How we are persuaded is individual and situational, so beware of anyone trying to sell you a surefire way to successfully convince, cajole or persuade. Nevertheless, human beings continue looking for that elusive brainwashing soap that always works. The search will probably continue as long as we are on this planet.
Speaking of soap, here's a very entertaining and informative article about some of the efforts in the world of marketing made over the years to discover the persuasion key. From "Retail therapy: How Ernest Dichter, an acolyte of Sigmund Freud, revolutionised marketing" (The Economist):
Between the late 1930s and 1960s Dichter became famous for transforming the fates of businesses such as Procter & Gamble, Exxon, Chrysler, General Mills and DuPont. His insight changed the way hundreds of products were sold, from cars to cake mix. He pioneered research techniques such as the focus group, understood the power of word-of-mouth persuasion and earned startling fees for his theories. By the late 1950s his global business reached an annual turnover of $1m ($8m today), and he enjoyed a reputation as the Freud of the supermarket age.
Dichter’s radical approach to goading shoppers, called “motivational research”, was considered so successful that he was even accused of threatening America’s national well-being. Americans have become “the most manipulated people outside the Iron Curtain,” complained Vance Packard, a
sociologist and virulent critic, in his 1957 book “The Hidden Persuaders”. Even so, Dichter’s fame waned long before he died in 1991. He spent his later years as a discarded guru in Peekskill, New York, scribbling the occasional book about management or motivation. Media research moved on; his name has largely been forgotten. Yet many of his ideas about the role of the unconscious in sales are now back in fashion.
It is now fashionable to study brain waves to see what lights up upon hearing the words “Coca Cola”, or to measure pupil dilation in response to brand logos. But these studies don’t explain why something is happening, or what its effect might be in the real world. Rather, they create a framework for new assumptions, new leaps of faith, new ways to tell stories about the irrational choices people make. Human behaviour remains mysterious, and there is still no certain way to persuade people to buy a particular brand of soap. Ernest Dichter knew that, too, but his stories about what motivates us are still some of the best around.
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