case study

Harlan’s Blue Balls Story

A few days ago, Harlan Kilstein (NLP Copywriting guru) asked his mailing list what we thought he was doing in a particular email he sent.

What follows below is the original email, his selected best response, my comments on that response, and my response.

I’m still plugging away at the tiny house (see the previous update post) but I figured I could post this since it was almost already written.

First, Harlan’s email to the list:

From: Harlan Kilstein

To: Louis

Sent: Mon, June 21, 2010 6:25:12 AM

Subject: Blue Balls and NLP – The Email Contest

Sometimes, I like to share a work in progress with you guys.

This is an email I sent out today to my list.

And I thought I’d have a contest.

The best explanation of what I am doing here wins a free copy of my book – Steal This Book. It’s $197 selling price so start your engines.

Just email me your thoughts by Midnight tonight and I’ll pick a winner.

I share your name publicly tomorrow.

Subject Line: Blue Balls. Not What You Expect.

You are receiving this email because you signed up at The Hypnotic

The news out of Rome is shocking.

Italian police have seized 70,000 balls of mozzarella cheese because they turned blue when the packages opened.

The police and the agriculture ministry are investigating the world’s largest case of blue balls.

You see, mozzarella cheese is the pride of Italy.

They serve it on everything for pizza to salads. They probably even have mozzarella gelato.

And it it’s turning blue…

Could it be poison?

But Italians were shocked this weekend to discover their “Italian” mozzarella cheese isn’t really mozzarella.

And it isn’t really Italian either.

Real mozzarella cheese in Italy is made from buffalo milk.

This stuff is not.

And it’s not made in Italy either. It’s imported and re-packaged.

It’s shocking when you realize something you trusted isn’t what you expected.

It’s the same way with The Secret.


Now don’t get me wrong, teaching people about the Law of Attraction is great.

Changing it and diluting it is not.

And when you start changing the ingredients without telling anyone.

You don’t get results. You get blue balls of mozzarella.

What Rhoda Bryne did was re-write the Law of Attraction to fit her image.

She took Esther Hicks out and left her on the editing floor.

And she took out all mention of taking action.

You were left with ask, believe, receive.


What happened to take action? It’s not there anymore!

And that’s why so many people don’t get results with The Secret.

So if you want the real deal, take action now.

Click here to get The Hypnotic Secret.

It’s the real deal.



Here’s the response he chose as the winner (posted here):

Harlan, here’s what you’re doing in the great e-mail you sent out today.

1 – Pattern interrupt: the subject line starts with “Blue Balls,” which interrupts the readers’ patterns when the readers are scanning their e-mail in-box. “Blue balls” is a slang phrase relating to sex, and sex grabs the readers’ attention if the readers understand the phrase. Plus, since you are very religious, a subject line starting with a slang phrase relating to sex surprises me much more than it would if the e-mail were coming from, for example, a sports blogger. So the subject line grabs the readers’ attention and forces them to open the e-mail, regardless of how busy they might be.

2 – Humor, to get the readers on your side: you retell the news story about the tainted cheese in a way that makes the story much funnier, because it’s you, not the regular news stories, that refer to the tainted cheese as “blue balls.” So you reward the readers for reading by giving us readers a good laugh.

3 – Making clear the point of your retelling the cheese story: you highlight, in ways the news agencies did not, how the tainted cheese is fake and how, even if it were not tainted, it would still be disappointing, because it says it is made in Italy but was really made in Germany and calls itself mozzarella although it contains no buffalo milk. So you emphasize how much of a forgery the tainted cheese it.

4 – Metaphor: You use the metaphor of the fake cheese to introduce the important way in which Rhonda Byrne’s book and film The Secret changed the Law of Attraction to make her book and film sell more copies than it would if she had told the truth about the Law of Attraction. And because you related The Secret to the fake cheese, which is also tainted, your readers will infer that The Secret is tainted, too, in its own way.

5 – Problem and agitate: You have revealed a key fact: that The Secret is a fake version of the Law of Attraction, and The Secret cannot teach anyone how to succeed with the Law of Attraction. You have revealed a problem that all readers and viewers of The Secret will encounter. Then you have agitated to make those readers and viewers feel cheated and lied to.

5 – Solution: You present the solution, which is YOUR fine product, The Hypnotic Secret.

6 – “Tell them what to do”: You have revealed that what is missing from The Secret is the necessity to take action. Then you tell your readers to practice the Law of Attraction by taking action to get the REAL guide to implementing the Law of Attraction, and that real guide happens to be your product, The Hypnotic Secret.

Although I bought The Hypnotic Secret as soon as I received your first e-mail about it, today’s e-mail about Blue Balls is so good I want to buy The Hypnotic Secret all over again!


Lee Marcus

The blog post then goes on to recap and tell you to buy more of Harlan’s stuff.

Here are my comments on the winner’s response:

  1. Email isn’t a pattern interrupt unless you have it dinging you every time you get one. The classic pattern interrupt is to ask someone if they smell popcorn in the middle of a conversation. The title is a standard curiosity builder. It’s effective but not NLP.
  2. Everything I’ve ever heard says to stay away from humor in your copy. Plus, I didn’t see it as terribly funny either. Interest provoking – very much so. Funny – not so much. Maybe I’m just the wrong demographic.
  3. Now that I’m rereading it, I’m not sure what the 3rd point is saying. I think it’s just that he told a story. Not NLP.
  4. Metaphor, yes. That’s the big one.
  5. True, there’s problem and agitation, but that’s not NLP.
  6. (Second 5) Yes, there’s a solution but that’s not NLP either.
  7. (6) It’s a call to action. Not subtle or elegant at all and not NLP.

Much of the most valuable feedback I’ve received in my life has been in areas of improvement. I included that in my response but found it curious that the winning response read more like a product testimonial.

My response is here:


I got your email. I’ve read it over and here’s what I think you’re doing:

Your headline provokes curiosity but then has a double meaning not evident until you’ve read the email.

The “Not What You Expect” is a mind read because as soon as the person sees blue balls, they’re thinking that can’t be what it would mean in a more commonly used context. The second meaning is the therapeutic metaphor you use. It’s also an embedded suggestion (not quite a command). There’s also a presupposition that they are expecting something which they will be after reading it.

Your first line is a pacing statement. Hopefully they recall being on your list and if not, now they do.

I’m not sure whether your only hyperlinking the “” was intentional or not. If so, it might be to foreshadow “The Secret” to which you later refer.

You then use a current event as a therapeutic metaphor. You also leave out a lot of details that are in the BBC article on it such as the fact that the cheese in question comes from Germany and they suspect it’s a non-toxic bacteria but are testing it to make sure. Leaving those details out (deletion) lets the reader assume the worst – that it might be poison as you suggest or that it was artificially manufactured in some third world country.

Through your metaphor, you’re mapping it onto people’s experience with “The Secret”. Blue balls becomes the “fraud” surrounding “The Secret.” This list probably prides themselves in their belief and use of the secret to everything including their gelato. I never came across mozzarella gelato when I lived in Italy and your readers probably suspect no such thing exists too. But that sets a context where they can think their interest in “The Secret” is normal by comparison. And you’ve set a generalized referential index by talking about Italians which are just a more specific “they” which are really “us” and “me.”

You transition to “The Secret” with the line about something you trusted not being what you expected. You do a time pattern starting in present tense “It’s” and “realize” (also a leading statement) while ending in past tense “trusted” and “expected”. The suggestion is that you now realize you no longer trust the old stuff and need a new paradigm (i.e. your product).

The transition applies to both the metaphor and your point with “The Secret.” The reader doesn’t notice the transition though until you come out and say it’s the same thing. You talk about changing it to go over with the public. That allows the reader to sit there and think, “yeah, they didn’t teach it right.” You don’t say that your reader specifically was one of the people that was deceived which would probably offend their intelligence. And even though they can sit there and think they already knew it wasn’t the whole story, they can also realize that they’re now curious about what your take on it is.

For readers who know the background of “The Secret”, you probably lost them a little in next part. First off, you misspelled Rhonda Byrne. You suggest an unsubstantiated ulterior motive (fit her image?). Esther Hicks was actually in the first version of “The Secret” and the real story is more interesting than the version in the email. She wasn’t left on any editing floor. She didn’t feel congruent with the way it was being mass marketed so they created an “extended version” which was exactly the same as the first except they replaced her with a little more footage from one of the other speakers. At least that was all I could find when I researched the subject before. Private opinions are usually different than what can be found online.

I think your closing could be improved. I see the tie-in between the missing ingredient being action and taking action to buy your product. That part works fine. The gap is that if you just revealed what was missing – action – why do they need to buy your product anymore? They can just go take action. Your readers are probably also familiar with Joe Vitale’s work in writing “The Missing Secret” too. Are they now to think that your hypnosis version is better than his? No doubt your differentiate on your landing page but without further investigation, this sounds like a me-too (or rather the more popular – not-me) spin off from “The Secret.”

We all know people buy emotionally but a leap in logic can throw them off course too. Saying action is the missing ingredient so take action and buy my product that will tell you to take action… well, it isn’t a compelling value proposition. If you’ve just told them “The Secret” is right except for taking action then why would they need to spend more money instead of just taking action in their life?

The words you use in your call to action is to tell them it’s the real deal twice and then click the link. If you use the words “click here”, they should be hyperlinked. Otherwise, it should say “click below”.

Overall, good tie to current events, use of curiosity and metaphor. If you make sure the facts you include are accurate and have a stronger call to action, I bet you’ll increase your conversion rates even higher.

Good idea to have a contest for have your readers evaluate your email (and maybe even have a few click through and buy your product or get on that particular list).


So what do you think? Was I off base offering points for improvement? Did the winning response offer better content?

Vitale’s “Hypnotic Writing” Chapter 13

Chapter 13 of Joe’s “Hypnotic Writing” book is what he calls a controlled study in hypnotic writing.

There’s a before and after sales letter for an Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) product.

I’ll post the headline and lead for both versions (original one first):


Moments from now, you could be transforming your relationship to money, creating greater freedom to attract as much of it as you desire!

Are you ready . . . ?

If you’re struggling with money, it’s not your fault.

Parents, society, movies, and even your friends are programming you to stay in a poverty mind set. They aren’t doing it on purpose. They aren’t evil. They were simply programmed and are passing the virus down the line, to you.

And the hypnotically re-written version:

If you want to create money beyond belief the spiritual way- even if nothing’s worked for you in the past:

Give Us 151 Minutes, and We’ll Show You 9 Ancient “Taps” that Lead to Breathtaking Wealth and Abundance – or You Don’t Pay a Penny.

Each Tap Lasts Just 3 Seconds. We’ll Walk You Through Over 217 Combinations – But Just One of Them Can Transform Your Relationship to Money Forever.

Hard to believe? Let us prove it to you. If our Money Beyond Belief! Home Tapping System doesn’t heal your deepest beliefs about money, we’ll refund 100% your purchase (yes, that’s cash back in your pocket – how’s that for abundance?) on the spot.

You can see both the full letters at these URLs respectively:

Joe says the first one barely made 100 sales in 100 days. The second made $8,500 in one day. And both were the same offer sent to the same list.

So what’s the difference?

A couple of thoughts:

The first one doesn’t have a real headline. The sentence that follows it is extremely vague. The second one promises a benefit, uses specificity AND curiosity and has a guarantee all rolled into one.

The first one uses a lot of negative positioning like telling the reader he might be struggling or stuck. Even if you say it doesn’t have to be that way, you’re telling him that it currently IS that way.

The second letter is full of hope giving words such as heal, believe, abundance, prove, imagine and offers their money back guarantee in the headline AND the lead. I don’t really see any NLP patterns other than presuppositions and a little future pacing in the second paragraph. Even so, it’s magnitudes better than the first. No doubt, some patterns would increase their conversion even more.

If you scroll through them, the first isn’t even a real sales letter. There’s no real call to action other than the order links spread throughout. It comes across as a pushy car salesman with ADD. It’s a little surprising it got any sales at all.

If you’d like to learn NLP copywriting patterns and how to be more elegant, check out my home study course at

The free opt-in list even reveals what the most powerful patterns are.

What else do you notice about these two letters?