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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?


Its a lot of fun to read these comments. Thanks for the forum. I spent time as an Account Planner at a large, forward thinking ad agency. The Planners role in developing ad and brand strategy is to be the voice of the consumer by digging in to their lives, souls, and brains with quantitative and qualitative research, then using it to frame what the strategy and message should be.

It can seem creepy when you think of giant corporations using the techniques of anthropologists and scientists to sell stuff, but I think its important to remember that most times, they fail. Seventy-one percent of all new products fail. In terms of science, thats not a promising number. People are unpredictable and hard to understand. I dont mean to say that this approach isnt powerful, but it would have been easy for Frontline to do a show on the failure of many brilliant brand and ad strategies as well. They far outnumber the successes.

For me, its become sport analyzing and speculating about how and why companys messages are what they are. It can be fun, and it makes all this much less threatening. Trust me, brand strategists are smart, but not that smart. I'll take Naomi Klein anyday.

Matt Olson
Minneapolis, Minnesota


Thank you. What a powerful show.

I felt the key to what the advertisers are trying to sell, and it's also mentioned in the program, is a feeling of community. As a human the emotional feeling of belonging, about feeling apart of a groupsomething bigger than ourselves is a way to make an instant statement about who we are. This, I think, is one our biggest issues. We are losing to the advertisers. Our towns are being bought up by business who want to supply community in the form of shopping malls and consumerism, instead of centered on personal relationships and the green space that it takes to bring people out of their homes to meet one another.

Instead of filling this void with product, we need to fill it with one another. So...I think it's time for America to go back to summercamp for a couple of weeks. No tv, no radio, just a campfire, good conversation, and the company of others. I think the simple life is calling, for that's when the substance of life, and the community we are longing for reappearsfree if charge.

Time to declutter...

Jinger Schroeder
Ventura, CA


what a wonderful program on persuasion and human behavior. I thoroughly enjoyd it and have recommended mnay of our clients to view it. Our firm specializes in the growing field of reputation management-- it is a close cousin of public raltions-- but where it differs is in the counsel we provide cleints: they must change their behavior to reflect what the market seeks before they communicate anything.

Too many people are into saying and not asking first. Many of your viewres appeared depressed at the thought of these modern persuasion techniques being used-- consider they can be used to

motivate good behavior desireable to society just as well as selfish actions. The more we know about the brain-- the better we will learn to do good. Good is not exclusive from commerce and marketing.

peter morrissey
Boston, MA


I really enjoyed the show. It just proves my old high school teacher's quotation "Figures never lie, but liars sure know how to figure." You can make relationships with totally random independent events.

I was wondering if the marketing guru guy has ever decoded the word "cool." If so, how come Frontline isn't considered a mainstream "cool" show. It is probably because mainstream consumers are too busy other consuming crappy tv shows. Keep up the good work. In my humble opinion I think you guys make a "cool" show.

Jonathan Reyes
Sunnyvale, California


I enjoyed what was clearly a thought-provoking and sobering testament to the process of persuading the purchasing decisions of the consumer in an age of ubiquitous background "noise."

I, however, was left with a disturbing impression that I wonder if other viewers felt: Now that we are consumers (not citizens); demographics and focus groups drive decisions and policy; and the cult of consumption is more important that the nature of (or need for) a item, it seems the real product is US.

If services or goods being produced are relatively static in the innovation they bring to the market -- is one tennis shoe really any better than other? does your SUV get you to the grocery store any better than mine? -- it seems like it is the consumer that represents the component to be shaped and branded in the purchasing equation.

I just hope our only defense, critical thinking skills, are enough.

Paul Hoffman
Lincoln, NE


This show blew me away. I have a BS in Marketing from a private university, and many of the topics covered, I learned in university. However, what caught my attention was how marketing played a vital role in the 2004 Presidential election. I realized that marketing did play a huge role, but there is a lot of new technology that was used in this years election that my university never covered.

There is quite a buzz on the internet today over this program. I do hope that PBS will rebroadcast this, as this show went up against the Country Music Awards. I just happened upon it during a commercial during the CMA's.

Thanks for a brilliant show.

Traverse City, MI

Christina Rellica
Traverse City, Michigan


These same "methods of persuasion" are also tranforming our legal system. No case of any real importance makes it to court without one side, or both, holding the same types of research your show explored.

An industry and research literature are currently emerging around this field - called "Jury Research" - look it up.

You might find it an interesting follow-up topic.

Chicago, Illinois

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Political consultant Frank Luntz speaks to this very point - he says this is the area he is headed toward. See his interview with FRONTLINE that is elsewhere on this site.


Regardless of the many great uncertainties and anxieties that exist in the world today, Americans, as a nation, have amassed great wealth. We have done so by being industrious, entrepreneurial and ambitious. The measure is a steady increase in our standard of living as measured by gains in worker productivity. And the result, choices. Many choices.

Why is this bad? The not-so-subtle point of view of this Frontline segment, which I found to be incredibly intelligent and insightful, is that American culture is somehow worse off because marketers are leveraging a variety of technologies (I use this term generally to include both hard technology data mining techniques that Axciom employs as well as the more nuanced approahes that the market researchers suggest) to communicate the difference between themselves and their competitors.

What this point of view fails to realize is that it is the same wealth effect responsible for choice in American culture that has grocery stores stocking dozens of different cereals and automakers turning out hundreds of models per year that also enables a city like Chicago to offer more than just one Art Museum, more than just one History Museum, as well as many, many other philanthropically supported cultural institutions, each competing for audience attention and funding dollars. And Chica go is not alone.

I would even venture to say that our political choices are a result of the same forces (although the political pundits may suggest the cause and effect relationship to be the opposite).

Choice is Freedom. I contend that America is a better place because of these choices and one small price we pay for these freedoms is to enable marketers who ultimately are a source for our continued increase in the American standard of living to convey their messages in the most effective and efficient manners they choose. At the end of the day, the American consumer still has the final choice - the right to buy or not to buy...

Steve Schachter
Nashville, TN


Great show, I yelling at my set in the first half & pondering the information presented for the remainder of the show. I felt manipulated!

What I felt so strongly reactive to, in the beginning was how "the persuaders" seemed to be trying to influence us to believe that by buying & spending our money so that we could belong or have a sence of being apart of a larger community through owning a product. Amazing if anyone feels alienated & alone, all we have to do is delude ourselves into believing that from buying XYZ or a Saturn we can belong. Wow people actually went to the Saturn plant for their vacation & to meet other Saturn owners. I supose next we'll see prscriptions to purchase brand name products to counter the effects of our emotional & mental disorders? ...

Thank you again for the "look behind the curtain" veiw of advertising, the manipulative means to greater profits & seats of governmental power.

Stephen c. Foos
Spokane, Washington


Interesting show; however, you failed to mention the simple fact that LUCK still plays the biggest role of all in the success of any product. Who could have ever predicted that DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES would be TV's #1 show, on a network that few have watched over the past few years?

As head of global marketing for King World in the 80s, I launched WHEEL OF FORTUNE, JEOPARDY, and OPRAH. Focus groups did not make those shows winners--the American public did. WHEEL OF FORTUNE has been the number one syndicated show now for over 20 years. Research had little to do with this show's success. Ditto Jeopardy. Further, if you could duplicate Oprah via marketing and research, it would have been done. She's one of a kind.

Yes, I enjoyed your report. However, LUCK and HARD WORK of people like OPRAH play a bigger role than fancy marketing and market research.

David Sams
Westlake VIllage, CA


I am a focus group moderator, and I found this program to be very informative. One thing I constantly learn in my work is that I don't represent the "average respondent". In much the same way, Frontline viewers don't necessarily represent the "average American". So, referring to people who can't see past the advertising as "morons" is inaccurate and is much the reason why companies continue to invest in this expensive form of communication - bottom-line, it drives sales & builds brand image.

I think all of us to some degree are influenced by this. I have to admit that on a personal level, yes, "The War on Terror" generates a different feeling in me than "The War in Iraq". I found it fascinating to see how not only products but also political agendas can be "spun" based on desired image.

I'm looking forward to watching the tape again; thanks for providing an insightful and thought-provoking program.

Anju Holay
Barrington, IL


No one can argue that Advertising is one of the most influential and inescapable aspects of life today. My opinion is that it is dilettantes playing with people's minds and souls without regard to consequence. They aren't intelligent enough to really find what works, so they aren't intelligent enough to see the negative consequences they create. They claim to create culture but in fact render it to pieces so that it is no longer comprehensible or desirable. They have created new and more vast regions of greed, possessiveness and discontent and think nothing about the ramifications except for how it lines their pockets, and promotes their employers. I think they are like that Mickey Mouse character in the piece called Fantasia. Taking up the magic wand and the wizards hat without any knowledge of its proper use and creating havoc that they refuse to take responsibility for. Your pieces here just make me feel that this is all the more true. When this world dies, when humanity deals it death blow to itself, the world of advertising will share a larger piece of responsibility for it than any one of them will ever concieve of much less accept the responsibility for. All for the all-mighty-god-the-dollar.

Geoff Williams
Niceville, FL


Great show as usual. Thank you Frontline

I don't find this documentary scary or creepy as some might say. I look at all this as choice to "us" consumers. The saying of customer is king still stands. Companies are spending millions of dollars researching new products and new things to sell us. It leads to better, energy efficient, smaller, smarter, cooler products.

This is a war happening between the corporations to get the biggest slice of the market and we happen to be the prize.

The only concern that we (consumers) should have is: are we asking for the right things? A Hummer is certainly not the best thing to ask for from GM. The companies are just making our wishes come true. A product will not sell unless we like it!! So go on... be as demanding from these companies as you want. They want our business? Let's me make them work for it. Just know what you wish for. In this case, greener products, local produced, etc...

Yassine Attahri
Philadelphia, PA


I always enjoy coming to your site for information. This documentary about advertising and the consumer, was very interesting and a little scary. I discussed some of these same issues in my Media and Society class in Undergrad.

I wonder how long the capitalism will go on? How long will we continue to become more and more self-focused and shallow? The culture we live in is VERY materialistic, it is what drives the economy. In the end, we will not be able to take it with us, why not use our brains more and invest in things that really matter?

Atlanta, GA


~Consumers are like "Roaches" You spray and spray ~ This quote put many things into perspective for me and helped me realize how they view us. The problem is I don't think they understand the full impact they are having on their consumers. To them it's a matter of the bottom line and moving their product. Neither do we the consumers understand what is happening around us. Why is it we must look to material possessions to satisfy our emotions? What can we do at this point? Is it too late to return to simpler lives?

Emeraude Victorin
Berrien Springs, Michigan


I am a Communication graduate student at Andrews University, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching "The Persuaders."

It really opened my eyes to the reality of the world we live in: we live in a society that thrives on masses of advertising that often seek to appeal to our emotions beyond all logic and intelligence! I have learned that it is important to be aware of what advertisers are trying to accomplish: selling above all else.

Adrianna Lewis
Berrien Springs, Michigan



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posted nov. 9, 2004

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