Monthly Archives: May 2012

Persuading with Internet Advertising

Times are hard, even at the Times. Look at this banner ad the NYT ran.

No one can acquire functional use of a new language in ten days, not even the brightest NYTimes reader. This is just one of those ubiquitous sucker ads made easy, fun, and popular with that cheapest megaphone invented to date: the Internet.

Realize that one of the coolest members of the Cool Table is reduced to this PT Barnum puffery just to survive in the world. The Times is another click-grubber, collecting twitches like a child’s penny jar. Some lamer is in his basement catching credit card numbers with this ad and giving the Times a few pennies to collaborate at a distance.

Creativity for Persuasion

Creating persuasion always requires creativity. Here’s an interesting and new way to generate creativity.

Specifically, I propose a method of elaboration called the generic-parts technique (GPT), in which two questions are continually asked as a person creates a parts diagram (Fig. 1). For each description a participant creates, he or she should ask, “Can this be decomposed further?” If so, the participant should break that part into its subparts and create another hierarchy level in the diagram. The second question to ask is “Does this description imply a use?” If so, the participant should create a more generic description based on material and shape. This procedure results in a tree, in which the description in each leaf (i.e., the bottom level of the tree’s hierarchy) does not imply a use and involves the material and shape of the part under consideration. Further, because the parts become smaller as the hierarchy levels progress, this process also calls attention to the size of each of the parts. In essence, the GPT helps subjects think beyond the common functions associated with an object and its parts.

Tony McCaffrey invented this activity and tested in a randomized experiment where participants in control did a word-association task while those in treatment did the GPT exercise. All people were then given several problem solving tasks (the Duncker candle problem, for example) and allowed to work until they solved or just gave up. The results?

The GPT group solved 67.4% more problems than the control group did (GPT group: M = 82.7%; control group: M = 49.4%), which was a significant difference, t(26) = 4.23, p < .001. The standardized effect size was dramatically large, Cohen’s d = 1.59 (0.80 is considered large, 0.50 is medium, and 0.25 is small).

McCaffrey argues that GPT gets people to break down a commonplace into smaller pieces that then permits more creative thinking and insight. Take the familiar, break it down to components, and consider the components. Decomposed the common suddenly becomes strange. And strange encourages new thoughts.

Hey, All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere and Sincere is certainly familiar when done repetitively. GPT breaks out of the Sincerity!

Tony McCaffrey. Innovation Relies on the Obscure: A Key to Overcoming the Classic Problem of Functional Fixedness. Psychological Science, February 7, 2012


Broadway Persuasion

All the world’s a stage, especially for persuasion.

“But the whole time I’ve been a performer I’ve been interested in the interplay between the world of acting and the world of business,” he said. He began developing his Act Professional curriculum 12 years ago. To test his mettle, he signed on as a trainer at Performance of a Lifetime, an organizational development firm started by two sometimes actors. In 2008, Act Professional opened for business, working mostly with nonprofits and universities. Through the years, Mr. Grupper has taken clients as disparate as Unicef, Citigroup and Estée Lauder.

This WSJ article profiles Grupper as both a successful stage actor and business consultant for CEOs. Grupper clearly gets the performance part of persuasion and the emphasis upon playing for the Other Guys. He helps muggles struggle with their Sincerity and shows them how to find the art of persuasion.

Remember: All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.

Counting TACTs with Pretty Women

The WSJ presents an interesting persuasion application. Many tech and Internet companies are recruiting college students as Ambassadors for their brands, products, and services. According to the story, the students are not paid for this work, but rather get valuable points and prizes in the form of resume hits like, Campus CEO or Director of Social Media. For this reward Ambassadors engage in self directed persuasion efforts on campus like going into classroom and writing the company name and logo on chalkboards.

You see the obvious advantage for the companies. Free labor spreads the word in a target rich environment. You provide a little Cool Factor and the student does the rest. Of course, notably absent in the article is any kind of Count for the business TACTs. Does the Ambassador Persuasion Play™ produce any Counts of Change?

This past weekend, about 150 college reps and their friends convened in New York City for the second annual Rent the Runway Rep College Capstone Weekend. To take part, college students were required to write a post for a company blog and produce a one-minute video promoting the service. A spokeswoman says it was “recommended” that attendees rent a dress from the company for the event.

Even if the Ambassadors don’t generate a penny’s worth of business for Rent the Runway through new customers, the Ambassadors themselves buy RtR’s product themselves. So, at the very least the Ambassador play gets Unpaid Employees to buy the product! Talk about selling sand to a Saud!

And one cannot help but notice the Ambassadors featured in the article.

Normally, the persuasion play with attractiveness is to use it to attract other people, but with the Ambassador Persuasion Play™, it seems you use the attractiveness of the student to gull them into providing free labor and buying your stuff. The Other Guy in this case isn’t all the other students on campus, but just those Pretty Women and a few Pretty Men who’ll pay to work for nothing because you tell them they are attractive and everyone knows how persuasive that is.

Doing Bad but Getting Well

They’re back.

A healthcare advocacy group run by physicians is preparing to file a petition calling on President Obama to stop eating hamburgers, hot dogs and other unhealthy foods before cameras. “As role model to millions of Americans, the president has a responsibility to watch what he eats in public,” said Susan Levin, nutrition education director with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).

We saw this crew in Iowa at a Bacon Festival, trying to gin up any attention to their cause by stepping into somebody else’s spotlight. That apparently didn’t work well so the PCRM is moving up in weight class to the President.

Who is funding such lame work? Good grief. Look at their budget! Nearly $11 million in operating expenses for 2011 with over $14 million in assets! And the best they can do is that Bad Bacon Persuasion or petitioning Obama to eat hot dogs behind a curtain?

Perhaps a Peitho nomination is in order after all . . . you just have to know the TACT and the Other Guys.

Leaving the Atocha Station with Nonverbal Persuasion

You tend to think of persuasion as a business skill where sources try to change Other Guys for a large mission, product, service, event, anything larger than just yourself. And even when it’s just little old you, say a teacher employing Why? Because! to motivate students, it still feels exterior, external. But, sometimes, you persuade to leave an impression about yourself on Other Guys to accomplish social gains. Like this fictional account.

The streets in Chueca were so narrow and its plaza so full in those months that it was easy to mill around in such a manner that people on your right assumed you were with the people on your left and vice versa. This was also true in its various overflowing bars; I could order a drink and stand looking bored in the middle of the bar and people would suppose I pertained to one of the adjacent parties; indeed, people in one large group or another often began to speak to me, assuming I was one of their number whom they hadn’t had the chance to meet. Over the general din I could hear next to nothing, but I smiled and nodded and sometimes slightly raised my glass, and henceforth turned a little more toward the group whose member had addressed; slowly I would be absorbed. Which is how I met Arturo . . .

This from Ben Lerner’s first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station. Adam Gordon is on a poetry fellowship in Spain where he discovers his Spanish skills are not as good as he thought they were and worse still his poetry skills may be lacking, too. Gordon wanders through Madrid feeling isolated from others and himself, hitting upon these nonverbal persuasion plays to connect with others. Hey, take a crowded scene in a sociable bar with lots of drinking and you’ve got Low WATT processing and people Cue-ing off of smiles, body lean, and proximity to make friend judgments. Even if your language skills are weak, just look like you’re in the game and esto, you are in the game.

Of course, such persuasion plays are shots in the dark and Adam Gordon misses as often as he hits. And his misses lead to getting punched in the face from angry, drunk, and high Spanish men who think Gordon’s language-impaired silence means mockery. Persuasion giveth and it taketh.

There is a marvelous art of social persuasion, sometimes studied as impression management, shy like a fox, Machiavellians, and on and on with the tactics of getting ahead in your social world. If you like this line of concept, you might enjoy reading Ben Lerner’s book, Leaving the Atocha Station, about the fellowship adventures of a young man, Adam Gordon. Lerner displays a deft and light touch with material that borders on cliché – the young American artist abroad. Leaving the Atocha Station floats through perspective taking, language, meaning, and translation all the while telling an interesting story. I found the book to be one of the better novels I’ve read in the past ten years, especially given that this is Lerner’s first attempt at a novel after success as a poet. The guy is a helluva good writer and I hope he produces more novels.

Persuasion Madras with Osama bin Laden

The US government is releasing information from the documents seized during the fatal raid on Osama bin Laden.   We’re learning about bin Laden persuasion preferences.  Like a name change.

So badly tarnished had the al Qaeda brand become that bin Laden noodled with changing the name of his group . . . Bin Laden went on to nominate some possible new names for al Qaeda. “These are some suggestions: Monotheism and Jihad group, Monotheism and Defending Islam Group, Restoration of the Caliphate Group . . . Muslim Unity group.” None of these suggestions were exactly catchy and the group did not rename itself.

Call me radical, but if folks are willing to blow themselves up for the cause, can the brand name make that much difference?

I wouldn’t be caught dead in those Wranglers, but I’d die in my Levi’s?

While you can classically condition about anything, I have my doubts about Ding-Donging on Existential Actions. I can see the utility of the Brand Name for public communication to a variety of Other Guys, like the Westerners bin Laden is trying to kill and to various sympathizers he wants for support, but for the key Other Guys, those willing to die for the cause . . . really, the Brand Name matters?

Consider a more prosaic explanation for the name game. When you’re hunted, on the run, and all you can do is think then you’ll think about what you can change and that boiled down to mere words at the end for bin Laden. And, if you think about it, his actions reveal his persuasion preferences. He subscribed to the Source School of Persuasion and not the Receiver School of Persuasion.

Source guys think the persuasion is all about them, how they look, walk, and talk. Style. Flavor. Brand. Insight. Vision. Receiver guys, by contrast, follow the Rule, It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid. Instead of dying while playing with words, a Receiver-oriented radical would have died trying to Change the Other Guy with whatever he could find in the Local. As I noted two years ago, it turns out that bin Laden was too Sincere for change.



Attacking in Cotton Nightgowns

Karl Rove is probably the most effective political persuader active in the past 20 years. He wins. Here’s how he wants to win against Obama right now.

The soft attack ad.

Attack ads work. Properly done they reduce support for the issue or person attacked and translate into fewer votes. But, they must be properly done. The proper here revolves around President Obama’s enduring popularity and likability as a person. Many people who voted against him, still find him a winning guy, somebody who’d be a great neighbor, colleague, or guy at the end of the bar. Attacks that don’t account for his likability may fail.

Rove is currently running a soft attack ad that evades Obama’s likability through indirection. Consider Wake Up.

The ad begins with a thirty-something woman alone in bed at 3am awakened by a storm. In voiceover we learn she’s worried about mom, kids, job, retirement. Then she recalls Obama’s plans and promises and we see photograbs of the President, headlines, and charts. The woman continues to worry. We’ve got to do something.

Notice the main element of an attack ad – the direct challenge on character or, in this case, competence. The ad provides those icons of credibility, newspaper grabs, to document the attack, but see how the attack is couched. A young woman in a modest nightgown, worrying alone in bed at 3am as a storm approaches. We see a picture of her with kids and hear about her mom. We never see or hear anything about her partner, but everything about the context looks like she probably has or had one. Thus, we have a young, vulnerable, and highly responsible woman thinking aloud the Attack Arguments against a highly popular and likable Obama.

Please read over the WSJ article about this approach as a great practical lesson in How-To with attack ads. Also find the emerging tactics Rove appears to consider. (I say “appears” because Rove will set you up. More on that in a bit.) Right now Rove sees more risk in the standard attack ad and wants to stay in soft. Rove asserts that he won’t go hard negative with his attacks unless Obama starts it.

Several groups, including American Crossroads, said they were ready to shift tactics if the Obama campaign turned sharply negative in its attacks on Mr. Romney.

That’s manifestly untrue. It sounds good and fair like, “We’re trying to be nice, but the other guy went negative and we had to respond!” Rove is going to maneuver Obama into a corner and punish him with hard attack ads, but that will depend not upon Obama’s attack ads, but when Rove thinks he can put Obama in a corner. Quotes like the one above are a part of those Rove “appearances” where he seems to be speaking plainly, but actually has a persuasion play.

Rove has a strategy. In military terms, Rove has identified the Obama Centers of Gravity and Rove will reduce or neutralize them. Anyone with eyes can see that one major Center for Obama is that likability. Right now Rove is not trying to make Obama less likable; he’s trying to neutralize Obama’s popularity. When Rove makes these soft attacks, he punishes Obama who cannot defend himself with his likeability. Yeah, sure Obama will run a nuanced response ad with shots of him comforting women in nightgowns.

Rove also has a fabulous history of provoking opponents into dysPersuasion. You might recall John Kerry’s babbling caught live on tape, exclaiming that he voted for a bill before he voted against it.

Not to waffle, flip-flop, or talk out of all sides of your mouth no matter how subtle, nuanced, or inspired. Rove had a camera team follow Kerry to town hall meetings then plant questions about this specific legislation that Kerry had voted both ways on. After no luck on several tries, Kerry finally got tired and delivered the double-talk Rove desired.

No single message is decisive in a campaign as long and intense as the race for President. While we learn a persuasion lesson in this specific instance, it’s all part of a much larger plan that can shift with contingency and circumstance. You’ve got to admire Rove for attacking through the strength of an opponent.

Editorial Economic Enthymeme or Persuasive Self Abuse

An enthymeme is a persuasion syllogism. It deliberately omits key elements in the Major or Minor Premise to better ensure that you fall into the persuasion Conclusion. For example, read the first two paragraphs of this Paul Krugman article.

A few days ago, I read an authoritative-sounding paper in The American Economic Review, one of the leading journals in the field, arguing at length that the nation’s high unemployment rate had deep structural roots and wasn’t amenable to any quick solution. The author’s diagnosis was that the U.S. economy just wasn’t flexible enough to cope with rapid technological change. The paper was especially critical of programs like unemployment insurance, which it argued actually hurt workers because they reduced the incentive to adjust.

Right. Krugman is the Nobel-prize winning columnist for the New York Times. He knows his stuff about economics. He read this paper that proves our unemployment problems are structural and can’t be fixed quickly. Tah!

O.K., there’s something I didn’t tell you: The paper in question was published in June 1939. Just a few months later, World War II broke out, and the United States — though not yet at war itself — began a large military buildup, finally providing fiscal stimulus on a scale commensurate with the depth of the slump.

Do you see the enthymeme, easy, ripe, and luscious? Wanna fix unemployment? Start a World War!

When you write enthymemes that attack yourself, you don’t need an opponent.


Selling Light?

Lamps. Candles. Light bulbs. Green light bulbs. Maybe windows. White paint. Anything that makes things lighter. Try this persuasion play.

We asked participants to recall and describe in detail either an ethical or an unethical deed from their past and to describe any feelings or emotions associated with it.

Okay. Think about something I shouldn’t have done. Now, the persuasion outcome part. Ask me to rate the room for how light or dark it is and then ask me if I want: a jug, a lamp, crackers, a candle, an apple, and a flashlight.

As expected, participants in the unethical condition found the lab to be darker than did participants in the ethical condition (ethical condition: M = 87.6 W; unethical condition: M = 74.3 W), t(72) = 2.7, p < .01, d = 0.64. Moreover, as predicted, participants in the unethical condition demonstrated greater preference for the light-related objects (but not the other objects): lamp (ethical condition: M = 2.34; unethical condition: M = 4.16), t(72) = 5.23, p < .0001, d = 1.23; candle (ethical condition: M = 2.37; unethical condition: M = 3.62), t(72) = 3.36, p < .01, d = 0.79; and flashlight (ethical condition: M = 2.35; unethical condition: M = 4.33), t(72) = 5.68, p < .0001, d = 1.33.

Good grief, look at those Windowpanes. Medium Plus on the light-dark evaluation and Large Plus on the attitude preference for light producing objects. These are obvious, practical differences between the recall conditions. Getting people to think about themselves as ethical versus unethical produces immediate, behaviorally important changes. Given attitude intensity like this, if you present an attitude consistent behavior immediately, you are highly likely to obtain the TACT.

See this for the ELM Peripheral Route it is. People are not High WATT processors thinking carefully and effortfully about the lighting conditions of the room or the practical value of the objects. They are skipping stones over an ocean of thought and guilt and shame. I strongly suspect that if these people returned to a room with the same lighting conditions the next day, their light-dark ratings would be very different as would their ratings for the objects. The evaluative response is tied to the immediate manipulation of ethical versus unethical. Remove that activation and the attitude effects would disappear.

The practical lesson here is to see the light on the persuasion possibilities of guilt. If you observe Other Guys reflecting on their bad past, let them see the light. You need to catch both the reality and the metaphor of The Light. The experiments demonstrate how you can sell the reality, but you need to think about selling the metaphor. How is your goal, Light? Think about it.

See this also in a chain of persuasion. See The Light runs the Peripheral Route so obtains only immediate, quick, and ephemeral change. Sure, you can sell more candles, but how about getting the Other Guy to perform an action that commits them to a new position. Get Them to See The Light by signing a petition or taking information or making a proselytizing speech to another person. Use a Light Cue to get Them into a Hot Dissonance position.

The last nuance – how do you induce those guilty recollections and thoughts without being obvious? The experiment boldly instructs participants to recall a shameful experience. How do you do that in the practical world? Perhaps, you begin with an embarrassing disclosure. Perhaps, you have a confederate make that disclosure. Remember the Rule: Drive with Science, Putt with Poetry. Well, this is the Poetry part of the play.

Banerjee, Pronobesh, Chatterjee, Promothesh, and Sinha, Jayati. (2012) Is It Light or Dark? Recalling Moral Behavior Changes Perception of Brightness. Psychological Science. 2012/03/06

doi: 10.1177/0956797611432497