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Nov 29 2012

What Marketing Pitches Reveal About the Religious Right

A long time ago I signed up to be on Peter Popoff’s mailing list, which led to getting some truly hilarious letters in the mail (I especially enjoyed the vile of “holy water” that would bring miracles into my life). Rick Perlstein signed up for emails from a bunch of right wing sites and magazines and he got exactly the marketing pitches I would have predicted based on the ads you see on those sites now. Like this one:

Dear Reader, I’m going to tell you something, but you must promise to keep it quiet. You have to understand that the “elite” would not be at all happy with me if they knew what I was about to tell you. That’s why we have to tread carefully. You see, while most people are paying attention to the stock market, the banks, brokerages and big institutions have their money somewhere else . . . [in] what I call the hidden money mountain . . . All you have to know is the insider’s code (which I’ll tell you) and you could make an extra $6,000 every single month.

What happens is that these sites sell access to their mailing lists to advertisers to send out these pitches. And the content of those pitches speaks volumes about the target audience. Look at the adds you see at the Worldnutdaily every day — gold scams, get rich quick schemes, alternative medicines, survival supplies — and all marketed as secrets that the elite don’t want you to know about, something that’s been deliberately hidden from you by them.

Soon after reading that, I learned of the “23-Cent Heart Miracle,” the one “Washington, the medical industry, and drug companies REFUSE to tell you about.” (Why would they? They’d just be leaving money on the table: “I was scheduled for open heart surgery when I read about your product,” read one of the testimonials. “I started taking it and now six months have passed and I haven’t had open-heart surgery.”) Then came news of the oilfield in the placenta.

“Dear NewsMax Reader,” this appeal began, leaving no doubt that whatever trust that publication had built with its followers was being rented out wholesale. “Please find below a special message from our sponsor, James Davidson, Editor of Outside the Box. He has some important information to share with you.”

Here’s the information in question: “If you have shied away from profiting from the immense promise of stem cells to treat disease because of moral concern over extracting stem cells from fetal tissue, pay close attention. You can now invest with a clear conscience. An Israeli entrepreneur, Zami Aberman, has discovered ‘an oilfield in the placenta.’ His little company, Pluristem Life Systems (OTCBB: PLRS) has made a discovery which is potentially more valuable than Prudhoe Bay.”

Davidson concluded by proposing the lucky investor purchase a position of 83,000 shares of PLRS for the low, low price of twelve cents each. If you act now, Davidson explained, your $10,000 outlay “could bring you a profit of more than a quarter of a million dollars.”

Reminds me of the Worldnutdaily pimping for a guy who claimed to have found a huge supply of oil in Israel (a claim that has been around forever and never turned out to be true). If there was really oil there, you can be damn sure the oil companies would be all over it.

Not long after I let the magic of the placenta-based oilfield sink in, I got another pitch, this one courtesy of the webmasters handling the Human Events mailing list and headed “The Trouble with Get-Rich-Quick Schemes.” Perhaps I’m a little gullible myself; for a couple of seconds, I believed the esteemed Reagan-era policy handbook might be sending out a useful consumer advisory to its readers, an investigative guide to the phony get-rich-quick schemes caroming around the right-leaning opinion-sphere. But that hasty assumption proved sadly mistaken, presuming as it did that the proprietors of outfits like Human Events respect their readers. Instead, this was a come-on for something called “INSTANT INTERNET INCOME”—the chance at last to “put an end to your financial worries . . . permanently erase your debts . . . pay cash for the things you want . . . create a secure, enjoyable retirement for yourself . . . give your family the abundant lifestyle they so richly deserve.”

Back in our great-grandparents’ day, the peddlers of such miracle cures and get-rich-quick schemes were known as snake-oil salesmen. You don’t see stuff like this much in mainstream culture any more; it hardly seems possible such déclassé effronteries could get anywhere in a society with a high school completion rate of 90 percent. But tenders of a 23-Cent Heart Miracle seem to work just fine on the readers of the magazine where Ann Coulter began her journalistic ascent in the late nineties by pimping the notion that liberals are all gullible rubes. In an alternate universe where Coulter would be capable of rational self-reflection, it would be fascinating to ask her what she thinks about, say, the layout of HumanEvents.com on the day it featured an article headlined “Ideas Will Drive Conservatives’ Revival.” Two inches beneath that bold pronouncement, a box headed “Health News” included the headlines “Reverse Crippling Arthritis in 2 Days,” “Clear Clogged Arteries Safely & Easily—without drugs, without surgery, and without a radical diet,” and “High Blood Pressure Cured in 3 Minutes . . . Drop Measurement 60 Points.” It would be interesting, that is, to ask Coulter about the reflex of lying that’s now sutured into the modern conservative movement’s DNA—and to get her candid assessment of why conservative leaders treat their constituents like suckers.

A few years ago I was offered the chance to have a radio show on the Genesis Communications Network, which broadcasts Alex Jones’ show. I had guest hosted a couple times on another show on the network and it always bothered me that the ads were all for the same kind of thing Perlstein discusses. I said no for that reason. I didn’t want to associate with that nonsense.

33 comments

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  1. 1
    baal

    One typo (though it’s funny) vial of holy water not vile. Please feel free to delete this comment should you fix it.

  2. 2
    typecaster

    An argument could be made that it wasn’t inadvertent.

  3. 3
    sumdum

    So wait, using stem cells to cure diseases, for the betterment of humankind is immoral, but somehow using them for oil and profit is A-okay? What hypocrisy.

  4. 4
    zekehoskin

    It’s trivial to drop your blood pressure 60 points in a couple of minutes by relaxing and yawning. Doesn’t “cure” anything except for reducing the probability of a stroke in the next few minutes. Sort of like the perfectly true “Space Aliens Land In Florida” screamer. Russians, in the Shuttle.

  5. 5
    Trebuchet

    I was just thinking that it’s Popoff himself that’s “vile”.

    Rev. Anaglyph at Tetherd Cow Ahead (http://www.tetherdcow.com/) has had a long and hillarious correspondence with Popoff.

  6. 6
    tbp1

    I also got a smile out of “vile” of “holy water.” Seemed perfectly appropriate for anything connected with Peter Popoff.

    Honestly, it’s very depressing that he isn’t in jail. This guy was exposed as a phony on the Tonight Show, for cryin’ out loud—how much more public can you get than that? And people are still sending him their life savings…

    They throw people in the slammer for years sometimes for smoking a little weed (especially if doing so while black or Hispanic), but con men like him who literally ruin the lives of thousands of people walk free (and sometimes rich).

  7. 7
    NitricAcid

    No, sumdum- getting stem cells from fetal tissue is evil, because that involves abortions, or murdering little kids, but getting stem cells from placentas that are going to be burned as medical waste anyway is wonderful.

  8. 8
    slc1

    Reminds me of the Worldnutdaily pimping for a guy who claimed to have found a huge supply of oil in Israel (a claim that has been around forever and never turned out to be true). If there was really oil there, you can be damn sure the oil companies would be all over it.

    Actually, there are large deposits of oil in Israel; unfortunately, it’s in the form of shale and extraction is not profitable enough to entice the interest of the oil companies.

  9. 9
    Sastra

    I don’t think it’s just the Religious Right who are especially susceptible to the conspiracy-style thinking which underlies a lot of these pitches: all religions and spiritualities are based on conspiracy-style thinking. They’ve thrown out the commitment to seek truth by basing their conclusions in a common world understood through reason and instead exchanged this for the excitement and exclusivity of knowing things through a special revelation

    Faith beliefs assume that THEY don’t want you to believe the Truth. You — and people like you — know things through mysticism, sacred scripture, personal relationship with deity, and the witness of miracles. You’re an insider. You’re different from people in the World. You’re different because you’re more open, humble, and accepting of God. The other people are Bad Guys.

    It’s a mindset custom-made not just for encouraging gullibility as a virtue, but for creating conspiracy-thinking as a background assumption. Objective working truths are eagerly discarded for subjective certainties. You know what you know and don’t need to “prove” it.

    I know several Mormon couples who fell for MLM schemes and alternative medicine claims. And the Spiritual-But-Not-Religious are also into alt med. Throw out science and humanism and you lose the ideal of the common ground. So it all flows together harmoniously — or, rather, holistically.

  10. 10
    tommykey

    I know several Mormon couples who fell for MLM schemes and alternative medicine claims.

    Those schemes probably originated with fellow Mormons. I have read that Mormons who fall for such things are generally targeted by fellow Mormons because of the trust factor. They think “This person’s a Mormon too, so he must be okay.”

  11. 11
    Kevin

    That’s a really fine article by Perlstein. Worth clicking over to read in its entirety.

    Explains a lot, actually. And makes me somehow sad and frustrated that my own personal moral compass forbids me from hitching a ride on the right-wing gravy train.

    Many, many years ago, around the time Fred Flinstone and I commuted to work in a foot-powered car, I came this close to a job with the National Enquirer. Couldn’t do it. Just couldn’t. The money, FWIW, was spectacular in comparison to what I was making at the time.

    Sometimes, I get really mad at my moral compass.

  12. 12
    composer99

    When I read local papers more often, I would often see the religious conservative columnists smugly throw around the quote, attributed to GK Chesterton (no idea if it is legit attribution or not), that “people who stop believing in God don’t believe in nothing – they believe in anything”.

    As far as I know, it is impossible to believe in nothing, so the first part of the quote is an irrelevant tautology. The second part is shown also to be irrelevant, even if true, since it is obvious that believers in a deity can also be led to believe in anything as shown by the OP and link-outs.

  13. 13
    Bronze Dog

    I find the inclusion of quackery (alternative medicine) interesting. Once upon a time, I tended to think of alties as strictly far left wing. Nowadays, I see it as something coming from wingnuts and the crazy end of libertarian, with whines about egghead elitists with shadowy agendas and complaints about how consumer protection measures are interfering with their ability to market an untested product, hence they demand deregulation.

  14. 14
    Nick Gotts

    the crazy end of libertarian – Bronze Dog

    What other end is there?

  15. 15
    wscott

    “vile of holy water” = best Freudian Typo ever!

  16. 16
    raven

    I know several Mormon couples who fell for MLM schemes and alternative medicine claims.

    Those schemes probably originated with fellow Mormons.

    I’ve seen Mormons scammed out of money by conpeople. Who were fellow Mormons. It’s called an affinity group scam and they also happen a lot in fundie churches.

    SLC used to be the fraud capital of the USA. The federal government ended up setting up federal prosecutor offices in the city to clean it up.

    Mormons are also big consumers of medical quackery and alt medicine.

  17. 17
    senor

    Offshore placental drilling is where the real money’s at.

  18. 18
    Mobius

    One part of my personal philosophy is, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

    Based on this, you might (just might) miss a golden opportunity. Much more likely though is that you will keep from being taken to the cleaners.

  19. 19
    Didaktylos

    @#12 – Chesterton was on to something, but didn’t have the moral and intellectual courage to pursue the idea to its logical conclusion: that people who believe in anything will believe in anything.

  20. 20
    otrame

    “High Blood Pressure Cured in 3 Minutes . . . Drop Measurement 60 Points.”

    Oh, hell, I can do it faster than that. Easy Peasy*. Just pick which artery to sever. I won’t charge much. Well, comparatively.

    *When you sign up for this treatment you absolve me of all potential side effects, which include but are not limited to death.

  21. 21
    wscott

    “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

    Absolutely. Tho “Too Good To Be True” describes 90% of web advertizing. This got me thinking about the type of ads I see on progressive blogs:
    1. “President Waives ______” – typically refinance requirements or something the President has no actual control over.
    2. “A schoolteacher found this one simple trick…”
    3. “College professors hate him because _____”

  22. 22
    jimbaerg

    BTW it struck me as ironic that one add that shows up on this page for me is:

    “Shocking Joint Pain Relief”
    “Now available in Canada”

    it sounds like typical
    Supplementary
    Complementary &
    Alternative
    Medicine

  23. 23
    JoeBuddha

    “Everybod believes in something. I believe I’ll have another drink.” – W. C. Fields

    Gotta go with the classics…

  24. 24
    JoeBuddha

    (note to self: Preview is your Friend…)

  25. 25
    Trebuchet

    @Kevin, #11: (Hey, I made a rhyme!)

    Sometimes, I get really mad at my moral compass.

    You’re an FTB reader, hence an atheist commie nazi socialist. According to a good many of the Christians I see quoted here, it’s impossible for you to HAVE a moral compass.

    And I’m with #22 on the ads here. Lots of what looks like fraud to me. At least I haven’t seen the large “language professors hate him” one floating over the right hand side with no way to close it for a couple of days.

  26. 26
    grumpyoldfart

    If you haven’t got enough money to buy holy water from Popoff, here is the recipe so you can make your own:

    Put a saucepan of water on the stove and boil the hell out of it.

  27. 27
    Ichthyic

    and all marketed as secrets that the elite don’t want you to know about, something that’s been deliberately hidden from you by them.

    advertising targeting authoritarian personalities.

    not hard to understand at all, really.

  28. 28
    Ichthyic

    I’m with #22 on the ads here. Lots of what looks like fraud to me.

    easy to fix.

    look up adblock plus, and/or noscript.

    done.

    you would be better off just sending Ed a check for five bucks anyway.

  29. 29
    Ed Brayton

    Let me explain the difference. I do not take ads from those companies, they show up here because of algorithms that look at keywords, your recent searches and other information. I have no control over them (and the ads you see are often not the same as the ads others see). That is not the case with ad emails sent out on wingnut mailing lists, which must be bought and sold specifically, or with ads that are sold directly and appear as in-line ads or appear every time you load a page.

  30. 30
    bradleybetts

    “vile of “holy water” ”

    Intentional? I giggled.

  31. 31
    wscott

    @ Ed: Difference noted. I just thought it was funny.

  32. 32
    paulburnett

    #10 tommykey wrote “I have read that Mormons who fall for such things are generally targeted by fellow Mormons because of the trust factor. They think “This person’s a Mormon too, so he must be okay.””

    A little history: In 1836 a con man named Joseph Smith and others formed the “Kirtland (Ohio) Safety Society Anti-Banking Company” to provide banking services for Mormons in Kirtland and the surrounding area. The “bank” failed during the nation-wide Panic of 1837. Many who had invested in the Society felt that since Joseph Smith was their prophet, the bank could not fail. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirtland_Safety_Society

    (One of those involved in the “bank” was Parley Pratt, Mitt Romney’s great-great-grandfather, whose murder led in part to the Mountain Meadows Massacre.)

  33. 33
    dingojack

    OT, but I’m getting a ad for something called ‘AsiaRooms’ which asks ‘are you going on a romantic getaway?’ But assures us that there is ‘no cancellation fee’.
    Because you sure as hell wouldn’t want to be forced to on hols with you’re ex after an acromonious dumping now would you? Who said romance is dead?
    :) Dingo

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