Protect your brain from commercial persuasion. Free yourself of reacting emotionally to what the media is putting in front of you.

Rewind to the 1960s and the golden age of advertising. If we want to be kind, the advertorial zeitgeist could be described as “aspirational”. The blooming Madison Avenue lifestyle ads were intentionally designed to instruct the middle-class on how to live a picture-perfect life by making consumers feel inadequate. The consensus? ‘Authenticity’ wasn’t needed to push your product.

commercial persuasion | Persuasion & Propaganda | Doctor Spin
Some vintage persuasion techniques right there.

Some 80 years later, for us living in the 2020s, ads (like the one above) such as these seem embarrassingly outdated — for a host of reasons. We are right to celebrate the fact that we don’t buy into this type of bullshit anymore. Over the course of the following decades, traditional advertising continuously lost its former glory and appeal.

Consider the iconic character Tyler Durden’s speech on advertising from the movie Fight Club (1999) to be the final nail in the coffin for the Madison Avenue mindset:

commercial persuasion | Persuasion & Propaganda | Doctor Spin
The classic Fight Club speech on advertising by Tyler Durden.

We blamed newspapers and magazines. We blamed television. We blamed capitalism and the free market economy. In hindsight, there were no shortage of institutions, inventions, or ideas for us to blame. We were simply, “very, very pissed off.”

But were we, in fact, right to blame everything but the root cause? What most people to this day fail to realise is that there are scientific models that explains exactly what happens. These theories are typically bundled and referred to as media logic.

The basic premise of all communication theory can be described using Shannon and Weaver’s model of communication (1949).

commercial persuasion | Persuasion & Propaganda | Doctor Spin
The classic Shannon and Weaver model of communication.

The Shannon and Weaver model have many uses, amongst them to highlight how big the gap is between what the information source is transmitting to what the information receiver is actually receiving.

But the Shannon and Weaver model is too simplified to be truly useful for globalised communication environments; due to the complexity of human behaviour and other purely contextual factors, there’s way more distortion than just ‘noise’ to take into account.

‘Media logic’ is a set of theories attempting to describe the interdependency of a variety of factors affecting mediated messages:

commercial persuasion | Persuasion & Propaganda | Doctor Spin
An attempt at collecting media logic theories in one model.

In short: Media logic is an inescapable outcome of mediating messages.

While media logic effects can be negative (“chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate, so we can buy shit we don’t need”), such effects are merely systematic outcomes — not a set of conspiracies. If we wish to fight this system, we must fight the basic tenets of free speech, market economy, and technological progress. And while this might sound reasonable to a few far-left ideologies, most of us wouldn’t want to be deprived of the few real freedoms we have.

There is a way to combat the negative outcomes of media logic without infringing on basic human rights and the unstoppable progress of media technology. And the answer is surprisingly simple!

First, let’s hit 88 mph and move ourselves back to the 1960s again.

commercial persuasion | Persuasion & Propaganda | Doctor Spin
Let’s aim for the 1960s this time, Doc.

So, here we are, back in the 1960s. In this rather silly thought experiment, as you look around and take part in everyday life, you’ll notice that the media logic of the time simply doesn’t work on us modern humans anymore. While you might use this opportunity to go and see The Beatles live in concert because you love them, you’re not likely to enter a state of mass psychosis and scream on the top of your lungs until you pass out, right?

Congratulations, you’re immune against the media logic of the 1960s!

Today, we have developed a form of “media logic enlightenment” at the societal level that makes us see through the primitive messaging of bygone eras. We simply know and understand how our minds are being taken for ride — and we won’t fall for it.

Today, in 2020, we’re still mesmerised with the internet and social media. And we’re still struggling with decoding click-bait, influencer lifestyle packaging, advanced platform algorithms, search engine behaviours, programmatic advertising, psychographic data mining and so on. In many ways, we’re reacting to these new mechanisms the same way Beatlemania did in the 1960s — we allow our emotions to control our interpretations.

commercial persuasion | Persuasion & Propaganda | Doctor Spin
Modern humans discovering self-publishing on the internet; here comes everybody!

But in 80 years from now, the augmented and genetically enhanced humanoids of the futurewill look back at the media logic of our time. If anything, they’ll probably have a good laugh before gushing over how gullible we were.

  • No, they won’t be the slightest upset about being targeted with ads based on their online behaviour.
  • No, they won’t feel small or inadequate by looking at influencers riding jet skis in bikinis on Instagram.
  • No, they won’t think that they’re instrumental in changing the world by posting status updates on Facebook.

And so on.

Still, this won’t help the the residents of the future very much, just as looking back at the media logic of the 1960’s isn’t really doing us any favors; they’ll be busy coming to terms with the media logic as it will have developed in 80 years from now.

If you find yourself reacting emotionally to mediated messages, whether they are made public by individuals or institutions, then, whether you like it or not, you’re a key component in the current media logic system. You’re literally playing a role that has been assigned to you by someone else. You’re a pawn. But you don’t have to be.

Just look beyond the actual messages and see how media logic is trying to surpass your mental barriers. Free yourself and allow your thinking to be yours. Then — and only then! — can you begin preparing yourself on what’s coming next.

About the Author

This article was written by Jerry Silfwer is an awarded freelance consultant specialising in digital strategy and public relations. Based in Stockholm, Sweden. See more.

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