Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hard Selling, Howard Stern, and Investing in the Ocean

Am I crazy to think that this is a weird way to sell investment research on ocean energy?

It makes me think of the summer before my senior year of college. I was working smack in the middle of Long Island. Hauppauge, NY. My employers were a roomful of musically inclined programmers that charged boutique financial services firms big money for fully customized fund management software.

As a group, they took great pride in their immaculately sculpted facial hair.

And I was their intern. I went with them to visit clients. They sent me around asking questions. I took lots of notes.

But I'm drifting. As you've probably noticed. I'm enjoying myself, though, and, relevant or not, we'll call this background info: I'm setting the stage for a very important observation.

Anyway, I spent most weekends that summer not on Long Island. I had rented the cheapest room Hauppauge had to offer. A single bed and reading lamp in the basement of a totally bizarre house with a totally bizarre family. There were heavy doors between every room in the house. All doors were closed all the time. And there were, at the very least, five other boarders in the building. Heaps of cars in the driveway and on the street outside. Vaguely familiar sleepy faces on the front walk every morning. Far more toothbrushes than expected in all the bathrooms. And lots of tiptoeing, quietly cracking doors, and tentative eyes peeking around corners.

Everyone in the house was a little bit afraid of everyone else, and my colleagues were musical geeks with families, so I spent my weekends elsewhere. Either visiting friends in New York and New England or visiting family in Pennsylvania. And by weekends I mean Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. Regardless of how far I was from Hauppauge, I would sleep wherever I had been on Sunday, wake up early on Monday, and drive straight to the office. Two, three, four hour trips. Early. Before rush hour.

And on every one of those drives, at 5am, I flipped the radio to Howard Stern. Never listened to him before. Never since. But, every Monday that summer, I tuned in.

And Howard, every Monday that summer, gave at least one hard sell pitch for a fine white powder in a yellow plastic jug. You scooped it out, mixed it in with your orange juice, and it cleaned out your system. Perfect poops. Huge, regular, perfect poops. And Howard raved on and on about how intensely awesome his poops had been since he started using the powder. He pulled out all kinds of silly quotes, all kinds of crazy numbers. He described pictures that customers had sent him. He read testimonials. He trashed the competition. He offered special call now prices. And he did it relentlessly, repetitively, and for way longer at a time than was necessary to get the message across.

And when I look at Alternative Energy Speculator's sales site and read its outrageously bold claims about our ocean powered future and the deliciously undervalued companies that are going to lead us there, I can't help but think of Howard and his powder.

And I'm surprised.

Alternative Energy Speculator's target market is people that would consider investing in alternative energy technologies. Back in the summer of 2002, Howard's target market was people that would consider buying giant yellow tubs of fairy dust and mailing in pictures of their enormous poops.

I assumed that the techniques used to sell those two products would be a lot less similar.

Apparently not.

It's a strange world out there. Beware. And enjoy.

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