Myth Busting

Tuesday, 12:59pm
Reno, NV
“You’ll lose 20 pounds while you sleep!”
(Go-straight-to-jail diet-ad lingo that nevertheless pops up every couple of years)


You know what?

I haven’t pissed anybody off in a while. So let’s see if we can’t rile up the mob a little bit, cause a little unrest in the ranks.

The best way to do this, of course, is to lift the blinders most people wear 24/7… and force them to face some uncomfortable truth or another.

Pop some bubbles. Expose the myths.

Oh, people HATE it when you harsh their zombie mellow… and snatch away their cuddly delusions.

Some may thank you later for the wake-up call. But most will snarl and bite, and rush back to the warm embrace of the dream they’ve languished in their entire life.

To be a great marketer, you must be willing to see things as they actually are. Not as you wish they were, nor as you feel they ought to be.

You gotta leave the bubble, and wander outside your comfort zone.

Reality scares the bejesus out of most folks.

However, once you get over the initial shock, you can finally begin to see the wisdom of self-knowledge and reality-based thinking. (The Oracle at Delphi, in ancient Greece, delivered the “Know thyself” quote long ago… and it’s been the main dividing chasm between the Truly Hip and the Hopelessly Clueless ever since.)

So that’s my basic premise, as a teacher and a writer: The myths must be shattered.

Yahoo, damn the torpedoes, and bring it on.

There’s no better premise for a righteous headline hook, by the way, than to challenge the assumptions, common wisdom, and cherished myths of any particular group of people.

However, when it comes to nailing down your own best marketing plan, you MUST have a firm handle on what nonsense beliefs your audience labors under.

It’s perhaps the most fundamental tool in biz. (Consider how deeply Apple understands their fan base of Mac users… and also understands the mindset of PC users across the aisle. Those TV commercials are hilarious inside jokes to the Mac devotees, and gruesome “the truth hurts” reminders to PCers of how much MicroSoft sucks.)

So here is the myth I wanna bust today:

“People who accomplish things must possess some kind of super-potent magic hidden from the rest of us.”

This is — to anyone who has actually rolled up their sleeves and gone after a goal — unmitigated , dangerous bullshit.

Yet, it’s a central belief to the majority out there. I believed it back when I was a slacking loser, and it took a long time to work through to the truth.

And once I did… I immediately realized why so many marketing campaigns are designed the way they are.

Here’s how this is playing out right now, online: During any economic downturn, the urge to engage the Business Opportunity market (biz op) becomes an obsession for many marketers.

Legions of info marketers who — a few months ago — were completely realistic in their advertising…

… are now adopting the mantra of the classic biz op: “This works automatically, without you needing to do ANYTHING!”

Biz op is as old as advertising itself. The appeal is simple: A complete lifestyle change, with no effort. Everything is done FOR you.

It works like… magic.

Now, all good direct response ads emphasize the “fast, simple, easy and cheap” rule. It’s damn difficult to sell a product with slow results, that requires massive effort and a steep learning curve.

Pain don’t sell.

When I counsel clients with products that really are difficult and complex, I urge them to find ways to break down the process… so they can legitimately offer shortcuts, or accelerated quick start guides, or some inside advantage that takes the sting out of the thing.

I mean, even a new degree in rocket science can be broken down into digestible chunks.

You start with an introductory course, you get mentoring if you can, you face up to your shortcomings and fix them (with, say, some remedial math classes), and you buck up and take that first small step on the journey.

The first step can be easy. .. even when the entire journey will be long and arduous.

As a freelancer, I have often tackled a job in a field that I knew absolutely nothing about. So I learned how to get hip as fast as humanly possible… and that skill became an integral part of my ability to teach others how to shortcut the process of understanding new stuff.

You break it down.

You identify areas of mystery or confusion… and clear it up. You get expert help, either from books or interviews with actual experts. You confront what you don’t yet know…

… and do what you need to do to get a handle on it.

You don’t need to become an expert yourself. I still suck at golf, for example… but I’ve nevertheless written dozens of ads that have brought in fortunes for clients.

After grilling true experts, and filling in the knowledge gaps in my brain with info from good resources, I “know” golf as well as many professional golfers.

In fact, “real” golfers are astonished to learn — after chatting with me — that my game is abysmal. And that I do not — as they do — dream, eat, and breathe for the sport.

I like the game, don’t get me wrong. I even lust for the opportunity to play a round with buddies, despite my inability to dink 4-foot putts and my predictable skulling and and shanking and topping of the ball. I live in sand traps. My drives resemble a Rainbird sprinkler — all over the place, and only infrequently in the direction I’m aiming.

I even KNOW all the shortcuts to getting better. The “how to” DVDs I’ve written about are real… and if I’d just take the time to learn the easy step-by-step processes they teach, I would get better.

I just don’t care about getting better. I’m having fun right where I’m at with the game. My buddies are at the same level, and though we stink, we are competitive with each other… and that’s a form of enjoyment you can’t buy.

The ads I’ve written stress how easy and fast you can get wicked-good at the game. And it’s true.

However, there is SOME effort involved. You cannot just take a pill, or get hypmotized, and magically turn into a great golfer.

And yet, this kind of magical thinking is exactly what is starting to appear in many marketing campaigns.

It’s part of a cycle.

Over my long career, I’ve paid attention to the evolution of weight loss advertising, for example, very closely. Gary Halbert was a master at it, and both earned fortunes in it, and went through hellish legal trauma because of it.

Experienced marketers will tell you that the weight loss market can be THE most lucrative business to get into. Nothing else comes even close in America. Not looking younger, not making more money, not living longer.

Americans just want to get skinny.

And for the most part, they would rather not have to work at it. At all. Not even a tiny, little bit.

There are easy ways to lose weight that we all know about. Eat less, and exercise, for example.

You may find a niche in the weight loss market that responds to this appeal. Certainly, most gyms use some part of that angle to bring in new members. However, the marketing directors also know that 90% of new members will never set foot in the gym again after signing up.

It’s a hard gig to make work.

Especially when the diet markets swing around — as they do, regularly, every few years — to promising “lose weight while you sleep” with this new tasty pill.

People want magic.

They want to believe that you really can ingest a pill, or chant three words, or do something else mystical… and be rewarded with a complete new lease on life.

There is, actually, a placebo effect that can kick in… but it’s not something you want to bet on.

True life changes require some effort.

And that just pisses people off.

So marketers are forever seduced by response rates to go ever further into the dark world of promising magic.

Online, with the recession elbowing more and more folks toward looking for new income opportunities, biz op is thriving.

And I’m seeing more and more of the guru’s in the game promising more and more magic.

It’s a cycle. Right now, there are droves of would-be entrepreneurs who honestly want to believe they can create killer marketing using copy-and-paste methods or — shudder — software that magically produces copy.

And whatever large masses of people desperately want to believe… there will arise a marketer with the cojones (and weak integrity) to offer it to them.

I’ve always been the “eat less and exercise” kind of teacher, when it comes to learning to write.

Yes, that first step is both the hardest one you’ll ever take…

… and the easiest one to complete.

It’s like finally deciding to get serious about getting in shape. The first step would be joining a gym, getting some instruction on how to get started working out (either from a book, or a trainer)…

… and then actually showing up and going through the process the first time.

That’s hard. It’s a deal killer for most people.

But, in truth, it’s also everything promised: Once you do go through that first teeth-chattering step…

… results will come fast, the process becomes easy, and the whole thing is actually simple.

Compared with taking a pill, yeah, it’s only relatively fast, easy and simple.

Nevertheless, the real-life magic is in the DOING.

Before I discovered the power of goal setting, it was a complete mystery to me how people got anything done. Life, for me, was a series of accidents and lucky interventions.

Lots of company in that world.

The very concept that I could actually want something… plan to attain it… and then GO GET IT… was just science fiction for me.

Amazing. Life changing.


And it was freaking HARD to get started. I had to teach myself how to even want something in the first place. And going after it meant changing my “party hardy” attitudes, and putting my goals first (no matter how bitchin’ the fun stuff I was missing seemed).

But guess what?

Once I got a head of steam up…

… it got really, really easy.

Results happened fast and furious.

And suddenly, it was the simplest thing in the world for me to sit down and plot out attaining a goal. Any goal I wanted.

I moved mountains. I changed my life from top to bottom.

But the magic behind the magic… was that there wasn‘t any real magic to it at all.

It was just a matter of breaking it all down into digestible chunks, and going step-by-step through it, systematically.

I don’t offer voodoo to people coming to me to learn how to write.

I offer the systematic process that will take them from clueless to clued-in as fast as they are capable of moving.

I cannot compete — nor do I try — with marketers who insist that there are effortless ways to produce the writing needed to sell anything.

Go for it, if such a promise appeals to you. And good luck.

No… there IS some effort involved in doing what ALL the top marketers do to support their continued success. They understand that writing — pumped to maximum potency with great salesmanship — is the foundation of wealth, fame and happiness in business.

That reality is threatening to many people… because it seems so hard. And it’s so nice and comfy in this waking dream, with lots of ready-to-use excuses to deflect doubt…

So I don’t do well with zombie prospects.

I need people who are already awake, and ready to get moving.

Thus, my continuing efforts over the years in this blog to pull back the curtain, and expose the reality of selling.

Doing well in business really is easy, simple and fast… once you engage, armed with good advice and basic skills.

To others, you will appear to be performing magic when you write the emails, websites, ads and video scripts that fuel your success.

To those who know, however, it’s just a matter of taking the required steps to get in gear, and continue with the process for as long as you need to.

Relying on luck and believing in myths is a sucker’s game.

The real fun in life begins when you wake up and get busy taking action.

Stay frosty,


P.S. Okay, here’s a clue:

Happy trails…

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  • Shelby says:

    Amen brother. It’s a wondrous thing that the masses aren’t willing to do something because it makes the rest of us look so damn good when we get something done 🙂

    • John Carlton says:

      Yes, there is that part of it, too. If everyone suddenly woke up and started being proactive, civilization would be threatened… because, at this point, much of the emotional infrastructure of human interaction is built around the voluntary zombification of the majority.
      We’re living in a true sci-fi movie…

  • John,

    When I met you at Mass Control you seemed like a pretty understated guy. Then you got on stage and the your brilliance came out. Now, your writing shows you pull no punches. You tell it like it is.

    I’ll admit that I could be doing some work on my business right now instead of reading your blog. I’ll admit that I was goofing off and hanging with @harrisfellman earlier. I’ll admit that when I saw you tweet [@johncarlton007 @MikeKoenigs Street tacos? Dude, you are making me SO jealous right now… I had to hit El Pollo Loco tonight, and it just isn’t the same..] I thought this guy actually *eats* at El Pollo Loco?

    Anyway, I got a couple hours before I have to drive to the airport. So, instead of joining a Cinqo de Mayo celebration, I’ll take your reality check as an opportunity to get some work done. I’ve already pulled out my notes from Mass Control to review the highlights so I can “goose my bottomline.”

    Sherrie Rose @sherrierose
    The Love Linguist (aka Lady Love Bucket)

    • Sherrie,

      I have my Mass Control Notes sitting right here waiting for me to type them up and instead I am on twitter and then over here reading John’s article. Now back to work.

      PS: It sure was cool to get some time with John in San Diego.

  • Jason Ayers says:

    Great post John. While you lucky dogs were spending the weekend with Kern I was reading a bunch of swipe files (I waited about an hour before deciding to attend and got waitlisted).

    Anyway, I was highlighting every version of “simple” or “easy”. Almost every paragraph tried to make the hard work look push-button simple. If only it really was.

  • Brian Nebel says:

    Hi John,

    It’s your favorite Chicago SWS student! First time commenting on your blog. Enjoyed this piercing and timely post.

    FWIW, my experience so far since taking the leap (joining SWS 5) has played out just like you described when you said …

    “Relying on luck and believing in myths is a sucker’s game.
    The real fun in life begins when you wake up and get busy taking action.”

    It IS fun. And DAMN exciting to think what will come of the effort and time invested in doing it right. I say…enough of the one-trick pony, time to be a cowboy.

    On that note….back to my “studies”. Don’t you worry though, I’ll be coming back for future posts. Got to bring some youth around here! 🙂


  • […] Magic Of Marketing With John Carlton Posted by Mike Lewitz in Mike’s Random… Like It?  Hate It?  Share With Your […]

  • It’s interesting that you are perhaps more candid and open in advertisements about the amount of work involved in perfecting your own discipline (writing) than you are when writing advertisements about disciplines which you don’t have the same emotional attachment too. In other words, you are prepared to stray down the fast/easy/no work route much more readily in a golf or self defence ad’ than you are in a copywriting ad’. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation, and something I’ve been aware of in my own ad’s. Perhaps when something really matters to you, it’s more difficult to emphasise or imply a short circuit route.

    • John Carlton says:

      Perhaps. Or, we may tend to push the envelope on stressing the “easy” part with clients, expecting them to correct any overkill…
      At any rate, the relative positioning of “easy” has to be monitored by the client, which is yourself when you write your own stuff.
      Good point.

  • Harlan says:

    Hey Old Man,
    It’s nearly 10 years ago when you first taught me about weight loss and how the market is a non-stop parade.

    And those same concepts certainly apply online as well.

    Interesting about how your buds who respect you listen to you regarding baser human drives and their copy but don’t ask the core questions – am I going to far.

    The day the FTC treats Internet Marketing like Weight Loss and pokes its nose up everyones’ you-know-what is the day the towers of IM start to crash.

    Everyone will run for the hills.

    Except maybe one or two who tell the truth. (Perry comes to mind).

    Just some random thoughts.


  • Lisa says:

    I’ve often thought that most advertising is insulting to intelligent people. But I’m cognizant that the approach that appalls me actually works or it wouldn’t still be used. People do want a magic pill. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m no different. We want to blame anyone or anything for whatever results we don’t like in our lives, when if we’d just take responsibility for it, we could wake up and start changing it. It is as easy as setting goals.

    But goals are no better than your golf videos if you don’t act on them. I hope to be a success story. I’ve tossed aside my pollyanna views on how the world “should” be according to my likes and accepted what it is. I figure learning how to write the ads that I find insulting is a good step. I can’t do them differently (testing or otherwise) unless I learn to understand the formula that makes them work. Maybe once I understand them, I’ll learn that it’s only my attitude that needed changing.

    I’m putting a ton of effort into your SWS course because I have a lot riding on it. I’m scared to death, but at least I’m moving in spite of my fear and not paralyzed by it.

    The steps are easy in concept, but not always as easy to apply. I figure it’s like anything worth learning – a language, a musical instrument… I will botch it and stumble through it at first, but eventually, with effort and practice, I may actually get good at it. Whether I have talent for it or not remains to be seen. I’ve embraced goal setting in the last couple years with remarkable results. My only regret is how long it took me to wake up in the first place. No matter, I’m awake now.


    • Kevin Rogers says:

      You’re more than awake… you’re a shining light! It comes through even on the pixelated page.

      Let fear rule just enough to demand your full attention, but allow yourself to enjoy the growth process. You’re gonna be awesome!


  • Melvin says:

    This is fucking brilliant.

    Just what everyone in Internet Marketing needed. Someone with both the experience and the balls to say it like it is.

    This completely mirrors the realisation I made recently… that anything can be done – once you split it into simple, bite-size pieces … and DO IT!

    A fitness guru once said – if you are contemplating whether to brave the cold to head to the gym … don’t think – AND PUT ON YOUR GYM GEAR FIRST!

    The first step is all that matters – then the next, and the next. (Bucket brigade anyone?)

    Alas, there will always be those who promise “INSTANT” results.

    I remember the Scuttlebutt interviews when you interviewed Gary Halbert – and he said it took him 15 … FIFTEEN YEARS to get to where he was. And to think most people think they can write world-class copy … in under 30 days!

    I used to be sucked into this hype … buying up books and crawling into my lair, hoping that if I “read it all” I could emerge in bright glory one day with mystical powers the world had never seen before … all by just reading.

    Alas, cruel truth be told – I found it to be a … LOAD OF HORSE-SHIT!

    Like you said (and I found out painfully) – there is a CLEAR divide between talking, reading and doing.

    And the doing … the DOING is the one that produces REAL results … and really changes your life for the better.

    I pity those who never read this post … there is WISDOM hidden in this post that a $97 ebook can and will NEVER contain.

    Thanks for this.

    • Bernardo says:

      I thought John’s post nailed it, but your
      post was an even meaner jab to the gut.

      Your success is up to you. That’s a hard
      one for most people to accept, but for
      those that do, success waits on the
      other end.

      Every day I put myself back on that horse
      and think just one more step, one more step.

      Great comments, Melvin.

  • Emette Massey says:

    Howdy John,
    Talk about connecting the dots . . .THANKS for such an excellent post! For a while now I’ve been struggling with the “but I’m not a pro . . .whatever . . .fill in the blank” when it came to going after copywriting job for various clients.
    And talk about myth busting . . . I though that I would have to actually be the expert myself and it kept holding me back.
    Quite frankly that was killing my confidience. But now, the fog has lifted, the sun is shining and I’m ‘armed and dangerous.’
    Thanks again John.
    Emette Massey

  • David says:

    Thanks John,

    Isn’t it interesting that when someone wants to be an engineer, a Doctor or Lawyer, it’s accepted and assumed it’s going to take some hard work, lots of study and eventually you get there. First you decide, then you enroll, buy books and practice like crazy with little sleep, little social life and Voila!

    However when it comes to dieting, get rich quick with Real Estate Investing or Millionaire website entrepreneur, brains go to mush. Does your dating life suck? Hey get my ebook and DVD How To course and anyone can become a Master in 12 easy steps!

    It’s so easy to fall prey to hope and change when you feel frustrated by years of failure. Sure people want success to be easy but then the latest research I saw said 70% of those winning lotteries were bankrupt in 3 years.

    Mirrors can be harsh, a good check on reality or a fantasy land. It’s not the mirror that changes, it’s the viewer…

    Now if I can just get that scale to give me the right weight this time or I’m buying a new one!


  • David Franklin says:

    Thanks John for tuning everyone’s bullshit meter.
    Fantasy is better than reality so it’s going to be an easier sell. Some people just can’t pass up the low hanging fruit even when it’s poison apples.

  • ken says:

    Right – it amazes me how many people aren’t successful, simply because they don’t want to work hard enough. It really does become easy, making big money, if you work hard at the right things, with the right strategies… it seems more complex than many can handle (market positioning, value delivery, product ladder/continuity development, list/traffic/jv building, research and biz development).

    But once it all clicks, it’s easy to replicate in other niches and make work. Like your graph, and point, though people want the magic vs the work… so to those small hardy band of us who work our butts off, the right way, it’s easy to outcompete and dominate in the marketplace, which is a fun place to be.

    Thanks for the column, I enjoyed this one a lot.

    to profits,

  • Prakash says:

    Yes. Its true that there can be no better advertising than word of mouth, no matter where the technology reaches. Moreover, the technology can use this type of advertising to its fullest and can reap great benefits. Any Business HQR or Business Houses can use such an advertising method. Now, more and more companies are understanding this fact and using different techniques surrounding to the mouth publicity.

  • Katrina says:

    Weight loss seems to be the most common program enrolled by most men and women of all ages all over the world.
    Busting loose weight must be applied properly and accordingly to an individual program.
    They are very much concern of their body talking of its physical aspect, mentally, psychologically and emotionally.

    It applies to business as well. Mr. Scheinfeld just recently released a book and it’s called “Busting Loose From The Business Game.”It takes the topic of discussion into a very different place, especially as it relates to money, business and career of individual total being.

  • Thomas says:

    I am late, but… yes you can actualy lose fat while you sleep. (but probably not with a pill).

    You can gain fat while you sleep (and digest crap), so why not lose it?
    It’s easy. Just don’t eat anything for a few hours, or don’t eat lots of carbs or any fast carbs for even more hours. That’s THE magic pill. Your body will use fat as a source of energy.

    Interesting post. There is a certain joy in the doing once you get started. Seriously, having what you want just by doing nothing would be so boring, no challenge, nothing.
    But hey, most people don’t know what courage means..

    For setting goals, in my own experience: it’s important to believe in them, while not having any limits, not knowing how you can get them. You must be able to visualise getting a result. (you stretch your own reality). Your mind will automatically find clues, make plans, find models, find source of information on how to get what you want..(your awareness expands).
    Then use courage and act on the plans your mind has created.
    Freakin’ simple.

    As I am typing this, I realise it’s one of the most important things I have ever learned (There you go, in 30s, something more valuable than 16 years of school).

    –Forgive me for the english mistakes, I am not a native english speaker.

    A la prochaine.

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