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Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The Great Elmer Gantry tradition lives on

Many of us, I am sure, have heard the story about the founder of Scientology.

Half jokingly perhaps, he said at a meeting of fellow science fiction writers over half a century ago that if you want to make real money you should start a religion. This, of course, he then proceeded to do.

The relationship between wealth and religion seems to go back as far back as history itself. I am forcibly reminded of it every time I go the New Jersey to see my daughter, as her mother is deeply religious in a rather bizarre way and watches all the TV evangelists, all of whom seem extraordinarily well - or rather expensively - dressed for people who believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ which I seem to recall rather frowned on the rich.

The best dramatic expose of this sort of thing was probably in the magnificent Elmer Gantry film, starring Burt Lancaster, but it also has close links with direct marketing. One of my early mentors was a lovely man called Gene Griffin, who died a few months ago, and I always recall him telling me gleefully about some people - in Texas, I think - whose main daily activity was not selling anything but opening envelopes with cash in them, sticking it in the bank and living the life of old Riley.

They achieved this by running ads with headlines like "God, I am worried" which then went on to tell the readers that if they were worried all they had to do was send in their name and address, and the people at this establishment would pray for them. They also said, "You don't have to pay us for this at all, but if you'd like to send in a dollar or two, then by all means do." And to add a little encouragement they would tell stories of people who had been worried, but had been helped by prayer.

It worked a treat, and still does. If you're feeling low and a girl comes up from the local Scientology Centre to give you a "stress test" using two tin cans and a piece of string you're less inclined to believe it's a complete load of old bollocks because Tom Cruise believes in it all. There are many variations on this way of gaining belief. The one most popular among people selling those "You can be rich as me in two shakes of a dog's tail through Adwords/speechmaking/copywriting/journalism/synchronised masturbation" courses is the example of Bill Bloke who was down to eating his last pair of old shoes a year ago but now lolls around on the beach in Surfers Paradise being fed Daiquiris by scantily clad bimbos because he sent off for this free video which 5,000 other fools each paid $1,000 for.

Now you're probably thinking I'm about to say all this stuff is rubbish. It is not. It is by no means in the depraved class of, say, Benny Hinn, who may be the world's most successful religious charlatan, making a good $100 million a year out of poor, worried people. The truth is, you can make pots of money out of all the things mentioned, except perhaps the synchronised one, which was my little jest. And there are many people who have done so, because much, though not all, the advice you get is good. I believe there never has been so much sound business advice - much of it free - as you can get online.

The thing nearly all thse people tend to skate over lightly is the fact that you have to WORK at it. It doesn't just happen. Oh, and by the way, before you do buy advice or training it's a good idea to check out the people giving it. If you see that the only business they've ever had is one giving advice to other people - well, draw your own conclusions.

I actually heard the other day about a man who is apparently making millions advising people on how to do direct marketing -without ever having done it himself, or indeed for anyone else - except to sell courses. As far as I can make out he just went to the U.S., took a course or two, and learned how to sell stuff to the gullible masses. I really must check out the times of the next flights to Bullshit City.

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