Noisy Water Review

The Power of Persuasion:
How Does it Influence Your spending? (In-Class Essay)

Lora Stoeckl

Brainwashing is often thought of as something that happens only in Sci-Fi movies, yet it is happening all around us in the form of commercials and mass media advertising. The advertising industry uses modern technology to influence our buying decisions. These marketing ploys are exposed in the 2004 PBS Frontline documentary “The Persuaders” directed by Barak Goodman and Rachel Dretzin. This video is a candid portrayal of how advertisers abstract our personal preferences to use against us and gives us insight into the motives of product manufacturers. Data mining companies such as Acxiom compile information about us that is collected from researchers, focus groups, surveys and customer records from credit card companies. This data is then sold to Marketing firms who use it to target certain groups to influence what we buy, what we eat and who we vote for (ch. 6).  Fortune 500 companies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to market research guru Clotaire Rapaille to “crack the code,” which he describes as a mental connection between a word and its unconscious meaning to us. The purpose of this is so that advertisers will know which words push our emotional buttons and cause us to purchase items that make us feel a certain way (ch.4). In addition, research uncovered by Douglas Atkin shows Americans have a cult-like devotion to certain products that meet their need for a sense of belonging and marketing associates have taken advantage of this trend (ch. 2).

Author Robert Scholes expands on these ideas in his essay: “On Reading a Video Text.” Scholes describes our ability to recognize the “metonymic connection” or relationship between a product and a myth, as “cultural knowledge” (par. 8,9). What he is saying here is that we must identify the ideals the manufacturers are trying to sell us, not just the products they are promoting. These can be anything from a sense of love and devotion to pride in our country or an optimistic outlook for the future. The goal of the advertisers is to create an association in our minds between a certain product and strong positive feelings we have about life. A good example of this is the notion that baseball is an American pastime.

One thing the marketing industry is well aware of is that consumers are fed up with the barrage of commercials being thrown at us in every form imaginable. As Naomi Klein reveals in “The Persuaders”: “I have a quote in my book from an advertising executive who says consumers are like roaches. You spray them and spray them, and after a while, it doesn't work anymore. We develop immunities” (ch. 1). This statement implies that we have become so desensitized by mass amounts of advertising that we have begun to tune it out and the commercials just don’t affect us anymore. We also have the ability to block pop-up ads and bypass TV commercials, making it more difficult for advertisements to reach us. In response to this awareness marketing analysts have learned to adapt their methods so that we cannot avoid their tactics. Products are now being promoted in movies of all types and some movies are even paid for by companies who want to push their merchandise (ch. 3).

Marketing executives may take offense to the idea that their tactics could be considered “brainwashing”, and they might argue that they are benefiting society by helping us choose quality products that make us feel good inside. However, their ads fail to discuss how most products are not any better than those of their competitors or that they may be promoting items we have no need of at all or that products like cigarettes, soft drinks or candy may cause a negative impact on our health.

You may be wondering: How do we circumvent this manipulation of our minds? How can we reverse the effects advertising has had on our generation? Advertisers compare Americans to roaches that become immune to bug spray, but are we like roaches in other ways as well, by consuming everything in sight?  This may not be far from the truth. In our culture we are self- indulgent and self-centered. We thrive on instant gratification and want and expect the best of everything. Are the problems that our younger generation is facing due to the mass advertising they have been exposed to? Have parents become a counter-influence to our youth as well by trying to keep up with the Joneses?

Scholes believes “What [Americans] really lack, for the most part, is any way of analyzing and criticizing the power of a text” (par. 9). In paragraph ten he goes on to say “In this age of massive manipulation and disinformation, criticism is the only way we have of taking something seriously.” Scholes solution, which he calls “Ideological Criticism,” is the ability to set aside the emotional response we feel from watching a video text, in order to critically analyze the intent of the videos content, which may be deceptive or misleading. Teaching this type of awareness in our schools will be part of the solution (par. 9). In effect, Scholes is saying that we must guard our minds against mass media propaganda and impulse buying.  If we take Scholes advice it is important to remember that advertisers will continually be adapting and evolving their strategies to influence us in different ways, therefore our critical analysis skills will also need to be adapting and improving as time goes on.

Works Cited

"The Persuaders | FRONTLINE | PBS." PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. Web. 28 Apr. 2011. <>.

Wurman., Richard S. "The Business of Understanding." UNC School of Information and Library Science. Web. 28 Apr. 2011. <>.

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