Can Marketing Brainwash People?
Today’s market and political climate are painfully tumultuous. That is why half the country is burning their own Nike shoes and the other half is buying twice as many. It is the reason why some of the people of Huntsville, Al wear Rocket science t-shirts, while the people of Decatur, Al let you know that they voted for Trump & Pence on their bumper stickers and hats. With the spread of social media, it seems that American values have never felt so polarized.
The only one thing they seem to agree on is that the media is brainwashing their kids.
The job of a marketer is to sell products, in a persuasive way that speaks the majority of the people, they are selling to. So, are advertisers the devil? Just how much of an impression can a marketing or ad campaign make? Can you change the mind of the public through advertising alone? The only way to get an answer is to find out if people can get brainwashed in the first place.
The biggest accusation towards marketers and media I have seen to date is subliminal messaging. I heard crazy things while growing up in Huntsville,
AL from Disney coercing kids into sex through subliminal messaging or Playing Helter Skelter backward summoning the devil. It has sent people into a moral panic. It is also 100% urban legend. There has been no recorded evidence of subliminal messages working anywhere.
Where did the misconception come from?
James Vicary, a behavioral scientist in the 70’s, published an experiment that stated subliminal messaging made his test subjects buy popcorn and Coke when they didn’t even want any. However, the president of the Psychological Corporation, Dr. Henry Link, called foul and told him that the study wasn’t credible unless he was willing to repeat the test and get the same results. When Vicary repeated the test a second time, he did not get the same results. It turned out Vicary fudged his numbers. He even publically admitted he falsified the results while he was under investigation.
However, admitting false data wasn’t interesting to the people selling newspapers. So, they barely covered the rescinding of that information. Thanks to yellow journalism and bad science that most people now, even many of those in Huntsville, Al, believe subliminal messaging is still a thing.
But why weren’t people affected by something like that? What makes people subconsciously immune to suggestion?
The answers to those questions come from both the KGB and the CIA.
Mind Control Doesn’t Work
Every country has its sins. Whether the country is as old as civilization itself or is only a few years old, there are going to be horrible secrets behind the scenes of its government.
Project MK Ultra is one of the lesser known atrocities committed by our government at a time when the country was still trying to be a global superpower. What little of its records were declassified in 2001 told the story of an attempt to outright brainwash people into becoming sleeper agents during the Cold War. There were a lot of illegal acts that were involved. These included the use of torture, hypnosis, experimental drugs, and child abuse.
However, in all of this tragedy, there was something interesting in the results that were uncovered. Hypnotism could put people in a suggestive state, but it couldn’t control one’s mind.
If someone has strong scruples against an action, even in a hypnotic state, they won’t do what they are told.
According to Psychology Today, “What has been documented is that if you found a subject whose personality was deviant, to begin with, and wanted to direct their minds to do something extreme like plant a bomb or commit an assassination, you may be able to guide him or her to do it—with or without hypnosis.”
If the American Government can’t hypnotize someone to become a spy, no advertisement can hypnotize an adult.
Why do People Change Their Minds?
If no one can hypnotize a person and tell them what to do, then why do people change their minds? After all, cults exist and people try new things every day. The answer to this question boils down to two words: emotional connection.
People are not logical or rational by nature. We are emotional first and logical second. It doesn’t matter how rational the argument maybe if you point out evidence for evolution to a creationist, they are going to feel attacked and deny what’s right in front of them. And if you tell someone that they have a home in your compound they will be much more receptive to drinking the kool-aid in front of them.
So, a successfully persuasive person would need to lower down the defenses of their audience before making their point. It’s the same with marketing campaigns. You need to create an emotional response to your product to succeed. Until then, you will win no one to your product, no matter how logical your reasoning can be.
Next week, I will go into further detail about the science behind marketing persuasion. Stay safe Huntsville, Al!
Also published on Medium.