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?


As a persuader, I see the Rubik cube of my job changing. The minute I think I understand how to keep the products I am in charge of relevant and growing they shrink and fall away again. There is an interesting sub-text in the Frontline program that needs further exploration - the point made at the very end of the program.

What happens when all power moves out from the original points of persuasion to the message receiver? What happens when that receiver is not passive but an active mixer, a DJ of all of the messages of our lives? There is a great book called the Long Tail that supports the idea that we are all market makers now, that the sustainable size of markets is shrinking rapidly as technology reduces the cost of distribution.

I was at a conference for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association last week and heard this idea summarized as lateral or horizontal marketing instead of top down marketing. This idea is we, as marketers, are no longer in control in the same was as the first company I worked for (P&G) was back in the day. As a storyteller, I know that the stories I tell with the assistance of the network will be better because I am not the single author. There is another book called The Wisdom of Crowds that says we are collectively smarter than we are individually.

This means that our future can be more creative, exciting and special precisely because consumers DJ the threads of our relevant and authentic marketing messages into unique ideas and things that marketers couldn't have thought of even if we all sat around on cushions on the floor with a Baron of Marketing (which seems like a very dated way to spend money to me).

If you don't have a spare $100,000 and time to hang out sipping wine in update New York, read The Tipping Point by Gladwell and you will understand that sequential top down marketing is gone replaced by the speed of viral marketing across Connectors, Mavens, Salesmen and Innovators. That single book has changed everything for people in my business, and the Gladwell's ideas have influenced the political landscape (since they are never far behind innovation in marketing).

I don't have a clue how my job will change as we contemplate 2007, but I know we will have less control, more people will be involved and we may approach the Holy Grail of marketing and listen more than we talk....well one can dream right?


P.S. BTW, this message board is a perfect example of what is not being called User Generated Content and something I suspect will be at the center of my marketing universe from now on. Good job.

Martin Smith
Durham, NC


I have made a conscious decision to refuse to order products whose ads sound fake, overly insistent or contain the words "now" or "today." I have reported several companies who seem to be advertising fraudulently. I listen to a lot of news radio and the commercials are extremely annoying. One has a man screaming at the audience and I just turn it off.

My political views were formed before massive political ads barraged the world and I find the negative ads infuriating. I have switched my vote from candidates who go excessively negative.

If people want my money or my vote, they had better appeal to me.

Karen Silver
Bronx, NY


The Persuaders was a great exploration of the industry out there trying to reach our eyeballs, wallets, and votes. However, I thought that the great media critic interviews and opinions were greatly underutilized.

It's possible that there wasn't enough content from analytical minds on a subject that tries to reach our reptilian core, but I was left extremely unsatisfied with the seemingly open-ended conclusion at the end of the piece. It seems to end with the thought that there is nothing we can do as consumers but marvel in the great "control" we have over the way science and technology splits our culture in to smaller and smaller segments of self- satisfying consumption and choice.

I certainly don't have the answer, but I expected much more from a Frontline documentary than to reveal what is happening, how its happening, why its happening without offering context as to what people who are not awe-struck by this believe.

Astoria, NY


"The Persuaders" is obviously another great Frontline production. But also, it could have been titled "The Matrix".

Consumers aren't really "empowered" or have more "choices". Rather, consumers are being conditioned to become enslaved to materialism.

At the end of the day, "The best things in life, aren't things!".

Kim Dearborn
Boston, MA


I truly enjoyed your program on persuasion and human behavior. As an independent real estate investor who is actively involved in buying and selling properties, for my own account, in many locations, I find that people, in general, feel better about buying something only after they have analyzed their purchase logically.

For years, I heard that people decide emotionally and then they justify it logically. An imperical observation will prove otherwise, many, including myself, have found that, especially in the large purchases, such as real estate in the millions of dollars, buyers have the urge and the need to use reason and intellect first, then the emotion comes in to confirm and seal the decision based on the perceived level of tolerance.

Thank you again for your stimulating program.

Cherif Medawar
Santa Clara, California


I find it fascinating that the host and author of the episode "The Persuaders" uses a Mac. There is almost no better example of someone buying a product based solely on hype.

David Eckert
San Jose, CA


Reading the various responses here to what can only be viewe, as a very complex and sophisticated subject is facinating. People respond differently due to their being on various levels of awareness.


As a consumer in a world with a growing population of small businesses, I seek out the guy who spends little on advertising. I also read books on persuasion not only to be a better persuader but more to know what techniques are being employed to influence me. That makes me less a spectator and less the effect to advertising.

That said, none of us has the time required to be causative in all of our purchases, however the degree to which we are is the degree to which we will have received relative value for our dollar and the degree to which we will elect the best leaders.

Your program to me is the current state of art in a field that is far from new. Freud, and General Semanticists like Korzibsky and the late CA state senator Sam Hiakawa employed an earlier version of this knowledge which addresses the subconscious and we all should be aware of its significance good and bad.

I think your program was incredibly outstanding and I deeply appreciate the lessons it teaches and have already given that much more thought to what I write and say thus sharpened my communication skills as a result.

Gordon Bell
Marina, CA


I agree with your other correspondents who found the segment featuring Frank Luntz the most frightening part of the program. On the subject of replacing the term "global warming" with "climate change," he asked a rhetorical question that I wish Mr. Rushkoff had answered. "What is the difference?" Mr. Luntz asked. "It is climate change. Some people call it global warming; some people call it climate change. What is the difference?" Since this question goes to the heart of the matter, I'd like to reply.

The difference, Mr. Luntz, as you know very well, is precisely what the Republicans pay you for. "Global warming" is the term that scientists have been using for many years to describe the expected cumulative effect of the pollution of the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. It is a term that carries a connotation of urgency and danger. It carries that connotation honestly; if the science is correct, we have good reason to be concerned.

Replacing global warming with the innocuous and out-of-nowhere term "climate change" changes the debate in two ways, both of which favor those who wish to sweep this issue under the rug. First, it implies--without providing any evidence or even acknowledging that any evidence might be called for--that "global warming" is a misnomer and that those who use that term are wrong. Second, by replacing one topic of conversation, which is serious and demands serious consideration, with another which is vague and unconnected to any context of thought, it robs the conversation of its urgency. The substitution was expressly designed to do these things, and for you to suggest that the terms are equivalent is disingenuous in the extreme.

Few would claim that emotions do not play a role in human behavior. In debates over important matters of public policy, it is in societys interest to keep emotion in check and make decisions on the basis of clear and dispassionate thinking. Frank Luntz and his clients aim to do the opposite, to short-circuit thought altogether and let issues be decided on the basis of clever manipulation of voters emotions. Theirs is a profoundly cynical and destructive enterprise.

James Hinde
Evanston, Illinois


Dear Frontline,

I've been thinking about the show ever since I saw it last night. As a teacher of high school juniors and seniors, I see how powerfully influenced they are by the disease of consumerism. Yet they say that their younger siblings are even worse -- that they can identify the brands they want by age 2. I shudder to think about raising small children in this environment.

The other powerful connection I see is with the TV "news" which is often filled with promotions for their own shows and stories that laud some new product. It's not just Madison Ave, Hollywood, and politics: it's broadcast news tied in with it all. Thanks for the great program.

Kristie Duyckinck
Portland, OR


I found the program interesting and educational. However you only spoke on how this saturated advertising culture we live in affects communicating to the general market and general market agencies. You neglected to speak to executives at multicultural advertising agencies to investigate if these affects you found are the same for the multicultural consumer and if multicultural agencies face similar or different challenges.

That said, I believe a follow-up report should be done to test the author's thesis against the multicultural community. I think you'll come to a vastly different conclusion. Multicultural agencies face unique challenges than those faced by general market agencies when speaking to their target audiences. If you don't work for a multicultural agency or have experience in this world you may be totally oblivious to the obstacles we face.

Brian Evans
Bronx, NY


The average reptilian brain may realize too late that it is over-consuming its planetary resources. As shortages result, there no doubt will be conflicts and violence over "rights" to what's left. Such struggles are aided by clear polarizations and irrational loyalties to "self groups." Such divisions are typically marked by religious or nationalistic code words.

The reptile's more conscious human cousins still have time to organize and work for the common good. We are all haves, and we are all have-nots. Each and all have all there is, to work with.

The next major wave for successful brands will be to collect people across global consumer, cultural and natural resource boundaries, to work for a more sustainable world.

The skills and efforts of communicators will lead the way.

The brand communicators will still be tied to financial and political wherewithall to get things done, and to get people elected to write laws supporting their agenda.

I'm betting on a more hopeful future than many are seeing today, because I don't think people will allow otherwise. We have no choice. The stakes are already apparent to too many of us, and too many of our children.

Chip Fogg
Wilmington, Delaware


A very fascinating program all the way around. I have recommended it to my marketing colleagues.

An important point that could have been touched on was the use of marketing in the social arena, not just the political or consumer arenas. Marketing and advertising receive a bad rap on a regular basis, in some cases it is deserved, but not always.

The recent election demonstrated marketing's ability to affect behavior. That same ability has, and continues, to be used to affect behavior in the social arena, to promote condom usage, lessen water use during droughts etc.

This is definitely not as "sexy" as promoting new cars or airlines, but it is a vital use of the body of marketing knowledge.

Greg Timpany

Los Angeles Times

Greg Timpany
Los Angeles, CA


"I am American and have been living and working in Europe for over 25 years, primarily for American consumer brands e.g. Nike, Timberland, LA Gear, Thermarest etc.

I have seem most of the 250 US brands and companies in the leisure time and fashion industry come to Europe and go within 2 years. Most do not have the understanding that to create a market one must defend a brands personality and image through innovative products and concepts."

luigi grosso
grunwald bei munchen, germany


Another good Frontline production (but, nothing that I didn't already know).

Near the end of the program, the root of the problem was mentioned. Marketers want the public to be selfish!

Sadly, the make-believe world of consumerism will be the downfall of our society in America. Song Airlines was doomed to fail because the marketing people were selling style rather than an actual airline on its own merits. This is what almost all public companies devolve into today. All style and no substance.

Dr. Rapaille is bad enough--the people who hire him are fools! Vanity is what drives the sale of SUVs. This is just common sense, and self-evident!

But, Dr. Luntz and his work, is really the sad story for America. We have become such suckers that Democracy is being stolen simply by using the "words" that voters want to hear.

"American Sucker" is the name of a recent book about how easily our greed makes us buy into Wall Street. But the title also describes a good portion of American society in many respects. In fact, everything discussed in this program is driven by Wall Street--stock price is everything to corporate America. It dictates what the media tells us (or doesn't), and even dictates policies in Washington.

Thanks Frontline, for your "good works" as usual! I pray that people will wake up and listen.

David Nelson
Foxboro, MA


I believe that your show ignorantly referred to all use of brands in entertainment as "product placement", promoting a product without any artistic benefit. I think Bob Graham basically said that. However, this is simply not true.

Should I presume that the reporter who put the piece together received some consideration from Apple because of the prominent display of his Mac during portions of the show?

There are many uses of brand in entertainment where the sole purpose is to enhance the storytelling. Use of contemporary brands can help place the story in a particular time and/or add to the sense of reality within the story. Use of some brands can implicitly relate aspects of the character or the situation within a story.

Advertisers may try and use art and entertainment for their own purpose, but the creators of art and entertainment can turn it back around on them.

Alan Perry
Bainbridge Island, WA



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posted nov. 9, 2004

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