LONG LIFE Interview with David Pascal of the Cryonics Society
LL: Some of our readers may not know about the Cryonics Society. Could you give us a little background?
DP: Gladly. The Cryonics Society is a nonprofit organization funded by tax-deductible donations. It was founded by Nick Pavlica, Bruce Waugh, and myself. Its goal is to gain public support for cryonics and for cryonics-related research by educating the public about its value and benefits.
What made us start the Society was our awareness of the real threat that negative press coverage posed to cryonics - in particular, the events that followed the media circus surrounding the suspension of Ted Williams.
Williams' suspension led to anti-cryonics legislation being proposed in Arizona by state representative Bob Stump.
Michigan legislators soon followed suit, and passed a Cease and Desist order forbidding the Cryonics Institute from providing suspension services during an investigation that led to the Cryonics Institute now being regulated as a cemetery.
Suspended Animation's plans to build a facility at Boca Raton were shut down by a City Council ruling.
Things looked pretty grim. Clearly an effort was needed to counteract media hysteria and misinformation and replace it with the facts. Cryonics had to present itself to the public in a more positive way. If it didn't start doing a better job of promoting itself, it could cease to exist. And so could we.
There was also the fact that cryonics has a long history of promoting itself badly. After forty years of receiving more publicity than the moon landing, not even 1500 people have signed up. Cryonics is still viewed by many people as little more than science fiction or a scam. Existing cryonics promotional efforts are a tragic record of failure. The Ted Williams case showed how easily it could put an end to cryonics totally.
We figured it was time for professionals to give it a try. Nick is a successful direct-mail marketing specialist. I'm a marketing consultant by profession. Bruce is a retired Canadian attorney who's represented very successful business organizations. We all felt that if standard marketing practices could successfully market everything from pet rocks to fundamentalist churches, it could successfully market this new form of life extension.
So we formed the Cryonics Society. To better safeguard and promote cryonics.
LL: And what does the Society do?
DP: We provide positive accurate information about cryonics to the media and the public. We serve as an unaffiliated non-profit resource for responsible journalists and officials. And we work pro-actively in a variety of ways to provide a clear non-technical case for supporting cryonics to the general public.
LL: Could you name a few?
DP: Well, we did a direct mail campaign which reached over 30,000 people. We've developed a well-reviewed web site (www.cryonicssociety.org) which has averaged thousands of visits per week. We've gotten calls for information from CNN, the Washington Post, and other groups and journalists.
We issue press releases and news feeds, we network with people in the field and with the public. We try to make the public aware of organizations that are questionable, such as Sibirsky Marmont and Cryonics Institute Germany. We also assist people who are searching for legitimate providers and direct them without favoritism to Alcor, CI, SA.
LL: Really? Can you give our readers an example?
DP: Sure. We got an email just the other day from a television producer called Myrna Everett interested in doing program segment about cryonics out West. I put her in contact with Jennifer Chapman of Alcor.
Soon after a radio producer called and wanted to know about cryonics people in New England. I'm aware that the Cryonics Institute has several members in the area, so I directed her to CI President Ben Best, and gave her contact information for Alcor too.
SA? It's going to have a conference in May. As soon as we learned of it it was featured on our web site's News page, with a downloadable PDF file of their conference brochure attached.
Do activities like that get attention, coverage, and maybe memberships or funds, for those organizations? Maybe not in every case. But over time it's reasonable to assume that it will.
LL: They must appreciate that. Do existing organizations give CS any support?
DP: No. Many CS supporters are members of those organizations, of course, but the organizations themselves have not contributed.
LL: You would think that it would be in their best interest to help your efforts.
DP: Yes, you would think so.
But then we do more than just direct people to the major providers. We reply to letters and calls and emails from the public requesting information directly. We put out news updates — our e-newsletter currently reaches over 1500 recipients and is expected to hit over 2000 shortly.
Sometimes we make the case for cryonics directly. Our pro-cryonics articles appear in mainstream magazines - one, in Mensa Journal, reached a prime target readership of over 50,000. Podcast interviews I've done with writer Steve Cobbs go out to a projected listenership of 200,000 people.
Of course, we've managed to do what we've done so far only because of support from individual people in the cryonics movement. That's been critical. There's an iron law in marketing: you can't do it if you can't fund it. What we do is possible only because people who care about the survival of cryonics support us with their contributions.
LL: Seems like a lot.
DP: We do other things, somewhat unofficially. I suppose I should mention that the cover of Long Life was designed pro bono by Pascal & Associates, a small marketing firm which I head. Two of the original cover designs are featured on this page -- you can click on them to see a fuller image.
The firm has contributed pro bono design services to the Cryonics Society of Canada web site as well.
We try to fill needs like that where we can. Managing even the visual impression a cause makes on the public plays no small part in effectively marketing that cause.
LL: And yet there hasn't been a lot of talk about the Cryonics Society on Cryonet and other cryonics discussion groups.
DP: There's not much need to go to the cryonics community and get them to support cryonics. They do that already. It's people who keep hearing the wrong things about cryonics that we need to reach.
And there's the paradox that any organization doing marketing fails if it draws more attention to itself than to what it's trying to promote.
Take those journalists above that we directed to Alcor and CI. That may get coverage and memberships and funds for Alcor and CI, but will it get attention for the Cryonics Society? No. The story's not about us. We don't suspend people. We don't have big dewars or shiny medical equipment that looks impressive on film.
And it's also true that we've spent a great deal of time recently developing the organization, both technically and legally. For example, we can now accept secure online credit card donations at www.cryonicssociety.org/support.html on the Cryonics Society web site. We're building new databases to power fresh outreach efforts.
And we've formally achieved government approval and are now an established nonprofit organization. That not only helps enhance our legitimacy with the public - it also means that any contributions sent to us are completely tax-deductible.
(Which is good to know, if you'd rather spend your tax dollar supporting cryonics instead of the IRS.)
Doing all that takes time and effort. We'd rather do it than chat about it on Cryonet. After all, we need to take our message to the public, not to each other. It's an important distinction.
What we need to understand is that making cryonics work isn't just a technological problem. It's a social problem. We need to face and solve that social problem if we want to survive.
LL: As a marketing consultant yourself, what would you say are the biggest problems in promoting cryonics?
DP: The way that it's already been promoted is certainly a major problem. People don't buy a product just because of the product: they buy because of their perception of the product. The perception of cryonics is intensely negative - it's seen as impossibly expensive, as something involving mutilating the dead, abandoning religion, dealing with cultists and scam artists, as something that is pure science fiction and not emerging science fact. That's a tough preconception to overcome. Particularly with some in the cryonics movement continuing to feed it daily, as they bash God, cryobiologists, and each another.
Very few of the people rejecting cryonics can give you hard evidence justifying their opinion. Their rejection is superficial - in fact, it's a very nearly automatic reaction to a negative image. Where does that image come from? Mostly from presentations in the media that emphasize the most negative aspects - presentations that people who support cryonics have done too much to foster.
Another problem is simple lack of knowledge on the part of people in the cryonics community as to how to market it properly. Cryonics advocates have a very strange notion of what marketing is. They seem to confuse it with any kind of sales effort. You'll hear, for instance, that a car salesman in the 1970's once tried to sell cryonics but didn't succeed.
They will then assure you that this proves definitively and for all time that marketing just plain doesn't work when it comes to cryonics. It's like saying that since your slingshot didn't hit the moon, then of course NASA can't ever reach it either.
Marketing, to cryonicists, consists almost exclusively of getting your name in the media. Market surveys, direct mail, branding, e-marketing - these are unknown. Getting on TV or in the paper is considered sufficient, if not a triumph. But the problem is that the media likes to sends its message - not your message. And that can backfire.
When it comes to media coverage, cryonicists tend to apply the Madonna Principle - anything they say about you is good, so long as you get mentioned. Getting mentioned in the case of the Ted Williams debacle nearly shut the movement down, but there, as elsewhere, we still keep using the same ineffective approaches.
LL: So what is marketing? And how does it apply to cryonics?
DP: Marketing is basically a five-step process.
The first step is researching the market: you gather as much relevant information as you can about the consumers you're targeting through surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, interviews, direct observation. Eventually you build up a statistically valid profile of the people you want to sell to. That gives you a solid accurate idea of that public's likes, dislikes, needs, preferences.
Once you do, you configure or present the product in a way that satisfies their purchasing criteria. Often you'll do a series of test runs on a variety of small consumer groups and observe the results, sometimes incorporating the test market's feedback.
When the responses are good, you present the tested promotion to the public. This is where advertising - which is only one small element of the marketing process - comes in, although other approaches such as stimulating word-of-or what is called 'stealth' or viral marketing can be applied as well.
When the product is presented, you enter the fourth step: monitoring the reaction of the market and gathering feedback.
The last step is to incorporate that feedback and loop back into the second step, continually re-configuring the product so that it always fits closely with the consumer's preferences.
This is a greatly oversimplified picture, but the main point to understand is that marketers do not come up with a product and try to shove it down people's throats through relentless advertising. What they do is systematically uncover what the market wants, then shape their product till it satisfies those wants.
That's why it's such a strong, indeed irresistible, process. It doesn't impose something on you that you don't want. It offers you something that you do want, that fits in with your goals, your needs, your situation and world-view. Resisting good marketing means resisting yourself. Very few people can do that, or even want to.
LL: Why hasn't this process worked in the case of cryonics?
DP: Because it's never been tried! Do you know that there's never been one statistically valid marketing analysis of public attitudes towards cryonics? The closest has been Scott Badger's 1998 survey which got 517 responses to an internet newsletter - worth doing, certainly, but neither a representative sampling nor one large enough to make valid inferences.
The fact is, we don't know what the public thinks of cryonics. No one knows . No one knows what segments of the public might be more sympathetic to cryonics than others, or what approaches might be more effective. We guess, but we lack the hard data to conclusively know. And the tragedy is, people in cryonics don't even try to know. They simply abuse the public as 'deathists' who are too dim-witted and backwards to embrace cryonics, the way we, the enlightened few, do.
The public, of course, responds to our indifference with equal indifference. And so they don't provide the research funds or social support that could make cryonics a reality.
LL: What would you say is the biggest problem promoting cryonics?
DP: The biggest problem, pure and simple, is money. You can't place ads if you can't pay the printer or the publication. You can't send mail if you can't pay for the postage and the envelopes. The very biggest obstacle to cryonics is the attitude of the cryonics community towards promoting it: they don't. Not to any effective degree.
If every signed-up member of the cryonics community sent the Cryonics Society twenty dollars, we could cover enough basic operating expenses to possibly reach hundreds of thousands of individuals with a controlled, positive, pro-cryonics message. Twenty dollars - that isn't a lot. And since we've become a nonprofit, it's even tax-deductible. People spend more than that on a dinner or a book or a movie every other day.
But getting people to send CS that small amount can be a real struggle.
DP: The usual reasons. People are busy. They've already contributed to their existing provider or a provider's research project and they feel they've done their part. They intend to contribute one of these days. They'll make a mental note to visit our web site, then get caught up in something else.
Their hearts are in the right place. But that by itself won't change the way cryonics is perceived. And in the long run that could lead to disaster.
LL: But surely spending money on research is a good idea.
DP: It's a wonderful idea. But if money were spent on better promoting cryonics, the resulting rise in memberships, donations, and public support could enable much more extensive and better funded research.
LL: What do you say to the argument that you need to make cryonics work first, before the public will even consider supporting it.
DP: Ah, that was Saul Kent's argument in "The Failure Of Cryonics" -- a terrific article, by the way. But I'm afraid I don't agree.
LL: Why not?
DP: The public buys things all the time that aren't proven to work. Astrology, psychoanalysis, healing crystals - none of them work. But people spend millions on them regardless. Has any religion demonstrated in a laboratory that believing in it alone will produce certain salvation? No. But that doesn't stop billions of people from joining.
The fact is, donations and funds for cancer, leukemia, diabetes research run into the tens of billions. Is it because the they have 'cures' that 'work'? They don't.
But nonprofits in those areas have systematically communicated a strong credible message to the public that their work and their research is totally justified. We haven't.
And we must. The notion is that once cryonics works, people will rush to buy it. That's an assumption. Maybe it's true. But maybe not. Consider stem cell research. No one banned it when it didn't work. Suddenly it did. And as soon as it did, funding was banned in the US, and research was banned in nine out of fifteen European nations.
Why do we assume this won't happen with cryonics? If it were perfected tomorrow, environmentalists might regard it as a tangible threat to population control, not a fantasy one. Funeral directors might regard it as a real competitor, not a potential one, and lobby legislators to restrict it. Fundamentalists might regard it as a outright slap in the face of God, not merely a fringe fantasy.
The moment cryonics works may be the moment government shuts it down permanently. Unless the ground is prepared beforehand, and a sympathetic public is prepared and made ready to welcome it, and to oppose attempts to stifle it.
But that takes a professional marketing effort. Which only the Cryonics Society can make.
LL: Why only CS?
DP: Existing cryonics organizations can't do the job we can. I'm not saying that out of lack of respect for their many accomplishments. It's simple realism.
For one thing, they're not marketing agencies and not marketing professionals. They have people to treat, patients to care for, facilities to maintain. Their funds go to operating expenses, employees, equipment, training. They can't give the task of promoting cryonics their total focus.
For another, existing agencies are, after all, competitors. I think there'll always be a feeling that any promotional money spent should promote the organization and not cryonics generally. And that not only skews the message, but can easily worsen relations between the providers themselves.
Then there's the factor of public credibility. Let's face it: every existing cryonics provider has gotten a wealth of negative and critical press. They've endured legal investigations, bureaucratic interference, misrepresentations, and outright mockery and abuse. Whether innocent or not is not the point. When the press throws mud, it sticks.
Plus, existing cryonics companies are companies: they offer a product and they work to make a profit. People just don't place a great deal of trust in businesses nowadays. Company spokesman are not credible spokesmen.
Businessman David Pizer once wrote, "I have always felt that a cryonics organization that does NOT do suspensions and does NOT collect money when someone dies, is a good organization to have around for political and legal battles should they come up, as people who often oppose cryonics point to the money the suspension companies take in when they do a suspension."
He's right. So where's the organization that fits that criteria?
Right here: the Cryonics Society.
The Cryonics Society is focused on promoting cryonics and nothing else.
Its people have professional marketing skills, backgrounds, and experience.
It isn't in competition with any of the existing providers - indeed, it works to send business to all legitimate providers.
And, not least, it has a record that is immaculate. Existing cryonics organizations have controversial histories and controversial practices. Whether those histories and practices are justified is not the issue. The media continually highlight and emphasize those elements, and that emphasis profoundly alienates the public and the scientific community: the very people who should be our friends.
The Cryonics Society has no such drawbacks. We're simply a nonprofit advocating for legitimate scientific and medical research, for better public education, and for the right of people to do with their remains as they wish without government interference. Who in the world can object to that?
The Cryonics Society is uniquely suited to send the positive message we need. That's why it needs people's help and support.
Copyright 2006 by Long Life Magazine and David Pascal