Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Mechanics of Manipulation

"Most people want security in this world, not liberty."
             — H. L. Mencken

Most people are able to be manipulated by a variety of methods: fear of death by terrorism is the current flavor but there are other methods: vanity, conditioning and intrusion too name a few.

Biographer Joachim Fest quoted Hitler as saying: "What good fortune for those in power that people do not think." Fear and manipulation distracts from thinking rationally and often leads to actions that go against ones best interests.

These manipulations occur commercially as well as politically.

In the commercial area, you've probably heard of Claritas and their social group segmentation system. The ones with the catchy names like "Pools and Patios," or "Money and Brains," or "Shotguns and Pickups." A client can research which segments are likely to purchase their product and then market directly to those segments across the country, excluding all others. It's very efficient targeting and very likely to make money.

In the political arena, similar segmentation regularly occurs but without the cutsy names. Ethnicity, age, voting history, family members, household income, contribution history are all available and targetable. And each of these segments can be drilled downward to even more precise segments with even more specific messages.

Marketing messages, because the audience is hand-picked, can use the language and familiarity of that audience to make a pseudo connection and from that connection suggest the action they want the recipient to take. With today's hi-tech data mining and targeting capabilities, messages can be customized household to household. It's us versus them and this message is special for just us. [That's the same type of connection that has caused religious wars throughout history.]

Repetition seals the deal. By savings afforded by efficient targeting, marketers are able to send multiple messages that condition the recipient to the ultimate message. That message is to do or purchase something that may not be in the best interests of the targeted person.

Lee Atwater, before he died, used to be able to write extraordinarily provocative campaign materials that would incite a select audience to action but, if read by an unintended group, be seen as unthreatening and even outrageous and/or humorous. There were others equally skilled. Today's practitioners rely more on targeting than writing skills. Nevertheless they successfully and repetitively make a connection, provoke a response to vote or donate or act in an unthinking, robotic way, and get the results that they want.

By any definition, that's manipulation.

More on this subject to follow . . .