NLP copywriting

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 24-25

In chapter 24, Joe goes into depth on rewriting. Sort of. He calls this the most important chapter in the book. He goes through the process a couple of times. Here was the first example:

  1. The door was opened by Joe.
  2. Joe opened the door.
  3. Joe kicked open the door.
  4. Joe kicked open the door.

He calls the last line irresistible. Perhaps. From an NLP perspective, the idea here is to use kinesthetic language in 1st position. That’s what they call active voice. The rest of the chapter is another example and narrative of him doing this process with a client.

Chapter 25 is about using language tools.

Joe recommends using a thesaurus to find simpler words.

He also recommends using similies. I’m sure you’ll take to that like a duck to water. I seem to remember hearing somewhere not to mix similes though. That would make you as blind as a baby’s behind and smooth as a bat.

Then there are analogies. One of his examples is a chess analogy: “The strategies in this book will teach you how to checkmate the competition!”

And finally we have quotes. It’s good to set quotes apart visually. Your reader’s eyes are drawn to them. And from the quotes pattern in NLP we know that quotes can also give us an implied endorsement or speak for us… say something we wouldn’t or shouldn’t or that needs more credibility than we could give it ourselves.

“If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

Vitale’s “Hypnotic Writing” Chapter 16-17

Chapter 16 is about the two ways to motivate people. Joe says you can either use pleasure or pain and that most marketers use pain.

He does note that he prefers to avoid putting more pain into the marketplace as his contribution to humanity. Even so, he gives us a couple of fairly well known sales models:

AIDA: Attention, interest, desire and action.

Problem, promise, proof and price.

So how do you do that without focusing on the problem? Joe reprints an article on the subject that you can find here:

The Greatest Motivator Isn’t What You Think—
or, What I Learned From Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler on Valentine’s Day

Then Joe says he’s stepped back from that position a little. Now he thinks it’s okay to at least mention the problem in case the person is in denial about it. Alternately you could be entering the conversation going on inside their head that way.

One example he gives is that someone who has sore feet would probably pay attention to a headline “Sore Feet?” But then he says he’d want to test that against solution oriented headlines like “Want Foot Relief?

Joe quotes Eugene Schwartz as having said, “You are literally the script writer for your prospect’s dreams.”

Based on that, Joe sets out to make up a new formula: Promise, proof and price.

Interestingly enough, that formula is only missing one of the elements copywriters often teach: Picture. So the 4 P’s as they’re called are picture, promise, proof and push (or price).

I think Joe is headed in the right direction here. It coincides with what we’re learning about generative NLP (aka NOTNLP). In NOTNLP, there’s no concern for any problems. You simply find out what the person wants and help them create that in a future context.

The difference between that and “Picture” is that you take them there to that future and help them experience what it would be like if they already had it and knew they did. That’s a little more thorough than simply imagining something.

On to Chapter 17…

Here Joe talks about expanding his 3 step formula into a full online landing page. He uses an example which is no longer live. I can’t tell for sure whether it’s a domain parking page or an affiliate site. In any event, he’s just showing us an example of promise, proof and price.

Vitale’s “Hypnotic Writing” Chapter 14-15

In chapter 14, Joe tells how he learned a lot about hypnotic writing from magic catalogs.

He tells the story of how he was interested in magic as a child and picked it back up as an adult.

Joe talks about how the catalogs sell the sizzle not the steak. They highlight the benefits rather than the features.

The chapter goes on to break down an ad for a magician pointing out credibility built, using scarcity, building value, appealing to your reader’s ego, preempting objections, building agreement, and associating with an image (in this case James Bond).

Joe must like secrets too. He says that one of his secrets is that the higher the product price, the more copy you’ll need. I really hope that’s not a secret to anyone calling themselves a marketer.

The chapter concludes by telling us to ask ourselves what the reader wants and writing to that interest.

Chapter 15 is two pages explaining that hypnotic writing enters the conversation already taking place inside the prospect’s head.

What It Takes To Change

People are fond of the quote stating that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to get different results.

The hardest part is to figure out what you want that as a different result. Anyone can complain about something they don’t like.

After you figure out what you want, it’s simply about planning with the goal in mind. What resources do you lack for your outcome? What habits will make it happen?

Successful people develop certain habits. Unsuccessful people develop habits too. The difference is that successful people are deliberate about planning out the habits the want. Unsuccessful people get into a routine that keeps them busy but never accomplishing worthy goals.

A different routine is required to make real changes. That’s when you can reasonably expect a different outcome.

For example, let’s say you want to learn a foreign language. What do you do? You got it… you need to practice deliberately. You need to plan some time into your daily routine so that it becomes a habit and finally a skill. If you’re in business and you want to persuade others to change their buying habits, you need to present a context where it makes sense to do that.

Buying a product or service for the first time is another change. They weren’t spending that money on you before. For you to encourage that, you need to show them how they’ll be making a change for the better by doing business with you.

When you cultivate a relationship with your customers so that buying with you becomes a habit, you’ll be well on your way to accomplishing your business goals. Changes takes structure. It’s your habits and deliberate planning for the outcome you want. You need to see the end you want to reach before you’ll be able to achieve it.

Your next action step is to create the structure you’ll need to support the life you desire

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?

Maximizing Your Copywriting Skills

I just finished a book called, “Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else.” I picked up a few lessons to apply to copywriting.

What I got out of the book was that it’s not “natural” talent or even experience that give us greatness. And if you think it’s hard work, you’d be in good company, but that’s not it either. There are plenty of people who work hard but aren’t the best.

What is it that makes the difference? The author calls “deliberate practice.” It’s not just practice. A good example of it is how most adult city league soccer teams that I’ve observed practice.

Few adult soccer teams have a coach unless it’s informally the captain/manager. Not many practice as a team either. If they do, they typically divide into 2 groups, set up two small goals and then play until people get tired. Do players get better doing that? Not really. Is it fun? Yep. You get to play where you want, take a break when you want, play with who you want… who doesn’t enjoy that?

I was on a team once where a friend and I were able to convince the other players we needed to do some skill specific drills. We practiced playing keep away where the goal is to maintain possession of the ball. We put goals in the middle that had to be dribbled through. We put a limit on the number of times we could touch the ball before passing. We played offense against defense with each playing in our game formations.

Challenging ourselves with these drills made us better than other teams. We ended up moving up divisions each year that I played with them. I’ve seen other teams do that as well. It’s really not rocket science to be better than most everyone else. Deliberate practice will do the trick.

What can you do as a copywriter? Most people have heard you ought to copy other good letters so you get the language into your system. The author suggested 3 models for practicing: the music model, the chess model and the sports model.

Music Model

When you perform music, you know exactly what it’s supposed to sound like and you rehearse it. If you get hung up at a part, you step back and rehearse that part until it’s perfect. In copywriting, that’s what we’re doing when we copy other good letters. But we have two other ways to improve as well.

Chess Model

Evidently the way you learn to be great at chess is to use the “what you would do in this situation” model. That’s also how Harvard Business School teaches… through case studies. You look at specific scenarios and try to figure out what you would have done. Then you compare that to what actually happened.

For copywriting, you can re-write letters. You can pick a product, write a letter for it and then see how it compares to the real one. You can critique letters.

You can also chunk it down to smaller elements. How would you rewrite just a headline or offer? There are plenty of smaller opportunities if you want to test yourself against PPC ads or catalog copy.

Sports Model

Sports teams condition themselves for specific skills. For copywriting, you can build your swipe file and analyze each letter. You can take courses. You can read books. You can cross train in fields like sales, story telling, NLP and hypnosis, logic and debate. You can getting mentoring.

If you’ve been stuck at reading books and copying good letters take heart. Now you have plenty to keep you busy and take your copywriting skills to the top.

Vitale’s “Hypnotic Writing” Chapters 3-5

Welcome back to my series on “Hypnotic Writing” by Joe Vitale.

Chapter 3

In chapter 3, Joe challenges the reader to think big by starting out with a story of a 93 year old woman sky diving for her birthday. The point of this chapter is to encourage us to think bigger. If you want a book for that, he recommends, “The Power of Impossible Thinking.” I also recommend, “The Magic of Thinking Big.”

Joe ends the chapter asking you what you want to accomplish by studying this book. Think about your own impossible dream and any “could not fail” kind of goals.

Chapter 4

This chapter is a disclaimer Joe wants to make that he doesn’t know everything. It’s a little ironic to me that it follows the chapter on accomplishing impossible goals. It almost makes it sound like he wants you to think big but then not expect big things from the book. Joe recommends you read other stuff too.

Chapter 5

Now the book actually starts. This chapter is titled, “A Beginning” and so it is. Joe tells us that his interest in hypnotic writing came from reading classic literature as well as great sales letters. Specifically, he mentions Robert Collier, Bruce Barton and John Caples. He also mentions “Hypnotic Selling Power” too.

Joe says that hypnotic writing generally is any writing that hold your attention. He then goes on to define hypnotic writing as “intentionally using words to guide people into a focused mental state where they are inclined to buy your product or service.”

So again, we’re seeing a difference in hypnotic writing and NLP copywriting. Yes, they’re both about getting more sales. The difference is that hypnotic writing limits itself to guiding a focused mental state while NLP copywriting is about short-cutting that process and using patterns specifically designed to elicit a response.

If you’re only doing hypnotic writing, an interruption could ruin your whole set up. If you’re using NLP language patterns, your reader can skip around and still have a few patterns embed on his brain… keeping him up at night until he either buys or forces himself to stop thinking about you.

Top Copywriting Habits

Recently, I combed through over 60 interviews with A list level copywriters. No doubt, there are a number of interesting patterns that emerge.

All the copywriters had a pattern of doing research, writing and editing. That’s no shock. The difference came in how much time each copywriter spent in each area.

Funny to find that there was almost no consistency between our copywriters. There was a wide range of anywhere from 40-80% of their time spent on research and then 20-55% on writing. One guy even claimed he didn’t do any editing at all (not recommended). The lesson here is to find your own way. As long as you’re getting good results, it doesn’t’ matter.

A common theme developed on what it’s like for top copywriters when they write. There was always some kind of core emotion involved in the creation process. Sometimes each segment had its own state of being (detective, conversationalist and editor). Others, it was a simple enjoyment and fascination with the entire process.

That strong emotion could be described as a flow state. Athletes know about being in the zone. It’s the same thing. It’s where your ability comes up against a commensurate challenge and everything else seems to fade away while you fully immerse yourself in the experience.

What if you’re new to copywriting and don’t know how to find that flow experience? Look for it in another area of your life. Maybe you’ve lost yourself in a dance, a painting or while cooking. What’s it like during that activity? Consider what brings on that flow state for you. If it’s music, a feeling, etc apply that to your writing.

Our copywriters have other qualities in common too. Take time of day for writing. Isn’t it true that the early bird gets the worm? Or how about the old saying, “Early to bed, early to rise…”

The pattern was that there was very little consistency there either. Many copywriters like to knock out an hour or two of writing first thing in the morning. Some say though that they do their best writing in the afternoon or evening once everyone else is gone to bed and all is quiet. So it’s really up to you to find your most productive time.

What’s the consensus on how long should you keep editing things? Some writers pride themselves on getting a job out in a day or two. Others revise and revise… until the company finally calls and asks for it to be submitted.

The bottom line is to get out there and do it. Yes, brush up on your skills but don’t worry that you’re not doing things in the optimal amounts or times. Find what works for you and gets going.

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