The Venomous Vicar

Music hall comedians used to launch into their first joke or sketch  with “A funny thing happened to me on the way to the theatre tonight.” It was all nonsense, of course, just a way to get the show going.   But a funny thing really did happen to me on the way to the theatre last week, and any modern day comedian witnessing it would have had his first 10 minutes laid out on a plate.

It was Saturday afternoon, and I was taking my daughter to the theatre where she was performing in a matinee. The route took us down a wide B’ road which threads through a housing estate and past the local hospice. As we approached, I saw a man in later years, walking slowly across the road towards the hospice – apparently deep in thought. We got closer and I realised he was a vicar, and for a brief moment I wondered what duty he was about to perform. The thought didn’t last for long.

A silver hatchback was coming the other way. The vicar was oblivious to its presence, and the car had to slow right down as he continued his leisurely crossing.  The driver was clearly infuriated by the delay and blasted the vicar on his horn as he passed. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. The clergyman spun around, made a familiar hand gesture and yelled “F*** OFF!” at the stunned motorist before proceeding on his way.

“Did he just say what I think he said? asked my daughter.

“Yep.” I replied.

“And he was a vicar?”

“ Unless he was on his way to a fancy dress party!”

We both dissolved in laughter at the incongruous turn of events.  Father Jack is apparently alive and well and living in Rotherham.

What we were witnessing there, of course, was a peek beneath the veneer which he presents to the outside world. I’m sure the vicar doesn’t normally talk to people like that, but the combination of being startled by the car horn and a surge of anger caused the ‘mask’ to slip and a quick glimpse at what lay beneath.

We’re all like this of course. We present an image in line with how we’d like the world to perceive us, but the reality can be very different. Most of us don’t want the world to view us in a negative way – say as unsophisticated, uncouth, greedy, lazy or self centred individuals…or with a strong interest in some of the more base pleasures in life. And so we apply a veneer that is more refined, cerebral and sophisticated in both taste and action, than is our underlying pre-disposition.  The monster within only makes an appearance when we’re under pressure or stress, when alcohol or drugs remove our inhibitions a little, or when we think nobody is looking!

But that monster is instrumental in most of the decisions we make, and he’s certainly making his opinions well and truly heard when we’re considering whether we will buy a particular product or service.

A great deal of marketing fails to hit the spot because it’s aimed at the prospect with the veneer still firmly in place. Over the years I’ve spoken to dozens of people about their marketing and have often had cause to criticise it for being too safe, too boring and too corporate. The reaction is nearly always the same…”But our customers are sophisticated/serious/refined people. They wouldn’t like anything too extreme.” In my experience, this is nonsense. They all have a monster lurking within, and he’s the one holding the purse strings. He makes decisions based on strong emotions, and you don’t light a fire under those by being too safe or corporate.

If you’re reading this it’s safe to assume that you’re familiar with my companies products and services and the way that they’re marketed. So who do you think responds to an advertisement that says, “Drivers, Here’s The Information The Police Don’t Want You To Have’ and then goes on to sell a book about avoiding speeding tickets. Teenage boy racers in baseball caps, perhaps? I just had a little look at our database of buyers. Here are a few interesting highlights:

- There are 34 men of the cloth  (and they’re just the ones using their titles!)

- There are 51 knights of the realm

- There are 26 Lords and Ladies

Plus at least a dozen household names from film, music, politics and TV which we just happened to notice when their orders came in.

Now of course, I don’t know everything about the other people who buy from us, but it’s safe to assume that a great many of them are far removed from what you might expect, and far too refined/serious/sophisticated to respond to the sort of advertising and promotion we tend to favour. Except, of course, that they do.

If you’re not getting the response you want from your advertising and marketing, it could be because you’re trying to sell to what you see rather than what you get. And what you get is a lot more base and ‘earthy’ in its behaviours, needs, wants and motivations than it would like you to believe.

You need to sell to the vicar out on the street, not the one standing in his pulpit.


* My latest book ‘Why Didn’t They Tell Me? – 99 Shameless Success Secrets They Don’t Teach You At Eton, Harrow Or Even The Classiest Comprehensive’ is now published. Go to for full details.

15 thoughts on “The Venomous Vicar

  1. Bob Lowis

    I’ll have to have a hard look at how I think about these things.
    As usual, a “why didn’t I think of that” sort of thing.
    Clever bugger!!!

  2. Mike Cruise

    I agree about the exterior veneer that people present to the outside world. As you say people usually only let you see what they want you to see.
    I have 2 editions of the book in question and considered it good value for money.
    I have used it but didn’t win my case. Not because the content failed to deliver.
    I think many people irrespective of handles, social standing, etc. are outraged by speed cameras. Most people I know regard them as money raisers for govt./police etc.
    The safety camera bit is a myth to make the things appear to be more respectable. Obviously I’m not suggesting people should drive without due regard to rules of the road, common courtesy, safe driving etc. I could say much more about these things but you get the point I’m making I’m sure.

  3. Neil

    This is very true. I tried selling insurance once. The top salesman spoke to me and a group of other new recruits It’s a numbers game. Here’s what he said: You just have to keep asking. It doesn’t matter how bad you are at asking. If you just keep asking, you’ll get results. I went out to a club on Saturday and went to every girl in the place and said “Do you fancy a sh*g?” Most of them told me to get lost, but I asked this lovely looking girl, very classy, and she said “No, but you can buy me a drink if you like”. According to him, he got what he was after later.

    So, yes, even the classiest looking people will respond to something ‘earthy’.

  4. Keith

    Bloody right, John.
    I’m always too wishy washy in what I email to people, always wondering what they will think. Will I offend them, make them leave my list. So consequently I don’t send them anything and I’m sure that all the time my list just whittles away little by little.
    I’m sure that what you are now going to sell us is a better way to understand our customers. thereby making much more mooler (as the man in the ad says)
    By the way I had to look up how to spell consequently corektley !!
    sorry, I’m being a bit sarkey
    Ps: I do really want to make money on the internet

  5. Jamie Ashton

    Hiya John,

    A great post and a wonderful example of how lessons can be learned in unusual places! A useful lesson for my nascent copywriting skills… appeal to the inner chimpanzee in us all!

    All the best


  6. Mike Applin

    So true!
    At my mother’s funeral the woman vicar roared into the car park because she was running late. She attempted to reverse into a parking space only to hit my friend’s Mercedes bumper to bumper.

    She jumped out her car and shouted “Oh f***”

    My friend was quite taken aback and as he didn’t wish to cause a scene just said don’t worry and left her to rush up to the church still cursing under her breath.

    Anyway at least she managed to get her act together for the service!

  7. Bernard Stanbury

    Hi John

    A lovely, amusing little story, with a valuable marketing lesson rolled into it, not too dissimilar from an essay you wrote (was it about 6 months ago) about geniuses – but with a marketing point – that you also opened up to discussion.

    You know something: with your veneer in place, you look quite decent and likeable !


  8. John Crouch

    Hi there John, As usual there is always an element of both surprise and truth in your style of writing. Long may you continue.
    One question though does require an answer. Amazon have now revealed that they sell twice as many kindle versions of books, as they do actual books themselves.
    So when will you be selling digital versions of your books, in perhaps epub or pdf versions, that can then be converted using Calibre software? This way we can have epub, Kindle, Nook, etc. versions all that we can read on our own ereaders.
    Guess what? You get to sell a lot more books, save a shedload on delivery costs, and become even richer still. Sounds like you should have been doing it a long time ago.
    Really hope you step up to the plate and join the full digital age.
    Sincere best regards as usual, John.

    1. John Harrison Post author

      I do have the odd book available on Kindle. Why not all/everything? This is a huge subject with issues relating to price, perception, flexibility, control and exclusivity which I may come back to on another day.

  9. Stephen Culley

    This has nothing to do with external veneers, perceptions etc, this article was written for the sole purpose of selling more “drivers’ information” books. It’s what John does and he does it very well, I’m just amazed that people don’t realise what is going on here.
    I actually bought the book ages ago – very good too.

    1. John Harrison Post author

      Many thanks for your kind comments about the book. Do you know what though…the article genuinely wasn’t written to sell the book. In fact, it was a bit of an afterthought – to use it as an example.

      What really happened was I saw the swearing vicar, wanted to share the story and so gave some thought to how I might spin it into a useful message about marketing.

      If I’d wanted to sell something from the piece, I’d have picked something more expensive…oh and I’d have told you where you might buy it!

  10. Peter Baker

    Love the story, John. Some years back I had to go to a family funeral. driving to the car park a figure in a long black frock crossed the roadway. I said to the wife, ” Good Lord, that was ‘Nonker’.” ‘Nonker’ was a member of my old Rover Scout Crew. After parking the car we walked back to the Garden to which he had been heading and there he was, sitting very sedately, with his Bible open, reading. I approached with the cry, ” Well, Nonker, me old china.” He looked up and responded, “Peter, what the hell are you doing here?” and closed the Bible. I observed that the book did not close completely and prised it open to see what he had been reading while awaiting his next customer and it was ‘Trent’s Last Case’. I refrain from repeating the following conversation.

  11. Peter Wood

    Nice one John!

    For those interested in similar stuff join Rob Evans list at Capital Westland (Google it). Rob sends an email to his list almost daily – and most importantly it gets OPENED.

    The sh*g story goes back a few years. Similar thing. Bloke talking to his mate says that he goes to parties and does the same thing. Mate says “Good lord, don’t you get a lot of rebuffs?” “Of course I do, but I get a lot of sh*gs as well!”

    Moral of the story – if you don’t ask, you don’t get.


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