The Man Who Sold The Brooklyn Bridge Twice a Week for 30 Years
“Hello, sir. Would you like to buy this lovely bridge here? Its on sale for today only. Think of all the money you could make from tolls.”
“Are you sure its for sale mate?” replied the confused old man.
“Why else would it have a ‘For Sale’ sticker on it?!” came the reply.
George C. Parker was the greatest con man in American history managing to sell landmark items like Madison Square Gardens, the Statue of Liberty and, you guessed it, the Brooklyn Bridge.
In fact, he sold the Brooklyn Bridge at least twice a week, one time for as much as $50,000. Sometimes the police would have to stop the “new owners” from setting up toll booths in the middle of the bridge.
So what can we learn from this great con man? Well, for starters, I learned that my girlfriend wasn’t impressed when she found out I’d be studying con-artists until 8pm at night, skipping dinner.
But there is also a lot more we can learn – and its not unethical. So let’s dive in. Oh, and stick around to see what happened to ol’ George in the end.
Why the heck am I writing about con artists?
My absolute favorite comedians in the world are a couple of Australian’s called Hamish and Andy who have the world’s most successful Podcast. They are consistently brilliant (currently they are trying to sue Steven Segal) and recently they moved to New York to do a 10 week series. It was them who discovered George Parker.
If I was a betting man I’d guess that they were going to try and sell the Bridge too.
So I got to thinking: how can someone be convinced that the Brooklyn Bridge is for sale, that this guy in front of them owns it, and that it is only going to cost between $50 and $50,000? What part of the human brain is failing here?
Human nature and the art of selling
Photo credit: DVIDSHUB
George C. Parker was a successful con artist because he knew how to sell to people based on emotions, logic and be exploiting several human traits. For example, to sell items like the Brooklyn Bridge he would have had to exploit people’s:
- Vanity; and
And let’s be clear here. To manipulate someone like this you need to conceal your own motivations of aggression or greed and as such it is never an ethical behavior. Sure, it is illegal (swindling/theft) but it is also extremely unkind leaving your mark (that is the victim in con artist speak, told you I was studying) feeling used and debased.
I am not discussing confidence artistry with the hope that you will defraud someone. I am doing it so you will learn about what makes people tick so you can use it on your own blog or website, which I assume is an ethical and helpful service.
Doing your research
The first thing that George Parker did was his research. He knew what made people tick and he knew how to get them motivated.
He also knew a lot about what was involved in a major transaction. For example, he even set up a fake office and had fake contract papers drawn up so people didn’t suspect that he was doing something shady.
If you want to sell more on your blog you need to know what makes moves your readers’ waters. Are they trying to make more money? Are they lonely and want to feel part of a group? Are the scared and are looking for protection? These are things you need to know.
And let me reinforce this point: we only use this information in order to help people and improve their lives and thus grow our business. I find the idea of using human weakness or gullibility in order to rip someone off quite disgusting.
I am also writing about this in a new book about how to grow an audience from scratch that I have been asked to feature in. Leave a comment if you want details.
So what is universal? Well, for starters, people need to feel part of a group. And they want things to be exclusive. If you can merge the two of these things you have a very powerful sales tool. For example, I bet one of the reasons you read this post was because you, somewhere deep down, wanted to know this story so you could tell it to others. That is a kind of exclusive form of power.
George Parker would have undoubtedly used this in his con pitches. Imagine the drivel you could tell people about the unique and rare lineage of people who owned Madison Square Gardens or the Brooklyn Bridge. Sure, people could make money from tolls, but they also become part of a historically elite group of people. And that would have been exciting as hell.
So what happened to George?
George Parker got caught, sentenced to life in prison and was sent to Sing Sing where he eventually died. Not a glamorous ending. Not worth it at all.
So I’d like to know: what emotions or logical arguments get you ticking? What motivated you to buy? Think about the last thing you signed up for online and leave a comment letting me know what it was that pushed you over the edge. Hopefully we can learn a lot about online conversions.
Photo credit: See-ming Lee