Post-Apocalypse marketing tips from Harold Camping

The End is Nigh-ishIf you’re reading this right now, one of two things happened:

  1. You and I were not among the chosen ones taken in the Rapture as predicted by Harold Camping and his band of merry maniacs
  2. The Rapture did not actually happen, and we’re all stuck here on lame old Earth until we die of cancer, car crashes or natural causes

But hey, who knows, the day is young, right? Although he’s been waffling about the exact time and way the world will end, Camping said the fun would begin 6pm EST, about 4 hours from now. Wait, hold on a moment. How do I know that? Why did I, and the rest of the media, care so much about one guy who falsely predicted the end of the world 17 years ago? As in all cases of failure, there is a lesson here, specifically for marketers. While Mr. Camping may be out of his mind, your brand can learn a thing or two from his attention grabbing marketing tactics.

Use an integrated marketing campaign

A radio show broadcast in over 84 languages, RV caravans, fliers, active discussion forums online, blogs and over 1,200 billboards across the United States? Now that’s what I call marketing. Camping would have been foolish to put all his eggs in the radio show basket. He mobilized his followers to spread the word in any way possible. And it got people talking. The majority of people think he’s wrong or out of his mind, but everyone is talking about his prediction, because everywhere you turn it’s in your face.

Is your brand using a similar marketing mix? While fliers may be enough to capture the interest of 5% of your target market, how are you getting in front of everyone else? Even internet marketing has its limitations. Your campaign needs to get creative, diverse and widespread. You don’t need to have a huge budget. As Camping taught us, some of the work can be done by your followers. If you’re interesting enough, people will talk, word will spread and you’ll have the spotlight (for better or for worse). Pushing your brand out there is only part of the process. If you want trust from your prospects and customers, you have to…

Stick to your guns

I have to admit, I’m impressed. Camping and his followers are a steadfast group. They wouldn’t even dare to think about, let alone discuss, what will happen if they wake up on May 22 and the world is just the way it was the day before. To let that thought cross their minds would be to doubt God and the Bible, which would be a violation of their faith.

Don’t we all wish we (and our customers!) could believe in our brand that way? Well, if you want to set your brand apart, you have to believe in yourself. Your customers can smell doubt from a mile away. If your faith in your brand is unshakable, that faith will trickle down to your employees and customers. Even if you’re delivering the worst news, your belief in your brand can move mountains.

There may be push back against your message from unbelievers, but if you stand strong and ultimately end up being right, your customers will trust you like never before. But, wait, won’t there will be times when your message is wrong? No need to worry, because…

You can be wrong and loved

Camping erroneously predicted the end of the world back in 1994, but blamed the lack of Jesus-on-Earth on some bad math. THIS time, he said, it’s going to happen. He went as far as to guarantee it. And somehow, he got enough people to believe him that billboards went flying up, the media went Rapture-crazy and people started looking for post-Apocalypse pet sitters.

There will be times when you miss the mark, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid risk altogether. Sure, delivering a new product, idea or message is terrifying. Don’t let fear of being wrong hold you back. Even if your idea is a flop, it is possible to regain customer trust. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on. How many times can you be wrong and still be loved? I’m sure we’ll learn the answer to that question tomorrow morning. But before you try to push your brand out there again, remember that…

Creative math only gets you so far

Have you seen the movie, “The Number 23“? Me neither. But from what I gather, Harold Camping and Jim Carrey’s character might get along swimmingly. Numbers are a valuable tool to make others believe our ideas. They can also drive us out of our minds. Here’s Camping’s Rapturized-math and how he came to the May 21 prophecy:

Christ was crucified on April 1, 33 A.D., exactly 722,500 days before May 21, 2011. That number, 722,500, is the square of 5 x 10 x 17. In Camping’s numerological system, 5 represents atonement, 10 means completeness, and seventeen means heaven. “Five times 10 times 17 is telling you a story,” Camping said on his Oakland-based talk show, Family Radio, last year.

I’m not a Biblical scholar, so I can’t comment on the logic in Camping’s math, but numbers are sexy and it got people to¬† believe him. But as we know, his creative math got him into trouble before. Will his followers be as forgiving about his “miscalculations” this time around?

In marketing, it is tempting to pull a Camping. You may find some great statistics to support your idea or make your product look effective, but how are you getting your data? Infomercials constantly show the power of using shady numbers. Sure, one person out of a study may have lost 20 pounds on your diet pill, but what about the other participants? How many people actually participated? When you start to push out numbers, be careful. If word gets around that you’re lying with numbers, you can completely blow any trust you’ve built in your brand.

For the sake of sanity and peace in this world, let’s hope Camping’s days of whimsical calculations and false prophesies are over.

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One Response to Post-Apocalypse marketing tips from Harold Camping

  1. Urban Exile says:

    Excellent open-hearted observations. Yes, I believe Mr. Camping has something to teach all of us about ball-out marketing! Of course, at the end of the day (not the world), it is still a matter to ponder why so many people got so darned excited about their own extinction. I mean, what up?

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