was for making some of the grass smaller to sprinkle on the larger pinches. 

“A special treat,” he’d say.

Finally, a thumb-sized wooden pipe, waiting patiently for the fun to begin.

Since mine was more of a stoner-adjacent lifestyle, it wasn’t long before I’d shift my attention from the assembly line to the TV. 

Because, you know, I was eight.

There was only one thing that could break my concentration …

The smell.

I remember it being a cross between yardwork and Chinese food.

And I loved it.

Over my shoulder, I’d see my father smoking himself into soft oblivion while inhaling an entire box of Snyder’s hard pretzels.

(Bet the Snyder’s people didn’t see this earned media coming.)

“The perfect end to an imperfect day,” he’d whisper.

And no matter what was on, he would always declare it the most hilarious show on television.

Now, I know why.

* * *

Today, it’s not uncommon for me to get a funky, fragrant whiff of my childhood from a neighbor’s porch or passing car.

And it transports me back to the foot of that king-size bed. Every. Time. 

Emotional triggers are all around us.

We experience them in food, in music, and yes … in marketing, too.

Think about it.

When’s the last time you tried to persuade someone using logic?

That’s like Nike trying to sell Air Jordans for their arch support.

We’re in the emotions business, you and me.

And if you want someone to do something, you need to tap into feelings—not squawk about features. 

Here’s how …

Agitate a problem

You don’t need to be a copywriter to understand the problem-agitation-solution formula. 

It’s as simple as it sounds.

Step one: present a problem or pain your audience is currently feeling.

Step two: twist the knife a bit to dial up the anxiety.

Step three: position your offering as the solution—an escape from their current situation.

Some of my clients feel this approach is “too negative.” But here’s why you shouldn’t be afraid of the dark …

If you pretend everything is fine, there’s no urgency to act.

There’s no “why now?”

But when you put someone at what Copyhackers founder Joanna Wiebe calls the “highest point of tension,” they feel their problem at its most visceral state. 

That’s when emotion takes over.

And by empathizing with your prospect’s struggles—along with showing them a clear way out—they’re more compelled to spring from the fetal position into your waiting arms.

Wanna know what else Jo taught me?

. . . 

. . . 

Future pacing

This is where all that audience research pays off.

Because the more you know about what your prospects want, the more you can describe how their lives will be INFINITELY BETTER after they buy.

There’s no need for any persuasion pyrotechnics either. 

Simple starters like “Imagine this …” or “Immediately after you subscribe, you’ll get …” take your reader beyond the purchase process so they can clearly envision how you’ve dramatically improved their life.

Imagery works too.

It’s why weight-loss programs show “before and after” photos (so you visualize confidence).

It’s why drug companies show people enjoying life again (so you visualize relief).

It’s why Kraft Mac & Cheese shows kids behaving at the dinner table (so you visualize accomplishment).

Future pacing isn’t the time to unfurl a long list of benefits. 

It’s about cementing your offering to your audience’s imagined future self. 

And when they’re faced with the emotional decision between choosing you or denying themselves the outcome you’ve convinced them they deserve…

It’s no contest.

OK, let’s end on one we already know.

. . . 

. . . 


Ever acted on a “last chance” email hours before the sale ended?

Blame FOMO.

That’s why some companies see a massive spike in online sales on the last day—and sometimes during the final minutes—of running a special offer.

The fear of missing out uses social proof to persuade people to get in on a benefit or an experience that others already have.

Because nobody wants to feel left out.

From subject lines to CTAs, FOMO can add serious muscle to your message.

Have a lot of customers? Consider inviting your prospects to “Join over (# of _____) who …”

Or, if you want to create the feeling of other people being in-the-know, test a subject line that starts with “Who else wants to ____?”

Does deliberately making someone feel like an outsider mean you’re a terrible person?


Just a smart marketer.

. . . 

. . . 

Thanks for being here. It’d be no fun without you.

Here’s a song to play you out >>> 

See you next time. – Matt

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Chief Creative Officer
Matt is a professional storyteller. That used to be a thinly veiled way to say you still lived with your parents. But the truth is stories have existed since the dawn of humanity and they still have the power to move people, even if it’s no longer from the path of a charging mammoth. Throughout his career on both the agency and client sides, Matt’s work has been known to compel audiences to indulge in higher thread counts, abandon Lenten sacrifice, or move to the suburbs. He’ll even conjugate a noun if he has to. The bottom line: Matt is our agency twofer. Strategy and Creative. The Big Idea and Stealth Deployment. He’s a single expense yielding a dual return. And who doesn’t love a bargain?

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