Lessons from a Nigerian Prince

It’s 1985. You’re wearing a white on white suit with a blue t-shirt and low cut white loafers. Your nose is filled with snow and your pocket is oozing cash. This is the pinnacle of all humanity. You reach into your mailbox to find a letter from a Nigerian prince asking for help. This is your shot to make a fortune and a powerful friend. His funds are tied up, he’s on the run, and his grammar is the only thing worse than his spelling. Give him ten thousand dollars now, get ten million later. No brainer.

Really, this scam is a no brainer. You essentially have to have no brain to give your bank information or a wire transfer in excess of ten grand to a complete stranger with no way to verify his identity, situation, or intent. How did he find you? Why does he need a random American’s help? This is called an advanced-fee scam, and it is a work of art you need to examine and learn.

When you read a letter, open an email, or receive a call with terrible grammar, poor spelling, and information that just does not add up you start asking questions. “I don’t even have a Marriott rewards account. Why are they giving me a free vacation? Is it a timeshare scam? Do they just want my credit card number?” It takes moments to recognize these pieces of correspondence are a scam. How could they possibly ever be successful?! Because you are not the target.

A “bad” scam embodies the most efficient form of communication and business tactics. The leader of this scam, the Nigerian prince, uses this method to maximize output with as little effort as possible. Developing a believable and complete facade would take weeks up front and persistent effort to maintain throughout the scam. In the end, most of us who aren’t falling for the Nigerian prince also won’t fall for a shiny version of the Nigerian prince. A poorly written email blasted to every person with a Yahoo account will be ignored 99% of the time. That’s 2.25 million people who paid attention to that ridiculous email. By writing an intentionally unbelievable letter the Nigerian prince let the targets sort themselves into the 99% and the absolutely gullible. A fraction of his effort went into developing 2.25 million sales leads. Now he spends the rest of his time and effort on closing the deal.

Everyone can use this approach. The Nigerian prince teaches us how to choose and be chosen by an audience. Decide what you’re selling whether it’s an advanced-fee scam, toilet paper, your feet pics, your resume, or yourself then calculate how to let your audience sort itself. Describe and market your product in a way that pushes widow shoppers away and pulls the tire kickers into the driver’s seat. That’s how I convinced my wife to date me; I showed her the weirdo I really am from the start and let everyone else be repulsed. Never waste your time chasing the 99%. The other 78 million people have the time for you and interest in you or whatever it is you need them to see.

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