Avoid The Void


Monday, 11am
Reno, NV
Facts are stupid things.” (Ronald Reagan, ’88 GOP convention)


Well, that was fun.

Over 650 comments on that last quiz so far (with a bullet).  Some really good responses, too.

Also some really out-there ones, which always makes for giddy reading.

The main thing, of course, is that so many folks put on their Thinking Caps and went for it.  As I’ve said before: You win just by trying with this kind of brain stumper.


… we have a winner.  I’ll let you know who it was in a minute.

First, let’s relieve the tension and reveal the answer already.

Or at least head in that direction.  It’s probably worth noting that only a tiny handful of the comments were on the right path.

The question was vague, on purpose.  This is high-end street-level psychology…

… and one of the main features of this kind of advanced salesmanship is that it is NOT easily understood by most people.

In fact, you’ve likely encountered the answer to this quiz before in your life… but because it didn’t “fit” with your intuition and belief about “how things work”, it didn’t stick.

Most of what classic salesmen know about people runs counter to what the majority calls  “common sense”.

This is startling to rookie marketers.  Confusing.  Disorienting.  Challenges long-held beliefs about the nobility of human endeavor and the lofty inclinations of the human brain.

Thus, we saw long sub-threads in the comments that ignored the entire concept of a “glitch” in people’s thinking…

… and instead dove into all kinds of elaborate explanations of how a successful sales pitch might smoothly proceed with dignity and logic.

It’s good to have these discussions, if you desire to get anywhere in marketing.

I, too, had trouble getting into the minds of my prospects at first.

This is why I jumped on every opportunity that arose, early in my career, to hang out and grill every “street wise” marketer I ran into.

Cuz those guys knew how to SELL.

No theory.  Just experience (and the bank accounts to prove it).

This group included:

… Jay Abraham and Gary Halbert (both of whom had door-to-door selling experience where, if they didn’t make the sale, they didn’t eat that day)…

… a veteran of the old Craftmatic Bed marketing model (his motto: “Don’t leave the prospect’s house until there’s money in your pocket or blood on the wall”)…

… several grizzled direct response admen with professed ties to David Ogilvy (and more insight into people from  selling diet and jewelry products than the CIA will ever get from high-tech espionage)…

… a hard-ass sales genius who’d grown up on the streets of Berkeley plundering tourists with 3-Card Monte games (who channeled P.T. Barnum by insisting “there are suckers born every minute)…

… a Los Angeles “porn king” who hated all the dark knowledge his gig had revealed about human behavior (he’d gotten into the biz accidentally)…

… a perpetually roaming marketing expert (who was 60 when I met him and a multi-millionaire) who had serially convinced several different Miss World winners to marry him and put up with his infidelities long before any of the current PUA heroes were even born…

… and Joe Cossman (the guy who introduced the Spud Gun to America — along with a stream of foreign-made goods like X-ray glasses and magic tricks — through impossible-to-ignore ads in comic books).

Just to name a few of the resources I encountered while getting schooled in the psychology of selling.

(That flimsy BA in Psychology I got from the University of California isn’t even a pimple on the ass of what I learned — in just a few years of going deep with the street-hip salesmen — about what makes humans tick.)

This is where I formulated my little rule about moving through life:

You must look at the world that way it IS… not how you wish it were, or how you believe it ought to be.

To be a great salesman, you gotta continually apply brutal, real-world reality checks to yourself.

Thus… the answer to the question I posed (“What is this Psychological Glitch in people’s thinking process that has made long copy so vital for the sales process?”) has less to do with logic and rational thinking…

… than with the more infuriating part of human brain activity.

That part where, after  you offer up nice sets of facts and figures that — for anyone with a Vulcan-level sense of logic — should seal the deal…

…  your prospect just sniffs skeptically, shrugs off your careful presentation of reality…

… and instead buys from the competition.  Those assholes with the brazen, outlandish, over-the-top sales pitch that reads like it was written by an uneducated huckster.

You know — the long copy stuff with the folksy attitude and outrageous appeals for attention.

This truly offends rookie marketers (and even veteran marketers who don’t get it).

I hear their lament often:

“Why can’t people just be logical and sensible and understand how superior my product is and GIVE ME THEIR FUCKING MONEY?”

The answer: Because they don’t want to give you their fucking money.

Even the most basic exchange of goods for cash in our society… is an inherently hostile situation.

One side wants the best bargain possible (the most for the least), while the other side wants the best profit possible (the most income for the least effort).

You’re not a bad person for wanting a better deal than the other guy wants to offer.

You’re human.  You’ve got quirks and foibles and ulterior motives that — despite your best efforts to remain pure and above the fray — include deep-seated greed, raw lust, and a persistent driving need to be able to gloat because you negotiated a better deal than your schmuck brother-in-law.

Oh, it’s not always nice inside the brain of a typical human being.

All kinds of dark thoughts and paranoid fears and rude desires dominate the neuro-landscape.

And if you don’t understand what you’re up against when you’re creating a pitch, you’ll have trouble persuading anyone to do anything.

Especially when it involves them taking money out of their wallet and handing it to you.

Here is the answer to the quiz: People loathe a void.

When they encounter gaps in the information they’re receiving (from an ad, from the news, from gossip, from any incoming stimuli at all)…

… they have a stunning tendency to fill in those gaps with their own ideas.

Based on ill-formed intuition, soggy critical thinking, and flawed belief systems that defy reality.

In other words:  They just make it up as they go.

You lose control of the sales process when this happens.

Thus, the final argument for long copy (and I hope we can stop arguing about this now) is:  You must counter every objection your prospect has… which can be a long list all by itself…

… and you must also go deep into his noggin and demolish the unconscious bullshit flooding his cerebral cortex that will sabotage his own rational desire to buy from you.

Your job is to give him a burning desire to own what you offer… that is both rational AND emotionally satisfying.

Which are often wildly different things.

Non-salesmen just get frustrated when someone makes stuff up.  The operative line of thought when faced with a gap in knowledge goes something like this:  “I don’t know.  Maybe it’s because…” followed by suggested realities pulled completely out of their butt.

Top tier salesmen, however, USE this insight.  They don’t get frustrated at how people behave.  They just roll with the punch.

I asked you to go visit www.snopes.com just to see how many of the urban myths (which have been thoroughly debunked with annoying facts) are still part or your belief system.

If you went, you learned something about how people process stuff.  (If you didn’t take the advice to visit that site, you learned something about yourself.)

This has nothing to do with education or class, either.  When I was college, my smart-as-hell girlfriend convinced a bunch of us to get involved with a chain letter pyramid scheme.

She talked herself — and us — into it with seemingly impeccable logic.

It’s the same type of argument the country collectively engaged in during the last few financial bubbles.  (I knew the real estate market was in for a bloodbath four years ago, when a smart-yet-deluded secretary I knew bragged about refinancing her third home so she could buy another one… which was gonna make her rich because she’d just find folks to pay her mortgages through high rents.)

(Check this YouTube video out for a gruesome laugh about how too many people’s thought-processes perverted logic during the housing bubble: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNmcf4Y3lGM )

All of us have a belief system that governs our behavior.

Most of these systems are not rooted in the way the universe actually operates.  They are, instead, propelled by:

  • Myths
  • Rumors and gossip
  • Fuzzy logic
  • Unexamined assumptions
  • And lots of guessing.

Almost every single consultation I’ve ever been paid for included an extended session where I had to beat the assumptions out of the client.

“No,” he’ll say, “I didn’t try that tactic, because I just assumed that…” is what I hear the most.  Followed by complete nonsense pulled out of thin air, backed up with rumor and myth.

And we all know what you do when you assume.  (You make an “ass” out of “u” and “me”.)

Start paying attention to the bullshit flying around you.

Hollywood is one of the worst offenders.  Screenwriters for generations have been writing about stuff they have zero real clue about.

(So you keep seeing heroes getting shot, slugged in the head with bats, and falling twelve stories to the sidewalk… only to shake it off and go back to win the fight.  For example.)

Congress is a mix of fools and geniuses.  Both engage with their constituency at the lowest intellectual level possible.  One group just does it on purpose… but they’re still playing to the myths and rumor mills.

(Time after time, researchers have discovered that average — and otherwise good-hearted — Americans will recoil and reject the Bill of Rights when it’s presented to them without explaining what it is.  Scary.  But if you’re gonna succeed in politics, you gotta understand how the voting brain functions.)

And my favorite example (cuz I come from this kind of family): Your arrogant, know-it-all brother-in-law will get so angry discussing what he “knows” about the world that he will insult you, offer vague threats, and feel totally justified calling you an idiot if you disagree.

Or if you have the gall to ask where he gets his “facts”.

“Just look it up,” is what I heard at family functions growing up.  “It’s a fact.  I guarantee you it’s true.”

The kicker: Nowadays, you can simply Google any question and get immediate expert-supported facts.

Growing up, I used to pull out the dictionary and encyclopedias and triumphantly present the actual correct answer to what was being angrily discussed.

What I learned: Presenting facts — even unimpeachable stacks of figures, statsistics, quotes and conclusions — couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm another person had for what he “believed” to be true.

When selling something, you cannot leave anything out of the your pitch.

Or your prospect will fill in the gap from his vast internal storehouse of misinformation, rumor, myth, “common sense” and — worst of all — his own guesses at what “should” be in your sales argument.

Great salesmen use long copy formats (in written ads or websites, autoresponder email series, videos, and speeches) because they know they’re supplying “buying reasons” for both the rational side of their prospect’s brain…

… and his irrational side (which often dominates the internal conversation).

The next time you try to persuade someone to do something — buy what you offer, leave his name and email, come to an event, whatever — just throw in a few nods to the roiling nonsense you suspect is inside his brain.

(“You know they make good stuff in Germany,” is how Vince “Mr. Sham-Wow” put it.)

What you know — for a FACT — is true about what you offer…

… may (in fact) be utterly polluted by what your prospect believes is true about it.

So you need to know what he’s thinking… and you need to address it in a way that is satisfying to his need to fill in the gaps.

Remember: People are actively looking a reason — factually true or not — to say “no” to your offer.

Saying “no” means they can relax and get on with their day, continuing to believe there is no good solution to their problem.

This is why you explain — with vivid stories and action-oriented case studies — stuff like return-on-investment, the outrageous value being offered, the limits of the opportunity, and all the wonderful ways his life is about to change.

Including lots of sound-bites he can use to remind himself, his doubting spouse, and his skeptical neighbor why this was such a great decision.

When you leave gaps in your sales pitch, you lose control of the process.

Rookies do this all the time.  They take for granted that their prospect understands the offer and product the same way they do.

And so they leave too many “easy outs” for the prospect to say “Oh, that’s not for me, because…” followed by whatever belief sways them.

When you control the conversation, he can’t assume anything, or go anywhere in his head you don’t want him to go.

(Side note: When you get really good at understanding the mindset of your prospect, you CAN leave vast holes in your pitch.

It’s called “going blind”, because you’re purposely avoiding explaining things in too much detail.  The prospect has to order and receive the product to relieve his curiosity.

This tactic has as many iron-clad rules as the more common straightforward pitch.

A blind ad is all about managing the void. You control the “gaps” presented to your prospect much like great musicians control the “spaces” in jazz (think Miles Davis).

You block all exits and direct your prospect’s imagination in the direction you want it to go.

You know he’s going to fill in the gaps.  So you give him plenty of good ammo to do so, by playing on the myths, gossip and other flotsam and jetsam in his mind.

Maybe we’ll discuss this other advanced tactic soon.)


… it might help you to go back and look at the two winners I’ve selected.

(Yes, I’m giving away two prizes, rather than the one I promised.  I think it’s justified.)

The winners:

“Bob”, with answer number 30.

And “Sergy”, with answer number 133.

Guys, my overworked assistant Diane will be contacting you soon about delivering your Freelance Courses.

Well done, boys.

To everyone: It was a pleasure reading what you came up with.

There was a ton of fabulous critical thinking going on.  Which is very gratifying to someone like me, who fancies himself a teacher.

However, street-wise salesmen know that critical thinking must be joined with real-world experience to be worth anything during Crunch Time.

Hope this little exercise helped you tidy up your own head a bit.

It’s all about self-knowledge — understanding what you do not yet have covered, and going after it.

We’ll have to do this again, soon.

Stay frosty,


P.S. One last thing: That “lighthouse” tip I offered?

It was actually a tremendous hint.  If you’re honest, you know you’ve participated (at some point in your life)  in talking about something you have little or no real knowledge of… like lighthouses.

You’ve seen photos, maybe visited one, probably watched a movie or two involving one.

So, during a conversation about lighthouses, you pull out your internal file on them, and behold: There is all kinds of stuff you “know” or suspect you know about them.

There’s nothing criminal going on.

Just be more aware of how much bullshit you’re laying out in the course of a day.  Most folks tell little white lies (and a few big ones) at regular intervals while awake.

We’re just filling in the gaps.

It’s worth the effort to train yourself to stay within your actual knowledge, if you want to succeed as a marketer.

This includes everything about you, personally (“know thyself”)… about your product… about your audience… and about the world around you.

It can be startling at first to junk your long-held belief systems.

Ultimately, though, it’s a better way to live.

Because, guess what?

The world, minus myth and gossip and bullshit, is actually a very fascinating place.

Peace out.

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"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."

  • Well done Bill & Sergy and thank you John for explaining in-depth and for a great, fun, stimulating quiz!


  • Karri Flatla says:

    I’m gonna jump off the scaffolding now 😉

    I should have called the scaffolding “bullshit” and I’d have been much closer. He he.

    Thanks for the good intellectual (or not so intellectual) romp through the world of copywriting. Fun and compelling.


    • John Carlton says:

      I prefer the term “interleckshial”, actually.
      I remember your scaffolding imagery. Very good thinking process… just too nice about how people actually think, Karri.
      Next time, you’ll know to veer to the darker side in your answers…

      • Karri Flatla says:

        HAHAHA! I’ll have to copy and paste interleckshial into a swipe file.

        Y’know, there really is such a thing as scaffolding in the brain. Happens when brain injury patients have to relearn things … or something like that 😉

        One thing I always keep in mind when writing copy is to anticipate the objections of the reader. But this exercise has been a very good reminder to cover all bases thoroughly.


  • Tia Dobi says:

    Thanks John. And Sean D’Souza does an excellent job of taking those ‘bags off the customer-brain conveyer belt’ in his explanation of same. You see, no matter how many bags you bring on an aeroplane, you will wait at the conveyor belt for every last piece of luggage to get off – so you can claim all your luggage. Not just 5 out of 7 pieces…ALL of them.

    So does the buying brain. Avoiding the void.

    Sean says it so much better than I and explains it all in his ebooks at his site and John’s explanation and the winners writings are fantastic.

    Good show.

    Nice to know.

    Tia D.

  • Rob Northrup says:

    Awesome question, and a ton of great answers… Thanks for making us think John!

    Rob N.

  • Jared B says:

    Yes, it was fun! And, thanks for the xplaination …the trip …and the crafty words.
    I want to let the words cook-for-a-time …until the dust settles to find out what comes out of me because of this ‘contest.’
    My style is to reread to squeeze more juice. A lot goes by me on 1st readings. That’s the better pay-off for me in time.

    Look forward to the next one.

    Thank you.

  • Adil says:

    Congrats to Bill and Sergy,

    I sort of had the most annoying “Ah ha” moment right before you revealed it and the funniest thing is I wrote on something similar about this in February, “The Zeigarnik effect”

    Anyway John,
    Thanks for the posts and will be looking forward to what you have in store for us :).

    Best wishes,


  • David says:

    Congratulations Bob & Sergy!

    Well done!

    Thank you John for an extremely mind-boggling contest, a great lesson in human psychology and marketing! I now feel complete! 😉


  • Bill F says:

    Congrats to Bob and Sergy. I knew I should have offered my bribe of Japanese tea and aged shoyu. (How sleazy is that?)

    This post was a nice prize in itself. One thing to read it and another entirely to internalize it though. There’s no reset button for the brain (though there’s probably a sales page for one).

    I have to come back here more often, thanks.

  • Beer poured. Crying into it.

    All good fun. Great way to get folks thinking…

    ~ John S. Rhodes

    p.s. I still think HOPE is a good answer, John. 😉

    • John Carlton says:

      Hope’s not a glitch, John.
      Enjoy your beer — a good one survives a few tears no problem, as I’ve learned over the years…
      Thanks again for the clever posts.

  • Jordan says:

    I laughed myself sick and thought what a friggin’ genius this guy is. It’s exactly as you say. I have wondered a few times why the first piece of Internet marketing garbage I ever bought was so good at convincing me. I suppose now I really know. Hey man, let me know how I can get some more wisdom out of you. I would love to learn from the best.

  • Hey John… this was sure interesting to follow.

    Speaking of what people know for a fact… did you know that the latin word “factum” literally means “made up”?

    Oh, the irony.

    Enjoying the quizzes 🙂

    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Linus. I think the actual definition is “to make”, not “to make up” as we use the term today (as I used it in the post above).
      Point taken, though.
      Funny, you know, to see what the actual roots of our favorite words really are. I have read dictionary’s for fun since I was in grade school — words fascinate me… probably because, early on, I suspected I would have to use better language to give my endless stories a chance at getting heard…

      • Old Nikko says:

        Factum (f?k´t?m)
        n. 1. (Law) A man’s own act and deed
        2. (Mach.) The product. See Facient, 2.
        n. 1. One who does anything, good or bad; a doer; an agent.
        2. (Mach.) One of the variables of a quantic as distinguished from a coefficient.

        Maybe you meant: Non est factum – Latin for “it is not [my] deed”?

        Just another dictionary freak I guess… 😉

  • brian says:

    damn every time I think I’ve got something figured out – I get this major epiphany – usually after reading something from someone like you John.

    good job boys.

  • Congrats to Bob and Sergey, and thanks to John Carlton for both the lesson and for jump-starting my foggy brain. I too will be spending more time here, soaking up the wisdom and knowledge.

  • Susie Nelson says:

    Thanks so much, John, and a big congrats to the winners.

    For the record, I warned my oldest sister not to marry the first guy – (aka “my ex-brother-in-law”) – warned the second guy not to marry my other sister (aka “my other ex-brother-in-law). Obviously I needed better salesmanship in both cases. And, similar to your story, they came up with some choice words to describe me, and avoided me like the plague after a few “who is right” encyclopedia sessions….

    Oh, and by the way, at the updated family photo session, the now “second husbands” weren’t too happy with me when I asked the photographer if he could position each “second brother-in-law” on the outer edges of the family portrait…I thought it was a brilliant suggestion.

    Again, thanks John. I think I checked my email about 5 times today, anxiously waiting for your response.


  • Cliff says:

    Congratulations to Bob & Sergey.
    I would normally be disappointed at not winning the prize, but your insights are well worth the read.

    Thanks John!
    Keep up the good work, and I look forward to your next contest!

  • Peter says:

    Hi John,
    That was a lot of fun. Your’s is one of the very few blogs I ever leave comments on.
    I’ve know for years we all have our own version of reality bought about by our experiences and how we were bought up.
    I just didn’t put together the last part… that we make up the stuff we don’t know when put in a situation where everything is not spelled out clearly.

    So my post didn’t win. Oh well… there’s always next time, unless I have another brain fart.


  • Abey says:

    Love the insight John. In all truthfulness, to this day, I have not done a spot of real selling. That’s actually closed a sale on the merit of salesmanship alone. This is a great intro.

  • Ted says:

    I learned something.

    I was strutting on the surface level of things… when I should have digged into the underlying reasons.

    That’s why I’m not a professional salesman, yet.

    Thanks John… I feel a little more straightened out.

  • Bill says:

    Well done Bob and Sergy.

    And thanks John for the chance to exercise the ol’ brain, and get a great lesson in psychology at the same time. Awesome stuff! Looking forward to the next quiz 🙂

  • Ernest says:

    Congrats Bob and Seggy
    Thank John, This post straightens out a lot of stuff.

  • Earnst says:

    Good job Bob & Sergey, you lucky bastards.

    This “glitch” is similar to the hardest thing there is to teach rookie trial lawyers. They don’t teach it in law school and very few even know what it is. It takes years to learn. It has lost many civil cases and jailed thousands.

    Thanks John for the great lesson. I have doubled my ginkgo intake and I look forward to the next test.

  • Ha! Good one. The irony is that as a creative writing teacher (my other hat) I tell students that readers fill in the gaps, and how to manipulate that. Never thought to apply it to copywriting though. So invaluable, John, thanks!
    One question if I may. You know your formula:
    Tell ’em what you got, tell ’em what it’ll do for them, tell ’em how to get it? How does ‘answer objections’ fit into that?
    Thanks in advance if you get the chance to answer.
    All best,

    • John Carlton says:

      I think the operative rules are:
      The more you tell, the more you sell. And the more you know about the Inner Game of your prospect, the more you can tell.
      Or something like that. Have to think up a pithier way of saying it…

  • Matt Bisogno says:

    I’ve not been reading your blog for long, John, but I have to say – without too much fear of sycophancy – that might be the best post I’ve ever read.

    Compelling, sensible, educational, grounded, and great use of both Anglo-Saxon and English English (as opposed to American English – surely less than 0.1% of Americans knows the word ‘noggin’… or is that just an assumption on my part?)

    OK, so it did become sycophantic. Whatever.
    Brilliant post – thanks a lot for the insights.

    • Marc Rodill says:

      John makes for a great teacher, that’s for sure. Knows his stuff, and is way smarter than I gave him credit for.

      I can’t help but wonder if my first-impression-o-meter is broken, or if I have just been sucking lately.

      Probably the latter. 🙂

      • John Carlton says:

        Wait — you didn’t think I was smart when you first discovered me?
        I’m hurt, Marc. Was it the slovenly appearance, or the untrimmed beard, or the mumbling? What? The Tiki?
        Seriously, I ain’t all that smart. I’ve just been taking notes during a career that — by jumping on opportunities — has attained legendary status because I went deep into the psyche of American marketing.
        My friends — and I’ve got a few — will tell I’m the most normal guy you’ll meet. Except for the almost pathological need for new experiences so I can tell better stories.
        If you get your writing chops together, you’ll soon discover that hanging out with other writers is the most exciting life you could ever hope for.
        But it probably won’t make you smarter. Just more insightful…

        • Matt Bisogno says:

          I’m cutting my writing chops at my little geegeez site. I talk about horse racing and sell horse racing stuff (betting data mostly), and the occasional racehorse.

          But predominantly I just enjoy the stage and the opportunity to warble, waffle, whimper, wail, wonder with kindred spirits.

          This clutch of components on my desk has fulfilled the formerly latent ambition I had to be a journalist. Got knocked back when I fckued up an interview on the local rag as a young (and unprepared man); spent ten long years working as a project manager for blue chips; then escaped to have a crack at this.

          I’m proud (and not boasting) when I say I’ll make three times my healthy finishing salary this year – and I started this only in September 2006.

          It’s not fortunes, but the liberty and choice this life affords is amazing. When I look at my laptop, I smell fresh air… 🙂


  • Doug Barger says:

    Congratulations to Bob and Sergy and thanks to you John for a great question.

    John, in your experience, how does this
    glitch relate with the “Zeigarnik Effect”
    in terms of implementation from the
    master copywriter’s perspective?

    • John Carlton says:

      Okay, I admit ignorance.
      Somebody explain the Zeigarnik Effect, so I don’t have to search Google for it…
      Be pithy.

      • Ken Steven says:

        Hi John. In a nutshell, the Zeigarnik Effect is that people feel uncomfortable when something is left incomplete. And if something is unfinished, it holds our attention until we can bring closure to it.

        So, the way you can use this in copywriting is to never divulge enough information at any given point of your sales process to fill the void until the very end. That way you keep your prospects following your every word and mitigate the risk of them jumping ship before they get the whole pitch.

        Fun contest by the way, and great learning too. Thanks for doing stuff like this.


  • Marc Rodill says:

    Hey Carlton, I guess I can’t hope that you won’t read this comment. You are a well-read man, after all.

    What I’m trying to say is, when I first started reading you, I hated you.

    You were good on stage at the first Mass Control event, but when I first found your blog I was just turned off…

    I thought *what the hell does this guy know? who the hell does he think he is?* etc… you know, I guess… “the usual.”

    And, I know you don’t care what I think, but I thought I’d tell you anyway… how ’bout them apples?

    Anyway – I like you a lot now. All of your wit and intellect actually matches up to your ego. It makes for good stuff.

    Plus, you’re kinda snazzy for an old timer.

    Stay classy, San Diego,

    • John Carlton says:

      We all hate people who are like us, or who push our hot buttons when we first meet them, Marc. That’s Psych 1a.
      I don’t set out to push buttons with anyone, however. It’s just that long ago I decided to be who I am, and let things progress from there.
      What some perceive as arrogance is just the confidence of having worked the front lines of the battle for 25 years. I don’t bullshit.
      I’m teaching here — and I choose to be brutal and honest, because that’s how I finally learned anything from mentors. This is serious stuff, and it does no one any good to be told “good job” when in fact the job sucks. When money and livelihood are at stack, it’s best to just get down to it and be adults.
      I have so many testimonials because I’ve spent half my life bending over backwards to help people. (And I do this because no one helped me when I started out, and I vowed that — if I succeeded — I would make sure rookie writers could count on me to hear the truth. That’s how I became a teacher.) (But it hasn’t shielded me from criticism, which is fine. It’s a big world, made bigger by the Web, and the folks who find a resource in what I offer seem to be doing better than most… so I’ll take the occasional personal shot. I’ve never claimed to be everybody’s cup of tea.)
      Thanks for writing. I appreciate the honesty.

  • Tom Vo says:

    Great answer, thanks for this quiz. I enjoyed thinking about the question and reading the comments. Needless to say that I learnt a lot from this.

    What I learnt about myself is to be more persistant and thorough. I got the part with the lighthouse and the conversation down because I know nothing about lighthouses. And I would`ve continued the conversation in some way. Even if the “facts” came from films or books or stories I heard.

    And I got the part with the void (I used the word vacuum) that has to be filled and saw that as the reason for people believing in urban myths. The same reason why people believe in scenes filled with bs by Hollywood.

    And for some reason I forgot to “close” the answer. I realized that the day after at work (wait a minute, I forgot something!). I desperately wanted to go to sleep and didn`t realize that the answer was not complete. With just a little more effort I would`ve found it. Another glitch I guess. Most people are like that.

    Congratulations to Bob and Sergy. They said with a few words what I couldn`t do with hundreds of words.

    Thinking and clarity of thought is a skill to train. Thanks for this exercise. I`m looking forward to the next quiz.

    Tom Vo

    • John Carlton says:

      Good thinking, Tom. Excellent post-mortem on your participation.
      It’s this kind of self-analysis that brings the most insight and wisdom.
      People: Consider what Tom did here, breaking down his own thinking process. It’s a great lesson if you seriously want to move forward.

  • Sergey says:

    Thanks John,

    I am calmly excited and feeling like a million bucks 🙂

    I’ve got an idea for a another quiz… will pass the message over to Diane.


  • Mr Carlton-

    Great quiz, very cool to see everybody’s juices flowing.

    Great answer too… I wasn’t quite there, but given another couple of days I may have been in the ballpark. May have.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing this… I’m used to having to pay for insights this good.

    -David Raybould

  • Suzanne says:

    Congrats to the winners for their great insight.

    I’m going to have to read John’s answer a few times over because there’s a lot there to consider.

    Of course, it made absolute sense in terms of human nature–and how I behave myself.

    On a lighter note…I’m wondering if I should write all sales copy as if speaking to my brother–who is the biggest blarney bs artist of all time.

    He comes up with convoluted bs objections on things he’s never even heard about before that minute!

    I consider it an exaggeration on the way the rest of us humans can sometimes be. lol.

  • Garth says:


    Like a 2×4 to the side of the head… I get it.

    You said, “When you leave gaps in your sales pitch, you lose control of the process. Rookies do this all the time. They take for granted that their prospect understands the offer and product the same way they do.”

    It’s all about controlling the conversation.

    In my face to face sales, I do this automatically. I didn’t at first, but somehow learned the process of leading my prospect down the circuitousness path to the close and sale.

    All the copywriting experts I’ve studied — both dead and alive — attempt to answer the question about long copy and the length of a sales letter, but none, not a single expert has simplified the answer by identifying and thoroughly explaining this Psychological Glitch.

    It’s so obvious — what my copy was missing — to me now, it’s laughable, and embarrassing.

    So simple, yet brilliant… damn!

    John thanks for raising the wattage on this dim bulb.

  • Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. John, you’ve completely outdone yourself with this follow-up post. I’m in awe. I can’t think of anybody that’s writes FACTS the way you do. Many thanks.

  • Damien says:

    Thanks John.

    Great to get the ole brain cells going! I do this all the time, never thought my readers would do such a thing!! As always top notch material 🙂


  • Andreea says:

    “Just be more aware of how much bullshit you’re laying out in the course of a day. Most folks tell little white lies (and a few big ones) at regular intervals while awake.
    We’re just filling in the gaps.
    It’s worth the effort to train yourself to stay within your actual knowledge, if you want to succeed as a marketer.
    This includes everything about you, personally (”know thyself”)… about your product… about your audience… and about the world around you.
    It can be startling at first to junk your long-held belief systems.
    Ultimately, though, it’s a better way to live.
    Because, guess what?
    The world, minus myth and gossip and bullshit, is actually a very fascinating place.”

    John, I couldn’t agree with you more… lately we’ve been on the same frequency as far as pondering on stuff… I have been thinking about the same thing … “speaking your truth”, being present, with no fillers… it is a freeing, clean, and light feeling… life becomes more effervescent this way… tuning in to what is real within you.

    Thank you again for an enlightening post.


  • Sharon says:

    John, Wow! You hit the nail on the head and that’s why I liked you from the start. You just shed some major light on a dynamic that has perplexed me for a long time. I’m a wellness specialist and see people do things that make my head spin. Now I want to know the formula for finding out how to know what the objections and myths are that go on in my clients head. That means I’ll be here to learn from you for as long as it takes to learn how to serve my clients better. You are a rare breed with your raw honesty, laced with a courageous heart to be who you are and to care enough to share what you know. I’m so thankful to know you live on the same planet with me and that I get to be inspired and benefit profoundly from your gifts. And now my clients will be better served when I can help them to get out of their own way to get what they said they wanted. Thank You! Thank You!
    Congratulations to the winners!!!

  • Ian says:

    John this contest was a hoot and a wicked learning experience.

    I thought I had one of the right answers, I was giddy all weekend.

  • Kevin Rogers says:

    As one of the few so privileged to take my guesses behind the scenes with John, and despite his neon arrow clues… I still didn’t nail the answer. (and still had to wait (tortured) til Monday like everyone else!)

    I’ve been devouring this blog for 3 years now, and have printed a fair share of your posts, but this is the first time I’ve been compelled to highlight specific paragraphs into 24 pt. font, print them and slap them on the wall next to my desk.

    There are things in here I desperately needed to hear, and will make damn sure I never forget.

    Thanks for rocketing past my sky high expectations on this one, John.

    A new level of excellence indeed.

  • Anderson says:

    hmm…Avoiding the void…damn…I was gettin there..

    But, it was a very stimulating and interesting quiz I’ll tells ya that John.

    Heh, if the last quiz was a riot, then I say that Quiz 7 just had Hurricane Carlton sweep through.

    With the…650+ Comments in a space of 3-4 days.

    Good stuff John. Now the fun part – raking in the Fungolas from this answer!

  • John:

    Just a quick “Thanks!” to pass along. And, something interesting, I think.

    I actually used the word “bullshit” online for the first time, in public, on one of my main blogs.

    This is a big deal. Doesn’t seem like a big deal to many folks here, but lemme tell you — it’s a big deal.

    I’ve always been VERY conservative on that particular blog because I have a certain reputation to uphold.

    ** he straightens up, adjusts his tie **

    Well, wouldn’t you know it. There was laughter. There was fear. There was anger. There was real humanity.

    All because I added “bullshit” … and then, really spoke my mind about the freakin’ insanity in this tight ass niche.

    So, let’s take your answer to the quiz and apply it here too. To recap, here’s your answer — “People loathe a void”

    And now, let’s think. This community of mine is HUNGRY for someone to use some foul language.

    ‘Tis true!

    They want to be adults, but they want to pop the cork too. They crave humanity.

    By throwing some “bullshit” at them, I filled the void. And, they rewarded me. And we all had some fun today.

    Thanks man.

    ~ John S. Rhodes

    p.s. I also injected 3 oz.’s of HOPE. Just saying. You know I can’t let that rest. Too much invested in that answer.

  • Mark Milan says:

    So many people have no method to how they form their beliefs. In fact, they have no idea how to form reliable beliefs at all. Much of their so-called evidence — which, as you point out, commonly doesn’t exist — is used to justify a pre-existing belief rather than used to form a belief.

    If someone is stuck in a mire of bullshit beliefs, I think that considering how trustworthy beliefs can be formed is the way to pull themselves out. A solid belief arises from the evidence.

    While I’m certain that I believe in some sort of bullshit, since I’ve considered how I arrive at conclusions, and since I try to constantly question my beliefs and let them arise from the evidence, at least I can trust my method forms reliable beliefs. I can be sure that over time I’ll slowly move towards the truth and believe in less bullshit. I think that’s the best that I or anyone else can hope for.

  • Hi John,

    You have a way with words my man. That is as instructional as it is entertaining. My wish is to gather the momentum and swing as freely as you do. How long would it take you to write a response like that?

    In a former life I was a trouble shooter. It was a system I used to find the root cause of the fault that caused me to develop a strategy I call, “Question to the void”. I would visit a customers site and he would show me his problem machine. I would then ask questions of him and his operator until they said “I don’t know!” I would then change the question around to try and squeeze more info out of them.

    By the time I was finished with them I would have enough info to know where to start looking. It invariably created more questions, but this time they were far more qualified. It always lead to the cause and then I fixed it. Sounds simple but very few people seemed to be able to do it effectively.

    I’m kind of amused sitting here, thinking that the void can be subconciously employed the way you have described. And somehow it parallels my own theory of problem solving.

    Thanks so much for the insight and tuition. I’m motoring along like a sponge thirsty for moisture with your juggernaut at the moment.


  • Geez I’m exhausted after reading all that long post – however I am convinced. I guess it is true!!!

    Awesome stuff.

  • Daniel says:

    I was looking for tips on javascript void() and this isn’t it.

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