How do corporations manipulate us? How do they sell the unsellable? Where does science fit in the mix? What does advertising have to do with climate?
The Gruen Transfer has aired in Australia for about 4 years, entertaining and educating us about the effective tactics used daily by advertising agencies to manipulate and persuade us to agree with their brief. After one short viewing they’ve had me believe, or at least entertain the thought, that it’s a good idea to: farm whale meat commercially, to invade New Zealand or for New Zealand to invade Australia, to support child labour, and vote for an alternate political party.
I’ve sat there, knowing what’s happening, yet been convinced that a point of view, contrary to what I thought I believed, is worth considering. Advertisers have researched their target market thoroughly, and will shamelessly use whatever tactics are necessary to get their message across: voices of authority, fear and smear campaigns, derision, over simplification of an issue, bamboozling tactics, undermining, raising doubt, effective targeted music and colours and appeals to well researched inner desires.
Advertising and lobbyists
Their goal is to present a particular point of view as it relates to their brief, not the facts of the issue. On the whole, companies with vested interests use lobbyists and advertising to shape our opinions. They're well co-ordinated and well resourced. Their desire is to maintain the status quo, they don’t want to lose market share. So if they find a scientist who is prepared to toe the company line, they’ll be recruited to present a particular viewpoint. It’s irrelevant to them if their “expert” is trained in a different field, whether they’re respected by their peers, whether they’re even up to date with the latest research.
In contrast a scientist will rarely present a point of view, they are in the business of presenting accurate data no matter how unpallatable, complex or uncomfortable it might be. Their goal is to remove bias (as much as humanly possible) from their work and words - they're cautious and don't insist on absolutes. Unlike those trying to sway opinion, scientists don’t use language, imagery and sound to appeal to our emotions, to manipulate and persuade.
Unfortunately when scientists present information, they can appear awkward - they choose their words cautiously, carefully and precisely which reflects the very nature of their tradition. They’re not always slick and polished performers; their tradition is to deepen knowledge, not to win votes, increase ratings or shine in popularity contests.
In ‘real’ life we don’t have the luxury of sitting back and reflecting, questioning or critiquing data we’ve been presented with. We’re bombarded persistently, aggressively, relentlessly: on TV, in print media, on billboards, through social media platforms. We can be putty in the hands of elite advertising agencies.
If you have time, have a look at some of the examples of “selling the unsellable” they’re about 4 minutes and are fascinating. This cringeworthy pair of advertisements are promoting plastic surgery for the under 10’s.