Top 17 Gray Hat Persuasion Secrets Most Copywriters Don't Want You To Know About

Being persuasive with your copy isn’t optional. In fact, it’s completely necessary if you want it to work.

  • But it can be hard when consumers become savvier by the day and your competition is just as aware of this as you
  • So you’re always looking for that edge, that way to stay ahead of the curve
  • Sometimes you nail it but sometimes you come up short

Gray hat persuasion sounds way more evil than it actually is, so you definitely need to check it out. Maybe what you need are some of the best-kept secrets in the industry.

If that sounds like something that might help you, stay with me and you'll discover a treasure trove of techniques. Tactics that are sure to elevate your copy and help you stand out from everyone else.


Empty Edicts

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

Basically, this is the absence of empirical evidence. It works by making claims with no evidence or facts to support the claims. Phrases like "this is true," "I know/believe," and "everybody knows" are often used.

People tend to gloss overstatements when they're not familiar with how marketing works. All they see is a great offer and facts seem to matter less. After all, everyone wants a quick solution so it's easy to catch them at that moment.

My bananas are the best on the market, hands-down. (Note the fantastic claim without anything to back it up. This won't work on everyone but it can be effective in some cases.)


Anecdotes, Testimonials, And Urban Legends

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

This works by presenting stories about specific cases used as evidence. It can use testimonials, anecdotes, and tall tales to boost the perceived value of an offer. After all, people trust their peers more than they trust businesses.

That's because they usually perceive businesses as exactly that, just an entity looking to take their money.

Providing proof from other sources is a legitimate way to provide value for your offer, but it can also be used to manipulate. Using paid clients and using quotes or information out of context are just a couple of the ways that can be done.

Dunston from Dunston Checks In bought a box of my bananas and can't stop raving about them.

(This is somewhat of an outlandish example, but it illustrates the use of celebrity to provide value. Not only that, Dunston was an orangutan, which people could perceive as a huge fan of bananas. So, of course, he'd know his stuff.)

Learn the copywriting secrets experts use to boost conversions here


Charges Of Conspiracy, Collusion, And Connivance

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

Conspiracy theories work by discounting things that are accepted, they then detail why their contradictory information has been suppressed.

Despite all the evidence for what is generally accepted, the proponent of the conspiracy theory claims that it only means that the conspiracy worked.

The thing about conspiracy theories, though, is that it can be unpredictable who they might appeal to. Maybe it's someone who has strong personal opinions that align with it, or maybe they're easily influenced, or maybe they just like to be contrarian.

Whatever the case, conspiracy theories can be compelling to provoke thought about, at the very least.

Big agriculture wants you to believe apples are the best fruit. Unfortunately, they won't tell you that they're paid off by apple farmers to suppress the fact that bananas are the superior fruit.

(This is totally unfounded, obviously. Without further research, taken at face value, it could make someone think that there's an illegitimate reason that apples are more popular. This could be supplemented by legitimate information to make it more convincing.)

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

Stressing Status And Appealing To Authority

This works by convincing prospects with quotes from an 'authority' figure who holds similar beliefs or agrees with their claims. This skirts any responsibility to give real evidence and appeals to authority.

And people have been conditioned to trust and respect authority. Even when that authority figure doesn't have their best interest in mind. Granted, not everyone is susceptible to this but the majority of people are.

The Surgeon General said bananas are a healthy choice. If they're good enough for him, shouldn't they be good enough for you?

(Whether he said it or not, the Surgeon General should be expected to know a thing or two about health. And if someone hears him vouch for bananas, chances are they're going to trust him.)


Devious Deception In Displaying Data

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

This is also known as cherry-picking. People who use this tactic use real evidence, but not all of it. They only use the evidence that supports their argument, not any of the evidence that might refute it. This can just be facts or actual data with numbers and percentages.

And for the average consumer, this works really well. People aren't always going to do their own research, and when you provide facts you appear more truthful.

However, for anybody who actually does look into things before purchasing this might be harmful because you come off as deceptive.

Bananas provide fiber and promote gut health, making them a great choice to soothe your stomach. (Leaving out the fact that they can cause intestinal discomfort for some.)


Duplicity And Distraction

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

In simpler terms, this is the use of a false dichotomy. It asserts that there are only two positions to choose from. They're typically opposite positions, but of course, there are actually more. Basically, it's trying to say that if one side is wrong, the other has to be right.

Of course, this is totally untrue. But when you frame it the right way it can work well. The best way to handle it is to frame your position as more desirable than the opposite.

The only fruits worth considering are bananas and apples... and let's be honest, has anyone ever lost a tooth in a banana?

(People like plenty of other fruits, but it's safe to say bananas and apples are two of the most popular. And the question has an obvious answer. The answer positions bananas as more desirable in the sense of tooth-friendliness.)


Wishful Thinking

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

It's nothing new that many people favor fantasy over fact. That's why appeals to wishes and desires work so well. They cause prospects to ignore any contradictory evidence by distracting them with results that sound appealing.

Everyone has something they want, and it's easy to play on that. When you present a desirable scenario people are likely to get into a sort of "daydream" state of mind. They just see the end result and that's good enough for them.

Nothing says paradise like a glowing yellow banana. Maybe you can't take a vacation to the tropics just yet, but you can get a taste of the islands to hold you over.

(Evoking images and feelings of a tropical vacation could hit home with anyone dreaming of that scenario. Then they tie those feelings with a banana and are more likely to want one when they're in the market for a fruit.)


Appeals To Ancient Wisdom

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

Many times people hold onto traditional beliefs, no matter how much evidence there is against them. That's why you can persuade your prospects. based on the fact that something has been around for a long time.

This can mean using things like beliefs, explanations, treatments, models, and just about everything else with roots in tradition or history.

After all, history is important. It's how we got to where we are today. So there's something to be said about it, even though much of what got us here was mistakes.

But people tend to accept tradition without much second thought because it's easy and it seems to have worked so far.

Monkeys obviously like bananas for a reason. It's not like you see them eating other fruits.

(You've seen monkeys eating all sorts of fruits, but it's commonly accepted that they prefer bananas. The connection has been cemented. And monkeys seem pretty similar to us as far as animals go, so it's easy to draw a connection between them and us.)


Technobabble And Tenuous Terminology

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

Simply put, it's the use of pseudo-scientific language. It uses invented terms or incorrectly used scientific terms. You've seen it plenty of times, and chances are it doesn't get past you.

But for the average consumer, this kind of language implies a deeper understanding of a topic.

While it actually implies a lack of legitimate facts and an inability to relay those facts concisely, many won't see it that way. Granted, some of them will catch on and you'll lose them. But chances are that they're not in your target audience anyway.

Just remember, you're never going to sell to everyone.

Our recent micrography and encephalitis scans of bananas have shown that their Gamma-6 levels are higher than any other fruit.


Confusing Correlation And Causation

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

This appeals to the natural tendency of people to believe that if two things consistently happen at the same time then one causes the other. This is also known as "rooster syndrome," referring to a rooster that believed his crowing caused the sun to rise.

Everybody does this at some point, it's pretty much unavoidable. But that's what makes it such a good method to influence your audience. Like some of these other methods, more savvy prospects might be able to see through it immediately.

But for the most part, it's an effective way to make bold claims while not being totally untruthful.

Every time I eat a banana I get a boost of energy!

(In this specific scenario, it should be noted that the banana is being eaten at breakfast. The banana is providing energy, but not in the sense that the statement implies. The key element of when it's being eaten is left out. So it's not a lie at all, but it's not very truthful either.)

Learn the strategies to improve clarity in your copy here.


Straw Man

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

The straw man argument is used as a response to an argument by a competitor or opponent. The user comes up with a skewed version of their argument then refutes it, rather than the actual argument.

Look at it this way: it's like somebody arguing with a man-made straw rather than an actual man. Rather than take on someone who can argue back, they're arguing with something that looks similar but has no chance of defending itself.

That's what's going on here. Someone twists an opponent's argument around into something new then attacks that. And it can look like the same argument, but it's purposely weaker.

So let's say someone makes this point:

Bananas are high in sugar and may not be suitable for someone on a low-carb diet.

A fair point and worth noting for anyone looking to cut carbs and sugar. But if someone wanted to turn that on its head and ignore the point they could say something like this:

Fruit is healthy. If you're worried about carbs, cut out the bread.

While that's true, it's not addressing the original point made. But for many, it can be a distraction from the point and make them think differently.


Indelible Initial Impressions

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

Also known as the anchoring effect, this is the tendency to stick to one piece of information when making a decision. And everyone's guilty of this at some point. Chances are it's a point supporting a decision they already want to make.

Sometimes all it takes is one little thing to push them to that purchase. They might even read plenty of contradictory information, but their mind is set. They like the sound of the first thing they read so much that nothing's going to change their mind.

Bananas contain potassium, which is good for your heart. And with all the heart issues people face today, it's only smart to load up on potassium.

(This is a good point and totally true. The problem is that potassium supplements are available and are a much more efficient way to help your heart. But some people have no interest in supplements, and bananas are delicious.)


Perceiving Phony Patterns

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

Apophenia describes a condition in which somebody makes connections between things that aren't actually related. In marketing, this translates to someone convincing themself or being convinced by someone that some meaningless data presents a significant pattern.

And data usually gives a sense of legitimacy. Numbers and percentages stand out and typically give proof of something, but they're not always meaningful.

Plenty of times numbers are thrown out as a point of interest, with hopes that the audience won't think too hard and just accept the implied connection.

Bananas are 74% water, so you're basically hydrating as you're eating.

(They do contain a lot of water, but beer contains 95% water on average. And it's safe to say that beer isn't going to hydrate you at all, doing the exact opposite, in fact. That's not to say that the two are comparable, but water content doesn't necessarily hydrate you.)

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

Banishing Boundaries And Pushing Panaceas

This works by applying models where they don't belong. It's taking something that works in certain conditions and trying to apply it to other things where it might not work.

It can, but doesn't have to, include jargon, broad statements, and droning explanations with overly complicated language.

Basically, it's the idea of taking an example from a business or industry and applying it to other businesses and industries in general. Even though they're all different, they all provide something for profit and they all have quarterly, annual, and ongoing goals.

A business solves at least one problem, makes money, and pays its employees no matter what they actually offer. So there's a lot of overlap no matter how different two businesses may seem.

A good banana flipper is like a good real estate agent. They're slick-talking, charming, and exude an air of trust. Not to mention the way they both deal in necessary but pricey items that people need.

(The point here is that anybody selling anything should be charming and trustworthy. Slick-talking, not so much, but they should be persuasive. This can be applied to any industry because, honestly, without any of those traits you probably won't have much luck.)

Learn the 4-step copywriting framework here.


Single Study Syndrome

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

Another way to look at this is latching onto convenient confirmation. It's when a person with a fairly cemented viewpoint gravitates toward information that either supports or denies their perception. This can manifest as confirmation bias in some cases.

This likely stems from laziness and a want to find a solution as quickly as possible. With so much information out there it can be overwhelming. Especially to someone who has a problem and just knows they need to figure it out fast.

Bananas contain vitamin C, so they even fight against illness.

(Plenty of fruits contain vitamin C. It's not even that bananas fight against illness, they just contribute to a healthy body and immune system. If the only healthy thing in your life was bananas, you might not be very healthy. But it sounds appealing, and they are healthy.)


The Reversed Responsibility Response

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

Here you're going to switch the burden of proof. It's used by someone who's asked for evidence for a claim they made. They then respond by demanding that whoever asked for evidence provides evidence that their claim is wrong.

Obviously, this is absolutely a no-go in logic in any professional capacity, but marketing is its own animal. It's not the most honest method but it works and many people won't be able to tell what you're doing.

So imagine someone says this:

Bananas aren't going to make you rich. Show me one case of someone who made millions flipping bananas and I'll eat my words.

Of course, the banana industry is huge and plenty of people have made fortunes. But for the sake of the argument, let's say someone responds with:

You can't prove that bananas don't make you rich. You just can't. I mean, look at me. 

While you really can't prove that someone can't get rich from bananas, this statement doesn't address the point of the first one. Instead, it flips it back to the first person and gives them the responsibility of proving the opposite of their point.


The Appeal To Common Sense

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

This works by trying to make prospects accept or reject a claim based on common sense. It uses words like "obviously," "naturally," "everyone knows," etc. This works better when it actually is something obvious but it doesn't have to be.

It helps if it's something that's apparent to most people. But if not, you want to make your audience feel like they're missing out on something if they don't already know it. After all, if it's obvious then they should be aware of it, and if not they don't want to be ignorant.

Naturally, the shape of the banana only makes sense as the perfect fruit for human beings. Nothing else fits in the hand so ergonomically.

(Many fruits are easy to eat by hand. Maybe the banana does actually make more sense, but it's really subjective. However, by saying "naturally" you imply that it only makes sense and that people know this already.)


Gray Hat Used Ethically

Top 17 gray hat persuasion secrets most copywriters don't want you to know about

Chances are you recognized some or a lot of these tactics, and that's because they're used all the time. And they're used all the time because they work. 

They might seem obvious when they're spelled out and explained, but when used correctly in copywriting, they're invisible. The trick is to be subtle and understand what actually makes them work, the actual psychological reason.

Once you get a grip on that, you're well on your way to writing the most persuasive copy you've ever written — without tipping into the black hat point of no return.

So take some time to come up with your own examples and take a step back and see if they work or not. But if you end up needing more guidance you can always get in contact with a copywriting consultant. This kind of stuff is their specialty.


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About Daniel Doan

Daniel is a proven Neuro-Response copywriter with over a decade of expertise bridging the gap between what your company wants to say and what your customers actually want to read.

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