Selling Cryonics


By Stephen W. Bridge
Former president, Alcor Foundation

"So how do you handle your advertising? You know, all you need to do is run a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal and you'll have all the business you can handle. Just give me a commission on all of the new members I get, and I'll take care of everything."

A handful of us who have run cryonics organizations will recognize this guy right away -- the fellow who thinks cryonics is another commodity to be bought and sold and all it takes is a bit of advertising. We've also watched these guys fall on their faces and pass from the scene in search of easier scores.

Selling cryonics is tough work. First, you as a cryonics "salesman" must convince a prospective client to re-examine his own mortality, an aspect of his life he may have boxed off for his own sanity decades earlier. Then you have to convince the prospect that:

  • 1. The future will be a really cool place to hang out, instead of a science fiction post-nuclear holocaust nightmare with rap music,

  • 2. Future medicine will be able to take care of current diseases and injuries (no cancer, AIDS, heart disease, airplane fatalities, or bad breath),

  • 3. Aging will be reversible and preventable in less than a century (no balding starship captains),

  • 4. Yes, freezing causes massive amounts of structural damage, but, hey, it's repairable -- really... probably... we hope,

  • 5. Molecular technologies will able to fix all that stuff, and lots of stuff he never even thought of before, but about which you now have him terrified,

  • 6. "Dead" doesn't have to mean "DEAD,"

  • 7. "Emergency conversion to neurosuspension" means "never having to say you're sorry,"

  • 8. There aren't any reasons to deal with all of those messy "soul" questions,

  • 9. Yes, it's worth a few thousand dollars to stay alive, even $120,000,

  • 10. He'll have a great time meeting altruistic attorneys and/or life insurance agents (oh, yeah),

  • 11. There are plenty of good reasons to stay alive both now and in the future,

  • 12. Yes, he'll be able to adjust to the future at least as well as his ancestors did in crossing an ocean to get to America,

  • 13. Yes, there are plenty of reasons why people will want to "bring him back" in the future (even though you have already spent weeks answering this dolt's questions and you know they had better not ask YOU to decide whether to revive him in the same universe as you), AND

  • 14. Reading, comprehending, and signing that mound of paperwork is really lots of fun, and don't worry that there are no guarantees -- hey, we're pioneers!

Sometimes this process can take as short a time as two years (in a really good case), and may only require ten or fifteen meetings a year to convince him. Multiply this by a few dozen prospects and you can easily see why the number of ulcers and headaches among cryonics "motivators" (I can't bring myself to call them "salespeople" anymore) is higher than the number of marriages and robust bank accounts.

INFILTRATING SCIENCE FICTION

All of these questions came up again when I attended the 1994 World Science Fiction Convention in Winnipeg, Canada in September. Cryonicists have been appearing at SF "cons" and talking about cryonics to these supposedly future-oriented folk at least since 1978, when several of us in Indianapolis attended the North American SF Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. We've written over the years about how disappointed we have been at the results of our activities at what we thought would be a hotbed of people who wanted unlimited lifespans. Unfortunately, the majority of SF fans seemed to be more interested in escape from reality and dressing up funny than in serious contemplation of the future or finding a way to get there.

Fortunately, it looks like we may be making some progress (glacial in comparison with selling new cars, more rapid in comparison with previous cryonics history). In Winnipeg I met quite a few people who thought cryonics was logical and acceptable and worth discussing seriously.

Like at most science fiction conventions I have attended on behalf of Alcor (that sounds more noble than it is -- I have a lot of fun at them, too!), there were three primary ways of showing cryonics to people. First, I shared a dealer's table in the exhibits area, which had been arranged by Brian Wowk of CryoCare, Ben Best of the Canadian Cryonics Society, and Paul Wakfer of CryoSpan. Second, Ben and Paul, along with Keith Lynch, had rented a large suite in the Sheraton Hotel for nightly room parties. (Room parties are a science fiction tradition with too many variations to go into here. Basically, hundreds of people troop around the hotels looking for action. For some people "action" means alcohol, flirtation, and song, for some it means silliness, and for many "action" means "intellectual conversation." Cryonics room parties aim at getting the latter.)

And finally, Brian, Ben, Paul, and I were also scheduled to present cryonics in a panel format as part of the convention programming. (About 4,000 people attended the convention, so the programming was multitrack, sometimes as many as 15 programs per hour.)

There was the potential for discomfort in the organizational rivalries present, but we agreed to expend most of our energy in promoting cryonics in general and to keep personalities out of discussions of the differences between organizations. That worked out very well and prevented us from chasing off potential new cryonicists.

I ended up working on cryonics a lot more hours than I had planned, but I think it was worthwhile. By my estimate, I sat at the dealer's table 12-15 hours (we took turns so we could all attend interesting programs), was on the panel (1 hour), and talked cryonics at the room parties for 15-20 hours. I also independently talked about cryonics various times during the conference as I had meals, met people in the halls, and attended other parties myself.

We spoke to many people in the dealer's room, and sold a surprising number of books on cryonics and nanotechnology (most of these were Ben and Paul's). About 40 people attended the cryonics panel and at least two hundred people attended the various room parties.

There were not as many people at the cryonics room parties as in some years past, although the percentage of truly interested people was much higher than before. This was the fourth year in a row for a cryonics room party at a WorldCon, and I think many people look forward to them. One of the reasons for less attendance, I think, was that four GUYS were hosting it. When women like Brenda Peters, Linda Chamberlain, and Angalee Shepherd have been at these, the food seems to taste better and the atmosphere seems more cheerful and inviting. So the word gets around that this is one of THE spots to visit. Of course some people figure it out anyway.

I was impressed by how many science/engineering/medicine-oriented programs were on the convention schedule this year. Various of us attended some of them, and in at least two programs cryonicists were able to make positive statements from the audience.

In any convention, the most important sales aspect is the networking. Several old friends asked me serious questions about cryonics for the first time at this con, even though they have known me for years. And I heard and met engineers and scientists from all over the country. I now know a lot more about the new virtual reality engineering system at Sandia National Labs, why major defense corporations don't tell the truth to the government labs, and why we may be closer to cloning dinosaurs. Interestingly, being President of a large cryonics company carries a fair amount of prestige among these kinds of people. I'm out on the far edge; but they think of cryonics research as plausible and interesting -- even acceptable, which is a wonderful change from decades of "weird." (And you know you're way out past the boundary when people in rubber alien costumes call YOU weird.)

Next year's WorldCon in is Glasgow, Scotland, and I doubt that Alcor can afford to send me there. However, whenever the WorldCon is outside the USA or Canada, there is an alternate North American SF Convention (NASFIC) for people who can't afford to go so far. Next year the NASFIC will be in Atlanta GA, and we are already making plans to be there.

SO HOW DO WE ADVERTISE?

True advertising and marketing require money. Most cryonics organizations were started on a shoestring budget -- usually with two shoes sharing one short shoestring. Even the essential costs of gearing up and staying ready for suspensions, doing research, paying staff, running an office, and putting together attractive, useful publications are normally more than a small group can handle. Finding $30,000 for major advertising is rarely possible.

In addition, in the early 1980's Mike Darwin used to caution me that you shouldn't do major advertising until you're sure you have something for sale. Advertising cryonics before you have decent equipment and facilities will do more harm than good.

The earlier listed problems of talking about cryonics with someone one-on-one are magnified when we think about advertising. If it takes two years and several kilograms of written material to adequately explain cryonics, how much can we squeeze into an ad? And which things should we choose?

Look at the misperceptions about cryonics that we must overcome to get people even to write for information: We have to overcome the thoughts that anything this far from the norm must be a cult, a scam, or a collection of death-terrified psychotics. We have to admit that the level and amount of research done on cryonics is low, and that we don't know if this will work or not. We have to get past the mistaken impression that cryonic suspension is only for the wealthy or for those people "valuable enough" to be revived by future societies.

And there is the basic lack of understanding the important concepts. The average American has a very poor level of scientific literacy. A survey several years ago showed that less than 50% of Americans had any idea what a molecule was, much less understood DNA, cell biology, or molecular technology. And the situation is much harder for older Americans. My father went to high school ten years before anyone knew what DNA was. We have to define or re-define for people words like "death," "freezing," "cloning," "genetics," "cryogenics," "perfusion," and "ischemia," and we have to show how they relate to cryonics.

There is no doubt that a well thought-out ad in the right publication can be effective. An ad in Longevity several years ago brought several hundred calls for free information. And the Alcor ad in the January, 1994 issue of Omni Magazine (designed by Charles Platt) was especially successful; it gained us about 3,000 requests for information. This ad was in full color and would normally have cost us $30,000 to run. Because of the joint essay contest we had with Omni, the ad was free to us. Now if we had several members giving us $30,000 for full color ads in other publications, I'm sure we could get even more calls. However, please consider the cost-effectiveness. Each request for information costs us an average of $6.00 for the 800 number phone call, the information packet, and the postage. And those 3,000 requests have led to only about 20 members in nine months, so there is not a quick return on the money invested. (Since it often takes years for people to make this decision, this may lead to hundreds of members someday).

We also began to prepare a marketing campaign last year, which will focus on sending letters to names on selected mailing lists. This project was interrupted by our move and other projects, but we hope to get back to work on this soon. Alcor members gave us several donations to begin this campaign, and we are anxious to see what it tells us about what we think is a surge in interest in cryonics.

Since money is in short supply, for now we make do, and try to get as much attention as we can for free. We have written several times about the media interviews we have done this year, frankly more than we thought possible. Cryonics is attractive to the press and television. The operating room and the Patient Care Room are impressive pieces of reality to the press, and the human touch is here, too. Photographs of many of our patients hang on the walls of our office, testimony to the very personal reasons why we do this job. And the media like us because we are committed to a cause, intelligent, good speakers, and because the entire idea is so different -- hubristic and outlandish, but optimistic.

Radio talk show hosts have been especially excited to talk with us this year; and we were happy, too. That is the only place we can control the conversation well enough to promote our 800 telephone number. We have done several shows which stimulated as many as 100 calls over the following 24 hours.

Locally, we are trying to promote a solid community image. I have spoken to the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce, the Scottsdale North Rotary Club, a Jewish Community Center, and a "Death and Dying" class at Arizona State University. We have had two community college "Death and Dying" classes tour our facility. We have given individual tours to dozens of local business people and students, including a number of people from the local medical community.

When possible, we go outside the local area to talk. The Alcor Northern California chapter recently invited me to be the guest speaker at their local meeting. Since I was going to be in the area, Ralph Merkle arranged for me to give a talk at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) where he works. Late this month Derek Ryan and I will present cryonics to a nanotechnology club at Cal Tech and to a high school biology class in Los Angeles.

We can come to your company or organization or town, too. You'll probably have to help us out with our airfare and local transportation; but it's a great way to get some interest going in your local area.

YOU CAN ADVERTISE, TOO

Before I became Alcor's President, I gained publicity for Alcor in many ways. I gave open slide shows in my hometown of Indianapolis, including many to school groups. I let the newspapers know that I was the local cryonics "resource person" in case a related story came up. I was on several local radio and television shows. If you are articulate, well-informed, and confident, you can do the same in your community. (Talk to us first, though; there are some important rules to learn before becoming a spokesperson for cryonics.)

Even if you don't feel comfortable speaking in public, there are many ways you can get publicity. There are dozens of authors out there writing books and magazine articles about aging, life-extension, and the future in general. Not too many of them consider cryonics, advanced medical technology, or nanotechnology in their future scenarios. Doesn't that frustrate you? So do something about it. Send them personal letters or Alcor literature showing them what they have been missing. Most of these people will write more books in the future; and if you plant the right seeds, those ideas will grow. I gave some cryonics information to a favorite science fiction author a couple of years ago, and her most recent book featured cryonics in an entertaining and positive way.

Most magazines and newspapers have a "letters" column. Several cryonicists have had letters published refuting negative mentions of cryonics or giving the readers more information. Try to get Alcor's address and phone number in wherever possible. Remember, the toll-free 877-462-5267 number only works in the USA and Canada, so (480) 905-1906 is best for many magazines.

When people look for information, where do they most often go? The library, the bookstore, the computer network. We would like to see Alcor's books and magazines in every public library, school library, and university library and in every bookstore in America. We'll settle for you just making sure they are in every library in your state. We'll even give you a special deal for buying lots of copies of Alcor's Cryonics: Reaching for Tomorrow or books such as The Prospect of Immortality or Engines of Creation and distributing them to libraries. We'll give you special rates for library gift subscriptions to Cryonics Magazine.

Other often over-looked sources for cryonics information are library reference books. For instance, Alcor has received several calls for information because we are listed in The Encyclopedia of Associations. You might look for other books that we should be listed in and help us accomplish that.

Science Fiction conventions aren't the only conventions that feature dealer's tables, room parties, and guest speakers. You might try to sponsor cryonics-related activities at conferences of space activists, Internet surfers, libertarians, life extension researchers, or similar groups. Make sure it is a group that you belong to, so you know the ins and outs of the sub-culture in advance.

FACE-TO-FACE

Advertising cryonics doesn't have to take hundreds of thousands of dollars. Face it, while most people hear about cryonics from one of the usual sources, they usually adopt cryonics because of meeting a cryonicist. Try to meet people. Show them how friendly and interesting you are. (If you're NOT friendly and interesting, just forget I said anything.) Tell your friends and family. Discuss this idea. Eventually maybe we really will make this idea so well understood that selling it through advertising will work. For now, though -- "Tag, you're it!"

Go tag someone else.

Stephen W. Bridge