What startups can learn from the May 21 Judgment Day group (the greatest startup marketing campaign I’ve ever seen)

(And they did it during NYC TechCrunch Disrupt, too!)

The greatest marketing stunt I ever saw came from a fundamentalist religious group called Family Radio. I knew about these guys over a year before Judgment Day (received a flier from a convert) but I was amazed at how much awareness they eventually got for their “event” (for lack of a better word).

Using nothing but their daily radio show and dedicated volunteers, without any modern social networking that I saw, they got the whole country to think about the end of the world.

I know you’re probably thinking Family Radio wasn’t a marketing stunt — they actually believed the world was ending. But for pure audacity, has any startup ever come close?

Businesses can learn from them.

Similar to the Family Radio crowd, while running a startup I managed to get a mix of people to believe, follow and even pay for our service, but only in pale comparison to their success: tens of millions of dollars raised, a wide-spread and active community and people who are so devoted they took it upon themselves to dress up, carry placards and spread their message.

Every week I meet smart people who start companies with audacious goals, but none as audacious as predicting the date and time of Judgment Day and the end of the world. And yet, as crazy as their goals were, and even though no earthquakes and fire consumed the earth, Family Radio was quite the launch success — so what if what came next didn’t work. Thousands of people believed in the end and spent their time and money promoting it around the world. No A/B testing, no customer development and no beta launch (well, maybe one. Their previous Judgment Day prediction was for 1994).

As far as I observed, this is what they did:
– Held a daily radio show that included repeated instructions about the end of the world (dedication to daily work and dedication through tough times)

– Provided a really clear, simple message about their beliefs (targeted a growing conservative fundamentalist market niche)

– Understood their audience (didn’t build a fancy website or mobile app which wouldn’t matter to their audience anyway, since they listen to the radio or podcasts)

– Built no social networking integration on their site (their members found ways to organize without it)

– Stated an audacious and clear goal (got everyone excited about one really big thing, not many little things)

I want to build a startup that can appeal to people like that. But be right.

While they did a lot of damage, for their marketing success they deserve some respect.

[this post written earlier, reposted here]