Yearly Archives: 2009

Armadillos as Argument and Cue for Crime Fighting

Armadillo Brinks Truck Fighting Crime in PeoriaThe Wall Street Journal provides the grist for our persuasion mill with a story of a government intervention employing persuasion principles.  In Peoria, IL, the police employ the “Armadillo,” a refurbished Brinks truck packed with high tech surveillance gear and a large visible sign declaring it a “Nuisance, Property, Surveillance Vehicle.”  The vehicle is, thus far, indestructible and when left parked in high crime neighborhoods, crime falls.

As the story develops, it appears that the surveillance features of the truck (cameras and other recording devices) are not the decisive feature.  The key attribute of the truck is its appearance.  “The ugliness of the Armadillo is what makes it unique,” says Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police. “A police car is not a particular stigma, but if people see that thing in front of your house, they know something bad is going on in there.”

Police claim and offer ancedotal evidence that when the truck is parked in a high crime area or in front of a problem house (legitimate compliants from neighbors about noise or drugs), crime in the immediate area drops almost immediately.  Targeted residents also move out quickly, seeking less scrutiny.

This intervention clearly uses several Persuasion Rules.  Consider.

You Can Get Farther with a Kind Word and a Gun than with Either Alone.  The Armadillo is both a “word” and a “gun.”  It represents sheer power and authority – it a police vehicle, it is nearly indestructible, and it watches you ceaselessly – and it also uses psychology and persuasion – the 24 hour surveillance, the clear label of Nuisance.

All Persuasion Is Local.  A police officer was pondering how to solve this kind of crime when he drove into his station and noticed an old and faded Brinks truck sitting in the parking lot.  It had been purchased for one dollar for a vague purpose of security.  He hit on the idea of the Armadillo and built a persuasion plan from his local resources.

More Is the Enemy of Less.  Police could put a lot more personnel on the streets to handle problems like this.  They could have officers patrolling in car or on foot.  Of course, that would cost a lot more and could get more people, police and innocent bystanders, hurt.  That big ugly truck with a large sign and continuous surveillance is a much simpler solution.

And finally:  It’s About The Other Guy, Stupid.  The truck actually works.  Deadbeat, drug-using, delinquent people don’t like a truck watching them and especially don’t like being labelled as a “nuisance.”  As the story demonstrates, law-abiding citizens call in and request the truck be parked near them if necessary.  They don’t feel intimidated or shamed.

From a conceptual perspective, I’d say this persuasion play combines both arguments and cues.  If you are engaged in criminal or near-criminal behaviors, a strong argument would be surveillance.  A cop doesn’t have to be there in real time because a camera is.  You can certainly move to another location, but then the cops can move the truck, too.  It makes crime more difficult.  The truck may also create arguments that you will be ridiculed and dismissed in your own neighborhood.

The play can also operates as both a norm-based cue and an authority cue.  The Comparison Cue works as, “If other people are doing it, you should, too.”  In this instance, the norm is be law abiding.  If the Armadillo is parked in front of your house, you clearly violate the Cue.  Passersby don’t have to know much or think much, just observe the truck and know that there lives someone who has no respect for norms or rules.  Further, the markings on the vehicle clearly demonstrate the Authorities Are Here and They are doing the job.  Word up, fools.

The Armadillo is a nice play that reveals people who know how to do their job with persuasion.  There are some smart and deep cops in Peoria.

Green . . . Or Lean?

I found a great news story that illustrates a very different way of thinking about energy and enviromental policy.  We start, surprisingly enough, with Green Christians.

Green Christians are like secular Greens.  Both want to save the planet, but they tend to think about that goal with different approaches.  The Green movement usually has a strong scientific basis using theory and research to explain and measure both the problem and the solution.  They organize large political movements and seek government change in laws, regulation, and taxation.  They organize big splashy PR events and use media campaigns to influence folks.

Green Christians take a much smaller approach and think about things an individual can do to go Green.  The news article details several great examples.  Green Christians are selling their second cars and using bicycles.  They put in large gardens, grow a variety of crops, put them up, and save hundreds of dollars.  They hang out their laundry rather than use a clothes dryer.  They spend less time with computer driven entertainment and more time on family and community sports and recreation.

Now, this article is informative for three reasons.

First, if you are not particularly religious, it gives you a friendly and noncontroversial look at the daily activity of plain, just-folks Believers.  You don’t have to fight about abortion or evolution or school prayer and see the common bonds that unite all of us as people being people.

Second, it demonstrates a great example of self-reliant Green rather than the Big Brother Green of government regulation, taxation, and nagging.  None of the folks described in this article are marching in the streets, organizing community groups, or trying to get a law passed.  They are going Green all by themselves.  It gives you another way to think and act Green and it does not require either a secular or a sacred commitment.

Green BMI Third, and to the main persuasion point of all of this:  I cannot help but note the healthy lifestyle effects of Christian Green.  Imagine if you and your family:  Stopped driving and started biking; stopped throwing clothes in the dryer, but hauled them out to a line for drying; and dug up a 50 X 100 foot plot of dirt, planted crops, weeded by hand and without pesticides, pulled ripe vegetables from the ground or vine or bush, then canned them for winter; unplugged the TV, computer, and iPod and went out in the yard and played catch or croquet.

If you did this, how much weight would you lose?  Forget the Green, save the Planet, hype.  Just think about the physical lifestyle.  If everyone engaged in what I’m calling Lean Green, the US would not have an obesity problem.  Everyone would look the way they did back in the 1950s when I was a kid growing up in rural, small town Missouri.  Everybody would be walking, running, lifting, carrying, digging, dragging, stretching . . . just plain moving around.

Lean Green largely unplugs from technology and makes the human body do more of the functions of life rather than using a human made machine.  And that would massively and favorably change the lifestyle problems that plague the health so many people today.

Now, contrast this simple, unplugged, and obviously effective Lean Green with all the science that drives lifestyle interventions for the obesity problem.  They involve pills or government mandated, taxpayer financed plans or computer workstations on treadmills or plans to make people just fidget more often or massive media persuasion campaigns or calorie counts on menus, banned foods like trans fats in New York City, and hotline phone numbers sewn into plus sized new clothes.

Just compare the common sense effect of Lean Green to the scientific effect of all the NIH funded research on lifestyle interventions.  You do not need to a randomized controlled trial to see that our use of technology overwhelmingly causes the negative health effects of our lifestyle and that all the taxpayer funded science from the Federal government amounts to a piddling spit in the wind of change.

Yet, I’ve wasted a lot of my time and skill as a persuasion agent trying to do “scientific” interventions on lifestyle.  And the reason it was a waste was because the science of lifestyle completely misses the major factors that drive the current obesity problem.  It focuses upon incredibly baroque, nuanced, and subtle effects that requires millions of dollars of effort to produce virtually no change.

And, related to this scientific failure, consider how little weight the Green movement gives to the lifestyle implications of a Green approach.  We should not think about this as a Green thing, but as a Lean thing.  Sure, there are energy and environment implications.  The less carbon we burn in machines, the less damage we do to the planet.  The less carbon we burn, the less dependent we become on other countries energy resources.  All that’s great, but the real selling point of Green is Lean.

Shorting Nudge

With everyone going long on Nudge, perhaps it is time to consider the short position.  A little due diligence is a good thing, isn’t it?  Begin with a fair recap on Nudge.

Nudge claims (web, blog, and book) that a persuasion play called “choice architecture” will have large, observable, and practical effects in public policy.  Through selection and sequencing of choice options, people can be nudged to make the wise move.  Smart people acclaim this claim and, stop me if you’ve heard this before, note it flows from Nobel-prize winning research.  Nudge is the intellectual’s tool of choice:  bright, nuanced, effective.  Please, do your own search on Nudge to verify its value, reputation, and impact.

But, Nudge will not work.  Consider then select from the following choice options.

1.  If Nudge works, why tell anyone?  Nudge is proposed as one powerful persuasion play that could change elections, marketplaces, gee whiz, Life As We Know It.  If it’s that good, you don’t need to talk about it.  Just Do It and get what you want . . . if it really works.  Yet, Nudgers are talking about it and not doing it.

2.  Nudge does not produce large, observable, and practical effects.  While Nudges can produce real effects in the real world, these will be, at best, small.  In other words, you’ll need a statistician to find or invent them.  My reading of this research literature and my practical experience as a Federal government administrator in both the Clinton and Bush administrations would view the Nudge effects as small.  This is not a quantitative quibble between gearhead bean counters, but a Big Deal because of my next point.

3.  The Federal Government eats small effects for appetizers.  As anyone who’s worked in the Executive Branch knows, one GS-5 in the action path can unintentionally kill a small effect and no one will know it.  A year after Nudging, the Nudge Czar will ask to see a report.  The Czar will then find several disconcerting typos and grammatical errors, omissions and revisions that inexplicably penetrated those deeply nuanced Nudges, rendering them inert, incoherent, or, more likely, counter-poised to produce the wrong choice.  And no one will know how this happened.  That’s just what the Fed does with anything involving nuance – with nuance being another way of saying “small effects.”

4.  Nudge is not new.  While the Cool Table is pulling up a chair for Nudge as the New New Thing, it is not.  Since the 1970s a dazzling and diverse array of researchers have explored the “dual process” models of cognition, of which Nudge is neither the newest or oldest, best or worst.  Nudge and “choice architecture” can be classified as a persuasion cue that operates with low WATT processors ambling along the peripheral route.  Thus, fundamental ideas of Nudge are well known, widespread, and most importantly, already available in the marketplace of ideas, markets, and government.  Nudge thus operates at a discount.

5.  Nudgers have lost the element of surprise.  Assume I’m wrong on everything I’ve written so far.  Nudge is new, exciting, different, large, and practical.  It will work exactly as claimed.  Except now everyone on the other side of a Nudge knows it and can move to defeat it.  How?  I can think of two killer counterattacks off the top of my head.  But, I’m not a Nudger who tells everyone in advance how I’m going to Nudge them.  If you Nudge, do you really think I’m the only citizen who’s got a bead on this?

6.  Nudge is transparent and self-confessed bias.  Nudgers offer choice architecture as a libertarian paternalism for handling the great mass of unsophisticated citizens daily making self-destructive choices.  Nudge saves them from themselves.  Anyone who claims to be a Master of Persuasion and then draws a bright and shining line between the few sophisticated sources and the great mass of unsophisticated receivers is at once more maladroit and less Machiavellian, a terrible proportion for a change agent.

7.  If Nudge works, it’s not because of the Nudge.  Again, imagine I’m wrong (take a seat by my wife, she’ll tell the rest of that story).  If good outcomes flow from clever Nudges, I’ll argue under the auspices of that other Chicago school philosopher, Al Capone, who noted:  You can get farther with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone.  Nudges, the kind words, will always take place within the Fed Gun of fine, imprisonment, or public humiliation.  Sure, Nudge’s persuasive.  Yeah.  Nudge and me.  And, what, this little thing called an indictment?

8.  Nudgers have not thought the idea through to its end.  Readers grab onto the shiny, bright, and facile features of Nudge – it makes the world a better place, it’s based on Nobel Prize winning research, it is subtle – and do not think the idea out far at all.  How is Nudge like other existing ideas?  What is a “large” or “practical” impact?  What happens when you move from the lab to the Federal government?  Just how easy and effective can something be when the “other guy” knows about it?  Can you get both Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell to support it?  How will the Supreme Court judge laws and regulations confounded with persuasion tactics?

9.  Nudge won’t work because the Republicans have already tried it.  Didn’t the Bush Administration use Nudge in the run-up to the war in Iraq?  Recall the selection and sequencing of choice options the Administration used.  Remember, then, that nearly 70% of American citizens supported the invasion.  It’s not as catchy as “Bush Lied, People Died,” but “Bush Nudged, People Judged” is the more accurate bumper sticker.

10.  Finally, Nudge won’t work in the Federal government because the government already has an effective change tool:  Push.  You don’t do something as small, fragile, and ephemeral as Nudge when you can simply walk up to citizens and Push.  Governments just call it something like Nudge to divert your attention.

Nudge Nudge with Monty PythonSo, what’s the due diligence on Nudge?  If you’re doing research, writing for the chattering classes, or looking for a seat at the Cool Table, go long on Nudge.  Otherwise, go short, pull up a chair, and enjoy the show (audio clip with script).

A Noiseless Thanks to Les Paul (1915-2009)

Les Paul, the great guitarist and electric guitar innovator, died today at the age of 94.  Millions of electric guitarists mourn his passing.  Here are a couple of shots of my Les Paul standard, lefty of course, given as a tribute to his legacy.


Les Paul Guitar

Let’s rip some Santana or a buttery jazz.

Thanks, Mr. Paul.

Physicians, Persuasion, and Human Nature

We dropped out subscriptions to several specific health and medicine journals and now keep an eye on that literature through “Journal Watch.”  It’s a great  biweekly summary of the research published in a wide range of journals.  The August 15, 2009 issue contains two posts that demonstrate, gasp, persuasion principles operate on physicians!

The first post comes from a research study that looks at Pay For Performance (and, yes, there’s a webspeak acronym, P4P) that looks at a new payment program in the United Kingdom.  Physicians are paid based on performance outcomes on 136 indicators of high quality care.  Thus, if some physicians get their clients to have better outcomes, those physicians get more money.  If the clients do worse on the outcomes, physicians get less.

Guess what?  Patient outcomes improved on most measures (asthma, diabetes, and coronary heart disease) and patients working with physicians under P4P noticed no difference in access to care or quality of interpersonal interactions.  However, the Journal Watch editorialist managed to worry about potential, but unstated, pernicious side effects from P4P.

In case you missed it the medical community is incredibly sensitive about payment systems not only because of keep your hands offa my stack, Jack, but also because of concerns about fairness, equality, and an effective system.  Money has weird effects and is clearly a major problem.  This P4P program appears to keep people healthier, focus physicians on outcomes, distinguish and reward good versus bad performance, and deliver a product people like and trust.  But, the editorialist, speaking on behalf of all physicians, primarily worries about unstated, but bad side effects.

Here’s the persuasion play:  Reinforcement theory (aka “For Me?) works even on physicians.  The When-Do-Get can focus physicians on efficacious treatments, make their clients healthier, and properly reward (or punish) physician behavior.  Yet, this will appear to be surprising and perhaps worrisome news to some physicians who seem to think that the rules of human nature do not apply to them.

The second post reveals no worries about pernicious side effects for physicians, but may surprise you.  Journal Watch offers a full page Feature on getting physicians to change from a proven, ineffective treatment to a treatment that actually works.  You might need to read that again because it doesn’t sound right.  “You mean my doc may be doing something that is not scientifically proven?  Is that what you wrote?”


The treatment is called, “tight glucose control,” and is aimed at diabetics.  Currently, many physicians engage in tight control, but, as the Feature writer demonstrates, the science on this practice indicates that it is not effective and should not be used.  The Feature writer notes and discusses several scientific publications, going back to the 1970s, but more fully developed in the 1990s, that demonstrate why tight control should not be used.

The Feature writer then states,

“Social psychology literature suggests that people cling to belief even in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary.  But, as physicians and scientists, we should embrace change when new evidence consistently contradicts our prior beliefs and clinical practice.”

This sounds like something you shouldn’t be able to make up, but there it is.  A rule of persuasion is:  All people always resist significant change.  Sure, when it applies to switching from paper bags to reusable bags at the grocery store, yeah, people will resist change.  But, physicians resisting persistent, consistent, scientific evidence that tells them to stop that and do this?


Persuasion applies even to persuasion and scientists.  In fact, in my own experience both for myself and the many physicians and scientists (and scholars and intellectuals and every other “smart” group) with whom I’ve worked, we can be some of the most resistent people in the world.  Our intelligence actually works against us as we find ways to refute new information.

Persuasion reveals.

Milgram as Icon Revisited – Joe Darby Speaks Out

You may recall an earlier post on the Iconic use of Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience research.  I noted that contemporary observers misunderstand and misuse the results from that research to grind all manner of gears, axes, and teeth.  While I used a column from the New York Times as the key illustration, literally hundreds of other examples exist, as these searches for websites and blogs demonstrates.  People really do not understand the persuasion science behind the Milgram research.

The Main Point with that work is direct, but not simple:  Under highly specified conditions, most people will show obedience to authority that clearly harms innocent people.  Most readers appear to catch the last part – harm to innocents – and miss the first part – highly specified conditions.  The highly specified conditions include:  1) a stranger who is highly credible and situationally powerful, 2) a physical environment that is unusual and contains new technologies, 3) a plausible, but ultimately untruthful cover story, 4) a skilled accomplice performing a script, and 5) physical or psychological distance from the innocent victim.  When these conditions are absent, compliance rates drop to much lower levels; however, a few people will almost always show compliance as long as they see a credible authority source.

People seem to largely ignore these conditions and have raised Milgram’s research to the level of a scientific icon – a powerful symbol that no one really understands, but greatly respects.  All you have to do is observe some situation where authority seems to be present and if something you don’t like occurs, you can wave the Icon over it and deplore it scientifically.

Take Abu Ghraib.  It is has become a commonplace, a stereotype to argue that those infamous prison photos taken of Iraqi prisoners by American jailers (and the abuse those photos document) is an outstanding illustration of obedience.  Except Abu Ghraib isn’t a good example.  In fact it is a lousy example.

You can reread my post for my artful, wise, and deeply nuanced analysis (see me tug my chin and stroke my beard as I pause and gaze up towards the only other source that seems to understand me) or you can read the story of the guy, Joe Darby, who broke the Abu Ghraib story.  He gives it all away in the first two paragraphs.

Everybody thinks there was a conspiracy at Abu Ghraib.

Everybody thinks there was an order from high up, or that somebody in command must have known. Everybody is wrong. Nobody in command knew about the abuse, because nobody in command cared enough to find out. That was the real problem. The entire command structure was oblivious, living in their own little worlds. So it wasn’t a conspiracy—it was negligence, plain and simple. They were all f***ing clueless.

SGT Joe DarbyJoe Darby was a soldier in that infamous unit of Military Police at Abu Ghraib.  He saw it and he reported it to the chain of command.  His actions revealled the abuses and it is possible that if he hadn’t done what he did, no one would know what happened.  He did the right thing.

His key observation that contradicts everyone who ever thought the Obedience Icon Explains It is found in his claims that there were no orders to abuse, that the abuse came from negligence.  This contradicts an Obedience Icon interpretation.  Since there were no orders, we don’t even have a compliance situation.  Forget all the Broadway play elements of the Milgram design (the lab, the technology, the script, the acting accomplice).  It’s all irrelevant.

To close, I reraise the Obedience Icon not simply to disagree, but to keep focus.  Persuasion science is a marvelously useful tool.  It helps us achieve goals, arms us in defense against attempts to change us, and it provides powerful insight into our human nature.  But, you have to know what you know and what you don’t know for it to be useful.  It makes you look smart, elite, intellectual, hip, groovy, and gear to wave the Obedience Icon; but you are an emperor with no clothes.  You are blinding yourself and others to what works and why it works.

Thus, the Obedience Icon hides the truth and reveals your foolishness.

Tribute for Joan’s Drive In, Marshall, Missouri

Joan’s Drive In, located in Marshall, Missouri has the greatest cheeseburgers in the history of the Western World.  Just off the town square – look for the courthouse – you will find a small diner with spinner seats, formica counter, and Connie at the grill.  Let me take you on the tour.

the Courthouse at Marshall

County Courthouse, Saline County, Missouri in Marshall where the people from my mother’s side originate. Hollywood shot my closeup in “The Children Nobody Wanted” (I played Delford opposite Michelle Pfeiffer before either of us were famous).  I stood on the stairs to the left. Now, imagine turning your head to the right 90 degrees . . .

Exterior of Joan's Drive In

. . . and you’ll see Joan’s Drive-In which has the greatest cheeseburgers in the world. My grandmother, Nell Ellingson (aka, “The Leader”) brought me here as a child in the early 1950s and I’ve been coming back ever since, often with . . .

Four Brothers at Joan's Drive In
. . . my little brother, Rick, and more recently, his sons, Brett and Evan. We’re seated at the counter waiting for Connie . . .
Connie at the grill

. . . Connie is the third owner of Joan’s Drive In. Ms. Joan Murphy started operation before World War II, then sold to Frances and his wife (whose name escapes me).  Frances and his wife inspired me to write a sweet short story based on the diner during the year I worked butchering hogs at a Wilson’s meat processing plant in the 1970s.  Frances and his wife hired Connie in the 1970s and she stayed on.

Best Burger Award

Here’s the certificate that documents the basis of my high opinion of Joan Murphy’s. It’s an award for “Best of Rural Missouri” in the hamburger category. They also got one for chili. If you’re ever on I-70, take the Rt 65 exit north 15 miles to Marshall, go to the Courthouse, then find Joan’s. Tell Connie hello. She won’t give you a discount, but she’ll take your picture holding her awards.

Steve and Evan

The only thing better than a Joan’s cheeseburger is a Joan’s cheeseburger paid for by my nephew, Evan, who fell for a bad bet.  Man, I wish he’d been born ten years earlier!

Cues in Combat!

This is an outstanding illustration of persuasion Cues.

Bob on the FOB Geardo

This cartoon sweetly mocks soldiers for their Peripheral Route gear choices in a combat zone.  It certainly is not a damning criticism of soldiers, the military, or war.  It is an inside joke, a takedown, a basket of raspberries.  Don’t get bent out of shape on the tangentials.  Focus on the Main Points:  Cues and WATTage.

Consider first the Cues.

“This thing was designed by a S.E.A.L. so it must be great!”

“All the Spec Ops guys have a dump pouch . . .”

Lots of examples of Comparison (If Others Are Doing It), Liking (When The Source Is Cool), and Authority (S.E.A.L., baby!) in this cartoon.  The artist, Sergeant Albert Merrifield, worked up a series of these cartoons called “Bob on the FOB” based on his own military service in Iraq during his tour from October 2005 through July 2006.  You can find a PDF here of an entire series.  Bob on the FOB is clearly meant as a joke, but even within the humor we see the persuasion angles.

What strikes me most is the obvious inference in this cartoon that people in a combat zone where they could possibly get killed or maimed are depicted as ambling along the Peripheral Route.  You’d think that if any situation would always make everyone extremely  high WATT, it would be a combat zone.  Yet, Merrifield offers this as an ironic example that must have some basis in truth.  We are always human wherever we are and to be human is to ride the ebb and flow of WATTage.

I appreciate these cartoons for their persuasion commentary, but more importantly, Sergeant Merrifield, thanks for your service to our country.

Footnotes on Military Lingo

Here’s Brad’s definition of an FOB: “a Forward Operating Base, which is a smallish, self-contained base in a forward area. It is what most of the people in Iraq and Afghanistan live on and work out of.”

ACU is Army Combat Uniform.

S.A.W. is Squad Automatic Weapon which is a machine gun that a single person can carry and employ.  If you’ve seen the movie, “Blackhawk Down,” you’ve seen S.A.W.s in action.

9mm is . . . come on, you know this.  Rap music, CSI, virtually every cop movie features it – a cool handgun that looks like the World War II Colt .45 my father-in-law, Clif, carried; it uses a 9mm round rather than the .45.

An M4 is the newest evolution of the AR-15 carbine while a .50 cal is shorthand for the Browning M2 .50 caliber machine gun which is a crewed weapon unless used by a Hollywood actor for effect.  Thus, if your rifle, the M4, weighs more than a weapon carried by two men, you’ve got a lot of options installed.

Spec Ops, Ranger, Delta, and S.E.A.L. are terms describing Special Forces personnel.  There are also crucial distinctions among and between these four terms and you’d better get them right in a bar, but hopefully in a blog post, I’ve got some slack. All serve with honor and distinction.

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WACky Tricks or One Is Really Three

You remember our Persuasion WAC:  WATTage, Arguments, and Cues.  If it moves the dimmer switch of your mind, it is WATTage.  If it is information of crucial importance, it is Argument.  If it influences with little thinking, it is Cue.  High WATT minds want Arguments on the Central Route while Low WATT minds want Cues ambling along the Peripheral Route.

WACy BlondeNow, smart people make a dumb mistake when they think that everything can be classified into one and just one of the three WACs.  Take a classic advertising example:  The pretty blonde with a hot body.  A Cue, right?  I mean all you do is take one look and your mind stops working and all the illumination you need is coming from that hot blonde and not your WATTage.

Let’s work on this.  You’ll need to fantasize, but it’s okay.  I won’t tell if you won’t tell.  All in the name of science!

So, imagine the hot blonde of your dreams (and it doesn’t have to be blonde hair, it could be any color, blonde just works for me and I’m writing this and you promised not to tell.)  Now, add unusually long hair.  Long, lustrous, blonde hair.  Let the wind blow and see that long blonde hair attached to that face, that face, that fabulous face, and that body, don’t even get started on that body, just see that long blonde hair flowing in the wind . . .

. . . while the blonde of your dreams holds the wheel of a surging red convertible.  Blue skies, red metal, hot blonde hair, flowing, going, blowing in the wind.

And now a caption:  For Beautiful Hair.

A classic auto ad.  Take your car, add one hot blonde, label with a clever slogan, and boom, we’ve just saved Detroit.  And we did it on the Peripheral Route with Low WATT thinkers and that lovely hot blonde Cue.  And it’s gotta be a Cue not an Argument because how can a car make hair beautiful and besides why would you buy a car to make beautiful hair?  You wouldn’t . . .

So, imagine now, that hot blonde of your dreams with the long hair, flowing, going, blowing in the wind . . .

. . . while holding a bottle of shampoo with the same caption:  For Beautiful Hair.

What’s your hot blonde now?  A Cue?  Really?  Wait a minute.  If the shampoo helps make that long hair look that good, that’s an Argument, not a Cue.  If my hair will look better because of the shampoo, then those hot blonde tresses are an Argument.

The WAC is not as simple as it seems.  The same persuasion element – in this case long, blonde hair – can function as either an Argument or a Cue.  It depends upon how it is used.  If the persuasion element is something that a High WATT thinker will consider, mull, weigh, elaborate upon, add to, embroider over, then it is an Argument.  By contrast, if a Low WATT thinker stares in slack jawed wonder at that shiny, bright thing wiggling and jiggling with promise and delight, then it is a Cue.  Same object, but different function.

And, “function” is the key to the WAC.  Observe function, not appearance.  Function marks the WAC category.  When you know what it does, you know WATTage, Argument, or Cue.

“But, Steve, how does blonde hair function as that dimmer switch for WATTage?  I get the Argument and Cue difference, but blonde hair turns the dimmer dial?”

MBB Bacchus It does for me.  I married a hot blonde who also happens to be smart, sophisticated, and experienced.  My married life taught me to turn up the dimmer switch when the (blonde) girl of my dreams starts talking.  I need to go High WATT with her because she often says interesting, useful, and enjoyable things . . . which is another way of saying she provides a lot of Arguments!

Of course, your WATTage with blondes may vary!

The Persuasion WAC

We need to share a vocabulary of persuasion so that we can communicate effectively in this blog.  Short of buying a book and reading it, here’s a quick primer of key persuasion concepts.  Let’s take a WAC at it.

Imagine a photograph of any persuasion moment:  Mom and Dad arguing about locking the liquor cabinet and How Long Brittney Gets Grounded, a sales associate encouraging you to add a groovy accessory to your latest purchase, you encouraging a friend to drink less and exercise more.  The scene is people using words to change the way freely choosing other people think, feel, or act.  Persuasion.

Now, every element in that picture fits into one of three persuasion categories:  WATTage, Arguments, or Cues.

WATTage is a clever acronym for Willingness and Ability to Think.  If you are high WATT you are motivated and enabled to think carefully and effortfully about the persuasion situation.  If you are low WATT, you are still thinking, but not with much motivation or effort.  With only this high-low distinction, its obvious that persuasion operates differently depending on our WATTage.  When the light of your mind burns brightly, you are actively engaged, concentrated, focused.  When the light is dim, but still lit, your mind is otherwise engaged.  Most folks most of the time cruise through life in a low WATT state because they can always dial up the dimmer switch to high WATT as needed.

Arguments contain anything of central importance to the persuasion situation.  Typically persuasion arguments are facts, evidence, reasoning, statistical analysis, etc., but sometimes a pretty face and a hot body are arguments – if you are a cosmetic surgeon running an ad to sell your services, for example.  The key is whether the information is of central importance to the persuasion situation.  Sometimes, it’s Just The Facts, Ma’mam and sometimes it’s that Pretty Face.  If it’s crucial info, it’s an argument.

Cues are persuasion variables that influence without requiring much thinking.  That pretty face on top of a hot body might be a strong argument for the cosmetic surgeon’s ad, but as a sponsor of the new Tax Legislation, probably not.  Cues are often bright and shiny things that jiggle and shake like the spinners you put on a fish reel to lure in the fish.  Gee, I really like her, sure I’ll sign that petition.  Gee, she’s really an expert on this, sure I’ll sign that petition.

The WAC combines into a simple diagram like this.


(Okay, quiz time, my pretties, what does WAC mean?)

The WAC always applies in every realtime persuasion event.  Freeze the frame and classify everything into one category:  WATTage, argument, or cue.  Now, realize that in a new persuasion event, everything can change.  Instead of the receiver rocking along the Central Route with high WATT processing of Arguments, she’s now ambling along the Peripheral Route, a low WATT processor of Cues.  Persuasion is like life, fluid, changing, dyanmic, the same river you can never step into twice.

But, the WAC always applies.