Marketing Feels Bad Because We’re Ashamed Not Because It’s Shameful

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The other day, I was wondering about why there was such an appeal to marketing courses that taught secrets of unconscious persuasion, stealth tactics, invisible influence, secret closes, ninja strategies etc.

The implication of all of these approaches was that no one would notice what you were doing. No one would notice that you were steering them towards buying from you. They would just, unexplainably, feel compelled to trust and buy from you. They’d just leave the conversation with your product proudly in their hand thinking that they had made the decision when, in fact, it was all you and the secret arsenal of tactics you’d deployed throughout the conversation.

Neuro Linguistic Programming comes to mind in this.

I think the reason that these workshops are so popular (and why even the most conscious of us have taken them or been drawn to them) is because we think marketing is bad. We think we are doing something bad by sharing our products or services with others. And so, we’re trying not to get caught (but, of course, we need to do it to pay rent).

It strikes me as a similar dynamic to what I’ve seen in the pick-up workshops offered to men. This same offering of ways to get what we want, as men, without being noticed.

I’m sure there are workshops out there for women that offer the same things.

I see this often in human interactions when someone is deeply ashamed of their own needs and scared to make any requests of others that might meet them.

And so much of it seems to be rooted in shame.

So much of it seems to be rooted in the deep sense that I’m doing something I shouldn’t be doing.

And so, of course, we are drawn to anything that promises that our actions will have the intended effect while going unnoticed.

When this is at play, I notice that we, as humans, tend to become all manner of fake, sneaky, passive aggressive, creepy, controlling, underhanded, plastic and worse.

Recently a friend asked a favour of me she was terrified to ask. She was in a conflict with a mutual friend and she asked me if I’d be willing to commit to not vetting any letters this friend might want to send her way. She wanted me not to get involved in between. I was happy to agree to that as I knew this other friend had plenty of other people who would be happy to read whatever letters she might send and to give feedback on them.

My friend broke down into tears. She had been so scared to ask me. She felt it was wrong. When I said ‘yes’ so easily, some switch flipped in her.

What if there was nothing wrong with asking for what you want?

What if there was nothing wrong with expressing your desires?

What if there was nothing wrong with sharing what you have?

What if it was just a matter of learning how to do so skillfully?

What if it actually felt better to be direct in some matters than indirect?

What if we’re all craving candour and directness?

What if marketing was just saying, “I’m a needy human like you. I have needs. You have needs. Here’s what I’d like to offer you in exchange for your money. Does this feel fair?

What if the reason it feels ‘off’ is because we’re ashamed of doing it not because it’s inherently shameful to do it?

What if marketing could feel good? What if marketing wasn’t about getting anyone to say ‘yes’ but about having a human conversation about whether or not it was a fit? What if this was true about dating too? What if our attention was more focused on the truth of the moment than our goal of what we think we want? What would marketing look like without shame? What would it look like if we felt no need to hide what we were doing?

What if marketing felt bad not because it was shameful but because we were ashamed of it.

Additional Resources:

Courting vs. Seduction in Marketing

The Three Roles of Marketing

The Heart of Selling

Greg Faxon Shares His Unique Take on Selling and Enrolment Conversations

Are You More Comfortable Being Salesy or Subtle?

Be More Repulsive

Get Rejected Faster


About Tad

  • Andy Hunt

    Excellent article and I think it is certainly relevant to me.

    I think you can turn it into a little test to find out if it’s relevant to you by rewording some of the statements

    If you change:

    What if there was nothing wrong with asking for what you want?
    What if there was nothing wrong with expressing your desires?
    What if there was nothing wrong with sharing what you have?


    There is something wrong with asking for what you want
    There is something wrong with expressing your desires
    There is something wrong with sharing what you have

    Then say each sentence out loud paying attention to how true it feels you can get a good idea if it applies to you.

    I got ‘hits’ on all three – more inner work required :)

    Thanks for expressing this in such a clear way.

  • Brian Parsons

    Yes, that must be one of the reasons… but wouldn’t go along with it being the only reason… sorry, that’s too simplistic… to argue that, you’re just going too far the other way… like saying people take courses on car mechanics because they are too ashamed to admit they don’t know how an internal combustion engine works… also shame and guilt are different feelings, with different impacts / cures… and so to make this approach truly work, you would need to untangle the difference… PS. the pick-up courses for women are very big in Russia… i.e. how to attract the man of your dreams, who also happens to be Western + rich… or a Russian oligarch…

  • Dorothy Nesbit

    Tad, I enjoyed your article and I get that if we are “marketing by stealth” there’s a reason… though not necessarily or only the reasons you describe.

    I found the mention of NLP somewhat jarring, by the way. Like marketing, NLP is a means which can be used openly and honestly or covertly and by stealth. I benefitted hugely from my NLP studies in the early 2000s and still do, and have always used it to help people (myself included) to connect with their inherent wisdom, resourcefulness and creativity. So your mention of NLP as a tool for manipulation may reflect your experience but does a disservice to those of us who, like me, use it quite differently.

    And since you mention honest requests to meet needs, would you consider removing this short sentence on NLP from your blog?

  • Well… the context in which i use NLP here is NLP for sales not counselling or therapy. If you can show me ways NLP is used in sales that isn’t manipulation, I’d be open to discussing.

  • Andy Hunt

    It depends on which bit of NLP you are referring to.

    Your model of two islands: problem + (your) product/service -> solution is pretty much the same as the NLP outcome orientation model problem state + resources -> desired state.

    Most sales letters are about eliciting states and motivating behaviour (as is NLP). Almost every kind of communication can be understood from an NLP perspective so it’s difficult to separate out what is and is not ‘NLP’.

    Undoubtedly there is a lot of slimy stuff based on different parts of NLP that is used by the unscrupulous to manipulate potential customers. I think that has much more to do with the unscrupulous manipulator rather than NLP itself (which is completely neutral until used by a human).

    Unfortunately NLP can be a very attractive set of skills for manipulative d***heads and those guys are a real pain in the arse to NLPers who use their skills in ethical ways!

  • Dorothy Nesbit

    Thank you, Andy, for joining the conversation. And Tad, I am referring as much to sales in my comments as to counselling, therapy or, in my case, coaching.
    Tad, I think you’re well aware that we use methods of communication quite differently when we speak from an awareness of our own and others’ needs rather than speaking with a lack of awareness or understanding – I think this is what your article is about. This is true when using NLP, as much as it is of using any other form of communication.
    In terms of marketing using NLP that is not manipulative, I had a quick root around, starting with people and organisations I know. I did my early NLP training with Ian McDermott and colleagues ( and have also trained with Art Giser ( and Robert Dilts (, Suzi Smith (, Tim Hallbom and others ( It seemed like a reasonable place to start to look at how these people market their services. I’d be interested if you have any observations to make?
    May I also send a reciprocal invitation? I have no doubt that some people use NLP as a tool to (attempt to) manipulate. Would you like to share any examples?
    I wonder if it’s also worth adding that, in my (limited) experience of discussing NLP across the Atlantic, I am aware that it has a rather different reputation in North America (where the idea that it is inherently manipulative seems to be much stronger) than it does here in the UK.
    Tad, I wonder if your comments reinforce the point I’m making… it seems to me that you yourself are acknowledging that NLP can be used for the good (counselling, therapy) or to manipulate (sales). I am simply inviting you to take this one step further and realise that in sales and marketing NLP can be used in different ways and is not inherently manipulative. Andy’s point is, in my view, spot on when he says: “I think that has much more to do with the unscrupulous manipulator rather than NLP itself (which is completely neutral until used by a human).”
    I want to finish by acknowledging the strength of feeling I have – the place from which I speak. One of the things I learnt very early on in my NLP studies was to spot a generalisation. I think this particular generalisation does a disservice to many people using NLP in ethical ways, including using what they have learnt to market and sell their services. I would feel much more comfortable – and acknowledge entirely that it’s for you to decide whether or not to adjust your posting – if your sentence said something like “Neuro Linguistic Programming comes to mind in this because, whilst it’s not inherently manipulative, it can be and has been used to manipulate people in the hope of a sale.”

  • Hi Tad,

    I’m a new reader – I’m a Heart of Business student,
    and I also came across your work by an interview you did with Stephen

    This article stood out from me from the sidebar and I
    had a hunch it would speak to me. It did – I’ve felt a lot of shame
    about my needs, and yes, it does show up as reluctance to market and ask
    for money for my services. I never thought of this connection before!

    did Mark Silver’s Heart of Money course earlier this year and I also
    read Stephen’s book on money. They both talked about the dance of
    interdependence, debt, and in Mark’s course, being comfortable receiving
    and taking as well as offering and giving.

    I see how all the
    threads weave together in my reluctance to market – they all point to my
    shame of needing. If I’m giving or offering, I’m needless and I don’t
    feel this shame. But offering my services for money brings me face to
    face with how uncomfortable I feel about needing and receiving.

    then, shows up as a reluctance to market, passive marketing,
    incompetent marketing, and avoidant marketing, which creates stress in
    my business and life.
    Ouch, it’s painful to face! And I can see that
    in moving through this discomfort, I’ll be able to market with more
    clarity and less avoidance.

    Thank you for the food for thought.

  • Great article and an often overlooked point, for the very reasons you highlight. As someone having done NLP, I relate to your points and it was certainly something that I had to find balance around. It also helps me to recognize when others are using it on my. Quite amusing to take the wind out of their sails. :-)
    I have also noticed that marketing works better around coaching than healing, because it hooks in to that promise that I have something that can give you what you want, whereas from a holistic approach, I speak about something that I can show you how to get their on your own steam. So I think marketing messages that suggest at a secret offer pipe-dreams which most people still buy into. Perhaps that is also a part of the shame? Thank you.