The 108 Most Persuasive Words

For all you “Mad Men” aficionados, the hit TV show is partially based on the life of Draper Daniels, a creative director at Leo Burnett Company, an advertising firm with a global reach. Agency founder Leo Burnett was legendary even in his day (he lived from 1891 to 1971) for the advertising icons he created including: Tony the Tiger, Charlie the Tuna, the Marlboro Man and the Maytag Repairman.

According to Burnett, overuse of adjectives is the bane of advertising copy. To prove his point, Burnett had his staff review 62 failed ads. What he discovered was that 24.1% of the words in the failed ads were adjectives. By way of comparison, only 13.1% of the words in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address are adjectives. Thus, Burnett’s recommendation was to use MORE verbs and FEWER adjectives. I’ve been using the list of The 108 Most Persuasive Verbs for several years now … I didn’t create them, but I do find them effective.   Overuse of adjectives also turns off your audience. After all, what would you think if someone told you they were a “Cutting edge, robust, disruptive thought leader who adds value at the end of the day?”

With my hat off to the creators of The 108 Most Persuasive Verbs (and to Leo Burnett), there are some cases when using more adjectives can be better. There are four categories of adjectives you should use in your writing, and particularly in your storytelling:

  • Visual Words – Connect to a person’s sense of sight. (EXAMPLES: bright, colorful, hallows, narrow, shiny)
  • Auditory Words – Connect to a person’s sense of hearing. (EXAMPLES: bang, bark, gobble, hiss, squeak)
  • Kinesthetic Words – Connect to a person’s sense of touch. (EXAMPLES: breezy, bumpy, sharp, slippery, wooden)
  • Gustatory Words – Connect to a person’s sense of taste. (EXAMPLES: bitter, chocolate, minty, sour, spicy)

Why are these types of adjectives important? Each person has a different dominant mode of communication. Some people are visual learners. Others are auditory learners. Still others are kinesthetic learners. Your stories should appeal to your audience’s learning styles. If you know your audience’s predominant learning style then you should stack your stories with auditory words so you can connect with it more effectively. For example, teachers are often auditory learner.

As for gustatory words no one is a gustatory learner. Nevertheless, appealing to a person’s sense of taste is never a bad idea.

All opinions are my own and not those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. 

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Leslye Burgess

This is a very interesting article. Of additional interest are the links in the story. My one complaint concerns the color of the typeface. Is is really necessary to have the text in such a light shade? What happened to black??? This color is very hard to read. Bring back the black type please???

Leo Grassi

Terrific piece, however, I take some exception to your statement “As for gustatory words no one is a gustatory learner.” The culinary industry would beg to differ. As an instructional designer, I would target learning to include gustatory terms in efforts to promote understanding of cooking principles and outcomes surrounding particular foods.

Jay Krasnow


An interesting point. Perhaps I would convert if presented with the right culinary dish! (Mushrooms, fish and pork are definitely off limits!)