Let me give you a good reason why people don’t quit smoking.

It’s not just because cigarettes are addictive. That’s obviously a huge part of it. The years of establishing that behavior and building your life around it – from cigarette breaks to post-coital associations – make it hard to give up smoking.

But there’s more to it than the addiction. There’s more to it than the associations.

People don’t quit smoking because of one word: “quit”.

Advertising copywriters know we’re raised NOT to give up.

We’re hard-wired as human beings NOT to stop doing something we’ve started. Once you’re involved in a project, you’re not supposed to quit it. After all, a common mantra in western society is “Quitters never win and winners never quit”. If you think cigarette companies don’t know about our cultural aversion to the idea of quitting – well, I’m sure you know they do.

It’s a strategy known as stealth marketing: hide your true message within an alternative message. Here’s a lot more about that

Cigarette companies know what to say to keep smokers smoking.

That doesn’t mean you have to play their sleazy game; but you can, at least, benefit from the strategy they use. Just use it for good. In your startup.

“Quit” and “Give Up” Send Home a Message Larger Than the Words Themselves
Think of how hard it is for most startup founders to ‘quit’ their jobs to go out on their own. It’s not just the fear of losing a steady income and benefits that keeps us in our jobs; it’s the fear of having to admit to ourselves and others that we’ve quit.

Imagine how sick you’d feel if you had to ‘quit’ your startup. First you quit your day job to go out on your own. And then you quit your startup? Urgh. Suddenly Great Aunt Edna is talking to Grandma June about what a deadbeat you are.

The word “quit” makes people feel gross.

So does “give up”.

Imagine you’re trying to break up with your partner (i.e., girlfriend or boyfriend or spouse). You say you want to break up. But she doesn’t want to lose you, so she fires back, “You’re giving up on us?!”

Suddenly, you feel like a failure. You question whether you want to break up because, well, you don’t want to be a major disappointment to yourself or others.

In the case of ending a romantic relationship, you may have enough driving you to end things no matter what the other person says. But what about cases where you could still be persuaded NOT to give up or quit? It’s in those cases that the words “quit” and “give up” are very powerful.

If you want to prevent people from stopping, ceasing or terminating an action, event or affair, use those words.

NOTE: Using the same strategy big, evil tobacco companies (or, better, their creative agencies) use to prevent people from quitting does not make you big and evil. Unless you’re selling cancer sticks. If you’re not – and I know most of you aren’t – this simple copy strategy can only help your business.

Avoid Telling People to “Quit” Your Competitor
You may be in a position where you wish to steal customers from your competitor. (I mean “steal” in the nicest, most ethically satisfying way.) If this is the case, it’s simply a matter of avoiding using the words “quit” or “give up on” when referring to your competitor.

So you wouldn’t, for example, write “Quit BigScaryAccountingSoftware! Choose LiteNFriendlyInvoicing Instead!”

In this case, you would avoid the use of “quit” or “give up” entirely and instead spin the message to reflect a motivation strong enough to overcome arguments against leaving BigScaryAccountingSoftware, like any of the following:

Get Back at Least 3 Hours Each Week by Switching to LiteNFriendly
(Motivation = Time Acquisition)

Are You Losing 3 Hours Each Week with BSAS? Switch Today!
(Motivation = Loss Aversion)

How to Apply This Strategy in Your Web Copy TODAY
The most natural place to use this copy trick is on a cancellation or unsubscribe page. I’d recommend using it in your headline (H1) and/or your call to action button or link.

If you are only going to put it one place on the page, choose the call to action because that will require the visitor to actively interact with the word “quit” rather than passively observing it. For example, just above the “quit” button, you might write a subhead that reads:

“Are you sure you want to QUIT StartupZZZ?”

Underneath that subhead, you then position 2 button options with strategically written copy:

I want to QUIT

Give me a reason to stay, instead

(You’ll notice that, instead of offering a “No” option – people are resistant to rapidly changing their minds, which a “No” button would require – the second button allows your customer to keep their control while reconsidering leaving. They believe they’re in the driver’s seat, which is wonderful for you as you try to influence them. You have a chance to win them back… and they get to feel good about not quitting something while maintaining their power. Naturally, you’d have to then give them a reason to stay.)

Why Not Just Make It Hard for People to Unsubscribe?
Making it a challenge to do something does not make people less motivated to do that thing.

People want what they want. If you hide something they want and expect from you, you’ll just put them in a bad mood – and that won’t help them change their mind and decide to stick with you. Take a look at the following example from Microsoft:

Making it difficult to unsubscribe only frustrates people… which turns them against you, not toward you.

Remember that a good percentage of your customers can be persuaded to stay.

Let those who can’t be persuaded go – don’t make it frustrating to leave – but use psychology to help a handful stay.

If People Don’t Quit Things… Then, Um, Why Do People Quit Things?
Visitors to your site will make decisions based on more than one input or factor, with various motivations in mind.

When it comes to quitting or not quitting, multiple variables will act as input into the final decision.

For example, if you completely loathe your boss or you totally need to start your own company, you won’t let the idea of quitting your job dissuade you. But if you’re ho-hum about your boss and a little uncertain about being an entrepreneur, a reminder that quitting is bad can prime you to change your mind; if your boss gives you a reason to stay, you are more likely to stay.

Back to your unsubscribe page, though: Your visitors will weigh all the factors, with the negative side of “quitting” being one of them, and make a decision based on everything.

If they’re highly motivated to end a subscription with you, then using the word “quit” in your copy probably won’t make them second-guess themselves.

But if they could go either way, the word “quit” could keep them around long enough to give you a second chance to earn their patronage.