The Persuaders [Book Review]

It’s been a wonderful summer. The summer in Minneapolis is beautiful. The bike routes are amazing. Backpack in Colorado was humbling. I attended two wonderful weddings this summer. I met a wonderful women, a great workout partner, and a best friend. And I finished some books…..though I never got around to writing them!

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So let’s try to fix that. Starting with the bottom of the pile: The Persuaders.

When you drive down the highway, take a second look at those billboards. Yes, those loathsome advertisements that pollute the natural scenery during your drive. And they are begging for your attention. The art of billboard design is even stretching outside the traditional rectangular frame, which took us long enough to ignore back then.

But look again. These advertisements are there to persuade you. When you think about persuasion, a casual conversation of a quick-witted mind would come to mind. But that’s not what you see. You see majestic mountains, bold colors, and hot women in bikinis. Just like any other commercial of political speech….. logic is no longer there.

The 21st century now consists of smiles instead of numbers, illusions over figures, and pathos over logos. They don’t come at you as a one-shot home-run suggestion, but as a consistent wave of small nudges that slowly shift your viewpoint. This all happening despite your lack of awareness in what is going on. This is the art of The Persuaders.

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This book, written by James Garvey, helps explain the tactics behind advertisements, politics, public relations, and fashion. Many tactics involve not just convincing the individual, but the illusion that those around you also believe these interests. The utilization of the masses allows for “the appearance of an upsurge in opinion on a crucial question” which will “appear to him or her that a real grass-roots movement is growing back home.” Social media is used as a tool to bolster a hidden agenda, just like the fake reviews on any product on Amazon.

While it consists of strong individual, the community as a whole acts as a herd of docile sheep that can be easily moved, incapable of reason or judgement, if the shepherding dogs know how to act.

Emotion becomes the new key to persuasion. A teary-eyed story. An unexpected crime. A tragic death. The news industry is bloated with these stories, and absent of any legible graphs and tables. Emotions grab the attention of the individual deeper than any conscientious thoughts. Emotions anchors an individuals mind; keeps it there in a framed mindset and affects any additional information it will gather and whatever opinions it produces. Even the simple phrasing on how saving vs. losing lives can affect the outcome of how many people volunteer to be organ donors, soon after being exposed to the poetic nudge. Thus, word choice becomes significantly more important than actually being accurate (or truthful in general) in your statements.

The more you are exposed to the works of wordsmiths, the more you are inclined to the ‘illusion of truth.” It starts to build a sense of credibility and a feeling of acceptance by your community. Happy jingles. Waves of smiles. Bolsters of national pride and success.

The other side of the coin is described in the chapter of ‘Retail Therapy.’ The easiest way to grow a company, and the economy as a whole, is to literally get people to buy more stuff. This involves nudges to the consumer an underlying desire to need more, even if it doesn’t actually benefit them. This is notoriously common when a certain group of individuals (gender/race/religion/region) needs to be “convinced” that they need such a product or service.

Take cigarettes. It used to be taboo for women to smoke. However, a social shift sparked by a few crucial events got more women, and thus a more equal distribution of guys and girls alike smoking their share of portable nicotine. However, these events were shrewdly organized by the tobacco company, with the desired to sell goods to the untapped feminine community. Thus, the belief of expanding “women’s freedom and independence” was more of a show of hidden puppeteering conducted by industrial conglomerates to double their sales.

And when we finally have it, there’s always another level of ‘quality’ just around the corner to replace what we currently have. This is most easily observed in anything that “turns on.” Smartphones with improved perks and sensors. Cars with “heightened safety” ratings. Next-generation OLED TVs with it’s 1,000,000:1 contrast ratios. Psychological obsolesce is the marketing trick where what you currently have is no longer good enough. And it goes beyond just technological advances.

A wine glass is a wine glass and doesn’t improve much over technological advances. A clear, thick-walled goblet will easily hold your Sangria just like any other glass. But as you gather wealth, those around you in your new social rank are holding thinner, more expensive glasses. And of course, the wine will “taste better” if each wine is drunk out of a specific glass shape. And it’s possible, for unknown reasons, for popularity to shift to having swirls of color in your glasses. Why you started with your cheap, clear wine glasses …….. you lose the satisfaction of owning these objects, even though they have not lost any sort of practical value.

And fashion…… f@#k fashion. It’s just a bunch of people trying to convince you what to wear. I’m still a victim of it, because I do like to look good to those around me. And I love appearing attractive to my ‘newly acquired’ girlfriend (….don’t ask). But in the end, models and catwalks are just constant nudgings, telling the world that you need matching shoes for your dresses; how bell bottoms are now overshadowed by yoga pants; and why you need this accessories for your clothing.

But I digress……

The last chapter is the author’s summaries of these impacts on our society. It not only hinders our happiness, but also affects our capability of obtaining a self-fulfilling lifestyle. Marketing burns through excessive resources, pushes inequality, reinforces materialistic views, and in the end makes us less happy overall. When we can spend our time on friends and family, we are researching the next purchase and wandering around stores for what we ‘need.’ We grow restless and tired from the polarized politics rather than meeting our neighbors in the middle. And thus, the cold-hard truths in this world no longer has no real meaning……

“As modern persuasion sways us without giving us good reason…… the power of reason over us really does seem to diminish. When we are not reasoned with…..we become less reasonable people, more easily manipulated, more self-interested, more likely to go along with the crowd rather than question what’s being thrown at us.” (page 265)

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