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Re: Design and public opinion - fully on topic

From: James Souttar <ancient-AT-urizen.com>
Date: 10 Aug 2001 22:00:53 UTC   (11:00:53 PM in author's locale)
To: "The Graphics List" <graphics-AT-lists.graphicslist.org>
Michael:

>But there are some notable, very successful campaigns that changed public
>opinion by the way the arguments were framed (or spun, depending on your
>position, I guess):

I'm struggling to recall an instance where a campaign reversed
entrenched opinions. Softened or hardened, yes - overturned, most
unlikely. For instance, the change in attitudes to cigarettes can't
be attributed solely to public health campaigns - a multitude of
impacts, along with changing cultural patterns has, over time,
shifted patterns of usage. And whilst there is some evidence that
tobacco advertising does have an impact on usage, that's all it does
have. No tobacco company is going to be able to turn me into a
smoker, for instance, no matter how sophisticated their pitch or
however much exposure they are allowed to have.

Where particular groups are able to associate a new issue with an
existing agenda, then to that extent there seems to be a powerful
lever over public opinion. Kyoto is a good example here - one might
think that protecting the environment was a natural conservative
position, rather than the reverse. But by segueing this issue into
the conservative agenda, it has been made to look as if the Kyoto
protocols contradict every decent conservative instinct. Similarly,
for some reason conservatives hate big, bureaucratic government but
love big, bureaucratic corporations - the more the latter become like
the former used to be, the more they appear to love them. There is no
obvious connection here - again, one might expect that a natural
suspicion of corporatism in government would extend to dislike of
similar tendencies elsewhere. But there has been some clever
craftwork that has effectively transformed nineteenth century
laissez-faire Liberalism into twenty-first century Conservatism. That
much (and similar transformations that have turned socialist parties
into liberal democrats, the world over) could justifiably be
attributed to long-term, drip-feed communications.

I personally think that the myth of the efficacy of communications
has had a pernicious, paralysing effect. I'm constantly being told
how incredibly sophisticated contemporary advertising is, but I don't
see that sophistication. Maybe on an unprepared audience, such as
happened with the growth of television advertising in the fifties, it
can claim some success. And whilst there are some nasty, cheap tricks
that are used in the communications business (which Douglas Rushkoff
does a good job of explaining in 'Coercion') - the perpetuation of
modern communications seems to owe more to the *belief* that they can
change peoples' minds, rather than any impressive results. Most of
the time, for most people, they patently cannot. (And I don't
consider as evidence of rhetorical efficacy the fact that a direct
mail campaign can get x percent of a known widget buying audience to
buy a particular widget. If we are inclined to buy widgets, some of
us are going to buy them from whoever makes a reasonable offer).

This thing I find most objectionable about all this is not the use of
putatively opinion changing techniques, but the *intention* to use
techniques that are believed to be opinion changing. NLP may never
have actually helped a practitioner get someone into bed - but
doesn't it make him a complete sleazeball, that he employs techniques
that he *thinks* will make her do what he couldn't have got her to do
without the mind control?


James


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