Is NLP Utter Hogwash?

by 183 comments
I wrote an article after an email exchange with Drayton Bird (with his permission, of course).

He insists there's nothing to NLP persuasion in copywriting. I, and a few others disagree.

There's a bit of a discussion going on. Drayton is joined by Chris Marlow, the copywriter's coach and NLP guru Clive Cable.

Here's the post in its entirety:
“NLP is utter hogwash” – Drayton Bird

“There’s nothing new in NLP. But what gives it the power is the way things were combined together into a system.” – Wyatt Woodsmall
In an email discussion with Drayton Bird, he told me, clearly, what he thinks of NLP.

He also added a link to a page on Wikipedia that labels NLP as a “discredited approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy” (link below).

Personally, I prefer to do a bit more research than one page on the internet. Even if it links to a million scientific references. In fact, especially if it’s to scientific references.

And, as Wyatt Woodsmall said, “There’s nothing new in NLP. But what gives it the power is the way things were combined together into a system.”

How can anyone discredit something that has always existed?

I could go through control after control in advertising and highlight NLP patterns. They’re there. You just have to know what to look for.

It’s no different to using persuasive words and sentences in copywriting.

(A control is an advert that makes more money than any other for a particular product. When a new ad. makes more money than the control, that new ad. becomes the control.)

So here’s my reply to Drayton:
“NLP is hogwash if you listen to some people. You know the ones who try to make a quick buck by fooling people.

In truth- particularly for the NLP persuasion techniques – it’s just another name for the stuff we write in copy.

They just go a bit further with patterns. A bit like sleight of hand in street magic.

The more I look into it, the more I realise how we can use it in copywriting.

As far as the ‘discredited approach’ goes, I think that refers more to Bandler and Grinder.

Those who know them also know they are not the most ethical of people.

I first ventured into NLP in the late 1980s, but got out because of Bandler. I didn’t like what he did.

In fact, the guy they learned from, Milton Erickson, called them Bandit and Swindler.

It’s a shame when one or two people can discredit an entire industry.”
Unfortunately, that made no difference to Drayton.

What can you do, huh?

Here’s my take on NLP…

It’s not about the tool. It’s about whose hand the tool is in.

As with all tools, it’s the user that makes the difference.

None of that will make any difference to Drayton, however. It can take more than an email to persuade someone to change his views.

What I will say is this: it’s not about whether or not he believes NLP is a valid practice. It’s about whether or not it makes a difference to what we believe and how we use it.

Still, I’d like to know what others say on the subject. Especially if you think you can prove there is truth to NLP.

Is NLP Utter Hogwash? | Persuade With NLP
#copywriting #hogwash #nlp #utter
  • Profile picture of the author Pusateri
    I still don't know what NLP is. You ask ten different people you get ten different answers.

    Seems everything is borrowed from some other discipline. Are there any NLP inventions or discoveries?

    What you call NLP patterns, for instance. How do they differ from the patterns of classical rhetoric: isocolon, anadiplosis, et al?
  • Profile picture of the author The Marketeer
    There seems to be a contradiction in the following quote

    There’s nothing new in NLP. But what gives it the power is the way things were combined together into a system.” – Wyatt Woodsmall
    Can anyone spot it?

    I agree with what you say here:

    Here’s my take on NLP…

    It’s not about the tool. It’s about whose hand the tool is in.

    As with all tools, it’s the user that makes the difference.
    However with NLP and hypnosis, there are some elements which I'm not entirely comfortable with as they overlap with some practices used in the dark side. Not sure if you've noticed that yet.
  • Profile picture of the author charidemos
    What makes me skeptical about NLP is that it's creator, Richard Bandler, is so overweight. I mean if the stuff he teaches work, why not apply them on his physical health? Then I thought he could be sick but he mentioned in an interview that he does not think he is fat. Draw your own conclusion from that.
  • Profile picture of the author The Marketeer
    From reading the comments on your article it seems that classic copywriting fans feel that NLP can never replace the classic principles of copywriting.

    Now I wonder what cognitive bias that falls under?

    Of course NLP can never replace classic copywriting principles because it's just another framework from which to look at persuasion and communication but...

    It can add value to classic copywriting principles.

    This is what some copywriters are saying (in the comments to the article) and what one of the top dogs in copywriting seems to be doing.

    There seems to be this feeling that it's either this or that.

    Why can we not have the best of both worlds?

    A sort of a hybrid if you like.

    Can we not have our cake and eat it too?
  • Profile picture of the author Shazadi
    The majority of the copywriters I've seen that trumpet their use of NLP are proven con artists and hacks. I understand that some well meaning types may explore it and discover a few useful tips (Such as yourself?), but as others have said, I really don't see it preaching anything new that can't be learned through studying sales techniques and human psychology. Beyond that, it projects an inflated sense of importance that says you can "hypnotize" a reader and/or "force" them to buy something, which one simply cannot do. It's that type of pseudoscience that gives it a bad name, and it's even worse that there are no NLP studies which can verify its efficacy.

    It reminds me of copywriting's own little PUA community. Maybe there were once a few nuggets of truth within the teachings, but since its inception they've primarily been used by scuzzy, manipulative types that have simply re-branded classic teachings for their own gain.
  • Profile picture of the author ThomasOMalley
    Just use the persuasive copywriting techniques that work for you.

    I use some NLP or hypnotic writing techniques in my copy.

    But the label doesn't matter.
  • Profile picture of the author johndetlefs
    Cialdini's works are far more useful than NLP for my money.

    There isn't or doesn't seem to be a lot of science around NLP, just a lot of scientific names.

    In my industry (corporate training) you'd be amazed at how many trainers swear by pointing down when something is bad, and pointing up when something is good to "anchor" the point.

    Really though, the best trainers that i've ever met and hired are the ones that can tell a great story and keep a crowd entertained while they learn.

    If you substitute learn for "buy" that sounds a fair bit like the best copywriters, no?

    Milton Erickson had some really interesting ideas around hypnosis for psychotherapy, and from what I've read, Grinder and co used a lot of what they thought Erickson was doing as a basis for their methodology.
  • Profile picture of the author The Copy Nazi
    Great headline from Mister Pusateri -

    This year's apple crop is up 20%. Thanks NLP!

  • Profile picture of the author colmodwyer
    From my experience...

    1) All the "NLP strategies" I've heard of are old repackaged/rebranded sales/copy tricks (full disclosure I've never actually read an NLP book/course)

    2) Folk who purport to be NLP copywriters are douches

  • Profile picture of the author The Marketeer
    Maybe some of you have mis-understood what Rezbi was trying to say in his OP.

    Here's what I understood from his words:

    "NLP isn't utter hogwash.

    Yes, there are some elements which he wouldn't touch due to the reputation of certain characters.

    However he sees it as a tool and there's some good in it worth using to enhance his copywriting.

    At no point has he stated that NLP is going to replace the classic principles of copywriting."


    In copywriting you have different formulas/ different perspectives.

    Each expert has their own formula that works for them.

    In addition to that they borrow ideas from disciplines sometimes not directly related to copywriting.

    NLP is a another framework within which to understand persuasion.

    So I guess what he's saying is, why dismiss something completely when there is some benefit in it that can be used to enhance copywriting.

    Please also note that he's not the first to say it.

    There are other established copywriters that have also found NLP to have some benefit in it.

    P.S. Different horses for different courses.
  • Profile picture of the author ewenmack
    John Carlton says NLP is way down the list of importance for must have elements...John mentions it here...John Carlton Internet Marketing Interview (Number 2) -**Internet Business Blog By James Schramko

    Gary Bencivenga doesn't mention it in his persuasion equation.

  • Profile picture of the author Loren Woirhaye
    The more books you read, the more
    insight you get.
  • Profile picture of the author Pusateri
    I did some homework.

    Consulted a number of the best selling NLP books on Amazon (thanks, Look Inside feature,) as well as what I assume (it's hard to tell) are the most authoritative NLP websites.

    I was looking for one thing: A succinct definition.

    First off, I was surprised at how few authors even bothered with a definition, even in what are purported to be beginner texts.

    Most of the definitions I found were airy-fairy, defining the subject in terms of the benefits the authors claim can be derived from it.

    Here are a representative few:

    From NLP - The New Technology of Achievement - edited by Steve Andreas:

    Sorry, Steve Andreas. A single thing can not be a study, an ability and a technology.

    Let's try again...

    From the NLP University website (they do certification or something):

    My bullshit detector is causing the neighbor's dog to bark.

    Can no one give a single sentence definition of NLP?

    From Introducing NLP by Joseph O'Conner:

    My apologies, Mr. O'Conner. I couldn't hear you over the neighbor's dog.

    Yes, THANK YOU. Now we are getting somewhere.

    Maybe if we go all the way back to NLP's beginnings we can gain even more clarity.

    Let's ask Dr. Grinder. He was there.

    Ahhhhhhhhhhhh! NLP is a modeling methodology. (Someone said that earlier. I hope he gets his coffee.) Thank you, professor.

    It seems at some point NLPistas began to consider what was uncovered by use of their modeling methodology to be a part of that modeling methodology.

    Say an NLPista used the modeling methodolgy and "discovered" that some writers who were geniuses at holding attention used nested loops in their work. He then considered his "discovery" to be part of NLP.

    This is like Anton van Leeuwenhoek viewing red blood cells under his microscope and pronouncing to the world that red blood cells are part of microscope.

    This might be a whole new logical fallacy. Conflating the object? Equating the thing observed with the tool used to make the observation.

    It's like saying the rain outside my window is eyeball.

    Like digging up buried treasure and declaring treasure a part of shovel.

    Why not drop the silliness and instead of talking about NLP patterns, just talk about patterns? Nested loops and the lot have been used since ancient times.

    Surely smart people can find better ways to differentiate their offerings than prefixing this silly monogram.
  • Profile picture of the author Daniel Scott
    Funny. I've talked to quite a few A-listers who've told me straight out they think NLP is a load of crap.

    Not to mention that scientifically, it's been pretty heavily discredited.

    Of course, if someone is selling courses on NLP, then I can see why they would want to ignore the facts.

  • Profile picture of the author johndetlefs
    I think we've gotten some of this argument mixed up.

    NLP (I went NLP crazy a couple of years ago, devouring anything I could find on it) is to my understanding just a modelling technique.

    That is, NLP is the art of finding a system or model that works and replicating it.

    Or even better, finding out what it is about the system that is making it successful and replicating that.

    So when people talk about language structures, and framing and anchoring and all the rest, that's not really NLP per se, but one of the systems that have been broken down using NLP.

    So it's a bit chicken and egg I think here.

    Guaranteed that some of that which is considered to be "NLP" was lifted from famous sales and copywriters, because they were systems that clearly worked.

    Copywriters who are then studying NLP take those language patterns and apply them to their sales pages and say that they've integrated NLP... which is true, but also isn't.

    I think the point i'm trying to make is that NLP itself is nothing more than a modelling system, and everything else that is called NLP are systems have have been broken down into core components.

    Every time a system is broken down and replicated, it seems to go down under the banner of NLP, but really it should be called "a system that was broken down and replicated by NLP".

    In one class that I was in a couple of the guys knew Grinder, and were talking about how he learned to rock-climb to a high level (heresay - i'm not saying that he became a competent rockclimber in a couple of weeks) just by hanging out with one of the world's top rock climbers and studying his technique and then modelling it.

    Should I say that rock-climbing is now NLP, or that Grinder came up with a system of rock climbing that was modeled after a world champion rock climber by using NLP modelling techniques?

    I hope I've said that right, I know what I mean!

    Edit: Apologies to Pusateri, looks like you pretty much said exactly the same thing up above!
  • Profile picture of the author RedShifted
    I broke my NLP cherry in the seduction world and can attest to the fact that it works. It worked better than anything else I learned in the community. The real problem with NLP is its name. Just the name "Neuro Linguistic programming" implies that things are being programmed at a neuron level. Which is stupid. This obviously can't be proven.

    In fact, if you break the entire name down, it seems to lose credibility just on that basis. Yet on an emotional level, the name comes off highly credible. And that is a perfect example of what NLP is to me.

    It uses 3 highly credible words, to create a perception that really isn't true. However, in the real world, a world dominated by schemas and emotions, perceptions become truth. Untill you get a bunch of scientists to sit down in a room and think about shit. Who'll wind up dismissing the entire foundation of NLP just based on its name. Which imo, is really stupid.

    NLP to me, is organizing information in a specific way to elicit certain favored responses. Like, should I build rapport with a girl after I **** her, or before? Should I anchor patterns of dominance and social status, after a woman wins my approval or before? When we use to use patterns in the seduction community, everything seemed to affect a womans response. There were subtle ways of saying everything, w/out really saying anything. But it would still have the effect as if you said it.

    Does this sound like hocus pocus?
    I hope it does.

    Maybe it takes 10 years of reading and applying, watching and practicing before you can spot someone using it on you. Maybe you think its fake. I don't really GAF TBPO.

    NLP is the sole reason I got my first 3some in life. I was a virgin for a long time untill I started actively applying its principles. Its also the reason I do so well in my sales career 10 years later. And I believe its 100% why I also got on CBS. I will continue to use NLP till the day I die. People will continue to dismiss it, without ever really understanding it for what it is. When I think about NLP today, I think of the phrase "subliminal conditioning". They may both refer to different things, but NLP to me is precisely that.

    Now please, waste more time arguing semantics. That will get you a lot farther in life than actually trying something useful with your time.

  • Profile picture of the author timpears
    When someone who knows NLP uses the persuasive phrases it is the same as you use the persuasive phrases in your copy writing. It will work if you know how to use it, same as if you know how to write sales copy. If you don't know how to use it,m as you friend obviously does not, it will work as well as if I would write my own sales copy instead of hiring a professional copy writer.
  • Profile picture of the author DigitalCopyWriter
    I've first came into contact with NLP when I was 14 ... through Chris Howard. This stuff changed my life. It taught me about goal setting, language and effective communication and state control.

    However ... since this is a copywriting forum, it's about NLP copywriting. I've studied NLP copywriting for a bit and while it's interesting to pace and lead, I don't do NLP copywriting per se.

    In other words, it taught me some interesting tools but in some form or another, these tools existed in traditional salesmanship in print too.

    As long as you learn NLP copywriting as a set of tools and not as a completely new framework to sell, different from traditional salesmanship, it can only help your conversion process.

  • Profile picture of the author KingOfContentMarketing
  • Profile picture of the author verial
    NLP is a Complete Pseudoscience.

    Take it from a psychologist.

    The fact that this thread is so long bothers me, actually.

    But I guess threads on astrology are the same way...

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