I must say thank you to regular reader Cpt Pineapple (Alison) for the inspiration for today’s post. For some time now, I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around the idea of selling non-theism. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about what religion has going for it that non-religion doesn’t. Then I remembered the conversation Alison and I had about Kari Byron from Mythbusters. The upshot of it is that people are really interested in Kari Byron. Especially her boobs.
I can understand why some people might be offended by all the attention she gets. I mean, hell’s bells! Half of these people aren’t interested in her as a person at all. They just want to see some celebrity skin. (In searching for a picture of Kari, I discovered a significant scuttlebutt over whether or not she’s appeared in Playboy. She hasn’t.) It isn’t about the science, or the girl power, or any of that. She’s hot and guys like it when she shoots big guns.
Ok. I like it when she shoots big guns, too. And I hate guns.
And that’s the epiphany, folks. I hate guns. I love it when Kari Byron shoots big guns. Get it? Get it? Huh?
Nine tenths of sales is changing people’s frame of reference. We sell beer by putting really hot girls on the arms of regular looking chumps. (Drink our beer! Chicks will dig it!) Sure, beer is good even without hot girls, but advertising companies don’t have any problem (nor should they) associating their brand of beer with other things we like. They’re programming us to go to a happy place when we see their logo or hear their jingle.
We can also sell things people are resistant to buy with the same tactic. I promise you — as much as I hate guns, if Kari Byron asked me to go on a date with her to the shooting range, I’d go shoot a gun. And I’d be happy.
That’s the really big edge religion has over non-religion. It sells the shit by associating it with people’s happy places. The rush of endorphins during the prayer/music service, the feeling of belonging to a group, the promise of happiness… all of these things take us to our own internal happy place. And we like that, so we go ahead and buy the crappy parts of religion — in the same way that I’d buy a damn AK-47 if I thought it would get me in Kari Byron’s Mythbuster Undies. (Tell me she wears Mythbuster undies. Please tell me that…)
So… What has Mythbusters done right? Let me spell it out if you don’t already know:
- Big Booms
- Kari Byron
Cars, guns, and explosions. That’s the initial hook for Mythbusters. Their target audience is “emerging adults” — teen and twenties guys. So they blow lots of shit up. Because teenage guys dig explosions. Teen guys also dig hot chicks. So they added Kari to the mix. Maybe most importantly, they go out of their way to play. On camera. Every episode. They’re changing our frame of reference for science. Science is fun! If you do science, you can play like we are playing! It’s great!
Mythbusters takes us to a happy place and THEN sells us science. Great marketing, don’t you think? Science, in and of itself, is kind of a hard sell. It’s hard work. Notice they always montage through the parts where Adam is spending two hours working out equations? But it can be fun, and being smart is awesome. The people who can do science are the people who make real improvements to our lives.
The formula is simple:
- Hook people on something they already like
- Associate your product with that thing people like
- Close the deal.
Are we doing that with non-religion? Can we do that with non-religion?
I think that for the most part, we are not doing that with non-religion. We spend an awful lot of time telling the religious how shitty their religious beliefs are, but aside from promising them that their life will be better without religion, we don’t have much of a hook.
More disturbingly, I think we have a sort of unspoken rule in nontheism, and I think it’s a really bad idea. We seem to collectively believe that if we use any of the same tactics as the religious that we’re being as awful as they are. We hiss and sneer derisively whenever an appeal to emotion steps within ten yards of one of our pristine logical syllogisms.
And that misses the point completely. Religious sales work because they start with something people want — emotional highs. We humans make most of our decisions based on emotion. Even us skeptics. That doesn’t make us bad people. It makes us human. Think about this: We skeptics feel good when we use reason to solve a real life problem. We are emotionally drawn to our skepticism. And that’s ok. It’s ok to be emotionally attached to something that also happens to be true.
I think we’ve lost sight of that. Or perhaps we never saw it in the first place. It’s ok — it’s necessary — to sex up a product that’s a difficult sell, especially if it’s something that will make people’s lives better. Mythbusters has probably produced more science geeks than all the public service announcements for the last fifty years. We need to learn from them, I think.
EDITORIAL ADDENDUM: I just realized that I left out one of my biggest points. The Mythbusters are selling us skepticism on the sly. They are teaching us to question everything — even if we have accepted it as true for our whole lives, and even if lots of people believe it is true. Clever, eh…