It used to be an axiom of liberalism that freedom meant inalienable self-ownership. You were your own property. You could lease yourself to an employer for a limited period, and for a mutually agreed price, but your property rights over yourself could not be bought or sold. Over the past two centuries, this liberal individualist perspective legitimized capitalism as a “natural” system populated by free agents.
Innovation Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Facebook and the Future of Online Privacy JEFFREY D. SACHS lauds new European Union measures to protect the integrity of personal data. 8 Add to Bookmarks Previous Next A capacity to fence off a part of one’s life, and to remain sovereign and self-driven within those boundaries, was paramount to the liberal conception of the free agent and his or her relationship with the public sphere. To exercise freedom, individuals needed a safe haven within which to develop as genuine persons before relating – and transacting – with others. Once constituted, our personhood was to be enhanced by commerce and industry – networks of collaboration across our personal havens, constructed and revised to satisfy our material and spiritual needs.1
But the dividing line between personhood and the external world upon which liberal individualism based its concepts of autonomy, self-ownership, and, ultimately, freedom could not be maintained. The first breach appeared as industrial products became passé and were replaced by brands that captured the public’s attention, admiration, and desire. Before long, branding took a radical new turn, imparting “personality” to objects.
Once brands acquired personalities (boosting consumer loyalty immensely and profits accordingly), individuals felt compelled to re-imagine themselves as brands. And today, with colleagues, employers, clients, detractors, and “friends” constantly surveying our online life, we are under incessant pressure to evolve into a bundle of activities, images, and dispositions that amounts to an attractive, sellable brand. The personal space essential to the autonomous development of an authentic self – the condition that makes inalienable self-ownership possible – is now almost gone. The habitat of liberalism is disappearing.3
That habitat’s clear demarcation of private and public spheres also divided leisure from work. One need not be a radical critic of capitalism to see that the right to a time when one is not for sale is all but gone, too.
Consider young people striking out in the world today. For the most part, those without a trust fund or generous unearned income end up in one of two categories. The many are condemned to labor under zero-hour contracts and wages so low that they must work all available hours to make ends meet, rendering offensive any talk of personal time, space, or freedom.
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SUBSCRIBE NOW The rest are told that, to avoid falling into this soul-destroying “precariat,” they must invest in their own brand every waking hour of every day. As if in a Panopticon, they cannot hide from the attention of those who might give them a break (or know others who might). Before posting any tweet, watching any movie, sharing any photograph or chat message, they must remain mindful of the networks they please or alienate.
When lucky enough to be granted a job interview, and land the job, the interviewer alludes immediately to their expendability. “We want you to be true to yourself, to follow your passions, even if this means we must let you go!” they are told. So they redouble their efforts to discover “passions” that future employers may appreciate, and to locate that mythical “true” self that people in positions of power tell them is somewhere inside them.
Their quest knows no bounds and respects no limits. John Maynard Keynes once famously used the example of a beauty contest to explain the impossibility of ever knowing the “true” value of shares. Stock-market participants are uninterested in judging who the prettiest contestant is. Instead, their choice is based on a prediction of who average opinion believes is the prettiest, and what average opinion thinks average opinion is – thus ending up like cats chasing after their own tails.
Keynes’s beauty contest sheds light on the tragedy of many young people today. They try to work out what average opinion among opinion-makers believes is the most attractive of their own potential “true” selves, and simultaneously struggle to manufacture this “true” self online and offline, at work and at home – indeed, everywhere and always. Entire industries of counselors and coaches, and varied ecosystems of substances and self-help, have emerged to guide them on this quest.
The irony is that liberal individualism seems to have been defeated by a totalitarianism that is neither fascist nor communist, but which grew out of its own success at legitimizing the encroachment of branding and commodification into our personal space. To defeat it, and thus rescue the liberal idea of freedom as self-ownership, may require a comprehensive reconfiguration of property rights over the increasingly digitized instruments of production, distribution, collaboration, and communication.
Would it not be a splendid paradox if, 200 years after the birth of Karl Marx, we decided that, in order to save liberalism, we must return to the idea that freedom demands the end of unfettered commodification and the socialization of property rights over capital goods? [Yanis Varoufakis]
Recent elections have hogged the headlines due to their rhetoric and their politics. However, one consistent theme across both the Trump victory and the Brexit success was their use of advanced marketing techniques. These campaigns utilized the power of emotion to drive their narratives and leveraged the complexities of Big Data to direct those messages at segmented groups with devastating effect.
The recent victories were not merely political successes, but demonstrations of the immense potential of advanced marketing and advertising methods. We’ll look at three key areas in this article:
“The world of marketing is changing. Don’t get left behind.” – Saatchi and Saatchi
Elon Musk forever talks about how his ultimate purpose is to save the species. He talks about grand plans and future dreams rather than what his companies are doing at the moment he’s talking. Instead of being a car manufacturer who wants to create an affordable electric car, he is a visionary who wants to transition the planet away from fossil fuels. Instead of being a rocket manufacturer who wants to decrease the cost of launching satellites, he’s trying to save the human race by terraforming Mars.
Elon Musk spins a narrative like no other. Though, he is helped by the fact that he seems entirely genuine in his convictions. Dr. Drew Westen, professor of psychology at Emory university, believes successful politicians have been doing the same – and unsuccessful ones should have been. Our brain is wired to promote emotionally driven decisions
Dr. Drew Westen’s views on the power of emotion became popular again after the election of Donald Trump, yet he was the subject of a feature in the New York Times 10 years before, making the very same points. One of Westen’s primary pieces of research was a 2004 study where he measured participants’ neural responses to images of their favored politicians. He would present the participants with contradicting statements made by their candidate.
The initial reaction was for these neural networks to flare up – particularly, the right frontal lobe, the insula, and the amygdala; areas of the brain associated with distress and regulating emotions. In these moments of distress, the emotional areas of the brain would light up as the participant sought to deny or negate the contradiction presented to them, while the more rational parts of the brain remained quiet. Westen’s conclusion from extensive testing was that the emotional areas of the brain play a significantly larger role than we anticipate in how we form beliefs. Moreover, once the participant was satisfied that they had resolved the contradiction presented to them, the brain rewarded itself with positive feelings – reinforcing the emotionally motivated decision.
This is not to say that rational and logical thinking doesn’t have sway over our opinions, but that the emotional areas of our brain are involved in the process to a far greater degree than we usually believe.
According to Emolytics, a company that places emotion and the measuring of it central to understanding customer behavior, emotions play a huge role in any successful advertising campaign.
They quote Zig Ziglar, master salesman: “People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.”
Studies consistently show that emotions play a vital role in constructing memory, even to the extent that instigating emotion can add to the strength of the memories of emotionally neutral experiences directly after. It is no wonder then that brands work very hard to connect emotion with their products.
Coca Cola use positive emotions such as youth, family, and fun to sell their product. They also play on patriotism and their global position as a symbol of America overseas. McDonald’s does similar but with a greater focus on family. Negative emotions, on the other hand, have been used to encourage people to quit cigarettes or to discourage behavior more generally. In politics, these have been used as attack campaigns against opposition candidates. Or in certain campaigns, these negative emotions have been used to bring certain policy issues to the center of political discourse.
This well-known “Breaking Point” poster from the UK Brexit campaign (never-ending lines of shabby ‘brown’ immigrants – Muslims front and centre) was used to discourage people from staying within the EU and served as part of a larger wave of promotion which placed immigration at the center of the referendum debate. This encouraged the conflation of the EU’s principle of freedom of movement with an open door policy to the world. Many voters have declared their primary reason for voting leave was to stop immigration from non-EU countries. This poster may have been heavily criticized, but the broader campaign worked as planned.
The Remain campaign in Brexit also employed emotion, however, they shied away from going as far as the out-brigade. The poster of Vote Leave leader Nigel Farage with a microphone shadow casting a Hitler moustache on his face is an example of materials proposed by Saatchi&Saatchi which the Remain camp opted not to use for fear of poisoning the political discourse.
Where emotion was really championed was in the emerging world of ultra-targeted advertising. In these adverts, marketers are able to construct and convey the right emotions to the right people. But how do we know who the right people are and how they will react to marketing materials? The answer is: Psychometrics.
One of the interesting connections between the Trump campaign and the Brexit campaign, other than shared rhetoric, was the involvement of communications firm Cambridge Analytica (CA) – of which allegedly Steve Bannon was formerly chairman of the board. Both campaigns used psychometric profiling as one of their strategies to identify potential voters and to inform their approach and rhetoric in reaching certain groups.
Psychometrics allow marketers to utilize big data to assess vast numbers of people and construct personality profiles on each according to frameworks like The Big Five (OCEAN approach) and the Need for Cognition Scale in order to automatically pinpoint individuals most likely to convert, picked out from groups of millions.
In short, marketers can minimize the number of people they have to reach in order to make a sale. This results in huge leaps in efficiency and, as a result, cost reduction, reach increase and – particularly important – message precision.
The 2016 paper, Networks of Control, by Wolfie Christl and Sarah Spiekermann, provides a wealth of information to help us understand “Big Data” and its methods. The ability to analyze huge amounts of data in order to take away understandings which would otherwise be obscured is generally referred to as Big Data. The term “big” is typically used to describe three key aspects:
Big Data has been summarized by accounting firm McKinsey as: “refer[ing] to datasets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, store, manage, and analyze”
Cambridge Analytica, for example, claim to have 5,000 data points per person – and they’re talking about almost every person in the United States, plus many more worldwide. It is in this vast treasure trove of information that we can find new knowledge about individuals and can parse that information in actionable ways.
One key area employed within the elections is pulling vast data on voters and understanding that through the prism of a psychometric framework known as The Big Five. This approach is centered around summarizing an individual’s personality through relation to five key categories:
We know this methodology is employed by Cambridge Analytica as their CEO Alexander Nix is quoted as describing basic demographic targeting – widely used to segment an audience – as: “A really ridiculous idea. The idea that all women should receive the same message because of their gender—or all African-Americans because of their race.”
So what is the difference?
Demographic targeting is not very good for, is converting people to your product. But a politician in an election needs to appeal to millions of people in order to win the election. It’s no good relying only on a base. Winning needs voters to swing in your favour. This makes finding people susceptible to your product or message an obvious priority; and once found, the critical goal is to convert them. This is where the psychometrics or emotional mapping techniques offered through the Big Five methodology can help.
Michael Kosinski, when researching at Cambridge University, created an experiment where he posted a free-to-access psychometric test online to gather small amounts of data to inform his data analysis. This test went viral on Facebook and Kosinski was able to draw some powerful conclusions from his study. With 170 likes per person, Kosinski’s methods were able to predict the following attributes with the connected rates of accuracy.
(include table of Kosinksi’s results)
The more likes Kosinski’s model had for a person, the more accurately they could draw results and the more intimate those subjects were:
With Kosinski’s research added to the substantial resources SCL and their groups have access to, a platform like Facebook is turned from being a database of people to a database of types of people.
The Big Five is not the only game in town. There are other ways to analyze the available data and make it actionable.
The Need for Cognition Scale is used in psychometrics to measure “the extent to which individuals are inclined towards effortful cognitive activities”, or feel “a need to understand and make reasonable the experiential world”. This scale is used to understand how big an impact emotions make upon an individual’s decision-making process. Persons low on the Need for Cognition Scale tend to form their opinions based heavily on emotion. People who score highly on the Need for Cognition scale are not necessarily more likely to act or think more rationally but are more highly disposed to rationalizing or hypothesizing to justify their decisions.
Richard Fording and Sanford Schram, reporting on their own research paper in the Washington Post, describe a category of voter which they label the Low Information Voter: “Low information voters are those who do not know certain basic facts about government and lack what psychologists call a “need for cognition.” Those with a high need for cognition have a positive attitude toward tasks that require reasoning and effortful thinking and are, therefore, more likely to invest the time and resources to do so when evaluating complex issues.”
According to their research, Trump was performing very well with this category of voters. That is not to suggest that all Trump voters fall into that category.
A conclusion we can pull from this, however, is that voters who score poorly on the Need for Cognition Scale are likely easier targets to sell political ideas to. They are the easiest group of floating voters to target and capture. A video from Sky news reporting on Cambridge Analytica seemed to present evidence that CA had been factoring Need for Cognition into their analysis. The video has since been removed from YouTube, however. In the video, we saw an analyst pouring over a research paper. The paper is entitled Method Effects and the Need for Cognition Scale.
The effectiveness of aligning an emotional map of someone’s personality with the knowledge of their place on a scale of susceptibility to persuasion has the potential for devastatingly effective results.
At this point, we would be speculating on the methodology used by Cambridge Analytica or any other SCL affiliated group to gather the huge amounts of data they’re acting upon. However, the services of these firms and others like them are commercially available and not all are so secretive.
One firm which fits within this category is VisualDNA. This company claims to be able to reach huge numbers of people across the world whom they have complex and extensive data on. According to Christl and Speikermann, VisualDNA gathered their data by creating online games and quizzes which users took voluntarily. These games would involve psychometric tests used to determine users’ individual profiles. They then use these results to help large companies target their advertising more effectively. They are able to segment individuals via a broad range of different frameworks.
From a recent whitepaper published by VisualDNA, they claim:
There are multiple large advertising options online with Facebook and Google representing the two most powerful and commonly used. We’ll focus on Facebook advertising to provide a clear example of how you can act upon the segmented datayou have gathered. If you have gathered customer information including email and “likes” from Facebook in a way similar to VisualDNA, then this guide would provide an ideal method. When someone opts to play a game in Facebook or use the “login with Facebook” option on a website, they are asked to accept that the third-party service will have access to certain public and private information.
If my privacy settings are low then this game will be able to record my Facebook identity, label it to my email address, and access all my whopping 580 “likes”. Enough, according to the Kosinski research, to know me better than I know myself. Once you have analyzed my data, and that of all other respondents you’ve collected, you can categorize the individual profiles within lists. Perhaps List1 are all the people who you think will want to buy a bike. List2 is the people who might want to buy a scooter. List3 is people you think are more interested in buying a skateboard. You would then create 3 different Facebook custom audiences, uploading a different email list for each. Here’s the process:
Now you can create three custom audiences, one for people who like bikes, one for skateboards, and one for scooters. Meaning you can create content specially tailored to each based on your psychometric data, and you’re not wasting money shooting adverts to people who are not interested. Companies are using targeted Facebook advertising all the time. With the addition of psychometric understandings of the individual customers, companies and political entities can maximize the efficiency of their reach and sway over public opinion. Custom Trump audiences
During the election, Jared Kushner, working as the head of Trump’s social media team, set up a 100 person strong data center hidden away in a warehouse. Their job was to use digital marketers as the front line for political warfare. The Trump campaign used micro-targeting for political promotion and political fundraising. Kushner used this approach to boost the sales of Trump merchandise, increasing the daily revenue of the campaign from $8,000 to $80,000.
He also ran tests with simple videos. He would promote a short video of Trump speaking to camera in a very lo-fi way and see to what extent he could maximize watches. Kushner’s work paid off as his first test video ended up with 74 million views across the major video platforms after a spend of $160,000.
Use the science of persuasion or be left behind.
The key takeaway from the Trump campaign’s use of advanced digital marketing strategies can be found in this quote from Steven Bertoni, writing for Forbes: “FEC filings through mid-October indicate the Trump campaign spent roughly half as much as the Clinton campaign did.”
Consider, the Trump campaign were not the only ones employing digital marketing and leveraging big data in inventive ways. Yet their conversion rates were considerably better. Maybe it’s just politics.
Before you dismiss it too quickly, here’s a case study of VisualDNA’s work with a leading health and beauty company in the US: Each segment received tailored creative. Because people with high openness are generally more willing to take risks and experiment, the brand sent them a bold, confronting message: “Give two fingers to convention”. At the other end of the spectrum, members of the audience identified as having low extraversion received a softer sell: “Beauty doesn’t have to shout.” By matching the right creative with the right audience, this leading brand inspired over 1,000 customers to purchase, and boosted ROI by a massive 56 percent compared with a control group.
Get the right message to the right audience and your products or services will always find more success.
Deceptive advertising is an important part of the marketing business. It must be subtle, else it violates the trust of consumers and risks destroying a working relationship. Advertising walks a fine line between the propaganda of truth and fiction. It’s good for us to be aware of some of the most common types of advertising.
A common type of deceptive advertising is any commercial that gives incorrect or misleading information regarding a product’s price. The Federal Trade Commission, which enforces laws against deceptive advertising practices, reports that ads must fully disclose the price that a consumer can be expected to pay for a product and present any discounts, sales or markdowns in an honest way. For example, if an advertisement claims that a product’s price has been lowered 20 percent, but the advertised product never sold at a higher price, the ad may be deceptive.
Simply put, you cannot hide fees to make your product price sound incredible. For example, if you offer a laptop for sale at “only $199!” but there’s a bunch of add-ons that the customer must pay before they can take the product home, then you’re in dangerous territory. Most businesses get around this problem by placing an asterisk after the headline price which directs the consumer to the small print. But if the terms don’t match up, or they are not clear, then your advert may be classified as deceptive.
Another common type of misleading advertisement is the bait-and-switch, in which an advertiser makes a claim about the price or availability of a product while never intending to actually sell the product, or to sell it for a much higher price. When customers respond to the advertisement, the seller exploits their interest to try to sell them the product at a higher price or a different product.
While it’s generally deceptive for an advertisement to mislead consumers about price or availability, deceptive ads also are those that make statements about quality or origin that cannot be substantiated. For example, an advertisement cannot claim a product was “made in the United States” if it was actually manufactured in another country. Similarly, advertisements may be deceptive if the product has defects in quality that are not fully disclosed, or if an advertisement implies that the product may be used for a purpose it is not adequately designed for.
Another thing to watch out for is photography. If an image in an advert or marketing claim portrays the product in its best case scenario, and there’s no way the customer is going to get that product specification for the advertised price, the the advert could be deceptive. For example, you should not be showing an image of a double-thick, juicy burger if the product on the customer’s plate looks very different.
Bogus credentials are a common technique. Recently it has become popular to stress environmentally friendly credentials so we must take care whenever an advertisement has environmental claims. Terms like “recycled,” “biodegradable,” “compostable” or “environmentally friendly” are a warning sign unless specifically substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence. These claims can be slippery too and companies often advertise eco-friendly because some part of the product carries an environmental attribute but other components do not. For example, a box of foil can be advertised as recyclable, without specifying whether it is the foil or the box. In fact, foil isn’t recyclable so it’s only the box but meanwhile the product is selling itself to you by playing on an expectation of what you’ll infer.
1. Straightforward Ads: The reader is told what the product is, what it does, how much it costs, where you can buy it. Many newspaper ads are of this type. They do not try to influence the reader, they only give information. (Is this approach the most honest?)
2. Special Offer: The reader or viewer is offered a money-saving coupon, a free prize, or a chance to win a contest. Cosmetic companies offer free gifts with a minimum purchase. This technique is also called red herring. Many states have restrictions on these offers, and the federal government has investigated some of the contests. (Is it better to buy a product because you know it is good, or because of something else you get with it?)
3. Eye Appeal: A photograph or drawing shows how good the product looks through colour, design, shape, etc. in order to suggest how good it tastes, smells or feels. In cartoons the drawings are exaggerated drawings called caricatures. These caricatures can be positive or negative.
4. Happy Family Appeal: The message used to sell cleaning products and foods is often: “Your family will be healthy and happy if you use our product. Show how much you love your husband and kids by shining your floor with our wax or giving them the vitamins in our bread.”
5. Experts Say: Since chefs are experts about food, people will trust one of them to recommend a brand of food. Basketball players can be trusted to recommend tennis shoes or sports equipment. This is also true of other professions.
6. Bandwagon Appeal: The message is: “Our product is so good that everyone buys it. You should too.” (If a product is very popular, does that necessarily mean it is good?) Comes from 19th century political campaign slogan “jump on the bandwagon.”
7. Appeal to a Target Audience: This approach targets a specific group of people and then creates an ad that appeals to this audience. The various approaches are youth appeal, appeal to maturity, appeal to teenagers, young children, men, women, professionals, etc. Advertisers suggest that their product is for this specific target audience and will use pictures, slang, music, etc. that appeals to the type of person targeted.
8. Snob Appeal: This is a reverse of the Bandwagon Appeal. Its message suggests: “Buying our product will make you better than everyone else–especially since other people can’t afford it.” (If a product is more expensive, does that mean it is better?)
10. Something New: Something new can be added to a product to make it better – or to make it sound better. Many products now advertise that they contain oat bran, that they are lower in fat or cholesterol or use the word “light” in the packaging. (Are the magic ingredients in a product necessarily new, effective, or unique to the brand being advertised?)
11. Humble Approach: By admitting that your product is not the best or is not the most popular, you can attract attention to your ad, and you can help convince the reader or viewer that you are doing everything you can to make your product better. Your company tries harder.
12. Statistics: Often a good way to sell a product is to include statistics about the effectiveness of the product or about the number of people using the product. (How are these surveys carried out? Can you trust the company that manufactures the product to give honest results? Would the company mention a survey that showed unfavourable results?)
13. Ecology/Public Service Appeal: Some products are advertised as causing less damage to the environment than others. Sometimes the company tries to win favour by the good things it does–sponsoring drug abuse programs in the schools, helping its employees improve their standard of living through medical insurance–since the viewer may decide to do business with a company that seems to care about more than just making a profit.
14. Sex Appeal: This is one of the most common appeals. It is used to sell the strangest products–from perfume to car mufflers! (Why is it more effective to advertise soap as a way to be sexy and popular than simply to say it will get one’s face and body clean?)
15. Humour: This is a good way to make people have good feelings about a product or at least to get them to watch or read the ad. Some humorous ads have become famous although their effectiveness in selling products has been questioned. Sometimes humorous ads use personification to turn a product into a human or partly human character (i.e. often used to accompany children’s Saturday morning T.V. shows).
16. Emotional Appeals: This technique plays on people’s fears, joys, sadness, etc. The telephone ads that “reach out and touch someone” show people sharing tender, nostalgic or special moments over the phone. Sometimes these ads play on people’s fear of death or the unknown.
17. Card Stacking: To present only the good points of your product. If you discuss another product, you only present the bad points. A long time ago, Brand X was used to name a competitor’s product. Now, actual brand names can be used.
19. Playing To Prejudice: To jump to the easiest, quickest, most obvious conclusion without enough examples to support it. (Your teacher can’t speak French, you can’t speak French, therefore, no one in this class can speak French.)