Recently I stumbled upon this video of the stage magician James Randi challenging James Hydrick’s psychic claim that he can move objects with his mind.
Following this, I found myself in an entertaining rabbit hole of further challenges as part of Randi’s One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. He would offer prize money for anyone who could demonstrate a supernatural ability under controlled circumstances.
The prize was never claimed.
Among those featured in Randi’s investigations were mediums who would attempt to channel spirits and connect them with relatives and loved ones. Strangely enough, the messages tended to be in a rough ball park area of truth and malleable to the audience’s response
“I’m hearing from a John, a James, a Jack? a Joseph? It might not begin with a J… does anyone have someone close to them with a J in their name?”
I’ve always wondered why messages weren’t more specific:
“For crying out loud, you’ve left your straighteners on again. That missing earring has rolled under the sideboard in the living room… and you’re out of eggs.”
I see a similarity between these vague messages and lazy copywriting—copy that promises a ‘transformation’ or ‘less overwhelm’ or ‘better quality’ for example.
But there’s one key difference.
People who go to psychic evenings want to hear something relating to them. They are happy to fill in the gaping blanks to translate the vague into the meaningful. I’m sure many ardently believe that the message IS specific to them.
There is a psychic section in Etsy offering readings, pet readings, drawings of your future husband (I actually bought that for a friend’s birthday last month—she can’t wait to meet him). For £2 (sometimes £1.80 if they’re running a 10% discount) you can even order 5 questions with yes / no answers. One particular seller of this had rave reviews: “Accurate and fast” “All predictions resonated with me.”
My initial mirth subsided to the conclusion that I was in the wrong career.
People were paying for, and delighting in the delivery of yes / no answers! You couldn’t get more misty unless it included a ‘maybe’ option.
The difference between this and vague copy is that prospects aren’t waiting to fill in those blanks. Often, you’re interrupting their day with your marketing message and so you have to work harder to convince someone. It’s like when you’re a child and your friend or sibling starts up with “I know something you don’t know.” It’s intriguing at first, but unless they give it up, or provide something more specific, you soon forget you were ever interested.
Another commonality between phoney psychics and lazy copywriting, is that they both rely on repeatable techniques to do the work. Psychics will reference common names like Mike or John, or common ailments, common figures in a family etc. Lazy copy relies on phrases we’ve been told are persuasive: “behind the scenes secrets” “proven technique” “Simple, step-by-step instructions.”
In this week’s podcast I look at some examples where marketers are relying on persuasive phrases, rather than persuasive substance, why I believe they don’t work, and what to do instead.
Till next time, keep believing.
P.S. I’ve never been to a live psychic or medium event, but if Clinton Baptiste is ever back at the Phoenix Club, I’ll gladly pay the entrance fee. (Probably not safe for work)
P.P.S If you want to skip to the sketches in episode 33 of the podcast – 6:11 is Bland Date, and 20:26 kicks off the Marketing Psychic.