When is a Secret a Secret?

John Wood here.

Today, I'm going to let you in on a "secret" about secrets.

To start off, though, I want to briefly talk about using the word "secret" in sales letters and articles. The following (or variations thereof) are pretty standard copywriting fare these days:

"Seven copywriting secrets … "

"The secret to losing weight without exercising"

"Seven secrets to better reading skills"

"The secret to creating wealth online"

Writers use secrets in their writing because they arouse curiosity in their reader. And when we are curious about something, our natural instinct is to want to satisfy our curiosity.

When I see a secret, I always wonder, is what the person is writing about really a secret?

By definition, a secret is …

"Something that is kept or meant to be kept unknown or unseen by others."

That definition really doesn't apply to most secrets discussed in sales letters or on websites.

If something is meant to be "kept unknown or unseen," why are they offering to reveal it to little ol' me? But, of course, what the writer is revealing is generally not known by the reader. So calling it a secret makes sense.

For example, it would be perfectly ethical to use the following headline:

The seven secrets to making the opposite sex head over heels in love with you … even if you look like Kermit the Frog.

Even though the seven secrets are well known in some circles, this would be a good headline.

So secrets are great frameworks to capture your readers' attention. But their ubiquity can be a problem. The more "secrets" are used, the more people become immune to them and learning about another secret becomes no big deal.

Is there a way to position a secret so it has the greatest impact on the reader? I recently came across a strategy in one of Dan Kennedy's programs that provided the answer.

First off, Dan said that the reason secrets work so well is that we've "been conditioned since childhood to believe in secrets – and by extension conspiracies."

People are still talking and writing about the Kennedy assassination and the Apollo moon landing and the supposed cover-ups and hidden agendas surrounding these events.

Dan says that to make the secret of greater importance (and hence more effective), people need to believe that their problem (or problems) is a result of a secret that's being kept from them and/or the result of conspiracies against them.

The idea that they are learning information that someone doesn't want them to know is very appealing to people. It sparks the same curiosity and desire in us that makes us want something even more when we're told can't have it. And it's why these types of secrets are extremely effective when it comes to promoting everything from stock trading systems …

The secret "eenie meenie miney mo" trading system that Wall Street doesn't want you to know about.

The secret blueprint for a wind-powered car that the oil companies have kept from you for over 50 years.

 … to weight loss solutions …

The secret weight loss pill the plus-size clothing industry doesn't want you to know about.

Now, obviously, the above headlines are fictitious, but I think you get the idea. Here are some real-life examples of actual books I found on Amazon.com:

Secrets the Trucking Companies Don't Want You to Know!

Keep Out!: Top Secret Places Governments Don't Want You to Know About

Subliminal Persuasion: Influence & Marketing Secrets They Don't Want You To Know

Here are some other examples that don't actually use the word "secret," but imply what you're about to read has secret-like qualities:

What Casinos Don't Want You to Know

What the Drug Companies Won't Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn't Know: The Alternative Treatments That May Change Your Life—and the Prescriptions That Could Harm You

Take On the Street: What Wall Street and Corporate America Don't Want You to Know

Start with NO … The Negotiating Tools that the Pros Don't Want You to Know

The desire to be let in on a particular secret is one of the most powerful motivators that there is. That desire can be enhanced even more if you position the secret as something someone or some organization doesn't want you to know about.

So the next time you are thinking of using the word "secret" in a headline or article title, think of an organization or group of people that might not want the secret you're writing about to get out. It could help boost how many people decide to read your copy.

Do you have any other ideas on how to position secrets in your copy to make them more compelling and effective? If so, I'd love to hear about them. You can post your comments here.

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Published: December 21, 2011

1 Response to “When is a Secret a Secret?”

  1. I completely understand that there are often titles that poorly use the word or concept of "secret". It may only be me, but even those who use it poorly get my attention.. more out of the curiosity of wanting to know if it really is a secret. I will have to consider testing some "secret" ideas out on my blog. Thanks for the tips.

    Guest (Garth Beyer)December 21, 2011 at 10:40 am


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