How the Psychic Readers Network Used Indoctrination to Pull Down $24 Million a Month

Remember Miss Cleo from TV commercials advertising free psychic readings in the late ‘90s/early 2000s?

Miss Cleo was a black woman dressed in Afro-Caribbean clothing who spoke in a thick Jamaican accent. With an inviting smile she would implore viewers to “Call me now for your free reading.”

On these commercials she would give “real callers” tarot readings over the phone. She usually advised callers about their love lives with a kind of tough love approach.

The callers would be shocked and delighted at her accuracy, proving Miss Cleo could indeed use the power of the tarot to show people the way.

Who was Miss Cleo?

The truth is, “Miss Cleo” was a fabricated spokeswoman for the Psychic Readers Network (PRN), a pay-per-call service.

Her given name was Youree Dell Harris (she passed away in 2016 from colon cancer). She was born in Los Angeles, spoke perfect English and came from a family with money. Just prior to becoming the PRN spokeswoman, she was part owner of theatre company in Seattle that produced plays she wrote.

In a 2014 interview with Vice, Ms. Harris claimed the company pulled in $24 million a month for two years straight using her as a spokeswoman.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) eventually cracked down on the Psychic Readers Network, charging the founders with deceptive advertising, billing and collection practices. The founders settled out of court for $500 million. Ms. Harris was not named in the suit.

What’s Miss Cleo got to do with indoctrination?

Before Miss Cleo, nobody knew about Psychic Readers Network. Only a few fringe believers called psychic hotlines. But with Miss Cleo, whose commercials were in constant rotation in the 1990s, PRN made insane amounts of money.


Because “Miss Cleo” looked the part. The accent, the Afrocentric clothing, the setting of the commercials all worked together to create an air of believability.

People made a connection in their minds between Miss Cleo’s appearance and supposed background and the mystical, unknown nature of tarot cards and psychic readings. They figured she must be legit. That’s the power of stereotypes and imagery.

For better or worse, humans take mental shortcuts and tend to believe what we see.

The Miss Cleo Takeaway 

Cold prospects are taking the same kinds of mental shortcuts and striving to make connections when they visit your website.

To indoctrinate new customers your website has to “look the part,” as it were. If there’s a disconnect between who you say you are and what prospects think you are, your sales will suffer considerably.

PRN wouldn’t have made all that money with a white, bald spokesman in coveralls named “Joe Smith.”

Take a look at your website and determine if the imagery, design, copy and narrative are all in line with the essential soul of your business.

Are you projecting professionalism? Whimsy? No-nonsense sophistication? Cluttered confusion? Apathy?

And how can you ethically and effectively create your own “Miss Cleo” that represents who you are, what you do and what you stand for?


Get your very own 5 C’s of Indoctrination checklist here.