“It took me less than half a lifetime to realize that regret is one of the few guaranteed certainties. Sooner or later everything is touched by it, despite our naive and senseless hope that just this time we will be spared its cold hand on our heart”
Politics mirror life.
The complexity attributed to politics is mostly observational and at the very core, it’s the simple things that decide elections, outcomes and provoke revolution. Those simple things are universal and primal and based on emotions and basic necessities.
There is, however, a hidden language that taps into the most intuitive and instinctual human behaviors that can fool people into overriding their basic needs –to support ideology. The tool of this all powerful war machine is the slogan. The right (or wrong) epithet, tagline or bumper sticker can convince sensible folk of the merits of incongruous ideals, breed mistrust, and foment hatred for the people, programs and institutions with their best interests at heart.
One to several words arranged in a particular syntax can upheave a society, and if you don’t think it’s happened to you, you’re already a victim.
There’s a reason that corporations spend millions of dollars to hire advertisement specialists when they launch a new product, revitalize an old standby or seek to broaden the appeal of an already successful line.
In the early days of advertisement, the written word alone was generally enough to convince people that the claims in that ad were true. The idea being, if it’s written down, it must be true. There is still a healthy swath of the public that still believes this, but as the claims proved false, a skeptical public required advanced reinforcement.
Enter Edward Bernays.
Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, and he used many of his uncles theories about the unconscious mind to develop the first corporate public relations firm, that tapped into subconscious desires to advance the goals of profit and social control.
He saw such manipulation as an absolute necessity in achieving healthy democracy. Whether or not that was ever actually true, such lofty ideals were rapidly overcome by corporate greed; the need to maintain status quo was superseded by an almost nihilistic disdain for the consumers by the stockholders and ad men that developed this early consumer mind control. It wasn’t very long before politicians got hip to their techniques, too. One early Bernays campaign marketed cigarettes to women as an empowering phallic symbol. It worked, and the history of feminine lung, breast and oral cancers begins. A vaudeville luncheon organized by Bernays also helped Calvin Coolidge get elected president.
There were men before Bernays, like Gustave LeBon and Wilfred Trotter, who developed interesting theories on crowd control, which were ironically put to devastating use against Bernays’ own relatives in Germany under Nazi rule. Bernays’ work for United Fruit Company helped launch the C.I.A., who dedicated an entire department to studying psychology when most Americans believed it was little more than goofy entertainment for neurotics. If you had bacon and eggs for breakfast, it’s because Bernays developed a campaign in the 1920s to make that combination of pig and chicken foodstuffs the official American Breakfast.
Do I have your attention now?
These campaigns utilized language and image to create specific image-enforced ideas in the minds of the public.
That’s why today, you see a long, slow bite and a euphoric chew in every candy commercial on television -to indelibly link candy and sex, in the hopes that you, consumers, will equate additional value with a ninety-nine cent chocolate bar. It’s why you never see a lonely, disheveled bum, drinking quietly by himself in a dark corner in liquor commercials, but instead are shown only wild, fun and practically orgiastic parties attended primarily by hot, healthy twenty-somethings, as if to say, “Drink this and these will be your friends -this one here will be your lover!”
It’s lowest common denominator stuff because the lowest, most basic principles hold the strongest draw: hunger, chief among them; specifically hunger for food, drink and sex.
These are the primary motivators for us all. This was quickly identified by marketing firms and the challenge became how to separate this sexy ad from that sexy ad. Intelligent advertisers learned about niche marketing. By definition, niche implies selecting a specific target rather than a general one, and customizing the sales pitch to appeal with a greater concentration to that one group. Focus groups came into being, separated into gender, age range, ethnicity, income and geographic location. Later, totems like occupation, hobbies, and religion became additional focal points for campaign engineering.
As the post-war years gave way to the swinging sixties, a savvy hypnotherapist named Milton Erickson developed a series of techniques (as did psychotherapist Virginia Satir) that were further pinpointed by philosophical theologist (and part-time inventor) Richard Bandler and partner John Grinder, who developed a model of interpersonal communication called Neuro-linguistic Programming. NLP became the cornerstone of both the Self-Help trade and of Sales culture. Tony Robbins licensed Bandler’s NLP techniques to develop his billion-dollar cottage industry of Life Improvement seminars, books and other products. It has come under fire as pseudo-science by the scientific community (as has psychology, chiropracty, and homeopathy), but I can tell you from personal experience that it works.
I have used NLP techniques to land better jobs, develop fast rapport with business associates and even for such base motivations as seducing women. I’ve instructed on public speaking, marketing and I’ve even done some life coaching (never for pay), all using an approach that has roots in either NLP, hypnosis, psychology or all three. It has undeniably improved my life and sharpened my awareness of others who also use it.
And I’m not even that good at it!
NLP opened my mind to meditation and reinforced my belief in myself.
I’m not sure if that’s a selling point or a deal breaker for anyone else, but I quit smoking and drinking without entering any kind of twelve step program and without using chemical aids. I also didn’t replace one addiction (nicotine, alcohol) with another addiction (caffeine, religion). That doesn’t mean it will work for anyone else any more than taking golf lessons from Tiger Woods is going to assure you a place on the PGA tour, but when utilizied correctly, the benefits are easily trackable and overall success ratios (especially in sales) rise. Like any discipline, you get out of a thing what you put into it, so participation is key. I should warn you, however, that the cost of NLP seminars can get as pricey as personal, celebrity training.
Awareness is the other key.
If you’ve ever studied a subject intently, you’ll recognize that you develop an expertise that allows you to differentiate between the levels of success within that field of study.
To use an example, Norwegian Black Metal probably sounds like a bunch of noise to the vast majority of people on this planet. But to the Black Metal devotee, there is a strata of differences that vary widely, allowing a trained ear to discern qualitative ingredients. In the larger group of Black Metals fans, what registers as subtle differences to some becomes an ocean of dissimilarity to those entrenched in the sound and opened to that experience.
The same is true of Reggae, Hip-Hop, Jazz and probably even Country.
Vast knowledge comes with long term dedication, and only within a collection can the value of the individual truly be assessed. That knowledge is a sort of defense against the undesirable. If you know what good music sounds like, you won’t want to listen to bad music.
This is also true of marketing, or at least should be.
If you live, work and breathe bullshit, you should be better equipped at recognizing it. But interestingly enough, the opposite is sometimes true.
We train ourselves to accept the familiar. From infancy, it is the familiarity of our primary care givers that instill our sense of trust and socialization. When your profession is to create acceptance in people, you must also be very accepting. So, while on a subconscious level marketers know that they’re getting a sales pitch, they are already geared to accept that pitch. Even if we are completely aware of it, at least a little bit passes through our defenses -perhaps even more so than the general public. So how does an enterprising ad exec cope with that reality?
By educating the public on marketing.
If the general public are given a peek behind the curtain, the respect for a job well done might register as familiarity and stimulate the compulsion to consume.
How’s that for some Manchurian Candidate type shit?
How many years now have we been shown the behind-the-scenes footage?
It’s been since the late 70s. That means every person born in the 80s or later has been raised on this latest wave of high-sophistication marketing. This is the age of the infomercial, only now it really is entertainment. It’s not enough to market a star, now the public is in on the choosing and making of that star from point zero. It’s not enough to show commercials in movie theaters for other movies, now there are commercials for products ranging from mobile phones to laptops and automobiles followed by “how-that-commercial-was-made” content which is really just another well-disguised commercial!
Right now, if you access the web on your mobile device, you may be forced to download and launch mobile-versions of the programs and navigators you have on your pc. These mobile versions are stuffed with advertisements. Pretty soon I’d wager your hand-held mobile phones will whisper commercials to you without your approval: you’ll pull your phone from your pocket, unlock it and it will just start in on a sales pitch before you can even dial a number.
Check out this scenario: An extra few slips of paper are sent by your service provider, possibly with your monthly bill, but maybe separately. Somewhere it will say something like “Notification of New Service Protocol.” It will have a lot of legalese stating that T-Mobile, AT&T or whoever have the right to trade your information to third party vendors, and if you don’t want this to happen you need to send a letter (envelope and stamp not provided) to an out-of-state address which controls your right to privacy.
Perhaps you’ve already received such a letter.
Did you read it? Did you respond? Probably not.
Imagine if the frequency of messages issued by your phone was just beyond your conscious awareness. This sounds like a horror movie, but it might already be happening. Every single initiative to research brain cancer spikes among cellular phone users has been blocked by mobile device lobbyists, as have any consumer sponsored inquiry requesting transparency about what information is being collected and how that info is being used. And at this point, do you even know anyone that doesn’t have a cell phone? If you do, they’re probably seen as simple, or somehow odd.
Well, those simpletons will probably outlive us all.
We’ve been marketed a lifestyle since birth. It’s in our programming, so how do we avoid it?
I’m not sure, but I do know that I need a new laptop because the new solid state iPods won’t work on my 2005, pre-Intel Mac powerbook. I’ll run right out and buy one –right after I finish this delicious candy bar…