How to Use the Simple Power of Contrast to Become More Persuasive

Contrasting Stones

Consider these factoids:

  • Falling coconuts kill 150 people each year, which is more than die from shark attacks.
  • You’re more likely to be killed by a champagne cork than a poisonous spider.
  • Donkeys kill more people each year than plane crashes.

Will sharing statistics about the relative dangers of donkeys and automobile travel cause someone to lose their fear of flying? Not likely, but in most cases it will convince that person not to forego a tropical vacation simply because an airplane is involved. And while most of us remain afraid of sharks, we might also decide that it’s ok to boogie board in the surf instead of playing it “safe” sitting under a tree with a Piña Colada.

Using contrast in your copy allows people to mentally overcome their own objections. They find your offer desirable, and yet they still have reservations. Contrast allows you to reframe an objectionable element—such as price or purchase timing—in such a way that allows the prospect to proceed with the purchase.

Changing Perceptions

The power of contrast in copy is amazing, because you are actually altering the reader’s perception of the facts, and yet the facts have not changed at all. The technique works by getting into the reader’s head in such a way that a red light is switched to green.

One of the most common uses of contrast in marketing is the good old discounted price. Whether in the supermarket or perusing a sales page, a marked down price prompts the “go ahead” response when tied to an item we want or need, but are resisting committing to.

Seems like a fairly logical response, right? But how do we know the former price is a reflection of true value? And does anyone else have a Mom who seemed to buy unnecessary things just because they were on sale? The fact is, we all do things that we wouldn’t have done otherwise thanks to the presence of contrasting elements that make us feel justified in our desired actions.

Here’s another example. You’re in the market for a home. You tell your Realtor that you will NOT spend more than $300,000 under any circumstances. She says “of course,” but wants to show you a few above your price point “just in case the owner comes down on the price.”

When the dust settles, you end up with two choices. One home is listed at $295,000. It’s nice, and it meets all of your stated requirements. The other home is listed at $325,000, and you absolutely love it. At your Realtor’s urging, you decide to make an offer to see if the sellers will come down to $300,000. The seller’s counter at $315,000 and emphatically communicate that they will go no lower.

Now, you’re in a jam. You do love the house, but you absolutely promised yourself you wouldn’t bust your budget for this house. Knowing that she has the principle of commitment and consistency already on her side, the Realtor runs some figures for you that show the change in your monthly payment to be miniscule.

“Are you going to let such a small amount stand in the way of owning this fabulous home?” she says with a sweet smile.

Identify and Overcome Objections

The key to using contrast to your benefit is to identify potential objections that a prospect might have, and then present contrasting illustrations that changes the reader’s perception of the facts giving rise to the objection. Your offer has to be well-targeted to the reader of course, but remember that even in highly-relevant situations, only a small percentage of readers convert into paying customers. Contrast can help you increase your conversion rate by systematically overcoming objections.

P.S. Some of you may doubt the validity of the factoids in the opening. So do I, since there are likely no trustworthy records of donkey and coconut deaths (the champagne cork might well be more dangerous than the dreaded spider, though). Still, they drive home the power of contrast fairly well, don’t you think?

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

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Reader Comments (24)

  1. says

    that shark coconut thing is made up, but like all great internet myths, it’s so ridiculous, you remember it.

    Using contrast you can also frame things to make them look good or bad, for example:

    Why do school lunches cost $40 per person per day, when you can take your family for dinner for less than $30

    Why will the Board of Education buy toilet seats for $300 but only spend $40 on school lunches?

  2. says

    Sorry to hear about your cousin… it seems the things that are dangerous and the things we are most afraid of don’t always match up.

  3. says

    so what you’re saying is in fact this: we should prepare ourselves with statistical data on whatever the objections of a potential customer might be.

    great! a lesson to remember! and use!

    [is a design blog]

  4. says

    On your point about reframing to overcome fear, I once trained as a hypnotherapist and heard a story about a guy that was scared of flying as he thought that he would get bombed by terrorists. The therapist told him that there was a one in a million (not the right figure) chance of this happening. The subject replied that although this was on the right track he played the lottery and still didn’t like those odds.
    The next session the therapist came back and said “how about if I made those odds one in a billion, would that be good enough for you?”
    The Subject aggreed but asked how this was possible, to which the therapist replyed, “The chances of there being two bombs on a plane are a billion to 1, therefore the solution, take a bomb on the plane with you!”

  5. says

    Okay, this is just a request to write more on this idea someday. I’m still a little hazy about the practical use of it in situations besides coconuts and sharks. I’m getting better at headlines though. So by next year, I oughtta have this one down pat!

  6. says

    > Coconuts kill 150 people each year, which is more than are killed by sharks.

    Did you know that 42% of all statistics are just made up on the spot? 😉

  7. says

    It’s actually 42.7%…

    So funny, that quote is on the church marquee down the street, and I almost used it as a headline for a post on specificity. :)

  8. says

    The coconut deaths are usually caused by severe weather like hurricanes. A coconut traveling at 150 MPH would easily rip your head off if you got in its way.

    We have a guy out here who sells “Coconut Proof Glass” so people can protect their homes form things like that.

  9. says

    You are on point with the contrasting!

    Understanding of this method is not only important if you are to position your marketing offer correctly but it should be considered a law. Use it and watch your results improve.

    Great article.

  10. says

    In Africa, at least, many of the ‘donkey deaths’ would be from car accidents – ask anyone who has tried driving through somewhere like Botswana on the main roads, especially in the poor light hours (for example – Ghanzi to Maun).

    But donkeys and coconuts aside, this idea of using contrast is a good example of one of the techniques we all know, but seldom consider when building our blog posts.

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