The Persuaders is an episode of PBS’ Frontline which focuses on how marketing firms found new and effective ways to advertise among the advertising clutter in society. Marketers face the dilemma that people are unaffected by advertising. Ads are everywhere and people no longer pay attention. This “immunity” forces advertisement firms to find unique ways to promote their products.
The first part of the Frontline episode follows Song, a subdivision of Delta Airline, in their attempt to market themselves. Frontline also investigates new marketing techniques to “break through” to new customers. Some companies employ “Branded Marketing,” in which a television or movie blends their product within a storyline. FedEx interwove itself as a “character” in the movie, Castaway. Starbucks did the same in the Sean Penn movie, I am Sam. Other companies hire linguists, anthropologists, and brain researchers to discover techniques to influence the consumers.
The second part of “The Persuaders” reports on Dr. Clotaire Rapaille and his formula for marketing success based on his theories about how the reptilian part of the human brain works. Dr. Rapaille theorizes that people’s choices are imprinted since childbirth and dictates our shopping habits. He is sought after by marketing firms to discover more effective methods of advertisement.
The last part of the Frontline episode investigates how politics are using the new marketing methods to influence voters. Using a technique called “Narrowcasting,” political strategists (like Frank Luntz) can manipulate language to either clarify or cloud issues like global warming. In fact, The Persuaders demonstrated how changing the term “Global Warming” to “Climate Change” lessens the severity of the issue to the American voter. Furthermore, Political groups can deliver poignant and customized messages to specialized demographics rather than the community. This develops a sense of self over community within a voter.
I feel that The Persuaders Frontline episode is remarkable yet extremely disturbing. In the pursuit of selling products, marketers have discovered an effective method to deliver messages subversively. This is an amazing study in how the human brain works. However, it is a double-edged sword. I believe that empowering companies to psychologically manipulate their consumers creates a culture of people who can no longer think for themselves. A person’s identity and sense of individuality help develop critical thinking skills. If we’re manipulated subconsciously then we begin to be robbed of our ability to make logical decisions. We become psychologically dependent on businesses to dictate our likes and dislikes, much like how cults control people (which was referenced in The Persuaders); except our cults become Nike or Apple.
The Persuaders reported on a data collecting company called Acxiom. The company uses computer farms to mine data so they can predict the shopping habits of every American. The data mining is the “Gold Standard” for commercial advertisers. In fact, data mining has been an effective marketing ploy for myself, despite my lack of interest in watching television and movies. Online shopping sites such as Amazon frequently recommend additional items related to my purchases. I buy tablets and phones and, when I could afford it, accessories for them. I also purchase website themes and scripts. There is no doubt that my data has been mined by algorithms created by companies like Acxiom. In fact, my wife’s devices have a completely different set of ads due to her clothing and jewelry purchases.
In today’s age of interconnectivity, I don’t believe anyone is immune to advertisements. However, I believe that we need to be aware of how modern-day marketing works so we don’t abandon our critical thinking skills. Like anything, advertisements would ideally be received in moderation.