How To Throw Off The Puppet-Strings Of Electronic Media
Advertising and mass communications are far more influential in your life than you likely perceive. How much of what you do is of your own volition? Are you truly in control? The answers to these questions could depend entirely on how much time you spend online.
The majority of digital communications are designed to influence or advertise. After all, it is not profitable to spend money simply to inform. With the exception of perhaps federally subsidized commissions, it is in the best interests of communicators to direct the main focus of their communications back towards their product or service. Commercial advertisements are meant to create more consumers, political ads are designed to create more voters, religious messages are meant to disciple.
Because we live in an information age, there is no shortage of messages to be heard. Highways are littered with billboards, television and radio are filled with commercials, social media is filled with ads, looking in any direction is sure to yield some sort of directed attempt at communication. The human mind consequently must process many times more information than in years prior, much of which is ingested subliminally.
Subliminal messaging is a science that was pioneered by Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud and the ‘American father of public relations.’ Public relations was the rebranding of the wartime propaganda from World War One. Bernays had the bright idea of using wartime propaganda during times of peace to control public opinions and make profits.
Bernays published his theory that Americans were like sheep, and that it was up to the select few to use their superior intellect in attempt to shepherd those sheep into better lives. Some Bernays’ most effective ruses were associating cigarettes with slim waists, associating fluoride with dental health, using fudged statistics to make it seem as though Ivory soap was much better for your skin, etcetera.
He also revolutionized how advertising was done. Building on the traditions of British advertising revolutionary Thomas Barratt, Bernays used emotionalism to replace objectivism in advertising. One example of this appears during world War One, when in order to boost American support, Woodrow Wilson hired Bernays to popularize American interventionism. Bernays then began a campaign to replace the idea of ‘fighting overseas’ with ‘spreading democracy to Europe.’
This new method also led to increased emotionalism in commercial advertising. Consider these two advertisements:
This first advertisement from 1914 illustrates the pre-Bernays method of advertising. The ad is simple and informative. It lists potential uses and basic information. In short, it uses a meritocratic method to create customers; the product must be winning of its own merit, not because of other circumstances. The ad is honest, simple, and not overwhelmingly communicative.
By contrast, this 1985 Michelin advertisement featuring a baby and a call to action is infused with a subliminal emotionalism that has made it infamous. The baby looks directly at the viewer, establishing a connection and stimulating the areas of the brain involved with defensiveness and empathy. The baby serves as a challenge. “Michelin. Because so much is riding on your tires.” The slogan implies subliminally that only negligent parents or those that don’t care about their baby or family would sacrifice safety in favor of frugality and not purchase a Michelin tire.
So many levels of communication happen in one small image that occur below the levels of normal consciousness; this is a prime example of subliminal messaging. This was advanced for the twentieth century, but communications today are far worse.
Scrolling through the digital equivalent of miles and miles of social media means dozens of ads which briefly flash across the screen, deposit an image or a command, and then vanish before the prefrontal cortex can even register them. Young people are especially exposed to this onslaught of information, and studies unsurprisingly show that they are also most susceptible to said information.
Adobe CMO reported in 2019 that:
“Of the generations surveyed, Gen Z was also found to be most influenced by online advertising, with 52% frequently engaging with companies that place ads online, compared to 30%, on average, across other age groups.
The research also found that Gen Z is the savviest cohort, in terms of the data they choose to share online. In fact, 33% are taking an active role in configuring data preferences on social networks, compared with 29% across other age groups. And, if they don’t receive the experiences they expect, 21% said they’ll hold back on sharing their data.”
A study by Pew Research also showed that 45% of Gen Z is online constantly, dramatically increasing the amount of time that they were exposed to ads and information. The sheer amount of engagement with online advertisement and communication efforts has allowed companies to evolve their engagement efforts and fine tune their outreach methods.
Brands like Wendy’s, Slim Jim, Moon Pie, Target, Burger King and others frequently engage in sharing and creating memes in attempt to ‘fit in’ with what is ‘cool’ in the eyes of teenagers and young adults on the internet. Indeed, digital media is the future of mass communication and the more that companies fine tune their outreach methods, the more influence that they will have.
Young people generally compartmentalize their perceptions of different streams of content online. Instagram is one example of said compartmentalization. The user desires to view the Instagram stories of their peers, and they begin scrolling through the various story slides. These slides are intermittently interrupted by ads and suggestions which break the stream of consciousness. They are limited in effectiveness because the jarring nature of their appearance runs contrary to what the user desires. They are consciously observed by the user and then put into a mental box labelled “ignore.”
The same concept can be applied when thinking about Youtube. Most users generally dislike the advertisements that are required to play before actually viewing the content that the user selected. This cognitive dissonance is the front line of protection against subliminal messaging because the negative reaction forces a conscious analysis and reaction.
By contrast, advertising that masquerades as user generated content has a much higher chance at penetrating past conscious defense mechanisms into the unconscious mind and into static memory to be recalled later. Some examples of this include “meme pages” run by brands like Slim Jim, which associate brand recognition and recreational social media usage in users’ minds, or Google ad results which populate the beginning of each search. Because the Slim Jim memes and Google search results look the same as the rest of the content on the page, there is significantly less negative reaction to their presence, and a statistically greater chance for users to internalize them without realizing.
By far the most practical application of digital communication with Gen Z is political. The state of journalism in America is bad enough that the ethics of misleading large demographics could largely be ignored. Publications like The Washington Post and The Huffington Post are others are so bent on promoting a certain political ideology that they have been proven willing to overlook journalistic integrity in favor of supporting a left leaning narrative.
The 2020 presidential election is unique because of how many brands, platforms, celebrities, organizations and groups have spent time and money convincing generation Z to use their new right to vote. Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, Snapchat, Levi Strauss, Ben & Jerry’s. Target, Youtube, and hundreds of others have spent months hammering home one idea: go and vote.
“There are seventy million young eligible voters, the largest and most diverse generation in our country’s history.” Begins one particularly potent ad by Levi Strauss. “We have the power to shape our country and communities; but we need all of us.” The ad goes on to compare voting to the protests and riots as a form of revolution.
Although Levi Strauss, a clothing brand, has seldom weighed in on electoral matters before, the prospect of jumping on a politically correct bandwagon is too great for companies to avoid the distaste of the political arena. To date, the above ad has played on the author’s own screen dozens of times.
The convergence of communication as outlined in Media Now by Straubhaar does not go far enough to account for the globalized conglomerate of platforms, brands, companies and coalitions that all have revealed their collusion this election season.
The danger of digital media is that the average user, ill equipped to deal with even undirected advertisement attempts, is likely unable to withstand the billion dollar onslaught of aligned misinformation, celebrity brainwashing, subliminal messaging, overstimulation and Marxist propaganda that is being directed towards them during the 2020 election.
It is a question worth asking, that if they were not subjected to what can and should be described as brainwashing, would this generation trend as statistically socialist as they do today?