The Backfire Effect in Copywriting

Attempting to change someone’s belief is a tall task. It’s true of you. And it’s true your prospects. As we age and accumulate more information, and the memory grooves in our mind become more deeply etched, it is more difficult to change a mind. People will defend beliefs, even when there is evidence from credible research and studies that the belief is inaccurate. And sometimes, beliefs are built on ideology that has been molded by parents, religion, education, bullying, and other lifetime influences. This is my topic at Target Marketing Magazine.

Consider these external factors that, as a marketer, you can’t change:

  • The human mind will instinctively and unconsciously resist change. Once something is added to a belief system it is defended from change.
  • When presented with information that is inconsistent with a belief system, beware of the backfire effect. It happens when an individual is defending information that they are seeking. Oftentimes people seek information that simply reinforces their original thinking.
  • For some people it’s that they stick to beliefs no matter what. It doesn’t matter if there are facts refuting a position with an avalanche of data pointing to an obvious alternative conclusion. Some people will not change their mind.

So when writing sales copy, you are trying to create new memory grooves in the mind. One approach is to cite facts and figures, but when someone vehemently disagrees, you risk making someone feel stronger about their position. Your sales message can backfire. Worse, your prospect pushes themselves deeper into their own entrenched belief system.

More challenging is when your prospects are confronted with something counter to their beliefs, they pile on to support their already-established memory. The unintended result: It grooves their memory even more deeply.

Today, easy Internet access adds even more fuel to this backfire, or pushback. As people selectively seek out information that supports their belief—even if it’s factually wrong—the inaccurate belief can be bolstered by inaccurate claims. Look at newsfeeds on social media. Every minute on the wild wild web of social media, people are reposting one-sided stories that support a particular belief, accepting it as proof.

So what can you do to dampen the risk of the backfire effect? Consider these five approaches when presenting your sales message:

  1. Know the Persona. Before you write your sales message, know the persona of your intended market or audience. A well-conceived persona will reveal what your prospect most likely thinks so you avoid the landmine of the backfire effect.
  2. Approach the Underlying Emotion First. Begin by gaining trust within an existing belief system. If you need to change your prospect’s mind, do it by understanding the underlying emotion of your prospect first, and gain empathy.
  3. Use Short Explanations. Your prospect is more apt to follow your thought process with explanations that take little effort to process. Keep it simple.
  4. Use a Story. Allow your reader to see themselves inside a story that makes a point and leads to a specific conclusion.
  5. Close with Emotion. Start with emotion, build your logical case, and then close with an emotional appeal. Emotion usually prevails over logic, even when the logic is flawed.



Gary Hennerberg

After a lot of years in marketing and sales, this is what I know works:

Stories sell. Think unique. Stimulate emotion. Close deals. And here are a few other gems from my new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code.” Know the persona, interpret your offer and let your prospect give themselves permission to buy. That’s how the brain is wired. It’s how people think.

What else? When I’m not breaking down complex topics (or ones marketers over-complicate) into easy-to-grasp stories that sell, I crunch numbers. Manage projects. Write. Teach. Lead.