The Persuaders [home]
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rushkoff in times squareJoin the Discussion: How do you feel about the sea of messages and ads  that Americans swim in today? And what are your views on the new and surprising methods marketers are using to decipher who we are and what we want?

Dear FRONTLINE,

If the 2008 Election was about anything it was a revolt against one way, top down communication. The trouble for leadership, in politics as well as advertising is that the public agenda can only be driven if they are apathetic, and if they are tricked or hurt and perceive that the man behind the curtain is operating against their interests they will eventually quit listening to anything and start burning the curtains.

Obama got into office by millions of grassroots folk organizing to get him there with three way communication (up down and side to side) but if he creates results in opposition to that group now organized the side to side organizing will push the agenda they organized around and not be robotic masses that can be so easily manipulated. The Warren opening speech at the inauguration is just such a mistake and will cost him deeply.

The Internet lies at the nexus, either everything becomes a niche market of highly active and accountable three way communication or a feudal failed state that it was headed for before the Internet provided a last minute window to save the civilization. Only three way communication will solve it.

P.S. Frontline too is not beyond this and would benefit greatly by enabling that three way communication with an open (spam/troll managed only)comments blog rather than this method that is only two way communication.

Orlando, Fl

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Commenting is coming soon to FRONTLINE. Stay tuned.

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your videos have helped tremendously in my marketing class. There are key points which have allowed me a better understanding of the whole marketing clutter and its effects on the human psyche. I have learned more about why I shop the way i do. I get this feeling where I'm being drawn in to getting something I don't really need, and when I do get it, I don't know why and make up all these excuses as to why.

I will not say that your show has cured me from the advertising hypnosis, but I understand now why businesses are constantly changing in this marketing world.

C MonLouis
Brooklyn, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

Since I watched this program online a year ago, I have come to the conclusion that Douglas Rushkoff is one of the many valuable members of the intellectual world.

The Persuaders was the first Frontline report I viewed online, and since then I have seen all the programs available on their website. This particular program is a perfect example for why I come back for more. I turn to Frontline for genuine journalism which speaks deeply on issues you dont hear on commercially funded TV news. I believe that exploring such issues exercises my intellect and makes me a better citizen of the worldand Frontline helps me do so by supplying pieces such this one. Thank you!

Jessica Anne McDowell
Madison, MA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Hype. This report illustrates precisely what America has become, and why so many people around the world find Americans so superficial. Form over function. Style over substance. "It's better to look good than to feel good." The market has perverted our culture.No wonder people around the world consider the u.s. as a destructive force.I agree.

Stephen Thadwik
Reno, Nevada

Dear FRONTLINE,

It is so utterly sad that such wonderful creativity is being wasted on advertising.Capitalism [greed based economics] has turned human beings into a mutant species that places profit before quality of life itself.

Clark Orwick
Todd Mission, Texas [for now]

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was very interested to learn about all of the varied aspects of advertising. One particularly disturbing revelation was that so much of our personal information is collected and sold to advertisers by the Acxiom Corporation. Everyone should know that you can go to their website (http://www.acxiom.com/), click on "contact us" and select the option for "US customer opt out." Fill in your name and address, and they will send you a form in the mail that allows you to remove yourself from their database. The fact that we can opt out of this disgusting brach of privacy should be made widely known.

Greg Bean
Madison, WI

Dear FRONTLINE,

It can be said there are two types of sound, conversation and noise. Advertising has become little but noise; silly, wasteful, intrusive noise. Life is not about "feeling good" as part of a commercial cult. True feeling good comes doing good and from being introspective.

Advertising can have a purpose in informing about a product or service, which the intrusive drivel has all but lost sight of.

Isn't it time we start turning off and shutting down the flim flam artists and start recovering our culture.

John McDonnell
Albuquerque, NM

Dear FRONTLINE,

Very interesting documentary on the state of broadcast advertising.

What impacted me most was the brief comment toward the end of the program that hinted at how a consumer-driven culture leads to a segregation among demographics. This would have a powerful impact on the voting habits of Americans who are conditioned to think as consumers who are motivated by what serves their needs.

We would tend to vote less for what is best for our nation or communities as a whole and more toward what serves us as individuals in a demographic. Profound.

It worth noting that I have worked as a broadcast "persuader" and it's true that breaking through the clutter just creates more of it. My praise to the producers of this program.

simon guevara
grand, Michigan

Dear FRONTLINE,

After watching the "Persuaders" last night,I was left with feelings of chagrin and revelation. As a high school English teacher,there are certain times when the nature of consumerism and TV come up in discussions about the media.It is fascinating to see just how much our adolescents are manipulated by the media. Fads come and go more rapidly than one can imagine. There is always a constant stream of "what's new",and then it's gone. Although the reliance on high-powered focus groups is not a surprise,it's discouraging to see how their decisions are perceived as economic gospel.

They have their hooks firmly planted in our youth, and it won't be long before they start selling video games at fast food restaurants...Oh wait...they already do. Thanks for yet another "Eureka" production.

Jeffrey Craig
Easthampton, MA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Possibly the scariest show I have seen on TV (or anywhere else). Is this the way we are going - sociopathic ad agency creeps subverting democracy with subtle brainwashing techniques? There should be a congressional committee struck to investigate these people.

adrian white
duncan, b.c.

Dear FRONTLINE,

Hope folks realize that what Corporate America wants is not always as benign as which airline you will choose for your next family vacation.

The below paragraph is a short excerpt from a story last year about Big Tobacco.

I asked her about a 1991 Philip Morris memo Landman unearthed earlier this month, in which marketing consultant Clotaire Rapaille recommends tobacco companies tap into children's earliest "neuronal pathways" of desire by characterizing cigarettes as an initiation into adulthood. The companies should "stress that smoking is for adults only, make it difficult for minors to obtain cigarettes," and "Stress that smoking is dangerous; smoking is for people who like to take risks, who aren't afraid of taboos," Rapaille suggested.http://www.sfweekly.com/Issues/2005-11-30/news/smith.html

If anyone ever gets to meet Mr. Rapaille in person, ask him if he has decided to start using his amazing intellectual talents to build a better world.

Joe B.
San Francisco, California

Dear FRONTLINE,

There are three elements in every sale: price, quality, and personality. If you've got the competition beat in terms of price and quality, you don't need to worry about personality. Just advertise a terrific service or product at a great price, and they'll beat a path to your door. All this brand "stuff" (polite term) is about personality, the personality of the brand. It's trying to compensate for the fact that they haven't got them beat in terms of price and quality.

Chew on it.

Elinor White
Canoga Park, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am a freshman in college and although the perspective of this piece may be skewed, it has helped fuel my drive to have a career in marketing.

Stefan W
San Francisco, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

What surprised me most was the failure of the show's producers to bring out the link between the show's subject area and the subject area of propaganda. When the marketers talked about wanting to know how to reach the reptilian brain of consumers and find out where the button was that made people act, all I could think of was propaganda.

The whole point of propaganda is to get people to act emotionally rather than intellectually. You never want anyone to seriously think through an issue on their own. Rather, you want them to go along with the conclusion and action that you have already decided on as being most helpful to your particular cause. This is also pretty much what hypnotic control is all about. It's all about despotic control of individuals or groups. (You aren't asking them to participate in the decision making process, you're telling them what to think.)

Any person who is trying to confuse an issue, invoke fear, hide information, manipulate me, etc. is proving to me that they are my enemy, not my friend. Why would I ever want to join a tribe, a group, or a cult whose very first action towards me (deception) is basically an act of betrayal?

Silver Spring, Maryland

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for publicizing Delta's huge mistake - Song. Competitors that win in commodity businesses deliver on price and a very limited set of product specific metrics. As a weekly flier, I can tell you that airlines that deliver on price, on-time arrival, and baggage delivery will win consumers. Behind the scenes, financing and labor management enable delivery at a profit. The fluff in between is almost entirely irrelevant. Behind the scenes Song and Delta operations were still one business. Why did the marketers think they could just slap a different logo on the same product and win consumers? Because, a certain percentage of the populace always buys the message.

On the consumers' end, marketing is just a tax on the irrational and/or uninformed. I have no problem with that. My problem is with what happens on the producers' side. The gyrations that a large company goes through to chase the latest marketing trends distract the entire business from its core mission of delivering a quality product at a competitive price.

Finally, there is plenty of evidence that great marketing does not lead to sustainable success. Contrast the following. 1. Craigslist.org - It is the 7th most often viewed page on the entire web. I have never seen CL advertisement. 2. General Motors - Struggling to minimize US market share losses for years. Yet, I will bet there has been a great GM ad on some channel every minute of the day for last decade.

Anyway, thank you Frontline and PBS for continuing to focus on product instead of promotion.

Rob Mackey
Pittsburgh, PA

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posted nov. 9, 2004

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