Donald Trump addresses the media on donations to veterans foundations at Trump Tower in Manhattan. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Marketing, at its heart, is an attempt to convince you that you want something that you didn’t want in the past. In many cases, you didn’t want that thing for very good reasons, which is why marketing often involves an uphill climb. Many things that are marketed are borderline garbage! That's why they need to be marketed. (Um, except for the fine products advertised on this page.)

But it is also why sales tips often sound like terrible advice that might be given to a guy trying to find a date. There’s a gigantic ecosystem of marketing with this specific motive in mind, a murky, gross swamp of the Internet called “pickup artistry.” Perhaps you remember the exceptionally dumb show “"The Pickup Artist,” which aired on VH-1 in 2008. In it, a behatted man with a soul patch who called himself “Mystery” tried to tell dudes how to get a date. Mystery was marketing a bad product: the idea that telling women negative things about themselves (“negging”) is a good strategy toward building a relationship.

That same year, Donald Trump’s Trump University was in full swing, trying to convince Americans that Trump’s experience in real estate was as readily transferable as was Mystery’s alleged ability to seduce women. Trump University charged thousands and tens of thousands of dollars for seminar courses in buying real estate — and is being sued by a number of the people who paid that money to unlock secrets that they clearly didn’t feel were worth what they paid. As a result of that lawsuit, on Tuesday, a number of training manuals for salespeople, including the “playbook” for 2009, were released to the public. And, sales being sales, a lot of the recommendations for how to convince those Americans to pony up sound an awful lot like the recommendations offered by pickup artists. (All due credit to the Atlantic’s David Graham, who noticed this first.)

Here, for example, are recommendations that are either (1) advice from gross, weird pickup artist sites online or (2) advice for Trump University salespeople. Can you tell which is which? We added checkboxes just so you can remember which you thought was from a pickup artist’s advice. (We also changed the language slightly in some to obscure whether the target was a woman or a customer.)

  1. You must be very aggressive to push them out of their comfort zone.
  2. It’s important to know the difference between an objection and a legitimate question.
  3. Always follow these steps: Approach-Show value-Attract-Rapport-Extract
  4. Don't give a generic compliment. Instead, start a conversation with an entertaining anecdote or question.
  5. Have complete confidence in yourself.
  6. The person asking the questions always has the power.
  7. Think about what to do if you get stuck with a talker.
  8. Learn to read body language.
  9. Irrelevant questions take too much time; you lose power by answering them.
  10. Don't act impressed!
  11. By asking that question, you are ALLOWING them to say NO to you.
  12. Have an attack plan.
  13. Make sure that you maintain control of the conversation.
  14. The words “I noticed” have a powerful subconscious effect on people because they send a subliminal message to them that they stood out in the crowd.
  15. If they ask you a question, do not be too eager to answer it. Shows too much interest.
  16. You sometimes have to act as if you are not interested.
  17. Do takeaways at high emotional peak points.
  18. Avoid allowing them to take time to tell you about their past.
  19. Do not judge on appearance.
  20. Talk slowly and from your diaphragm. Use deliberate pauses and delays.

Answers are below.

Before we get to those, stop and consider what’s happening here. In both cases, people are being trained to overcome strong resistance to something that they don’t really want. Now, both the Trump University people and Mystery will assure us all that, no, actually, people really do want to date lonely, insecure dudes / do want to spend their days trawling for foreclosures to scoop up. And, as with every product of questionable quality that gets sold, someone, somewhere really likes it. Fair enough.

The question at the heart of the Trump University lawsuit is whether those who signed up for the seminars were defrauded. The courts will decide that. That the salespeople were trained to use goofy sales tactics doesn’t really have much bearing on that question. It’s just a reminder that training people to get people to do things they don’t want to often looks and feels the same, regardless of who the customers are.


The Trump University lines are all from the 2009 Playbook (Exhibit B released Tuesday). The pickup artist lines are 3, 4, 8, 15, 16, 17 and 20. They're all from SeductionScience.com and SeductionBase.com. The latter includes this staggeringly stupid “negging” anecdote:

The first time I negged a woman — at an Office Depot near UCLA — my hands were shaking as I told her that her teeth reminded me of Bugs Bunny. I was prepared for a slap, but instead, five minutes later, I walked away with her phone number and e-mail address. When I went home and Googled her, I discovered that the woman I thought was a UCLA student was actually the Playmate of the Year.

Sure.