The Art of Persuasion

Big brands, such as Woolworths and Colgate, use newspaper media to transform consumers’ perceptions and beliefs because it is the most trusted of all media. Rob Pyne looks at the complex challenge of encouraging us all to change our mind.

The Art of Persuasion

It can be surprisingly tough to change people’s minds.

Witness the following urban myths which have widespread acceptance, despite not actually being true.

The average person swallows 8 spiders a year in their sleep

The Great Wall of China is visible from space

While most urban myths are light-hearted and believing them isn’t necessarily a problem, unless you are arachnophobic, there are some more serious instances where millions of people have taken a view which contradicts scientific consensus.

One case is the idea that the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine, given to kids around 18 months of age, causes autism.

There are some amazing studies of how this came to be widely believed. You can see the overview on wikipedia. The summary is that one doctor who studied 12 autistic patients in 1992 noticed that the onset of autism happened around the same time as having the vaccine. Although he was later found guilty of serious professional misconduct and struck off, his views found a sympathetic audience, and the myth spread – despite wide scale, repeated and robust scientific tests which found no link between MMR and autism. Worse, vaccination rates dropped markedly with serious effects in the population.

The repercussions of this urban myth are still being felt in Australia, and it took a concerted campaign by Australian newspapers, “No jab, no play” to move the Federal Health Minister to change the rules on unvaccinated children attending childcare centres.

The difficulty in changing people’s minds has a label, the Backfire Effect. If someone has a strongly held belief and you show them an article quoting facts which conclusively undermine it, their existing belief strengthens.

So when it comes to the role of newspaper media in changing minds, investigative journalism has an important role.

Most people are open-minded on most issues. Not things like politics, climate change or vaccination perhaps, but less emotional issues not tied to their world view.

How you present and frame facts is crucial. A recent challenge has been to reduce electricity usage. Educational pamphlets and TV ads struggled to make an impact, but one simple approach did the trick – including electricity usage compared to people in your area on electricity bills. This created a social “norm” that became a powerful motivator.

Research suggests that changing people’s minds – on issues, services or products – requires the following elements:

1.    Tailoring your communication to the current mindset of the audience.

Often, we see advertisers with objectives to “get current users to use more of our product, and to have non-users trial it”. Can you achieve this with the same piece of communication? Maybe not. Planners can however tailor communications using emmaTM, which allows them to split out promoters, passives and detractors for brands and see their attitudinal and behavioural differences.

Let’s take one example, BMW cars, and compare promoters (a likely source of upgrades) with passives (a more likely source of new buyers than detractors).

When we look at the attitudinal statements of these two groups, two interesting differences emerge:-

  • Passives are much more pro-environment (index 138, compared to index 77 for promoters)
  • Passives are much more likely to say they enjoy using social network sites like Facebook (index 120 vs 67 for promoters)

The potential implication of this: any communication strategy to target new buyers needs to address environmental credentials to the passives (whilst not making this central to promoters), and needs to make more use of social media. Most car brands’ social presence is aimed squarely at brand enthusiasts so they are possibly missing a trick here.

2.    A trusted environment.

Newspaper media are the most trusted medium. We see this as due to the unrivalled editorial standards, fact checking and scrutiny that newspaper media go through (think: Australian Press Council, even Media Watch, or the fact every other medium relies on newspaper journalism for their own bulletins).

While a category leading 58% of people  say they trust newspapers, we find that only 27% trust social networks.

A study of the 6 strategic roles of newspapers in fact shows “Reappraisal” to be a core role. Case studies of newspapers helping people reappraise brands and issues include:

  • A government anti-drugs campaign where 80% of 16-24 year olds reported changing their attitudes towards the drug Ice.
  • NRMA  using newspapers to change people’s minds that it offered good value.
  • Other brands using newspapers successfully to change minds include TAC, and Coles, Woolworths and Colgate.

In summary

If you want to change people’s minds, change the way you think about consumers and change the way you think about newspaper media.

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