Unpacking a hypnotic headline

Harlan sent an email the other day talking about hypnotic headlines.

He said the following headline had at least 8 presuppositions:

How Many Of These Secret Thai Chicken Recipes Have You Tasted So Far?

See how many you can find before you look at the way I unpack it…


  1. There are such things as recipes.
  2. There are more than one ("how many")
  3. It’s possible to taste them.
  4. You’ve tasted some.
  5. You’ll taste more in the future.
  6. They are chicken recipes.
  7. They’re Thai recipes.
  8. They’re secret recipes.
  9. You’ll find out what the recipes are ("these").

How did you do?

The reason you might want to do this in a headline is the idea of the mind being able to keep track of 7 (+/- 2) chunks of information at a time. No doubt some of the chunks will already be in use just by the activity of reading. If they can’t distinguish something as a separate piece of info, they’ll generally accept it without question.

Fortunately, there’s not much in the headline that anyone would object to anyway. Maybe a reader could ask if there really are secret Thai chicken recipes. I mean secret recipes? It’s not like they’re KFC or Coke with a secret formula, right? But then if you’ve taken up the remaining slots available to separate things out, they won’t even notice there could be something worth objecting to.

Of course that’s something else that needs to be calibrated and tested. You’re not going to an elephant into the living room without anyone noticing just because you used a bunch of presuppositions.

Have you noticed NLP is everywhere?

Some people might be concerned that deliberately using NLP in their marketing might be too manipulative.

The simple fact of the matter is that NLP is an organized way of describing all communication that goes on between people.

Take presuppositions for example. Presuppositions are things that have to be true for your communication to make sense.

If you walk up to someone, stick out your hand and say "hi," that belies several presuppositions. You’re assuming they can hear, they can talk, they speak your language, and that they’re familiar enough with local customs to know you’re greeting them.

When we call something NLP marketing or copywriting, it’s because we’re deliberately layering on additional presuppositions. The mind can only keep track of about 7 chunks of information at a time so anything over that goes unfiltered to the subconscious.

Say you want to tell the world you have a really quiet car. You could just say that and hope people believe you. You could tell them that you can’t hear the engine even at speeds of 60 miles per hour. "Yeah right," they’ll say.

So instead you wrap it up in a presuppositions and it comes out this way:

"At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock."

Some of the presuppositions I notice are:

  • It has an electric clock
  • The electric clock makes noise
  • It’s louder than any other noise in the car
  • It’s a new model of car
  • It’s a Rolls-Royce so it’s luxury
  • It can go 60 miles an hour
  • It’s a very quiet car

After reading that headline, what’s your response? Do you argue with any of the presuppositions? Or do you want to take a test drive and compare noises with the electric clock?

Presuppositions are all around us. NLP makes a study of using them elegantly.

How many presuppositions did you notice in the title of this blog?

What other NLP patterns are we regularly using… perhaps without realizing?

More on presuppositions

Kenrick Cleveland recently posted on presuppositions.

[Quick quiz: how many presuppositions can you find in the title and that first sentence? I count 5 different ones off the top of my head. I put my answer at the bottom.]

His article is worth checking out at

I’d add something to his first example. Go read it first and then come back.

He uses the example of, "We need to fight the terrorists over there so we don’t have to fight them over here."

I was snookered into believing that before so that one hits home.

He’s right about there being a presupposition on needing to fight terrorists. What I’d add is that fighting them here if we don’t fight them over there isn’t a presupposition. That’s explicitly stated.

Additional presuppositions are that there are some group of people that we can identify and demonize by classifying them as terrorists. Another is that there is some place we all agree is "here" and "there." That one is even more insidious because it goes completely unnoticed. "There" can be anywhere that’s reasonably not "here." That becomes Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, etc. Where does it stop? If you’re in the US, is Mexico or Canada here or there?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that presuppositions are simply innocuous linguistic tricks. Language shapes our thoughts and actions. That’s good news for you if you know how to use them and defend against them.

Here’s another good one if anyone wants to try their hand at dissecting:

"Since they want to die in Jihad so bad, I’d be happy to facilitate that arrangement."

[The presuppositions I caught earlier were that 1) there are such a thing as presuppositions, 2) that something has already been said about them (i.e. "more on…"), 3) there is such a person as Kenrick, 4) he knows something about presuppositions and 5) he has a blog he posts to.]