The Pillow Prophet, the Poop Shaman and the Rise of Faith-Based Marketing


If you’ve listened to talk radio at all in the last 10 years, you’ve heard ads and plugs for MyPillow®. This is a pillow that is said to be so supportive and so sleep-friendly that it might be the most comfortable pillow on the market. Radio hosts hype this thing like it’s going to end Third World famines and usher in an era of peace or something.

But we’re not going to talk much about pillows. We going to talk about the creator of the MyPillow®, Mike Lindell, and the incredibly strange path that supposedly led him from being a middling Minnesota businessman and crack addict to becoming America’s top independent pillow tycoon, with connections to the White House. We’ll also dip into the peculiar intersection between faith and consumerism in the U.S. – an unholy alliance if ever there was one.

A Fluffy Platform for God

Mike Lindell grew up in Chaska, Minnesota in the ’60s and ’70s. He dropped out of college and in the early ’80s embarked on his career as an entrepreneur, trying his hand at carpet cleaning, pig farming and food trucks. He says he did some time in jail.

He got married and had kids, but was mired deeply in his addiction to cocaine in 2004, when he had a vision for a miraculous product  –  a pillow that would hold its shape throughout the night. He was convinced, even at the time, that his dream of the perfect pillow had come directly from God.

He started off selling his pillows at a mall kiosk, then graduated to home shows. As his pillows caught fire, his addiction worsened and he moved to crack. He tells a very weird story about how he was so wired on crack that he didn’t sleep for two solid weeks in the spring of 2008. His dealer took pity on him and put word out on the street that no one was to sell Lindell any more crack until he got some rest. His dealer explained that they knew all about his pillow-from-God greatness, and that they couldn’t let him die because they were relying on him to make something of himself and then bring them out of their criminal lifestyles. “The pillow is just a platform for God,” Lindell told Mark Levin with a straight face during an interview on Fox News’s Life, Liberty & Levin last April.

The dealers’ intervention didn’t end his addiction, though. The only thing that saved him was praying to God in early 2009 that his decade-long addiction to crack would simply stop. And it did! No rehab. No therapy. No support. Just a prayer.

Lindell went on to make infomercials for his pillows starting in 2011, and rapidly built up a Minnesota-based company that now employs 1500 people and brings in roughly $300 million a year.

If you think he doesn’t capitalize on his past, his Twitter bio includes “Former Crack-Addict.” His memoir is entitled What Are the Odds?: From Crack Addict to CEO. He sells copies of it on his extremely image-heavy website, which features just as many photos of a grinning Lindell as it does of pillows and pillow accoutrements.

Lindell has now devoted himself to two divine beings: God, and Donald J. Trump.

Lindell first met with Trump in August of 2016, during his presidential campaign. He later said (in a 2019 Liberty University speech) that this meeting “felt like a divine appointment.” He spoke at a Trump campaign rally in Minneapolis that November, and attended Trump’s inauguration. Trump has praised Lindell at several rallies since that time, and Lindell was one of only 20 industry leaders invited to sit with Trump and Pence at the 2017 Made in America Roundtable.

Lindell has repeatedly referred to Trump as the greatest president in U.S. history. He lavishly praised Trump’s tax cut package, from which he directly benefited before firing 150 employees at his Shakopee facility.

This week, he put in a guest appearance at a presidential coronavirus briefing to urge Americans to pray and read their Bibles. He has hinted that he could enter the 2022 gubernatorial race if God wills him to do it.

The reason I bring up Lindell’s support of Trump is that Trump has somehow, against all odds, marketed himself as a man of faith and an instrument of God in spite of having no solid religious affiliation or devotion whatsoever. People who don’t know much about his policies will support him solely on the basis of his “being on God’s side”,  just as some people will buy a pillow because it’s made in America and was invented by a Christian with a powerful testimony.

Testify

Lindell uses a few different kinds of testimony to market his product. First there is his bizarre conversion story of getting off drugs without any effort on his part. Then there is his narrative of patriotism and battling political corruption. He frequently speaks against “big pillow” companies that want to undercut him, and insists he will never “sell out”, giving the impression that he is battling monolithic pillow forces that are trying to corrupt his godly enterprise. He ties this in to patriotism, proudly advertising a made-in-America product line.
When the Better Business Bureau downgraded MyPillow’s A+ grade to an F due to its continuous 2-for-1 price “deal,” which goes against BBB standards, Lindell re-framed this as political persecution. Why anyone would punish a businessman in America for supporting a sitting president remains to be seen.

We explored the power of testimony in the Prodigal Witch series, where I showed you how evangelical Christians used their alleged pasts as devil-worshipers and warlocks to sell books, spread the gospel and incite paranoia.

Testimony is still used in this way today, of course. You’ll find several “former Illuminati members” and “ex-Satanists” on Christian broadcasts, hawking their memoirs. But on a broader level, testimony and spiritual appeals are used to sell everything from soap to eggs that you can stuff into your vagina. Faith-based marketing of ordinary household products is becoming the norm.

God Wants You To Be Rich

Amway paved the way for this. The cult-like, pyramidish direct marketing behemoth heavily targeted Christians at a time when prosperity gospel was teaching America that obscene wealth and religious devotion are not incompatible at all. In fact, God wants you to be rich. Obeying the directives of uplines who donated vast sums to conservative Christian organizations and sprinkled every rally with references to God’s kingdom, Amway reps bought up self-help cassettes, books and VHS tapes that were supposed to help them manifest fabulous wealth. Most of the motivational speeches centred around radical transformation – both religious and financial. Testimony, in other words. It was later revealed that the top earners in the Amway hierarchy were making most of their money not from the sales of toothpaste and laundry detergent, but from the motivational shit they sold to their downline reps.

Scentsy, another multi-level marketing outfit, is branding itself in a similar manner – as an all-American Christian company, wholesome and trustworthy. On some level, all direct marketing operations are selling tiny slices of the American dream by persuading people that they can become financially independent, be a “girl boss”, make millions out of their own home, etc. Tying this message to traditional religious values makes the businesses particularly appealing to women who want to earn money without looking like they’re shortchanging their family or giving in to societal pressures.

This marriage of faith and cash doesn’t work only for conservative businesses. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps have long stood out in the natural-soap market for their wacky labels bearing New Age messages about unity and ecology, which are still at the core of the company’s marketing today (over 20 years after Bronner’s death).

Gwyneth Paltrow’s tales of overhauling her diet to cure various conditions helped her to sell millions of cookbooks, and she is now America’s #1 purveyor of high-end health and beauty products through her company, Goop. Goop’s feel-good, luxury New Age marketing is masked as maverick science. The selling point of nearly everything you see on Goop is that it will make you cleaner, purer, and/or more spiritually evolved.

The concept reaches peak silliness with Suzy Batiz, the creator of Poo-Pourri®. Like Lindell, Batiz was a low-level business hustler who struggled for years to get any of her numerous enterprises off the ground. She sold lingerie to strippers, tried to develop a caffeinated gum and repaired hot tubs, among many other things. Then she hit upon the idea of developing a spray that would seal in the scent of defecation to prevent people from being embarrassed when they take big smelly dumps in public toilets.

You wouldn’t think that shit-spray and spirituality could walk arm-in-arm, but Batiz is Gwyneth Lite and insists that she is a “business shaman.” Before hitting the poop-shame jackpot, she had studied various religious traditions (Buddhism, Kabbalah, Hinduism) and brought those into the business world with her, offering New Age self-care workshops to other female entrepreneurs in her house, which is a restored church stuffed with religious relics and surrounded by a Zen garden. Poo-Pourri employs both a Feng Shui expert and a “happiness manager.”

To Batiz’s mind, becoming a multi-millionaire is just another step along her spiritual path. She routinely goes on ayahuasca retreats and talks a lot about “energetic resonance” when discussing business. A psychic told her that “Money is energy. And business is the biggest way to move money.” Batiz underlines this idea of business as a spiritual odyssey with tales of how she overcame drug addiction, abuse and poverty – powerful testimony.

As part of its marketing, Poo-Pourri created a surreal immersive experience that takes place inside a giant inflatable poop emoji. Within this fecal temple, a multimedia display encourages personal transformation through releasing toxic emotions and experiences – “letting shit go.”

There is a dark side to all this, and that is when a corporation engaging in deeply shady practices or outright fraud masks its true nature with spirituality. Theranos would be a prime example. In addition to being a corporate cult filled with enforcers, group shaming and other coercive practices, Theranos pretended to have an almost divine mission to bring health to the masses, and to be a spiritual enterprise. At one staff meeting, Elizabeth Holmes distributed copies of Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist (a New Age favourite) and told her employees that she was building a religion. Then she issued an ultimatum: Believe or leave.

Sometimes, all a company has to do is change its language to make it seem that spiritual or ethical progress is being achieved through the use of its services. “Conscious capitalism” can mask everything from monopolistic practices to price gouging. The use of greenwashing to make corporate practices appear eco-friendly is pervasive.

And there are con artists who push their ideas as gentle, clean, safe alternatives to mainstream products or services that are “secretly dangerous”, usually using a ginned-up medical conspiracy to hype their stuff. Jillian Mai Thi Epperly used a viral video titled “Exposing the Lies Candida: Weaponized Fungus Mainstreaming Mutancy” to promote Jilly Juice, a completely ordinary veggie drink that was later said to cure everything from autism to cancer.

Then there are the guys who fuel their marketing with fear of apocalyptic clashes and the destruction of America. Jim Bakker graduated from promoting buckets o’ bunker grub to passing off an ordinary silver colloidal solution as a COVID-19 “cure” (lawsuit pending). Alex Jones has his vast array of supplements that will make you lean, hyper-masculine and ready to take on the New World Order globalists that want to kill your kids (if the neighbours don’t eat them first).

Once you sift through all the feel-good (or get-angry) rhetoric, you’re left with just one thing: A product. Maybe it works for you. Maybe it doesn’t. But I’ll guarantee that it will not change your life.

Which brings us back to the pillows. Are they really the most comfortable ones out there? Ratings and customer reviews vary. Some people like them. Some people are unimpressed. In short, they’re just like any other product that wasn’t divinely inspired. There is nothing particularly special about the pillows.

In 2016, around the same time Mark Lindell was helping Trump get into the White House, My Pillow was sued in Alameda County Superior Court in California for running ads (such as this 2013 “interview” with KDNK radio) that made unsupported claims of the pillows helping relieve fibromyalgia, vertigo, migraines and other medical conditions. My Pillow settled for about $1 million, but Lindell insists he settled only to make the problem go away and that he did nothing wrong. After all, how can you possibly err with God’s own pillow and Donald Trump on your side?

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