How to write “hot button” sales copy in a recession

October 27, 2011 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Copywriting Tips 

hot button sales copyWriting sales copy can be challenging even when times are good. But when the economy hits the skids, writing copy that actually sells can be downright hard.

No worries. Barry Densa has some advice about this to make things a little easier.


There are, as you may have heard, 13 human motivators, or “hot buttons” that inevitably drive sales.

Employ any one, or two of them, in your marketing campaigns, with a deft and artistic touch, and you’ll easily deliver your customers to the precipice – the point at which he or she is presented with an all-important and consequential decision:

To buy … or not to buy.

Yet, use more than one, or at the most two hot button motivators in a single marketing campaign … and more than likely, you’ll lose the sale.

Just as a sentence should contain only one thought, lest in confuse and distract the reader, a sales promotion should appeal to one dominant motivator at a time.

So which one, or two motivators will work best in a recession?

First, let’s identify these 13 motivators.

In no particular order, they are:

1. Fear:
Fear of lost opportunities, or the loss of a possession. (Plus, millions of people just love it when they’re scared – why else Stephen King and Final Destination 5?)

2. Greed
The coveting of more … more … and more (And its still never enough)!

3. Vanity
Mirror, mirror on the wall … (Indeed, why mirrors at all)?

4. Lust
Sex sells. Dare to deny it.

5. Envy or Jealousy
It all began when we were little mini-me’s, and we pulled on mommy’s skirt and screamed: “I WANT ONE, TOO!”

6. Pride
Who doesn’t want to be valued and feel important … (And drive a BMW)?

7. Laziness
Why stand when you can sit; why sit when you can lie down; why work when someone else can work for you (otherwise known as outsourcing)?

8. Anger
You’ve been robbed! You’ve been cheated! And now you want REVENGE!

9. Strength
C’mon, do you know anyone who really wants to be weak?

10. Charity
The pleasure is in the giving (so they say).

11. Hope
Why else do we suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune (Shakespeare). Because … after all, tomorrow is another day (Gone with the Wind).

12. Prejudice
We all have one or two. Because in some perverse way, it makes us feel better about our miserable, guilt-ridden selves.

13. Justice
The politically correct, socially acceptable and legal equivalent of revenge.

Ok, so which hot buttons work best in a recession?

Hold on, not so fast.

Along with these 13 motivators, we humans are also prey to 12 universal desires.

Indeed, at one time or another, regardless of our sex, age, race, political persuasion, or whether we watch CNN or FOX, we are all subject to these 12 desires – and some of us are subject to all of them all at the same time!

Again, a warning: Pander to more than one or two and you will muddle your marketing message.

Okay, these 12 desires are, in no particular order (and they need no explanation):

1. Money
2. Good looks
3. Comfort
4. Time
5. Praise
6. Popularity
7. Leisure
8. Self-confidence
9. Enjoyment or pleasure
10. Success
11. Health
12. Security in our old age

Now, which of these 12 desires appeal most strongly to consumers during a recession – when money is tight, the future is murky and an overall sense of anxiety and dread causes many a sleepless, frightful night?

Hmm. Well, truthfully, from where I stand, a recession won’t stop, inhibit or negate any of them!

They all belong to the basic human emotional and visceral food groups, regardless of whether Bernanke institutes QE3, or not.

Because they function in all climates – and in all economies – indeed, they will survive and thrive in the best of times and the worst of times (Dickens, sorta).

Therefore …

Great News!

If your product or service can successfully satisfy any of these 12 desires, your promotion could be squarely on the road to making you oodles of money – if you can combine it with a hot-button recession-proof motivator!

Important Caveat: The desire you choose to arouse and satisfy must be relevant to your product.

For example, if you sell car parts, security in old age or good looks might not be the best two desires to leverage.

But, if you sell pimple cream … good looks certainly works, as would popularity, praise, self-confidence, and, a case could even be made for health (after all, if you look good, you feel good).

Okay, now on to …

The motivators you should absolutely use in a recession …

Well, FEAR certainly works – but use it sparingly. For example, use it in the lead, to get the readers attention. After all, you don’t want to drone on and on about how terrible things are – they get enough of that watching the nightly news on TV.

What they really want, therefore, is HOPE!

Okay, so now we’ve got two motivators that go hand-in-hand: FEAR and HOPE.

Anything else?


For example, your prospect grumbles to himself: “Gezus! How can Harry next door still take annual Hawaii vacations, when I can’t even afford to fill my gas tank?”

So, here comes your product to the rescue, allowing him to act like neighbor Harry, thereby restoring his PRIDE (and presumably filling his empty wallet and gas tank).

LUST, now that’s clearly a motivator for all seasons. Nothing will stop carnal desire, not rain, nor hail, not even old age (as long as your product has the horse power of a little blue pill).

GREED, on the other hand, wouldn’t work.

The average consumer isn’t looking for more – he’s looking to hold on to and protect what he’s got.

And for that same reason, CHARITY isn’t a big motivator in tough economic times either, unless …

Your customers are rich and philanthropic. And if they are, then GREED or CHARITY, and certainly VANITY can be used with wanton abandon!

What about ANGER? Absolutely!

Yes, play into the rage – the loss of privilege and comforts that a recession robs your customers of.

And by all means – pin the blame – join your customers in throwing rocks at the enemy!

Who is the enemy? Those whom your customers may have a PREJUDICE against – Wall Street, Congress, Obama, the Tea Party, your landlord, your boss who denied you a raise, the list could be endless!

After all, your customers want, indeed they demand JUSTICE!

But be smart and sensitive about it. Use good taste. Don’t blame the Jews, the blacks, the Mexicans, the poor, or even your mother-in-law (unless you’re fully capable of cooking and doing your own laundry).

And what about LAZINESS? Silly question – that’s another all season perennial!

For example, there are millions of overweight men and women who would eagerly pop a handful of pills rather than run 5 miles on the treadmill, much less deny themselves the pleasures of chocolate, ice cream and cake.

And if a pill, powder, or chair (which easily folds and stores in a closet), can miraculously turn their pot bellies into a rippling rack of 6-pack abs in 90 days or less – and – give them the STRENGTH to bend steel in their bare hands and leap tall buildings in a single bound (Superman) – it’s a no-brainer!

My, my, my, what have we just discovered here?

There are no one, or two, hot button motivators best suited for a recession!

Depending on who the customers are, what they value, what drives them and what they desire – there are exactly 13 motivators… and 12 desires … to choose from.

In which case … what recession? 2012 is going to be a great year!

Barry A. Densa is a freelance marketing and sales copywriter at Writing With Personality.

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  2. How to write the perfect sales letter
  3. Do you design your copy before you write it?
  4. Hype copy that sells and how to write it

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Smart Comments

4 Comments on How to write “hot button” sales copy in a recession

  1. Laurie on Oct 30th, 2011 11:24 am
  2. Good points, but speaking of prejudice – “even your mother-in-law (unless you’re fully capable of cooking and doing your own laundry)”???? What decade are you living in??

  3. fred on Nov 12th, 2011 5:46 pm
  4. I read your piece on creativity, which I found on That led me to this piece, which I also enjoyed. I found a something of value in each experience and wanted to let you know. Keep up the good work.

  5. Janjan on Nov 30th, 2011 6:08 pm
  6. Nice piece here Dean.
    Your hot button tips seems to be realistic. Never knew this motivator is being used in copywriting, but you surely made it clear that its important to use it. I will try using a couple of motivators in sales copy.
    Thanks for the post.

  7. AB on Jan 1st, 2012 10:16 pm
  8. @ Laurie:

    Use your head.

    He’s talking about his wife (the daughter of that mother on law) getting upset at him and thus refusing to cook or clean for him.

    “..speaking of prejudice…”