How Harold Camping marketed the Rapture

LOS ANGELES - Some Americans have extreme plans this weekend. A religious leader named Harold Camping has convinced them the end of the world starts at 6 p.m. ET Saturday.

Most of the world's faithful do not believe the date is Judgment Day. But as CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports, it seems just about everyone's seen the signs about the end of the world.

"May 21st, 2011 is the day of judgment," a Family Radio ad says. It's a prophecy aggressively peddled by 89-year-old Harold Camping, a civil engineer and self-taught Biblical sage.

"You and I are living at the time of the end of the world," Camping says.

End of World prediction disputed

He claims to have discerned the date from numerological calculations revealed by his reading of the Bible. He spread his prophecy around the world through broadcasts on his Family Radio network in 84 languages, on RV caravans and on 1,200 billboards around the country.

So how much would Doomsday cost?

According to Camping, starting Saturday, "There's going to be a huge earthquake that's going to make the big earthquake in Japan seem like a Sunday school picnic."

"We want people to know that there are a few hours left to cry out to him for mercy," says Ken Ronning.

Trumpeting the apocalypse doesn't come cheap. Family Radio spent as much as $1 million on the billboard campaign. It can afford to. Camping's radio network was worth about $22 million in 2002 -- by 2008 it was valued at more than $117 million.

"It's a combination of a very new and rather peculiar way of reading the Bible coupled with brilliant 20th century American marketing," says Rev. Michael Seiler of St. Matthew's Episcopal Chruch.

It's become a cultural touchstone for late night comics. David Letterman recently joked, "The No. 1 way to make the apocalypse for fun? More fun? What's more fun than the apocalypse for God's sake?"

The end of the world has been predicted more than 100 times in the last 100 years. In fact, Harold Camping predicted the end once before - in 1994. This time he says he's certain.

  • Bill Whitaker

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