copywriting in action course ten desires

Copywriting and the Ten Desires that Drive Us All.

What makes us tick?

Investigate with this question and you begin to dig deeper into the heart and mind of any person or group you’re writing to. With this investigative attitude, you come to  see, feel, understand and appreciate a person like they were sitting across the table from you.  Demographics are always a good starting point but, if you’re genuine about effective communication, it’s in the psychographics that you discover that precious grain of insight. Calibrate your communication accordingly and you have one of the essential know-hows of arresting attention and engaging that attention to the final full-stop.

In short, we’re talking empathy.

Further evidence of the importance of empathy is thanks to renowned social researcher and one of Australia’s great thinkers, Hugh Mackay. In his book, What Makes Us Tick? The Ten Desires That Drive Us, he lists and describes ten desires that influence our thoughts and feeling and, more often than not, influence us subconsciously.

Here’s a brief summary of the 10 desires:

1. The desire to be taken seriously (to be noticed and heard).

2. The desire to find one’s place in the world (otherwise we feel restless).

3. The desire to have something to believe in (to help us make sense of things).

4. The desire to connect with each other, ourselves, and nature.

5. The desire to be useful.

6. The desire to belong (we need to connect and belong to groups of other people, which he refers to as “herds” of 5 to 8 people).

7. The desire for  more.

8. The desire for control.

9. The desire for something to happen (it makes life interesting).

10. The desire for love and to be loved (love gives us self-respect, increases our capacity for empathy with others and enhances personal serenity).

But you better be careful. Skipping the demographics and psychographics and launching straight into the 10 Desires risks stereotyping. Only after doing the demographics and psychographics do you proceed to the 10 Desires. This is a golden rule in all my Copywriting in Action® online courses. You need to be sufficiently informed before determining the key desire of any particular target audience. This information can only come from conducting due diligence in demographic and psychographic analysis. Algorithms help get you the demographics and psychographics. However, algorithms don’t match your own human experience for getting to the correct desire in any given context. And it’s all about context.

copywriting in action course book

In this new edition, Hugh Mackay offers a postscript that delves into the many concerns that were raised by people around the country when he was first promoting What Makes Us Tick? They include: ‘Why do people become workaholics?’;

‘How can religious people hold such irrational beliefs?’; ‘Why are so many people hooked on social media?’; ‘What about gender and generational differences?’; ‘Shouldn’t our desire for security be on the list?’, as well as other issues that resonate with

the modern world. He also offers more thoughts on … the desire to be taken seriously; the desire for ‘my place’; the desire for something to believe in; the desire to connect; the desire to be useful. This is a book that will explain us to ourselves.


These 10 desires are dynamic. In any given day, different desires will drive us as we move through different situations.

I recommend you begin with  this post in which I expand in greater detail on the 10 desires. Then get the book for the full story on each; it’s a valuable reference for every copywriter and all other practitioners in the media and communications space.

Of course, the ultimate step is to do my Copywriting In Action® online course. In this professional masterclass series, you discover first hand the revelation that is Hugh Mackay’s What Makes Us Tick, and how it brings your reader into high-fidelity presence.

Monline copywriting course’s latest timetable is up and ready to take your booking now:

Originally posted 2011-06-29 12:54:46.

55 Responses

  1. The Youtube video is great for expanding on each of these desires in more detail, and in particular 34 mins in Mackay talks about the darker side we should be aware of. When we refuse to acknowledge another person because of the shadow cast by our own unfulfilled desire to be taken seriously for example. By being aware of this we could be more in tune to the empathy needed to be great copywriters.

  2. “Ten desires are not necessarily the same as each persons top ten values. Dr John D. Martini, alongside motivational speaker Anthony Robbins, suggests a persons values may be more prevalent to their own actions, thoughts and opinions, than the primal desires serving as the basic fundamentals.”

    I think this is a good point. People do make choices about identity and then make a lot of other choices to support their first choice.

    I like the list though. It gives a strong reference point to refer to, and it also gives you a few different angles to test to g better results.

  3. I haven’t listened to the whole talk yet, but just reading the summarised 10 desires was worthwhile – together they really form the basis of social media as a platform and why it has become so intrinsic to people’s lives… It provides them with the tools to achieve each and every one of these effortlessly and unknowingly.

  4. What a fantastic way to make sense of our personal drivers. I really look forward to listening to his whole talk. Thanks for sharing Nicolas!

  5. When I first learned of the 10 desires that drive us it struck me not as a new concept but more of something I once new but had some how managed to forget. It was only by observing children and the way they interact with each other and the world, I realised that they know this instinctively. So if that is true then i would like to think that maybe it’s imprinted in us all as adults and that’s why communications that work on these principles are so satisfying.

  6. These ten steps are the starting point for really interesting discovery and discussion in relation to understanding people and how we relate to each other and our environment. Worth revisiting many times over!

  7. Hugh Mackay is great and I think these 10 desires are a great addition for profiling a target audience. I just need to train my brain to go through the process, and to think about it, as opposed to just randomly generating ideas about my audience in my head.

  8. What an excellent framework to assist copywriters in building empathy with their target audience. I like how it demystifies the complexity of human behaviour and helps us all to realise, that at the heart of it, we are all very similar.

  9. I’ll need to get a copy of this book. Nicholas, being new to copywriting I don’t know if it is simply your personal approach or not, but the way you continuously push your readers to explore the human psyche is inspiring. Listening to Hugh speaking was not only insightful, but a pleasure. He speaks clearly and simply, and as with all the messages in the course so far, his were well received.

  10. As someone with limited knowledge of advertising and marketing theory, McKay’s emphasis on understanding motivations and desires seems like a no brainer for creating communication that influences and persuades. McKay’s model appeals to me because it taps into our sense of identity – it allows for nuances and it doesn’t try to stereotype people into simplistic categories.

  11. I have ordered Hugh’s book off the back of this! To understand others is to understand ourselves which helps the process of writing along that little bit further. The same can be said for fiction and other forms of creative writing that appeal to the target audience’s emotions. I never get sick of reading new insights into the human psyche, as I believe a deep awareness of it is vital if we wish to communicate beyond more than just a tweet or text. Really looking forward to Hugh’s book.

  12. I really like High McKay’s list. By really thinking about our target audience’s fears and desires, and naming them, we are in a stronger position to address them and tailor the key proposition to meet them.

  13. I’ll definitely be considering this list with every target audience I come across. This approach has already helped a lot with understanding the audience of my current projects (they want control and to be taken seriously!)

  14. This is a really refreshing way to view the target audience, and really compliments other models. Struggling to get the soundbite to work, will keep trying.

  15. I really like the idea of thinking about the desires of my readers because that links so well to why they would be coming to my blog and reading about my subject. It’s almost a challenge – is your desire enough to make a change?

  16. Yes, ‘scary’ is the word. Copywriting is a powerfully persuasive skill. Sometimes I am hesitant to teach it because it can be used for evil as much as for good. So please be socially and environmentally responsible with it.

  17. Interesting to think that by understanding these underlying motivations you can get inside a persons head and influence them – even if they themselves are not fully aware of those motivations. Interesting and a bit scary!

    I’m really keen to read the book to learn more about how Mackay narrowed it down to these ten desires. For instance, some people are driven by the desire for power or money – I suppose those fall under ‘the desire for more’? (Unable to load the YouTube video at the moment, but very possibly he explains it all there).

  18. Hopes, fears and desires seems so necessary to a target audience. Yet it seems they need to be addressed so implicitly, without proclaiming explicitly “this need is being addressed”. This will be an interesting challenge in writing copy for the group and individual projects.

    1. Right on the money, Elizabeth. To state it in a parallel phrase: Don’t start with the product, start with the prospect.

    2. It’s all about the prospect, not the product, Elizabeth. The craft of copywriting can be a very good practice in other regarding.

  19. The ten desires is a great way to put the intended audience into perspective and keep the copy on track and hitting the mark.

  20. Sometimes I know who is my target, but I still lose the direction of what to focus to attract and connect to the reader. The 10 desires make me realize what to put in my writing and the way to pass a message to audiences.

  21. I agree, unlocking the dominant desire of your audience is key if you want them to ‘buy’ a product rather than be ‘sold’ a product. This is no easy feat I imagine as professionally we rarely write for an individual but more commonly for large groups. And the larger that group is, the more competing desires they’ll be. I guess you really have to do your research to find the desire/s that count for the majority and once you’ve identified it, speak to that audience as though they were just one person, “sitting across the table from you”. Now you’re talking!

  22. The old adage that there’s reason to madness is completely true when looking at consumer behaviour. There is always something quite intrinsic driving our actions and why we purchase the products or use the services we do. Hugh McKay’s 10 desires captures this beautifully.

  23. The insight of writing to your target market as you know them, makes so much sense. Thanks Nic! You have really inspired me and I am seriously going to commence reading Hugh McKay’s work. And research, and research, and research…

  24. Brilliant insights from Hugh McKay, his book is on my must-have list now. The key take-away for me is that in western society we nurture our individual ego and in indigenous society they look to nurture the feeling of belonging. Really powerful.

  25. Hugh McKay wants to help us to understand what makes us tick – it’s the ourselves in the us. As well, we are constantly trying to understand the other, to what drives them, why they acted in particular ways. Can good copywriters develop by observing, or is it also essential to experience? Walk a mile in their shoes; then you may know them. The emphasis Nicolas puts on research – both audience and subject – as equaly important is such valuable advice.

  26. I love this!! These 10 desires will truly help with addressing the audience, which I really feel is key to the copy we create.

  27. I saw Jane Caro speak recently and she mentioned this book as the way we should be segmenting and profiling audiences. I am assuming that they are in no particular order – as surely the desire to be loved can’t be last?

  28. Knowing your target audience is certainly key to cracking a brief, and it turn producing some effective copy. I couldn’t have named all the 10 desires Mackay talks about, but looking at them now I can certainly see truth in them all. It’s interesting to delve into the minds of your audience on such a deep level, your imagination definitely runs away with you.

  29. To get empathy in order to connect and engage your audience is so crucial!
    I struggle with getting into mindsets that i cant relate to, but i can see that this can be overcome by researching and actively trying to understand your target audience. Really put yourself in their shoes.

  30. I’m finally going to be putting my Psych courses to good use!

    Ultimately, as humans, we are looking for meaning in our lives. As I understand it, a good copy will give some meaning to a person’s life (whether it is about a fair trade soap or a new perfume). The copy may not be the revelation of a lifetime, but it will correspond to something a person is looking for, however superficially. The reader is looking for an answer, has a need to be fulfilled, and a good copy has to answer that need.

  31. You’ll never effectively write to your target audience if you settle with learning their demographics alone. If demographics is all you’re interested in, the truth behind the saying “age is just a number” will probably catch up out time and time again. Not all elderly people behave in the same way or like the same things, and the same can be said for teenagers and everyone in between. And age is just one demographic. This point can also be made for gender, socio-economic or marital status demographics. (to name a few). Psychographics such as behaviours and interests allow for a much more comprehensive understanding of your target audience and better equip you to write effectively to them.

  32. The thing about desire that is at once horrible and beautiful is that it is endless. Once one desire is fulfilled, so the next is awakened. It’s eternal, and this breakdown just makes it all the more fascinating. It explains the endlessness so perfectly — we’ll never feel completely accepted or completely in control. So interesting.

  33. Thinking about the reader as a real person is something that we forget while writing, while that is what should be at the forefront of our minds. Without that, our writing will be insincere and keep the reader at a distance.

  34. Look beyond the facts and figures of your target audience. Beyond the data there are real people with emotions and desires. These 10 points are a great insight.

  35. To understand the perspective of your audience, you need to know their thoughts and feelings, not just the ‘fact’ (demographics).

  36. Ten desires are not necessarily the same as each persons top ten values. Dr John D. Martini, alongside motivational speaker Anthony Robbins, suggests a persons values may be more prevalent to their own actions, thoughts and opinions, than the primal desires serving as the basic fundamentals.

  37. All of the above desires are certainly true to me, however if I was asked to list ten desires that drive me prior to reading this post, I’m sure I would not have been aware of most of them. Very interesting!

  38. This really gives you an insight into the fundmentals of human desire and the common thread that connects people. Hugh Mackay’s list of ten desires are great points to consider when writing copy.

  39. The outline of the 10 desires has given me a point of place, a strategy, a way to connect. As we portray empathy for others we can connect with their inner needs and desires, allowing us to believe in something, so we can belong and feel useful, giving us a place in the world were we can be listen to and appreciated.

  40. It’s great the way people like Hugh Mackay provide a framework to put some order to random thoughts that may not necessarily be new to us. This framework can help us to appreciate the interplay of various and sometimes conflicting desires within our target audience.

  41. Loved this talk and how it was expressed in such an engaging way. The idea that we all like to be taken seriously and acknowledged is not often expressed in this way and I think it’s a very helpful way of understanding one of our basic desires.

  42. I think that one thing that everyone likes to do is laugh. It you can make someone laugh out loud at your writing, then you have definitely got their attention. (Of course, there are other considerations, too, such as linking the laugh to whatever point you are trying to make to your audience.)

  43. The 10 desires are really interesting and I can see that they can be applied to everyone in greater and lesser degrees. A unique and thoughtful way to consider a terget audience beyond the usual and rather boring demographic stereotypes we tend to fall into the trap of using.

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