The more I learn about marketing and copywriting and in particular the psychology of persuasion, the more I worry about the ideas being used to manipulate customers into buying things they don’t want and need.
I was very interested when I read this email from Daniel Levis and asked for permission to re-publish it.
Daniel Levis is the author of Effortless Influence and one of the copywriters I pay most attention to. He also seems like a nice guy.
But can you square being nice and wanting to help people with being a master at persuading people to pull out their credit cards and hand over cash?
Over to Daniel.
Copywriters — we’re all going to hell …
Earlier this week I had a subscriber write me and tell me that what I was teaching was demonic. I kid you not.
She said I was showing people how to prey on sin and human weakness. That I was encouraging my students to manipulate people to get them to do things they otherwise wouldn’t. And that anybody who followed my advice was going straight to hell.
Talk about fan mail!
Of course there is some truth in what the lady was saying…
My teachings are manipulative. And they do get people to try new things they otherwise wouldn’t. But what’s wrong with that?
Every mother manipulates her baby – if she wants it to live.
Every time you go to the bank, you manipulate the teller.
When you go to a restaurant – if you’re smart – you manipulate the waiter into giving you better service … and the waiter manipulates you into coughing up a bigger tip.
And the teachers in school manipulate the students into learning to read and to write – at least the good ones do.
Life is one GREAT BIG MANIPULATION! Marketing is manipulation.
Does that mean we’re all going to hell? I think not. Persuasion is just a tool. And like any other tool, can be used to destroy or create.
Take a hammer for instance. You can use it as a murder weapon, or to build a house. Does that make you a bad person for going into a hardware store to buy one?
Of course not! You’re either a psycho killer or a handy person to have around … and the hammer has nothing to do with the distinction.
Judging from this lady’s reference to “hell” and “demonic” and “sin”, I’d wager she’s under the spell of the biggest and perhaps most destructive manipulation of them all.
The truth is: whether you appeal to vice or virtue in your sales copy has nothing to do with whether you go to hell or to heaven. It’s the intention in back of it that counts.
If you feel your best chance of getting your prospect to take an action that’s in his best interest means making him feel a little envious, angry, or greedy, then I think it’s your duty to push those buttons.
Persuasion is full of such ethical questions …
If in your sales copy you step deliberately into a persona who mirrors the likes, dislikes, beliefs, feelings and frustrations of your prospect … or one your prospect is likely to admire, identify with, and want to emulate … is that manipulative?
It is … but how else will you create rapport and guide him toward a better life?
People instinctively, automatically, and reflexively follow people they like.
Create that relationship in your sales copy and marketing, and you can lead your prospects in just about any direction you like.
When you use metaphor or analogy to re-frame something the prospect finds frightening, as exciting … objectionable, as agreeable … or dull and uninteresting, as fascinating … is that manipulative?
It is … but how else will you make the mundane magical to draw your reader in? How else will you make the unfamiliar easily understood so he can embrace it?
The mind thinks in relative terms. When confronted with a new idea, it instinctively, automatically, and reflexively looks for a handy little existing pigeonhole in which to stick it.
A carefully crafted metaphor, simile, or analogy allows you to hijack that natural process.
If your intentions are honorable, what’s wrong with that?
When you force your prospect to associate positive emotions with the purchase of your product or service by stimulating his creative imagination … is that manipulative?
It is … but how else will you motivate him to move toward his dreams, and away from his fears?
The sub-conscious mind literally cannot tell the difference between an imagined and a real experience. It is a goal-seeking, teleological device that automatically moves the person in the direction of his creative imagination.
Is there something wrong with planting the positive seeds of hope and empowerment in another person’s mind … or even scaring him out of his wits if necessary, and then coming to the rescue? Not if your intentions are good.
When you use specific words and phrases that are anchored to the emotions that will motivate your prospect to action … is that manipulative?
It is … Words are symbols – representations of reality. The right ones can trigger a cascade of associated images and emotions in the mind of your reader.
Words like love, hate, sex, death, kill, joy and blood are all examples of viscerally charged anchors that create automatic, involuntary associations.
A single word choice can drastically alter your reader’s internal representations, moving you either closer or farther away from your intention.
When you work diligently to select the words that inspire your reader to actually do something as a result of your writing, is that evil? Me thinks not.
When you tell stories that merely suggest what you want your prospect to think, rather than coming right out and telling him directly … is that manipulative?
It is … It’s down right sneaky because when someone thinks they’ve come to a particular conclusion on their own … they bite down hard on that conclusion … they’re like a dog on a bone with that thing. And that gives them the conviction and confidence they need to take action.
Well-told stories throw the reader a little off balance, confusing him temporarily.
He’s like a stranger in a strange land, searching for his bearings in your words.
His natural inborn curiosity makes him hyper-aware of them, until the punch line is revealed.
Does captivating a person’s interest in this way make you a sorry sinner? Absurd!
Aspiring copywriters often ask me, “How can I become a better storyteller?” I tell them, “Read the great popular novelists, people like Stephen King, John Grisham and others.
You’re not a novelist, but you can learn a lot about wrapping your selling argument in story from these great writers.”
Milton Erickson, one of the greatest therapeutic storytellers to have ever lived had this advice …
“Take a new book by an author who you know is good. Read the last chapter first. Speculate about the contents of the preceding chapter. Speculate in all possible directions.
You will be wrong in a lot of your speculations. Read that chapter and then speculate on the previous chapter. You read a good book from the last chapter to the first, speculating all the way.”
I have actually done this. It’s a fascinating exercise that really does make you aware of the patterns these great storytellers use to formulate a gripping page-turner … and how they set up multiple open loops and close them sequentially to keep you glued to the page.
The Bottom Line:
Mirroring and matching … stimulating your reader’s emotions (negative and positive) … using metaphor and analogy … leveraging heavily anchored words and phrases … future pacing … storytelling?
They’re nothing more than a few tools of the copywriter’s trade, analogous to a magician’s slight of hand …
In the same way a magician manipulates your senses, a competent copywriter manipulates your emotions. In both cases opening your mind to the wondrous possibilities that exist beyond the mundane.
I guess there are a few fruitcakes out there who take exception to this. What can I say?
Until next time, Good Selling!
About the Author
Daniel Levis is a top marketing consultant, direct response copywriter and publisher of the highly acclaimed marketing periodical, Persuasion Mastery Club. Get a full month of Persuasion Mastery Club (a $78 value), FREE! No credit card required. Just sign up here.