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Have you seen the “because” study?

After my diatribe against blindly following pop-psyche in marketing, subscriber James wanted to know:

If you’ve seen it, what do you think about the study showing the influence of using the word ‘because’, which has made some copywriters swear by using it? They call it ‘reason-why’ copywriting.

James’ question provides a great example of the contrast between proven marketing principles and “scientific” pop psychology that we’ve been discussing here.

First, the “because” study:

In case you’re not familiar, psychology researchers found that college students were more likely to allow someone to cut in line at the photo copier if they provided an explanation.

This apparently worked even if the “reason” was fake:

“Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”

This study is another one that was made famous by Robert Cialdini in his Influence book.

(Here’s a good writeup if you want the full details.)

The takeaway for a lot of marketers is that “because” is a trigger word. It flips a switch and people mindlessly comply.

Now James in his question also mentioned “reason-why” copy.

“Reason-why” as I understand it is actually predates the “because” study by around 70 years.

The idea comes from one of the oldest books on copywriting, Reason Why Advertising by John E. Kennedy.

If you read Kennedy’s book, he’s directly contradicting the mindset of the “because” study.

To Kennedy, people aren’t “Children in Intellect, nor thick-headed Fools.”

They’re intelligent, shrewd and skeptical.

As such, copy must show them how to get something they already want—a emotionally compelling and believable “reason why” they should buy from you.

If I had to rank a list of factors in order of “likely to make a major difference in an A/B test,” it look something like:

  1. Who is the audience?
  2. What’s the “reason-why”? . . .
  3. What color is the Buy button?
  4. Does the copy use the word “because” several times?

Yet marketers have glommed onto the “because” study because (ah nuts, no getting around that) it makes them think that sprinkling some magic words through their copy will somehow double their sales.

Is it helpful to use logical connecting words like “because” in your copy, to help the ideas flow smoothly so the reader keeps reading?


Is “because” a magic word that causes people’s brains to shut off and go into automatic compliance mode?

I don’t really know. Maybe it does in certain controlled settings.

What I do know is that adding a few “because’s” to a sales page or email won’t make the slightest measurable difference in the real word.

And I’m confident in saying that because I literally bet money on things like this every time I write and run a promotion.

Reason Why on the other hand isn’t about “magic words”—it’s about finding the most compelling reason that people would buy what you’re selling.

That’s an idea you can take to the bank.