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
#copy writing #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 Rezbi
    Originally Posted by Pusateri View Post

    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?
    The way I learn things is not by asking others. I learn by studying.

    Like copywriting, if you ask for opinions, you will get opinions.

    And not all those opinions will be informed.
  • Profile picture of the author Mark Andrews
    Originally Posted by Rezbi View Post


    Still, I’d like to know what others say on the subject.
    Originally Posted by Rezbi View Post


    The way I learn things is not by asking others. I learn by studying.

    Like copywriting, if you ask for opinions, you will get opinions.

    And not all those opinions will be informed.
    Pardon me asking the obvious question then...

    What are you asking for opinions on this topic for?


    Mark Andrews
  • 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 Rezbi
    Originally Posted by Mark Andrews View Post

    Pardon me asking the obvious question then...

    What are you asking for opinions on this topic for?


    Mark Andrews
    Those are not opinions. They're questions about what NLP is and what patterns are.

    Read it again.

    And I wasn't having a go at him. Just advising some ways to learn.
  • Profile picture of the author Rezbi
    Originally Posted by The Marketeer View Post

    There seems to be a contradiction in the following quote

    Can anyone spot it?

    I agree with what you say here:

    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.
    I agree.

    But you can discriminate and keep away from them.

    It's why I refuse to even listen to some of the dark side stuff.
  • 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 Rezbi
    Originally Posted by charidemos View Post

    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.


    Check out what I said about him and Grinder in the top post.
  • Profile picture of the author The Marketeer
    Originally Posted by Rezbi View Post

    I agree.

    But you can discriminate and keep away from them.

    It's why I refuse to even listen to some of the dark side stuff.
    Yeah.

    I think I'll have to consciously apply some of those cognitive biases to the dark side of NLP.
  • Profile picture of the author OutOfThisWord
    From my research in writing numerous projects in the 'wellness' niche, NLP seems to have some value in therapeutic settings.

    In copywriting, it seems like it's mostly used to separate newbees from their money...

    ...although a well constructed sales argument can bring a reader to a state they desie, by connecting their wish with the product/offer.
  • Profile picture of the author Rezbi
    Originally Posted by OutOfThisWord View Post

    In copywriting, it seems like it's mostly used to separate newbees from their money...
    Any well constructed sales copy can do the same. It doesn't NLP by name.

    Persuasion is persuasion regardless of what you call.

    You can use it ethically or unethically. It's up to you.

    And from what I've seen, NLP is not best suited to therapy.
  • Profile picture of the author Pusateri
    Originally Posted by Rezbi View Post

    The way I learn things is not by asking others. I learn by studying.

    Like copywriting, if you ask for opinions, you will get opinions.

    And not all those opinions will be informed.
    I didn' ask for an opinion. I asked someone who writes for a site called persuadewithnlp two questions:

    Are there any NLP inventions or discoveries?

    and

    How do NLP patterns differ from the patterns of classical rhetoric?

    Guess he can't answer them. Is there anyone here who can?
  • Profile picture of the author Rezbi
    Originally Posted by Pusateri View Post

    I didn' ask for an opinion. I asked someone who writes for a site called persuadewithnlp two questions:

    Are there any NLP inventions or discoveries?

    and

    How do NLP patterns differ from the patterns of classical rhetoric?

    Guess he can't answer them. Is there anyone here who can?
    In that case, if you go to the site, there's a guy, Clive Cable, who can answer that question for you. Just ask in the comments.

    And I didn't mean you asked for an opinion here. I meant if you asked ten people, like you said, you'd get ten opinions.

    Because if you get ten different answers then they are opinions. NLP is a structured science. So you shouldn't get ten different answers if they know what they're talking about.

    You ask ten different people you get ten different answers.
  • 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 Studio13
    Originally Posted by The Marketeer View Post


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

    I think this statement summarizes my opinion on the matter fully. Well said.
  • Profile picture of the author Loren Woirhaye
    In the NLP literature there is a vocabulary
    which I find useful in understanding some
    interesting connections between language
    and behavior.

    I find Satyr categories useful for understanding
    some things about people.

    In terms of whether the "modeling" systems
    and rapid therapeutic systems work, I won't
    speculate.

    Whether any of the concepts in NLP can be
    proven or not is not relevant to me. I've still
    learned some useful things from reading
    NLP material.

    I wouldn't call it utter hogwash at all... but
    I'm not running around spending thousands
    of dollars on seminars or coaching so, financially
    speaking, I haven't invested enough to have
    any complaints about the value I got.
  • 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 Rezbi
    Originally Posted by LauraKryza View Post

    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.
    Got any examples of these proven con artists and hacks?

    The thing to remember is there's nothing magic about NLP.

    I find so many of the patterns in NLP already being used by the top copywriters.

    They may not call it NLP. And, in fact, the term NLP came along much later.
  • Profile picture of the author CopyMonster
    Originally Posted by The Marketeer View Post

    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?
    Maybe what he's saying is NLP is a bit like an omelet.

    What?

    Yup. You've got eggs, ham, cheese and chives or whatever. The ingredients are nothing new.

    IF you take the eggs and cook them first, take them out of the pan, then cook the ham then add the cheese and the chives, what have you got? Fried eggs, ham and melted cheese with chives.

    BUT if you throw the ham in the pan first, toss it around for 60 seconds, then pour on eggs that have been lightly whisked, add your cheese and chives before the egg cooks, you get a nice ham and cheese omelet.

    Same stuff, different outcome.

    Some people don't care for NLP. I get it. NLP is not as straightforward as some promoters make it out to be.

    Me? I don't care if my persuasion and influence methodologies/frameworks are called NLP, copywriting, sales, or Jack's Magic Bean Method. What I care about are bottom line results.

    I have gotten some fairly useful distinctions out of the material. Enough to spend quite a bit of time looking at its different parts under the hood.

    Yeah... what started out as being curiosity about "magic" language patterns that could "make people buy", got deeper into how people made decisions, understanding how language reflected their "map of the world", how people organized specific information in their heads and how to use that to help them got more of what they really wanted.

    For me, NLP is a little like an airplane. Not everyone understands how an airplane works. That doesn't mean it doesn't work. Some people are scared to death of riding in one - it just plain freaks them out. Others aren't. Some are happy to ride along as a passenger whether it's first class or the cattle class. That's enough excitement, value for them. And then there are those that want to... and do master flying an airplane... even to the extent you can do loops and tricks that amaze and defy belief. Me? I like to be engineer and pilot. Top gun baby!!!

    Why settle for other people's destinations and timetables when you can set your own?

    It's simple really.

    But like I said, NLP is not as straightforward as some claim on the packet. It's not "1-2-3... magic word pattern, hey presto... give me your wallet!" It's a little cerebral at times. Maybe that's why it appeals to me. I have a tendency to the analytical. I like numbers. I like looking for patterns and formulas. Most of all, I like understanding why things work the way they do and using that to maximum effect. (I like it when you can make 1+1 = 11 not 2... which you can if you know what you are doing... )

    Fact is not everyone agrees and I'm quite certain it will never happen. Then again... is there really much on the planet that there is universal agreement with?

    I could go on. But why? I really don't care if another copywriter uses NLP or not. I'm not selling anything here and it's not even to my advantage if they figure it out.

    At the end of the day, the best thing you can do is what works for you since it's you that you have to answer to.


    PS. I read Drayton's comments to the blog and it seems his issue is with the label of whether NLP is a science or not, not as to its efficacy.
  • Profile picture of the author Pusateri
    Originally Posted by Rezbi View Post


    I find so many of the patterns in NLP already being used by the top copywriters.

    They may not call it NLP. And, in fact, the term NLP came along much later.
    If NLP is just a hodge-podge of things invented elsewhere, why bother with the NLP umbrella?

    If you want to understand the psychology of persuasion, why not study the psychology of persuasion?

    If you want to study the patterns in persuasive writing, why not study classical rhetoric?

    What does NLP bring to the table that I can't get elsewhere and with less baggage?

    I've gone past wondering if NLP is hogwash to wondering if it actually exists.

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