Copywriting Challenge: Breaking the Trance and Appealing to the Reader’s Self-Interest

The prisoner, the rat and the desperate sales letter

Okay, let’s all return to our childhood for a moment and play a game of imagination. C’mon, suspend your disbelief and play along with me. It’ll be fun, and it might even be instructive.

Simply imagine for a moment that you are being held prisoner by a nefarious evil-doer. Locked in a cell, you feel hopelessly trapped and headed for certain doom — unless, of course, you can find someone to rescue you.

Suddenly, a shiny, clean rat emerges out of a small hole in the wall. You immediately realize that through a maze of small, underground tunnels, there is access to the outside world, and the rat can escape with impunity.

Perhaps you can use the rat to carry out a message and summon help. That’s it! You’ll write a note, attach it to the rat with string, and send the animal scampering away.

With any luck, the rat won’t stop to gnaw through the string and free himself of the note until he is far outside your dreadful prison. Then your fate will rest on someone finding the note, reading it, and deciding to rescue you.

What will you write?

This will be the greatest test ever of your copywriting skills. You must persuade the reader to take action, or you are doomed.

What will your “sales letter” say?

Will it plead “Help me, I’m being held prisoner!”?

Or will it say, “You could be a hero to your community and collect a large ransom if you follow these simple instructions and rescue me.”?

If you were the recipient, which letter would get your attention?


That’s the challenge when you write a rapid conversion landing page.

A rapid conversion landing page must provoke a positive response. It must have an effective call to action. Otherwise it fails, and you’re doomed. No second chances.

A rapid conversion landing page is not a passive online document to be skimmed and dismissed. On the contrary, a rapid conversion landing page is essentially without value unless it persuades the user to act.

That’s because the rapid conversion landing page begins the online relationship with the user. It’s like a guy asking a woman for her name and phone number. He wants permission to pursue her.

Download a FREE copy of Best Email Subject Lines for Selling Premium Subscriptions and Memberships and discover an extensive list of email subject line frameworks that are consistently proven to sell and boost revenue for publishers.

Similarly, the RCLP always requests an email address and permission to send additional information, to begin an online relationship with the user. If the user says “yes,” the courtship can begin. If the user clicks away, effectively saying “no,” all your effort to get a prospective customer to read your RCLP has been for nothing.

The lesson learned from a hypnotist

Most of us are self-absorbed, walking around in a trance. In fact, when I studied hypnotism years ago, my instructor, John LaValle, made a profound observation about the work of changing another person’s state of consciousness.

“The trick is not getting someone into a state of trance,” John said, “It’s getting him out of the trance he’s already in.”

Every day we are bombarded by media messages. Between TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, signs, the Internet, etc., each of us sees hundreds of advertisements every single day. All are competing for our attention — consciously and unconsciously.

As consumers, we sort all these incoming communications for self-interest. “What’s in it for me?” your mind asks. The messages that don’t benefit us, don’t get an extra nanosecond of our attention.

The rapid conversion landing page is simply another online advertisement unless it breaks the user’s trance, appeals to her self-interest, and motivates her to act.

Most people don’t care about your product or service. They only care about what your product or service can do for them. Specifically, the customer cares about your product only so much as it compliments his self-concept and gratifies his ego.

“Don’t tell me about your grass seed,” he says, “talk to me about my lawn.”

But what he really means (although he doesn’t consciously know it), is this:

“Don’t tell me about your grass seed, appeal to how a beautiful lawn will make me the envy of my neighbors and compliment my self-image as a prosperous, successful person.”


P.S. Did the silly little story about the prisoner and the rat coax you into reading this entire column? Or do metaphors and story-telling not work for engaging your interest and breaking your trance?

You can add your comments and questions below the blog version of this message. If you’ve read this far, please tell us why and what you think.


Peter A. Schaible is Mequoda’s Chief Copywriter. For more of his unique perspective on copywriting, you can subscribe to his complimentary series on Targeting Your Prospective Customer by Type: How to Position Your Brand to Trigger an Emotional Response, available at No obligation. No upsell.



    Personally I love metaphor and story telling. However, when you have finance and not marketing running the company, imagination is often misunderstood. “I don’t get it.” “You have to get to the pitch quicker.”
    “who’s got patience for this?” are typical. Empirical data is the only solution. Testing the only method.

    Bill H.

    Great stuff, Peter.

    Some quick “my two-cents” comments
    the hypnotist story:

    1. We’re all in a trance:

    Since marketing is based on
    psychology (what drives individuals),
    sociology (what drives groups), and
    economics (how people decide) …

    I’m studying these areas. Latest book:
    The 1941 classic: Escape From Freedom
    by psychologist Erick Fromm:

    * people want to be free from restrictive ties
    like being in a prison: you get food, housing, clothing
    but little input into your life

    * once they’re freed of this prison and have freedom,
    they experience the painful isolation of being a
    powerless individual in a huge powerful world:
    and so they want to escape from freedom and its
    responsibilities. They go into a trance, become
    robots, and follow authority (or trends, like all
    fashion and culture clones who find safety in
    assuming a new, pre-approved identity)

    2. “Don’t tell me about your grass seed, appeal to how a beautiful
    lawn will make me the envy of my neighbors and compliment my
    self-image as a prosperous, successful person”:

    You touch on some themes (admiration, boosted self-image, successful,
    prosperous) which I call “sacred themes” and explain to my blog

    People value more than anything else that
    one idea that gives their lives meaning and purpose.

    And people have been socially engineered to climb, aspire,
    rise up, and succeed … thus such themes are extremely

    Benefit of harnessing the power of sacred themes and social
    engineering lies in they both uplift the prospect/customer/
    follower yet are everlasting: they can’t be fully realized
    (a sneaky ethical trick).

    What do I mean?


    * Religions have used these: heaven, nirvana, paradise, the promised land

    * American Express uses it in granting access to exclusive areas
    of society: “Membership has its privileges” and their
    $2500-fee Centurion Card.

    * Scientology uses it in its commercials:
    “you are a spirit that will never die.”

    * Barack Obama used it: “Change we can believe in”

    Peter or anyone else, I’m happy to give more details —
    just ask away.

    Thanks for letting me share and ramble on and on and on …

    Bill Henthorn
    Spiral Marketers LLC


    It most certainly got my attention, and I read the entire article. It give one pause for thought, and will help revamp my approach. Thanks

    Cate P.

    The story of the rat and the prisoner captured my attention and held it right through the payoff. It definitely helped me think about how to reframe my pitches.


    Very helpful article. I know when I am looking to buy a certain product, I always start by searching for “solution to x” or “how to accomplish y” etc. Promoting your products BENEFITS, instead of just describing the product itself is much more effective in luring in the customer.

    lees s.

    Yeh you caught my attention, maybe because I was the rat, prisoner or maybe I was the string and note… whichever.. you got me to thinking..


Leave a Reply