Stephen King’s IT And The Secret To Creating Emotion-Driven Copy That Converts
It’s one of the most notorious openings to any novel…
…and so very, very vivid.
From Stephen King’s epic 1986 tale, IT:
“A small boy in a yellow slicker and red galoshes ran cheerfully along beside the newspaper boat. The rain had not stopped, but it was finally slackening. It tapped on the yellow hood of the boy’s slicker, sounding to his ears like rain on a shed roof… a comfortable, almost cozy sound. The boy in the yellow slicker was George Denbrough. He was six.”
The emotional impact on the reader of what happens next (SPOILER ALERT!) is down to something that may not have been immediately apparent from that short extract…
…but it’s in there all right – even if you can’t quite put your finger on it.
See, when little George met his terrible fate a few pages later, encountering the killer clown Pennywise in a storm drain (“When you’re down here with me, you’ll float, too”) the image seared itself onto countless thousands of readers’ minds…
But it isn’t simply the sheer awfulness of the scene that led to it seeping into so many nightmares…
(Although it was helped by the slightly hokey TV-movie adaptation featuring a terrifically evil clown but a teeeeeeerrible SFX-botched ending…)
There’s actually something else at work here.
And it has nothing to do with horror or violence (or clowns either – so stay with me, coulrophobiacs)…
Instead it has everything to do with bringing the scene intensely to life using one of the most powerful tactics copywriters and marketers have at their fingertips:
The ‘snapshot’ moment.
It’s one of the reasons why Stephen King has sold over 300 million books since debuting with Carrie in 1974…
It’s why his readers can never forget the “small boy in a yellow slicker and red galoshes” from IT…
And it’s so simple, you’ll be able to use it in your sales copy in just a few minutes’ time.
The Devil In Stephen King’s Details
Some copywriting techniques are about appealing to your prospect with logic…
Not this one.
This one’s all about emotion.
Because when you experience an emotional response – from a story, a song, a movie… or yep, even from sales copy…
It’s often one or two specific details that stimulate that feeling, rather than the overall message.
Desire… anger… laughter… fear… curiosity…
It’s the small moments that leap off the page and connect us emotionally to what we read.
Successful marketers employ these emotional ‘cues’ to grab a reader’s attention and draw them right into the action…
By using engaging, relatable descriptions of things like memories, scenery, clothing… even smells.
(Take a moment to imagine the smell of freshly cut grass… or a hot dog stand… or pine needles from a Christmas tree. Notice where each smell takes you?)
These are the ‘snapshots’ that transform flat, easily-ignored, ‘meh’ copy into a vivid, sensory experience that grabs hold of readers and connects with them on a deeper level…
Kinda like reading a Stephen King novel, where you can’t help but keep turning page after page because you’re so gripped.
(Which is just as well, because my dog-eared copy of IT weighs in at a nearly-nutso 1,376 pages – and took me the whole of last summer to read. I loved every minute.)
But Here’s The Shocking Part:
You don’t need long, wordy descriptions or a dusty thesaurus to achieve this effect with your readers…
Just use short, clear, explicitly visual moments that beam directly into your prospect’s mind, heart or gut.
So a snapshot moment could be something as simple as the sound of pebbles on the beach clicking beneath your feet on your most memorable summer holiday…
Or the cold, crisp feel of snow being crunched into a ball in your gloved hands while walking home from school…
Nothing award-winning there, but just enough to transport you briefly to a different place, with clear colours, sounds and sensations.
You can use Snapshot Copy in sales letters, landing pages, emails, About pages and more…
The goal is to engage your readers and have them experience what life is like with and without your product or service, so buying it becomes simply the obvious option.
Snapshots In Successful Sales Copy
Let’s take a quick look at a classic example of Snapshot Copy that grabbed readers by the eyeballs, held their attention and opened their wallets…
Check out this excerpt from John Carlton’s famous ‘Arthritic Golfer’ ad (in a previous incarnation known as the ‘One-Legged Golfer’)…
“Back then, he [Darrell Klassen, the arthritic, overweight hero of the ad] was using an ancient persimmon-headed MacGregor driver, and hitting those sloppy rubber-band wound liquid core balata balls that were so uneven and so fragile they would slice open even with a perfectly-hit 3-wood. (Remember?)
Even so, with his simple secret, Darrell was hitting true 350-yard drives!”
See how the details of the dated equipment Darrell used force you to picture this guy shuffling up to the tee as an unlikely underdog?
That’s what makes his successful drives so much more appealing. You think:
“If he can do it, surely I can too?”
It’s simple, but highly effective.
And you can do this in your market with descriptions of relevant props: kitchen utensils, software, stationery etc that help your reader picture themselves in a similar situation.
Snapshots From The Book That Terrified A Generation
The best stories contain at least a handful of specific details that imprint themselves onto your memory, whatever the format – novels, songs, movies, advertising and beyond.
Take the passage below from Stephen King’s bestselling coming-of-age thriller, IT…
Despite his gory reputation, King spends far more time describing the details of the characters and the town they grew up in than he does writing about violence or horror.
That’s part of his appeal as a writer – his descriptions of ‘normal’ life create such a strong sense of time and place before he cranks up the scares…
Like the long periods of quiet before the storm, they’re a necessary part of the overall effect.
Here’s the maestro at work in an early chapter:
“Three blocks down Costello he spied something interesting, perhaps even profitable, under someone’s front hedge. Glass gleamed through the ripped side of an old paper bag. Ben hooked the bag out onto the sidewalk with his foot. It seemed his luck really was in. There were four beer bottles and four big soda bottles inside. The biggies were worth a nickel each, the Rheingolds two pennies. Twenty-eight cents under someone’s hedge, just waiting for some kid to come along and scoff it up. Some lucky kid.
“That’s me,” Ben said happily, having no idea what the rest of the day had in store. He got moving again, holding the bag by the bottom so it wouldn’t break open. The Costello Avenue Market was a block farther down the street, and Ben turned in. He swapped the bottles for cash and most of the cash for candy.”
Notice the attention to specific details here?
It works because you’re not just reading about ‘some kid walking down a street’…
…you’re right there with a very real boy on a very particular road (“three blocks down Costello”), with a real destination (“the Costello Avenue Market”).
The fact Ben holds the bag “by the bottom so it wouldn’t break open” also makes the scene clearer to picture – and significantly, it’s also easier to imagine yourself in his place.
This part of the story is set in the summer of 1958, and King threads period detail throughout the book’s flashback sequences:
From matinee movie tickets to Rheingolds beer and playing cards stuck in bike wheels for noisy effect…
These ‘snapshots’ transport the reader back in time, leaving King’s adult readers exactly where he wants them: in the grip of nostalgia.
The Key Is In The Reporter-like Attention To Detail…
And that’s far easier to reproduce in your sales copy than a flight of fantasy or supernatural incident.
Note the clarity again in this description of Mike, another of the book’s gang of young heroes:
“Mike rode his bike over to Pasture Road alone. It was a goodish ride – a little over four miles. Mike reckoned it was three o’clock by the time he leaned his bike against an old wooden slat-fence on the left side of Pasture Road and climbed into the field beyond…
Ordinarily, his mother would not be upset with him as long as he was back by six, when she put dinner on the table, but one memorable episode had taught him that wasn’t the case this year…
She took after him with a dishrag, whopping him with it as he stood open-mouthed in the kitchen entryway, his wicker creel with the rainbow trout in it at his feet.”
Again, it’s the small moments here – however insignificant-seeming – that bring the characters and their surroundings to life:
“…it was three o’clock by the time he leaned his bike against an old wooden slat-fence on the left side of Pasture Road”
“…he stood open-mouthed in the kitchen entryway, his wicker creel with the rainbow trout in it at his feet”
Effective sales copy works the same way:
It makes readers see and feel things by placing them right there in the story, tapping into hidden emotions that are hard to ignore.
‘Snapshot Copy’ is an influential marketing tool that elevates messages beyond just being understood, to being experienced…
It creates empathy, so your reader feels ‘in the moment’… and is more likely to buy as a result.
And here’s the good news:
You don’t have to be a zillion-selling author like Stephen King to tap into this power.
How To Connect And Convert Using Simple ‘Snapshots’ In Your Sales Copy
The big problem with most marketing is this:
It lacks focus.
These days we’re exposed to so many sales messages, they tend to just merge into an indistinct pile of ‘meh’ marketing in our memories.
But it’s a problem relatively easily solved.
And there’s really no big magic trick behind making your messaging stand out from the crowd…
Just take a leaf out of Stephen King’s book – pun intended – to seed your copy with a few visual moments that fire up your readers’ synapses, and bring your product into clearer focus.
The 3 most effective types of ‘snapshots’ that generate sales-enhancing empathy in your prospect are:
When you do this, you’ll see your sales message come to life in a memorable, descriptive way – without needing to cover every emotion there is.
And the key lies with helping your readers picture themselves solving their problem.
3 Simple Steps To Create Your Own Snapshot Copy
Step 1 – VISUALISATION
First, picture your ideal customer.
Successful copy is always written directly to one person, rather than a list or a group.
So, who are you writing to?
How old is this person, where do they live and what was life like during their childhood?
Make a note of their ‘hot button’ topics: what are they passionate about and why, and what drives them up the wall?
If you have survey results or testimonials, this is a perfect time to put them to use…
That’s where your best customers reveal valuable insights about why they buy – priceless info for marketers.
(To learn a super-effective way to uncover your target market’s motivations in their own words, head here.)
Step 2 – EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS
Next, write down 2 or 3 lines for each of the three ‘snapshot’ situations that could resonate with your ideal prospect.
Write a short description of a specific fear they might have, associated with the problem your product solves…
What does it look like if it comes true? How does that feel, and what changes?
Do the same for something they desire…
This could be the feeling of being able to pick up their grandchildren without wincing through joint pain…
…or opening their inbox to see a flood of payment alerts from sales of their new course.
Whatever your market, it just takes a little imagination (and research) to uncover a memorable detail that resonates with your best prospects.
And finally, add some specific imagery.
Unlike fear and desire, the imagery snapshot doesn’t have to be related to a particular emotion – it’s more about scene-setting…
Remember the IT examples and how clear the images were? That’s the effect you’re aiming for here.
Use street names, song lyrics, cultural references or just a description of the weather on the day YOU discovered the power of your product, and create a memorable moment.QUICK TIP: Close your eyes if it helps you ‘see’ better – you might feel self-conscious at first but screw it, I won’t tell if you don’t 😉
Step 3 – SNAPS INTO SALES
Ok, now you’re ready to select your best snapshot moments and add them to your copy…
If you’re writing from scratch, look for opportunities to add your details to the message.
If you’re adding snapshots to existing copy, then your lead, your close and around your CTAs are excellent places to insert them, where more readers will notice them.
QUICK TIP: turn a couple into subheads to give skim-readers the chance to experience these snapshot moments too
When you’re done, take a few minutes to read your new copy out loud…
Any decent copywriter will tell you:
Nothing catches typos, tangled sentences and garbled logic like reading aloud (and that’s the only reason why we’re often found sat in corners talking to ourselves, I swear).
While reading, notice how much more compelling your copy is with the handful of ‘snapshot’ moments you added.
And of course, if you want to crank it up and compel even more readers to hit the buy button, you can add more snapshots throughout your copy – like throwing more chocolate chips into the cookie dough.
Ok, let’s wrap things up with a quick summary of the process:
The Snapshot Copy Shortcut
- Step 1: visualise your ideal customer, and note down what moves them
- Step 2: write a few short descriptions that appeal to their FEARS and DESIRES, and a couple that contain specific IMAGERY
- Step 3: add your snapshots to your copy, using some as subheads if possible
Now It’s Your Turn…
I’d love to hear how you use this process in your messaging, or hear about any examples from sales copy that caught your imagination.
Share your thoughts in the comments below. Unlike Pennywise, I don’t bite (though I may float… down here).
For more information about how to create Snapshot Copy for your market – including the full step-by-step exercise and worksheet – come visit me at rockandrollcopy.com.