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How to Increase Conversions by Using Negatives and Understatements (Instead of Benefits) in Your Copy: The Short Guide.

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Every copywriter is rightfully concerned with telling future buyers all the positive benefits of the promoted products.

Benefits sell – but wait a minute!

A business-to-business marketer wants solid, qualified leads from his advertising and other performance-based efforts. A consumer marketer wants the same quality leads or direct sales.

Both promoters can benefit – highly – by weaving some negative aspects into their advertising copy.

Here is why…

What Happens When You Do NOT Use Negatives

You may have a high rate of returns, or a product that just does not move. And that may be because you have not put negatives in your promotion copy.

Readers are not dumb, normally. They can surmise or perceive, for example, the woes of assembling a rolling desk from 26 tiny parts in your DIY kit. Those perceived frustrations may lose sales or increase returns.

One way to overcome that perception is to marry the negative to at least one positive.


“Using just one screwdriver, you can put all 26 parts together in about 18 minutes, and then you’ll have the great joy of rolling your computer desk anywhere you want, at any time. And because you assemble the desk yourself, you save money compared to retail store prices.”

In those two sentences, we have:

  1. Overcome a negative feeling by incorporating the ultimate benefit,
  2. Given the prospect joy for his labor,
  3. Told him it is easy to put the table together, and
  4. Complimented him on his savvy in saving money.

So, the negative has now been turned into a positive. That increases sales and reduces returns.

But… Notice Something Remarkable

I am not afraid to mention negatives. Mentioning them is telling the truth. If your prospect feels you are honest, you have a better shot at his money.

Let’s stick with products for a few paragraphs, and then I will discuss the same technique for sales leads.

You sell an electronic or electrical device. It plugs in the wall. Your prospect may prefer batteries. You are aware of that negative. Turn it into a positive.


“Because this travel iron operates on standard electric current, you’ll never run the risk of having batteries die when pressing your evening dress five minutes before you put it on.”

Now, switch the situation. The iron works only with batteries. Your prospect may prefer a cord. You are aware of that negative. Turn it into a positive.


“Because this travel iron operates on standard AA batteries, you can take it everywhere — even to Europe — and be certain it will work when pressing your evening dress five minutes before you put it on.”

If the iron works on the buyer’s choice of electric current or batteries, a negative reference still may help.


“This iron is one-quarter of a pound heavier than most travel irons. But that extra quarter-pound gives you the convenience of using batteries or standard electric current.”

Notice that in all examples, I have been highly specific. Specificity reinforces a feeling of honesty. And, specificity is essential when using guarantees, as a specific guarantee may pull more conversions than a bland, non-specific guarantee. (At least according to one of my A/B tests.)

Are we learning something here? Yes, we are. We are discovering that people will honor you with their money if you honor them with honesty.

How to Use Negatives in Generating Sales Leads

Every business-to-business performance marketer is tired of sales leads that do not pan out. They do not convert because they were not highly qualified by the copy in the ad that brought their names.

Negative references can help because they “screen out” leads you do not want. There are several ways to use negatives in sales lead ads, and here are five you can adapt:

  1. State that the product or service is only valuable for a particular group of people, design engineers for instance. Then comptrollers will not respond.
  2. State that the product or service is only valuable for a particular subgroup, perhaps, design engineers who work with potentiometers. Then designers of tensiometers will not respond.

Of course, with both of those two techniques, you will be sure to change the specificity when you change titles.

  1. Tell me I need something else to make your product work. For instance, I must have 220 current. That eliminates all the 110 people.
  2. Talk to me in jargon terms that are not easy for me to grasp. This is a difficult concept, and one which goes against the standard guideline of always writing copy that is understandable at first reading. But it does wonders in producing only the hottest sales leads. You will frighten away those who are insufficiently interested to find out what you mean – and that is good.

This all sounds terrible as ad techniques, right? Wrong. These techniques increased conversions from online leads from 10% to over 25%, and the landing page conversion rate went from 4% to 6%, when I used this for one of my specialty publishing B2B client.

Negatives Can Create Strong Desire

Remember when you were tiny.

Mother said you could not have a cookie, so you wanted one twice as much. And you invented lots of reasons why you should have a cookie, immediately. In fact, suddenly you did not want just one cookie. You wanted a handful.

The same is true with consumer adults and businesspeople.

Tell your audience there is a reason why your product or service should not be bought, and they will concoct all sorts of reasons why they should have it. You are worried about the negative aspects of your product, but if you state them, your prospects will overcome the negatives for you.

I am not kidding. Read the old automobile ads. Many of them cautioned the reader that the engine was so powerful that you had to use extreme care, or you might find yourself going 20 or 30 miles an hour and possibly lose control. Read the old weight loss ads warning you that “If you lose more than 10 pounds the first days, we ask you that you not take any more pills”.

An old, non-compliant weight loss ad. See the “warning” box for some negative but super exciting copy.

In those days the reader’s mind argued that he or she could surmount that negative. Now, think about adapting that negative technique and you will win additional sales.

Three More Proven Negatives You Can Use Frequently

Marketers to business and consumer audiences also can use the ages-old technique of tying a negative to a price saving.


“You can buy a newer version for more money, but you save $23.45 with this older, stable and very reliable model. It may not look as modern to some folks, but it does the same job and lets you save money.”

Sometimes you can tap an entirely new market by selling old products at steep price reductions.


“Two years after a $299.95 software graphics program was first released, you can buy it for just $69.95 from Surplus Software which buys old versions in bulk and steeply discounts them. Folks who never thought they could afford high-end design software or word processing programs suddenly find them within reach. Okay, they’re getting version 2.1 instead of 4.3, but it works and now it’s affordable.”

And all performance marketers can use the not-so-subtle technique of telling the prospect that he may not want the product. Do this after reams of copy telling him why the product is the greatest.


“There are many other books on performance marketing, so you should think carefully before purchasing this one, because you don’t want another book you won’t read.”

Instantly, the reader argues with you. Ah hah, you have sold him (or her).

And then there are those who made millions by telling people what their products will not do or what they are not – i.e., using blind selling techniques so popular in business opportunity field.

Makes you think, right?

Why Understatement Can Produce Higher Conversion Rates for You

Your users want to believe your promotion copy. That may not sound true at first reading, but it is.

Think this way: I read your headline and look at your photo. I am interested in your product or service, so I start reading your body copy. My mood is favorable toward what you sell. Now It is up to you to convince me.

This is where beginning copywriters often goof, by trying everything they can muster to impress the prospect. Wrong.

This is where your reader wants to find out if he can believe your claims. He wants to continue reading in the same open mind with which he explored your headline and your photo. Sometimes, your eagerness to impress turns off readers, turns their mental openness to disbelief, by going too far with product or service claims, even if they are true.

Tone It Down and Get The Sale

If your copy tells me everything about your data system is wonderful, I begin to disbelieve. So you must muster the technique of using understatement, to permit the prospect to imagine even more wonderfulness. How? Here are some examples with copy first, then possible user reactions, then a rewrite…

“Suzie’s Software Solution System is the best.” No, it is not. Best is a subjective word. Best for me? For my applications? Who says it is best? Why is it best?


“Suzie’s Software Solution System is one of the best.”
“Suzie’s Software Solution System… is a good way to…”
“Suzie’s Software Solution System… lets you…”
“Suzie’s Software Solution System… is perhaps the best method of…”
“Microsoft says Suzie’s Software Solution System is best.”

“You’ll make $100,000.00 in cash.” No, I will not. I never have. That is beyond me.


“You’ll make up to $92,147.00 in cash.”
“You’ll make the kind of money movie stars make.”
“You’ll make the extra money you’ll need for…”
“Just like Bill Jones, a plumber, you’ll make extra money — perhaps $100,000.00 in cash. He did.”

“Is Your Opportunity Within My Reach?”

When I was a much younger copywriter, my chest swelled when I was able to pile up promises to the reader. I felt that the greater the promise, the greater the response. I was in for a rude shock.

Often, the milder promise pulled better. Which leads us to understatement. But first…

I needed to realize that some people do not have Olympic dreams, soaring aspirations, trends to set, mountains to climb, or records to attain. They can be happy snoozing in the sun or watching TV reruns instead of spending every minute advancing their careers.

And some do not feel that they can challenge, or lead, or reach the top.

Understatement Forces You to Relate to Your Prospect

Often our enthusiasm for a product or service, or our level of education, leads us to employ the strongest words, the most powerful claims.

Your prospect does not have that enthusiasm yet, and may lack your education, and may not believe those strong words or powerful claims.

So you must relate to his interests, his education, his search for unbelievability in your performance marketing ads and efforts.

When you understate, be sure to include highly specific references. This makes your copy far more persuasive because:

• You cite numbers, and numbers are believable.

• You cite alternatives, also believable.

• You use longer copy, still tight, which tends to persuade far more effectively than short copy.

• You reduce your astounding claims to believable levels.

• You then support those claims.

• You allow the reader to draw his own conclusions about the perfection of your product, the suitability of your service.

• You back up the reader’s conclusions with evidence that sells.

How You Can Start Using These Techniques

Examine your advertising copy. Use a fat marker to circle the following:

  1. superlatives
  2. bombastic claims
  3. unexplained points
  4. meaningless -est and -er words (bEST, fastEST, firmEST, hardEST, longEST, strongEST, bettER, fastER, firmER, hardER, longER, strongER)

Rewrite them with the above guidelines. Now, how does your copy read?

If you do not believe it now, your reader will not either.


• Prospects know your ads, landing pages, emails are meant to sell. They perceive your eagerness to present your product or service favorably, and that is perfectly okay. But when they read your ad, they search for claims they feel are untrue. You might want to engrave this concept and refer to it whenever you write -est and -er copy.

• Prospects tend to disbelieve -est and -er words unless you explain them fully. Replace most of them with specifics and you have won your war.

• The most important reason why you should use understatement is that your prospect wants to dream, to imagine himself in a power position, to let himself find more rationalizations as to why your product or service is the one for him. Understatement lets him do all those things.

If you like this blog post and want more expert advice on performance marketing, direct marketing, direct response advertising, please share it. Thank you!

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The expert's thoughts on direct response - growth hacking - performance-based marketing activities - DIRECT MARKETING

About Me, Rafal Lipnicki.

the direct / performance marketing consultant with a strange sounding name


Not your usual "guru" but a real-world performance marketing & innovation consultant based in Europe and an experienced senior executive at leading multinational companies.

What and Where.

I am a consultant for hire, working remotely and on-site all over the world (but Europe is always preferred). See my consulting services page for details.


Contrarian advice most of the time. Document-based audits, workshops, one-off projects, mentoring programs, and more.