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Hollywood’s Superhero Secret of Persuasion

If you want to persuade somebody to do something, your solution is to find somebody who doesn’t need any persuading at all.

I was reminded of this while reading the late Blake Snyder’s excellent book ‘Save the Cat.’ It’s a book about Hollywood screenwriting.

The thing about screenwriting is so much of the planning is based on making the script saleable. You have to go through a specific series of steps in order to keep the producer’s financial risk to a minimum. More than any other form of writing I can think of, screenwriting is a balance of business and art.

You’re writing for an audience who are preconditioned to buy tickets.

This is why you see so many superhero movies today.  It’s not so much because they make money a lot of money. It’s because the financial gain is guaranteed. The audience are already sold on Spiderman, Captain America, Superman and so on. You know you’re going to make the sale without having to use any persuasion at all.

Again: the first step to persuasion is to find people who do not need persuading.

You’ve see this technique employed by great entrepreneurs too

Steve Jobs wasn’t so much of a pioneer as a visionary.

He didn’t invent the MP3 player. He waited for someone else to eat the costs of bringing the MP3 player to market. He let them spend the money persuading people to try this new solution.

Then he created an unbeatable model of his own – the iPod.

You see if you have the world’s first MP3 player, you don’t just have the cost of development. You also have the added costs of marketing. And you have to persuade people on a number of different points.

  • What is MP3?
  • Why is it better than CD or minidisc (remember those?)
  • Why is an MP3 player worth spending money on?
  • Is the sound quality shit?
  • Is the battery life shit?


New copywriters often assume people who don’t own a similar product are the most likely to be persuaded. This is a mistake.

As the late great Gary Halbert said in one of his heralded newsletters: you should look for lists of people who have – not only bought a product similar to yours, but who have bought in the last 30 days.

These people are far, far more likely to buy from you.

They were recently persuaded by someone else.

It’s the same with services…

I remember, as a newbie copywriter, traipsing around the city, knocking on shop doors and restaurants – offering my humble services.

No takers.

All I got was “no, no, no, no, NO.”


They weren’t using proper copy in their windows. Their advertising sucked. I could have easily got them better results.

I stupidly assumed that because they didn’t have good copy, they knew they needed good copy. Wrong. It’s the people who are already paying for good copy who are more likely to need it.

Because they are aware of the need. They learned about the problem. They have already been persuaded.

Now, when I meet the right person, I hardly have to persuade them of anything at all. In fact, they often come to me. I show them a few results and it’s done.

Do you need to persuade a new group to buy?

Consider how this applies to your advertising media.

Your most targeted advertising – always – comes from Google Adwords. (Specifically Google Search).

These people are searching for the exact solution you offer, in the exact moment they’ve become aware of the problem. Half of the persuasion is already done for you. If you can’t sell these people, there’s no point spreading into nosier media.

Only once you’ve got yourself a satisfactory result might you consider moving up the ladder – to banner advertising, social media, radio, and so on.

Start with the people who are already convinced. Work your way up.