Influence and Persuasion: Crash Course Video Summary

For years, psychologists and sociologists have studied why humans buy things, and brands use that research to hack our brains and open our wallets. By using media literacy, we can protect ourselves from buying yet another popular product that we don’t need. Pretty ironic that a social media manager is writing this, huh? You can blame Crash Course.

Influence and persuasion are grouped into three main categories that companies use to change perspective: advertising, public relations, and propaganda. An advertisement is a public notice promoting a product, event, or service. Advertising is the art of creating those. Sometimes brands create ads themselves, and sometimes they hire companies to do it for them. Public relations is the management of the relationship between the public (that’s you) and a brand. Public relations tells the public what the brand is up to and tries to make the brand look as good as possible. They’re the people who write the apology when someone makes a mistake or build the hype around the latest iPhone release. Finally, propaganda is information distributed with the direct purpose of promoting a certain point of view. This info is often misleading or biased, and propaganda is usually used to promote specific political viewpoints.

As we already know, all media is constructed. Creators make choices each step of the way, from their work’s purpose and focus, to the point of view they use to tell their story. Advertisements work the same way, from the split-second ad you swipe through before watching your friends’ stories to elaborate movie trailers that get as much hype as the movie itself. On top of that, ads are created using a century’s worth of market research: experiments carried out to discover what makes us want to buy things. Advertisers use that knowledge to tap into our desired, often exploiting our most basic needs – not only the food and shelter kind, but the love and belonging kind too.

In the 1940’s psychologist Abraham Maslow added another piece to this puzzle. He identified a hierarchy of needs he said all humans had. It’s set up like a pyramid. At the base, the foundation, all humans need food and water, shelter, and sleep. Just above that, they need to feel safe, too. Then comes the need for love and feeling like you belong somewhere. After that, we need to feel accomplished, like we matter. At the tippy top of the pyramid is the need to fulfill our destiny, to be our best selves. Now all of these needs, combined with our natural desire to follow the crowd, are like little buttons on our hearts and brains. Advertisements press different combinations of buttons in hopes that we’ll respond the right way. Usually, that means buying their product.

Once an advertiser knows which “need button” to press, they’ll know how to persuade you that it will work. Turns out that there are a few things that really persuade us. Crash Course identifies them as authority, likeability, and consistency. It’s very similar to ethos, pathos, and logos. If we think the person talking is an expert, we’re more likely to believe them; if we like the speaker, we’re more likely to listen; and if what’s being said aligns with what we already believe, we’re more likely to believe it. To add to this, if we think something is popular or if we think it’s a scarce resource, we’re swayed to want it.

Unfortunately, persuasive techniques can be used to influence us into believing false claims. One popular type of fallacy in advertising is an appeal to emotions. This is when an ad convinces you to take action by tugging on your heartstrings, like that commercial with the sad dogs that has “In the Arms of an Angel” in the background to convince you to donate to ASPCA. Another fallacy is the false dilemma, where an ad shows you a limited number of choices so you won’t consider all the options. Laundry detergent ads for example, seem to always go “head to head” with another brand, but only one other brand, even though there are dozens. A third fallacy is a red herring, which is the presentation of something totally irrelevant to distract you from the issue at hand. This fallacy is most commonly used in politics, like during the presidential debates when Donald Trump brought up Hunter Biden’s drug addiction to distract from any qualities Joe Biden had that would make people vote for him. Finally, there’s traditional wisdom, or the idea that you should choose something because that’s what your mom or dad used to choose. However, my mom used a tape player because there wasn’t any other option, not because she wanted to become a tape hoarder.

Understanding the persuasive techniques used by organizations to influence you will not only help you save money, but can help defend you from mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

Until next week,

Jordan Price

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