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Cults, Guns And Copywriting

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Cults, Guns And Copywriting

Postby Bensettle » Fri May 30, 2008 9:52 am

I suspect one of the things that draws people to copywriting and marketing is the raw power of persuasion.

The ability to persuade someone to do what we want is just a few steps away from mind control in some ways.

Unfortunately, many of the methods we learn even in the "copywriting 101" books can be (and many times are) used for truly evil purposes -- like selling people things they don't really want or that can even harm them in some way. :(

Ken McCarthy once explained to me how misusing copywriting is, "like walking up to someone and sticking a gun to their back." And that much of what we learn are the exact same techniques cults use to recruit and keep members.

Strange as it sounds, there isn't really that much difference between how a heroin dealer sells his "wares" on the corner of crack and 8-ball and how the typical Internet marketer sells an eBook on the Internet.

My question is...

Do you ever feel uncomfortable using certain manipulation techniques and tactics in your ads?

I will say I have had times where I needed to "check" myself, to make sure I was doing the right things for the right reasons (and even once walked away from an assignment because of it).

But I am REALLY curious how other marketers and copywriters feel about wielding the "double edged sword" of persuasion.

Ben
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Postby JosephRatliff » Fri May 30, 2008 9:42 pm

Ben,

You are really going into the "dark alley" with this one. I wonder how many people who write copy will actually .... ;)

I have personally turned down 7 assignments over the years which on the surface seemed "ok" to write for...but when the "covers were lifted"...it was ugly underneath. I walked away each time.

It's always "those" projects that we remember, isn't it?

Great topic Ben! I hope more contribute...
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Postby Kyle Tully » Fri May 30, 2008 11:36 pm

I've turned down projects where I wasn't comfortable selling the product, or where I didn't believe in the creator or think the market actually needed the product.

Not only for moral/ethical reasons, but 'cause writing copy for something I'm not totally into is just no fun!

That said, when I'm writing for something I totally believe in and truly know the prospect will benefit from then I'm not shy in unleashing all the psychological triggers and selling hard.

That of course puts me the position of playing God, deciding what is right and wrong for people... and I'm comfortable with that :)
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Re: Cults, Guns And Copywriting

Postby jonmcculloch » Sat May 31, 2008 5:11 am

Bensettle wrote:I suspect one of the things that draws people to copywriting and marketing is the raw power of persuasion.

The ability to persuade someone to do what we want is just a few steps away from mind control in some ways.


It would be if it were possible. There's scant evidence it is, though, with a few caveats.

It is possible over a period of time, yes. That's how cults work. And sad to say MANY business models use exactly the same techniques (not surprising really, since form follows function).

People who sell copywriting courses and products on the strength of this "power" are selling snake oil; the people buying it get what they deserve (because what kind of person seeks that kind of power?).

Strange as it sounds, there isn't really that much difference between how a heroin dealer sells his "wares" on the corner of crack and 8-ball and how the typical Internet marketer sells an eBook on the Internet.


Why would you expect there to be? Remember, Ben, you're dealing with human emotions and the underlying neurology. It's about satisfaction and reward, emotion serotonin and all those goodies. As I said: form follows function.

Do you ever feel uncomfortable using certain manipulation techniques and tactics in your ads?
Ben


No, because I don't use them -- I persuade but I don't manipulate. And like other posters here, I don't get involved with people I don't like, products I don't believe in, or projects I think won't work.

I took a tip from someone I can't remember now (probably Jim Rohn), and have a set of values in my life. I'm an atheist libertarian so I guess I made them up for myself, but they bear a striking resemblance to some of the ones you'll find in all sorts of religious texts (simply because they make good sense).

For example, I don't steal or take anything I've not earned. Last night Sarah and I were eating out and the guy undercharged me by about $15. There was no hesitation in my telling him this and no temptation to "get away" with it. He was stunned I'd "come clean". Just how good do you think we felt afterwards? And we tipped him $15 on a $40 meal. We just made his entire week!

Having values -- rules, if you like -- means you don't have to think about many things on a day to day basis. If someone approaches you with a deal and you have to hem and haw about whether you think it's "right" or not, it's not and you already know it.

Another good reason for having values is it protects us from being manipulated ourselves. Research pretty much proves we do in fact decide emotionally rather than logically (in the brain's limbic system). Marketers have known this for a long time. In fact, current research indicates we don't even have free will (read Michael Shermer's The Mind of the Market for details). Having values protects us somewhat from emotional manipulation in copy or in person.

Furthermore, to my mind there is a big difference between persuasion and influence and manipulation

In the former, I want what I want, but to get it I want to give the other person what they want, too; in the latter, I want what I want, and I don't care what the other person wants or what happens to him.

I think many sales letters, especially on the Internet for those "get rich quick and live by a pool surrounded by nubile women with unfeasibly overdeveloped mammaries" products are manipulatory. I think anyone selling a copywriting course (or other persuasion woo-woo) on the strength of mind-control and compelling your reader are also manipulators, too.

But consdider this: it always takes two.

There is a saying I heard a while ago: "you can't cheat an honest man", and I think there's a lot of truth in it. An honest man doesn't want to make a fortune overnight because a man who's honest with himself realises it's not quite that simple. I'm not espousing the Protestant work-ethic here so much as pointing out the honest realities of life: with vanishingly small probability to the contrary, you don't get something for nothing.

Think about these people who get caught by the Nigerian 419 scams, where they hope against all reason to get millions of dollars -- stolen dollars belonging to people of a poor nation -- in return for a bit of legal chicanery. And with delicious irony, they lose thousands of their own dollars.

Sympathy?

Not from me. If they were honest men, they'd never have been caught out.

Same with copywriting courses that promise you the ability to write words to compel your reader to buy. It's B.S. There is overwhelming evidence to suggest you can NOT force people to do thing they don't want to do. What IS possible by a process of suggestion, is to transport people to a place where their wants and desires change to suit your purposes. You can't do that in a sales letter, no matter who you are.

Imagine Joe Viatale, Harlan Kilstein, and all the other NLP copywriting "gurus" trying to write a sales letter to sell pork sausages to a list of vegans. Think they'll sell many?

Not a chance.

If you could write copy "compelling" people to do things, then there would be only one copywriting product out there and everyone who used it would be a rich man. Open challenge to Vitale, Kilstein and everyone else out there who claims to be able to an adept of "mind control": you write a sales letter to get me knowingly to eat aubergine or marzipan without threat or coercion, and I'll retract every negative comment I ever made about NLP, hypnotism and persuasion.

Don't hold your breath.

There's a lot of B.S. spoken and written about copy and copywriters. Not surprising really, since most of it is aimed at getting people to buy copywriting training courses and seminars.


Jon

P.S. I've used the masculine pronoun throughout. If you're a woman, just mentally replace it for the feminine. Easy.
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Postby Bensettle » Sat May 31, 2008 10:30 am

Hey Jon,

Very cool that you stopped by, it was our phone conversation a few weeks ago that really got me thinking about this.

And it was your explanation of the NLP thing that put a lot of this stuff in perspective for me. You are one of the few people I've seen who actually challenges a lot of the rather... shall I say... "dramatic" claims made by some of the NLP gurus.

I still think you ought to write some kind of book about this...

Ben
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Postby jonmcculloch » Sat May 31, 2008 12:27 pm

Bensettle wrote:Hey Jon,
Very cool that you stopped by, it was our phone conversation a few weeks ago that really got me thinking about this.


Heh. You know me Ben... always around somewhere... :twisted:

Actually, that's a great compliment. My aim is to get people actually thinking, because so few do. Clients, too. I'm tired of clients wanting a magic pill or silver bullet.

And it was your explanation of the NLP thing that put a lot of this stuff in perspective for me. You are one of the few people I've seen who actually challenges a lot of the rather... shall I say... "dramatic" claims made by some of the NLP gurus.


Unfortunately they'll always prosper because they're selling hope. And hoping is easier than working.

Of course, I'm not actually saying these outrageous claims are untrue. I can't disprove them. But since they're extraordinary claims, the claimants should provide extraordinary verifiable, reproducible and properly controlled double-blind evidence.

And they don't. They don't even give a straight answer to a simple question most of the time.

And given the lack of evidence for their claims and the fact Occam's razor tells us it's more likely they're lying or mistaken than it is for them to have God-like powers of mind-control, we're entitled to conclude it's bunkum and snake-oil.

I still think you ought to write some kind of book about this...
Ben


I kind of did, just after we spoke, I think. It's more of a treatise on the general scams perpetrated by the Success Industry as a whole, but the reasoning -- survivor fallacy, confirmation bias, laws of large numbers, etc. -- are just as valid. I also mention the NLP copywriting scam explicitly.

It's a free download and contains zero pitch. I don't know the rules pertaining to links on this blog, so forgive me if I'm breaking the rules here but if you go to my website, http://www.JonMcCulloch.com and click on the "How to pocket £325,114 screwing 137 people in just 139 days" image you can get it there. No name or email address required.

Don't be put off by the title. It's clean (you'll love the scam I describe and be shocked how it relates to all the success products out there).


-- Jon
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Postby JosephRatliff » Sat May 31, 2008 8:48 pm

Jon,

Excellent thought provoking posts man.

Thanks for "chiming in".
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Postby Bensettle » Sun Jun 01, 2008 7:24 pm

Excellent thought provoking posts man.


Hey Joseph, one thing about Jon is he has no hesitation to call "BS" on things. I always enjoy reading his stuff, too.

Especially on an important topic like this -- where with a cursory glance of some of the cra... I mean stuff... selling on a site like clickbank, you can see just how deep the levels of lies and chicanery can get online.

Ben
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Postby JosephRatliff » Sun Jun 01, 2008 8:37 pm

Ben,

Well, with the power of persuasion that we are gifted with as copywriters...it's kinda like Star Wars...

There is a dark side of the force...

And, there are the Jedi.

Greed and deception lead you down the dark side.
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Postby Bensettle » Sun Jun 01, 2008 11:40 pm

Well, with the power of persuasion that we are gifted with as copywriters...it's kinda like Star Wars...

There is a dark side of the force...

And, there are the Jedi.

Greed and deception lead you down the dark side.


Hey Joseph,

That's a cool way of putting it... in fact, I like it so much, I think I'll steal your analogy and shamelessly use it as if it was my own... :^o

Ben
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Postby jonmcculloch » Mon Jun 02, 2008 3:10 am

Joseph,

Well, with the power of persuasion that we are gifted with as copywriters...it's kinda like Star Wars...


I like and agree with your sentiments 100%; however, I think the perception of how persuasive copy can be is vastly overrated. Even Dan Kennedy says he gets only a 12.5% success rate.

The real trick to writing "persuasive" copy is to find an audience already willing to be persuaded -- Gary Halbert's "starving crowd".

This is why I say you can be a marketer without being a good copywriter, but you can't be a good copywriter without being a good marketer.

Ben: thanks.

-- Jon
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Postby Bensettle » Mon Jun 02, 2008 8:55 am

Waaaaaiiiiit a minute Jon --

Are you saying these copywriters pounding their chests about how "their copy" has brought in multi-millions of dollars and has done everything short of turn water into wine are... not telling the whole story?

Ben

P.S. Ryan Healy once wrote an excellent piece about this topic at:

http://www.ryanhealy.com/copy-not-a-cure-all
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Postby jonmcculloch » Mon Jun 02, 2008 9:35 am

Ben,

In a nutshell, yup.

I don't think they're lying, in the main. In fact, I suspect few if any are. Much of it comes down to the "survivor fallacy", where we see only the successes and ignore the failures (we all tend to do it -- and people who would tend to describe themselves as "lucky" tend to do it more often than those who describe themselves as "unlucky"),

More than that, though, it's easy to make $1,000,000 with a hot list and a good product. Then you get what Michael Shermer calls the "bestseller effect", which is along the lines of "success breeds success".

Consider: wealthy guy has a big, hot list and a product to sell. Whom does he get to write the copy? A top copywriter. Unsurpsisingly, the product does well. Top copywriter gets another testimonial from a big-name and so increases his chances further of getting hired by the next wealthy guy with the hot list and good product. It's tied up with human psychology, chaos theory, and the goal-seeking mechanism we've evolved in the brain.

Truth is UNLESS you did a split test with "ordinary" copy, you can't make the call.

I've seen identical copy and offer from me convert at 46% for a (then) $9,000 item on one list yet get a 0% RESPONSE on another (I advised them not to use it but they did anyway... and then blamed ME when it went wrong... exit one comprehensively fired client!).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying copy is unimportant. Not for a second. What I'm saying is it's not ALL important or even the MOST important thing, and most clients who come to me asking me to fix their copy go away with a whole lot more simply because fixing their copy is just part of the equation, and I refuse point-blank to take their money for something I am sure isn't going to solve their problems.

All other things being equal, though, changing the copy can make a huge difference.

Brilliant post by Mr healy, too. Personally, I seem to be detecting a groundswell of opinion against the "success peddlers". About time, too.

-- Jon
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Postby JosephRatliff » Mon Jun 02, 2008 12:51 pm

Jon,

I completely agree with you.

Testing, Offer, Targeted Audience, Product Quality, Social Proof, Copywriting etc...

All necessary ingredients to be "persuasive."

But, I use that analogy (Star Wars) to describe the use of copywriting as a tool for "good" or "evil" purposes.

"Marketing you must master, before selling you can do." --Yoda :D
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Postby Bensettle » Mon Jun 02, 2008 1:32 pm

For some reason I now have this picture in my head of Darth Vader doing that force choke thing he does in the movies on a client, saying -- "I find your lack of faith in my copywriting disturbing..."

Ben
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