The Power and Danger of Persuasive Language

There’s been a lot written lately about persuasion. When I say lately, I mean the last thirty years or so. Before then, whenever somebody wanted to sell somebody something, they usually came up with some snappy advertising jingle, and put the product, along with the jingle or some slogan in front of as many people as possible, in hopes that they would be convinced to buy this product. Advertising agencies were the ones that generated the jingles and the slogans. Company execs would pay a huge amount of money to these advertising firms in hopes of creating a memorable meme, or what Mark Twain called “Ear Worms.”

That way the product would be magically attached to this earworm and when people decided to buy a product, that would be the first one on their minds.
Because most people have inherent experience being persuaded to do things, clean your room, finish your vegetables, and everything else humans get conned into doing, they felt that learning persuasion, as a science wasn’t something that needed to be done.

Enter NLP.

In the seventies, a group of guys discovered some incredible language patterns that some therapists had learned to use on their clients with almost magical success. They modeled these patterns and found that when string words together in a certain way, they would have a certain effect. If this sounds similar to coming up with a jingle or a slogan, you are absolutely correct. The difference between them and a jingle or a slogan is that these new patterns had more of a scientific basis them. Jingles or slogans were generated largely by how the ad executives felt about them. How they thought they would work based on their feelings.

These new patterns had a certain degree of structure and repeatability. Meaning that a message structured the same way would generate the same effect in various individuals on consistent basis.

With jingles, they sort of “hoped” that they would work and just threw them out there. Many times when they didn’t work, they would blame the market, or the economy, or the product. They never really sat back and said “Jeeze, this jingle really sucked ass.”

Language patterns on the other hand, had a consistent effect, regardless of the market, or the product or the economy.

But with this new language technology, another problem exists. Before, people had to really focus on creating a good product that many people would get real value from. With these new patterns, it became possible to create the illusion of short-term value that would slowly fade over time, leaving a bad taste in the consumer’s mouth. It became easier for people to focus less on the steak, and more on the sizzle.

The thing the many of these persuasive language-using salesmen don’t understand is that when they say, “sell the sizzle, not the steak,” the underlying presupposition is that the steak is a quality steak, not some old leathery piece of meat that has been in the freezer for six months.

With this new language technology, it has been possible to sell the sizzle, when the steak is really not worth your chewing effort.

If you can combine a decent product that will provide long term value for your customers, with some of these persuasive language patterns, your success is virtually guaranteed. Not only will people be convinced to buy your product over all of your competitors, but also their appreciation of your product will generate sales and referrals and additional income for you.

That is what they mean when they say “Win-Win.”