The professional marketing campaign promoting Vassula’s new book Heaven is real, but so is hell aimed at “Christian, New Age and Spiritual consumers”, and the key role followers were made to play.
In a recent news release (http://www.expertclick.com/NRWire/Releasedetails.aspx?id=43693), one of the marketing firms which promotes Vassula’s new book in the USA and Canada congratulated itself on the success of its marketing campaign based on Internet and social media (Facebook, Twitter). It pointed out that the book “racked considerable pre-publication sales through various outlets, and hit number 1 on BarnesAndNoble.com Top 100 list” for one day (on March 1st) before the book reached the shelves.
It omitted to say that this was made possible by Vassula’s followers and prayer groups, who were given instructions on how and when to buy online hundreds of copies of the book (http://www.pseudomystica.info/heavenisreal.htm). The scope was to get the book on the New York Times bestsellers list, a target that has not been achieved to this date.
Nevertheless the book reached number 9 ranking on Amazon.com (Religion category), number 3 on USA Today and number 12 ranking on the Publishers Weekly List on 25 March 2013, with 5’853 copies sold (http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/nielsen/HardcoverNonfiction/20130325.html), but was unable to hold its position and did not appear on the following week’s list.
Preparing the terrain
In a letter sent by Vassula to TLIG followers on November 3, 2012, which was available on the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary blog (until it shut down in March 2013), readers were informed that she had been working on the new book for more than 4 years. She referred to it as a “teaser book”, whose scope was to promote the One Book Edition of the TLIG messages (also known as the “black book”, because of the colour of the cover).
Vassula’s new “teaser book”
for the promotion of the TLIG messages
In the 5-page long letter, Vassula described a very dull picture of the situation of TLIG, and blamed her followers. “Europe is dead with the TLIG messages“, she wrote, “Where are [sic] the multiplication of witnessing? Where are [sic] the distribution of books?“
She asked why people no longer promoted the messages whilst continuing to read them and think that it was enough. She said the Lord revealed to her that this “complacent spirit” made followers feel good when in reality “the devil has made them look in another direction“.
The TLIG messages instruct those who read them to replace Vassula’s name with theirs, so as to feel that God is speaking directly to them when they read the messages. But in her letter, Vassula asked followers to stop replacing her name with theirs if they were not ready to sacrifice themselves and spread the Messages as she did. She also asked them to refrain from attending the TLIG international pilgrimage unless they were ready to “leave your comfort and evangelize” by promoting the messages through witnessing and the multiplication of prayer groups.
In retrospective, the letter – which triggers feelings of guilt and shame for letting God/Vassula down – certainly played an important role in motivating followers to actively participate in the launch of the new book. In fact, they were going to play a key role in placing it on the bestsellers lists.
The Marketing Campaign
Several marketing and Public Relations firms (Success by Design-Florida, UniGlobal Media Group-California, A.Larry Ross Communications-Texas) participated in the marketing campaign for the launching of the new book in the USA and Canada.
The downloadable publicity material was made available online (http://eddievelez.net/vassula/files/) and gives a good idea of the impressive and apparently expensive marketing plan which was implemented.
For instance, the Marketing Components document (http://eddievelez.net/vassula/wp-content/uploads/Marketing-Highlights.pdf) lists the means used and the estimated number of ‘impressions’, that is the expected number of times an ad will be viewed by a visitor or displayed on a website. The total number of “impressions” for Vassula’s campaign were estimated to be 378 millions, including:
– Print, radio, TV and Internet publicity.
– Book trailer featuring illustrations of Vassula’s visions with narration.
– Press releases through national wire services.
– Nationwide volunteer force of hundreds equipped with promotions kits.
– Promotions to over 25’000 TLIG followers.
– Outreach to faith-based organizations and associations.
– Short featurettes of Vassula Ryden for radio and online use.
– Web promotions on faith-based and spiritual websites.
– Vassula’s personal appearance tour (book signing).
– Online buzz within religious, spiritual websites, social medias, blogs.
– Facebook page with a goal of 1 million fans and Twitter account with a goal of 500’000 fans.
– Emails to 10 million Christian, New Age and Spiritual consumers (eblasts).
– Radio spots on commercial Christian and mainstream stations nationwide.
– Illustrations of Vassula’s visions and prophecies with music in videos to be distributed on Youtube and other sites.
The “corporate brochure” for the marketing campaign, sent to followers with the Pledge Kit.
TLIG followers were sent “Pledge Kits” presenting Vassula’s book as God’s answer to their prayers, and reminding them that:
“We do not know the hour when God’s wrath will come upon us, but we know that His judgement is awaiting millions of people who are dying outside His friendship. How many of our own family members, friends and co-workers could be among those that could be lost? (…) The book Heaven is Real, But So is Hell is one major attempt to draw them and inspire them to search the TLIG messages” (from Vassula’s letter to TLIG supporters included in the Pledge Kit).
The followers were then assured in the accompanying instructions sheet that “Jesus blessed the book – He was pleased with it“ and were invited to join the “mission” of bringing back souls to the Lord by placing together book orders from family, friends and co-workers, and then purchasing the books in “smaller quantities of no more than 5 or 10 books at a time” on different websites, in order to create “more transaction activity, which is much better for evangelization purposes”.
The dosage of purchases was necessary in order to generate the right type of sales numbers that would be taken into account by the bestsellers lists (for more details, see our previous article: http://www.pseudomystica.info/heavenisreal.htm ). Note the use of the term “evangelization purposes” as an equivalent of “marketing purposes”.
TLIG prayer groups were sent a more mandatory letter titled “Bulk Buy Campaign” (http://eddievelez.net/vassula/wp-content/uploads/Bulk-Buy-Campaign.pdf), where they were told in bold letters that:
“EVERY TLIG PRAYER GROUP SHOULD DO A BULK BUY.
Each TLIG Group will complete a Bulk Buy Pledge Form which will be returned the [sic] Captain and faxed to Motive Marketing. They will then be given detailed instructions about where and when to purchase the books they have pledged.”
The prayer groups were asked to commit to buy between 25 books ($375) and 500 books ($7’500). Groups were instructed that the books should then be sold or given to “family, friends, co-workers, churches, schools, etc.”
The Bulk Buy Campaign formulary sent to TLIG Prayer Groups
In January 2007, the Vatican had wisely advised against the participation of the faithful in Vassula’s prayer groups (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070125_vassula-ryden_en.html). In spite of this, the promotional material included photographies of Vassula giving Pope Benedict a copy of her messages at the end of a public audience in 2008, and a list of mainly Catholic clergy endorsing her.
In a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document also available for download (http://eddievelez.net/vassula/wp-content/uploads/FAQs.pdf), it is correctly stated that the Notification is in effect and that the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur given to the books reflect only the opinion of the bishops who gave them and not of the Vatican. The document however asserts that “the Vatican is still investigating Vassula’s messages“, but provides no proof of this. In fact, all the documents available indicate that the investigation of Vassula’s case ended in 2004 and confirmed the negative doctrinal judgement expressed in the 1995 Notification (see: http://www.pseudomystica.info/tligchurchposition.htm).
Although Vassula is presented as a “Greek Orthodox mystic”, the FAQ document does not mention the position of the Orthodox Church of Greece nor the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s announcement declaring Vassula’s teachings heretical and asking that proponents (Vassula) and supporters stop preaching them (http://www.pseudomystica.info/tliggreekorthodox.htm). Instead, the FAQ document asserts that Vassula “believes in being obedient to the proper authorities as she works toward her goals”! (http://eddievelez.net/vassula/wp-content/uploads/FAQs.pdf).
Vassula marketed as a New Age medium
TLIG Prayer Groups were also sent instructions on how to promote the book in Christian churches http://eddievelez.net/vassula/wp-content/uploads/Church-Outreach-Campaign.pdf, which must have been a difficult task, since the promotional material quotes the first lines of Vassula’s book, where she describes herself as a New Age medium:
“All my life I’ve seen the spiritual realm. I see Angels, and Saints, and other supernatural beings. I see the souls of dead people. I see them just as clearly as you see living people. (…) It’s an invisible world that surrounds us – a world of Angels, and demons, and powers and forces that affect every moment of our lives”.
The front flap and back cover of the book promise in New Age style access to knowledge of hidden truths that God revealed to Vassula for humanity’s salvation:
“Vassula’s spiritual journeys have revealed profoundly important messages for humanity, largely hidden until now. (…) Heaven is Real, But So is Hell, is the story of Vassula Ryden’s amazing journey … and has propelled her since then on God’s mission to reveal the truth to the world. Constant conversations with God and Jesus
since that time and which continue to this day, bring a message for the whole of humanity. It is a call for all to return to the path of virtue, without which we risk the end of our world as we know it. … It is a book of awakening not only for those who have strayed, but also for those who are still seeking their way.”
The tri-fold brochure included in the Pledge Kit
The marketing strategy documents define the target public for the book as “Christian, New Age and Spiritual consumers” (http://eddievelez.net/vassula/wp-content/uploads/Marketing-Highlights.pdf). Such a target public would have required separate promotional strategies for Christians on the one side and New Agers on the other. However, Vassula’s book is a mix of Christian and New Age elements, seeking to appeal at the same time to New Agers interested in hidden knowledge from spiritual entities and a path for saving the planet from an ecological disaster, as well as attract Christians fascinated by the paranormal and extraordinary phenomena, fearing the imminent occurrence of apocalyptic events. New Age spirituality often infiltrates Christian communities by using this type of mixing, which is very confusing for people not acquainted with New Age ideas and techniques.
A flyer for Vassula’s personal appearance tour
Vassula’s Publisher: a strange choice for an author who “combats New Age”
The New Age connection continues with the publishing house chosen by Vassula: Alexian Ltd. An apparently small family owned company, the UK based Alexian publishing house described itself in the 2011 London Book Fair Directory as:
“Alexian Ltd. Stand R420. Illustrated book packagers of cultural reference, spirituality and health titles. Publishers of the works of Osho, Paramahansa Nithyananda, Vassula Ryden and Ryuho Okawa”. (http://www.londonbookfair.co.uk/en/Exhibitors/45004/Alexian-Ltd)
Wikipedia offers some insight into the three other authors mentioned (consulted on April 15, 2013):
Osho (1931-1990), also known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, was “an Indian mystic guru and spiritual teacher who garnered an international following (…). His outspoken criticism of socialism, Mahatma Gandhi and institutionalised religion made him controversial. He also advocated a more open attitude towards sexuality: a stance that earned him the sobriquet “sex guru” in the Indian and later international press. (…) Osho’s teachings have had a notable impact on Western New Age thought.” Several USA press articles referred to his group as a “cult”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osho).
Paramahansa Mithyananda is a “spiritual master, mystic and the founder of a worldwide movement for meditation”, based in India with branches in the USA (Life Bliss Foundation) and Europe. His name was associated with a series of sex scandals in India. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swami_Nithyananda).
Ryuho Okawa is “the CEO and founder of the Happy Science religious organization and the Happiness Realization Party in Japan. (…) Happy Science is one of many Japanese new religions” considered controversial by the mainstream press and public. According to The Japan Times, “for many, the Happies smell suspiciously like a cult”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryuho_Okawa)
Alexian is also the new publisher for the one book edition of the TLIG messages, due to be released in May 2013, this time with a blue cover (see: http://www.amazon.com/True-Life-God-Divine-Dialogue/dp/0983009317/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1366016081&sr=8-1&keywords=true+life+in+god+messages).
There is no information available regarding the total cost of the marketing campaign, nor how it has been financed. The followers and particularly the TLIG prayer groups and associations spent time and money buying books, organizing promotional events and distributing advertising material.
But how were the marketing firms and the production of promotional material (print, radio and video) paid? There is also a cost for broadcasting and publishing ads. Who financed Vassula’s appearance tour? The publisher? The TLIG Foundation? Or was it covered by the book sales?
In the short interview Vassula gave to the Chicago Fox Chat Room program, when asked at the very end of the interview about the money generated by the book sales, Vassula answered:
“All the money goes to the charity houses that we have around the world, there are 25 of them now. We feed the poor, we clothe them and give medicines as well. For myself, I take nothing of that book. I have never taken anything from the other book that has the messages as well. I’ve never taken any money and I’m not interested in that. I want the good of people. I want to give them hope through what I receive, because God is calling us to give us hope.”
The TLIG houses for charity are called Beth Myriams. According to the Rules for Beth Myriams (BM) that were written by Vassula in August 2005 and published on the TLIG website (http://www.tlig.org/bmrules.html, but the document is no longer available online), the scope of the BM houses is described as follows:
“Beth Myriams are a gesture of charity and good deeds that were inspired from Our Lord’s Messages,
True Life in God. (…) The Beth Myriam is another means of evangelizing, promoting, and spreading God’s Kingdom and His Message. (…) It is not just to let people come in, eat, be nice to them and then they leave, but it is also to let them know the existence of the Messages. In Christian countries, the BM must have the series of TLIG books and given [sic] to those that can read. (…)
The main reason [for a BM] is to feed the poor. If affordable, provide them with clothes. If affordable, provide them with medical care. If necessary and feasible, to teach them (schooling). And last but not least, to let them know of the Messages.”
The document also states that only an “exclusively TLIG involved” lay-person can start a BM and that “BM volunteers are asked to participate in BM expenses by soliciting donations through witnessing about this Work of Love and other creative means (e.g. organizing raffles, etc.)”.
Notice that in the interview, when Vassula mentions the activities of Beth Myriams, she omits to mention the “evangelization” of the TLIG messages, although this is a key aspect of these charity houses. Every BM has to successfully pass an audit every year in which it is examined on three points: Practical Activities (services provided to the needy), Financial Activities and Spiritual Activities. This third point regards the promotion of the TLIG messages, that is if the BM has a TLIG prayer group, “evangelizes” the Messages and organises TLIG “witnessing” events (http://intranet.tlig.org/en/promo/bethmyriam/images/How%20to%20maintain%20a%20Beth%20Myriam.pdf).
Since TLIG followers, even those who do not read English, have been insistently asked to participate in the promotion of Vassula’s new book, one wonders what will happen with the money sent to the BMs? Nothing legally impedes its use for “Spiritual Activities”.
Dozens of volunteers participate in the good work of Beth Myriams in favour of the needy, but one cannot ignore that these houses also have the important function of promoting the TLIG messages and are a useful PR tool for improving Vassula’s image.
The “Vassula phenomenon” seems to continue distancing itself from authentic private revelation – based on simplicity and trust in God – yielding more space to commercial aspects and centering on the personality of the seer. Followers for their part provide funds and workforce for the achievement of marketing objectives, motivated by the sincere belief of accomplishing God’s will for the salvation of humanity.
May 2013 – http://www.pseudomystica.info
Categories: False Mystics