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The wording and emotions used in advertising can affect clicks by 400 percent. And it turns out humans aren’t that good at it.

That’s according to Persado, a company that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to evaluate and construct short text, like ad copy and email subjects. Essentially, the company says it can “engineer” copy that is more persuasive without having to create multiple variations and A/B test.

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Marketers today are using data to replace guesswork. But they still have to start somewhere. Typically a campaign begins with a person who writes what she thinks will work best. It’s based on intuition more than anything else.

And it turns out our intuition is often wrong.

To coincide with the end of tax season, Persado recently analyzed the advertisements of companies that do tax preparation, like TurboTax and H&R Block. The company found that the emotions most of the ads play on don’t actually work that well.

The company categorized the ads and found that the emotions they are relying on, like urgency (“time is running out”), gratification (“get your biggest refund fast”), and celebration (“totally free tax returns”), aren’t resulting in as many click-throughs as possible.


Instead, Persado “engineered” copy that focused on other emotions. These included exclusivity (“you’re invited: file your taxes today, it’s free”) and anxiety (“important information for you: please file your taxes today”).

The difference may not seem substantial, but focusing on different emotions increased click-throughs of anywhere from 70 to 110 percent, the company found. We’ve learned similar things in our research on conversion rate optimization.

Persado says this type of data-driven copy creation works in direct response communications like display ads, email, SMS, and tweets. The types of messages designed, in other words, to get people to “click here.”

Clearly, the robots are coming.

Persado was spun out from Upstream and received $15 million from Bain Capital Ventures (BCV) in February 2013. The company raised an additional $21 million series B earlier this year from Starvest Ventures, BCV, American Express Ventures, and Citi Ventures.

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