Marketing Strategist

Unpicking Unethical Marketing with Eben Pagan

Published last year - 112 Comments

I don’t like writing these posts, but I dislike seeing lies and deceit even more, so here goes.

Next up for an “ethical marketing analysis” is Eben Pagan, who started his adventures in info-marketing selling “dating advice for men” under the pseudonym David De Angelo.

Eben has recently (October/November 2015) re-launched his “Digital Product Blueprint” course, which is essentially teaching you the following…

  1. Digital products are incredibly profitable (which is true, because there’s almost zero cost of sale, although high profit margin doesn’t mean that you’ll get a lot of profits).
  2. And they’re incredibly easy to sell (which is becoming progressively less true as more people jump on the bandwagon).
  3. All you need to do (to enjoy the kind of lifestyle that Eben enjoys) is take some skill or knowledge that you’ve learned, and package it up in a stack of digital products and get people to buy them. (This is easier said than done.)
  4. And the DPB course will show you exactly how to do that. (Well, it will probably show you how some people have done it successfully, but that is NOT the same as being able to do it yourself.)

My hunch is that most people who take this $1997 ($2364 if paid monthly) course will not see their money again. Why? Because most people don’t have the resources, the balls, the spare cash, or the contacts it takes to break into the big time.

eben

I’ve been following Eben’s recent launch with interest, partly because I’m thinking a LOT about ethical marketing recently, but mostly because I wanted to see if I could pick up some solid marketing insights.

I found his sequence of sales videos very well made, but was disappointed to see they were 80% sales pitch for the upcoming product offer, and maybe only 20% had any nutritional value.

One point over which I disagree strongly with the sales pitch is that Eben says that you can ONLY tap into the incredible lifestyle opportunity that the Internet promises IF you have a digital product. (I know this has some truth, because I’ve sold two digital products for six-figures in sales, however it’s not the only way.)

Here’s the timeline of some of Eben’s launch emails…

October 26 — Tripwire

The sequence started with a “tripwire” free offer, possibly promoted with Facebook video ads. I clicked through and subscribed on October 26th. This sent me through to Eben’s “sideways sales letter” (borrowing Jeff Walker’s term from “Product Launch Formula“… more about that later).

These videos are very well written, skilfully presented, and well produced. My only gripe is that they’re mostly sales pitch, but that’s the whole point.

Pre-sales videos

Pre-sales videos

October 30 — Closing in a few hours!

Four days later, I get this warning:

Email title: “LAST CALL: 3 Hours Left…”

October 30th

OK, that’s fair enough. Eben is creating urgency here, which is an extremely helpful factor in getting people to say yes to your proposition. Because the only time you can say yes is now, so it’s important for calls to action to give people reasons to have to decide now.

One of the simplest ways to create urgency is to enforce a limited window of opportunity. For example, “Sale Must End Monday!”

Of course, if you’re going to use urgency or scarcity in your marketing, you need a reason why. Is the time limit real, or arbitrary?

Don't click. I'm not selling anything.

(Don’t click. I’m not selling anything)

Here, Eben’s using a popular, and valid, reason why for the limited window. He’s going to run the classes live, so if you’re too late, you’ll miss the start.

Nothing wrong with that.

(Unless, of course, it’s not true!)

October 30 — Disaster strikes!

Oh no! Just as thousands of people were trying to sign up for Eben’s incredible offer, the unthinkable happens.

Email title: “No… did this actually just HAPPEN?”

eben-pagan-disaster

Email (split into 2 columns). Click to view full size.

That’s right. Just as the doors were about to close, the darn server goes down. How frustrating!

Now, it’s not my place to say that Eben’s server didn’t go down. Can I prove this didn’t happen? No, I can’t.

However, there are few things that don’t smell quite right to me.

  • Eben has told me repeatedly how professional and slick and profitable his business operation is. So how come he can’t afford the best, most reliable hosting?
  • How come he had another irresistible bonus lined up? How come he didn’t already offer that? Huh?
  • And, despite the fact that the server was only down for (allegedly) 21 minutes, guess what happens next?

November 3 — Doors re-open!

A few days later, right as the course is due to start, we get this lifeline!

(Note how the title of the email has the words “last chance” in quotes, perhaps for reasons that will become clear later.)

Email title: One “last chance” for Digital Product Blueprint

Yay! Another last chance!

Yay! Another last chance!

I mean, what are the chances?!

OK, explain this to me. The reason why you’re giving me another chance is because I may have been trying to buy on Thursday, but was denied because of technical reasons. Let’s accept that.

Now, the server was unavailable (we are told) for 21 minutes. But you’re reopening the doors for a full 24 hours. Huh?

November 4 — The Final Final Warning

Finally (hopefully) today I got this.

Email title: “Another Chance At Digital Product Blueprint”

Final final chance!! Hurry!!

Final final chance!! Hurry!!

Yup, even though the final opportunity to purchase passed several days ago, and the live classes have already started, my friend Eben is giving me yet another chance to buy.

Eben is now giving me two great reasons why. In case I wasn’t convinced by the server crash story, let’s throw in another old favourite: popular demand.

So many people have demanded that Eben reopen his cash register, he has been forced to comply.

This tells me two things:

  1. Eben’s a really nice guy, and this wasn’t planned. He’s just trying to make sure no-one’s disappointed.
  2. And the course is incredibly popular! So popular that the server crashed, and still thousands of people are queueing up demanding to be let in. (This is an extremely common persuasion technique: telling you that everyone else sees the incredible value in the offer, implying you would be stupid not to join the stampede.)

You would have to be incredibly cynical not to believe this account, wouldn’t you? Well, maybe I am incredibly cynical, but I don’t buy it.

Whoah! Wait One Minute!! F*cking 1999???

Did you spot it too? Those few words…

(yes, just like 1999 again)

So you’re telling me this happened to you 16 years ago, and you didn’t learn your lesson then?

Or, let’s just throw an idea out there, maybe the 1999 server crash was either fake, or… maybe (assuming it did happen) the lesson was learned! Maybe the lesson that was learned back then was that “Oops, our server crashed” would be a great reason why that we could roll out for future launches.

Or is that just a tad too cynical?

November 4 — Wait! Yet Another Opportunity!

This arrived during the night.

Email subject: “HEADS UP: Closing For Good In 5 Hours”

eben-pagen-extra-final-chance

That’s the second “last email for the night” I’ve received. Let’s hope this really is “last chance” as he says.

What Am I Unhappy About?

Here’s the rub. It’s okay to sell stuff to people. People sometimes need stuff, and need help deciding what stuff they need. That’s marketing, and it’s what I do for a living right now.

It’s okay to introduce urgency and scarcity. It’s okay to cut prices, and a lot of other stuff.

But those things are only okay if the reason why is real.

And I find it hard to believe that Eben was being totally honest when he sent me that email saying I only had 3 hours to get onto his course.

Let’s say that his server did go down for a full 21 minutes. If Eben is going to be true to his word, he has two options.

  1. Suck it up! It’s 21 minutes. We’ve missed a few sales. Too bad, we should have tested our infrastructure better.
  2. Or, maybe, leave the door open for another 21 minutes after the claimed cut-off point.

But another full day, with yet another bonus, and two more emails… I’m sorry, I don’t buy it.

Still Not Convinced? (Update, November 9 2015)

Have you ever wondered why you seem to see the same pattern of messages from the same people?

There’s a good reason for that. It’s because this is a pattern that has been refined and improved for at least ten years. These “marketers” have all bought into a proven money-making model sold by their godfather, Jeff Walker.

Jeff Walker PLFIt’s called “Product Launch Formula” and Jeff launches it just about every year (creating artificial scarcity to build pressure on buyers).

I looked back at some of Jeff’s PLF materials from way back in 2005, and you’ll never guess what I found!

Here’s where Jeff teaches his followers to manufacture (or pretend… basically to lie) a “Tsunami moment” where there’s some crisis that gives you that “reason why.”

PLF

And here’s the email example he suggests you might use (or even adapt), complete with LIE about server crash.

PLF

Bearing in mind this is from 2005, here’s another cute “reason why” you have to send out another email, where Jeff recommends you LIE about AOL apparently caching the wrong page.

PLF

And here’s another example email, where the email server gets the blame.

PLF

And yet another. Are you getting the picture?

PLF

So maybe Eben Pagan was telling the truth about his server crash, but I think it is too much of a coincidence.

But how do we know that today’s information marketers are using Jeff Walker’s system?

Well, here’s one clue. Below is a snippet from Jeff’s own sales PowerPoint presentation (again from 2005), where you may notice a couple of household names. Yup, all four of the names below are still big players in information marketing.

PLF

What if we were to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and say that maybe they all wrote their own content, instead of just swiping it from Jeff?

Um, nope! Jeff is happy to prove that there’s no such work involved. His students do just reuse (“Plug and Play”) his materials with only minor edits. The screenshot below is also from Jeff’s 2005 materials.

PLF

Guys, there’s a reason why there’s so much SHIT in your mailbox. It’s because that’s what Jeff Walker has been teaching these “Internet Marketers” for the last decade. And the cycle goes on.

thanks-jeff

 

Eben’s Response (July 19, 2017)

In the interests of transparency and fairness, I’d like to publish the response I received from Eben here (so you don’t have to scroll right to the end of the comments).

Hi Ben,

I’ve read through your post here, and I’d like to invite you to a conversation. Let’s talk sometime. You make strong points here, and I want to be a good citizen. I will listen to your perspective.

Overall, the more damning accusation you’ve made here is that I lied when I said that a server went down during one of my product launches. I can see, from your perspective, why it seems like I made it up… but in fact, the server did go down, and it took out our entire registration process with it.

Back in the day, 10 years ago, when we would launch products online, it was typical for there to be some kind of major tech problem at some point during a launch. It used to be frustrating, because having a server go down would cost a lot.

As marketers, we like to turn lemons into lemonade, so we learned to keep our chins up when this happened, and send out a message that said “Hey, our server went down, so we’re going to extend our offer”… or “Hey, our site crashed, so we’re adding a special bonus for the hassle.” And we’d extend our offer to make up for the loss.

Over the past several years, these technical glitches stopped happening so much, as shopping carts and merchant accounts and the like have become more bulletproof.

But out of our last 3 big launches, 2 have had serious server crashes during the launch – and caused our site or shopping cart to go down completely. It’s been a long time since this kind of thing has happened regularly, but it seems to be on the rise again.

When it happened in the case you mentioned here, we said “we know what to do here… let’s send an email that says that our server crashed… like the old days.” We didn’t think twice about it.

I am a teacher, and I believe that we offer the best courses in the world in important areas of business and life. And because I’ve put in so much time to create these programs, I really believe in their value.

I am a also marketer, and when I am doing my marketing I use everything I know to talk up my products, and to talk people into buy my courses. I present what I’m offering in the best light possible, and I pull all the stops to motivate people to invest in our trainings.

But I don’t flat out make stuff up. And I avoid saying things that, if you learned about what was happening behind the scenes in our company, you would say feel bad about and say “they deceived me.”

Do we put on the pressure to buy something before a deadline? Yes. Do I turn problems into a reason to send another email? Yes, I do. Do I sometimes use “tabloid style” headlines to get attention? Yes. Do I use intense copywriting that turns some people off? Yes.

But again: I don’t just make things up to trick people. I like to make sales and make money… but not that much.

I have a team of people who works with me, and there are others on my team who write emails, marketing copy, advertisements, and other promotional materials. Sometimes, I see something that goes out or that’s being tested, and I cringe because I feel that it doesn’t give the appropriate impression. And ultimately, whatever comes from my company is my responsibility.

Occasionally, we really screw up, and make mistakes that are embarrassing. We had a situation not too long ago where I asked someone on my team to send out an email to our entire list, and I gave them bad instructions, and they sent out a version of an old email from a year ago… rather than the new email copy that I wrote… and it said something that wasn’t accurate anymore. We sent a correction, but it still felt really bad to me when it happened.

Another point you make here is about the “reopen” offer itself. In our industry, we talk between ourselves about the “reopen or don’t reopen” conversation with launches. Some people don’t like to do it, and some are fine with it.

But the reality of the situation is that the way our bigger launches work, we will open up our course registration process for maybe 3 or 4 days, then close at the end of the week, get everyone into our system over the weekend, and then start our live training early the following week.

This allows us to begin our classes with everyone in them together, so the live trainings can be taken in sequence. It also motivates people to register, and get in before we start. And it motivates me to make sure that I have everything organized to actually teach the course.

Because launches usually have most sales come at the very end, as people scramble on the last day to register, a lot of people come to our site after we close our registration process, and are not able to register. The way these things work, we’ll have often have 50 or 100 other companies sending out emails to tell their lists about the closing of our offer… and a lot of people will learn about the offer or deadline too late, after we close.

So then we’ll have a bunch of people who join our waiting list, and typically many who contact us and are trying to register after the closing. In these cases, when it does happen that we have a big waiting list, or pent up demand, we will often do a 1 or 2-day re-open of our registration. We don’t always do re-opens when we make our offers, but sometimes we feel that it’s right for the situation.

There is something about saying “closing tonight” on our last day… and then re-opening a few days later for a day or two… that does seem a little bit weird. But overall, when we do it, I feel good about it – when everything is considered.

In the bigger picture, these are all decisions that we make to optimize our process both for our customers, and for our business. But we’re not lying and making things up in order to get a few more sales. That’s the key that I’m trying to get across here.

So let’s chat. Send me an email, and we’ll set up a time to have a live conversation. I’d like to clear this up with you.

-Eben

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