A Persuasion Secret Toddlers Teach


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BabyBjornPotty.png Every copywriter should have a kid. Seriously.

How so?

By way of explanation, let’s start here: Everything we do is dictated by the “why” behind it. As in, the only reason why we would change our behavior to get a certain outcome. Not to mention, the radical failures we face if we don’t correctly target those incentives when trying to persuade others to undertake some kind of action.

Having a toddler in your life, however, is like a shortcut to the same education.

Take our little fella (he’ll kill me if he stumbles across this post about his early years). See, as new parents we were faced with a dilemma. He was starting pre-school. And by the rules, he had to be, er… let’s just say that, regal as he was, he and a certain porcelain throne had yet to build a natural relationship.

In our son’s preschool, that was grounds for non-admittance. Potty-trained or no place at the table. So went the orders from on high. A nerve-wracking thought, no doubt, for any parent. But here was the big problem — we had put off his training for so long, we had only a little over a week left before pre-school started.


So I went to all the “how to” websites. Don’t rush the kid, they said. This could take “a month… two or three months… even half a year.”

Double ack.

We had exactly 11 days. First we tried begging. Then we tried the “no safety net” technique — that’s where you take off the diaper and hope the kid hates the feeling of insecurity so much, he’ll tell you when it’s time to grab him and run for the facilities. Neither approach worked.

But with about nine days left, we figured their had to be a better way… and we worked out one that would make the Freakonomics fan club proud (okay, we got it from online… but it worked just the same).

What did we do? We came up with an audience-targeted incentive.

First, we drew a chart with a cartoon of the potty in the corner (yes, I’m really writing an article about this). Then we bought some stickers. And a bag of chocolates. Every “performance,” we told our son, got a reward.

Did it work? Like gangbusters.

Just over a week later, we have a chart full of stickers and a kid who (sniffle) was just growing up too dang fast. We successfully shuffled him off to school. “So is he potty-trained,” they asked. “Of course,” we said, full of false incredulity.

I’m not saying stickers and chocolates will work for, say, selling commercial office space or negotiating a trade treaty. But you get the gist: So often, the secret to persuasion is just figuring out the right incentive for the audience you’re targeting.

Get that and everything else should fall in place.

(Gee, this parenting thing is easy, isn’t it? 😉

* P.S. This little article first ran two years ago… and we’ve since successfully used the same technique with our daughter. I’ve yet to get it to work for selling subscription-based products, though!

Last modified: January 25, 2017

6 Responses to " A Persuasion Secret Toddlers Teach "

  1. walter daniels says:

    You only think it’s easy, When they hit the teenage years, you find DRM to be a trivial problem. 🙂 Especially with a teenage Girl.
    It is a good metaphor of typical Human Behavior. People don’t react that quickly, or well, but they will. You have to use incentives with a much higher personal value. Even then, you can only choose the reaction by types, not specifics. Men will react to one, and women, generally to another. Another reaction will vary by age. Whether adult reactions to rewards being different is better, I’ll leave to others. 🙂

  2. jackforde says:

    Ha ha… don’t take me “gee, this is easy” too literally. We’re under no delusions! Actually, the part of the story above that I didn’t tell is a good illustration of your point. With our daughter, the chocolates didn’t work at all. She turns out not to have much of a sweet tooth. Lucky for her, but it left us scrambling for a different incentive. Butterfly stickers turned out to do the trick. Lesson being, the incentive has to be relevant to the recipient, as you point out.

  3. Joyce Ragle says:

    There are some of us out here who would not hesitate to buy your subscription based products if you offered us free chocolate. However, I have yet to figure out how to download it.

  4. jackforde says:

    Hi Joyce,

    Recently, Bob Bly gave a kind recommendation for the CR to his e-letter file and — while over a thousand of his readers signed on successfully — a few also ran into problems.

    It may have been because so many came searching at once or maybe it was because some weren’t clear on how to get the reports once they signed up.

    So just in case, how about this: I’ll post here some steps anybody can use to sign up for the CR…

    1) Go to this link:


    2) Enter your email address and click “Get Your Reports”

    3) Check your email inbox for a confirmation message. Inside the confirmation message, you’ll find the link to the page with the free reports — each of the three downloads in PDF format when you click on their titles.

    That should be it.

    If you still run into any problems, just let me know and we’ll find another way to make it work.

  5. Katleen says:


    We tried it as well. With chocolates, stickers… Nothing works. He won’t a potty training. He stands before the toilet (ours, not his potty), leans afterwards en says (says not: does): “Pssjjj!” And than with twinkling eyes he says: “Like papa!”. He believes that a potty is for baby’s not for big bosses like him. So: wet diapers. Still…

  6. jackforde says:

    Sounds familiar, Katleen… but stick with it! I’ve yet to meet the person who never kicked the diaper habit ; )

    P.S. How old is he? There’s definitely a “too young” phase. If you start too early, you’ll just end up frustrated… and so will he. Better to wait, if that’s the case.

    Not that you asked, but try finding out what he thinks of as a better bribe. Might be that he just doesn’t care for chocolate (our daughter didn’t) or the kinds of stickers.

    (A copywriting lessong for all of us… the incentive has to be right. If you’re not getting the results, test a change to the incentive!)

    Also, the chart is key. One block for every successful visit. And as for the use of the adult toilet rather than the potty… how about just getting a step stool and one of those kiddie toilet seats that fit over an adult seat?

    Being able to use the same toilet as daddy might actually be part of that incentive you’re looking for.

    One last tip… try a pantless, diaperless weekend. Let him run around with nothing for a day or so. Can it get messy? Yes. But it also has a way of upping his sense of urgency to use the bathroom.

    It’s a last resort… but it works!

    Good luck.

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