The Secret Sales Technique Politicians and Master Marketers Use to Control People

Nathan Phelps
7 min readSep 8, 2021

Jonathan Haidt’s brilliant book on moral psychology, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion, begins by explaining the background of modern moral psychological thought and culminates into the argument that morality is split into six essential foundations.

These are the six:

Care / Harm

Liberty / Oppression

Fairness / Cheating

Authority / Subversion

Loyalty / Betrayal

Sanctity / Degradation

Each foundation is made up of a contrasting pair, both of which activate that aspect of morality and trigger powerful emotional responses. Coined as Moral Foundations Theory, these six foundations offer a fascinating lens for viewing the world.

For example, Haidt discusses how liberals prioritize the foundations of care and liberty above all others, whereas the right stereotypically prioritizes a more equal balance across all six, which is why liberals place less value on loyalty (e.g. nationalism) and more on care (e.g. protection of minorities), and the right may choose to protect family structures (authority) even if it means harming some individuals.

Pretty interesting, but we’re not here to talk politics. While reading this book, I couldn’t help but think of my bank of emotional triggers and psychological tricks I keep up my sleeve when writing for any sort of advertising. Whether it’s landing pages, video scripts, or ad copy, keeping psychology top of mind is a key part of being a good copywriter.

If you control the elephant, you control the rider.

Why? Because those six foundations activate our emotional elephants, which is part of a metaphor Haidt likes to use to describe the relationship between our emotional behavior and our rational behavior.

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The spoiler is that the elephant almost always wins, and our rationalizations stem from our emotional responses, not the other way around.

In Haidt’s words, intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.

So if you can make the elephant do what you want, then you win.

And in the world of business, winning means boosting conversion rates, sales, reducing churn, and improving all of the other KPIs you know and love.

With that in mind, below are examples of how you can use Moral Foundations Theory to educate your copy, boost your conversion rates, and get more sales.

Moral Foundation Theory + Creative Copy = Better Conversion Rates

Here are the six foundations with actionable examples and explanations for each. You can choose to focus on one or a blend in your copy, and each foundation offers a fascinating avenue to evoke emotion with your copy.

#1 Care vs. Harm

This foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of caring for vulnerable children. It makes people have an instinct to save, care, or protect something.

Key Angles and Aspects:

  • Protect your children or spare your child from harm.
  • Use cuteness (animals, babies, etc.)
  • Shock people by insinuating harm.
  • Condemn cruelty.


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This ad powerfully evokes a feeling of care. Your instinct to protect sparks with the appearance of the dog and gives you a clear way to act on that instinct.

Try adding in the care/harm foundation by featuring vulnerable populations at risk in your ads. Imagine a child being saved from hot coffee by reusable towels or being protected from the sun by non-toxic suntan lotion.

#2 Liberty vs. Oppression

This foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of living in small groups with individuals who, if given the chance, would dominate.

Liberty/Oppression makes people notice or resent any signs of attempted domination. This developed as a response to bullies and during the stage in evolution when alphas weren’t exclusively a good thing for a primate group.

Key Angles and Aspects:

  • Paint someone as a tyrant and use this foundation as your vehicle for action.
  • Useful for invoking the care foundation by proxy. E.g. a bully threatening a vulnerable population.
  • Can be used to support egalitarianism and the dont-tread-on-me mentality.


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This ad hits the nail on its head and smartly includes a touch of tribalism by including the phrase “thinking person’s” — making the reader say: “Well, I think I’m smart, and if smart people read this book, that means I should too!”

What can you demonize to rally support around? We see this often in nutrition: non-GMO, gluten-free, low-carb — all of these are metaphorical tyrants companies use to cast the appearance of a noble fight.

In short, personify your problem and publicly fight it like hell.

#3 Authority vs. Subversion

This foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forging relationships that will benefit us within social hierarchies.

Key Angles and Aspects:

  • Build hierarchies.
  • Give users responsibilities.
  • Promote ideals of respect and governance
  • Conversely, promote rebellion and reaction against the status quo.
  • Point out bad behavior.

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God is in charge. Trust your parents. Respect your elders. These are all phrases that reinforce the authority/subversion foundation.

Perhaps you work in community-building and reward power users with hierarchical status. Or maybe you identify oppressive structures and combine forces with the liberty/oppression foundation to inspire a rebellion.

#4 Sanctity vs. Degradation

This foundation evolved initially in response to the omnivore’s dilemma (being able to eat almost everything means having to use caution in our choices) but then broadened to living in a world of pathogens and parasites.

It makes it possible for people to inject objects with irrational and extreme values that can cause feelings of disgust.

Key Angles and Aspects:

  • Trigger disgust or cleanliness.
  • Offer access to cleanliness.
  • Make your audience feel dirty and then offer a solution.
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Toxins. Sin. Sickness. This ad claims that the very mattress you own could be poisoning you — that’s a pretty good reason to get a new mattress.

The lesson? Point out habits or issues that users could eliminate. The idea is to impart a feeling of disgust and/or dirtiness. We see this with cleaning products all of the time (think of the germ animations). You could also use this foundation via spiritual blight, emotional turmoil, and unhealthy food.

#5 Fairness vs. Cheating

This foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of reaping the rewards of cooperation without getting exploited.

Key Angles and Aspects:

  • Tap into who deserves something and why.
  • Build collective aspirations via reciprocal altruism.
  • Stress getting your fair share i.e. proportionality (how fairly something is distributed).
  • Makes us sensitive to whether or not someone would be a good or bad partner for cooperation.
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This ad taps into proportionality by saying you deserve a reward for being you, which leads people to think about why they do deserve something good for their hard work. It also taps into loyalty if they are pitching this ad in Louisiana.

Try and point out what someone’s efforts should get them, or what someone’s lack of efforts should get someone else.

On a less cynical note, you could also build up a community to aspire to more by reinforcing the idea of karma. We see this all the time in religion: “sow your seeds and reap the harvest”, etc.

#6 Loyalty vs. Betrayal

This foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forming and maintaining coalitions.

Key Angles and Aspects:

  • Create tribes/community to activate this foundation.
  • Reward membership.
  • Have an “other” to rally against.
  • Gamify your service to increase loyalty.
  • Present opportunities to signal wins and ascension.
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This ad points out how much community can improve an experience. In your own business, think about how you can foster community. Maybe that’s building teams and competition into your model or labeling your users as a tribe.

Your next steps

Take a look at your entire marketing funnel, from the ads at the top of the funnel to the sales scripts at the bottom — where can you strategically inject these foundations to make people feel the way you want them to about your product(s) and brand?

The more you can use these to activate our emotional elephants, the better your conversion rates and engagement will be.

Ready to see what copy with the perfect blend of science and creativity can do for your conversion rates?

Drop me a line at or check out



Nathan Phelps

Nashville-Based Writer & Musician —Writing about practicing music and whatever else comes to mind.