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Spiritual Scam, or Spiritual Span? A Personal Reaction to Brad Warner

July 24, 2009 15 comments

Yesterday Brad Warner posted a fairly scathing critique of Integral Life on his blog, Hardcore Zen, in which he lampoons some of the marketing copy we currently have on http://www.myilp.com, which is an advertisement for the still-thriving Integral Life Practice Kit. The title of his blog was The Funniest “Spiritual” Scam on the Internet, and what follows here is my own personal reaction to his comments. It should be noted that i am in no way looking for a debate, i am simply using my blog as a platform to express my own personal reaction, speaking as someone on “the inside” of Integral Life.

Okay: first let me get this out of the way.  Myilp.com is definitely not the funniest spiritual scam on the internet. This is: Help me help you help me ^_^

Now that i’ve made that clear, let me begin by pointing out where i actually agree with Brad’s critique, setting aside his snarky/smarmy tone and petty name-calling. I actually agree that the language on myilp.com is not the best overall representation for the ILP kit, which truly is an extraordinary long-term transformation technology when properly applied.  But we aren’t really talking about the integrity of the kit, we are talking about the integrity of the marketing pitch wrapped around it. And truth be told, i honestly don’t like marketing tactics like this representing our more significant products and services.

I think that our public-facing marketing should appeal to our “core audience,” using language that is more appealing to self-identifying “integralites.” We might call this a “2:2 marketing strategy” (second-tier to second-tier, to use familiar terminology that i’ve never really been a fan of in the first place.)  The language we see on myilp.com, meanwhile, is more an example of a “2:1 marketing strategy” (second-tier to first-tier) that tries to expose new markets to new ideas—opening the Integral vision and methodology to people who have never heard of Ken Wilber, or who may only have a cursory understanding of someone like Tolle’s work, or who might even know Tolle’s work inside and out but are looking for something a little deeper and more intellectually engaging.

Language like this absolutely has its place—specifically, it generates higher open and click-through rates in mailers, especially when targeted to specific demographics, just as it has for us in the past. And anyone who has ever worked for any sort of online company knows how important that is. Copy like this isn’t as good, as beautiful, or as true as we might like to idealize. Shit, some of us find it altogether distasteful. Others think it smells like a meth-addled prostitute in a moldy Motel 6. But the simple empirical fact remains—it works.

This is an important point—it works, and it works both ways. Not only does it bring in more revenue, and therefore more oxygen for Integral Life and the Integral movement at large, but it actually brings the dharma to more people, exposing new ideas and new practices and new ways of realizing the “Power of Now” to groups of people who would likely never respond to more high-minded “Naropa-friendly” language. Language like what is currently on myilp.com might not appeal to some (it doesn’t appeal to me) but i can assure you, it does appeal to countless others who read the email and find themselves interested enough to purchase the kit—and i would like to think that their lives are now just a little bit freer and fuller than they were before.  Tactics like these can often have the fascinating side effect of bringing more depth to more span, which as far as i understand it, is one of our core principles at Integral Life.

This is the idea of “values-based marketing”—wrapping your products and services in several different layers of language, each intended for a particular way of seeing and relating to the world. While i agree that we are currently seeing just a single layer represented on myilp.com and not the whole onion as we might like, i also insist that this layer is an extremely important one—perhaps even the most important one in terms of the long-term health of Integral Life.*

Yeah, we’re selling water by the river. But it is being carefully purified and filtered, so that you don’t get sick. And as you probably already know, most people walk by the river every single day without ever noticing the water—until one hot summer day when someone offers them a bottle for a couple bucks.

* Indulge me while i kick a straw man around for a minute. I get really frustrated when people complain about us (or anyone) having to charge money to sell membership, products, events, etc. It is as if many do not bother to consider such pragmatic realities as how many resources it takes to create and maintain something like the ILP Kit, or any like these. Or fact that it’s often vital for companies (especially small start-up companies like us) to offer some sort of high-end product to offset the small profits on the low end. It reminds me of those who believe that all information (and even access to it) should be completely free—or that all spirituality (and access to it) should be completely free—while forgetting how expensive the infrastructure that brings it to you actually is. If we are truly looking to create a platform for spirituality in the 21st century, it is absolutely crucial that we properly integrate the techno-economic realities of our time.

On a personal level, i am essentially dedicating my career to serving people who are way more intelligent and realized than myself, and carrying their visions to as many people as possible (hopefully making my own unique contributions along the way)—and i would really like to think i can find some sort of “right livelihood” doing so. And while i might not be particularly fond of the sort of advertising tactics found on myilp.com (you may have noticed me satirizing it in my previous blog post), i must say that i am grateful beyond words for its existence and its effectiveness, for it has gone a long way to help me carve out a living (meager as it may be) in what remains a very small (but slowly expanding) niche market.

My personal level appears to be cluttered with parentheses today.

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