Dear Smart Shoppers:
A few years back there was a subtle change in the tagline for infomercials. I think it may have been Ron Popeil’s last major contribution to the genre, although a quick check of Wiki Obits let me know he was still alive. (Wiki Obits is an online database service that permits understaffed journalism outlets to pretend they’ve maintained a research department in the event of a newsworthy death… Hacking that site could be fun.) In any case, the tag shift was transforming the old “Operators are standing by” to “If you get a busy signal, call back!” The value of this new polish on the art of the infomercial is the powerful tool of presumed scarcity. There’s never a busy signal in the land of infomercial operators; but implying that so many buyers are ahead of you in line that the call center could collapse radically increases the volume of calls. What marketers understand is the fleeting impact of their message. If you don’t call in the minute after the conclusion of the push, you’ll forget you ever wanted the inside-the-eggshell-egg-scrambler and buy the electronic cat litter scoop instead.
Perhaps the most popular example of the power of presumed scarcity was the great toilet paper shortage of 1973. It began with a procurement memo by Wisconsin Congressman Harold Froehlich. Always looking for ways to encourage his state’s paper industry, he noted that the centralized purchasing agency in D.C., then called the National Buying Center, had failed to complete the paperwork on several toilet paper contracts. In November of 1973, attempting to spur the department to move forward with spending money in Wisconsin, he penned a memo suggesting the potentially disastrous result if our soldiers and bureaucrats were to face a depleted national toilet paper reservoir.
The initial memo created nothing newsworthy until a staff writer for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson referenced the shortage as a set-up for a joke Carson delivered on December 19, 1973. That’s all it took. Within 72 hours, frightened citizens emptied the shelves. The presumed scarcity of this irreplaceable commodity forced Carson to issue an on-air apology the following week, but it was too late; the damage had been done. Americans were hunkered down for the long-haul defense of their precious stockpiles.
Which leads me to think about inviting people to church (…of course it does).
Over the years I’ve participated in more than one Administrative Commission for a Presbytery to oversee the orderly closing of a congregation. This usually means a last-hurrah service where Presbyterians pack the pews of a doomed facility for the last time prior to its decommissioning. These services are never poorly attended, and every time someone remarks, “If this had been the attendance all along, this church would not be closing.”
So, here’s the strategy. We need to tell all our friends and neighbors that America is running out of churches! The declining supply of Christian worship space over the past few decades has resulted in a scarcity of Sunday seating supply, given the recent uptick in spiritual demand! Let people know how the leadership of FPCLG has shrewdly stockpiled pews over the past few years and now has a limited supply of Sunday capacity available for those in the know.
Tell your friends how this secret offer is available to a limited number and how you’re sharing this valuable information because you know how much they appreciate a deal. Explain how they may be turned away from the first service (a congregational equivalent to a busy signal), but to be persistent; there will be a second service! On Monday, if they didn’t visit with the first invitation, in hushed tones reserved for an inside trade, assure them that you have on pretty good authority that FPCLG management is considering the possibility of staging the event again next week. On Friday, let them know the great news of a second Sunday opportunity, but tell them they’re going to have to arrive especially early.
Frankly, I think this will be way more effective than telling people how ushers are standing by.
Still clearing out my toilet paper stash from 1973, I remain,