As long as people have gathered in societies there has been a small group that is convinced it is all going to end in flames – on Tuesday.
The group is organized around a leader who starts talking smack – but this nutbag’s motivation is not really our concern as marketers.
What is our concern is that he is selling something – and that people are buying.
In the modern era there have been stories about small groups who organize around a guy who is absolutely CERTAIN the world is going to end on Tuesday.
And there have been a couple funny stories where the group has trekked up on a hill and waited … and waited … and then walked back down, disappointed the world didn’t end on schedule.
(Recently, this QAnon thing qualifies as an end of world cult and all the pronouncements obviously didn’t happen.)
So let’s take a look at the emotional triggers in the followers that would believe this kind of thing:
- First is certainty. Customers love certainty, no matter how outlandish the claim.
- Then we have emptiness – these people don’t have much in their life, up to and including a personal philosophy that guides them through life.
- Then their is the anti-social impulse. I covered this in the MANIPULATION program in relation to The Satanic Bible, The Anarchist Cookbook, Junky and Hitman. For people who don’t fit in to the majority, they still have a need to belong to something. So anti-social people will join an anti-social movement, because as much as they profess they don’t like people it’s against biology to never want to belong.
- Then there is insider status. As small and nutty as a group may be, joining makes you an insider. There is a sense of power in belonging to something other people aren’t part of.
- There is also secret knowledge. The leader of the end of the world group knows something average folks do not. People want secret knowledge and so they join everything from comic book fan clubs to cults.
- You can’t forget fear in the case of end of the world clubs. Human beings have a fear of the unknown and by extension, death. By believing in the end they have, in a strange way, faced that fear. This partially explains the calm demeanor of cult members – they have it all figured out.
- You have hero worship of course, because the dude giving all the secret pronouncements is a larger than life character.
- I would say loneliness plays a part in followers joining such a group, because before they had nothing to do and no one to do it with and now, look! They have friends!
- Narrative comes into play as well, because there is usually a convoluted story to go along with the prediction, as in, how the leader got the news of the end of the world, plus the instructions to gather followers and the exact location of the hill where they are supposed to gather to be beamed up to paradise while all the suckers are left behind to be incinerated.
- Obedience also plays here. People want to be told what to do, up to and including selling everything they own and abandoning their families. This is the case of I have all this nervous energy and don’t know what to do with it – oh wait, this guy has instructions! Plus he’s good looking and he seems to really care about me.
- Joining something like this gives followers identity. It ain’t much of an identity, but it is new and feels meaningful. And meaning makes people feel like they have an identity. Yes, it is circular and irrational but it works to get people to join groups.
Okay, I could probably pull a couple more emotional triggers into this case study. If you’re looking to start an end of the world movement, feel free to use this template.
For the rest of us marketers, I would focus on projecting certainty to whatever group we are addressing. You can’t say this is kind of a good idea, or it works for some people some of the time. You have to say that you have discovered a miracle that solves every problem and makes every other product obsolete. (Please respect all regulatory boundaries here!) Because people aren’t buying the product – they are buying the certainty.
I hope you enjoyed this case study and encourage you to review the MANIPULATION program!
Related article: How to create meaning (frankgiovinazzi.com)
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