Persuaders are advertisers or anyone who wants to influence you by making their product or idea seem like the only sensible choice. Persuaders are not simply interested in giving you information. They want you to respond in some way: to do something, to believe something or to buy something. Commercials and other advertisements seem straight forward, but they actually use many tricks! Don’t expect commercials to make sense. They may not outright “lie”, but they usually don’t tell you the whole truth either.
Analyzing 30-second TV commercials or advertisements in magazines is the easiest way to learn about many persuasion techniques. Their message is almost always the same: Buy This. Other kinds of persuasion, about for example politics or religion, are harder to analyze because they are deeper and more complicated messages.
During your whole life, you are going to be the target audience of many different kinds of persuaders. Have you ever been to a bazaar or other open marketplace where sellers call out for your attention? Television is the main marketplace for our society. See yourself as being in the middle of a noisy marketplace: but, recognize that while some sellers may be loud, shrill, and annoying -- other sellers may be soft, sweet, and seductive. We live in a free society, so you should expect and even appreciate so many different options. The trouble comes when you don’t realize that you are being persuaded. Once you understand the techniques persuaders use, you can make informed choices. After all, we all only have so much time and money. You should use your precious resources in the way that is best for you, not best for the persuaders.
If you can learn how to analyze things --- to recognize patterns, to sort out incoming information, to see the parts, the processes, the structure, the relationships within things so common in our everyday life, then it's worth the effort. These intellectual skills stay with you and help you throughout your life.
Commercials are designed with psychology in mind. You should realize that advertisers spend millions of dollars to figure out the best way to get inside your head. To combat this, YOU need to be able to break down their techniques. Then you will be as smart as possible when it comes to making up your own mind.
Commercials are designed to be memorable. The advertisers want you to remember the brand name, slogan, jingle, characters, catch phrases, and stories. Can you describe a few commercials? Most kids can. Just remember that there are people behind the commercials who are trying to persuade you.
Commercials are designed to be entertaining, funny, and interesting. That way, you want to watch them!
Commercials are designed to offer us things we want, such as popularity, esteem, or attractiveness.
Commercials praise our good taste and tell us what we want to hear. Teachers and parents enforce rules and make kids work hard. Commercials flatter us and never make demands that we do our homework or clean our rooms.
Commercials focus on the good and leave out the bad. They don’t explicitly say “you will have fun if you buy our product”. Instead, they show kids playing on the beach or running on a field. Often viewers jump to conclusions based on unspoken assumptions.
The Good and The Bad
Persuaders AMPLIFY the good side of what they are selling in these ways:
Persuaders DOWNPLAY the bad side of what they are selling in these ways:
Always using the same symbol or slogan so that you recognize it. Using the same jingle and same images, over and over again.
Leaving out the unwanted side effects or anything bad that can happen. This also includes using unspoken assumptions or faulty logic. If a persuader must include something bad by law, then it’s usually in really tiny print at the bottom.
Connecting their product with ideas the target audience already wants or loves, like saving money, being popular, being attractive, having fun. The spokespeople may be celebrities or other authority figures or people you would like to be friends with or be like.
Focusing on a side issue that is favorable to them, instead of the main issue. Persuaders also distract you from your other options, such as not needing to buy their product at all or borrowing one from a friend.
Carefully creating the whole package, using music, lighting, and attention grabbing words. Recognize that commercials are the result of many adults spending months working on every detail to convince kids to spend money on their products.
Using vague words, general claims that you can’t measure or prove, or inconsistencies.
Try to notice persuasive techniques when you are watching television. If you are watching a funny show, notice how the studio audience applauds whenever characters arrive. Count how many times the audience laughs in one thirty minute show. Did you laugh that much?
When you watch a drama, notice how lighting, sound effects, music, facial expressions and body language of the actors create suspense. Try watching the first half of the show without sound to examine the visual images. Then cover the TV screen for the second half and just listen to the sounds. Did you notice anything that you hadn’t noticed before?
Five Steps To Selling
Most salesmen or persuaders use a common structure to persuade you. Look for it in commercials and when you hear people trying to convince you to do something.
Here are the five steps:
The Five-Step Pitch
The ad grabs your attention with pretty girls, cute kids, sweet babies, snow-covered mountains, blue ocean waters, "good times" with friends and family, sports heroes, smiling young lovers, or fluttering flags.
2. Trust me.
Then they try to get you to feel comfortable with them by using celebrities that are paid millions of dollars or by doing something as simple as smiling to seem sincere.
3. You need this.
They make you want what they are selling by telling you how wonderful the product is (think about car commercials) or how much better the product will make your life (think about face lotion commercials).
They put a time limit on it so that you want to buy it NOW and don’t have time to reconsider.
This is the response they want.
In 30 seconds, a TV commercial may pack in forty flashes of people playing sports, hanging out with friends and having fun; or one commercial may show just one slow scene of a family sitting down for a Thanksgiving dinner. Underneath all commercials, the structure is the same despite surface differences. See if you can find common messages and themes.