Question | English homework help (2024)

Question | English homework help (1)DentonRobertE._WoodwardGaryC-PersuasionandinfluenceinAmericanlife-WavelandPress2014.pdf

Persuasion and Influencein American Life

Seventh Edition

Woodward-Denton Page i Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Woodward-Denton Page ii Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Persuasion and Influencein American Life

Seventh Edition

Gary C. WoodwardCollege of New Jersey

Robert E. Denton, Jr.Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


PRESS, INC.Long Grove, Illinois

Woodward-Denton Page iii Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

For information about this book, contact:Waveland Press, Inc.4180 IL Route 83, Suite 101Long Grove, IL 60047-9580(847) 634-0081[emailprotected]

Photo and Cartoon Creditsp. xvi ©Ivy Photos/; p. 6 ©; p. 26 ©Orhan Cam/; p. 32 ©; p. 39 ©; p. 48 ©Joshua Haviv/; p. 54 ©; p. 67 ©AAraujo/; p. 80 ©Junial Enterprises/; p. 83 ©; p. 104 ©jiawangkun/; p. 110 ©; p. 128 ©Pavel L Photo and Video; p. 137 ©; p. 156 ©Golden Pixels LLC/; p. 169©; p. 180 ©Golden Pixels LLC/; p. 186 ©auremar/; p. 187 ©; p. 189 ©Aspen Photo/; p. 222 ©Steve Broer/; p. 234 ©; p. 245 ©Steve Heap/; p. 254 ©ben bryant/; p. 278 ©; p. 290 ©; p. 298 ©spirit of america/; p. 304 ©; p. 323 ©; p. 334 ©MarkVanDykePhotography/; p. 343 ©; p. 363 ©wavebreakmedia/; p. 381 ©

Copyright © 2014 by Waveland Press, Inc.

10 digit ISBN 1-4786-0789-013 digit ISBN 978-1-4786-0789-2

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmittedin any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher.

Printed in the United States of America

7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Woodward-Denton Page iv Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Woodward-Denton Page v Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM


Preface xiii

1 Persuasion and Influence 1The Necessity and Challenge of Persuasion 4Persuasion Defined 4Five Introductory Settings 8

The Unanticipated Effects of Selling Inclusion 8Doubt and Influence in the Jury Room 9Advocating Dangerous Forms of Religion 11A Campus Food Fight 13

Persuasion in Everyday Life 14What These and Other Persuasion Settings Suggest 16

Persuasion is as much about sources as messages. 16Persuasion is measured by its effects on others. 16Persuasion is enormously difficult. 16Even minimal effects can be important. 18Persuasion can easily stray toward the arts of deception. 19Persuasion outcomes are not very predictable. 19

Three Types of Communication 20Pure Information 20Pure Expression 21Pure Persuasion 21



vi  Contents

Woodward-Denton Page vi Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

2 The Advocate in an Open Society 27Freedom of Expression and Its Limits 28Subduing Advocacy in a One-Party State 30Weighing the Value of Public Opinion 32

“Man Is the Measure of All Things.” 34Individual Freedom and the American Experience 35The Technological Push toward Openness 38

How “Open” Is American Society? 39Governmental Controls 39Corporate Controls 41


3 The Advocate and the Management of Symbols 49The Nature of Language 51

Signs 51Symbols 52Meaning 52Functions of Language 55

Language, Interaction, and Reality 59The Creation of Reality through Interaction 59Self as a Product of Interaction with Others 60Society as a Product of Interaction with Others 60

Political Uses of Language 61Functions of Political Language 62Strategic Uses of Political Language 64Common Political Language Devices 68

The Changing Nature of Public and Political Discourse 73Summary 76 QUESTIONS AND PROJECTS FOR FURTHER STUDY 77 ADDITIONAL READING 78

PART IOrigins of Persuasive Practice 25

Contents  vii

Woodward-Denton Page vii Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

4 Persuasion and Reasoning 81Understanding Practical Arguments: Key Distinctions 83

Analytic Arguments and Practical Enthymemes 84Demonstration and Argumentation 87Factual and Judgmental Claims 88Implied and Stated Components of Arguments 90Reasoning to Discover and to Defend 91Finding Good Reasons for Claims 91The Most Common Error of Reasoning Analysis:

The Alleged Logic–Emotion Distinction 92

Common Forms of Defective Reasoning 93Ad Hominem 94False Cause 94Non Sequitur 95Circular Argument 96Fallacy of Oversimplification 97Excessive Dependence on Authority 98

How Persuasion and Logical Argumentation Differ 98Denial Often Defeats Reasoning 98Persuasion’s “Self-Interest” and Argumentation’s “Public Interest” 100


5 Theories and Models of Source Credibility 105The Three Meanings of “Credibility” 107

Ethos as Good Character 108The Rational/Legal Ideal of Credibility 109Source Credibility as Believability 112

Credibility as Authority: Strategic Dimensions 116Legitimation 116Mystification 118Anonymity and Identity Concealment 119Two-Step Flow 120Source/Placebo Suggestion 121Authoritarianism and Acquiescence 122


PART IIFour Perspectives on the Nature of Persuasion 79

viii  Contents

Woodward-Denton Page viii Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

6 The Mind in Persuasion 129Cognitive Elements Affecting Persuasion 130

Beliefs 131Attitudes 131Values 134How These Elements Work Together 134

Essential Theories and Models of Persuasion 135Stimulus-Response Theory 135Inoculation Theory 136Attribution Theory 138Consistency Theory I: Theory of Cognitive Dissonance 140Consistency Theory II: Theory of Induced Discrepant Behavior 143The Boomerang Effect 144Social Judgment Theory 146Elaboration Likelihood Theory 148The Motivated Sequence 152Theory of Motivated Reasoning 153


7 Persuasion, Audiences, and Social Learning 157A Conceptual Baseline: Social Learning 159Audiences: The Generative Forces of Persuasion 160

The Challenge of Finding hom*ogenous Audiences 161Is There a Common Center? 162

The Audience Analysis Process 163The Principle of Identification 164Universal Commonplaces 165Audience-Specific Norms 167

Advocates, Messages, and Audiences 170Believing in Our Words 170High Credibility/High Agreement Persuasion 172High Credibility/Low Agreement Persuasion 172Low Credibility/High Agreement Persuasion 173Low Credibility/Low Agreement Persuasion 174


Contents  ix

Woodward-Denton Page ix Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

8 Interpersonal Persuasion 181Dimensions of Interpersonal Communication 183Variables of Interpersonal Persuasion 184

Verbal Characteristics 184Nonverbal Characteristics 185Power and Control 189Compliance-Seeking Messages 190Conflict 194Gender Differences 199Culture and Diversity 202Leadership 204

Contexts of Interpersonal Persuasion 207Organizations 207Sales 213Interviews 217


9 Public and Mass Persuasion 223Public Communication and Persuasion 224

Characteristics of Public Communication 225Public Opinion and Persuasion 226

Persuasive Campaigns 229Product or Commercial Campaigns 230Public Relations Campaigns 230Political Campaigns 232Issue Campaigns 234

Social Movements 244Characteristics 244Persuasive Functions 246Life Cycle 247Leadership 248Resistance to Social Movements 249


PART IIIThe Contexts of Persuasion 179

x  Contents

Woodward-Denton Page x Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

10 Advertising as Persuasion 255Advertising Today 256

Expenditures 256Celebrity Endorsem*nts 257Cross Selling 258

What Is Advertising? 259The Evolution of Advertising from a

Communication Perspective 262Cultural Frames 262Identification with a Product 264Using Music to Structure the Message 264

The Role of Psychology in Advertising 266Neuromarketing 266Psychographics 268Branding 269

How Advertising Works 270Consumer Decision Making 271Involvement 272Creating Demand 272Reach, Frequency, and Integrated Marketing 274Subliminal Advertising 276

Advertising as Myth 277Common Advertising Appeals 280

Emotional Appeals 280Transformative Appeals 282Rational-Functional Appeals 285

How to Critique Ads 285Criticisms of Advertising 287

Deception 287Language 289Children 290Consumerism 292Social Effects 292Freedom of Speech 293Privacy 293Private versus Public Interests 294


Contents  xi

Woodward-Denton Page xi Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

11 Political Persuasion 299Language, Communication, Politics, and Persuasion 302Characteristics of Political Communication and Persuasion 304

Short-Term Orientation 304Specific Objectives 305Mediated 305Audience Centered 305

Ideology 306The Political Socialization Process 307

Political Socialization Outcomes 307Agents of Political Socialization 308Levels of Interaction 310

Forms of Political Persuasion 311Administrative Persuasion 311Legislative Persuasion 313Campaign Persuasion 316Political Persuasion through Symbolic and Status Issues 323Political Persuasion in the Context of Entertainment 324

What We Can Learn from Political Persuasion 327Limited Effects Model 327Significant Effects Model 328


12 Ethical Considerations of Persuasion 335Ethics, Values, and Principles 338Communication, Ethics, and Society 339

Persuasion and Communication Ethics 341Sources of Attitudes and Values 342Categories of Communication Ethics 344

PART IVIssues and Strategies of Message Preparation 333

xii  Contents

Woodward-Denton Page xii Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Considerations for Ethical Communication 346Communicator Considerations 346Message Considerations 347Medium Considerations 347Receiver Considerations 348Ethical Values of Communicators 348

Areas of Special Concern 349Media and New Technologies 349News Journalism 352Politics and Political Communication 356Public Discourse 359


13 Constructing and Presenting Persuasive Messages 365Strategic Considerations for Nondiscursive Persuasion 367

The Visual Image 368Honoring Gestalt Values in Visual Design 369Set Realistic Goals 376Keep the Message Thematically Simple 376Consider the Appropriate Cultural Palette 376Use a Sympathetic Figure or Key Icon to

Communicate Your Central Idea 378Frame the Discussion in the Imagery of

Heroes, Villains, and Victims 379

Strategic Considerations of a Set Presentation 379Know the Audience 380Determine Your Objectives 381Determine Your Thesis 382Develop Main Points as Good Reasons 383Amplify and Support the Main Points 384Write the Introduction 386Prepare the Outline 389Presenting the Message 390

Two Additional Considerations for Discursive Messages 391When to Reveal the Thesis 391Whether to Recognize Opposing Views 392


Endnotes 395Index 431

Woodward-Denton Page xiii Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM


The first edition of this book was published twenty-five years ago. At that timeinterest in persuasion in universities was largely defined by a tight circle of con-cerns drawn largely from the fields of rhetoric, communication theory, and experi-mental psychology. But the circumference of the subject’s boundaries has grown tosuch an extent that it is even pushing against formerly distant fields such as ethnog-raphy and neurobiology. Researchers now track “neural pathways” activated whensubjects are exposed to everything from “shooter” video games to deodorant ads.1

Factor in recent interest in personal and social media, alternative routes to tradi-tional advertising, or “screen time” as a measure of the dominant activity ofhumans during their waking hours, and it becomes evident why nearly everyonenow seems interested in the processes of personal influence.

We enthusiastically endorse the expanding exploration of persuasion, althoughwith some concern about the growing fashion for seeking answers using brainimaging devices. It is increasingly common to find research where neural imagingis used to map the “brain activity” of individuals while they view movies, playvideo games, or scan web pages.2 There is no question that we have much to learnabout specific brain locations and routes that are awakened by certain kinds ofmedia and presentational forms. And while there is ample evidence that some mes-sages and activities influence hormone releases that affect mood and feelings, webelieve such mapping feeds a growing impression that a relatively new “science”will give the analysis of persuasion a form of certainly that it has never had. Weheartily welcome all forms of research that give us more insight into how we pro-cess communications, but we doubt that persuasion can be usefully understood as afunction of electrochemical processes.3 The reduction of cognition to the connec-tivity of neurons is like describing a piece of music in terms of the physics of the airpressure created by the musicians who created it. To be sure, it is easy to measuresound this way, converting pressure into frequencies, and perhaps displaying themon an audio analyzer. But to study music or persuasion by focusing on their physicalprocesses has the effect of mistaking the conditions necessary for their productionwith their essence.


xiv  Preface

Woodward-Denton Page xiv Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

It is important to remember that human communication must be understoodas a cluster of outcomes produced when minds are engaged. The brain is indeed thephysical site where thinking—cognition—takes place. But unlike nearly all otherbody organs, it has no single function. In terms of higher-order mental activities, itfacilitates thought and perception, but in ways that are always unique to the experiencesof an individual. An individual’s presence—a rich mix of genetics, personal andsocial history, and attendant memories—must be measured in terms of what wesay and do, what we “know,” what we believe about our intentions and the inten-tions of others, and so on. Thinking, decision-making, the weighing of options, theinterpretation of other’s words are the functions that are more interesting for whythey occur than where they occur. The brain is so “plastic”—various centers accom-modate so many different kinds of thought—that any search for a single “pathway”of cognition seems far too simple. Neuroscience usually concedes as much.4 Andthat acknowledgement serves as a healthy reminder that the analyst of persuasionmust be an interpreter of the person in their world.

The processes of influence discussed in this book are drawn from a holistic per-spective that marries the social and “hard” sciences to the humanities and the ori-gins of persuasion in rhetorical theory. This mix of approaches reflects the viewthat this is a subject that must be explored by placing the individual not just inmaterial realm but also in the conceptual space of their experiences, ideas, atti-tudes, and social judgments.

These myriad complexities keep us humble. The basic idea of a textbook is thatit will offer settled knowledge about its subject. But that has never really been trueof persuasion, where the contingencies and unique features of every situation com-plicate efforts to make definitive claims. The subject requires respect for nuanceand a capacity to accept unanticipated outcomes. Students of persuasion may usethe tools of the sciences to test various strategies and approaches, but in basic wayspersuasion rarely submits to the kinds of certainties to which researchers aspire.Though textbook style is traditionally the very definition of certainty, we are happyto acknowledge the very soft ground on which theories of influence rest.

As you would expect this far into the new millennium, this edition pays moreattention to social media and online communities, to Internet product and politi-cal marketing, and to refinements of theories and models that have become part ofthe canon of persuasion theory. To better highlight the growing terminology avail-able for analysis, key ideas in each chapter are set off from the running text in bolditalics, and simple definitions follow. We hope this formatting creates a useful run-ning glossary of key terms that can be easily referenced when reading or reviewinga chapter.

As with earlier editions, we examine the process of seeking influence from itsroots in the timeless ideals of democratic institutions and social ethics. And wecontinue to see it as a set of interactions typically involving active rather than pas-sive agents. From this perspective, persuasion is not necessarily something some-one does to others. In its best forms, it works with willing recipients and attentivepersuaders, often in the same space. When asked about his techniques for manag-ing the outsized Hollywood egos that filled his days, the former chairman of SonyPictures offered a piece of candid advice that seemed as accurate as it was simple.

Preface  xv

Woodward-Denton Page xv Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

He noted that success often amounts to just being “in the same room” with some-one and “breathing the same air.”5 As academics we instinctively want to add qual-ifiers and exceptions, but his comment is a good place to start.

Endnotes1 See, for example, Tom Hummer, et. al, “Short-Term Violent Video Game Play by Adolescents Alters

Prefrontal Activity During Cognitive Inhibition,” Media Psychology; April–June, 2010, pp. 136–154,Ebsco Communication and Mass Media Complete,

2 Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (New York: Norton, 2011), pp.115–138.

3 For a preliminary look at how neuroscience fits into studies of communication see Jack Jordynn andGregory Appelbaum, “‘This is your Brain on Rhetoric:’ Research Directions of Neurorhetorics,”Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 5, 2010, pp. 422–437. See also Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfeld,Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience (New York: Basic Books, 2013), pp. ix–xxiii.

4 Steven Pinker, “My Genome, My Self,” The New York Times Magazine, January 11, 2009, p. 50, andIbid, pp. 26–35.

5 Michael Cieply, “In Film and Life, The Story Is King,” The New York Times, February 27, 2011, Sun-day Business, p. 6.

Woodward-Denton Page 0 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Woodward-Denton Page 1 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM


Persuasion and InfluenceIntroduction


 The Necessity and Challenge of Persuasion

 Persuasion Defined

 Five Introductory SettingsThe Unanticipated Effects of Selling InclusionDoubt and Influence in the Jury RoomAdvocating Dangerous Forms of ReligionA Campus Food FightPersuasion in Everyday Life

 What These and Other Persuasion Settings SuggestPersuasion is as much about sources as messagesPersuasion is measured by its effects on othersPersuasion is enormously difficultEven minimal effects can be importantPersuasion can easily stray toward the arts of deceptionPersuasion outcomes are not very unpredictable

 Three Types of CommunicationPure InformationPure ExpressionPure Persuasion


2  Chapter One

Woodward-Denton Page 2 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

The pursuit of wisdom through discourse is, after all, the charac-teristic humanistic act. We are all worshipers of Peitho, the God-dess of Persuasion.1

—Hugh D. Duncan

Every year about 30,000 men and women between the ages of 18 and 21 passthrough a well manicured collection of low buildings that adjoin the Provo campusof Brigham Young University. The Missionary Training Center of The Church ofLatter Day Saints (LDS), perhaps the largest institution for that purpose in theworld, lies at the base of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. The specific goal of the centeris to prepare recruits to proselytize Mormonism in the United States and overseas.These novice missionaries spend up to twelve weeks honing their foreign languageskills, studying the Book of Mormon and the Bible, and getting ready for the rigorsof 10-hour days of communicating with strangers in distant locales. It’s all part ofthe church’s tradition of encouraging young members to devote two years of theirlives to finding new converts.

This massive effort at persuasive outreach is a huge change from the mid-nine-teenth century, when small groups of followers of Joseph Smith escaped the Eastand Midwest in their own diaspora. Although the Mormons eventually settled inthe geographic isolation of Utah with the hope of being left alone, the LDS Churchis now among the largest five denominations in the United States, and one of thefastest growing religions in the world.

All male Mormons over 18 are asked to serve on a mission, and about half do.Women who are at least 21 can also join the ranks, but they do so in smaller num-bers.2 After they leave the training center, individuals are assigned a partner whowill be their constant companion for the duration of the mission. Young men inbuttoned-down white shirts, pressed slacks, and conservative haircuts easily standout from their surroundings. They may end up in Baltimore, Manila, or Sao Paulo,but they all look like they could have just walked out of the pages of your grandpar-ent’s high school yearbook.

Missionaries call potential converts “investigators,” recognizing that conver-sion is usually not sudden. Investigators seem at least willing to listen, often at busstops, or on street corners, and front yards. The logic is that the more they learn, themore willing they may be to explore the church or to attend services or meetings.

The Student Manual at the Missionary Training Center sees the task of winningconverts in terms of the expected biblical admonitions to go out and serve as wit-nesses for the faith. In this frame of reference, missionaries often think of them-selves as “sharing” or “teaching” the two primary works in the Mormon canon,with the hope that some of these scriptures will be prophetic or provide moral clar-ity.3 The church also emphasizes the classic persuasion idea that you should physi-cally embody what you advocate, a principle that echoes back to ancient rhetorics

Persuasion and Influence  3

Woodward-Denton Page 3 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

that urged persuaders to show in their own conduct the values that they espouse.New missionaries are taught to be positive, courteous, and to approach every per-son as a potential new friend. They also talk up the importance of family and try tocommunicate with the unambiguous certainty of a committed believer. This is notan effort that owes much to the irony or cynicism that flows through much of therest of American life.4 Earnestness is the order of the day.

Many new recruits are initially shy. Most who openly write about their experi-ences are positive about the experience. But a reader of these accounts sometimesgets a sense that many of the church’s volunteers don’t see themselves as natural per-suaders.5 After all, this is not going to be their career. Some appear to struggle to findthe confidence to approach people in settings far different than the prosperous RockyMountain enclave that is the center of the LDS church. What do you say to animpoverished mother of seven in a rundown section of Columbus, Ohio? One resi-dent, Star Calley, feels the awkwardness of the moment, but invites Jonathan Hoyand Taylor Nielsen to sit on her porch and talk. She worries about raising her kids inthe neighborhood. The missionaries listen, sympathize, and then ask her to pray withthem.6 After they leave, she admits she was just trying to be nice, noting that “it musttake a lot of courage to do what they do, for all the good it does.”7 For their part, theyhope they can come by again, perhaps building on a first encounter to offer morereassurance that her family will be better off within the local LDS community.

The Manual also offers a range of more secular advice about how to maximizesuccess. As a general rule, it urges missionaries to follow what is by now an axiom ofpolitical persuasion: look for people who have recently been buffeted by reversals orunwanted change. “People who are experiencing significant changes in their lives—such as births, deaths, or moving into new homes—are often ready to learn about therestored gospel and make new friendships.”8 It also reminds recruits to find a way tobe brief and effective. What can be offered to someone waiting for a bus, or a personwho is willing to give up just a few minutes? The promise of eternal salvation is, ofcourse, the primary message. But there are other inducements that open doors as well,such as helping someone do a simple household repair or offering to help a familyresearch its own history through the vast genealogical resources of the LDS church.9

One researcher studying Mormon missionaries estimates that in the thousandsof contacts a single member makes in a given year, he or she will convert onlyabout four to seven people.10 That can amount to a “success” rate of a fraction ofone percent. Jonathan Hoy went through the experience and remembers evenfewer but still found his limited success worth the effort. In 2007 Hoy recalls thenearly 10,000 people he talked to during a 22-month stint in Ohio and Greece. Heespecially remembers a young woman in Athens who converted after spendingtime studying various “restored” scriptures from the Book of Mormon. “I saw itchange her life,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going.”11

The seemingly low rates of conversion are balanced by the crucial role that thisrite of passage has on the missionaries themselves—self-persuasion. Sometimes thegreatest effect of a message is on the persuader. While these missionaries may returnwith limited success in attracting large numbers of converts, they have becomecommitted activists for their faith, carrying some of that fervor into their relation-ships with others.12

4  Chapter One

Woodward-Denton Page 4 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

 The Necessity and Challenge of PersuasionA mandate that urges young members to find new recruits for a church may be

somewhat unique to Mormons, but the underlying process of reaching out to oth-ers with a vision or belief to share is a lifeline of identity for most of us. Words con-vey praise, blame, guilt, and joy. We invest them with enduring significance. Weestablish our place in the lives of others by the ways we label our actions and thosearound us. The natural impulse to associate and connect gives language the awe-some responsibility of carrying our judgments and feelings.

The LDS missionary experience is also a reminder that persuasion is a particu-larly challenging form of communication. Defined as a request for others to agreeor yield, it turns out that persuasion is neither simple to understand or easy toachieve. One of its early theorists, the Roman philosopher Cicero, noted that“whether it is acquired by art or practice, or the mere powers of nature, it is themost difficult of all attainments.”13 He thought that mastery of its various compo-nents was beyond the reach of most. Aristotle, who preceded Cicero and wrote oneof the first practical persuasion handbooks, was more certain that its study could besystematized, although he also noted that resistance was more the norm than theexception.14 Both Cicero and Aristotle seemed to sense that persuasion was a spe-cial subject made all the more interesting by its tendency to put all forms of humangenius and frailty on conspicuous display.

The primary goal of this book is to offer a systematic description and vocabu-lary for the persuasive process, focusing on some of the same questions that firstdrew the attention of philosophers. How do we change deep-seated attitudes?What makes us susceptible to or immune from constant attempts to persuade us toaccept ideas, products, and people? How can advocates sometimes cause people todeny their beliefs and accept actions that impose serious hardships? The answers tothese questions not only equip us to better adapt to our communication-saturatedworld, but they also reveal some interesting and surprising characteristics ofhuman nature.

Persuasion takes no single form. It occurs in a diverse range of contexts andmedia—from simple exchanges of opinions between friends to elaborate campaignsdesigned for specific broadcast and Internet audiences. Persuaders may be as well-financed as the Microsoft Corporation or as resource-poor as a small band of home-owners fighting the decisions of a local zoning board. The range of human contactsthat call for effective advocacy is nearly endless. As citizens in a free society, we can-not escape the responsibility for organizing or participating in public persuasion. Asfriends, family members, and coworkers linked to a web of personal relationships, wesimilarly face the necessity of managing a vast array of demands and opportunities.

In the remainder of this chapter we will offer a definition of persuasion and severaladditional case studies. We will also offer a set of key propositions about persuasion.

 Persuasion DefinedThere are two competing traditions in the definition of persuasion. One tradi-

tion sees it as an ethically suspect process—a form of hucksterism—where advo-

Persuasion and Influence  5

Woodward-Denton Page 5 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

cates firm in their own beliefs ask for change from others. The philosopher Plato attimes saw persuasion as little more than a “knack”—“a part of some business thatisn’t admirable at all.”15 Others have studied influence by looking at “compliancepractitioners,” a variety of organizations dedicated to getting us to agree (i.e. sales-people, fund-raisers, advertisers).16

Compliance practitioners is a disquieting label that suggests a mastery of decep-tive manipulation. In a related sense, during and after World War II it was commonto think of many kinds of messages as “propaganda.” The legacy of suspicionreflected in all of these terms remains today in approaches that emphasize that weare likely to be potential victims of messages that cleverly muscle out our better crit-ical instincts.17 Many in the social sciences have learned to live with the “vulgarcontentiousness” they associate with “persuasion,” but prefer the newer label of“attitude change.”18 They often speak in terms of gaining “compliance,” inducing“conformity,” the process of “social influence” or “yielding to social forces.”19

While we have no quarrel with so cautionary a stance toward persuasion, orthe labeling of its objectives in the impersonal terms of social processes, we prefer asecond tradition that is less prejudiced against persuaders and more conscious ofhow humans use language and symbols to shape consensus and agreement. Thismight simply be called the rhetorical tradition. Erwin Bettinghaus and MichaelCody retain this neutrality with the observation that a persuasive situation involves“a conscious attempt by one individual or group to change the attitudes, beliefs, orthe behavior of another individual or group of individuals through the transmissionof some message.”20 Similarly, Herbert Simons describes persuasion as primarily “aform of attempted influence in the sense that it seeks to alter the way others think,feel, or act.”21 Along with Rod Hart and Suzanne Daughton, he also emphasizeswhat is sometimes missed by persuasion’s critics: that it is a cooperative and coact-ive enterprise.22 Audiences are more than mere “targets” or victims. They are oftenwilling participants in their own persuasion. As Hart and Daughton note, rhetoric

is a reciprocal or transactive art, because it brings two or more people togetherin an atmosphere of potential change. By sharing communication, both rhetorsand audiences open themselves up to each other’s influence. In that sense, com-munication is not something that is done to others. Rather, it is something thatpeople choose to do to themselves by consenting to communicative contact.23

This “coactive” feature is important to keep it mind. In the first tradition it iscommon to hear analysts assume that people are objects or victims of persuasion,defenseless against the clever appeals of others. The favored phrase within manypersuasion industries is “target audience.” The persuader is presented as the activeagent searching for vulnerable and passive quarry. From this perspective, the task isto find the hapless victim and to gain unthinking compliance.

While the idea of a target is often useful and sometimes essential, it can dis-tract us from recognizing the more intricate processes of the mind that are alreadydoing much of the work of preparing a person for change. As the popular essayistChris Hitchens observed, it isn’t always that someone plans something that will changeour mind, it’s that our mind changes us.24 Persuaders, in fact, provide what are thefinal reasons for the mind to complete its own work. Hitchens offered a chilling

6  Chapter One

Woodward-Denton Page 6 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

example of a senior member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army who coact-ively changed his mind. The official

was in the room with his leader David O’Connell when the news came thatone of their bombs had “successfully” gone off. Among the casualties was ayoung woman who was pregnant.... “Well, that’s two for one, then,”remarked O’Connell, light-heartedly clearing the air. In that instant, his deputysays, he himself internally defected from the IRA and began the second careeras an informer for the British which would wreak the most terrible revenge onhis former “associates.”25

Kenneth Burke’s redefinition of persuasion from its old name “rhetoric” to thenewer label of identification also owes something to the idea that the energy forcefor changing how we think is already in us. True, he notes, you may be trying tochange an audience’s opinion in one respect, but it is typically done by “yielding”to what they already believe or value in other respects. “You persuade a man,” henotes, only insofar as you talk his language... identifying your ways with his.”26

Perhaps sensing some of the complexities that take us beyond the idea of themarksman and his target, Daniel O’Keefe makes the unusual decision to decline a“sharp-edged definition,” noting that any precise meaning sets up boundaries thatare partially arbitrary. But in spite of his reluctance, he describes a number of fea-

Persuasion and Influence  7

Woodward-Denton Page 7 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

tures that are almost always found in typical or “paradigm” cases of persuasion—having a specific goal in mind, achieving it through the use of language or sym-bols, and producing “a change in the mental state of the persuadee.” O’Keefe alsonotes that true persuasion implies “some measure of freedom (free will, free choice,voluntary action).”27 Although not all theorists agree,28 we believe that forcingsomeone to act is not the same thing as truly persuading them.

We endorse elements of all the definitions we have cited, but with some modi-fications. The important qualifier that persuasion may affect behavior as well asjudgments and attitudes is especially relevant. We would resist the urge to reducepersuasion to just behavioral change: what people “do,” rather than what theythink.29 It is important to remember that persuasion may create internal changesthat may initially not have any outward form. Or behavior may hide importantconflicting feelings. For example, an individual’s behavior in a given case mayindicate that they have momentarily given in to another’s request. But if underly-ing attitudes are not changed, their behavior is likely to revert to its original form.As anyone who accompanies a friend or spouse to a concert or movie can tell you,compliance is not necessarily an indicator of a deep level of conviction. We think ofcompliance and conviction as existing on a continuum some distance from eachother, even though both fit under our broad definition.

Compliance frequently suggests that you have gained from another person thekind of behavior that you want. If a doctor urges a patient to lose some weight orgive up cigarettes, his notes after follow-up visits will no doubt register whether thepatient is complaint or noncompliant. But it would be risky to assume the patientlikes all of the changes he has been induced to make. Compliance doesn’t reallyrequire conviction. We may be convinced that a donut is still a great thing, even ifwe know we should eat less of them. Conviction is deeper. It represents the goal ofmany persuaders searching for acknowledgment and assent from others. Some-times the middle ground of agreement that exists between compliance and convic-tion is its own reward, on ideas ranging from the significant (“The United StatesSenate is a broken institution”) to the less consequential (“The Godfather should beat the top of the American Film Institute’s ‘Top 100’ List.”) Creating agreementseems like a more significant achievement than winning compliance, but creatingconviction would be better still. Conviction is the field where we all become mis-sionaries for our own beliefs and passions.

Our initial impressions of persuasion also lead us to slightly amend the previ-ous definitions to include the possibility of strengthening existing attitudes andactions in addition to modifying or changing them. While persuasion is mostapparent when a transformation of some sort occurs within an individual, anexclusive emphasis on change overlooks the pervasive role of communication as away to prevent the erosion of support. As most advertisers know, the most effectivepersuasive strategies are essentially defensive. It is easier to reassure a listener’sfaith in what is already accepted than to urge change to something new. Advertis-ing is often a strategy to protect a product’s current share of the market.

Thus, we define persuasion as a process composed of five concurrent dimen-sions.

8  Chapter One

Woodward-Denton Page 8 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Our definition emphasizes that persuasion is an interactive process that takesplace between people. It comes with hopes but no guarantees. One can prepare andpresent a message, but the outcome is unknown. In true persuasion, as O’Keefe hasnoted, audiences are autonomous and can easily withhold their consent.

In spite of the plethora of self-help books, pop-psychology tracts, and simple“recipes for success” that offer instruction on changing our lives and those aroundus, the assumption that one individual or group can discover simple nostrums foraltering thought and action is largely a myth. The realities of all human encountersare too complex to be reduced to formulas. If it is to be understood at all, the pro-cess of persuasion requires an open mind, attention to the requirements of andneeds of specific audiences, and a capacity to live with conditional rather than cer-tain truths.

 Five Introductory SettingsWe turn next to some specific cases involving individuals with persuasive

intentions. The cases are instructive as background before considering several addi-tional questions of definition later in this chapter.

The Unanticipated Effects of Selling InclusionIn early 2010 McDonald’s restaurants in France began running a commercial

with the theme, “Come as you are.” The commercial would look familiar to any-one who has encountered ads from the world’s largest fast-food chain. It featuredimages of family members bonding in the upbeat décor common to the chain andconcluded with a visual of the trademark golden arches. What caught the attentionof many, though, was the story line of the ad, which featured a young man of per-haps sixteen looking at his school class picture while talking on his cell phone tosomeone in that group. “I miss you too,” he says. His father arrives with a tray offood. Observing the situation, the father remarks: “You look just like me at yourage. I was quite the ladies’ man.” And then there is the twist. The father continues:“Too bad your class is all boys. You could get the girls.” Over some wistful music inthe background, the son only looks on with a half smile and lets the comment pass.Then, just before the screen closes with the familiar logo, it goes to black withwords in white standing in contrast: “Come as you are.”30

The Persuasive Process

Persuasion is

1. the coactive process of preparing and presenting

2. verbal or nonverbal messages

3. to autonomous and often receptive individuals

4. in order to alter or strengthen

5. their attitudes and/or behaviors.

Persuasion and Influence  9

Woodward-Denton Page 9 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

In conventional terms this was simply a gay-friendly ad. McDonald’s-Franceclaimed that the message was intended to show that the chain welcomed peoplefrom all walks of life.31 It was only for the French market, but videos today travelbeyond target audiences via video-sharing sites. This one went viral very quickly.One of the world’s most recognized companies had ventured into a social issue toaffirm the status of a group that some would like to see on the margins—a recipefor strong and sometimes unanticipated reactions. Persuasion that intersects withsocial action can resemble 10 people playing racquetball on the same small court.There is no way to anticipate how and where the balls will ricochet.

Comments on the story in a British newspaper were fairly typical, ranging from“I’m not going to McDonald’s ever again” to “I am gay, I like the ad. But I wouldn’teat there.”32 Perhaps the greatest surprise was the unanticipated hostility from somegay individuals and groups. “So the message here is, you’re welcome at McDon-ald’s if you’re a closeted gay teen? Show me an ad with a couple of guys snogging inMcDonald’s and then I might think we’ve started to make progress.”33 A gay rightsgroup in the U.S. similarly criticized McDonald’s for being “hypocritical” and per-petuating “blatant geological pandering” for supposedly catering to social conserva-tives at home and appealing to gays in France.34 Another wondered how showing astill-closeted teen “serves the gay community or McDonald’s for that matter.”35

The McDonald’s ad went where advertising rarely treads; it flirted with anissue where beliefs are frequently held with a deep sense of confidence. The adoffered a modest theme of tolerance. By acknowledging the quiet challenges ofgrowing up in a “straight” world, it affirmed the disputed status of gays and—atleast for many—either affirmed or offended beliefs that would not be easily negoti-ated away. On face value McDonald’s-France seemed to know what they wanted tosay. Whether they lost control of their own message is a more open question.

Doubt and Influence in the Jury RoomGraham Burnett’s account of his time spent with eleven other jurors deciding

the fate of a murder suspect in New York City is a reminder of so many small andlarge moments of persuasion.36 To be sure, the jury room is hardly the most com-mon scene for persuasion. Most criminal cases are plea-bargained rather thanturned over to juries. And few Americans will have to do little more in their life-time than give up more than a day or two for a minor case. But a trial and the pri-vate deliberations of a jury are a fascinating microcosm of influence. A jury ischosen for its apparent objectivity in evaluating the pleas of the prosecution anddefense; they must make a collective and unanimous decision to award the case toone of the sides.

Burnett’s trial was at once bizarre and simple. A man dressed as a woman hadlured the suspect to his apartment in Greenwich Village. There was the promise ofsex. A scuffle ensued, and the tenant of the apartment ended up with multiple andfatal stab wounds. The prosecution argued a simple case of murder. The defense ofthe man who was coaxed into going to the apartment claimed self-defense. Theyargued that the defendant had been lured to a seduction that suddenly was notwhat it had seemed. When he tried to leave, the seducer had pulled a knife and adeadly fight began.

10  Chapter One

Woodward-Denton Page 10 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

In the days of testimony that followed, the basic facts were not in dispute. Butthere was little convincing evidence supporting a reason for the deadly scuffle. Didthe victim bait potential lovers, and then aggressively pursue them? Had the twomen known each other before? The jury was left to decide a verdict of seconddegree murder, or a lesser charge of manslaughter. They could also let the defen-dant go if they believed his story that he had acted in self-defense.

As an academic historian, Burnett was used to looking at the details of events.Throughout the trial and deliberations at the dreary Criminal Courts building onCentre Street he kept a diary of observations that became the basis of his book.Among his first impressions from the trial was the arrogance of the prosecution.The more the lead attorney for the state spoke, the less Burnett liked him and hismessage. The defendant—poor but soft spoken—was treated with contempt. Theprosecutor used a “badgering” and “sneeringly sarcastic” tone. In cross examina-tion, the prosecutor was belligerent in his efforts to get the defendant to change hisstory: something he politely but firmly refused to do. “So egregious did I find thewhole performance,” notes Burnett, that “I felt a deep desire to see the prosecutorlose the case.”37

How did that “whisper of a thought” ultimately affect his thinking? By thetime Burnett and his colleagues were sent to the jury room, he had his answer. Herecalls that he privately committed himself to a complete acquittal, or at least ahung jury. The aggressive hostility of the prosecution and the judge had uninten-tionally boomeranged.

In the first long day of deliberations, the jury was divided and confused. Itwould now be the task of individual members who had formed a clear position totry to convince others of the defendant’s guilt or innocence. People sometimespaired off into groups of two or three, some individuals working to weaken theresistance of others. A few retreated to the lavatory in the jury room to comparenotes out of earshot of the others. It was a process that would take four days andtest everyone’s endurance.

During that period, twelve individuals of considerable diversity engaged in atotal of twenty-three hours of sustained conversation in a small, bare room. Weran the gamut of group’s dynamics: a clutch of strangers yelled, cursed, rolledon the floor, vomited, whispered, embraced, sobbed, and invoked both Godand necromancy. . . . (W)e had watched one juror pulled from our midst andrushed to the hospital (a physical collapse, caused by some combination ofmissing medication and the crucible of deliberations), another make a some-what halfhearted effort to escape (he was apprehended), and a third insist onher right to contact her own lawyer to extricate her from the whole affair (shewas threatened with contempt).38

In spite of his quasi-neutral status as foreman, Burnett at times found himselfengineering the defeat of some views and actively promoting others. Weaving hiscomments around the constant ebb and flow of discussion, he found ways to iso-late jurors who he believed were taking the jury down endless black holes. At onepoint when it appeared that the group edged closer to a “not guilty” verdict, Bur-nett collected ballots in a way that made it easy for others to know the vote of apotential holdout. “I placed it, consciously and more or less conspicuously, at the

Persuasion and Influence  11

Woodward-Denton Page 11 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

bottom of the pile. I wanted the full dismay of the room to land on her if she hadvoted for a conviction.”39

After three days of deliberations, the stalemate was broken by the sudden elo-quence of Dean, a former bull-riding cowboy who now sold vacuum cleaners,whom Burnett had previously stereotyped as a typical working-class male: “bigchest, big gut, big debt.” But Dean’s fluency broke through an impasse that left thejurors wondering how to send a message to the court and the partly culpable defen-dant, even though their formal charge omitted such subtleties. Dean noted that hebelieved the defendant “did something very, very wrong in that room. But I alsobelieve that nobody has asked me to play God. I’ve been asked to apply the law.Justice belongs to God; men only have the law. Justice is perfect, but the law canonly be careful.”40

“To my right I heard Suzy O’Mear whisper something,” Burnett recalled.“Looking over, I saw that her eyes brimmed. ‘He’s convinced me,’ she whisperedagain. It was close to a sob. She said it a third time.”41 The persuasive force ofDean’s words broke through their deadlock, and for the first time Burnett saw thepathway the jury would eventually follow in reaching a not-guilty verdict.

Advocating Dangerous Forms of ReligionBy definition, persuasion that succeeds involves the agreement that a receiver

freely offers based on the pleas or requests of an advocate. One of the assumptionswe make about this transaction is that listeners will weigh messages against theirown self interests. If we buy a car, for example, we are likely to weigh the claimsmade by the sales person against our own views of what we need and can afford. Itseems axiomatic that people cannot be easily persuaded to act in harmful or danger-ous ways. In our recent past, however, Americans have seen two instances involvingmass suicides committed at the apparent request of a strong cult leader: the 1997 sui-cides of 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate Group in California and the fiery immola-tion of the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas. The Davidians died in a catastrophicfire after a long standoff with federal agents. The subdued members of Heaven’sGate willingly dosed themselves with poison in the belief that they would leave their“containers” and catch a ride on a spaceship behind the comet Hale-Bopp.42

Perhaps Americans were most shocked by news in 1978 that over 900 peopledied in an apparent mass suicide in the remote South American nation of Guyana.How could so many people apparently agree to their own deaths? What kind ofinfluence did the leader of the American cult in Guyana possess? The deaths ofmembers of the People’s Temple was the final act in what had been a long andincreasingly desperate road for its leader, Jim Jones.

Jones was considered unorthodox in his days as a California evangelist, but heshared more similarities than differences with many other groups that mingled pol-itics with religion, social action with antigovernment paranoia. He was especiallypopular among the poor because his indignation toward “exploiters” and the richstruck a responsive chord. The mission he established attracted members throughactivities and services designed to make them feel special and different. Like DavidKoresh—whose Branch Davidian compound was attacked and eventuallydestroyed by the FBI in 1993—Jones was a powerful leader. He used his pulpit to

12  Chapter One

Woodward-Denton Page 12 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

preach not only a religious doctrine but also long diatribes against the secular cul-ture outside. Also, like Koresh, Jones grew increasingly strident and isolated.43 Hebegan to make every issue a personal one and every member a part of his own pri-vate crusade. He cultivated a following by cleverly mixing his gospel of socialchange with carefully orchestrated demonstrations of support. Members wererequired to give their money and personal allegiance to “The Father.” For Koreshand his Texas followers, the price of their isolation and identification with a zeal-ous leader would be the loss of 87 lives in a fiery holocaust. For the residents ofJonestown the losses were even more staggering: 912 followers were shot or tooktheir lives in one mass suicide.

The remote Guyana village was an unlikely spot for an American religiouscommune, but Jones must have realized that a leader’s control is enhanced whentheir followers’ dependence is increased though physical isolation. He sold his jun-gle location as a place free from persecution and victimage. “I am preparing apromised land for you in Jonestown,” he said. “When you get there all of your trib-ulations will be over. There will be no need for discipline when you get away fromthe capitalistic society of America. There you will be able to love and be loved.”44

According to one member of the People’s Temple, Jones’ “only source of plea-sure was observing his followers’ total devotion to him.”45 He became obsessedwith his control over the inhabitants of the new village. Members were publiclybeaten and humiliated. Bizarre marathon meetings were held in which he revealedhis belief that he was the target of assassination plots. He began preaching with agun at his side and erupting into tirades when a member tried to leave a meeting.These were ominous signs of his growing paranoia.

After hearing complaints from members of families that relatives were beingheld against their wishes, California Congressman Leo Ryan decided to visit theGuyana village with several members of the press. His visit pushed Jones to adeadly state of paranoia and rage. In poor health himself, he calmly planned thedemise of his commune and everyone in it. After ordering the assassination ofRyan and several reporters, he persuaded and coaxed almost one thousand peopleto commit the ultimate act of self-destruction. Many willingly gave doses of a fruitdrink laced with poison to themselves and to their children while others were mur-dered by Jones’ bodyguards. A tape recorder that was left running preserved thebizarre final moments:

So my opinion is that you be kind to children and be kind to seniors and takethe potion like they used to take it in ancient Greece, and step over quietly,because we are not committing suicide. It’s a revolutionary act. We can’t goback, and they won’t leave us alone. They’re now going back to tell more lies,which means more congressmen. And there’s no way, no way, we can survive.46

Jones’ power to persuade his followers to commit suicide remains a partialmystery. The basic impulse to live should defeat even the most manipulative of per-suaders, but we must not overlook the fact that the murder/suicide was only a laststep in what had been an incremental process begun years earlier. From its start,the People’s Temple had fostered the principle of personal obedience. Members ofthe church were more than followers of a set of religious beliefs. They were disci-

Persuasion and Influence  13

Woodward-Denton Page 13 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

ples of Jim Jones. Had he been a different person, they might have benefited fromtheir identification with him because persuasion is both a social and rational pro-cess. The attraction to the idea of the People’s Temple—a mission apart from soci-ety—became fatally tied to the magnetic personality of Jones. Like David Koresh,he had attracted supporters first to his ideas, then to his isolated mission, andfinally to their deaths.

A Campus Food FightSometimes a book or an author catches on and creates ripples of attitude

change. Such has been the writing of Michael Pollan, who teaches journalism atthe University of California, but who is more widely known as a best-selling authorwho has raised the consciousness of Americans about the “industrial” origins oftheir food. Pollan’s books and articles have become essential reading for anyoneintrigued with the ideas that something has gone horribly wrong with the Ameri-can diet. Other books by Pollan have followed the most influential of his works,The Omnivore’s Dilemma. But few have had so great an impact. In 2009 alone, it wasassigned as required reading for 35,000 students.47

Pollan’s complaint is that too much of our food exists for the convenience ofthe large producers, who use federally subsidized crops to make nearly everythingwith corn—from Chicken McNuggets to potato chips. Turned into sugar or oil,corn is in nearly every form of processed food. In fact, the current national turnaway from high fructose corn syrup owes some of its power to Pollan’s book and toinfluential sources, like The New York Times, who have extensively covered hiswork. His style is journalistic rather than overtly accusatory. But its cumulativeimpact is to force Americans to confront products whose origins and chemistrydefy the homey advertising images used to sell them.

I don’t mean to suggest that human food chains have only recently come into con-flict with the logic of biology; early agriculture and, long before that, humanhunting proved enormously destructive. Indeed, we might have never neededagriculture had earlier generations of hunters not eliminated the species theydepended upon. Folly in the getting of our food is nothing new. And yet the newfollies we are perpetuating in our industrial food chain today are of a differentorder. By replacing solar energy with fossil fuel, by raising millions of animals inclose confinement, by feeding those animals food they never evolved to eat, andby feeding ourselves foods far more novel than we even realize, we are takingrisks with our health and the health of the natural world that are unprecedented.48

Pollan’s accounts of the treatment of animals raised for meat is especially har-rowing, perhaps in its own way as effective as Upton Sinclair’s 1905 exposure ofpacking plants in The Jungle. If young adults can ever be motivated to shed the eat-ing traditions of their families, it is probably going to happen in the first few yearsof college. And Pollan has given readers the factual equipment to question the prac-tices of large agribusinesses—an almost perfect match of message and the audi-ence’s readiness to receive it.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma is still such a consistent seller in the nation’s collegebookstores that it has triggered a countermovement to try to neutralize the effects

14  Chapter One

Woodward-Denton Page 14 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

of Pollan’s arguments. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has been soalarmed over the growing disapproval of beef on some campuses that it haslaunched a campaign of counterpersuasion in an Internet-based program called the“Masters of Beef Advocacy” (MBA). This effort recruits mostly agriculture andveterinary students to take its six-part “course” in order to acquire the persuasivearmament to defend the continued consumption of meat.49 After completing thetraining, the new recruit is ready to be an “everyday advocate” to take on the “anti-animal agriculture activist community.” As the MBA website notes,

This can be as simple as talking to friends, family, and neighbors. Graduatesalso will be equipped with tools to reach out to broader audiences in their com-munities by:• Giving presentations—schools, civic organizations, etc.• Getting active in the online environment—posting comments/video on web-

sites, blogging, etc.• Participating in media interviews—print and/or broadcast media50

The plan shrewdly activates the peers of students, enlisting them to combatwhat they see as increasing campus hostility to agribusinesses. One MBA “gradu-ate” at Kansas State University expressed the challenge in defensive terms.

We know the environment is in crisis and we don’t want to contribute to that.But we’re also farmers, so the hard thing for us is to take into account all thecriticisms of conventional agriculture, and to also continue to feed the world onthe scale we are doing now. I think a lot of young people are primarily worriedthey won’t be able to have a career in farming at all in the future.51

MBA members now picket when Pollan appears on a campus. The response tosome of his Midwestern appearances has been described by one attendee as 3,500“cheering fans and a handful of fuming pink-cheeked cowboys.”52 It’s not likelythat agribusinesses in general have a lot to fear. But the beef-cattle industry seemsto know that they are a long way from the days when their products were the reli-able center of the American diet.

 Persuasion in Everyday LifeThe process of persuasion is embedded in the transactions of daily life. Sociol-

ogist Erving Goffman has a remarkable ability for seeing the recurring patternsthat emerge as we seek influence and compliance in even routine moments of com-munication. He notes “that when an individual appears before others he will havemany motives for trying to control the impression they receive of the situation.”53

We want to be liked and to have our ideas accepted. We want others to show regardfor our feelings and for the values that serve as the anchors for our actions. Goff-man reminds us that children, teachers, parents, close friends, employees, employ-ers, spouses, lovers, and coworkers all have strategies for projecting their intereststo those with whom they come in contact. He referred to such strategies as impres-sion management. Since we perform many of these roles simultaneously, we areconstantly faced with the imperatives of making our actions and attitudes accept-

Persuasion and Influence  15

Woodward-Denton Page 15 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

able to others. Every role we play carries a number of possible strategies for influ-encing others. In words, gestures, and small signs, we leave a trail of cues that aremeant to guide the responses of our audiences. No moment in the routine events ofthe day is too small to be devoid of persuasion. Goffman cites George Orwell’shilarious account of the routine strategies of restaurant waiters to make this point.

It is an instructive sight to see a waiter going into a hotel dining room. As hepasses the door a sudden change comes over him. The set of his shouldersalters; all the dirt and hurry and irritation have dropped off in an instant. Heglides over the carpet, with a solemn priest-like air. I remember our assistantmaitre d’hôtel, a fiery Italian, pausing at the dining room door to address hisapprentice who had broken a bottle of wine.... “Do you call yourself a waiter,you young bastard? You a waiter! You’re not fit to scrub floors in the brothelyour mother came from...” Then he entered the dining room and sailed acrossit dish in hand, graceful as a swan. Ten seconds later he was bowing reverentlyto a customer. And you could not help thinking, as you saw him bow and smile,with that benign smile of the trained waiter, that the customer was put to shameby having such an aristocrat to serve him.54

Life is full of such moments. Any novel or film could be studied for all of the subtlebut significant cues that are “performed” to elicit acceptance or approval. We“read” such acts so routinely that we tend to forget how essential they are as oil forthe machinery of everyday interaction.

Consider, for example, how the following conventional situations invite the useof various persuasive strategies:

• You have agreed to work with an organization that promotes literacy. Theyneed your help to recruit more volunteers who can teach reading to adultsone evening a week. Can you come up with a plan that goes beyond askingyour friends?

• There is a rumor that your university is considering cutting financial supportfor varsity gymnastics. Its goal is to save the costs associated with coaches,travel, and equipment. As a team captain you would like to make a case tosave the program. What should you say to the University’s Athletic Directorand Provost, who have agreed to meet with you?

• A friend you have known since high school seems to have a drinking prob-lem. He drinks heavily on the weekend and is increasingly missing meetingsand other commitments during the work week. You would like him to see atherapist, but you don’t want to seem like you are prying.

• You are broke. The prospect of eating oatmeal for dinner until the next pay-check arrives is too much to bear. But you do have some rich friends . . .

• As a part-time salesperson paid on commission, every sale increases theamount of your monthly paycheck. You attempt to devise a method for sep-arating serious buyers from more casual and time-consuming “browsers.”

• You have agreed to canvass several neighborhoods on behalf of a candidatefor the U.S. House of Representatives. The problem is what to say to mem-bers of households as they come to their front doors.

16  Chapter One

Woodward-Denton Page 16 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

 What These and Other Persuasion Settings SuggestAll of the cases raise a number of issues that are at the heart of the study of per-

suasion. They also indicate the range of theories and strategies that inform persua-sive analysis and practice. While some theories will be discussed in other chapters,we can draw some preliminary conclusions here.

Persuasion is as much about sources as messages.In 350 BC Aristotle expressed what was already a truism: good character—high

ethos—“may be the most effective means of persuasion” that a person possesses.55

Messages do not stand alone; consumers weigh both the credibility of advocates aswell as the quality of their messages. Burnett and presumably some of his jury col-leagues were not impressed by the hectoring style of the New York City prosecutor.And with terrible efficiency, Jim Jones used his popularity to attract followers tohis increasingly demented ideas. In each case the process of persuasion makessense only when we look again at how the reputations of specific individuals“played” to specific audiences. Even as events recede into history, for example, westill seek to understand the power of charismatic persuaders such as Jim Jones, orthe roles of celebrities who voice opinions about political and economic conflicts.Drama allows us to peer into the worlds of characters engaged in the ongoing chal-lenges of negotiating differences with others. Research and scholarship formalizethis process, identifying specific agents affecting the process of influence.

Persuasion is measured by its effects on others.To insist on the centrality of audiences may be like knocking on an open door,

but the authors continue to be surprised by persuasion analysts who focus on theirown responses to messages rather than the responses of the intended audiences.Since persuasion is always addressed to someone, the intended audience is almostalways central to the process. Messages usually cannot be productively studied ontheir own. They need to be understood from the perspective of those whom the per-suader had in mind. Hence, we are more interested in how prosecution and defensearguments in a trial are likely to affect the jury, as opposed to the specific argu-ments presented. And while the temptation is to simply judge the psychotic behav-ior of Jim Jones, we have to acknowledge that he perversely “succeeded.” The onlyamendment to this guideline is the reminder that the process of persuasion fre-quently includes considering its effects on the source, as illustrated in our discus-sion of Mormon missionaries. We are in some sense part of the audience for amessage when we are convinced anew by reading or hearing our own words.

Persuasion is enormously difficult.The topic of persuasion is often accompanied with a vocabulary suggesting

moments of instant conversion—times when an overwhelming force seems to wipeaway any resistance. Plato regularly hinted at the risks of teaching the dark arts ofmanipulation and seduction.56 Mid-twentieth century America was consumedwith fears of communist brainwashing, indoctrination, and propaganda—rapid and

Persuasion and Influence  17

Woodward-Denton Page 17 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

mysterious ways to get people to abandon their beliefs. Even a president of thepowerful Screen Actor’s Guild, Ronald Reagan, expressed this view. He noted thatthe Communist plan for Hollywood was remarkably simple: “to gradually workinto the movies the requisite propaganda attitudes . . . to soften the American pub-lic’s hardening attitude toward Communism.”57 The idea was that leftist screen-writers doing Moscow’s bidding would subvert American attitudes from within.58

If only persuasion were so easy and predictable. To be sure, storytelling fre-quently needs the pivot point of a sudden change in attitude. It’s a sure thing thatwithin a two-hour film someone will undergo a significant transformation.59 Butthe dramatic and sudden collapse of the Soviet system after 1986 speaks to a morecomplex reality. Even the society that had allegedly mastered the techniques ofpolitical influence—from official Komsomols for teens to nearly complete controlof the mass media—could not hold back a yearning for political reform and a dif-ferent kind of society.

Every student of persuasion needs to keep in mind the fact that we have anenormous capacity to resist it.60 Mormon missionaries soldier on in spite of seem-ingly low conversion rates; advertisers know that even their best efforts are merelymaintaining current market shares for a brand; political candidates often realizethat the differences between victory and loss are in the narrow margins of theuncommitted. The suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt estimated that to win votes forwomen there were 56 separate referendum campaigns in the states, along with“480 campaigns to get legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters, 47campaigns to get constitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into stateconstitutions; 277 campaigns to get state party conventions to include woman suf-frage planks, 30 campaigns to include woman suffrage planks in party platforms,and 19 campaigns with 19 successive Congresses.”61 With such evidence of thechallenges of persuasion, it verges on understatement to note that we are not easyto change.

The primary result of resistance is a low degree of change, expressed in persua-sion analysis as the theory of minimal effects.62 In a nutshell, the analysis of manystudies of persuasion confirms that even apparently fluent and effective messageswill usually produce only minor changes in their intended receivers. In many cases,percentages of respondents asked to change their views or actions fall within the sin-gle digits. In one meta-analysis of media messages urging health-related changes(i.e., wearing seat belts while driving), Charles Atkin found a success rate of between5 and 10%.63 Even with an optimistic level of change at the high end, these lownumbers are a reminder that the vast majority of people targeted remain unmoved.

In some ways this is hardly surprising. Change carries significant costs for anindividual: sometimes in financial terms, but almost always in the subtle ways thatpieces of our identity must be reconstructed to reflect “new” choices. Consider, forexample, how much is psychologically on the line when we urge a friend to accept thelabeling of their behavior—perhaps drinking or gambling—as “addictive.” In short,because persuasion is about change it could create seismic shifts we aren’t willing toaccept, and successful resistance that allows us to avoid the challenges of change.

Finally, persuasion is also difficult because Americans live with a multitude ofdistractions. Not only do we now spread ourselves thin among various venues and

18  Chapter One

Woodward-Denton Page 18 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

forms of communication, but even in one form of media such as the Internet or aconsumer magazine there is an enormous amount of “clutter,” the advertisingindustry’s word for too many messages competing for attention in the same limitedplace. Historically, being in the same physical space and in direct communicationwith the target of a message was the presumed ideal context for successful persua-sion.64 We now assume that media technologies have successfully changed thatrequirement, and in some ways they have.65 But researchers generally find thatnewer ways to communicate with others (including texting and other social media)have different and mostly weaker direct persuasive effects than is possible in face-to-face communication.66 Health communication researchers have similarly discov-ered that a person sitting and watching a videotaped health message is less likely tobe compliant with a need to change than a person in face-to-face interaction with adoctor or nurse.67 That’s perhaps no surprise. Even amidst the tsunami of socialmedia and digital devices connecting us, it is still true that direct interpersonal con-tact represents perhaps the optimal chance to produce more than minimal change.

Even minimal effects can be important.We can never be indifferent about even small changes in attitude or behavior.

In the fields of politics and marketing, for example, it is useful to think of what wecall the “6-percent rule.” If only 6 percent of all buyers of a product or voters on Elec-tion Day chose other options, enormous change would follow. Voting margins sig-nificantly less than 6 percent have decided many elections. In 2000 and 2004 themargins of difference at the presidential level were very small. And overall, in our

Persuasion and Influence  19

Woodward-Denton Page 19 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

recent past, a 6-percent change in the popular vote would have denied Bill Clinton,George W. Bush, John F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon the presidency.68 There aremany other examples where a 6 percent shift would create significant social andcommercial changes. For example, women would be the dominant majority in theSwedish parliament;69 Miller High Life would be as popular a beer in the UnitedStates as Budweiser;70 Kellogg’s Corn Flakes would become the second most con-sumed breakfast cereal rather than the thirteenth;71 and a clear majority of Ameri-cans would favor allowing gays to marry.72

Persuasion can easily stray toward the arts of deception.The variety of cases we have cited remind us that the study of persuasion both

attracts and repels. Few questions are more intriguing than “What makes peoplechange their minds or alter the ways they act?” We have a natural curiosity aboutthe ways we manipulate and influence others and how others do the same to us,but through the ages persuasion has sometimes appeared to be the territory of char-latans and con artists. Some of its synonyms are instructive. “Brainwashing,” “sub-version,” “mind control,” and “subliminal persuasion” are only a few. In fiction andin fact, manipulative “con artists” represent villains, whether they are selling carsor duping believers. Villainous persuaders such as Jim Jones remind us that persua-sion can succeed for all the wrong reasons. Examine any list of classic or currentfilms and you can find a virtual rogue’s gallery of characters—Matt Damon’s TomRipley comes to mind73—who cynically exploit the fears and vanities of others. Onthe other hand, some of the New York jurors were mostly altruistic, doing theirbest to find the truth in the service of justice. As they debated and argued, their per-sonal inconvenience hardly mattered. At least some became committed to the ideathat their deliberations could “save” each other from making mistakes of reasoningthat might cost the freedom of the defendant. Study the leaders of the Civil Rightsmovement in the crucible of the 1960s and we see the pattern magnified: men andwomen who risked a great deal to promote a righteous cause.

Persuasion may spring from selfish or honorable motivations. We may gainmoney or prestige from our abilities to influence others, or we may act out of a gen-uine regard for the welfare of those we seek to influence. Although we harshlyjudge much persuasion as “propaganda” or “manipulation,” anyone could citecountless instances from personal experience where the communication of influ-ence was proactive and even “therapeutic.”74 Looking back, we could find thatsome who represented themselves as our friends were—figuratively speaking—peddling snake oil. Others who came across as scolds and critics were actuallyoffering something more valuable than we recognized at the time.

Persuasion outcomes are not very predictable.Despite all of the effort that we have devoted to the subject during the last two

thousand years, we are still a long way from creating a true “science” of persuasion.We can recreate and name many appeals, strategies, and theories, but we cannotmatch the “hard” sciences in fully predicting whether our persuasive efforts willwork in new situations. We have theories that suggest possible cause-and-effect

20  Chapter One

Woodward-Denton Page 20 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

sequences, but we really have no “laws” of human persuasion that can match the pre-dictive power of the laws of, say, physics. No doubt the prosecutors who addressedBurnett and his jury colleagues thought they were persuasive. If only they had knownof the unanticipated effects of their methods. Similarly, it’s unlikely McDonald’santicipated that its French ad might alienate the very people they thought they wereportraying in a sympathetic way. Persuasion that backfires and pushes members of atarget audience away from the action we wanted them to take is said to boomerang—and it’s far more common than most us would want to acknowledge.

Persuasion is not a field that allows safe predictions. There are times when theauthors reluctantly conclude that they are—at best—custodians of a range of enor-mously interesting questions and hypotheses about persuasion.75 Persuasionrequires us to settle for indefinite causation and contingent generalizations, all ofwhich are driven by personal rather than universal needs and logics. Where thebiologist can predict accurate timetables of progression and regression in cell for-mation, the student of persuasion deals with the much more volatile effects createdby the interaction between an individual’s personal biography and the ever-chang-ing circ*mstances of one’s contact with a message. We can uncover laws about theworkings of the physical world, but the origins of human action are far more diffi-cult to pinpoint.

 Three Types of CommunicationWe close with a brief overview of what persuasion is and is not. There is good

reason to explore what falls inside and outside the very permeable boundaries ofpersuasion. We discover what is unique about the task of urging change on othersby thinking about settings where this is not a goal.

Though not completely foolproof, a scheme that considers what we intend inour conversations and messages is helpful.76 Just as one can use a prism to refractordinary light into the primary colors, it is equally possible to break down commu-nication into its three primary motivations of information-giving, expression, andpersuasion. Although many complex forms of communication contain elements ofall three, their theoretical differences reveal how we sometimes deceive ourselvesabout our real intentions.

Pure InformationInformation-giving involves communicating facts, attitudes, or data with mini-

mal interest in whether others accept them. If someone asks for directions fromNew York City to the center of Philadelphia, an information giver might tell themto go through the Lincoln Tunnel and take the New Jersey Turnpike South. Thequestioner could comment that they dislike the congestion near the tunnelentrance, and find the Turnpike too crowded and busy. The pure information giverwill consider her task completed once the recipient indicates that they havereceived and understood the information. Generally speaking, reception andunderstanding are the key goals, not acceptance. Place a call to Directory Assis-tance, and an electronic voice will give you the number you seek. A GPS will domuch the same for a home address in a particular city. Check Wikipedia for the

Persuasion and Influence  21

Woodward-Denton Page 21 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

birth date of former President Jimmy Carter and the date—hopefully accurate—will speak for itself.

It’s a little trickier to sort out where the “pure information” line is crossed ifyou use mobile-phone “apps,” or even Google. An address or local informationwill appear. But many sites have the persuasive slant of favoring businesses andorganizations that have paid to be very visible on a searchable list. The softwareengineers, designers, and individuals who are providing such information may notbe especially interested in how we respond. But even ostensibly “informational”sites that get paid by businesses for “click through” from a user are involved insomething more than building just an “information society.”

Pure ExpressionPure expression is characterized by a desire to speak one’s mind rather than

have others agree or disagree, act or not act. We may want to unload our anger, joy,anxieties, or fears merely for the sake of the cathartic release it provides. Hit a fin-ger instead of the nail, and you have pure expression. It feels right to offer a verbalresponse even if no one is within hearing distance. It gives our feelings an outwardform, but it is undertaken more for the need it satisfies within us than for thosewho overhear it. Many expressions can make us feel better: lecturing the familydog for eating the furniture, cheering on the home team, or delivering a long rant toa patient friend about the injustices inflicted on us.

As many bloggers or Facebook aficionados can attest, giving our inward feel-ings outward expression can be its own reward. We know that others will see it, butthe release of expressing our opinion often matters more to us than subsequentposts about our message. Pure expression is not intended to elicit a reaction fromsomeone else; we say it because it feels right for us.

President Harry Truman was known for his habit of writing angry letters tovarious people that he never intended to send.77 He declared that the effect of hav-ing written them was enough—perhaps today’s equivalent of posts on variousonline sites and bulletin boards. Pure expression is egocentric; it is intended to be areport of our state of mind. In this mode we ask little of others beyond their consid-erable patience and silent acceptance. In ordinary life we understand the commonritual of taking turns with sympathetic others when communicating in the expres-sive mode. We sometimes need little more from the other than quiet acceptance.

Pure PersuasionPure persuasion differs from and is more complex than either pure information

or pure expression. It involves a new and fascinatingly complex dimension: a con-cern with how our ideas or actions will affect someone else. The persuasive mes-sage is constructed to be believed, not merely understood. In the language ofattitude research, it wants “reception” (understanding) as well as “yielding”(acceptance and compliance). A listener could reply, “I understand what you aresaying, but I do not accept it.” The information giver could be satisfied with theresponse; the goal of delivering information was achieved. The persuader, however,would be frustrated because the goal of commitment, approval, and willingness toincorporate the message in future thought or conduct was not achieved.

22  Chapter One

Woodward-Denton Page 22 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

In reality, these forms almost always overlap. For example, statistics on auto-mobile seat belt use indicate that wearing seat belts saves lives. These numbersare—in a simple sense—pieces of information. It is also easy to imagine a per-suader using them with the intention of gaining support for increased fines on indi-viduals who still refuse to wear seat belts. If listeners respond by saying that theyunderstand the statistics, the persuader might ask impatiently, “Yes, but do youaccept my conclusion?”

It is also apparent from these somewhat artificial distinctions that a good dealof persuasion occurs under the pretext of information-giving. Most of us are farfrom indifferent to how others accept even simple statements of fact. We wantapproval and acceptance from those with whom we interact. “Information-giving”is often an interesting deflection of attention away from deeper persuasive inten-tions.78 One thus needs to have a skeptical stance toward news stories, lectures, sci-entific reports, and entertainment. These are often offered as pure information ordiversion. But these benign intentions sometimes mask clear suasory objectives.News and entertainment, for example, depend on high circulation or ratings figures.Advertisers are attracted by big audiences. So most media forms use content toattract and hold audiences: a clear persuasive intent. Even professors have suasoryintentions. Professors hopefully impart the wisdom of their disciplines. But profes-sors “profess”; that is, they usually offer data and narratives within their own ethicaland value-laden boundaries. When a course is over, the self-contained world createdin the classroom may be abandoned by a student, but not until after the last exam.

Does this mean that all communication is persuasive? Have the authors falleninto the “expert’s disease” of describing their subject as the inevitable center of theuniverse? To both questions we give a qualified “no,” but it would not take mucheffort to engage us in a spirited defense of the view that most messages have at leasta latent persuasive attempt. Persuasion is a far more common process than may atfirst be evident. We frequently do want our messages to change the way others think,act, and feel. It may be the exception rather than the rule when a communicatorfeels genuine indifference toward whether or not the message is favorably received.

Even so, communication and persuasion are not interchangeable terms. Notall communicators have as their primary goal the listener’s acceptance of the legiti-macy and importance of their messages. To be sure, artists create, poets write, andmusicians perform in the hope that their work will fall on receptive eyes and ears.But it would be too simplistic to think that their work is primarily for us. Many cre-ative people we know would continue to do what they do even without an audi-ence. And the rest of us would soldier on in expressing our beliefs even without fullacceptance. In these contexts, it would be wrong to assume that the prime motiva-tion is total acceptance. Acknowledgment would probably be enough. But it is oth-erwise for persuasion. Persuasion exists for an audience. Fail with them and therereally aren’t many secondary rewards.

 SummaryThe study of persuasion theory is thus a journey best taken by the intellectu-

ally adventurous. The critic Kenneth Burke wrote that the effective analyst needs

Persuasion and Influence  23

Woodward-Denton Page 23 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

to be prepared to discard what does not work and constantly search for what does.“So we must keep trying anything and everything,” he noted, “improvising, bor-rowing from others, developing from others, dialectically using one text as com-ment upon another.”79 In that spirit this book draws on diverse and sometimesconflicting systems of knowledge, combining rhetorical models and social scienceresearch, strategic thinking with idealistic values, tested theories with educatedhunches. Sometimes we worry for the audiences of persuasion. And at other timeswe admire the cunning with which it is performed. If we have a bedrock premisefor the book, it is that human behavior is infinitely complex and varied. Individu-als do not react in consistent and predictable ways. We all carry personalized psy-chological ballast that allow us to weather challenges to our beliefs inunpredictable ways. The best we can usually achieve is a reasonable estimate of anappeal’s probable effects on an audience. Pietho—the daughter of Hermes andAphrodite and the Greek Goddess of Persuasion—seems to keep the clearestanswers to herself.

 QUESTIONS AND PROJECTS FOR FURTHER STUDY1. Some analysts have suggested that Jim Jones was a more effective persuader in

the remote jungle in Guyana than he was in the United States. What differencesare evident in the two settings that might explain the increased allegiance of hisfollowers in remote Jonestown? How do less dramatic changes in settings (suchas moving from home to a college campus) affect individuals?

2. Take a look at public service announcements prepared by the Truth campaign( The campaign receives money from the 1998tobacco settlement that gave government organizations funds to discouragesmoking. The campaign focuses on teens and tries to reach them in their ownvoice. After sampling some of their videos and materials, write a critique ofwhat you saw using some of the defining features of persuasion cited in the lasthalf of the chapter.

3. Offer your own critique of the French McDonald’s ad ( discussed in this chapter. How might its appeals foracceptance work in France? Speculate on why they would produce the same ordifferent results in the United States.

4. In Michael Mann’s 2000 docudrama, The Insider, we see CBS’s Lowell Bergmancoax a former tobacco executive into appearing on camera to reveal processes ofnicotine manipulation at the company, Brown and Williamson. The film is anextended case study of hard choices made in response to many instances of per-suasion and counterpersuasion. Identify a scene in another film where the focusis similarly on private advocacy. Study and discuss it.

5. Strong leadership may bring misery to those who succumb to persuasiveefforts—the Jonestown case being one of the most chilling. Identify other exam-ples of destructive persuasion. Identify positive cases that suggest persuasion canbe a constructive process. Compare your examples with a friend.

24  Chapter One

Woodward-Denton Page 24 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

6. Using examples of your own choice, probe the five features of the authors’ defi-nition of persuasion. How adequate are they? Does the definition fail to accountfor certain kinds of persuasion?

7. The authors suggest that persuasion can be contrasted to communication that is“pure information” giving, or “pure expression.” Why are these two categoriesexempt from the impulse to change others? How common are these two forms?

8. The opening discussion of Church of the Latter Day Saints missionaries sug-gests that the greatest impact they have may be on themselves. Explain the idea of“self-persuasion.” Why is the process of persuading others likely to intensify ourown commitment to the persuasion objective?

9. Food is the subject of a great deal of persuasion. What we should buy and whatwe should eat are increasingly at the center of debates about ethical, healthy,and sustainable living. Interview a friend or acquaintance who has “given up” aconventional food category such as meat. What persuaded them to change?How inclined are they to persuade you to change?

 ADDITIONAL READINGRobert Cialdini, Influence: Science and Practice, 5th ed. (New York: Harper Collins, 2009).Erwin P. Bettinghaus and Michael Cody, Persuasive Communication, 5th ed. (New York: Har-

court, 1994).Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (New York: Anchor, 1959).Rod Hart and Susan Daughton, Modern Rhetorical Criticism, 3rd ed. (Boston: Allyn &

Bacon, 2005).Daniel J. O’Keefe, Persuasion: Theory and Research, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002).Jefferson Pooley, “Fifteen Pages that Shook the Field: Personal Influence, Edward Shils, and

the Remembered History of Mass Communication Research,” in The Annals of the Amer-ican Academy of Political and Social Science, November, 2006, pp. 130–157.

Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson, The Age of Propaganda, Revised ed. (New York:Henry Holt and Company, 2001).

Herbert W. Simons, Persuasion in Society (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2001).



Origins ofPersuasive Practice

Woodward-Denton Page 25 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Woodward-Denton Page 26 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Woodward-Denton Page 27 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM


The Advocate in an Open Society


 Freedom of Expression and Its Limits

 Subduing Advocacy in a One-Party State

 Weighing the Value of Public Opinion“Man Is the Measure of All Things”Individual Freedom and the American Experience

 The Technological Push toward Openness

 How “Open” Is American Society?Governmental ControlsCorporate Controls


28  Chapter Two

Woodward-Denton Page 28 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

The only kind of path to freedom that makes intimate sense tomany of us, on a gut level related to our own experience, is one inwhich creative rebellion outwits overbearing authority.1

—Jaron Lanier

The word “freedom” sometimes comes across in political rhetoric as a shopworncliché; however, it’s worth pondering what living in its repressive opposite wouldmean. For example, in the harsh theocracy of modern Iran, one can be arrested forforming a rock band. And it’s double trouble if you happen to be a woman. Bah-man Ghobadi’s 2009 award-winning film, No One Knows about Persian Cats, took therisk of telling just such a story in the lives of Negar and Ashkan, two musicians intheir twenties who seek visas to flee their own country in order to carry on theirquest to perform.2 And he did it by filming the semi-documentary account of thisyoung woman and man as they struggle to gather other musicians for a secret con-cert in Iran before they escape for the freedom of Europe. Filmed surreptitiously inTehran with small cameras and a crew that was ready to blend into the crowd at thefirst sight of the police, we see musicians meeting in subbasem*nts or secret tun-nels, playing what they call “indie rock,” angst-ridden music that would seem athome on an American radio station. Ashkan’s rueful songs about love gone badand a world indifferent to change have already landed him in jail once. The policetrash apartments, musical instruments, and hidden recording studios before offer-ing up singers and guitarists to the authorities for sentences of two months or lon-ger. Even so, Tehran has a tough and sophisticated populous, half of whom areunder 35. Like thousands of other young musicians in the city, threats of beatingsor arrests at the hands of the cultural police only drive the music underground.Reviewing the film for The New York Times, A.O. Scott caught the utter sadness of agovernment that treats its talented filmmakers and musicians like criminals on therun, denying them the music that is the “universal birthright of modern youth.”3

The idea of persuasion naturally aligns with freedom of speech and press andall that implies: toleration of dissent in the classroom, the workplace, the recordingstudio, and the comfort of knowing that the individual rather than the state gets tomake fundamental life choices. The presence of rigorous debate and persuasion is akey measure of how truly free members of a society are. In this chapter we explorethe intimate link between democracy and persuasion. We will briefly trace both ofthese ideas back to their Western roots in the Mediterranean, and we will examinethe practical limits of persuasion in an open society like the United States.

 Freedom of Expression and Its LimitsSituated on Washington D.C.’s Pennsylvania Avenue a few blocks from the

White House, the Newseum offers an array of multimedia exhibits focused on the

The Advocate in an Open Society  29

Woodward-Denton Page 29 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

human impulse to connect with others through the 24-hour news cycle. The ultra-modern building is for a news junkie what the Air and Space Museum just acrossthe Mall is for fans of aviation. The building is filled with displays of historic news-reel footage, news-gathering equipment, and photographs of triumphs and traumasthat have consumed the United States since the Civil War. One exhibit, for exam-ple, features the remnants of the antenna mast that once stood atop One WorldTrade Center in lower Manhattan. The tangled remains are a testament to its vio-lent demise. It is surrounded by newspaper and visual news sources from 9/11, alltrying to capture the horror of the act and the stunned public’s disbelief.

Visitors from other countries visit this museum in large numbers, often search-ing for familiar mastheads from the enormous display of current newspaper frontpages: 500 from around the world. Our thirst for news is universal and endless, asthe Newseum’s fully equipped television studios remind us. They are frequentlybooked by national and international journalists producing talk shows, interviews,and other programming that will carry the prestigious dateline of Washington, D.C.

But many of those same international visitors are stunned when they reach theTime Warner World News Gallery on the third floor. Against a stark white wallunder a large sign that reads “World Press Freedom” stands a dramatic 22-foot-long world map. Each of the 197 nations in the world are carefully outlined inblack and colored in just one of three shades. Nations shaded green are designatedas having a truly “free” press. Governments within its borders do not try to censoror control what reporters cover—North America, most of Europe, Australia, andNew Zealand with a few isolated nations such as Ghana and Uruguay. Yellow des-ignates countries with a “partly free” press, covering most of South America,Southern Africa, and countries around the Mediterranean (including Italy). Thecountries shaded in red—“not free”—dominate the huge map. The journalism inall of China, Russia, most of the Middle East, Africa, and pockets in Latin Amer-ica and Southeast Asia exists under restrictive governmental rules. The map vividlyindicates that living in a country with a free press is the exception rather than therule.4 In 2013, Freedom House, a nonprofit organization that has published annualfindings about world press conditions since 1980, designated 63 (32%) countries asfree, 70 (36%) as partly free, and 64 (32%) as not free. Largely because China (notfree) and India (partly free) account for one-third of the world’s population, lessthan 14% of the population lives in countries with a free press. That is the lowestpercentage since Freedom House began incorporating population data into thefindings of its survey in 1996. The percentages of population in partly free and notfree countries were both 43%.5

A volunteer docent reported to one of the writers that many visitors cameaway from the gallery with hurt feelings. Israel wore the unflattering color of yel-low due to press restrictions imposed on Gaza. Italy also got the same colorbecause of “official interference in state-owned media.”6 With so many visitorsfrom those or other red or yellow nations, the docent noted, local residents takingforeign visitors on a tour sometimes do their best to steer clear of the third floor. Asthe Washington Post’s John Kelly notes, “It’s embarrassing to be walking throughthe lovely Newseum—heady with the tales of Edward R. Murrow, or Woodwardand Bernstein—only to look up at the map and see your country painted an unflat-

30  Chapter Two

Woodward-Denton Page 30 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

tering hue.” He especially remembers a lot of Italians who “were particularlycheesed off ” at seeing their country wearing the color of sharp cheddar.7

We naturally associate press freedom with personal freedom, individualism,and the robust public discussion of committed advocates. Conversely, the suppres-sion of an individual’s rights to public advocacy implies the opposite: intimidation,censorship of unwelcome attitudes or truths, and—in the worst nations—a prefer-ence for intimidation rather than reason. These can seem like distant threats untilwe remember the severe personal costs paid by individuals who have lost theirrights to freedom of speech and choice, whether it is a girl forced out of school in aTaliban stronghold or journalists jailed for publishing embarrassing informationabout their governments.

From a Western perspective, we assume that we have the right to influence oth-ers, just as they have the right to attempt to persuade us. We routinely believe thateveryone has the option to make claims on our loyalties: to encourage us to vote fora candidate, to speak out against a foreign policy decision of our government, tojoin a church, synagogue, or mosque. Rights of expression come with the possibil-ity to praise, criticize, solicit, or peacefully resist. They also imply the right to be leftalone: to live, work, and play without the intrusive surveillance of governments ororganizations.8 So while we may sometimes reduce persuasion to a mere set ofstrategies for getting our way, to do so misses the stake we have in the idea ofdemocracy as a contract with other members of a state to honor free advocacy.

 Subduing Advocacy in a One-Party StateIt is easier to see the centrality of persuasion in our civil life by looking in

places where vigorous social and political advocacy still strives for cultural legiti-macy. No single nation provides such an interesting collection of contradictoryimpulses as modern China, with its paradoxical rush into a consumer-orientedeconomy while clinging to a political culture that tolerates repressive censorship.

In many ways the nation is an economic miracle. Infrastructure improvementsin mass transit, roads, and economic development often surpass what civic leadersin the United States can even dream about. The centers of cities that many Ameri-cans rarely hear about—Guangzhou, for example—rival or surpass the skylines ofChicago or San Francisco. In one generation China hopes to create livable cities forover 600 million of its citizens, with Starbucks, McDonald’s, and shopping centersas widespread as they are in the United States.9 Not surprisingly, a dramatic rise intelevision commercials pitching a broad range of products and services promotesthe consumer society that the nation needs to sustain its growth. Yet this economicexpansion exists within a political structure that seems more appropriate to the oldSoviet Union.

The Chinese Communist Party is still recognized as the only legitimate nationalpolitical organization, and its ideology guides the decisions of most governmentalagencies. Every media outlet—from advertising agencies to Internet providers—must avoid violating the repressive rules. And nearly all churches, nongovernmentalorganizations, media outlets, university researchers, and organizations must defer tothe bureaucracies that interpret the party line. Among many other things, it is a

The Advocate in an Open Society  31

Woodward-Denton Page 31 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

crime to distribute material that “disturbs social order,” “preaches the teachings ofevil cults,” harms the “honor” of China, or “incites subversion.”10 “Subversion” isthe official term for intellectual lawlessness. Essentially, any public criticism of theparty or a top leader amounts to a treasonous act of subversion.

Some governmental censorship rules seem harmless. The 50,000 advertisingfirms in China are careful to avoid anything that is sexually suggestive, such aswomen in short skirts or glimpses of bare shoulders in shampoo ads. The greaterthreat arises when dissidents, academics, or journalists suggest that other politicalparties should be allowed or that corruption exists in high places. As an AmnestyInternational summary of China’s human rights record points out:

Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution stipulates that “Citizens of the People’sRepublic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of associ-ation, of procession and of demonstration.” The Chinese government’sNational Human Rights Action Plan 2009–2010, released in April 2009, alsostates that “the state will guarantee citizens’ rights to criticize, give advice to,complain of, and accuse state organs and civil servants.” Yet Chinese citizenscontinue to risk severe punishment if they publish or circulate materials theauthorities see as unwarranted criticism.11

A typical problem is the inability of citizens to dissent without running afoul ofthe prohibitions against subversion. For example, Tan Zuoren, an environmentaland human rights activist in Sichuan, was sentenced to five years in prison for pub-licizing the names of children who died during the Sichuan earthquake in May2008. He also sought to make public an independent report on the collapse ofschool buildings during the quake. His alleged crime was “inciting subversion ofstate power.”12 More embarrassing to the government was Norway’s decision toaward the prestigious 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to the jailed dissident, Liu Xiaobo.In 2009 he received an 11-year sentence also for “inciting subversion” after callingfor multi-party democracy in China.13

And then there is the curious case of regulations governing Tibet’s copy stores.Under new laws proposed recently by the central government, the local version ofKinko’s would be required to get a license from the state to operate and would beforced to keep a log of all their clients and what they sought to copy. The fear, ofcourse, is that Tibetans chafing under the heavy hand of the central government’s con-trols would make photocopies of statements hostile to the government. As one Tibetanactivist noted, “Basically, the main purpose is to instill fear into people’s hearts.”14

The dilemma for China is that its repression thwarts the natural cleansingpower of civil political opposition. That power is real: criticism is the self-correctingmechanism of change that a state needs in order to survive. Politicians in multi-party sys-tems understand that limits on the free flow of information and persuasion are dan-gerous. When one party is dominant, it might be tempting to try to limit theopposition. But electoral politics are a constant reminder that it is important to pre-serve freedoms for the days when another party is in power. The new minority partywill need the freedom to persuade others if they hope to return to majority status.

Perhaps the most anticipated test for China has come with increased usage ofthe Internet. In 2010 the nation added 40 million computer users for a total of over

32  Chapter Two

Woodward-Denton Page 32 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

300 million. The govern-ment has encouraged Inter-net use among business andmanagement leaders. Butamidst this widespread us-age it also has expressedconcern that “harmful” in-formation was too available.Over the years many foreignsites have been blocked, es-pecially—at various times—Google, Twitter, The BritishBroadcasting Corporation,and sites that discuss Tibet’sexiled Dalai Lama.15 Web-sites containing informa-tion about topics Chinaperceives as subversive, suchas the persecuted religiousgroup Falun Gong or Tibet,are censored.16

In North Korea thelack of choices for citizensis far worse. Visitors to that

tightly closed society report that any “legal” radio will only tune to an official gov-ernment station. Non-governmental stations are banned, as are books that mightbe carried into the country by visitors.17

Most residents of democracies expect that the bounds of social and religiouscomment will be broadly drawn. An open society is likely to produce ideas that oc-casionally offend or challenge mainstream beliefs. By being open, it tolerates andeven protects those views. It is an article of faith in liberal democracies that a cul-ture is often enriched by diversity. “What is freedom of expression?” asked SalmanRushdie. The British writer, who was put under a death threat in 1988 by Iranianclerics for writing a novel, noted that “without the freedom to challenge, even tosatirize all orthodoxies... it ceases to exist.”18

 Weighing the Value of Public OpinionHumankind has long struggled with the question of how much conformity

should be forced on individuals within a society. Since humans are by naturesocial, and since living together requires common rules (i.e., whether to drive onthe left or the right side of the road, whether criticizing others will be a crime,whether children shall be required to attend school), governments have alwayssought to impose laws and policies that civilize daily life. While Western societyincorporates the ideal of individual freedom into its laws and rules, the price of cit-izenship in totalitarian societies is often enforced silence. In more open societies,

The Advocate in an Open Society  33

Woodward-Denton Page 33 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

institutions and governments are more dependent on shared beliefs as the impetusfor social change.

As the Newseum map suggests, societies that accept a wide range of individualfreedoms are the exception rather than the rule. Those who have minimized therole of dissent and vigorous public debate as positive forces for self-rule have some-times had distinguished allies, such as the Greek philosopher Plato.

Plato spent part of his adult life at his Academy on the edge of Athens arguingthat democratic states were ultimately bound to fail. He thought ordinary peoplewere frequently incapable of making decisions about their communities becausethey lacked the intelligence and thorough training necessary for decision making.Democracies were likely to be governed by mobs unable to separate rhetoric fromreason.19 He believed that few citizens were capable of discriminating between thethoughtful judgments of the well-trained leader—described in The Republic as the“philosopher king”—and the irrational “pandering” of the well-trained persuader.Because democratic leaders are elected by the people, they would pander to citizenfears and fantasies rather than focus on the needs of the nation. The leader chosenby popular vote would substitute flattery of the “mob” in place of true wisdom. Tothe great philosopher, leaders guided by public opinion were bound to be as mis-guided as teachers who let their pupils decide what should be taught.

Plato’s view, however, did not go unchallenged. A prolonged debate over thewisdom of democracy developed between him and other teachers who traveledthrough the city-democracies along the coasts of Greece, Sicily, and Italy. He wasdeeply troubled and frustrated by the activities of these independent tutors, whomaffluent parents hired to educate their male children. (The enlightenment of the Hel-lenic world ended short of including women, slaves, and the impoverished as full cit-izens—even in democratic Athens.) Among the first tutors was Corax, who taughtpublic speaking skills to citizens who needed to improve their persuasive abilities inlegal and political settings. Plato scorned Corax and other itinerant teachers, whowere collectively known as Sophists. He disliked them partly because they workedoutside of the prestigious intellectual center of Athens and partly because virtuallyall of these teachers taught the techniques of persuasion. His aversion to the Sophistswas so strong that he named some of the weak-thinking characters in his dialoguesafter several of them. It is a tribute to Plato’s prestige that the term “sophistic” stillsurvives as a label of scorn for people who play too loosely with truth and fact.

In a famous dialogue against the practice of teaching persuasion, Plato writesparts for his own honored teacher, Socrates, and his democratically inclined oppo-site, Gorgias. In the dialogue, Gorgias is portrayed as superficial and illogical. He isno match for Socrates’ superior wisdom and is supposed to be an object lessonabout the false delusions of would-be leaders.20 The real Gorgias was born in Sicilybut taught and gave performances in many cities, including Olympia, Delphi, andAthens.21 Like all Sophists, he taught many different subjects, but always the art ofpersuasion. According to W. C. Guthrie, “a special feature of his displays was toinvite miscellaneous questions from the audience and give impromptu replies.” Tohis credit, “he saw the power of persuasion as paramount in every field, in thestudy of nature and other philosophical subjects no less than in the law-courts orthe political arena.”22 Like many of his contemporaries, Gorgias believed that the

34  Chapter Two

Woodward-Denton Page 34 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

freedom to speak in defense of opinions and beliefs required skill in knowing howto hold an audience’s attention and how to shape their attitudes.23

Though most of the dialogues of Plato are open to varied interpretations, it isclear that he believed that most issues that invited persuasion had a single best or“true” answer. Beauty, for example, was not in the eye of the beholder but rather incomparison to the ideal of perfect beauty. Likewise, he felt that large concepts suchas justice were not tied to individual values or specific circ*mstances, but to “per-fect” (and perhaps unknowable) forms. We might fall short of actually knowing allthat can be discovered about an idea, but better knowledge is always possible. Deal-ing with what ordinary people think—something most of the Sophists taught—wassimply a wasted detour from the path of truth. Since there is perfect truth, the mostfulfilled life is spent working toward perfection rather than popular approval.24 Ifthere was an ideal form of communication, Plato noted, it ought to replicate thekind of selflessness we would expect in two lovers: neither of whom would presum-ably seek to harm or mislead the other.25

In contrast, think of the Sophists as a merry band of hell-raisers: opportunists,populists, intellectual provocateurs, and suspicious of the received wisdom of thesages. If they were somehow transported to modern America as filmmakers, theirwork would more likely show up on The Daily Show than Meet the Press. Manybelieved that questions of public dispute were not resolvable by application of rigor-ous reasoning; they were better understood as preferences rather than truths, henceproperly left to be resolved in the arena of public debate. For instance, the questionof who would be most qualified to lead a government could not be settled by refer-ence to one single standard. There may be no single “true” choice but a range ofacceptable options based on the specific interests and priorities of different people.One leader may be better for one group but not for another. On policy issues, solu-tions that are considered “good” or workable may change as public attitudeschange. The short form of this standard led to perhaps one of the most discussedphrases to arise out of the classical world.

“Man Is the Measure of All Things.”For the Sophists in particular and for democracies in general, normative atti-

tudes are everything. We are as much about what we believe as what we know. Or,to put it another way, our values and aspirations are as important to us as the hardtruths or the philosophical or material world. Perhaps the clearest statement to thateffect came from Protagoras, who offered a convenient declaration that could serveas a seven-word definition of democracy. He said “Man is the measure of all things.”26

In matters that affect the collective welfare of a society, the people—not Gods or rul-ers—should be left with the power to judge what is just, true, and fair for themselves.

The concept of “man is the measure” is loaded with evocative implications. Thestatement is often interpreted to assert that there are no “natural” or fixed guidelinesfor conduct. The rules we live by cannot be gleaned from divine sources, only fromourselves. Or, as one scholar put it, “nothing exists save but what each of us per-ceives and knows.”27 But the phrase has two practical implications for persuaders.

First, it implies that many issues that spark public persuasion and controversyare about preferences rather than truths or ultimate answers. The Sophists made

The Advocate in an Open Society  35

Woodward-Denton Page 35 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

the common-sense observation that most answers to complex problems cannot berendered totally “false” or useless for all people at all times. In a decision as trivialas which brand of soap to buy, or as important as a decision to speak against a col-league’s proposal, the final choice is personal and unique to our situation. What wethink and how we feel determines how we act. No quest for absolute truth canremove the responsibility of making choices from a politician, a legislature, or theelectorate. Groups and constituencies have different answers and attitudes that maybe addressed and changed by outsiders. Sophists reflected the very modern idea ofintersubjectivity of knowledge—that in most realms of human affairs agreement mat-ters more than Truth as the arbiter of success.

Second, the phrase is a refreshing reminder that, ultimately, persuaders musthave faith in the good sense of an audience to locate both the wisdom and the“puffery” that comes with public debate. Aristotle seemed to echo this view him-self. He opened his persuasion text by stating a belief in the ultimate soundness ofpublic opinion formed by exposure to various sides of a dispute. Persuasion, henoted, “is useful because things that are true and things that are just have a naturaltendency to prevail over their opposites.”28 People, he felt, can judge for them-selves. In closed societies where decisions are reserved for the few, there will behostility to competition from others or “unofficial” explanations of events. Thetotalitarian leader can be expected to claim that a variety of viewpoints will “con-fuse” and “bewilder” the ordinary public. The democrat, in contrast, shares thepopulist’s faith in self-government and the belief that the public can find its ownbest answers in the give and take of full and vigorous discussion.

Individual Freedom and the American ExperienceWhile the Greek intellectual tradition had some influence, most of the thinkers

in the New World were more directly swayed by a belief in individual rights thathad its roots in the French Enlightenment of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others, aswell as widely read British intellectuals such as John Milton and John Locke. Fromthese European origins, the colonists acquired a belief in the “natural rights” ofhumans—freedoms given eloquent expression in the Bill of Rights and the Declara-tion of Independence. Underpinning these liberties was faith in reason and the free-dom necessary to give human logic its rightful sovereignty.29

In addition to their philosophical reasons, citizens of the colonies had the morepractical goal of establishing local democratic governments to replace the fre-quently indifferent colonial administrations. They wanted to be able to confrontthose who were legislating decisions and taxes—an impossibility when the seat ofauthority was in London. After the War of Independence, they designed indepen-dent states and adapted many legal principles and values from the governmentsthey had known in Europe. They attempted to secure for themselves what Englandhad provided for its own citizens: local governments with direct access to the legis-lative process and the right to raise and spend their own revenues.

They also had pragmatic reasons for breaking with England. The stories havebecome part of the American canon. Many families had come to the New Worldyears earlier as religious dissidents, most notably Baptists, Quakers, and Catholics.They sought safety in their adopted land by creating governments that were toler-

36  Chapter Two

Woodward-Denton Page 36 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

ant of difference. Liberty to speak out or to practice a religion different from that ofone’s neighbor was a means of self-protection. By moving to the establishment of aconfederation of states to replace rule by a monarchy, the newly independentAmericans attempted to assure that decisions affecting their lives (with the enor-mous exceptions of women and those enslaved as property) would be subject topublic discussion rather than private dictate.

The actual task of inventing a government in the late 1780s was not as easy.The founders of what would become the United States had to deal with one of thequestions that divided Plato and the Sophists: how strong a role should persuasionand public opinion play in setting policy? And could a nation be invented thatwould not see its civil life devolve into opposing parties?

Among the most eloquent voices was Thomas Jefferson’s. The unofficial phi-losopher of American independence expressed enormous faith in the ordinary citi-zen and favored local governments with direct ties to the “grassroots.” Jefferson isremembered for his strong opposition to a centralized federal government and hisbelief in the inherent wisdom of the common citizen. Along with John Adams,whom he eventually defeated for the presidency, he also shared an aversion to for-mal political parties.30

Other founders such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton had a gen-eral distaste for the power of unbridled persuasion. With limited faith in how freecitizens would ultimately exercise their liberty, they sought to balance the dangersof uncontrolled “factions” and mobs against the broader ideal of honoring individ-ual freedom. They feared that the “turbulence and contention” of pure democra-cies could produce “factions”—their code word for angry citizens who might formpolitical parties that could upset a government of independent thinkers. “So strongis this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities,” noted Madison,“that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fancifuldistinctions have been sufficient to kindle unfriendly passions.”31 Perhaps no fea-ture of contemporary American politics would disturb the nation’s founders morethan the realization of this fear. A highly partisan and dysfunctional AmericanCongress was not what most of the founder’s sought.32

Would the founders opt for a pure democracy or a republic of representativesbuffered from the explosive impulses of a persuadable crowd? In the Declaration ofIndependence Jefferson may have written the words, “all men are created equal,” butfew of his colleagues were willing to accept the idea that each should have an equalsay in the society and its government. They wanted an orderly and stable society,something not necessarily guaranteed in one-person-one-vote democracies. So thecolonists settled on a “safer” alternative that provided a layer of insulation betweenthe supposedly unpredictable passions of ordinary citizens and the cooler reason-ing of those who would run the government. They formed a republic, not strictly agovernment “of the people,” but a government of representatives who would beelected to act for the people. Even after the Constitution was adopted in 1789, onlythe members of Congress could vote for a president, and citizen voting wasrestricted to white male landowners. On the whole, the Constitution was intendedas much to protect wealth and property as to insure the natural rights of the citizenswho had waged war against the British.

The Advocate in an Open Society  37

Woodward-Denton Page 37 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Speaking for many others, Madison noted that “a pure democracy” was “nocure for the mischiefs of faction.”33 For him, a republic was a safe refuge fromrapid changes in public opinion. To this day, the Senate functions as a classic insti-tution of Madisonian government. Senators are insulated from the public’s wrathfor six years at a time, and each state regardless of population has two senators. It’sinteresting to note that if the Senate was true to the idea of full democratic repre-sentation, California would now have something like 136 senators to Wyoming’s2.34 In contrast, the House of Representatives is more democratic: members repre-sent districts of roughly equal size and must face voters every two years.

Thus, even in what many believe is the world standard for a free society, therewas suspicion of the power of the persuader. The fear that freedom of expressioncould combine with pure democracy to produce unwanted change was very realamong the designers of the new government. They believed in popular democracyand public persuasion, but only to a point. Most were less certain than Jefferson,who wrote that “government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the peoplealone. The people themselves are therefore its only safe depositories.”35 In times ofconflict with other nations, such as the “quasi-war” against France in 1798, evensuch esteemed advocates of personal freedom as John Adams supported the Alienand Sedition Acts, which were a strong rebuke to the idea of vigorous public debate.As in contemporary China, the acts made it a crime to utter or write “scandalous”or “malicious” statements against the government.36

With the impulse to restrict ideas we don’t like, it’s important to remember thatan open society is not only marked by a tolerance for differences but also by thedesire to see differences translated into constructive and peaceful change. Theresult is that new and sometimes unpopular ideas are given the chance to be heard,making government only one of a competing array of voices. Supreme Court Jus-tice Oliver Wendell Holmes clearly summarized the social necessity for freedom ofexpression in 1919, noting that free societies should offer a marketplace of ideas:

the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas—that the besttest of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competitionof the market.37

In an open society the verbal battles of all the “factions” that worried James Madi-son can actually empower individuals and help society renew itself. In the best ofcirc*mstances, the process of public debate gives people the chance to be more thancogs in someone else’s wheel.

The First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

38  Chapter Two

Woodward-Denton Page 38 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

The Technological Push toward OpennessSince freedom of expression is the defining trait of an open society, it is inter-

esting to see how totalitarian regimes cope with newer communication technolo-gies that undermine efforts to control what the public sees and hears.

The remarkable disintegration of single-party dictatorships in the SovietUnion, East Germany, Poland, and elsewhere in 1989 are fascinating examples ofchanges created in part by technology that ignores political borders. Eastern Euro-peans exposed to frequent doses of broadcast and videotaped television grewsteadily more impatient with the slow pace of political and economic change intheir countries. Inevitably, the growing tides of electronic information finallyswamped efforts by the old regimes to control it. Images of Western materialismespecially helped plant the seeds of dissolution that later produced popular upris-ings in favor of economic reforms.38 More recently, uprisings against old dictatorialregimes in Egypt and Tunisia did much the same, frequently with the help of socialmedia such as Facebook and Twitter.

But it is easy to overestimate the power of the Internet in revolutions.39 Evengiven its power to undermine “official voices” at critical moments of politicalchange, many believe that “new” media have yet to fully deliver on the promise ofredistributing the power to publicize ideas. Skeptics in the United States note theincreasing commercial dominance of the Internet portals and more mainstreammedia by a limited number of companies. The merger of Time-Warner and AOL in2001 was an early sign, as was the swallowing of YouTube by Google morerecently. As this is written Google has reached a plateau of about 65 percent of thesearch engine market.40 It and more recent arrivals like Microsoft’s Bing have aclear business model. In the words of Internet pioneer Jaron Lanier, ideas are now“minced into anatomized search engine keywords,” then “copied millions of timesby some algorithm somewhere designed to send an advertisem*nt.” The point isless about enlightenment than the production of “bait laid by the lords of theclouds to lure hypothetical advertisers.”41

True, anyone can now “publish” on the Internet. In theory the web idea of“net neutrality”—where search engines give equal access to all forms of web con-tent—dispenses with restrictive gatekeepers. But getting noticed on the crucial firstpage of a search engine result is still difficult. The exact algorithms of search engineplacement are notoriously secret. But most depend on overcoming the difficult hur-dle of having one’s web address linked to several “respected and powerful web-sites.”42 As anyone with a lone blog page has probably noticed, the trick to findingan audience is to devise ways to have your blog sitting as a clickable link from big-ger sites. In practical fact, those sites become their own gatekeepers.

The few remaining media conglomerates with vast holdings—Disney, Time-War-ner, News Corporation, National Amusem*nts (controls Viacom and CBS), andComcast (owns 51% of NBC Universal)—own a large percentage of the most populartelevision and print outlets in the United States.43 Although their holdings are diverse,the effect of their control is often to narrow the range of voices to which most of theAmerican public have easy access. For example, a person who spends her leisure timeconsuming HBO, Cinemax, Turner Classic Movies, Warner Brothers Films, CNN,

The Advocate in an Open Society  39

Woodward-Denton Page 39 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

and People magazine will not have ventured out of the Time-Warner empire. Similarly,watch a lot of ABC’s Good Morning America or ESPN, or three television stations inLos Angeles (of 30 nationwide) and the prevalence of stories about Disneyland shouldnot be a surprise, since all are owned by the same parent company.44 These mediagiants are likely to produce a skewed marketplace that preferences their own productsand divisions. It is a basic truism of modern life that new voices in film, magazines,music, and television will find that gaining a foothold can be difficult unless theyadjust to the demands of the few existing corporations that control most media access.

 How “Open” Is American Society?The right to free speech—the right to persuade—is alive and well in the United

States. However, it is not an absolute right, nor is it assured by a perfect market-place for ideas. In this section we briefly review examples from the fields of govern-ment and industry that suggest how far we sometimes stray from the ideal ofprotected rights to expression and persuasion.

Governmental ControlsThe First (and most important) Amendment to the Constitution states that

“Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.”But advocates have some-times been punished forthe “crime” of speakingout. Since the FirstWorld War, thousands ofAmerican citizens havebeen jailed for distribut-ing pamphlets againstwar, advocating the over-throw of the govern-ment, protesting againstthe military draft, march-ing against racial segrega-tion, and joining unpopu-lar political causes.45

Constitutional protec-tions are often not enoughto curb local authorities,in particular, from using(and misusing) sometimesvague statutes against li-bel (uttering “false” anddefamatory accusations),trespassing, spying, dis-turbing the peace, andmarching without a per-

40  Chapter Two

Woodward-Denton Page 40 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

mit. And many agencies within federal and state governments make extendedclaims for the right to keep supposedly sensitive information secret. Here are somerepresentative cases.

• The Washington Post’s Meg Greenfield recalled the story of a press officer inthe Arms Control and Disarmament Agency who told her that the names ofthe agency’s Advisory Commission were classified. But she pointed out thatthey were already printed in the public annual report and went on to notethat other classified documents of the agency actually included clippings ofnewspaper stories stamped “secret.”46 Clearly the federal government some-times overreaches to protect information that is sometimes more embarrass-ing than truly confidential.

• Soon after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, theState Department sought to prohibit Voice of America from broadcasting aninterview with Afghanistan’s Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Voiceof America is a government-supported radio service to many nations aroundthe world. State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher said “We didn’tthink that the American taxpayer... should be broadcasting the voice of theTaliban,” which has harbored terrorists groups.47 But at least one board mem-ber disagreed. “I happen to believe that any legitimate news organization inthe world would do that interview,” said Norman Pattiz. “And if the UnitedStates is going to be a proponent of a free press, it has to walk the walk.”48

The interview was eventually broadcast in spite of State Department protests.

• Professional librarians continue to be at the forefront in protecting the rightsof readers to read and publishers to provide content without governmentinterference. But sometimes the government that needs to be reminded of itsstake in the open society is the one in town rather than the District ofColumbia. Every fall since 1983 the American Library Association (ALA)sponsors “Banned Books Week” to draw national attention to censorshipand to celebrate the value of free and open access to information.49 TheALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom also compiles an annual list of the tenmost challenged books. Among the most common appearances on the lists(with their alleged sins) are: And Tango Makes Three, an award-winning pic-ture story about two male penguins who become parents (hom*osexuality);Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (masturba-tion); Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories (violence, occultism); and Khaled Hos-seini’s million-selling novel about friendship and betrayal between twoAfghan boys, The Kite Runner (rape, violence).50 To be sure, some books canbe inappropriate to young readers, but the association understands the differ-ence between guided reading and censorship.

• The USA Patriot Act passed by Congress in 2001 and reauthorized in 2006allows the FBI to examine the electronic records of libraries, ostensibly todetermine if someone is reading something that might jeopardize the safetyof the United States. Courts grant FBI warrants for these searches. Librari-ans contacted by the FBI are forbidden from immediately revealing to any-one that a search has been made. Although the reauthorization was

The Advocate in an Open Society  41

Woodward-Denton Page 41 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

supposed to protect the privacy of library users, “it’s virtually meaningless,”notes civil liberties lawyer Ann Beeson.51 The only way libraries can protecta patron’s privacy is to completely delete lending records after a book isreturned. Software for doing just that is increasingly used by many of thenation’s libraries.

• When NASA’s climate scientist made several speeches describing the rapidgrowth in climate warming, he was warned by his superiors that there wouldbe “dire consequences” if he continued. Presumably, his statements—whichwere at odds with the wait-and-see attitude of the Bush administration—would cost him his job.52 The threats came in the form of phone calls ratherthan letters or e-mails. James Hanson believed the calls meant there wouldbe no embarrassing paper trail of a government bureaucrat telling one of thenation’s leading climate scientists to sit on the results of his research. Newrules later issued at the behest of the Obama administration by the Office ofGovernment Ethics now make it easier for a professional at a federal agencyto speak out as a private citizen.53 However, as former employees have indi-cated, there are sometimes onerous procedures to follow before an expert ina government agency can express opinions or report on research directly tothe public.54

Issues that involve challenges to freedom of expression frequently requirechoices between competing values. In many similar instances, courts and legisla-tures have weighed the ideal of free expression and freedom of the press against thedesire for a peaceful and orderly society. Because advocates for causes have oftencreated inconveniences such as traffic jams or angry crowds, careful vigilance isnecessary to be sure that such problems do not become a pretext for curtailing theright to persuade. Similarly, we have come to expect that popular governmentshould mean open government. While it may be acceptable and necessary toaccept secrecy for activities such as pending military actions against terrorists, mostpeople are less inclined to accept a wall of governmental silence that holds backinformation that is merely embarrassing.

Corporate ControlsCompared to our counterparts in the late 1700s and early 1800s, our knowl-

edge of the world owes less to our neighbors and daily contacts than to the wealthof sources that come via the commercial media. Without question, our lives areenriched by ready access to the products of the nation’s publishers and broadcast-ers. Many of these essentially private, “old media” sources of information haveinherited a power that the first citizens of the United States could not have envi-sioned. As we noted above, major corporations—rather than governments or indi-viduals—now play a major role in encouraging and sometimes impeding the flowof information. The much-discussed “power of the media” involves advertisers,individual media outlets, and the parent corporations that use channels of publiccommunication. With some exceptions, advertisers are reluctant to underwrite thekinds of persuasion that may provoke public debate. They spend huge amounts toreach large audiences. In 2010 the program American Idol charged $642,000 for just

42  Chapter Two

Woodward-Denton Page 42 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

one 30-second spot.55 For such high stakes, advertisers want to entertain and toreassure audiences rather than to inform and provoke them. Few corporate spon-sors are interested in subsidizing television programs that question or attack theaudience’s judgments or attitudes. For their part, the privately held mass media inthe United States have increasingly replaced the back fence, the church, and thetown meeting as forums in which issues of the day are discussed. As George Gerb-ner noted, corporations can almost act as “private governments,” with the power tobuy access to the mass media as the virtual equivalent of the right to operate a pri-vate “ministry of culture.”56 The danger, of course, is that their agendas are notnecessarily the same as the public’s. Consider some of the following cases.

• In 2008 the European Union fined the Microsoft Corporation $1.3 billionfor engaging in anticompetitive practices that, they argued, had the effect oflimiting alternative voices and systems from reaching consumers. Amongthe other companies and systems frozen out by the alleged “monopolistic”practices of Microsoft were AOL, Word-Perfect, Netscape, Java, and rivalmedia players.57 With fewer Internet platforms, the EU notes, Microsoft hasbeen able “to protect its monopolies, which has led to a lack of choice,higher prices, and less innovation than would otherwise have prevailed in acompetitive marketplace.”58

• Yahoo, Microsoft, and America Online have turned over records of millionsof Internet search queries to American Justice Department Investigators.Presumably, the corporations felt they had to cooperate with intelligence-gathering efforts to fight “the war on terrorism.”59 Similarly, before mid-2010Microsoft provided a similar service of working with the Russian police toharass political dissidents who in most cases were using pirated copies ofWindows software. In essence, the huge American corporation allowed itselfto be a tool of political repression by aiding police who were anxious to findany reason to raid the offices of dissident writers, journalists, and bloggers.After coverage of this activity in the press, the software giant admitted thatthe policy was wrongheaded and has taken steps to end the practice.60

• Procter & Gamble is one of the nation’s largest advertisers and is frequentlyin the crosshairs of groups on the left and right for its traditional reluctance tobuy time in topical programming. In 2001 CBS decided to cancel its rebroad-cast of several episodes of Family Law after the company said it would with-draw its commercials. Episodes dealt with a range of hot-button issues fromthe death penalty to interfaith marriage. Procter & Gamble refused to discusstheir reasons, noting only that the program “has occasionally presented con-tent issues for us.”61 More recently, the company has also pulled ads fromprograms featuring conservative commentator Glenn Beck.62

• Apple’s iPad is a popular digital platform for all kinds of media, includingbooks, news content, blogs, and much more. But Apple has set itself up as agatekeeper for the content that it will provide. If someone wants to apply tobe an “application” for the digital tool, they must abide by a set of contentrules. “Applications may be rejected,” the company notes, “if they containcontent or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs,

The Advocate in an Open Society  43

Woodward-Denton Page 43 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

sounds, etc.) that in Apple’s reasonable judgment may be found objection-able, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, p*rnographic,or defamatory.”63 What can seem like benign limits to some can be veryrestrictive to others. Many repressive governments have used the same kindof language to restrict comment on leaders (in political cartoons or report-ing) or to repress works of art that have recognized merit. For example, in acase that chillingly duplicates the “subversion” language of the Chinese gov-ernment mentioned earlier, Apple initially declined to carry an applicationfor the iPhone and iPad by Mark Fiore, an editorial cartoonist, because “itcontains content that ridicules public figures.”64

• After Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks voiced her frustration about Presi-dent George W. Bush from the concert stage just prior to the start of the Iraqwar in 2003, radio airplay of the group’s music plummeted. Their 2006album, “Taking the Long Way,” was one of the first to open in the top spotof the country music sales charts, followed by a swift plummet when practi-cally no stations followed up. Criticizing the president put them on a countryradio blacklist.65

• In a memo issued by the Chrysler Corporation’s ad agency, magazines wereasked to notify the company if Chrysler ads were to run in issues that con-tained content “that encompasses sexual, political, social issues or an edito-rial that might be construed as provocative or offensive.”66 The companyobviously wanted its ads to run only around magazine content that wassafely entertaining and noncontroversial. As New York magazine’s MiltonGlaser noted, this kind of advance restriction has a devastating effect on theidea of a free press and of free inquiry.”67 In essence, the threat of ad cancel-lations forces magazines to opt for safer content.68 Companies that includeKmart, Revlon, IBM, AT&T, Ford, and Kimberly-Clark have sometimesdemanded what is called “complementary editorial content.” This often meanspassing up stories about politics or social issues in favor of softer features thatwill not offend any buyers. For example, at the end of 2011 Lowe’s homeimprovement centers pulled their ads from TLC’s cable program All Ameri-can Muslim, a reality show about a family living in Dearborn, Michigan.69

• In 2007, Verizon Wireless rejected a request from an abortion rights organi-zation to carry an application for text messaging. Naral Pro-Choice Amer-ica’s application was accepted by other wireless providers, but Verizonrefused, noting that it does not accept programs that seek “to promote anagenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controver-sial or unsavory to any of our users.”70 This is but one example in a growingbattle over the principle of “net neutrality”—the idea that Internet providersshould not discriminate against any legal providers of digital content. Land-based phone services still work on a “common carrier” basis, meaning theirsystems must be available to all persons and organizations in their serviceareas. But many wireless providers of phone and Internet content would likethe power to deny service to some Internet companies and groups, pleadingthe necessity of controlling access to networks with limited bandwidth. The

44  Chapter Two

Woodward-Denton Page 44 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

challenge is whether a carrier of Internet content should be allowed to essen-tially “cherry-pick” the kinds of sites or applications that they deem accept-able. To do so challenges the ideal of open access that has been the hallmarkof the Internet.

• A poll conducted by the Columbia Journalism Review and the Pew Center forthe People and the Press revealed that a quarter of the editors and reporterswho responded to a questionnaire admitted that they avoided certain legiti-mate stories that they felt would be unwanted by their bosses or advertis-ers.71 Self-censorship is thought to be a pervasive problem in journalism. Ithappens when normally curious and skeptical journalists decide not to pur-sue a story because of the tensions or risks it will pose for their organiza-tions. Is your future secure at ABC if you report critically on the hiringpractices at Disney World, which is part of the same empire? As a journalistand critic at Entertainment Weekly, can you afford to pan a movie released byWarner Brothers, which is also in the Time-Warner empire? Would it be agood idea for a journalist to write a series of stories about how to get the bestprice for a new car? Would it offend car dealers who are heavy newspaperadvertisers?72 Will NBC report on the embarrassing news that its corporateparent paid no federal taxes in 2010?73

To be sure, the best of the mass media can be remarkably independent of thepressures and views of advertisers, but the constant need for high ratings and largecirculation numbers is always a factor in the ways ideas are distributed. The found-ing fathers could not anticipate that public information would be so heavily tied toinformation industries dominated by major publishing and media corporations.Their idea of popular government was to disperse rather than to centralize influ-ence. They could not have envisioned meaningful discussion as something thatwould largely take place through paid media that frequently has an interest inmostly “safe” and nonpolitical content.

 SummaryThe role of the advocate in American society is basic. Few American values

are as cherished as the idea of a free and open society. Open and vigorous persua-sion, another right few would willingly give up, rests on the vital corollaries of openaccess to information and the basic right of self-governance.

Throughout history people who have built nations or studied existing societieshave disagreed about whether—when left to ordinary people—the power of persua-sion can result in decisions that show intelligence and civility. The choices we makeas individuals and as citizens of a nation may never fully satisfy critics of publicopinion who distrust its wisdom. But of this we are certain: the greater the diversityof choices within a nation, the more it needs vigorous public discussion. We sharewith Aristotle and the Sophists a faith in communities and societies to find theirown ways to enact the values and beliefs of their members. Although we acknowl-edge that persuasive activities as practiced by people like Jim Jones (see chapter 1)can have disastrous and lethal consequences, there is no better alternative. Even for

The Advocate in an Open Society  45

Woodward-Denton Page 45 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

societies that have clearly veered away from openness, rescue invariably comesfrom dissenters and creative thinkers who disseminate opposing viewpoints.

The real challenge facing members of open societies in the twenty-first centuryis to find meaningful ways to enfranchise citizens as participants as well as con-sumers of both “new” and “old” media. Newer forms of digital media will betamed and pacified if those who deliver their services can select the voices they willcarry. “Net neutrality” is an important cornerstone yet to be laid in this age of por-table communication. It is probably essential if we are to build on the classical leg-acy of free advocacy that started with the Greeks. The freedom to persuade isrendered meaningless if it does not include the opportunity for citizens on the mar-gins as well as the mainstream to reach diverse audiences.

 QUESTIONS AND PROJECTS FOR FURTHER STUDY1. One of the current battlegrounds over freedom of expression in the United

States centers on the Internet. In 1998 the Supreme Court struck down legisla-tion that would have put significant curbs on Internet content. Develop a posi-tion on the question of whether public libraries should employ “blocking”software that would limit reader access to “sensitive” sites (i.e., sites that dealwith sexual, political, or religious content).

2. The pioneering Internet designer and philosopher Jaron Lanier has complainedthat, for all its apparent democracy, the web seems to turn us into compliantherds as much as it enables true democracy.

There used to be a clichéd conversation in Silicon Valley that happened so oftenthat you only needed to get a whiff to know what was about to be said. One per-son would say, “This thing we’re doing lately—giving people free software treatsin exchange for gathering data about them as if we were spy agencies and thenselling personal access to the highest bidder—is starting to feel creepy.” Theother would say, “Yes, it feels kind of creepy to me too, but we mustn’t thinkonly of ourselves. Think of the poor, oppressed people living under lousy gov-ernments who will be saved by this stuff ! We’re doing it for them!”... It seemsapparent, alas, that Facebook, Twitter, etc. have not improved Americandemocracy, and yet we expect these tools to promote democracy elsewhere. Thebasic problem is that web 2.0 tools are not supportive of democracy by design.They are tools designed to gather spy-agency-like data in a seductive way, firstand foremost, but as a side effect they tend to provide software support for mob-like phenomena.74

Agree or disagree with his skepticism and explain your reasons.

3. The right to freedom of expression is easiest to defend when we consider thecause to be a “good” one, but free speech issues often develop from more unpop-ular roots. In 1977, for example, the American Nazi Party decided to hold aparade and make speeches in Skokie, Illinois. The northern suburb of Chicagohas a large Jewish population, many of whom were survivors of Hitler’s infa-mous World War II death camps. If you were the judge presented with Skokie’srequest to issue an injunction against the march, what would you decide? Try to

46  Chapter Two

Woodward-Denton Page 46 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

defend your decision to another member of the class. Look at Nat Hentoff ’sbook, The First Freedom, to find out what actually happened.

4. In The Republic, Book VIII, beginning at section 554, Plato describes the prob-lems in democratic governments. Read the pages of this section, consider hisarguments, and prepare a short summary of his complaints against democracy.Use his analysis as the basis of a paper or a short oral summary presented toother members of your course.

5. Some American journalists describe the ongoing tensions between Israel andPalestine as the “third rail” of international reporting. They note that they oftenhear from angry readers or viewers, particularly if their reports seem to be sym-pathetic to the ongoing humanitarian crisis that is the reality of today’s WestBank. View Jut Shally’s 2005 documentary, Peace, Propaganda and the PromisedLand (available at many libraries) and comment on the film’s thesis that theAmerican media are “unfair” in their coverage of the Palestine. Is the film cor-rect? Are there commercial or political considerations that might curtailenhanced coverage?

6. The 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and New York’s World Trade Center stillpose serious questions for an open society. How much freedom should weexchange for security? Should we curtail visas for visitors and students? Shouldwe give up some of our privacy for the protection of ourselves and others? Howtolerant should we be of airport searches, clandestine government wiretaps, andseizures of property? Write an essay for accepting or denying any one of theseforms of curtailed freedom.

7. Interview one or two longtime bloggers. Raise some of the issues discussed inthe chapter, including these questions: How do they know they are reachingothers? Is their blog easily accessible on most search engines? Is the Internet areasonable alternative to the traditional public forums of news outlets, publish-ing, or filmmaking? Would they feel the need to alter their content if theyaccepted advertising?

8. The text asks: “As a journalist and critic at Entertainment Weekly, can you affordto pan a movie released by Warner Brothers, which is also in the Time-Warnerempire?” But it does not directly answer the question. Develop a study to surveymovie reviews in the magazine. Is there evidence that the magazine has a freehand to be critical of films released by another branch of the company?

9. One non-partisan group that fights media mergers and is a consistent advocatefor “net neutrality” is Free ( Take a look attheir website and do one of the following: (1) Identify an issue they cover thatyou think is significant in preserving the freedoms of advocates in an ageincreasingly dominated by large media companies. (2) Identify an issue they dis-cuss where you believe they have overstated the risks to our freedom of speechor press. In either case, state your reasons clearly.

The Advocate in an Open Society  47

Woodward-Denton Page 47 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

 ADDITIONAL READINGAristotle, Rhetoric, in Richard McKeon (Ed.), Basic Works of Aristotle (New York: Random

House, 1941).Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, Enlarged Edition (Cam-

bridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1992).W.C.K. Guthrie, The Sophists (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1971).Nat Hentoff, Living the Bill of Rights (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (New York: Knopf, 2010).Don Pember and Clay Calvert, Mass Media Law, 18th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013).Plato, The Republic, Books VII–VIII. Trans. W. H. D. Rouse in Great Dialogues of Plato, ed. Eric

Warmington and Philip Rouse (New York: Mentor, 1956).

Woodward-Denton Page 48 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Woodward-Denton Page 49 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM


The Advocate and theManagement of Symbols


 The Nature of LanguageSignsSymbolMeaningFunctions of Language

 Language, Interaction, and RealityThe Creation of Reality through InteractionSelf as a Product of Interaction with OthersSociety as a Product of Interaction with Others

 Political Uses of LanguageFunctions of Political LanguageStrategic Uses of Political LanguageCommon Political Language Devices

LabelingAcclaiming, Attacking, and DefendingDoublespeakHate SpeechRidicule

 The Changing Nature of Public and Political Discourse


50  Chapter Three

Woodward-Denton Page 50 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

When we claim to have been injured by language, what kind ofclaim do we make? We ascribe an agency to language, a power toinjure, and position ourselves as the objects of its injurious trajec-tory. We claim that language acts, and acts against us, and the claimwe make is a further instance of language, one which seeks to arrestthe force of the prior instance. Thus, we exercise the force of lan-guage even as we seek to counter its force, caught up in a bind thatno act of censorship can undo.1

—Judith Butler

Symbols and language direct attention. Shakespeare pointed to the arbitrarynature of language symbols in Romeo and Juliet: “What’s in a name? That which wecall a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” While accurate, it is also truethat words and their connotations can set a course of action from which it is some-times impossible to recover. On September 11, 2001, the United States suffered anattack that was quickly characterized as this generation’s Pearl Harbor. The com-parison was powerful. Before a joint session of Congress, President Bush pro-claimed, “on September the eleventh, enemies of freedom committed an act of waragainst our country. Americans have known wars—but for the past 136 years, theyhave been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941. Americans haveknown the casualties of war—but not at the center of a great city on a peacefulmorning. Americans have known surprise attacks—but never before on thousandsof civilians. All of this was brought upon us in a single day—and night fell on a dif-ferent world, a world where freedom itself is under attack.”2

We were “at war,” but a very different kind of war, a “war on terror.” What didthat mean in terms of tactics and strategies? Who were our enemies—nations orgroups like al-Qaeda? In some parts of the world, the attackers were “terrorists,” inother parts, “freedom fighters.” President Bush caused alarm and outrage in theIslamic world for using the word “crusade” to describe the fight against terrorismbecause the term evoked images of Christian soldiers battling against Islam duringmedieval times. There was even a debate within newsrooms across the nationabout whether or not anchors and reporters should wear flag pins or ribbons.Reuters news service instructed reporters to preface any descriptions of attackerswith “so-called.”3 The major networks, except Fox News, decided that anchorsshould not wear flags or ribbons.

In 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the law requiring mostindividuals to obtain health insurance coverage or to pay a yearly fee. In the opinion,Justice Roberts wrote that the federal government does not have the power to orderpeople to buy health insurance; if read as a command, the Patient Protection andAffordable Care Act of 2010 would be unconstitutional. He continued that the fed-eral government does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insur-ance; the act “is therefore constitutional, because it can reasonably be read as a tax.”4

The Advocate and the Management of Symbols  51

Woodward-Denton Page 51 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Symbols and language have enormous consequences, as these examples dem-onstrate. The childhood adage that “words can never hurt me” is often devastat-ingly inaccurate. In this chapter, we will investigate the nature of language, identifythe elements of language and meaning, consider how language allows us to createthe realities on which we act, and examine the political uses of language.

 The Nature of LanguageHuman language is a marvelous and powerful tool. Most of our early educa-

tion in language emphasizes the meaning of words, their placement in sentences,and how sentences form paragraphs. Language, however, is far more than a collec-tion of words and rules for proper usage. Language is the instrument and vehicle forhuman action and expression. Contrasting the “extensional world” with the“intentional world” illustrates the importance of language. The extensional world isthe world of our senses. We are aware of the room we are sitting in—the color ofthe walls, the texture of the carpet, the comfort of the chair—because we experi-ence it firsthand. The intentional world is the world of language, words, and sym-bols. We know this world by what we read or what we are told. Even if we havenever been to Europe, we can describe many European things, people, and places.We know a great deal about the Civil War (the culture, the issues, the battles) notbecause of firsthand experience but because of what we have read or heard. Ourfirsthand experiences are very limited. For most of us, the world we know andunderstand is based on the symbols of language.

Language can describe direct experience as well as past and future events; itcan detail the reality confronting us or possibilities that do not yet exist; it is capa-ble of transmitting both true and false messages with equal skill. Theorists often usethe terms signs, symbols, and meaning to explain the capacity of language to accom-plish all this. While there is debate over the terminology, it is useful to explore someof the definitions because they provide insights that are helpful both for choosinglanguage to convey a persuasive message and for dissecting messages received.

SignsSusanne Langer describes a sign as a natural indication of the existence of a

condition. Lightning is a sign that a thunderclap will be heard; fever is a sign of anillness; the tapping of a beaver’s tail is a sign of danger. A sign is a symptom of aparticular happening; the two are linked by a direct relationship. Another usefuldistinction about signs is their one-to-one relationship with what they signify.While stop signs are not a natural occurrence, they do have a simple meaning oncelearned. They do not invite interpretation; they signal a required behavior. Symbolsdo not have any natural association with what they signify. For Langer, signsannounce objects, whereas symbols induce conceptions of objects.5

C. S. Pierce divides signs (a category he uses to name all human signifyingactivity) into icons, indices, and symbols.6 Icons are replicas of what they represent;they resemble, in some way, the objects they stand for—the universal symbols formale and female restrooms, crosses displayed in churches, or maps of territories.An index signifies an object by having been affected by it; there is a cause-and-

52  Chapter Three

Woodward-Denton Page 52 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

effect relationship—dark clouds and high winds are an index of thunderstorms.Icons and indices have some connection with the objects they represent. In con-trast, symbols are arbitrary; they have no connection with what they represent anddepend on conceptual thought and shared understanding for meaning.

SymbolsErnst Cassirer described three aspects of a symbol: it stimulates sensation; it

stands for something other than itself; and it depends on convention (establishedthrough agreement) for what it stands for—there is no natural relationship betweenthe symbol and its meaning.7 Ferdinand de Saussure divided linguistic signs (whichCassirer and Langer would have labeled symbols) into two parts. He referred to theinitial sensation—the psychological imprint—as the signifier. The mental concepttriggered by the signifier is the signified.8

Symbols, in contrast to signs, may have many relationships to the thing signi-fied. Your name is a symbol that stands for or represents you. A minister is a sym-bol and stands for or represents a specific set of beliefs, values, and modes ofconduct. Words are symbols that are conventionally agreed upon to represent cer-tain things. Words are convenient symbols. They simplify the amount of informa-tion needed to communicate about something. We need only say “chair,” and weknow that it is an item upon which we sit. We do not need to describe and explainthat a chair is an item with a seat, back, and legs that support one’s weight. Sym-bols are flexible, arbitrary, and culturally learned.

MeaningThe relationship between a symbol and the thing it represents is what we call

meaning. There is no one-to-one relationship between symbols and meanings. C. K.Ogden and I. A. Richards devised the semantic triangle to articulate the relation-ship of the symbol, object, and meaning.9 Their relational diagram (figure 3.1) dis-tinguishes among the elements of thought, symbol, and referent.

The simple diagram represents a very complex and varied process. At the apexof the triangle is the reference or thought the speaker has of an object or event. Atthe bottom right of the triangle is the referent or actual object. The symbol, at thebottom left of the triangle, abstractly stands for the object. It is important to note thatthere is no direct connection (thus, the dashes) between the symbol used and the ref-erent. The only connection is through the thought. In other words, thought, symbol,and referent do not represent an equation. Meanings exist in people, not in the sym-bols themselves. Two individuals could see the same referent—a sleek convertibleparked at the curb—use the same symbol (“Corvette”) and have two radically differ-ent thoughts: “dream car” versus “overpriced, uncomfortable piece of fiberglass.”

The process of using signs and symbols to represent things is called significa-tion. Umberto Eco divides this process into four interrelated steps: (1) objects inthe world, (2) signs (meaning anything that designates something other than itself),(3) a repertoire of responses, and (4) a set of corresponding rules. Symbols are cre-ated as we develop an ever-expanding set of responses to stimuli. For there to becommonality and understanding, rules evolve to govern the structure of human

The Advocate and the Management of Symbols  53

Woodward-Denton Page 53 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

communication. Words, as symbols, are arbitrary; they are created by humans andhave significance only when two or more people agree to some general interpreta-tion of the symbol. Everyone assumes the meaning of “chair” is clear, yet yourmother may visualize a Queen Anne chair, while your father thinks of a big, com-fortable recliner. Thus, words and symbols, even ordinary ones, have multiplemeanings. In fact, the English word with the most meanings is “set.” The word has464 meanings in the Oxford English Dictionary!10 If simple concepts have so manyinterpretations, imagine the difficulty with abstract concepts such as freedom,equality, or liberty.

Human use of symbols allows us the capacity to see what might be as well as tosee what is not. Burke referred to humans as “inventors of the negative.” There is nonegative in nature; the negative is a creation of language—it is a concept with noreferent in the physical universe.11 Arthur Asa Berger asks:

Have you ever wondered why it is that often when you think of a word, theopposite of the word pops into your head?... It is because meaning is rela-tional. Nothing means anything in itself, and everything means somethingbecause of some kind of relationship in which it is embedded.12

Berger continues his explanation by pointing out that rich has meaning only if weknow what poor means; large is useful only as compared to small. He cites Sau-ssure’s belief that “concepts are purely differential and defined not by their positivecontent but negatively by their relations with the other terms of the system.”13








ct rela



Thought or Reference

recollections of past expectations

no direct relationshipSymbol

word that signals the referentin the thought process


object that creates impressionsstored in thought area

Figure 3.1 The Relationships among Symbols, Thoughts, and Objects

54  Chapter Three

Woodward-Denton Page 54 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

The ability to see negative relationships has a companion image. We makechoices about categories to which a new stimulus belongs—we decide it is not onething but has similarities to another. We make connections between the world ofthe senses and the world of symbols. “The senses direct attention to particular stim-uli or phenomena, to which humans then assign varying degrees of significance.”14

This is the basic process of language—connecting symbols to experience.Ernesto Grassi adopted the term ingenium from Giambattista Vico to describe

the human ability to see relationships and to meet the demands of the world.15 Themetaphor is an example of how ingenium operates in language. Aristotle long agoanalyzed the usefulness of metaphor. He described it as uncovering relationshipsnot previously seen. Cicero used a metaphor to “illuminate” how metaphors oper-ate. He said metaphors act as lights in providing insight into relationships.16 Inseeking meaning, we need to be aware of both positive and negative relationships.

Context plays an important role in establishing the meaning of symbols. I. A.Richards believed symbols have meaning because they have previously been mem-bers of a context that made an impression on us. Words later serve as substitutes forthe part of the context missing from subsequent similar experiences. He used theterm “comparison fields” to refer to the contexts of previous experiences that colorthe meaning of the present experience. Effective communication requires commonexperiences—an abundance of shared comparison fields so that when the speakerdescribes an experience the listener has a basis for understanding. Human commu-nication is really a stirring-up process rather than a transmitting process. Contex-tual factors that influence meaning include: the social status of speakers, the socialconventions governing the speech act, the physical and social-cultural environ-ments, and previous discourse between the parties.

The Advocate and the Management of Symbols  55

Woodward-Denton Page 55 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

We can subdivide meaning into two categories. Denotative meanings refer toformal, dictionary meanings for words. The relationship between the word and itsmeaning is generally universal and informative. The definition describes essentialproperties of the referent. In this context, the word “chair” denotes an object uponwhich one sits. The denotative sense of most profanity, if analyzed literally, wouldhave little application to the situations in which it is used. It is the connotativemeanings of words that provide positive or negative overtones. In this sense, therelationships between the word and the object are individual, personal, and subjectto interpretation. If we say that an individual “sits in the chair of power,” we meanmore than the object upon which the person sits. For some people, the eagle meansmore than a bird, the flag more than a piece of cloth, and a cross more than a pieceof wood. As a result, words can have positive and negative meanings simultane-ously. For some, abortion is murder. For others, it is a constitutional right.

The meanings of words change over time. In the 1960s, something “bad” wasawesome. Back then, a “dude” was a geek. Today, a “geek” is a nerd. The word“sick” doesn’t mean ill but refers to something that was awesome, cool, or surprising.

There are several conclusions we can generate about the relationship betweensymbols and the things symbolized:

• Meanings are in people, not in words. Words evoke different meanings indifferent people. They are relative and are based on shared experiences andcommon culture. As Dan Rothwell asserts, “When we treat words as things,it is tantamount to eating the menu rather than the food.”17

• As society and culture change, so do common meanings of words and theiracceptable usages. The words “colored,” “Negro,” “black,” “Afro-Ameri-can,” and “persons of color” have referred to the same ethnic group duringthe past half-century, and each word has varied in degree of acceptability.

• No word is inherently good or bad. The acceptability of words is culturallydetermined.

We will explore each of these implications further as we continue our discus-sion of language.

Functions of LanguageLanguage is an organized, agreed-upon, yet arbitrary system of symbols for

communication. It has two broad components: the structural component focuses onthe hierarchical organization of language and the use component focuses on how weuse language in daily life.18

According to Ann Gill, there are several criteria for a language.19 Any lan-guage involves the production of physical stimuli in some channel of communica-tion. Humans create sounds or “marks” receivable by auditory, tactical, or visualchannels. The stimuli created must be reproducible and receivable by a distinctgroup of people. In other words, a language system requires more than one person.Interaction, and hence communication, involves an exchange of symbols. Thestimuli exchanged must impact or affect the listener, resulting in some reaction orresponse. Finally, all language systems have some nonrandom rules governing thelanguage system. Rules include syntax, punctuation, and grammar.

56  Chapter Three

Woodward-Denton Page 56 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Language serves four broad, basic functions. First, language is a practical toolfor getting things done. Each language system allows us to share information andto express desires. It allows us to function as a unit—to build, to create, and todestroy. Language is our primary means of relating to the environment and to oth-ers; language habits reflect our personality and emotional states. Through lan-guage, then, we organize reality and seek security and information. Language isthe infrastructure of human culture.

Second, language facilitates thought and creativity. Edward Sapir and Benja-min Lee Whorf argued that language is the basic port of entry for nearly all formsof higher experience.20 In any society, the linguistic system shapes ideas and guidesmental activity; “the structure of a culture’s language determines the behavior andhabits of thinking in that culture.”21 To be sure, we don’t need the word “hot” tounderstand that we will burn our finger if we hold it too close to a fire. Our sensoryorgans enable us to directly experience the heat. But most of modern life involvescharacterizations of other’s actions and motives—ways of looking at the outsideworld that are guided by acquired vocabularies. Perception guided by language cre-ates worlds from which it is difficult to escape. Racism in children, for example, isverbally created. If children live in a family environment that defines difference asless desirable, they are guided to see ethnic differences. It is interesting to note howour evolving vocabulary creates new sensitivities and sometimes lets old ones die.Fifty years ago Americans did not talk about attention deficit disorder, sexualharassment, post-traumatic stress syndrome, or perimenopause. The terms are newbut not the states of mind or physical conditions they describe. The power to nameenhances our ability to see. Vocabularies function as environments. Like all envi-ronments, they determine the limits and boundaries of our world.

Language is based on human experience. It is a way to name happenings andto establish categories that differentiate particular stimuli. At one extreme, we mayargue that each word is simply a name of a category of experience, because mostlanguages do share thousands of common categories. For example, the Englishword “horse” is the French word “cheval” and the German word “pferd.” Somecategories of language, however, are untranslatable. The reasons may be grammati-cal, semantical, or experiential. Each language system provides special ways ofcommunicating about experiences; those specific ways of communicating createunique needs, responses, ways of thinking, and behavior.

Language is not just a collection of names for objects and ideas; it colors andshapes the reality perceived. As Ann Gill points out, some concepts are beyond ourgrasp because we have no signifier for them.22 Without the signifier there is no sig-nified. She creates the word “dewonks” to symbolize humans in their teens missingteeth. If dewonks became commonly accepted usage tomorrow, we would seedewonks frequently, even though yesterday we were not aware of them.

Third, language is a key element in shaping society. Most social scientiststoday argue that people’s understandings of the world are shaped by the languageavailable to them. If we are, as Aristotle proclaimed, social animals, then languageallows us to be so. Through language we define social roles and rules of behavior;our behavior is often regulated more by words than by physical force. S. I. Hay-akawa has noted that language has the same relationship to experience as a map

The Advocate and the Management of Symbols  57

Woodward-Denton Page 57 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

does to an area of land.23 A map is a pictorial representation of the territory. To beuseful, it must be accurate and current. If not, we might get confused, lost, or eveninjured. Thus, it is important that a map reflect precisely the physical territory itrepresents. This is also true for language. Our language system must reflect accu-rately the extensional, empirical world. The symbols of “liberty,” “equality,” and“equal opportunity” do not reflect the real-world experience of some citizens.Frederick Douglass, an ex-slave, was invited to speak at a meeting sponsored by theRochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in July 1852 in Rochester, New York.

Fellow citizens—Pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon tospeak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your nationalindependence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural jus-tice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?... Theblessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common.24

Disagreements over the meanings embraced by some can escalate to violence.Hitler described a world unacceptable to other nations, and war followed. PatrickHenry articulated the importance of liberty for people that resulted in a commit-ment to arms. In each case, language was the vehicle for social, collective action.

Finally, language links the past with the present and makes civilization possi-ble. We can record our ideas, thoughts, plans, and discoveries for future genera-tions. We can then build on that knowledge and experience. Isolated, alone, andunable to communicate through words, we would have to rediscover again andagain the making of fire, the use of tools, the treatment of disease, and so on. Weare, therefore, a product of all who have preceded us. Human knowledge growsbecause we can record and transmit past knowledge. We do not need to start oureducation again each day; instead, we benefit from centuries of recorded knowl-edge and experience.

Frank Dance identifies three functions of speech communication from a psy-chological perspective: to link an individual with the environment, to develophigher mental processes, and to regulate both the internal and external behaviors ofpeople.25 Joshua Whatmough developed a fourfold classification system of thefunctions of language from a linguistic perspective: an informative function of lan-guage that conveys information, a dynamic function of altering attitudes and opin-ions, an emotive function influencing the behaviors of others, and an aestheticfunction of language.26 Both these scholars recognize the persuasive function oflanguage usage.

Related to the perspectives presented thus far, Roman Jakobson provides acomprehensive classification of the functions of language.27 In his system, eachfunction is associated with one of the six essential elements of human communica-tion: source, channel, message, receiver, language, and thought (or referent). Emo-tive speech is associated with the speaker (source) and expresses the beliefs,attitudes, and values of the source. Phatic speech keeps channels of communicationopen and provides social cues for interaction; it creates social relationships. Simplegreetings are examples of this speech function. Cognitive speech is associated withthe message—it deals with the world of information, description, and ideas. Rhe-torical speech, according to Jakobson, is the most complex of all functions of lan-

58  Chapter Three

Woodward-Denton Page 58 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

guage. It seeks to influence the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of others. It is thelanguage of politicians, salespeople, and the clergy. It is the ultimate speech of per-suasion and influence, most associated with the receiver. Metalingual speech is talkabout speech itself. It is of a higher order, is more abstract, and is associated withlanguage, the code of communication. Finally, poetic speech structures the mes-sage in an aesthetic, distinctive, and pleasing way; it is associated with thought.

It is important to remember that any utterance may serve any number of func-tions. Although any speech act can have multiple functions, one function may bemore dominant than others. Recognizing the many functions of language keeps usmindful of the various ways language helps us perform the tasks of daily life.

Speech and language vary in style as well as in function. Style is the way inwhich a communicator delivers a message—the pattern or arrangement of sym-bols. The difference in greetings between “Good morning, sir, how are you?” and“Hey, dude, what’s shaking?” are differences in style, word choices, and symbolarrangement. More than two thousand years ago, Cicero identified three styles: aplain style that was direct, simple, and clearly arranged; a moderate style that wasmore forceful in tone; and the grand style characterized as ornate, copious, anddignified. Throughout the years there have been numerous linguistic classificationsof rhetorical style. They all tend to contrast formal and informal styles, casual andintimate styles, and to identify an informative or consultative style. Factors of stylewill be discussed in greater detail in chapters 7 and 13.

In terms of persuasion, language variations affect judgments about the speaker,message comprehension or recall, or attitude toward the message.28 For example,people’s names impart positive and negative impressions as well as perceptions ofattractiveness and power. Simple, short, straightforward sentences are more persua-sive than those that are complex, long, and convoluted. Language imagery and viv-idness increase listener interest and message recall. However, very emotional andintense language has a negative effect on attitude change when delivered by ahighly credible speaker. The use of nonstandard language, such as regional or eth-nic dialects or accents, tends to create negative associations with the source interms of intelligence, competence, and social attraction. Thus, how we talk and thewords we use are important elements of the persuasiveness of language.

Frank Luntz is a well known language expert who works with political candi-dates, Fortune 100 companies, public advocacy groups, and world leaders. He isthe mastermind of some of the most potent political and corporate campaigns ofthe last twenty years. Ultimately, for Luntz, the essence is not what is said but whatis heard.

Once the words leave your lips, they no longer belong to you. We have amonopoly only on our own thoughts. The act of speaking is not a conquest, buta surrender. When we open our mouths, we are sharing with the world—andthe world inevitably interprets, indeed sometimes shifts and distorts, our origi-nal meaning.29

Luntz has ten simple rules for successful communication: simplicity (use smallwords), brevity (use short sentences), credibility, consistency, novelty (offer somethingnew), sound (make language memorable), aspiration (positive and hopeful messages

The Advocate and the Management of Symbols  59

Woodward-Denton Page 59 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

personalized for the audience), visualization (create a picture), questioning (forcesaudience reflection), and context (explain relevance).

 Language, Interaction, and RealitySymbolic interactionism is a sociocultural approach to communication theory.

From this perspective, social interaction with others influences and creates who weare and the society in which we live. As individuals and as a society, we are largelya product of our daily interactions. We form meaning and structure in societythrough social interaction.

The Creation of Reality through InteractionWhy are so many different classes offered on college curriculums? Most aca-

demic endeavors are attempts to understand the nature and social behavior ofhuman beings. Formal education is a process of presenting a variety of perspectivesfrom which to study or view reality. Sociology, psychology, communication, his-tory, science, politics, and the humanities, to name only a few, present perspectivesindividuals may use to interpret their worlds. We live in both symbolic and physicalenvironments. Symbolic reality is an interpretation of physical reality. A tree existsin nature. When we paint a picture of it or attempt to describe it, our symbolsreflect the physical reality as we perceive it.

Language is the vehicle for sharing meanings and interpretations. Before aresponse to a situation can be formulated, the situation must first be defined and inter-preted. We construct meanings, define situations, and provide justifications for behav-ior. Hence, communication and interaction with others give meaning to the worldand create the reality toward which we respond and act. Humans create, manipulate,and use symbols to control their own behavior and the behavior of others.

Cassirer explained that humans live in a different reality than the physicalworld of sensation.30 Humans live in a symbolic universe. Language, myth, rituals,art, music, and religion are some of the threads that weave the tapestry of our expe-rience. We often see only symbolic reality; physical reality can be overwritten bysymbolic experiences. We don’t deal with an actual object—we deal with our per-ception of it, which has been influenced by a myriad of previous symbolic experi-ences. In Kenneth Burke’s words, humans are separated from the “naturalcondition by instruments of their own making.”31

Our view of the world may change as our symbol system is modified throughinteraction. Meanings of symbols are derived from interaction in rather specificsocial contexts. New interaction experiences may result in new symbols or newmeanings for previous symbols. Consequently, one’s understanding of the worldmay change. In the 1960s, language played an important role in transforming per-ceptions of society. Black citizens challenged years of white domination and dis-crimination in the United States. A “brother” was a fellow black person, and“black power” represented group identity, pride, and self-awareness. The move-ment redefined the heritage of “Negro” into “African American,” reinforced a pos-itive self-concept of “black is beautiful,” and declared a new political activism.

60  Chapter Three

Woodward-Denton Page 60 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Self as a Product of Interaction with OthersWho are you? Why do you like and dislike certain things? Why do you

believe the things you believe and take the positions on issues you take? Theanswer lies in your perception of yourself that changes through communicatingwith others. From birth, we send out signals for others to confirm, deny, or mod-ify. We interpret the feedback and use it to determine who we are and where wefit. We gradually discern our status, our strengths, and our weaknesses. Throughcommunicating with others, we become “somebody” and have opportunities tochange ourselves.

The self becomes a social object that we share with others in communication.We learn who we are through our interactions with others. Throughout our lives,we continue to interpret and define ourselves. Our perception of the world, howthe world perceives us, and how we perceive ourselves depends on our contactswith other people.

Society as a Product of Interaction with OthersOur interactions with others also teach us what is good or bad, right or wrong.

In discovering ourselves, we identify and assume socially defined roles. We formattitudes—likes and dislikes of people, places, or things—through contact with oth-ers. As we form various attitudes, we also develop beliefs—what we know to betrue about our world of people and objects. As we organize and test our attitudesthrough interaction, we establish values that provide general guidelines for behav-ior. Values are the core elements that help us interpret reality; they form the basis ofhow we judge or evaluate issues and concepts. For example, is loyalty more impor-tant than personal gain? Is war always wrong? Is honesty always good? Valuesbecome essential to our self-esteem. Social control is not solely a matter of formalgovernmental agencies, laws, rules, and regulations. It is a direct result of identify-ing and internalizing the values of a group. When we adhere to the valuesapproved by others, we support the social order.

In addition to creating expectations of behavior, symbols create social sanc-tions (for example, war as God’s will) or function as master symbols or “godterms” (i.e., to die for freedom). The United States sent troops to Afghanistan to“bring the terrorists to justice” and to ensure the “safety” and “security” of our cit-izens. MX missiles were labeled “peacekeepers” to match the rationale for the war.When followers, through socialization, have been taught significant symbols thatuphold social order, they require leaders to play defined roles. Leaders must createand use symbols that unite and transcend individual and collective differences.Leaders articulate positions of superiority, inferiority, and equality; they persuadeus through symbols of power, majesty, and authority.

We have certainly drawn a rather large circle in our discussion. We startedwith the role of language in defining and discovering ourselves and concluded withdemonstrating how language maintains social order. It is useful to examine furtherthe role of social interaction and language as a function of governing. Chapter 11focuses on the forms of political persuasion. We conclude this chapter with a dis-cussion of how language structures our social relationships within a democracy

The Advocate and the Management of Symbols  61

Woodward-Denton Page 61 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

and how leaders of society use language to define and interpret reality to provide arationale for future collective action.

 Political Uses of LanguageLanguage is not just reserved for the honorable and skilled. This human tool is

available to all—the good and bad, the kind and cruel, the generous and selfish. Itis, therefore, open to abuse as freely as it is to proper usage.

The substance of the information language conveys, the setting in which theinteraction occurs, and the explicit or implicit functions the language performsdetermine whether or not language is political. According to Paul Corcoran, thevery essence of language is political and, thus, persuasive.

Language in the broadest sense—ordinary conversation, symbolic expression,the grammar of social and sexual roles, the maintenance of customs and institu-tions, the transmission of cultural norms from generation to generation—isinevitably political because it prescribes, constrains, socializes, reinforces, andconserves the status quo.32

Political language is often designed to evoke reaction, not thoughtful response.Political language can be a creative instrument to stimulate passion and commit-ment. In general, the primary goal of politics is to control, manipulate, or structurethe audience’s interpretation. Political discourse involves a struggle over meaning,status, power, and resources.33 A successful politician, then, will use specific lin-guistic devices to reinforce popular beliefs, attitudes, and values.

It is important to understand that politics as talk does not imply politics is alltalk and no action. Politics as talk is action in very important, although sometimesvery subtle, ways. Compare the policy implications of whether abortion is a medi-cal procedure or murder or whether affirmative action is governmental discrimina-tion or a program insuring equal opportunity. Gaining agreement on the definitionof an issue in terms favorable to the outcome desired is the necessary first steptoward action. As Murray Edelman reminds us,

Because the potency of political language does not stem from its descriptions ofa “real” world but rather from its reconstructions of the past and its evocationof unobservables in the present and of potentialities in the future, languageusage is strategic.34

There are those within the academy who argue that facts should dominatepolitical discussions and subsequent actions, but even facts are subject to interpre-tation that will affect outcomes. Think of a container that by universal agreementholds six ounces of some liquid. Suppose we pour three ounces of a liquid into thecontainer. The facts are indisputable: three ounces of liquid in a six-ounce con-tainer. Simplistically, there could be two issues: is the container half empty, or is ithalf full ? If the “reality” is that the container is half empty, then we may be discour-aged and need to take the time to find more resources for additional liquid. If thecontainer is half full, then we are more optimistic and hopeful that adding more liq-uid won’t be a problem. Although the facts are the same, one’s view or interpreta-tion of the facts influences one’s attitudes and behavior.

62  Chapter Three

Woodward-Denton Page 62 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

The example above is extremely simplistic, but many contemporary politicalcampaigns and legislative issues are extensions of the same premises. Are we toodependent on foreign oil? Should we drill in the Arctic reserves for additional oil?Is the risk to the environment too great? Which view of reality will prevail? Thinkof some of the real consequences. It may require higher gasoline taxes to pay forexploration or to reduce demand. The legislature could pass new requirementsregarding mileage, which could increase the prices of automobiles. If new reservesare not found, gas may be rationed. The fact of relying on foreign oil is not in dis-pute, but one’s interpretation of the fact of that reliance will affect one’s attitudesand impact one’s behavior.

Functions of Political LanguagePolitical language creates, alters, and maintains the social state. Political sym-

bols are the direct link between individuals and the social order; they function as astimulus for behavior. The appropriate symbols can influence people to accept cer-tain policies, arouse support for various causes, and encourage people to obey gov-ernmental authority. Political symbols are the means to social ends and not ends inthemselves. They perpetuate the prevailing culture, political beliefs, and values.

Political language is related to power, social relationships, morals, ethics, andidentity, to name only a few areas it influences. As Paul Corcoran warns, “whilelanguage shapes and empowers its users, the unhappy consequence is that languagereproduces and reinforces exploitation, inequality, and other traditions ofpower.”35 Leaders win and lose; the public is empowered or enslaved; citizens areinformed or misled by the strategic use of language.

Doris Graber identifies five major functions of political language: informationdissemination, agenda setting, interpretation and linkage, projection for the futureand the past, and action stimulation.36 Information dissemination is the sharing ofexplicit information about the state of the nation. Government agencies dissemi-nate health and safety information—from information about medication approvedby the FDA, to “buckle up” seat belt campaigns, to warnings about cigarettes, toadvice about how to communicate with children about the dangers of illegal drugs.Such dissemination is vital to the public’s understanding and support of the politi-cal system. This is especially true in democratic nations where the public expectsopen access to legislative debates and the decision making of government officials.However, the most important information is sometimes how something is stated,when it is stated, or what is not stated. Especially in messages between nations, thepublic must make inferences about the actual meaning and significance of officialstatements. Are our relations with China “open,” “guarded,” or “friendly”? Some-times the very act of speaking communicates support, sympathy, or strength. Insuch instances, the decision to speak rather than the actual words spoken conveysthe meaning of the rhetorical event.

The topics politicians choose to discuss channel the public’s attention. Theagenda-setting function of political language works as follows. Before something canbecome an issue, a prominent politician must first articulate a problem to bring theissue to public attention. The issue can be a long-standing concern (poverty), onethat needs highlighting (status of U.S. education), or created (the crisis in health

The Advocate and the Management of Symbols  63

Woodward-Denton Page 63 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

care). Political language establishes a national agenda by controlling the informa-tion disseminated to the public. Within this realm, there is always a great deal ofcompetition because only a limited number of issues can hold public interest.While certain topics may be critically important to a person, party, faction, orgroup, the same topics may be perceived as meaningless or even harmful to otherfactions, persons, or groups.

State of the Union addresses are historically the most direct attempts by presi-dents to set legislative goals and agendas for the pending congressional session. Ini-tiatives are identified, whether national security, the economy, national health, oreducation. Political campaign speeches also routinely set forth social and legisla-tive goals and objectives.

Graber refers to the third function of political language as interpretation and link-age. Control over the definition of a situation is essential in political campaigns. Thevery act of calling the public’s attention to a certain issue defines, interprets, andmanipulates the public’s perception of that issue. Links are established betweenparticular beliefs and candidates or between original goals and specific outcomes.Participants in election primaries, for example, all proclaim victory regardless ofthe number of votes received. The top vote-getter becomes the “front runner.” Thesecond-place winner becomes “the underdog” candidate in an “uphill battle.” Thethird-place candidate becomes a “credible” candidate and alternative for those“frustrated” or “dissatisfied” with the “same old party favorites.” Political languagedefines and interprets reality, creating a rationale for future collective action.

A great deal of political language deals with projection: predicting the future andreflecting on the past. Candidates forecast idealized futures under their leadership andpredict success if their policies are followed. Some projections are formalized inparty platforms or in major addresses such as inaugurals or State of the Unionspeeches. Nearly all such statements involve promises—promises of a brighter futureif followed or Armageddon if rejected. Past memories and associations are evokedto stimulate a sense of security, better times, and romantic longings. An importantfunction of political language, therefore, is to link us to past glories and to predict asuccessful future in order to reduce uncertainty in an increasingly complex world.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, political language mobilizes societyand stimulates action. Language serves as the rationale for social action. Words canevoke, persuade, implore, command, label, praise, and condemn. Although politi-cal language is similar to other uses of language, it also stimulates behavior andshapes public discussion about the allocation of public resources, authority, andsanctions. In virtually every major presidential address, there is some call to action:to support a piece of legislation, to call your congressional representative about anissue, or to volunteer for some form of public service.

Craig Smith identifies five functions of governmental language: to unify, to legit-imize, to orient, to resolve conflicts, and to implement policies.37 These are verypragmatic and programmatic uses of political language. From a governmental per-spective, language is a tool to generate a sense of inclusion and participationamong citizens. Language also legitimizes and confirms the authority of govern-mental actions. Related to the agenda-setting function, governmental languageframes our national goals, policies, hopes, and desires as well as articulates our

64  Chapter Three

Woodward-Denton Page 64 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

needs, problems, and shortcomings. Social conflicts are resolved by issue discus-sion, explanation, debate, and negotiation. Finally, government implements policythrough the creation of legislation and regulatory interpretation. From this per-spective, the language of government encompasses elected officials, governmentagencies, and government employees.

Strategic Uses of Political LanguageIt is important to remember that the context and content of an interaction is

what makes the use of language political. Contexts can range from a local candi-date talking at a reception, to speeches in the halls of Congress, to citizens ralliedoutside a courthouse, to name just a few. Below are some strategies commonlyused for political purposes.

Argumentation and persuasion. Political language is used to discuss, debate,and negotiate issues and legislation. As already mentioned, political rhetoric is notneutral; it advocates a particular set of attitudes, beliefs, and values. Political lan-guage is about advocacy—creating a symbolic reality from a particular perspectivefor a specific purpose.

Identification. Political language creates commonality, understanding, andunity. Language is a way to relate to others, to build bridges to understanding. Poli-ticians, both verbally and nonverbally, attempt to demonstrate they understandtheir constituents and are similar in beliefs, attitudes, and values. According toKenneth Burke, “you persuade a person only insofar as you can talk the person’slanguage by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, identifying your wayswith this person’s.”38 The importance of language as it relates to nationalism can beviewed in light of the debate over English as our standard language. A “hom*oge-neous linguistic community” is argued in terms of shared values. Social identity isanother important use of political language. Language links us as a social class orethnicity or cultural heritage. The appeal of common experiences is very strong.Language provides a rallying point for issues and a commonality of efforts.

Reinforcement. Persuasion is a difficult process. Most political communica-tion is not about altering attitudes; rather, it attempts to reinforce existing beliefsand attitudes. Most political discourse and even advertising tries to reinforce thepublic preferences most favorable to the source’s position. Much presidential dis-course is about reinforcing our national goals and values. Political parties and can-didates have “key” constituency groups, and successful persuaders tailor theirremarks to the beliefs, attitudes, and values of those constituencies.

Inoculation. This is another message strategy designed to reinforce existingattitudes by promoting resistance to attitude change. By strengthening existing atti-tudes, individuals become less susceptible to subsequent persuasive attempts. Whatis intriguing about this strategy is that when a persuader acknowledges counterar-guments or introduces negative information related to his or her own position,audiences are not only more likely to believe the speaker’s rhetoric but they are alsoless likely to entertain counterarguments or information in the future. They havebeen inoculated against future attempts to change their attitudes. This is most use-ful in political campaigns, especially in generating resistance to the influence ofpolitical attacks by opponents.

The Advocate and the Management of Symbols  65

Woodward-Denton Page 65 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Simplification. Most political discourse is simple and straightforward in termsof vocabulary, sentence complexity, and general information details. Complexproblems are reduced to rather simple alternatives. Political catch phrases and slo-gans serve as shorthand statements of beliefs or inferred action. “America, love itor leave it” communicates action and attitude. “The War on Terror” defines actionstaken (purpose of fighting on foreign soil). Political discourse attempts to make theworld, our problems, solutions, and actions understandable.

Generalizations. Along with simplifying messages, political discourse tends tobe open, vague, and general. It often provides sweeping assumptions, conclusions,or factors of causation. As an example, “as the divorce rate among Americans con-tinues to rise, so too does the crime rate among youth” or “there is a crisis of confi-dence in America that government will not protect social security in the future.”Both statements provide rather harsh conclusions with no examples or evidence tosupport the claims. In addition, politicians seldom use qualifiers or note excep-tions. They state propositions in broad generalizations in attempts to obtain asmuch agreement as possible. After all, who would oppose working for “a healthiereconomy, more jobs, higher salaries and health care for all workers?” Of course, weall know that the “devil” is in the details.

Narrative. Narratives are stories told from a defined point of view or perspec-tive. They are “first person” accounts of events or situations. They often evoke feel-ings and emotional responses from listeners. Politicians often use narratives orstories to tell the history of their lives or to explain their political views on an issue orthe impact of a specific vote. Narratives are useful, especially to politicians, becausethey simplify complex issues, events, or situations. Done well, they gain audienceattention and provide drama. Ronald Reagan excelled at using narratives to explainhis political philosophy and worldview. He was the first of recent presidents to evokethe story of a single individual to illustrate a lesson or value, especially during Stateof the Union addresses. He would recognize community leaders for their volunteerefforts or the heroics of service people to call for shared patriotism.

Polarization. Political language can create likenesses and commonalities; itcan also distinguish or separate people, issues, and ideas. Interestingly, sometimesthe best way to define an issue or position is by detailing what it is not—contrastingthe concept with its opposite. Former President Reagan, for example, was good atarticulating U.S. values of freedom and free enterprise by comparing us with Rus-sia. Of course, a more direct mode of polarization is simply labeling the opposition,issue, ideology, etc. as “bad.” While polarizing divides people with opposingbeliefs, it can unite those with similar beliefs. It also helps clarify positions, actions,and even aspects of ideology. For some political observers, the harshness of politi-cal campaigns, the “we versus they” perspective on most issues, and the “all ornone” strategy of winning at all costs have all contributed to a polarized nation.

Defining. As mentioned earlier, in many ways campaigns are really contests todetermine the winning definitions of social reality. Is the economy strong or weak?Is the crime rate high or low? Are our values strong or slipping? Is the opponent lib-eral or conservative? Should “illegal” immigrants receive government entitlementsthat go to “U.S. citizens”? In essence, whose view of reality are voters going to sup-port? Once again, political language is less about changing opinions than about

66  Chapter Three

Woodward-Denton Page 66 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

reinforcing prevailing views or providing the dominant view of social reality. Suc-cessfully defining issues or policies so that they resonate with the voting public isthe goal of this strategy.

Expression. Many political symbols and rituals are expressive rather thaninstrumental. Political language allows for the expression of frustration as well asthe promotion of specific policy ideas. It deals with hopes as well as fears, successesas well as failures. It is also important to recognize the contribution of political lan-guage to entertainment in U.S. popular culture. Novels, films, television, and popu-lar journalism often explore political themes because of the inherent drama ofconflicting narratives.

Power. Much of political communication is about power, domination, or con-trol. Postmodern social science literature views political communication in termsof power—for example, a group of individuals with elite status exploits, controls, ordistorts language in order to preserve power. Another viewpoint sees political lan-guage as the attempt to get others to share the same worldview about what is goodor bad, right or wrong, just or unjust.

Kenneth Hacker identifies three dimensions of power.39 The first dimension iscontrol over concrete political interests, revealed in policy preferences. In this case,language is objective, descriptive, and disseminates information. The seconddimension of power is control over how issues are defined, debated, and enacted.Interpretive language is critical in framing issues and defining concepts. The finaldimension of power is control over agendas and decision-making. Language here isonce again utilitarian and concerned with getting things done and shaping society.Power in language is exhibited in many ways. For example, language that legiti-mizes the rule of those who govern is the basis for many arguments; other argu-ments appeal to moral authority; still others offer narratives of preferred behavior.It is also important to recognize that how something is said adds to the power oflanguage as much as what is said.

Drama. Most political events are dramatic and attract scholars who examinepolitics as unfolding drama. For Hugh Duncan, “failure to understand the powerof dramatic form in communication means failure in seizing and controllingpower” over others.40 It is important to remember that social dramas are not justsymbolic screens or metaphors—they are forms of social interaction and integra-tion. For example, a focus on dramas of authority would involve questions such as:Under what conditions is the act being presented? What kind of act is it? Whatroles are the actors assuming? What forms of authority are being communicated?What means of communication are used? What symbols of authority are evoked?How are social functions staged? How are social functions communicated? Howare the messages received? What are the responses to authority messages? Thedrama can involve one person or many, a symbolic (rhetorical) event or physicalact, or one moment or a specific period of time.

Politics, in Burkean terms, is a study of drama composed of many acts: acts ofhierarchy, transformation, transcendence, guilt, victimage, redemption, and salva-tion. Using an act as the pivotal concept, Kenneth Burke suggests that we investi-gate scenes that encompass and surround the act, for the scene provides the context

The Advocate and the Management of Symbols  67

Woodward-Denton Page 67 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

for an act. Next, he suggests that we consider the agents involved in an act—theactors who mold, shape, create, and sustain movements. We should also considerthe agency (channels of communication) in an act, which will reveal the impact ofrhetorical activities. Finally, consideration of the purpose of an act aids in discover-ing the ultimate motives or meaning of that act.

Drama is part of the communication process by which public issues and viewsare created, shared, and given life. Ernest and Nancy Bormann call this process“group fantasy.” A relatively small number of people may attach significance tosome term or concept such as justice, freedom, or the American dream. These fan-tasies are shared and passed on to others. In some cases, the mass media pick upthe message and become channels for broad dissemination of the fantasies. When afantasy theme has “chained through the general public,” a rhetorical vision emerges.“A rhetorical vision is a symbolic reality created by a number of fantasy types, andit provides a coherent view of some public problem or issue.”41 Slogans or labelsthat address a cluster of meanings, motives, or emotional responses usually indi-cate the emergence of a rhetorical vision. There are several useful implications tothe notion of fantasy themes. As a result of creating and sharing fantasies, there is agreater sense of community, cohesiveness, and shared culture. The fantasy themeilluminates common beliefs, attitudes, and values on which to act—and communi-cation is the foundation of it all.

Today, many scholars note that political campaigns are presented as dramascomplete with winners, losers, good guys, and villains. Television, in particular,reduces abstract principles to human, personal components. Political issues andactions are linked to individuals. The presenter dominates in television; it is a

Political events are dramatic. Kenneth Burke suggests evaluating the scene, the agents, the agency, and the purpose of an action.

68  Chapter Three

Woodward-Denton Page 68 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

medium for actors and animate objects rather than complex treatises. We chooseamong actors rather than ideologies or policies. Victims, villains, and heroes areeasier to identify and address than complex issues, causes, or ideas.

Entertainment values encourage tabloid journalism, which has become themainstay of news today.

The tabloid reporting style is designed to heighten readers and viewers’ sensoryexperience with the news. The details of stories are presented in graphic form.Tabloid news is written in dramatic, engaging, and readable prose presented inshort paragraphs and set off with attention-grabbing headlines and visualaccompaniments. TV tabloids feature quick cuts between plots and subplots,highlighting conflict and crisis.42

As David Brinkley (former anchor and journalist for ABC News) acknowledged,“the one function that TV news performs very well is that when there is no newswe give it to you with the same emphasis as if there were news.”43

Our position is that public views on issues must be mobilized and all thesestrategies are key elements for that mobilization. Issues are identified and then pre-sented to the public in symbols that appeal to past allegiances or future goals. Nei-ther issues nor specific positions on issues exist in a vacuum. Connecting policiesto the attitudes and values of the public insures that they will receive full consider-ation. Political office and legislation are the result of using appropriate symbols tocreate political followings and mass support.

Common Political Language DevicesWords can be both descriptive and evaluative. They create a specific reality

toward which we act and react. The connotative, interpretive meanings of wordsare potentially the most dangerous and easily abused. We’ll review some of themore common ways language is used to evoke specific responses in people beforeconcluding with an analysis of the changing nature of public discourse.

Labeling. Similar to the strategic use of defining, labeling is effective becauseit renders judgment by making positive or negative associations. For example, howwe act toward and perceive an individual differs greatly if we are told the person isinquisitive or nosey, cool or frigid, reflective or moody, thorough or picky, forgetfulor senile. Labels tell us what is important and what to expect; socialization pre-scribes how we should act or interact with the person or object defined.

Labeling also forces us to make judgments and evaluations, which causes thepotential for abuse. During World War II, for instance, it was easier to justify kill-ing a “gook” or a “Jap” than a “person.” Are our soldiers in Afghanistan shootingat “terrorists” or “insurgents”? Labeling an action as communistic or socialisticproduces negative connotations in the United States. How should we characterizethe government’s bailout of the Chrysler Corporation or the numerous savings andloan associations? What is government’s role in terms of subsidies to the poor orsocial security? Are these examples of socialism? Perhaps. Although we value theconcepts of capitalism, free enterprise, and democracy, none of these concepts existin a pure form. If government officials had described the saving of Chrysler as asocialistic solution, the legislation probably would have failed.

The Advocate and the Management of Symbols  69

Woodward-Denton Page 69 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

The 1994 congressional elections resulted in a Republican Party majority in theHouse of Representatives for the first time in forty years. Newt Gingrich, a formerhistory professor from Georgia, became the Speaker of the House. He is creditedwith reinvigorating the Republican Party. Throughout the 1980s, Congressman Gin-grich had served as the nation’s leading conservative lightning rod and had gained areputation as a razor-tongued, oratorical street fighter. In 1990 as president of aRepublican group known as GOPAC, Gingrich prepared a list of “positive govern-ing words” and their opposites for distribution to supporters.44 A large list of colorfuladjectives, nouns, and adverbs were supposedly screened by market researchers tolocate those that would have special potency with voters. The goal was to offer listsof words to praise or condemn that candidates and campaign workers could useeffectively to win their local elections. A letter mailed to party workers entitled “Lan-guage: A Key Mechanism of Control” noted that many politicians had expressed thewish that they “could speak like Newt.” The recommendations of GOPAC includedthe following: characterize yourself and your own record with terms like moral,proud, and hardworking. Words GOPAC recommended as useful to “define oppo-nents” included liberal, shallow, and self-serving. Once labels of individuals orgroups are publicly established, they are difficult to change. Which political partyfavors the rich? The poor? The educated? Big business? If you have somewhat auto-matic responses to these questions, you are demonstrating the power of social labels.

Acclaiming, Attacking, and Defending. According to William Benoit, mostpolitical campaign communication involves acclaiming, attacking, or defending.45

An “acclaim” is a statement describing the benefits, advantages, or positive attri-butes of a candidate. Most stump speeches provide lists of issues and positive out-comes if elected. An attack is a statement that provides negative or harmfulinformation about an opponent. Certainly in political ads, most consist of attackson candidate positions, votes, or statements. Naturally, if attacked, one mustdefend past statements, votes, or actions. As Benoit recognizes, acclaims inviteattacks. Attacks, in turn, invite defense. It is easy to see how most campaign rheto-ric revolves around these three strategies.

Doublespeak. Members of the National Council of Teachers of English(NCTE) passed two resolutions aimed at studying and publicizing the “dishonestand inhumane use of language.” The resolutions were the result of growing concernabout the manipulation of language by government and military officials in charac-terizing and reporting the Vietnam War. The NCTE later created the Committee onPublic Doublespeak to monitor and combat the misuse of public language by gov-ernment, public, and corporate officials. The committee began publishing a news-letter (that later evolved into the Quarterly Review of Doublespeak).46 They beganpresenting a doublespeak award in 1974 for “language that is grossly deceptive, eva-sive, euphemistic, confusing, or self-contradictory and which has pernicious socialor political consequences.”47 The 2011 recipient of the NCTE Doublespeak Awardwas Cherokee Principal Chief Chad Smith. Smith won the award for his attemptsto exclude descendants of Cherokee Freedmen as citizens of the Cherokee Nation.The Freedmen had been a part of the Cherokee nation for more than 200 years andwere black and intermarried descendants.48

70  Chapter Three

Woodward-Denton Page 70 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

According to William Lutz, doublespeak is language that “pretends to com-municate but really does not.”49 It says one thing but means something else. It con-fuses or hides the true meaning or intent of the communicator. It conceals orprevents thought. Doublespeak is a destructive ploy; it destroys relationships bycorrupting thought, destroying communication, and eroding trust. Doublespeak isnot the result of careless grammar or sloppy thinking—it is the intentional use oflanguage to mislead, to distort, and to corrupt.

As we have already suggested, language forms the basis of all human actions.We use language to think, to make decisions, and to express our thoughts and feel-ings on issues. We act as a result of processing information, which we can only doby using language. If the language we hear and read is corrupt and misleading, itwill corrupt and mislead our thought processes. Not only does language affect howwe think and act, but it also affects our ability to communicate with other people.We cannot truly relate to people who attempt to mislead. To discuss issues intelli-gently, we must share agreement on the language used. If people use doublespeakthat hides the truth and misleads the receivers of the message, then open, honestdiscussion cannot take place. Only through clear language do we have any hope ofdefining, debating, and deciding the issues of public policy that confront us.

Perhaps the most devastating effect of doublespeak is the erosion of trust. Ournation is founded on the ideal of free speech—of open, honest discussion of ideasand issues. When we hear doublespeak from all sides—government, education, theadvertising industry, the media—we begin to be cynical and distrustful of institu-tions. Distrust creates another barrier to true, open communication.

Lutz identifies four kinds of doublespeak: euphemisms, jargon, bureaucratese,and inflated language. It is useful to discuss each of these in relation to public pol-icy, as well as the related strategy of slanting.

Euphemisms are words or phrases designed to avoid a negative or unpleasantreality. We use euphemisms to be courteous and sensitive to the feelings of others.For example, instead of referring to someone as “fat,” we substitute terms such as“full-figured,” “husky,” or “portly,” to name only a few. Big business does not fireworkers; it reengineers, restructures, and downsizes. Companies initiate workforceadjustments, head count and consensus reductions, redundancy eliminations, andnegative employee retention programs. Workers are dehired, deselected, reposi-tioned, or rightsized.

Within the realm of politics, euphemisms mislead, cover up, or avoid sensitiveissues, problems, or positions. During the bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan, mis-siles that struck civilian areas rather than military targets did “collateral damage.”Military personnel who were mistakenly and tragically killed by allied forces werecasualties of “friendly fire.” Such terminology is less unpleasant than the reality ofour bombs killing innocent women and children or our soldiers being killed by fel-low troop members.

Jargon is the specialized language created for specific functions by people in atrade or profession. The use of jargon is an efficient way to communicate withgroup members. However, the situation changes decisively when in-group mem-bers use jargon with individuals outside the group. At best, jargon discouragesinteraction, and it may also confuse or hide the truth. A “needs assessment” (a sur-

The Advocate and the Management of Symbols  71

Woodward-Denton Page 71 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

vey) in order to develop an adequate “evaluation tool” (a test) for those who willmanage a “transportation component” (a bus) certainly sounds like a complex andexpensive project. Legal documents are full of jargon. They require special inter-pretations that make us dependent on attorneys for help, advice, and action. Themedical profession also relies heavily on specialized jargon to communicate. Jar-gon reduces interference from those outside the inner circle and acts as an inhibitorto full, open discussion.

Bureaucratese is the piling on of compound words and complex sentences thatactually communicate very little. It is often a combination of specialized jargonwithin rambling sentence structures. In the following example, the U.S. TariffCommission refuses to complete a questionnaire. (Note the irony of the conclud-ing statement.)

The problems and considerations together with ancillary ramifications havebeen carefully analyzed in conjunction with manipulative and nonmanipulativefactors relative to administrative equilibrium. Our conclusions, while tentativeand perhaps unsuited to peripheral institutionalization, suggest in markeddegree, a submarginal coefficient of applicability vis-à-vis the activities of theCommission and have thus been deemed an appropriate basis for nonactionalorientation toward the questionnaire accompanying your letter.

Please advise us if further information is needed.

Inflated language—marked by euphemisms, jargon, and bureaucratese—isdesigned to make the common appear uncommon, the ordinary seem extraordi-nary. Renaming is the most common way to make everyday things more importantor impressive: environmental engineers instead of garbage collectors, maintenanceengineers instead of custodians, vacation specialist instead of travel agent, or rela-tionship manager instead of salesperson, to name only a few. While the aboveexamples at least serve the function of enhancing worker esteem, others are tragi-cally distorted: pacification center for a concentration camp, tactical withdrawalfor a military retreat, or selective deniability for lies by government officials.

Slanting is a form of outright misrepresentation where a particular implicationis suggested by omitting certain crucial information. For example, a politician mayproclaim that more people are employed today than ever before in our nation’s his-tory—while the percentage of people employed might well be lower than everbefore. During the bombing of the Balkans in 1999, NATO held daily press brief-ings showing videos of the pinpoint accuracy of “smart bombs.” Omitted from thebriefings was any mention of the percentage of the “ordinance” that missed theirtargets. Without outright lying, the information presented created a differentimpression than all the facts warranted.

Hate Speech. In the mid-1980s verbal abuse and violence directed at people ofcolor and other minority groups increased. Many colleges and universities respondedby developing policies and codes addressing public speech acts. State and federalhate crime legislation proliferated. Hate speech traditionally includes any speech act,gesture, conduct, written or graphic communication that is pejorative towards a“protected” person or group, usually based on race, gender, disability, sexual orienta-tion, nationality or religion. Speech that may incite violence is of the most concern.

72  Chapter Three

Woodward-Denton Page 72 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Rita Whillock and David Slayden recognize hate speech as an operational tacticand rhetorical tool of persuaders. Rhetors use hate to dominate the opposition byrhetorical (and sometimes physical) force. Whillock and Slayden argue that hatespeech is used to “polarize particular groups in order to organize opposition, solid-ify support, and marshal resources toward forcing a ‘final solution’ to a thornyproblem.”50 In effect, polarization “predisposes audiences to negate likely oppos-ing claims, typically utilizing a literal and often highly symbolic object of hatred atwhich anger is focused.”51

According to Whillock, “rather than seeking to win adherence through superiorreasoning, hate speech seeks to move an audience by creating a symbolic code forviolence.”52 More specifically, the goals of hate speech are to inflame the emotionsof followers, denigrate the designated out-class, inflict permanent and irreparableharm to the opposition, and ultimately conquer. Hate appeals are insidious becausethey attract immediate attention and exploit buried cultural beliefs and stereotypes.

Hate speech divides and segregates; it does not invite rational consideration ofissues. Compromise is unlikely. Janette Muir suggests that opportunities for tradi-tional persuasive attempts are limited when issues of absolute values conflict withpolitical positions. In such situations, hate speech is used to sustain a movement“by rallying members around core doctrines and focusing their efforts against acommon enemy.”53

Hate speech is a troubling matter for people who believe in free speech. TheFirst Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects speech no matter how offensiveits content. The courts have been very hesitant to restrict hurtful actions or speech,which has resulted in judicial protection of the burning of crosses, KKK marches,Nazi Party gatherings, picketing funerals of fallen soldiers, or even the burning ofthe American Flag.

Nearly every college or university has some code that attempts to prohibitspeech or conduct that creates a hostile or intimidating environment. Private col-leges and universities have more freedom to base restrictions on pure content thando state-supported institutions. Opponents of hate speech codes argue that anyrestrictions should be limited to actions that may cause serious and physical harmto others. There must be “clear and present danger” for the restriction. Speech thatmay be offensive or “ugly” is not physically dangerous. Critics also argue that hatespeech codes are used to suppress free discussion of issues or ideas. Students or fac-ulty with minority views are afraid to express their ideas and remain silent.

Free speech is integral to a democratic society; the freedom of all depends oneach individual’s right to express his or her views. Free speech advocates claim thathate speech laws cannot legislate an end to ethnic and racial violence. In fact, theyargue that what is needed is more speech, not less. The goal should be to facilitatelearning and understanding through open debate and discussion of all viewpoints.Dialogue and democracy are more effective tools in understanding the anatomy ofhate than silence; for that reason, freedom of expression is necessary.

Ridicule. This rhetorical tactic makes a person, group, action, or idea anobject of laughter or scorn. Ridicule attacks the basic worth and credibility of per-sons and ideas and thus endangers any assigned or claimed legitimacy. By inspiring

The Advocate and the Management of Symbols  73

Woodward-Denton Page 73 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

an emotional response, ridicule highlights the counterintuitive aspects of an argu-ment or action, making it appear foolish or ridiculous and contrary to commonsense. Saul Alinsky claims “ridicule is man’s [woman’s] most potent weapon”because “it is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates oppo-nents, who then react to your advantage.”54 Ron Roberts and Robert Kloss writethat ridicule is a form of humor usually employed by individuals, special interestgroups, or even social movements “to demean the status of another individual orgroup.” It is effective “in keeping people ‘in their place.’ ”55 Ridicule makes a per-son, action, or idea seem inconsistent, illogical, or silly. It does not present any evi-dence or facts.

 The Changing Nature of Public and Political DiscourseAs society and technology change, so do the ways politicians campaign and

govern. Political rhetoric has undergone a fundamental change in both form andcontent. Barnet Baskerville argues in The People’s Voice that

societal values and attitudes are reflected not only in what the speaker says butalso in how he says it—not only in the ideas and arguments to be found inspeeches of the past but in the methods and practices of representative speakersand in the role and status accorded speakers by the listening public. As publictastes and public needs change, so do speaking practices—types of appeal, ver-bal style, modes of delivery.56

The United States has a rich history of political oratory. For much of our his-tory, public speaking provided the main avenue to success and popularity. Politi-cians were expected to make frequent, lengthy, public orations. Political speecheswere public spectacles with banners, bands, slogans, and fireworks. Beginning withLincoln’s Gettysburg Address, political oratory began to change. He established atrend toward brevity and simplicity. There was also a shift of public attention frompolitics to business. Businesspeople espoused virtues of directness, conciseness, andpragmatism. In the media, the number of magazine articles and newspaper storiesincreased while their length decreased. Political speeches followed those trends andbecame shorter and more colloquial. In fact, political oratory became public speak-ing with an emphasis on utility of message and the sharing of information.

The introduction of the radio signaled another shift in political oratory. Itintroduced lively discussion shows, news reports (unlike news stories), and timeconstraints on both the speaker and audience. Radio crossed ethnic and regionalboundaries. Public officials had to speak “at” audiences, not “with” audiences. Thepress became filters rather than vehicles of political communication.

Television caused the third major change in political campaign rhetoric. By1974, Kevin Phillips proclaimed that the mass media had reduced the role of theRepublican and Democratic parties. “Effective communications are replacingparty organizations as the key to political success.... As the first communicationssociety, the United States is on its way to becoming the first ‘mediacracy.’ ”57

Today, we are witnessing the evolution of presidential rhetoric that differs in bothform and content from that of only 35 years ago.

74  Chapter Three

Woodward-Denton Page 74 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Television, as a medium, has changed the form and content of politics. Weknow our leaders only through the media; the days of impassioned, fiery oratorypresented to packed auditoriums are over. Presidents invite us, through themedium of television, into the privacy of their living rooms, offices, or studios forinformal “presidential conversations.” Kathleen Jamieson argues that the illusionof interpersonal, intimate context created through television requires a new elo-quence, one in which candidates and presidents adopt a personal and revealingstyle that engages the audience in conversation.58

This means shorter speeches crafted specifically for television. Presidentialspeech is increasingly familiar, personalized, and self-revealing. Ronald Reaganwas the first to excel at this style, which stands in marked contrast to the style ofFranklin D. Roosevelt, for example. The strength of Reagan’s rhetoric was that wefelt we knew and understood him, while the strength of FDR’s was that he knewand understood us. Reagan’s use of contractions—simple and often incompletesentences, informal transitions, colloquial language, and frequent stories—trans-formed his Oval Office addresses into informal conversations.59

Reagan skillfully used the television camera to simulate direct eye contact withindividuals in his audience. His communication seemed like an interpersonal con-versation, in which he invited the audience to conclude that it knew and liked him.Public officials adapt to the medium of television by using higher levels of intimacyand expressiveness. The illusion of intimacy makes the audience feel as if theyknow the official as a friend and encourages the audience to render positive, per-sonal judgments. Frequent conversations lead to friendship, trust, and intimacy.Issue disagreements are less important and are tolerated because of the appearanceof friendship.60

While Reagan proved that television’s intimacy could heighten audience identifi-cation, the 1992 presidential campaign introduced another format. William Clintonmastered the town-hall meeting format, which epitomizes “presidential mediatedinterpersonal conversation.”61 Clinton used the meetings with live audiences as theprimary means of conveying policy orientations and projecting an image. These ses-sions, sometimes with viewer call-ins, seemed to move the president closer to thepublic. Participation and interaction were encouraged. Settings gave the appearanceof a casual interaction where the audience participates in the conversation.

Both the structure and the content of mediated presidential conversation differfrom nonmediated conversation. Interviews on television differ greatly from thosein print. The secret is a controlled response best suited for the medium of television.On television, how one responds is as important as the content of the response. Per-ceptions of personal characteristics conveyed primarily through nonverbal commu-nication influence viewer perception of specific presidential performances. Wasthere a hesitation, a shift of the brow, an expression of emotion? In the 1992 Rich-mond presidential candidate debate with Clinton and Perot, George H. Bush tooka quick glance at his watch. This simple action communicated an impatience withthe event. The glance dominated the headlines the day after the debate.

We are currently riding the crest of a new wave of technologies. Higher-speedcommunication technologies greatly impact the creation, collection, and dissemi-nation of information, promising to enhance the public’s understanding of political

The Advocate and the Management of Symbols  75

Woodward-Denton Page 75 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

issues and to motivate citizen participation. The new media transcend the timeand space constraints of traditional media and media bypass national and interna-tional boundaries.

Richard Davis and Diana Owen identify several major differences in thepotential and actual influence between the new media and traditional media.62

First, the new media have an anti-institutional bias. Historically, the mainstreammedia had, as part of their mission, public service and an obligation to cover gov-ernmental affairs. Because the new media cover politics as entertainment, theirfocus is more on personalities and human-interest stories than education about theissues. The coverage is more personal, colorful, and conflict oriented. In addition,the new media are populists in content and coverage. The focus is on conflict withan antiestablishment, anti-incumbent slant. Finally, the new media are less con-cerned with more traditional standards of ethics than are the traditional media.There is less objectivity or even fairness in presentation. Members of the newmedia are more ideological and willing to use their positions to advance specificpeople or causes.

The Internet is a defining scientific and social innovation. The informationsuperhighway, as labeled by politicians and the media, has the ability to link peopleand resources in a way that was never previously possible. Users can share data,communicate messages, transfer programs, discuss topics, and connect to com-puter systems all over the world. The potential of the Internet as a tool for retriev-ing information is almost limitless. As a result of the freedom of expression allowedon this unique network, the possibilities for learning and enrichment are endless.But with a network so large (and a territory so uncharted), there is great concernabout the material readily available to anyone accessing the Internet.

Bruce Gronbeck argues that we are transitioning from candidate-centeredcampaigns to citizen-centered campaigns. Citizen-centered campaigns not onlyencourage general participation but also multiple types of participation. This tran-sition, according to Gronbeck, “is a paradigm shift in American politicking,”where the classic media theories relating to campaigns are no longer informative.63

We are moving very rapidly from mediated communication to electronic commu-nication in the digital age.

By 2004, the Internet was on par with more traditional sources of campaignnews such as the Sunday morning news shows, weekly news magazines, and publicbroadcasting programming.64 For young people between the ages of 18 to 29, theInternet was among the top sources of political campaign news. Overall, the use ofthe Internet for political purposes was twice that of just four years earlier. Notice-ably, 52 percent of those who voted indicated that information gathered from theInternet influenced their voting decisions.65 By 2010, 67 percent of adults identifiedtelevision as a main source of political news, essentially unchanged from 66 percentin 2002; the same was true of radio, with percentages of 14 percent in 2010 versus13 percent in 2002. Newspapers, however were a major source for only 27% ofadults, compared to 33% in 2002. The Internet showed the greatest gains—from 7percent in 2002 to 24 percent in 2010.66

Republicans were the first party to embrace early technology, such as polling,the use of computers, and marketing techniques. However, Democrats mastered

76  Chapter Three

Woodward-Denton Page 76 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

the use of new media in the 2006 campaigns. The Democratic National Committeespent $7.4 million on web-oriented campaigning compared to $600,000 by theRepublican National Committee.67

In the 2008 campaign, the Internet became a substantial component in the mixof political uses of the web. Early in 2007, there was a specific webpage on YouTubethat would direct you to material for every Democrat and Republican running forthe party’s nomination. On each candidate’s site, there was an introductory videoas well as other ads, commentaries, and opportunities to join the campaign and toshare items with friends. The same was true for MySpace and Facebook sites aswell. There were even YouTube candidate debates. These social networking sitesbecame an integral part of state and national campaigns.

Although new technology had been utilized by presidential candidates prior tothe 2008 campaign, no candidate had used new media to the extent nor enjoyedthe success of Barack Obama during his campaigns. Paul Harris and David Smithnoted, “Obama’s embrace of new ways of communicating—comparable to John F.Kennedy’s mastery of the relatively new medium of television—means he canbypass the traditional political media in a way no other President can have dreamtof. It will put the Washington media establishment in the unusual position of beingoutsiders on a relationship between a President and his public.”68 The Obama cam-paign’s goal was to utilize the Internet to motivate both young and new voters.Sixty-six percent of the voters under the age of 30 supported Obama, and animpressive 69 percent of new voters supported Obama.69 Media scholar DavidPerlmutter astutely notes “successful mass political communication is that whichbest approximates successful personal communication.”70

In the 2012 campaign, 55 percent of adults watched political videos.71 Elec-tronic sources continue to grow. Twenty-seven percent of registered voters whoowned a cell phone used it to keep up with election news or political issues. Nine-teen percent sent text messages related to the campaign to friends. Five percentsigned up to receive messages directly from a candidate or group involved in thecampaign. Thirty-five percent used smartphones to fact-check a candidate’s orcampaign’s statements. Eighteen percent used smartphones to post comments on asocial networking site about a candidate or the campaign in general; forty-five per-cent read the posts of others.72 Sixty-six percent of social media users “like” candi-dates and encourage friends to vote or take action on issues.73

In addition to age, socioeconomic position and education affect participationin politics and community affairs online. As was the case with political activityprior to the availability of new media, those with more resources and educationare the most likely participants. Political activity in social networking spacesreflects a more moderate version of the same demographics. Despite the growth ofonline platforms in political affairs, day-to-day political conversations still occurprimarily offline.74

 SummaryWe began this chapter by considering the impact and importance of lan-

guage. The various reactions to President Bush’s words about the September 11

The Advocate and the Management of Symbols  77

Woodward-Denton Page 77 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

attack remind us that perceptions of the same event vary dramatically. Languagereveals a great deal about the speaker and the listener—and the society in whichthey live.

Symbols are human inventions. They have meaning or significance onlywhen—through experience or agreement—we interpret them. Through languagewe construct the reality that influences our behavior. Through interaction with oth-ers, we come to know who we are, how we fit in, and what we are supposed to do.

Finally, we investigated the nature of political language, several common polit-ical uses of language, and the changing nature of political discourse. We saw howlanguage can be used to control us, to confuse us, and to hide information from us.To communicate effectively and to understand the communication of others, wemust analyze the process of selection, interpretation, and symbolism used in con-structing all messages.

The words of Frank Luntz, a pollster who has worked on both political and cor-porate campaigns, summarize the necessity of managing the symbols of language.

For most people, language is functional rather than being an end in itself. Forme, it’s the people that are the end; language is just a tool to reach them, a meansto an end. But it’s not enough to simply stand there and marvel at the tool’sbeauty . . . you must realize that it’s like fire, and the outcome depends on howit is used... to light the way... or to destroy.75

 QUESTIONS AND PROJECTS FOR FURTHER STUDY1. Why does it matter if we say a glass is half full or half empty?

2. Think of words or expressions that have clear meanings for you but may not beclear to your parents. Why?

3. What is your greatest strength? How do you know?

4. What is your greatest weakness? How do you know?

5. Give an example of how you define “self ” through an interaction you’ve hadwith another or others.

6. Do you stop at a stop sign even if no one is around? Why or why not?

7. What does the term “freedom” mean to you? What does the term “equality”mean to you?

8. Prepare a list of five words to describe the United States, China, and Iran. Howdo the lists differ? Why?

9. Find the stockholders’ report for a large company on the Internet. Identifyexamples of doublespeak, euphemisms, jargon, bureaucratese, inflated lan-guage, and slanting.

10. Select several magazine print advertisem*nts and analyze the language of theads. What promises are implied? What does the ad not tell you?

11. Can you think of an example of hate speech? Should there be some restrictionson the use of hate speech?

78  Chapter Three

Woodward-Denton Page 78 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

12. Go to the library or on the Internet and select the most recent presidentialState of the Union address in Vital Speeches. How many functions of politicallanguage were used in the address?

13. Go to YouTube. Find and review the content of a political candidate for Congress.

 ADDITIONAL READINGRobert E. Denton, Jr. and Jim A. Kuypers, Politics and Communication in America: Campaigns,

Media, and Governing in the 21st Century (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2008).Guy Deutscher, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages

(New York: Picador, 2011).Sonja K. Foss, Karen A. Foss, and Robert Trapp, Contemporary Perspectives on Rhetoric, 3rd

ed. (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2002).Frank Luntz, Words that Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear (New York: Hyper-

ion, 2007).Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (New York: Harper, 2007).



Four Perspectiveson the Natureof Persuasion

Woodward-Denton Page 79 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Woodward-Denton Page 80 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Woodward-Denton Page 81 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM


Persuasion and Reasoning


 Understanding Practical Arguments: Key DistinctionsAnalytic Arguments and Practical EnthymemesDemonstration and ArgumentationFactual and Judgmental ClaimsImplied and Stated Components of ArgumentsReasoning to Discover and to DefendFinding Good Reasons for ClaimsThe Most Common Error of Reasoning Analysis: The Alleged

Logic–Emotion Distinction

 Common Forms of Defective ReasoningAd HominemFalse CauseNon SequiturCircular ArgumentFallacy of OversimplificationExcessive Dependence on Authority

 How Persuasion and Logical Argumentation DifferDenial Often Defeats ReasoningPersuasion’s “Self-Interest” and Argumentation’s “Public Interest”


82  Chapter Four

Woodward-Denton Page 82 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Then again, even if I were informed, what’s the likelihood of chang-ing anyone’s opinion, especially a couple of strangers? If my own lit-tle mind is nailed shut, why wouldn’t theirs be?1

—David Sedaris

Reasoning is about linkages. We invent, organize, and communicate ideas withthe intention of establishing connections that others recognize as making sense. Wehope compelling reasons might be sufficient to overcome the resistance of minds“nailed shut.” Over the centuries rhetoricians and logicians have attempted to cod-ify this process in ways that are sometimes helpful and sometimes not. While theyhave usually reached different conclusions, they have shared the ideal of logicalthought as the essential bedrock of nearly every form of communication.

Even in the simple transactions of everyday dialogue we see the brilliance orconfusion of advocates and their ideas. In virtually all forms of persuasion, logicalconnections are made or missed in the continual process of estimating the signifi-cance of ideas. Consider comedy as a structured form of storytelling. Humor inmost forms is premised on intentional violations of the logical. It is an importantcultural vehicle for celebrating the threshold where sense becomes nonsense. Ourlaughs serve as signs that we hold membership in the society of the sane.

In the whimsical Wallace and Gromit animation epics, the faithful dog Gromitmust face all forms of mayhem in service to his owner’s love of both untested con-traptions and a good English cheese.2 Only the wary Gromit seems to understand thelogic coming from Wallace’s tunnel-like brain. The hapless dog knows that he willusually pay the price for questionable inventions produced in the back-garden shed.

There is also the gleefully contorted logic of a print cartoon. Every week TheNew Yorker magazine offers up a cartoon from one of its award-winning artists with-out a caption. Readers are invited to submit their own for a small prize. When youbegin to study the images without words, you begin to see the logic of the wholebusiness. The images often put visual elements together that clearly are from twodifferent worlds. One week featured two business people talking as they walk undera giant door-knob and key hole. In their scale, the huge piece of hardware reachesperhaps to the height of a fifth floor. What can be said to link these deliberatelymismatched images? The winning caption: “I think we’ve been downsized.”3

In logical terms, humor often flows from such non sequiturs —things or eventsthat do not naturally go together. The humor lies in the tortured rationale for howthese elements could share the same contextual space.

This chapter defines reasoning as an essential component of successful persua-sion. It suggests ways to estimate how patterns of reasoning vary in their power togain compliance or command agreement. In addition, we will identify commonlogical mistakes that persuaders often make and some important distinctionsbetween logical reasoning and persuasion.

Persuasion and Reasoning  83

Woodward-Denton Page 83 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

In an ideal world, allpersuasion would begrounded in good reasonsand clear rationality. Butindividuals are not alwayswilling to commit the nec-essary mental energy tothe task of determiningwhether conclusions havesignificant rational justifi-cations.4 Our reasons foraccepting persuasive mes-sages are sometimes morepersonal and eclectic thanstrictly “logical.” Many ofus have what Michael Kin-sley describes as “thetouching belief in the influ-ence of words.”5 Indeed.But it remains apparentthat persuaders will oftenbe doomed to failure ifthey do not recognize theimportant role of rational-ity in persuasion. After all,it was a sense of the logical that led authorities even before the 9/11 attacks to de-tain a man who enrolled in a Minnesota flight school who was more interested inlearning how to fly an airliner than to land it.6

 Understanding Practical Arguments: Key DistinctionsStephen Toulmin, Richard Rieke, and Allan Janik note that reasoning “is a col-

lective and continuing human transaction, in which we present ideas or claims...and offer the appropriate kinds of ‘reasons’ in their support.”7 Claims linked topremises and evidence are what we mean when we use the term argument. In the con-text of controversy, claims are assertions, vulnerable to challenge, that we hope wecan convince others to accept. Some claims are never stated in public because wefeel we do not have the rational means to defend them. We may privately believeclaims that the “French are lazy” or “New Yorkers are pushy.” But when we publiclyexpress our conclusions, we enter the realm of reasoning, because we assume thatour assertions will be able to withstand the critical scrutiny of others. Phrases suchas “I know...,” “It’s true that...,” and “It would be difficult to doubt...,” allcarry a tone of certainty that implies we can provide evidence to back up our views.

Statements of common knowledge that go on to support such claims are calledpremises. Premises can be axiomatic and obvious, as with those we might trot outto support the claim it’s a nice day: for example, “a sunny day with a temperature

84  Chapter Four

Woodward-Denton Page 84 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

of 65 degrees constitutes ‘nice weather’ for Indianapolis in November.” At othertimes they may be assertions that aren’t necessarily true. We usually don’t need toverbalize premises for the obvious. But we could, if someone wanted to challengethe point. Regarding the claim about New Yorkers, the key premises would be lessuniversal but still “known” as true (at least to some people). There is the aphorismabout doing things “in a New York minute,” meaning doing something quickly andsometimes abruptly. And there are those hordes of impatient commuters sprintingto trains in the bowels of Penn Station.

Evidence is different. We cite evidence when we have specific data—examples,statistics, testimony—to support our claims. Evidence is mostly used to establish a“hard” benchmark that ideally binds a receiver to take a claim seriously. Regarding“pushy” New Yorkers, no doubt someone has tried to develop a city-based scale ofpersonal affability. But we wouldn’t have much faith in its reliability as a tool ofprediction. Chapter 5 offers ways to judge the credibility of sources and—by exten-sion—the evidence they supply.

Aristotle was among the first to put practical reasoning at the center of persua-sion theory. He criticized other teachers of persuasion in ancient Greece for pre-senting “but a small portion of the art,” neglecting the important role that practicalreasoning plays in winning converts. “Persuasion,” he noted, “is clearly a sort ofdemonstration” that depends on a sequence of logically related statements or argu-ments.” A statement is persuasive and credible either because it is directly self-evi-dent or because it appears to be proved by other believable statements. Aristotlecalled these arguments containing facts or judgments acceptable to audiencesenthymemes and noted that they “are the most effective of the modes of persua-sion.”8 We will have more to say about the special nature of enthymemes after wepoint out several key differences between “formal” arguments used by logiciansand the everyday “practical” arguments used in persuasion.

Analytic Arguments and Practical EnthymemesThe reasoning of “formal ” logic is very different from the enthymemes of ordi-

nary life. Formal logic starts with the ideal of the analytic argument where claimsnecessarily follow from a series of widely accepted premises or assertions of evi-dence. An argument is “analytic” when its conclusion is “contained in” (or abso-lutely follows from) its premises.9 In this kind of ironclad reasoning sequence, theclaim is “necessary” rather than “probable” because acceptance of the premisesdictates acceptance of the conclusion.

Although the messy variability of real life rarely allows us to construct validand true analytic arguments, this ideal provides a tantalizing model for persuaders.Who would not like to have ironclad arguments with the certainty of a mathemati-cal sum on their side? We don’t usually argue about mathematical outcomes, weaccept them without a rejoinder if they conform to certain universal rules.

Mathematics provides the easiest language for the writing of analytic argu-ments because—unlike ordinary language—mathematical symbols are completelyunambiguous and value free. For example, the expression

2 + 5 = 7

Persuasion and Reasoning  85

Woodward-Denton Page 85 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

is analytic because its conclusion (the sum of 7) necessarily follows from its prem-ises (universally accepted definitions of what “2,” “5,” and “+” mean). Similarly,the equation

(3 × 62 ÷ 4) – 25 + 8 = 10

uses a rigid logic that leads to an unchallengeable result. Anywhere in the world, amathematically competent person (whether a socialist, capitalist, Muslim or Chris-tian) could be expected to reach the same conclusion by correctly applying univer-sally accepted rules and premises. Denotative terms, such as those in mathematics,have precise meanings and are not subject to interpretation.

We can also use letters rather than numbers to represent analytic arguments.For example:

1. If A then B.2. A.Therefore,B.

In this argument—sometimes also called “deductive” or “syllogistic”—the rela-tionship defined in the first premise (“If A is present then B is also present”) sets upa reasoning sequence that leads irreversibly to the claim. We can substitute ordi-nary language in place of letters or numbers to give the same argumentative form aconcrete setting.

Premise: If Harry decides to go to Europe this summer, Jane says she will alsogo with him.Premise: Harry has decided to go.(Therefore)Claim: Jane will also be in Europe this summer.

The most interesting characteristic of valid analytic arguments is that there isno way to deny the force—persuasiveness or potency—of their claims if you acceptthe soundness of their premises. In fact, the conclusion is essentially contained inthe premises.

The prospect of developing a series of statements that implies a built-in certaintyhas attracted scholars and scientists for hundreds of years. The idea of asserting astring of statements of fact that cannot be refuted is extremely alluring. Philosophersfrom Descartes to Bentham hoped that humankind would benefit from a logic thatused known premises to reach certain and unchallengeable conclusions. They wereintrigued by the possibility that people could move beyond the “fictions,” “false-hoods,” and exceptions common to ordinary discussion. As “a system of necessarypropositions which will impose itself on every rational being,” the idea of the validanalytic argument promises timelessness and dispute-free truth.10 A logic as univer-sal as that of mathematics—if it could be found or invented—would be a valuablepathway that could save the human race from wars and other destructive forms ofconflict. Imagine persuasion through argument that virtually requires acceptance.

But life is messy. It is difficult to construct valid analytic arguments about ordi-nary events, especially when—as is frequently the case with persuasion—issuesunder discussion involve values and judgments. It is hardly surprising, therefore,

86  Chapter Four

Woodward-Denton Page 86 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

that in many persuasive statements we see the general form of analytic arguments,but their actual force is less than their form implies.

Consider a controversial ruling of the Southern Baptist Convention—the coun-try’s largest Protestant denomination—on the role of women in the family. Article18 of the “Baptist Faith and Message” notes that a woman should “submit herselfgraciously” to her husband’s leadership. Wives, the statement notes, “were createdto be ‘helpers’ to their husbands. A wife’s submission to her husband does notdecrease her worth but rather enhances her value to her husband.”11 Many prem-ises and pieces of evidence were offered for these claims, for example:

Premise: Ephesians 5:22–23 notes that a husband’s relationship with his wifeshould be like Christ’s “rule” over the church.Premise: The Bible is the word of God.(Therefore)Claim: Wives should submit to the leadership of their husbands.

Although the Southern Baptist statement raised eyebrows when it wasannounced, the argument on its own terms is analytic. If the Bible is the world ofGod, and its content must be followed by believers, then claims derived from thetestimony of the Bible seem to be binding. Those who accept both premises wouldfind it hard to reject the conclusion.

But even with its strong internal structure, acceptance still depends upon theexternalities of one’s own faith: for example, how we “read” biblical and doctrinalclaims (i.e., advisory or infallible), and how we interpret them in light of changingsocial conventions. In addition, by its very nature “faith” does not require thedefense of argument. Among other things, taking something on faith means that aperson is willing to suspend the search for hard empirical reasons.

The farther we move away from purely denotative languages such as mathemat-ics, the less likely we are to locate valid analytic arguments that can fully deal withthe complexities of the real world. Ordinary language is less precise than numbers.It frequently communicates attitudes and judgments as well as simple descriptions.The symbols “2” or “%,” for example, have single stipulated meanings. It would beextremely odd to hear that a friend “liked” the number “7” better than “2,” or grewanxious at the sight of a percent sign. By contrast words such as “is,” “allows,” or“cannot” may seem to define precise relationships but actually fall short.

Language carries our values and feelings. In certain contexts we may feel goodor bad, angry or pleased about subjects represented with connotative words—sym-bols with widely varying associations—like “sovereignty,” “democracy,” “clever,”or “lustful.” It does not surprise us that thousands of years of human history havefailed to produce agreement about what constitutes a “democracy” or even “truth”itself.12 In fact, most persuasive claims cannot be constructed to apply to all cases,categories, or people. The claim “all As are Bs” is easy to state and manipulate asan abstract expression, but it is much more difficult to make comparable categori-cal assertions that would help settle real human differences. People, groups, andcultures are rarely “all” of anything. In the realm of human affairs, the only state-ments that can be made without citing useful exceptions are either obvious (“wateris necessary to sustain life”) or trivial (“all children have parents”).

Persuasion and Reasoning  87

Woodward-Denton Page 87 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

So of what use is logic if it is so conditional and limited? This is where the con-cept of the enthymeme is useful. Aristotle shrewdly noted that this kind of everydayargument was “sort of ” analytic, because ordinary persuasion finds its premises inthe “probable” existing opinions of audiences rather than in categorical truths (the“alls” and “if-thens”) of formal logic.13 The conclusions of enthymemes are contin-gent on audience acceptance; they are not certain. Because enthymemes spell outlogical relationships based on generally accepted opinions,14 they must be at leastpartially judged by how well the persuader has used audience beliefs as premisesfor persuasion. Use them well, and you succeed. Miss the norms and beliefs anaudience holds dear, and you will pay a price. In everyday life the audience is thearbiter of the force of the argument.

Here, for example, is an enthymeme that Aristotle cites to show how to arguefrom accepted beliefs to persuasive claims. He’s talking about his culture’s long listof human-like Gods such as Zeus or Apollo:

Thus it may be argued that if even the gods are not omniscient, certainly humanbeings are not. The principle here is that, if a quality does not in fact exist whereit is more likely to exist, it clearly does not exist where it is less likely.15

Or, in a simpler diagrammatic form:

Premise: Even gods are not omniscient.Premise: (Since the gods are better than people...)Claim: Certainly human beings are not omniscient.

Note that the premise “the gods are not omniscient” is a statement of social belief,not (at least for most of us) a truth for which there could be universal agreement.Like the declaration from the Southern Baptists, the reasoning sequence “makessense” only if the premises are accepted. Recall that we paid homage to Protagoras’idea that “Man is the measure of all things” in chapter 2. This is the kind of contin-gent knowledge that phrase describes. In persuasive messages, the known forms oflogical processes are understood in the context of an audience’s judgments about thetrue and the good. What we lose in certainty we gain in our awareness that conclu-sions and truths are often intersubjective, meaning they are socially constructedwithin a culture and validated by consensus.16

Demonstration and ArgumentationWe can approach the distinction between formal arguments and practical

enthymemes from another useful perspective. Aristotle observed what many ana-lysts of reasoning continually rediscover: that the reasoning of analytic argumentsis a form of demonstration, and that everyday persuasion requires far less certainargumentation. The terms are helpful because the differences between the two areenormous. A mathematics problem is usually a demonstration because its finalsum is self-evidently true. The transformation of the various operations into a con-clusion is in practical terms “beyond discussion.” No one spends much time delib-erating over claims that are self-evident by definition or direct observation. Incontrast, everyday “argumentation” is not so much concerned with Truth as withthe possible agreement of readers or listeners. We may argue a point to a resistant

88  Chapter Four

Woodward-Denton Page 88 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

audience using a wide variety of reasoning skills, but we know that we cannotsweep away all of their doubts in the same way that we can correct the incorrectoperations of a math problem.

As Aristotle noted, practical reasoning works from “opinions that are gener-ally accepted.” Demonstrations work from basic premises where it would be“improper to ask any further for the why and wherefore of them.”17 A mathteacher demonstrates how to solve a given problem; she would be puzzled (under-standably) if she were asked to “argue” her case. But there probably are no univer-sally accepted procedures for “demonstrating” conclusions such as “the UnitedStates is the most democratic society on earth.” In broad swaths of human actionand judgment there are fewer ways to make claims that are immune from potentialdisagreement. Real world persuasion is thus always subject to the acceptance of aparticular audience. In locating persuasive ideas to build arguments, we meet ouraudiences “on the ground... of their own convictions.”18

Factual and Judgmental ClaimsImplicit in our discussion so far is the important but often misunderstood dis-

tinction between arguments that contain claims of fact and those that argue claims ofjudgment. Facts hold out the possibility of being proven true or false. Judgments, incontrast, express priorities, preferences, or values that may differ from individual toindividual. Generally speaking, the force of an argument focused on a claim ofjudgment will not be as great as a well-constructed reasoning sequence in supportof a claim of fact.

Persuaders frequently mistake claims of judgment for claims of fact, therebyoverestimating how powerful “proof ” will be in silencing disagreement. After all, aclaim of fact should be provable beyond doubt. The culprit that leads us to mistak-enly assume we are simply demonstrating a fact is the simple word “is.” “Is” andother indicative verb forms (i.e., “was” and “were”) have an aura of finality thatmakes judgmental claims sometimes seem provable and factual. This languagesometimes misleads us into assuming we have earned the right to high levels of cer-tainty. For instance, the statement “Barack Obama is a better president than GeorgeW. Bush” is not a statement of fact. We can utter this claim with all the finality andcertainty that we can muster. Neither it (nor its opposite) will ever be universallytrue. There is simply no single standard for judging an individual’s presidency asthere would be for, say, determining the acidity of tap water. As applied to an indi-vidual’s performance on the job, “better” can legitimately be defined in differentways. One person may rank a president’s foreign policy decisions higher than hisdomestic policies; someone else may reverse the importance of those issues. Bycontrast, factual claims are statements that hold the promise of being demonstratedtrue or false for all people.19 Here are some examples of factual claims:

• North Korea is capable of launching missiles with nuclear weapons.

• There are more acres of forest now in the Northeast than there were in 1912.

• Google is the most common search engine used in the United States.

• There are just under 11,000 bookstores in the United States.20

• Smoking increases a person’s chances of contracting lung cancer.

Persuasion and Reasoning  89

Woodward-Denton Page 89 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

• There are more pigs than people in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Car-olina, and South Dakota.21

• Drivers talking on cell phones increase their chances of being in an accident.

• One in three teens sends or receives text messages over 100 times a day.22

• Half of Manhattan’s population was killed in an 1832 outbreak of cholera.23

All of these statements share the possibility of being conclusively shown to beright or wrong. We say “possibility” because the available evidence is sometimesinsufficient to discover the truth about actual events. For example, we know (it isan unchallenged fact) that the baby of aviation hero Charles Lindbergh mysteri-ously disappeared from his family’s Hopewell, New Jersey, home. We also knowthat a carpenter, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, was convicted of the crime of kidnap-ping in a gaudy 1935 trial and was later executed. But there are still doubts thatHauptmann committed the crime.24

The most common claims in the realm of persuasion are judgmental. Thesecannot be proved or settled by citing supporting facts, nor can they be known in thesame way that we “know” the truth of a statement such as “Texas was once a partof Mexico.” A judgmental claim involves the assignment of personal preferences topersons, objects, or ideas. The words we use in these claims indicate how we feelabout what we are describing. The object of our attention is “good,” “bad,”“worthwhile,” “dangerous,” or “desirable,” reflecting our preferences about what isright or wrong, decent or indecent, moral or immoral, important or insignificant.Consider these representative samples:

• Professional athletes are grossly overpaid.

• Albuquerque, New Mexico, has the best Tex-Mex in the country.

• Professional baseball has overexpanded into too many cities.

• Insurance companies unfairly discriminate against young car drivers.

• Legalized gambling is a legitimate way for governments to raise revenue.

• Pixar is the best studio for animated features.

• The sound quality of MP3 technology is not very good.

Note that in every statement, either an adjective or a noun gives a judgmental“spin” to the claim. Words like “better,” “right,” “most,” “legitimate,” and“unfairly,” express feelings about the qualities of ideas or objects. We can “prove” tothe satisfaction of most reasoning people that “smoking increases a person’schances of contracting lung cancer”—a valid cause-and-effect factual claim withample proof to support it. But we cannot prove with the same certainty that “Uni-tarian Universalism is the most socially inclusive American religion.”

This is not to say that the old axiom warning us not to argue about religion orpolitics is correct. It isn’t. We must debate our preferences with others, and with all thelogic we can muster. After all, preferences and values are the basis of most of the lawsand codes we live by. We have no choice in an open society other than to try and winsupporters, buyers, or believers. The only caution is that it is unreasonable to expectthat persuasion will put all contrary positions to rest in the same way that a piece ofevidence may “prove” that a defendant is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.

90  Chapter Four

Woodward-Denton Page 90 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Implied and Stated Components of ArgumentsWhen we make passing comments about noncontroversial subjects, as we have

noted, the logical relationships that lead to assertions hardly need to be explored atall. For example, the claim that “it is too hot today” is usually accompanied by obvi-ous evidence (high temperature and humidity, bright sun, etc.) that makes it unneces-sary to provide supporting reasons. If pressed, however, we could make the reasoningbehind almost any assertion explicit by writing down all relevant claims and prem-ises. A complete argument about the weather might include a factual premise (“thethermometer reads ninety-two degrees”) and a judgmental premise that “interprets”the significance of the facts (ninety-two degrees is, by our criteria, too hot). Thisargument diagrammed as an enthymeme could be represented in simple form:

Factual Premise: “The thermometer reads ninety-two degrees.”Judgmental Premise: (implied but not stated) A temperature of over ninety-two is too hot.(Therefore...)Claim: “It is too hot today.”

Talk about stating the obvious. But that’s the point here. It is often unnecessary tomake all of the premises (and sometimes even the claims) of our arguments explicit.Aristotle reminds us that we can count on our listeners to supply parts of the reasoningsequence. He was perhaps the first to offer the savvy persuasion advice that a successfulpersuader often uses the audience’s beliefs coactively rather than asks for entirely newbeliefs. The pioneering advertising guru Tony Schwartz said the same thing. The skill-ful persuader uses the audience as a “workforce.” When you focus on persuading themusing beliefs they already hold, they are essentially participants in their own persuasion.25

Key words or images are enough to activate premises that the audience already accepts.There are other times when we need to locate hidden premises in order to dis-

cover the unstated relationships on which assertions are based. In effect, we need toreconstruct arguments to discover unstated assumptions that are furthering or hinder-ing agreement. What we are frequently looking for are called “warrants” for argu-ments. Though often unstated, warrants allow one to make an inferential leap fromevidence to claims.26 The warrant is what makes a piece of evidence relevant to aclaim. If we deeply sense the connection, we often don’t bother to explain the logicaljump that weds the two. We assume others will know it as well. Sometimes a war-ranting assumption that is clear to us is not so evident to others. For example, take thecommon claim that “Islam promotes violence and religious intolerance.” This viewhas been expressed many times since the devastating 2001 attacks on the Pentagonand World Trade Center. The evidence cited is often the sometime murderous rheto-ric and actions of al-Qaeda or militant groups in Pakistan or Afghanistan who wouldlike to create a “holy war” against Western “infidels.” The argument has somewhatvaried from source to source,27 but in diagrammatic terms it often took this form:

Claim: Islam promotes violence against the west.Premise: The Taliban and their counterparts in Pakistan and elsewhere fan theflames of Jihad against the United States.(Unstated but necessary warrant: The Taliban are a representative segment ofIslamic thought.)

Persuasion and Reasoning  91

Woodward-Denton Page 91 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

What is interesting here is that—aside from the claim itself—the most debatableassertion is implied rather than explicitly argued. There has been no shortage of thought-ful analysts who hold that the Taliban are no more representative of Islamic thoughtthan Reverend Jim Jones or David Koresh were of Christian thought. The debategoes on.28 But it is clear from recent polling and research that militant Islam isrejected by most who practice the faith.29 Cases like this remind us that sometimesthe claims and premises most in need of a closer look are unstated—and, therefore,sometimes not adequately debated. If problematic conclusions are smuggled into adiscussion, we lose the clarity that a written or spoken warrant would provide.

Reasoning to Discover and to DefendIt follows from what we have said that reasoning is used to rationalize ideas as

well as to discover them. This is an important distinction to consider. To take thesecond case first: we can employ the processes of logical demonstration to discoverwhat we might have overlooked. For example, we might research rates of HIVinfection in the U.S. to test our guess that they have been falling in the last fewyears. Or we can test possible actions such as a big purchase or a risky investmentto see what others think. We want to check our impulses against conclusions andreasons to see if we are making a shrewd decision.

The reasoning of persuasion, however, more typically defends what we believewe already know. As a persuader on a given topic, your view is more or less fixed;what you hope to alter is the attitude of your listeners. Logic in persuasion is thus akind of rationalization: a process of finding defensible reasons in support of cher-ished positions. And persuasion is often suspect because of this. We are often waryof advocates who have adopted arguments that seem more convenient for themthan compelling for us.

Ideally, the best persuasion flows from arguments that were formed in the processof discovery. Aristotle’s teacher, Plato, made the telling point that elaborate effortsat persuasion without equally intense efforts to discover the “best” or “true” mayresult in the exploitation rather than enlightenment of an audience.30 When wewonder if celebrities actually use the services they endorse in advertisem*nts, weare using this principle. An endorsem*nt ideally carries at least the superficialimplication that the famous spokesperson has made a discovery that they are com-fortable promoting. We can be forgiven the more cynical view that most endorse-ments are little more than cash-for-comments transactions.

Finding Good Reasons for ClaimsHaving considered some of the primary issues contained in the idea of logical

persuasion, we are now in a better position to offer some practical guidelines. Weget significant help from communications scholar Karl Wallace, who assessed prac-tical messages in terms of a theory of good reasons. According to Wallace, “Goodreasons are a number of statements, consistent with each other,” in support of state-ments that ask others to make choices.31 They provide explanations for arguablejudgments that the persuader believes will elicit widespread agreement from anaudience. The anticipated agreement is based on the fact that good reasons fre-

92  Chapter Four

Woodward-Denton Page 92 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

quently summarize what members of a society already accept as “right” or “good.”As Wallace notes, “One can scarcely declare that something is desirable withoutshowing its relevance to values.” A person would be near the mark to characterizepersuasion “as the art of finding and effectively presenting good reasons.”32 Con-sider this example with a judgmental claim and its good-reason premises:

Claim: Companies that direct advertising to very young children are engagedin unethical conduct.Reason #1: Young children lack sufficient experience and sophistication todiscount for the “puffery” in advertising.Reason #2: Ethical persuaders—by definition—will not exploit gullible audi-ences who lack the ability to weigh the motives of communicators.

Note that Wallace’s point is especially affirmed in the second reason. As a state-ment of support it communicates a widely endorsed value that condemns exploitation.You may agree, disagree, or find fault with one or both of the reasons. Sometimes oneperson’s “common sense” is another’s irrationality, especially when cultural traditionsand differences have affected one’s experiences. But within the same culture we canusually sense when we have located reasons that will hold up under public scrutiny.

Some reasons function as factual evidence, as in the first premise above. Manycan be tested scientifically. Yet practical reasoning frequently boils down to whatmight be called the “ethical pivots” of “common sense.” When we isolate thepremises that we intend to use in support of a claim, our “sense” of what works isoften based on judgments about the appropriateness of conduct that we hold in commonwith others in the culture. Learning and rationality is the lifelong process of acquir-ing norms about “what goes with what,” and what contexts are friendly or hostileto certain ideas. In chapter 13, we will show how the search for good reasons canbe put to work in the construction of persuasive messages.

The Most Common Error of Reasoning Analysis:The Alleged Logic–Emotion Distinction

In Rhetoric, Aristotle identified three forms of “proof ” available to the persuader:ethical, logical, and emotional.33 Ethical proof (ethos) focuses on the traits of charac-ter within an advocate. Logic (logos) is the search for good reasons. And “emotional”content (pathos) points to how deeply we feel about a claim or its evidence. Althoughhe did not specifically note that the presence of one meant the absence of another,popular usage over hundreds of years has had that effect. Ask the average person toanalyze an advertising “pitch” or a pamphlet from a group seeking social change.Many will come up with a variation of Aristotle’s distinction. Some parts of the mes-sage will be identified as containing “logical” reasons and other parts as containing“emotional” appeals. The presence of one suggests the absence of another.

We think the assumption that the presence of emotional content means the lack of log-ical content is a significant error of analysis. We call this the false dualism of logic andemotion. Karl Wallace called reliance on these terms the use of “weasel concepts.”34

Even among experts who study messages closely, the wording may be fancier, butthe implication that logic and emotion are separate and frequently opposites is stillpresent. Thus, a law school professor regrets that “emotion can activate any behav-

Persuasion and Reasoning  93

Woodward-Denton Page 93 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

ior which has not been inhibited by reason.”35 Another expert on political commu-nication notes that the statements of most politicians are “nothing more thanemotional appeals.”36 There are two problems with this false distinction.

One is that we have increasing evidence to rethink reason and emotion as com-plementary processes.37 One fuels the other. In actual practice, a sense of reasoned jus-tification usually increases our emotional attachment to ideas. When we feel that wehave a strong case for a point of view, our sense of urgency in communicating thatcommitment is usually enhanced.38 Think about your experiences with the emo-tion of anger. Most of us have been warned to “calm down” and not let our emo-tions get the better of us. Presumably—as conventional thinking goes—too muchemotion will shortchange our capacities for reasoning. In fact, your anger probablydevelops in proportion to the good reasons—the logic—you have for it. Reasoningmotivates our emotions and serves as a register of conviction. We can usually artic-ulate why we are angry. What we commonly call “emotion” is an outward measureof the certainty of our logic. Hence, anger, anxiety, fear, and joy generally do havetheir rational origins, and we can often describe them to another person. Justbecause our logic is not clear to others, it doesn’t follow that none exists.

The second problem is that this distinction is sometimes a way to dismiss anargument we don’t like or can’t understand. The label “emotional appeals” some-times serves the intellectually dishonest function of dismissing an idea. Emotion issometimes viewed as a kind “back door” to persuasion: the last refuge for those whodon’t have reasoned arguments to offer. There is perhaps no easier way to dismiss anopponent’s views than to claim that “they have resorted to the rants of emotionalappeals.” In his groundbreaking analysis of Adolf Hitler’s rhetoric, critic KennethBurke noted that it was not enough to simply characterize Hitler’s words as the rav-ings of a fool. To do so, he noted, “contributed more to our gratification than ourenlightenment.”39 Instead, Burke’s analysis assumed that Hitler had a logic for hisactions and that his claims had found a receptive audience. Indeed, there was a logicthat had a certain internal consistency based on the treatment of the defeated Ger-many by its enemies after World War I. What Hitler’s rhetoric lacked, of course,were the good reasons rooted in civil rights values we cherish, such as respect forreligious and ethnic diversity and a healthy skepticism of governmental power.40

 Common Forms of Defective ReasoningTextbooks that address reasoning almost uniformly attempt to provide readers

with the logician’s equivalent of the Rock of Gibraltar—some sturdy referencepoints that will simplify the problem of navigating toward sound reasoning. If weknow what “good” reasoning is, then it follows that there must be systematic waysto classify forms of “bad” reasoning—fallacies. “A fallacy,” notes philosopher MaxBlack, “is an argument which seems to be sound without being so.”41 Fallaciousarguments typically take on the forms of arguments but frequently suggest morethan they deliver. They take the form of a strong statements that have force, whilenone actually exists. No list is inclusive. And none of us can engage in advocacyvery long without committing some of these fallacies. We include only the mostcommon mistakes or subversions of logic.

94  Chapter Four

Woodward-Denton Page 94 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Ad HominemWhen real estate developer and television personality Donald Trump got into a

public fight with comedian Rosie O’Donnell a few years ago, the result was a seriesof ad hominem attacks. Ms. O’Donnell first criticized Trump for his actions, espe-cially his treatment of a contestant in his Miss USA pageant. But Trump mostlyresponded with ad hominens, noting that Rosie was “not smart,” “crude,” “disgust-ing,” “a slob,” and “an animal.”42 Ad hominem occurs when statements worded asarguments are actually directed against persons rather than their ideas. The languageis personal and negative, often in an attempt to deflect attention away from the mer-its of an argument to alleged and largely irrelevant defects of an individual or agroup. In private, former President Richard Nixon uttered what a former aidecalled an “undeniably ugly” range of attacks on his opponents. He was, notes Leon-ard Garment, “a champion hater,”43 a fact that has been revealed in releases ofWhite House conversations Nixon taped in the White House. A writer at The NewYork Times was “that damned Jew.” Crude epithets were uttered about SupremeCourt members, publishers, and his famous lists of White House enemies.44

We are now awash in mean-spirited “commentary” from the web to newspa-pers to prime-time cable talk shows. The language of these screeds is the tip-off.Presidents may be described as “pinheads,” “too old,” “a loser,” or a “jerk.” Areporter may be a “windbag,” “stupid,” or a “fanatic.” In many ways these kinds ofcomments are as old as politics, but there is now a crucial difference. Web “com-ments” are frequently posted by unidentified persons. Respondents to articles andother content can now say anything without having to identify themselves and riskbeing associated with their intemperate attacks. Ad hominem has thus been givenan unfortunate new life—a refuge for individuals unable or unwilling to expend theeffort to argue the merits of ideas. A reliance on personal invective is an indicationof a person’s resistance to finding the higher ground of true public discourse, wherechoices should be defended based on good reasons.

In the aftermath of a shooting in Tucson, Arizona that killed six people,wounded twenty, and nearly took the life of a member of Congress, PresidentObama reminded Americans that their words have consequences.

[A]t a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the worldat the feet of those who think differently than we do—it’s important for us topause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a waythat heals, not a way that wounds.45

False CauseAre tornados attracted to mobile home parks? Do the world’s roosters keep the

sun on schedule? Is composing a Ninth Symphony tempting death? A persuaderwho has fallen victim to the fallacy of false cause mistakenly assumes that becausetwo events have occurred together, one has caused the other. Arguments from falsecause proliferate mostly because of the error of mistaking correlation for causation.

Ordinary discourse is full of false-cause reasoning. For example, it has beenreported by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine that mortalityrates are more than twice as high in neighborhoods that are close to fast-food res-

Persuasion and Reasoning  95

Woodward-Denton Page 95 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

taurants.46 But it would be too simplistic to assume that the correlation of these twoelements mean that one causes the other. Poorer Americans tend to live in urbanneighborhoods closer to all kinds of commercial businesses. More than anythingelse, having a low income is what puts a family near a fast-food restaurant. Similarly,cultural observers have noted a tendency in our public discourse to identify obesepeople as the causes of all kinds of social and technical problems. While obesity islinked to health problems, there is little evidence for other allegations, such as: theirextra weight in cars causes the United States to use more gasoline and create morecarbon dioxide and the extra weight causes plane crashes.47 As the author of onestudy notes, identifying obesity as a primary cause for multiple woes amounts tolittle more than making fat people scapegoats for problems with deeper causes.48

Individuals searching for simple answers to complex problems also sometimesresort to false-cause arguments. In 1998 a Texas minister—frustrated by theappointment of a woman to lead a large church in Waco—unintentionally offereda classic example. Along with the Baptist church that appointed her, he blamed“feminists” for a long list of real and imagined social ills, including

child abuse, abortion, domestic violence, divorce, teen pregnancies, drug andalcohol abuse, p*rnography, teen crime, gang violence, racial tensions and theever-increasing coming out of the closet of the sodomites and lesbians.49

Having sorted out the problems of the world in a sentence, the minister might havefelt better. But few would take his analysis as empirically valid.

In an age when much of our survey research looks for causes within correlations,even seasoned scientists with the best intentions can fall victim to this fallacy. Forexample, many studies over the years have suggested the moderate levels of alcoholcan actually have beneficial effects on men and women who want to avoid heartproblems or diabetes. Some of these correlational studies find lower rates of these dis-eases in people who drink moderately (typically one or two glasses of wine or theirequivalents). As another researcher has pointed out, those who drink in moderationmay just be better at managing their lives and health. They “tend to do everythingright—they exercise, they don’t smoke, they eat right and they drink moderately.”50

Many of these other factors could play a role in helping to reduce rates of disease.The best an advocate can do is to be a perennial skeptic, particularly when the forceof a claim rests on correlational data. Correlations easily mask sometimes unidenti-fied causes that can be far more accurate in accounting for a particular social effect.

Non SequiturThe Comedy Channel and late-night television hosts love these fallacies. A non

sequitur occurs when a conclusion does not follow from the reasons that have beencited. More generally, two or more elements that are intended to be related are—inactual fact—at odds with each other. Non sequiturs may leave us simply puzzled orperplexed at how a person could say or do two things that seem to be completely atodds with each other. One of the authors recently noticed a car with a “ConquerCancer” slogan on its license plate, which was not itself unusual. But he also notedthat the driver was smoking. That’s a non sequitur: not unlike a poignant situationat a nursing home where a visiting musician realized too late that Andrew Lloyd

96  Chapter Four

Woodward-Denton Page 96 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Weber’s anthem “Memories” was probably not a good call for an audience com-posed of many Alzheimer’s patients. Similarly, in his memoir, stage actor Christo-pher Plummer recounts the story of hearing his entrance cue spoken in a potboilercostume drama but being unable to find a place to enter from backstage. In a panic,he ran to the only hole of light he could find and surprised everyone by enteringthrough the scenery’s fake fireplace.51

Most formal arguments that exhibit non sequitur reasoning have at least super-ficial connections that link claims to supporting “reasons.” Closer examination,however, reveals that the connection is insufficient or downright inconsistent. Con-sumer Reports loves to collect these and pass them on to readers: testimony from atruck driver for Alka-Seltzer Plus Cold Medicine, which, its package warns, shouldnot be used “while operating heavy machinery”;52 the coupon for “10% off a ser-vice call” that in fine print notes “not valid on service calls”; or the label identifyinga package of Nips coffee candies as the “value pack,” even though it contains lessproduct than their regular box.53 Each case offers its own non sequitur, where thesum total of claims and supporting data does not fit together.

On serious matters of policy, non sequiturs rarely announce themselves. Individ-uals may differ about the kinds of arguments that might deserve this designation. Forexample, a pro-choice supporter may marvel at what they consider the non sequiturof a pro-life advocate who opposes using federal money in the Temporary Assistancefor Needy Families program. If someone is supporting the “rights” of the unborn,they might argue, shouldn’t one also be willing to support those children alreadyhere living in poverty? Economic conservatives might similarly point out what theysee as a serious disconnect between what university professors who advocate freemarkets say and their acceptance of lifetime tenure. We are all reasonably good atattempting to explain away the non sequiturs of our lives. However, the concept isuseful for analyzing the persuasion of others (and, ideally, our own). Is it probablethat the evidence presented caused a particular outcome? Is it possible that the “evi-dence” merely accompanies the outcome without contributing to its occurrence?

Circular ArgumentSometimes the reasons cited for a claim are little more than a rewording of the

claim. Supporting premises in circular arguments are really just restatements thatgive the appearance of more support than actually exists. Ad slogans such as theclassic “When you say Budweiser, you’ve said it all” have the structure of claimsthat imply good reasons, but actually start and end with the same idea. Parents reg-ularly use this form of argument on their children in the familiar retort, “Do itbecause I said so.” What follows after “because” is essentially a duplicate of whatpreceded. And we’ve all fallen back on locutions that cheat on the idea of genuineargument, such as “We should do this because it’s the right thing to do.”

Circular arguments can cut short public debate on pressing issues by narrowlyfocusing on only unchallengeable claims. By August of 1968, for example, theUnited States had committed 541,000 troops to the Vietnam War. Many leaders inCongress and in the Johnson and Nixon Administrations argued that because wewere so deeply committed to the defense of South Vietnam, we should stay to seethe war through. The fact of being at war became its own justification for delaying

Persuasion and Reasoning  97

Woodward-Denton Page 97 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

our departure from Vietnam until over fifty-eight thousand American lives hadbeen lost.54 Many have argued that we have repeated this fallacy again with theUnited States’ ongoing military involvement in Afghanistan.55 “We can’t win, butwe can’t afford to lose” is the common refrain, and another way of saying that “weneed to stay because we’re already there.”

Fallacy of OversimplificationThe burden of persuasion comes with the natural human tendency to make

categorical claims that seem to have more force because they are unqualified andemphatic. The fallacy of oversimplification is perhaps the disease of our distractedage. We want to make simple conclusions that exclude any exceptions because wesometimes prefer certainty over truth. We often think like journalists who need acaptivating print headline or news anchors who need a story that can be explainedin 45 seconds of airtime. Imagine a television news reporter trying to detail in verylimited time that the government of Cuba is sometimes politically repressive andeducationally progressive, or that the most urban state in the nation (New Jersey) isalso a leader in farmland preservation, or that most residents of Manhattan arefrom somewhere else. The story structure of television news demands simple con-clusions and one-size-fits-all generalizations. Usually only public-affairs broad-casts, print reporting in magazines, or extended newspaper investigations allowsufficient exploration of the facts to produce a nuanced description of events.56

Human action is far more complex than our rhetorical efforts to describe it.Our desire to capture essential points relevant to a persuasive case is often at oddswith real-world complexities that cannot be represented in Twitter-length epi-grams. Prevention magazine, for example, has rated San Francisco one of the most“walkable” cities in the United States. But it also has one of the highest rates ofpedestrian deaths in accidents involving cars.57 Can we acknowledge that bothstatements are true? Can we make our minds bend to two different but compatibletruths? Similarly, can we account for the United States as a beacon of human rightsand personal freedom to the rest of the world while at the same time accept the factthat worldwide it imprisons the most people (and has the world’s highest rate ofincarceration)—higher than even Russia or China?58

When considering our attempts to characterize complex realities in simpledeclarative statements, we would do well to remember that simplification is oftenthe same as distortion. The following assertions, or similar wording, have beenused for years to acknowledge complexity.

“His strengths are also his weaknesses.”“I believe this to be true, but there are important exceptions.”“I don’t think anyone knows for sure.”“We get comfort in believing this, but it less apparent that it is still true.” “We are clearer about the effects of this problem than its root causes.”

Because the statements are tentative, they might seem to weaken a person’spersuasive case. On the other hand, thoughtful listeners may assign more credibil-ity to a source that seems open and acknowledges complexity than to one who iscategorically ideological.

98  Chapter Four

Woodward-Denton Page 98 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Excessive Dependence on AuthorityIt is a legitimate pattern of reasoning to support a persuasive claim by citing

the expertise of like-minded authorities. Expert testimony in support of a claim is acommon and honored form of persuasive argumentation, but excessive deference toan alleged authority is significantly different. As Toulmin, Rieke, and Janik havenoted, “Appeals to authority become fallacious at the point where authority istaken as closing off discussion of the matter in question. No further evidence isconsidered; the authority’s opinion has settled the matter once and for all.”59

There is no shortage of experts—real or self-styled—who are prepared to arguethat they should have the last (and sometimes only) word. History has demon-strated repeatedly the error in such thinking. Radio pioneer David Sarnoff at onetime thought it unlikely that Americans would accept advertising as a basis for thenew and emerging broadcast industry. Some aviation engineers once believed thatno plane or pilot could survive a flight beyond the speed of sound. More than a fewHollywood studio executives of the early 1920s doubted that film audiences wouldreally want to hear their favorite actors talk.60 And more recently, many auto ana-lysts in the financial industry had given up on a revival of the American auto indus-try after the sharp 2008 downturn that left GM and Chrysler bankrupt.61

This fallacy in many ways feeds on a public need for clarity and certainty.“Experts” of all sorts populate our media as they try to fill the voids of uncertaintythat can be unsettling. We need to believe someone has answers. We can reduceour destructive doubts if we grant a charismatic or apparently knowledgeablesource infallibility. In chapter 5 we will examine in more detail persuasion based onacceptance of an ultimate authority.

 How Persuasion and Logical Argumentation DifferThus far, we have shown how a claim supported by reasonable premises can

lead to persuasion. We labeled this single logical unit an “argument” and notedthat Aristotle discovered everyday forms of argumentation (enthymemes) that rou-tinely appear in most types of persuasion. Does it follow that we can use the words“persuasion” and “argumentation” interchangeably? Is persuasion always subjectto the rules of practical reasoning? The answer to both questions is “no,” becausefactors other than reasoning influence what people believe. We close this chapterwith an explanation of why we think persuasion is more than the construction ofreasoned arguments, vital though they are.

Denial Often Defeats ReasoningUnder repeated and hostile questioning from members of the opposition party,

former British Prime Minister James Callahan used to respond to statements of dis-belief with the same expression of frustration: “I can tell you the truth, but I can’tmake you see it.” How right he was. Denial is a potent antidote to even the bestsequence of persuasive logic. Callahan expressed perfectly the persuader’s lament.We have all had the experience of communicating to the human equivalent of a brickwall. As the quote from writer David Sedaris implies at the beginning of this chapter,

Persuasion and Reasoning  99

Woodward-Denton Page 99 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

self-interest often trumps what looks like a winning hand. Tell teens that the volumelevels are too loud on their MP3 players, and the result can be that they listen at evenhigher levels.62 Few tobacco farmers would agree that their commodity promotesserious health problems.63 Persuasion is not easy. And persistence of inaccurate orincorrect belief is common. When we are asked to give up cherished beliefs, familiarways of acting, and views of the world that have become part of the comfortable fur-niture of our lives, we frequently resist. Our psychology immunizes us against theinfection of others’ ideas just as our biology marshals its defenses against toxic bacte-ria. The instinct for ideological self-preservation works as an immune system reject-ing unwanted or unacceptable conclusions. Workers at Apple Computer even had aname for it. The brilliant and innovative Steve Jobs who headed Apple often rejectedwhat his engineers said was possible. He had a “reality distortion field,” they noted,denying vital truths that made Jobs the complex manager he was.64

Denial routinely functions as an effective shield that can be used to ignore rea-soning that takes one to an unpleasant conclusion. Smoking and the industry thatsupports it is an interesting case. All of us have habits that are threatening to ourhealth. But tobacco use is a special case; publicity about its dangers have crept intoevery corner of American public life. Appeals to quit smoking are pervasive andconstructed in arguments that have a lot of force. Cessation will increase thechances of a longer life and fewer debilitating illnesses. But it is easy to find smok-ers who will explain that (1) they understand it is a behavior that carries some risks,and (2) they still do not intend to quit. A common “end-run” around smoking-effects evidence is to challenge some of its credibility, or simply not to deal withit.65 The likelihood of getting smokers to quit increases if you immerse them in pro-longed exposure to anti-smoking arguments through extended group contact. Thatis the most widely accepted way to seek behavioral change of almost any kind: pro-vide a supportive environment while at the same time making it impossible toescape to a state of denial.66

It is rare to find someone involved in what appears to have been a bad decisionwho is willing to pay the psychological price of a full mea culpa. A former Lehmanemployee who sold the kind of mortgage securities that would eventually bringdown his firm (and very nearly the entire American economy) is a notable excep-tion in confessing “I have blood on my hands.”67 The questionable securities gener-ated by firms like Lehman contributed to the housing crash that began in 2007 andto the spate of home foreclosures that still continues today. More typically, others atthe firm were reluctant to accept blame for creating “financial products” that wereunsustainable. They, and counterparts at other banks, point to failures of the regu-lators rather than admit responsibility.68

Part of what is going on in the denial of the obvious is what psychologists call“motivated reasoning ”: a tendency to look for evidence or exceptions that can con-firm our worldview. If you don’t want to acknowledge a state of affairs like climatechange, you can look for evidence that confirms your view and ignore the rest.69 Ifyour firm sold bad products, it is easier to blame federal regulators than the com-pany’s misdeeds. To be sure, this can be done cynically. But it is also in our natureto search for answers that preserve our self-respect and our understanding of howthe world works.

100  Chapter Four

Woodward-Denton Page 100 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Persuasion’s “Self-Interest” and Argumentation’s “Public Interest”Our earlier point about the mistake of assuming that logical and emotional

appeals are discrete is relevant to a related distinction. As we have noted, someoneelse’s logic may not necessarily be your logic. Hence, we may sometimes miss orignore another person or group’s good reasons. To put it another way, reasoningmay be personal and specific, appealing to an individual’s needs rather than to a col-lective sense of “the good” or “the True.” The conventional view of logic is that itshould be able to withstand scrutiny by many different people. But it is useful tomomentarily contrast the difference between persuasion’s “self-interest” and logi-cal argument’s “public interest.”

All persuasion must provide a series of incentives or reasons for winning theapproval of audiences, but not all legitimate persuasion involves good reasons. As wehave noted, the good reasons of arguments are made with the hope that a wide diver-sity of people might also sense their reasonableness. Make a claim about, say, climatechange or the advantages of using debit rather than credit cards and one can hope thereasons will make sense to people with different interests and backgrounds. By con-trast, while persuaders frequently employ rational argumentation, they also rely ontheir abilities to use appeals to satisfy what are sometimes more clearly personal claims.

The distinction between persuasive appeals and argumentative good reasons isrevealing. As we will discuss more fully in chapters 6 and 7, many of us have per-sonal needs for affection, for approval from others, for high self-esteem, and so on.We can be motivated by appeals that promise to satisfy these needs. For example,in a courtroom, jurors are sometimes cautioned by a judge to ignore attempts atflattery directed to them by lawyers eager to win their cases. Appeals to the needfor approval are—for the judge, at least—out of place in the legal system’s attemptto reconstruct the historical record of what the defendant did or did not do.70 Yet,persuasion frequently depends on just such identification—on efforts to recognizeand appeal to individual needs and motivations.

One reason television or Internet advertising can be effective is that it reaches theviewer as a private rather than a public person. We accept advertising appeals made tous in our homes that we might reject as a member of a “live” audience. We might viewa commercial passively, but if we view it at a theater, we may hear groans of disbelieffrom the audience. To put our point another way, while persuasion can employ rea-soning from facts and general opinions, it also reaches individuals by appeals to sub-jective and personal needs that are not among the ideas “in play” in a public setting.

Consider the example of an advertisem*nt for skin cream to remove “ugly agespots” that ran repeatedly on network television. Like most cosmetic ads, it prom-ised a way to purchase greater satisfaction about the way we appear to others. Thecommercial for Porcelana Cream opened with a picture of four middle-agedwomen playing cards. One of the women is obviously ill at ease as she looks downat her hands holding the cards. We hear her think to herself, “These ugly age spots;what’s a woman to do!” Her embarrassment is painfully clear. The solution is obvi-ous—purchase Porcelana to remove the spots and the problem.

From an argumentative point of view, the commercial is hopelessly flawed.Would personal friendships really be at stake merely because a person had a few

Persuasion and Reasoning  101

Live, learn, and work with a community overseas.

Be a Volunteer.

See yourself in someone else.

Woodward-Denton Page 101 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

102  Chapter Four

Woodward-Denton Page 102 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

skin blemishes? Of course not. But the woman’s anxiety has a certain dramaticplausibility as an appeal to vanity. Based on just a few seconds of the commercial,we can believe that there are individuals anxious enough about their acceptance tobelieve that even minor blemishes could put them at risk. It appeals to the kinds ofvery private fears that most of us experience from time to time. To dismiss it as“irrational” is to miss the point. The appeal to fear of rejection is not intended tostand up under the close scrutiny that we give arguments. But that does not denythe strong possibility that some users have needs that motivate them to “improve”their personal appearance. Although we hope that persuasion is often constructedusing good reasons, we will have missed something important if we fail to recog-nize the power of appeals based on personal needs.

 SummaryIn this chapter we have looked at the role that reasoning plays in persuasion.

We defined reasoning as the process of supporting controversial claims with prem-ises and evidence that function as good reasons. Reasons are “good” when theybuild on value-based premises that are as sensible for others as they are for our-selves. They are said to have “force” when their linkages are so strong that theyseem to demand our acceptance. Some of the claims and premises of argumentsmay involve judgments that can never fully be argued away; others may be factualand produce nearly universal acceptance.

We also noted that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about reasoningand about what it can and cannot do. For example, the most direct route to attitudechange is sometimes by appealing to private but powerful motivations, such as aperson’s need to feel wanted by others. These individualized appeals are not neces-sarily “irrational emotions” nor “unreasonable” grounds for forming attitudes, butneither are they the kinds of statements that can stand up as reasons that wouldhelp shape a consensus of support in a public gathering. Advertising is full of moti-vating appeals, which frequently have the effect of allowing people to reward them-selves or sanctioning a certain feeling. Topics of greater consequence, such asefforts to reconstruct the guilt or innocence of a defendant in a trial, demand morerigorous defenses.

Using Aristotle’s writings as a guide, we looked at the unique features of prac-tical arguments called “enthymemes.” Enthymemes have two special features thatmake them different from the formal “analytic” arguments used by scientists,mathematicians, and logicians. First, the claims in enthymemes are “probable” or“preferable,” since they deal with practical subjects for which demonstrations offact are usually impossible. Second, usually one or more of their parts (claims orpremises) may be implied rather than stated; enthymemes replicate effective per-suasion by building from what an audience already believes or accepts.

Like all forms of reasoning, enthymemes and other forms of argument can bemade from premises of dubious quality. In fallacies like ad hominem, false cause, nonsequitur, and circular argument, the premises of some arguments may present only theillusion rather than the reality of logical support. The task of the effective persuader isto avoid these superficial linkages in favor of arguments with genuine good reasons.

Persuasion and Reasoning  103

Woodward-Denton Page 103 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

 QUESTIONS AND PROJECTS FOR FURTHER STUDY1. Locate a persuasive essay written by a newspaper columnist or blogger. After

studying the column, summarize the claims and premises the author has used.Be careful to look for implied as well as stated premises. Make a judgment aboutthe quality and adequacy of the author’s arguments.

2. Observe a “debate” on a television talk show or threaded web discussion. Iden-tify the extent to which each advocate in a program is able to communicategood reasons in defense of his or her position.

3. Using examples from magazine advertisem*nts, locate and explain messagesthat contain some of the fallacies mentioned in this chapter: ad hominem, falsecause, non sequitur, circular argument, and excessive dependence on authority.

4. Search-engine algorithms attempt to “read” our interests so that ads specific to uscan be placed on some of the web pages we see. Search for material on the stage andfilm actor Christopher Plummer, for example, and you may find that subsequentpages include ads pushing the availability of local plumbers. Cite a recent exampleof the non sequiturs algorithmic “logic” has produced in your own web use.

5. This chapter describes practical reasoning by comparing several categories ofopposites. Briefly explain the differences between each of the following contrast-ing terms, indicating which term identifies a characteristic of practical reasoning:

demonstration vs. argumentationanalytic arguments vs. enthymemes

6. Explain the statement in this chapter that analytic arguments offer “a tantalizingmodel for persuaders.” Construct a simple argument with two premises and aconclusion that illustrates an analytic argument.

7. In this chapter we note that one of the most common mistakes people makewith regard to reasoning is the mistaken assumption that they can “prove” aclaim of judgment. Cite your own example of a claim of preference that mightbe mistaken for a claim of fact. Why is the claim not provable with the same cer-tainty as a claim of fact?

 ADDITIONAL READINGAristotle, Rhetoric, in The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon (New York: Random

House, 1941).Isabelle Blanchette, “The Effect of Emotion on Interpretation and Logic in a Conditional

Reasoning Task,” Memory and Cognition, July, 2006, pp. 1112–1125.Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca, The New Rhetoric: A Treatise in Argumentation,

trans. John Wilkinson and Purcell Weaver (Notre Dame, IN: University of NotreDame, 1969).

Stephen Toulmin, Richard Rieke, and Allan Janik, An Introduction to Reasoning (New York:Macmillan, 1979).

Karl R. Wallace, “The Substance of Rhetoric: Good Reasons,” Quarterly Journal of Speech,October, 1963, 139–249.

Woodward-Denton Page 104 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Woodward-Denton Page 105 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM


Theories and Modelsof Source Credibility


 The Three Meanings of “Credibility”Ethos as Good CharacterThe Rational/Legal Ideal of CredibilitySource Credibility as Believability

 Credibility as Authority: Strategic DimensionsLegitimationMystificationAnonymity and Identity ConcealmentTwo-Step FlowSource/Placebo SuggestionAuthoritarianism and Acquiescence


106  Chapter Five

Woodward-Denton Page 106 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

It is not true, as some writers assume in their treatises on rhetoric,that the personal goodness revealed by the speaker contributes noth-ing to his power of persuasion; on the contrary, his character mayalmost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses.1


We cannot live our lives without judging the quality of sources. Persuasion mayseem to be just about messages and ideas, but the sources of appeals and argumentsloom large as a deciding factor in whether messages and their evidence areaccepted. Although we are not fully conscious of the process of assessing sourcecredibility, we usually run a quick calculation for every request we receive. What dowe know about the source? Has unsettling new information about a familiar topiccome from a source we can trust? What does a person or organization gain or losein associating themselves with messages that ask us to yield? In the general mix ofpersuasion strategies and failures, questions like these are vital. And they can beaugmented by an additional set of concerns about whether—as persuaders or tar-gets of persuasion—we should trust the information we have. What do we knowand how do we know it? Do we have confidence in statements coming to us that arepresented as settled fact?

Consider some examples.

• A member of your family has been taking a popular drug for diabetes. Thedrug maker has assured doctors and patents the medicine is safe. But a fed-eral panel of experts set up by the FDA to evaluate the drug has indicatedthat its regular use carries the risk of severe heart attacks. Their recommen-dation is that the drug be “severely restricted.” Whom should your familymember believe: the drug maker who affirms that it is safe, or most of themembers of the panel, who have serious concerns?2

• In 2012, offensive lineman Jacob Bell announced he was retiring from theCincinnati Bengals. He still had a contract and a good salary. He said he felthealthy but was concerned about the effects of head injuries. Bell said hefeared the diminished mental capacity or worse that some NFL players hadsuffered after receiving numerous concussions.3 Given recent news about thenegative effects of accumulated concussions in contact sports and Bell’s deci-sion, what would you say if you were the parent of a child who is asking totry out for the high school football team? If you agreed, who would have thepower to change your mind?

• Perhaps the single greatest example of misplaced faith in the credibility of asource in recent times is the case of Bernard Madoff. The financial “guru”established a firm with offices in Manhattan and London that for decadestook the money of hundreds of private and individual investors, issuing peri-

Theories and Models of Source Credibility  107

Woodward-Denton Page 107 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

odic bogus reports of steady returns on their investments. When the financialmeltdown came in 2007, he confessed to operating a $50 billion Ponzischeme, using money from new investors to pay enough “dividends” toolder clients that reassured them he was a truly gifted investor. The “returns”on investments that most clients saw were only on paper, ostensibly rein-vested in their accounts. In the badly regulated financial markets, Madoffplayed the role of sage investor. He courted inept federal regulators, stockanalysts, and opinion leaders in corporate boardrooms. Outwardly, heoffered tantalizing evidence that his business was legitimate. His offices werein impressive buildings in New York and London, and—as one aide noted,“he appeared to believe in family, loyalty and honesty.”4 Would you havequestioned his credibility and recognized the fraud?

• A professor of labor relations on your campus offers the opinion that themega-store chain Walmart is “bad for business, bad for workers, and a con-tributor to the destruction of smaller ‘main street’ businesses.”5 His sugges-tion: stay away and take your business to “less predatory” retailers. You areaware that Andrew Young, the former Ambassador to the United Nations,Mayor of Atlanta, and civil rights leader, was a paid advisor to the company.Young had noted that Walmart was “making middle-class lifestyles availableto poor people.”6 Whom should you believe?

Our attention in this chapter is primarily on the power that flows from a per-suadee’s conviction that a persuader has a legitimate claim to special knowledge orexpertise. Credibility thus always figures into calculations about how people willrespond to requests for action or change. But the processes that accompany grant-ing authority to a source are anything but simple. As with many variables in per-suasion, there is an enormous gap between the questions that we raise and therelatively incomplete answers current research is able to provide. Communicationpatterns between people are fascinating, but they are rarely reducible to simple for-mulas. Persuasion theorists are constantly humbled by the subtle and sometimescontradictory ways audiences react to high- and low-credibility sources. In significantnumbers humans seem to have the capacity to believe sources they should probablydoubt, and resist those who are worthy of our trust.

 The Three Meanings of “Credibility”“Credibility” is a pivotal term in the study of persuasion, but those who use it

frequently have different if equally valid meanings in mind. In a general sense, esti-mates of credibility involve assessing how the reputation of a persuader will affectthe way a given audience will respond. For some, credibility means good character,sincerity, or integrity. For others, it is a synonym for valuable expertise or a reputa-tion for fair-minded objectivity. Social scientists often apply a third meaning to theterm: a trait identified with a source who is believable to others, even when the qual-ifications or objectivity of the source should raise doubts. As we shall see, thesethree perspectives sometimes blend together. At other times, each one presents anopportunity to explore the different ways in which sources achieve persuasive goals.

108  Chapter Five

Woodward-Denton Page 108 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Ethos as Good CharacterOne of the oldest terms associated with the qualities of an advocate is the

Greek word, ethos. For Aristotle, ethos was one of the three major forms of influ-ence. He wrote in Rhetoric that the ideal persuader should put the audience in theright emotional frame of mind (pathos), state the best arguments (logos), and havethe right kind of character (ethos). The persuader “must not only try to make theargument of his speech demonstrative and worthy of belief; he must also make hisown character look right.”7

Aristotle labeled the components of good character as good sense, good moralcharacter, and goodwill. “It follows,” he noted, “that anyone who is thought tohave all three of these good qualities will inspire trust in his audience.”8 If the audi-ence members perceive that a persuader has good sense, good moral character, andgood intentions, they are more likely to believe that a persuader’s judgments arereasonable and justified. Add in the element of goodwill—the important idea thatthe persuader seems to have honorable intentions toward the audience—and wehave a sense of what kinds of advocates are likely to be successful.

Ethos is the personal or professional reputation the persuader brings to the per-suasive setting or constructs in the process of communicating. We usually have lit-tle difficulty recognizing the general traits of credibility. We identify high ethossources as fair, trustworthy, sincere, reliable, and honest. Their knowledge about asubject may be seen as professional, experienced, and authoritative, and their man-ner of presentation may be perceived as energetic, active, open-minded, objective,bold, or decisive.9

Robert Pirsig’s classic novel/memoir Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenanceoffers various levels of meaning. On one level, this campus cult novel is a critiqueof the battle between the Platonists and Sophists over the value of teaching rhetoricand citizenship (a feud we briefly examined in chapter 2). On another level, Pirsigexplores how character is revealed in ordinary life. Consider his description of twouninvolved and distracted mechanics who were asked to diagnose a strange noisecoming from the engine of his motorcycle.

The shop was a different scene from the ones I remembered. The mechanics,who had once all seemed like ancient veterans, now looked like children. A

Prescriptive Descriptive

1.Ethos as

Good Character

Good senseGood moral characterGoodwill, etc.

2.Legal Standards for

Judging Sources

Ability to make accurate observations

Objectivity (more reluctant than willing)

3.Behavioral Studies

of Believability

TrustworthinessHonestyExpertiseSimilarity to receivers

Figure 5.1 Three Perspectives on Credibility

Theories and Models of Source Credibility  109

Woodward-Denton Page 109 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

radio was going full blast and they were clowning around and talking andseemed not to notice me. When one of them finally came over he barely lis-tened to the piston slap before saying, “Oh yeah. Tappets.”10

Pirsig eventually paid a $140.00 repair bill for services that failed to remedy theengine problem. He later discovered that the noisy piston was caused by a dam-aged twenty-five cent pin accidentally sheared off by another careless mechanic.“Why,” he wondered, “did they butcher it so?” What evidence did they providethat indicated they were less than fully competent mechanics?

The radio was the clue. You can’t really think hard about what you’re doing andlisten to the radio at the same time. Maybe they didn’t see their job as havinganything to do with hard thought, just wrench twiddling. If you can twiddlewrenches while listening to the radio that’s more enjoyable.

Their speed was another clue. They were really slopping things around in ahurry and not looking where they slopped them. More money that way....

But the biggest clue seemed to be their expressions. They were hard toexplain. Good-natured, friendly, easygoing—and uninvolved. They were likespectators. You had the feeling they had just wandered in there themselves andsomebody had handed them a wrench. There is no identification with the job.No saying, “I am a mechanic.” At 5 PM or whenever their eight hours were in,you knew they would cut it off and not have another thought about their work.They were already trying not to have any thoughts about their work on the job.11

Pirsig argues that a good mechanic is a person of high ethos who can matchthe precise tolerances of machinery with the kind of rigorous and analytic mindadmired by Aristotle. The hosts of National Public Radio’s popular call-in showCar Talk have degrees from MIT—and meet the criteria set by Pirsig. Mechanicsare practical artisans who need powers of concentration as well as mechanicalknowledge and good character. The ethos of anyone on whom our judgmentsdepend provides a clue as to whether we should heed (and/or pay for) their advice.

The Rational/Legal Ideal of CredibilityThe second means of determining credibility is through the use of formal

guidelines for judging expertise and reliability. From the rational/legal perspective,statements or views deserve to be believed if their sources meet certain generalstandards for accuracy and objectivity. Robert and Dale Newman describe a sourceas believable if she or he tells the truth “with no concern as to whether any specificaudience or reader will in fact believe it.”12 Their assessment provides a bridgebetween ethos and rational credibility—and summarizes one of the central featuresof testing credibility.

The difference between a persuader’s ethos and his rational credibility rests onobjective criteria that exist apart from the beliefs of people in specific settings. Onlyan audience can decide if they believe a persuader has good character, but the legalrules for judging sources are constructed to apply to all audiences. Members of ajury, for example, may initially have strong suspicions that a defendant of a differ-ent social background is guilty of the charges brought against him or her. But undercourtroom guidelines for assessing sources, they must disregard their personal pre-

110  Chapter Five

Woodward-Denton Page 110 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

conceptions and decide a case based on the rules of evidence. The witness who isinstantly likable because they are outwardly most like them (in dress, and educa-tion level, for example) may only be capable of giving “hearsay” (overheard or sec-ondhand) evidence. Under rational/legal rules governing sources, hearsaytestimony will be discounted by a judge in favor of statements from an eyewitness,even if in other respects the eyewitness is very different from most of the membersof the jury.

The abstract ideal of judging only by objective standards does not always trans-late into practice. Harper Lee’s widely admired novel To Kill a Mockingbird poi-gnantly portrayed the tragic outcome of a jury ignoring the legal requirements ofrational credibility. Tom Robinson, a black man, is on trial for the alleged rape of awhite woman. As the narrative unfolds, it becomes clear that he is innocent: thevictim of racism deeply woven into a small Alabama town at the height of theGreat Depression. The young and disturbed woman who coaxed him into herhouse, kissed him, and then tried to erase her guilt by claiming that she had beenassaulted reminds us of the perilously frail nature of real-world justice. Defenseattorney Atticus Finch (played in the 1963 film by Gregory Peck) tries valiantly topoint out to the all-white jury that no objective review of the evidence can lead a

Theories and Models of Source Credibility  111

Woodward-Denton Page 111 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

thinking person to a verdict of guilty. Mayella Ewell has clearly fabricated thecharges, knowing that she had committed an unspeakable breach of her commu-nity’s racial code. In his stirring summation to the jury Atticus concludes, “I amconfident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you haveheard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family.”13 But thetwelve men succumb to their prejudices. “Atticus had used every tool available tofree men to save Tom Robinson,” notes Lee, “but in the secret courts of men’shearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell openedher mouth and screamed.”14

What specific standards should have guided the jury? In the practice of law,guidelines for determining the quality of a source are relatively straightforward.They involve two fundamental questions—one concerning a source’s ability andone pertaining to its probable objectivity.

Ability. How do we determine if someone has the ability to tell the truth orto make intelligent observations about a specific subject? The first crucial test ismeasuring the extent to which an “authority” has been in a position to observe andmake considered judgments. Were they eyewitnesses to events, or did they getinformation secondhand from another source? Do they have the training, experi-ence, access to information, and knowledge to know what to look for? Can theirtestimony be corroborated by others?

A person diagnosed with a rare medical condition, for example, will want tobe sure that the health professional had the expertise to reach an accurate conclu-sion. If the condition is rare and a nonspecialist family doctor did the analysis, itwould be appropriate to seek a second opinion from someone who specializes inthe condition before making any major decisions about treatment or drastic life-style changes. Expertise, experience, and corroboration by other experts are allcommon-sense criteria for judging a source’s ability.

Objectivity. After the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Penta-gon, former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw was approached after a speechat Northwestern University and asked why he wasn’t wearing a flag pin on thelapel of his jacket. Many news anchors had started wearing the pins after the terror-ist episodes, as do many today. Brokaw replied: “I don’t think it’s appropriate for ajournalist to wear a flag. It suggests that you approve of whatever the government isdoing at that time.”15 The anchor recognized that wearing a symbol could affectthe audience’s judgment of his objectivity.

Objectivity is the ability to set aside personal needs or prejudices as frames ofreference for understanding an event. Journalists aspire to it; scientists claim it; andmost academics assert that it is a core value in their research. Complete objectivity,however, may be impossible; arguably, human creativity and imagination maydepend on less than objective frames of reference. Even so, we prize sources whocan render events and observations with high degrees of accuracy and fairness.Weather forecasting, forensic science, space science, and structural engineering arejust a few fields where accuracy is needed. And we hope that journalists can renderreasonably accurate accounts of civil or political upheavals unfolding in distantparts of the world. But objectivity is usually more a matter of degrees than abso-

112  Chapter Five

Woodward-Denton Page 112 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

lutes. The origins of human motivation can be obscure, and the desire to explainthe unknown can lead to decisions based on prior beliefs and values rather thanobjective truths.

Indeed, we often expect personal investments will shape the comments andresponses of groups and individuals. In such cases, credibility is said to be willing,and hence, somewhat suspect. Willing sources make claims that confirm judgmentsor state facts that are flattering or self-serving. We mentioned the natural tendencyto fill in unknowns with assumptions and beliefs, and there is an even strongerimpulse to put the best face on the actions of groups or institutions to which we feela certain allegiance. Hence, press releases from university press offices can becounted on to report institutional successes rather than failures. ABC televisionfinds greater news value in motion pictures released by their owner, the DisneyCompany, than other studios.16 Many former executives at banks and financialbusiness defended the reasonableness of business practices that made them wealthyand their stockholders and employees poor.17 Sometimes such “negative evi-dence”—the absence of data where you would expect to find it—can be its ownform of willing testimony.

Willing sources confirm our natural inclination to rationalize events in termsof what we want to see or believe about ourselves. A rash of recent news reportsexpressing alarm that doctors are sometimes given handsome fees by drug compa-nies to “educate” others in their fields about the virtues of a particular treatment ispredicated on such rationalization. If a competitor’s drug would treat a patient’scondition more effectively, can you count on the doctor to do the right thing andforgo the brand they have endorsed?18

In contrast, reluctant sources take positions that go against their own interests.The idea of reluctant testimony is based on a sturdy old principle: “It is assumedthat sane individuals will not say things against their own interests unless such tes-timony is true beyond doubt.” If a witness gains little from his or her own testi-mony, it is probably very credible.19 After leaving her position, a former assistantsecretary of education said she was wrong to believe that constant testing wasessential for measuring progress and improving American schools.20 Similarly, apolice commissioner admitted his department “screwed up” by not properly han-dling evidence on a series of drunk-driving convictions.21 Neither person gained byadmitting their mistakes while holding positions of responsibility, lending credibil-ity to their testimony.

In reality, the gap between the willing and the reluctant source is an unbrokencontinuum that is heavily weighted at the willing end of the scale. Like gold nug-gets in a stream, reluctant testimony is understandably rare and valuable. The taskleft to persuaders and audiences searching for strong evidence for persuasive claimsis to find high-ability sources who are not obviously willing—that is, not so tied byself-interest to one point of view that they are incapable of seeing merit and truth inopposing viewpoints.

Source Credibility as BelievabilityA third perspective on credibility comes from experimental studies after World

War II on the formation of attitudes about sources. With the expansion of sources

Theories and Models of Source Credibility  113

Woodward-Denton Page 113 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

of information beyond print and film, many of these studies have been replicatedand refined over the years using newer media.

Psychologist Carl Hovland was instrumental in redefining credibility as believ-ability, spawning hundreds of studies of source-related traits that affect audienceacceptance of a message.22 His study with Walter Weiss of audience responses tohigh- and low-credibility sources is considered a classic.23 The researchers askedstudents at Yale to complete opinion questionnaires that measured the students’attitudes on four different topics. After completing the questionnaires, the subjectsread pamphlets arguing pro and con positions on the same four areas. All readidentical opinions on the four issues. They were then randomly subdivided into dif-ferent groups. Hovland and Weiss chose sources with various degrees of credibility,and then told their subjects that a particular point of view had been authored byone of those sources.

One question was: “Can an atomic-powered submarine be built at the presenttime [in 1950]?” Different groups of students received different opinions. Onegroup was told that the opinion they were reading was from the Russian daily,Pravda. A second but demographically similar group was told that the source wasthe widely respected physicist, J. Robert Oppenheimer. Another topic was whetherthe popularity of television would decrease the number of movie theaters in opera-tion. The opinion on this subject was attributed to a high-credibility source forsome readers (Fortune Magazine) and a low-credibility source for others (a gossipcolumnist). The study was designed to hold every variable constant except for thesources to which the comments were attributed.

Would the attributions make a difference? Would there be greater attitudechange from the groups who believed in the integrity of their sources? Not surpris-ingly, many of the respondents agreed with opinions when they were attributed tohigh-credibility sources. Oppenheimer and Fortune, for example, were ranked asmore believable than Pravda and the columnist. Did high credibility translate intogreater agreement with the source? The answer was a qualified yes. The experi-menters measured shifts in attitudes by comparing the results of initial pre-studyresponses on questionnaires with changes in attitude measured in a second ques-tionnaire. The net change in attitudes was not enormous, but it was always greaterfor readers of “trustworthy” sources.24 Other analysts who have studied and repli-cated this research have noted that in order to demonstrate measurable effects onattitudes, the researchers had to create extreme differences in communicator credi-bility to obtain even a slight advantage to the credible source.25

The problems involved in designing precise experimental studies are com-plex.26 As the pioneer researcher Arthur Cohen noted years ago, a “persistent theo-retical problem is that of disentangling the main components of credibility. Is itexpertness or trustworthiness, perception of fairness or bias, disinterest or propa-gandistic intent, or any combination of factors which is responsible for the effectsof credibility on attitude change?”27 A source can be studied by focusing on onespecial dimension (dress, gender, age, perceived intelligence, the decision to includeboth sides of an argument) or on a broader identity (a writer for The New YorkTimes, a representative of the United States government, a member of the Chamberof Congress, or a felon). It may also be useful to link communicator traits to the

114  Chapter Five

Woodward-Denton Page 114 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

content of a message, as has been done in studies of whether people pick up cuesabout credibility from the Internet and surrounding advertising. Students in onestudy looked for clues about the quality of a news source but tended to ignore therole that web-based advertising played in judging the credibility of a website.28

There is also evidence to suggest that the medium through which a message issent affects the credibility of the source. Because they provide more data about asource’s vocalics, demeanor, and appearance, for example, radio and television nat-urally focus more attention on personal style and appearance.29 Print, in contrast,cannot reveal such details. Hence, many of us feel we know something about thecharacter and personality of CBS’s Katie Couric or Howard Stern on SiriusXMradio. Both project specific and familiar personas. However, few Americans knowanything about The New York Times’ Jill Abramson, even though the Executive Edi-tor of that paper arguably has a larger role in setting the nation’s news agenda.

As we have noted, even the simplest communication setting contains a multi-tude of source variables that are difficult to isolate and study. It is hardly surprisingthat efforts to “control” for all of these factors have raised as many questions asanswers. In spite of these limitations, research into how sources are judged by audi-ences has produced useful observations, some of which are summarized below.

1. For many people high credibility means trustworthiness. The concept of trust lieson or near the surface of most individual assessments of sources. Receiversare more willing to accept what a persuader says if they believe that his orher intentions are honorable. Trustworthy sources are seen as people whowill not abuse their access to an audience. Audiences who believe that theyare being used, deceived, or carelessly misled will pay little attention to anadvocate’s ideas.30

2. Sources matter most with audiences that are “centrally” (rather than “peripherally”)processing a message (see the section on Elaboration Likelihood Theory inthe next chapter for a detailed discussion of this distinction). High-credibil-ity sources increase confidence in a message, especially if receivers are fullyengaged in considering arguments or evidence.31

3. Similarities between communicators and audiences do not necessarily pave the wayfor influence. Researchers have sometimes found that listeners judge similarsources “as more attractive than dissimilar sources.”32 Most of us wouldexpect as much. But the fact that there is prior agreement between peopleon a range of topics does not guarantee that they will more easily influenceeach other.33

4. Physical attractiveness slightly increases a persuader’s chances with audiences.While intense audience involvement with a subject is usually more impor-tant, a number of researchers who have studied audience reactions to per-suaders have concluded that attractive, well-dressed, and well-groomedadvocates are likely to be more successful than “unattractive” persuaders.34

5. Prescriptive standards for judging sources (as noted in our previous discussion ofrational/legal standards) often have little effect on overall persuasibility. If a sourceis introduced purely with reference to their high credentials, the additivevalue of their expertise is sadly less than one would hope.35 Even persuaders

Theories and Models of Source Credibility  115

Woodward-Denton Page 115 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

who carefully document the origins of their information will often not faremuch better than less candid advocates.36 There is also some evidence tosuggest that home-grown Internet bloggers can seem as credible to manyreceivers as those with special training and expertise.37 There is a world ofdifference between the news gathering potential of, say, the British Broad-casting Corporation and the much more modest efforts of Yet,the web user can be influenced by factors such as presentation rather thanthe capacity of a source to “know.”

6. Audiences seem to learn information regardless of a source’s reliability. A politicalcampaign commercial on television may “teach” the viewer more about thepolitical views of a candidate than an objective news report with ostensiblyhigher credibility.38 And there is some evidence to suggest that the Internethas found audiences that are receptive to conspiracy theories, bogus medicalremedies, and dubious historical “facts.”39 Some research suggests that usersare not very curious about the credibility of Internet sources, assuming thatthere is little difference between the web materials and more professionallyedited media such as television or magazines.40 We seem to absorb—if notfully accept—views regardless of our assessments of the quality of the source.

7. Audiences tend to have a shorter memory for the qualities associated with a sourcethan for the ideas expressed. Demonstrating what is sometimes called the“sleeper effect,” some studies have shown that people tend to forget their ini-tial impressions of an advocate while retaining at least a general sense of thepoint of view expressed. The work of a number of researchers indicates that“the increased persuasion produced by a high-credibility source disappears.Similarly, the decreased persuasion produced by a low-credibility source van-ishes.”41 This is probably good news for advertisers, political campaignersrunning negative ads, and other sources who deserve some suspicion abouttheir motivations. It also accounts for the common observation we hear oth-ers make when they say, “I don’t know where I heard this, but...” If theyremembered the source, they might be less inclined to recite what they heard.

8. The needs of receivers often override extensive consideration of a persuader’s credibil-ity. The acceptability of a source is sometimes based on factors far removedfrom rational source credibility criteria. Gary Cronkhite and Jo Liska ask,“Do listeners always attend to public and television speakers because theyconsider the sources to be believable? Sometimes that is the reason, ofcourse, but persuasion in such formats also proceeds as a matter of mutualneed satisfaction.” At times, “likability, novelty, and entertainment are val-ued more highly” than traditional standards of competence and trustworthi-ness.42 For younger viewers of new media, engaging, concise, hip,understandable, and humorous formats are important features—which iswhy Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and the late evening talk shows aresources of election “news” for some.43

As we have seen, the qualities that make a given source attractive to a particu-lar audience have been the subject of much speculation. We have outlined threeperspectives, summarized in figure 5.1. For the early Greeks, who first systemati-

116  Chapter Five

Woodward-Denton Page 116 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

cally thought about the role of the advocate in persuasion, credibility was inherentin the quality of a person’s character. A good persuader had to be a good and virtu-ous person. For logicians and historians, credibility resides in sources that havehigh expertise and reasonable objectivity. To social scientists who are concernedwith how attitudes are formed, source credibility means believability, and it isdetermined by the standards of an audience.44

 Credibility as Authority: Strategic DimensionsAlthough a message often stands or falls on the weight of its ideas and argu-

ments, this is not the case with the strategies discussed below. Each of the six ele-ments represents a dimension of persuasion that depends as much on an advocate’sattributes—on their implied authority—as on the ideas presented. They include theuse of a source’s prestige to legitimate ideas or groups, the use of mystification to tele-graph a communicator’s expertise, the concealment of identity, an important two-steplinkage between media and audiences, the power of source/placebo suggestion, and asometimes dangerous reliance on authority as a substitute for personal responsibility.

LegitimationWithin every culture and community, there are individuals who have the

power to give at least superficial legitimacy to almost any idea or cause theyendorse. Legitimation adds a sense of success or importance to a gathering, such aswhen a president chooses a local forum for an appearance. Or their endorsem*ntcan lend an aura of prestige to an object or cause. These high-ethos figures may bepoliticians, business leaders, entertainers, artists, clergy, or local civic leaders. Thelink may be to contemporaries, such as software pioneer Bill Gates or U2’s Bono,or to historical giants, such as Charles Lindbergh or CBS’s Edward R. Murrow.Hollywood has enshrined the idea of the charismatic rainmaker in films rangingfrom Orson Well’s Citizen Kane (1941) to Martin Scorsese’s biopic about HowardHughes, The Aviator (2004). All of these people, real of fictional, had the power togain acceptance for a point of view because of who they are or were.

Sources that have the power of legitimation are usually either celebrities orcharismatic leaders. Celebrities can have influence through notoriety, even whentheir actual achievements may be fairly modest.45 American advertising pages arefilled with celebrity endorsem*nts for everything from drinking plenty of milk towearing the right wristwatch. Many more accept roles as spokespersons for socialand political action groups. Charlize Theron and Alec Baldwin, for example, havebeen spokespersons for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Robin Wil-liams, Harry Belafonte, and Michael Stipe have produced television ads forAmnesty International USA. Actors Kelsey Grammer and Charlton Heston haveappeared at Republican Party events. Interestingly, in these cases the legitimizationcan be reciprocal. Actors gain from their association with serious causes; and thecauses can trade on the notoriety of some of their supporters.

It is an obvious and old ploy in advertising to present a celebrity as a contenteduser of a product. As early as the 1880s, tobacco companies sought to identify their

Theories and Models of Source Credibility  117

Woodward-Denton Page 117 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

118  Chapter Five

Woodward-Denton Page 118 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

products with athletes and actors.46 Endorsem*nts by celebrities reached their peakon network television in the late 1950s when many stars, program hosts, and evensome news reporters were expected to sell their sponsor’s products. This strategy isstill evident today, although tempered by the knowledge of potential risk from neg-ative publicity. In the lightning-fast environment of 24/7 news, there is always thepossibility that reports of unacceptable celebrity behavior will reach an audienceimmediately and affect their opinions about the product linked to the celebrity.47 Apublic figure in full meltdown can be a tricky public relations knot to untangle.

“Charisma” is another form of legitimization. Sociologist Edward Shilsdescribes charismatic leaders as “persistent, effectively expressive personalities whoimpose themselves on their environment by their exceptional courage ...self-confi-dence, fluency, [and] insight.”48 They seem to be a force of history: a presence whodemands respect and attention from others. In different ways, figures as diverse asMohandas Gandhi in India, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and Martin LutherKing in the United States were sometimes as powerful as the “official” authoritiesthey confronted in their separate quests for independence and enlarged civil liberties.But, as Shils notes, “it is also possible to apply the general characteristic of charismato all individuals who can establish ascendancy over human beings by their com-manding forcefulness or by an exemplary inner state which is expressed in a being ofserenity.”49 John Kennedy garnered an enormous following in places like Berlin. BillClinton produced similar results in Ireland, as did Barack Obama in his first presi-dential visit to Europe.50 They followed a number of leaders who owed part of theireffectiveness to the force of their public images and personalities—among them,Adolf Hitler, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Louisiana’s Huey Long,France’s Charles de Gaulle, and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. To be sure, charisma does notbuy instant success with an audience. But the presence of this elusive quality primesmost audiences to levels of receptivity that ordinary sources usually cannot match.

MystificationMystification is the use of symbols and technical jargon to imply that the per-

suader has special authority and expertise to which others should defer. Often theimpressive display of language or the staging of one’s own environment is enoughto ward off challenges from opponents. Clients may have difficulty understandingthe diagnostic methods of physicians, the equipment used for various tests, thenames of drugs prescribed, or the language of the health sciences. Mystificationsare perhaps the only forms of communication that succeed by offering impressivebut not fully understood vocabularies and symbols.

Think of mystification as a way of pulling rank: declaring special expertise bycommunicating in a code that is accepted as a sign of superior insight or knowl-edge. If successful, mystification makes not following the instructions seem wrongor risky. Take a simple example such as the old cliché, “Too many cooks spoil thebroth.” Even this overworked chestnut can be whipped into a verbal froth that sug-gests the need to obey:

Undue multiplicity of personnel assigned either concurrently or consecutivelyto a single function involves deterioration of quality in the resultant product ascompared with the product of the labor of an exact sufficiency of personnel.51

Theories and Models of Source Credibility  119

Woodward-Denton Page 119 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Similarly, one of the authors remembers being initially impressed by formerSecretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s seemingly interesting riff on the nature ofmilitary intelligence:

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me,because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know weknow. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know thereare some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—theones we don’t know we don’t know.52

Is this the thoughtful philosophizing of an incisive mind, or the work of a verbalcontortionist with a special knack for doublespeak? Mystifications work if we seethem as the former.

Consider Thurman Arnold’s classic analysis of the confusing mysteries of“jurisprudence,” the impressive term used to designate the study of legal philoso-phy. “Here is a subject,” he notes, “which not even lawyers read. Its content isvague; its literature is abstruse and difficult. Nevertheless there is a general feelingthat under this title are hidden the most sacred mysteries of the law.”53 He notesthat the confusing and jargon-laden language of the legal profession “performs itssocial task most effectively for those who encourage it, praise it, but do not readit.”54 For most of us, legal jargon remains a mysterious but impressive set of codesthat provide a reason for placing our faith in trained specialists.

Anonymity and Identity ConcealmentArguably, the migration of news and opinion to the Internet has made it pos-

sible for anyone with a computer to react to blogs, news stories, reviews, and otherforms of public discussion. Read online sources like Slate or the Huffington Post,and reader responses—some thoughtful, others obscene or ill-considered—areappended to most stories. If you submit a letter to a traditional magazine or news-paper, you will be asked to sign your name and sometimes give your homeaddress and phone number. But most Internet-based media will post any and allcomers, even those who provide a web name that conceals their identity to usersof the site. For example, the posted comments on a recent article about SarahPalin on Slate included responses, ad-hominem attacks, and counterargumentsfrom people identified as “opus 512,” “Beckingorder 25,” “pdavidcATL,”“DBloom75,” and others.55

Some observers have noted that the Internet “opens up” discourse. Anonym-ity can make individuals more honest in relaying their views.56 But we think iden-tity concealment carries more negatives than positives. The more scurrilous thecomments are, the more cowardly the advocate seems. When there is no way todetermine the source of a comment or opinion, we lose the informational transpar-ency that is vital to open societies.

There are two problems with cloaking one’s own advocacy behind a scrim ofanonymity. One is ethical, and the other is practical. The ethical issue speaks towhether someone commenting on other persons or their ideas should be able to dothe equivalent of wearing camouflage: that is, to be a participant in an exchangewithout the usual obligations for civility that is implicit in making oneself known to

120  Chapter Five

Woodward-Denton Page 120 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

others. There’s good reason why a civil society reserves its wrath for hit-and-rundrivers, secret police, cyber-bullies, and the like. We have a moral obligation to beaccountable for our actions. If we seek to change the views of others through asser-tions and especially accusations, everyone involved deserves to know the name ofthe advocate. A person needs no special training in moral philosophy to under-stand the mistake of judgment in concealing one’s own identity.

Putting our names on our views is good reason enough. But there is also a sec-ond practical reason to shun anonymity. There is some evidence that a person islikely to be taken less seriously—to have less credibility—if their remarks come witha concealed identity.57 Stephen Rains found that in online group meetings, individ-uals tended to place less trust in anonymous sources. “Although anonymity maymake one more comfortable participating in a group’s discussion, it may alsoundermine perceptions of one’s contributions.”58

Two-Step FlowEarly research on voting influences conducted in the 1940s and 1950s by Paul

Lazarsfeld and Elihu Katz showed that the expectation that the mass media havedirect and immediate influence on others is too simple. They observed that even inpersuasion scenarios where the mass media appear to be the dominant sources ofinfluence, there are usually at least two layers of influence at work. This idea oftwo-step flow is simple but important. Key media outlets often have their greatesteffects on leaders who are especially attentive to their content—the first step. Opin-ion leaders then relay versions of those messages to people in their circle of influ-ence—the second step.59 (See figure 5.2.) The interesting fact about two-step flow isthat motivated leaders act as multipliers of an original message. They can add to thecredibility of a message because they are personally known to their followers. No

Figure 5.2 Influence through Two-Step Flow



Mass Media





Audiences for

Targeted Messages

Theories and Models of Source Credibility  121

Woodward-Denton Page 121 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

principle of persuasion is perhaps more durable than this variant on the idea thatpeers are most likely to influence each other.

This two-step flow from media to opinion leaders to ordinary recipients is evi-dent in many settings. Walk around a television newsroom and you will see keynewspapers and wire-service reports on desks. The nation’s most powerful printnews sources (The New York Times, the Associated Press list of top stories, The WallStreet Journal, and a few others) frequently influence what national television “jour-nalists” will cover in their own reporting. This pattern is repeated in the flow ofideas on contemporary social problems, new trends, and political positions. Minis-ters, priests, and rabbis pass on what they have seen and read to the congregations.Bloggers interpret media stories for their readers. And the typical family’s politicalnews junkie, sports addict, or film enthusiast typically provides the same media-ini-tiated advocacy to other members of a household.

In applying the principle to persuasion campaigns, strategists frequently calcu-late how to work through opinion leaders so that they can be turned into localagents of advocacy. A savvy health campaign directed to athletes, for example, mayactually target team leaders or coaches to be the sources of warnings about the risksof drug use or excessive weight loss.60 The same approach—with an added ethicalred flag—is behind the idea of “buzz marketing.” In this kind of selling, confeder-ates working with the persuader are instructed to use and praise a product’s quali-ties to friends and acquaintances, usually without their knowledge that they arereally talking to a shill (a paid audience member).61 In all of these instances there isone constant: the idea of using personal influence not in place of the mass media,but as the last stop in the persuasion chain that starts with media sources.

Source/Placebo SuggestionOne of the most fascinating forms of authority-induced influence is the effect

of placebos on our sense of well-being. A placebo is a harmless and chemicallyneutral agent presented to a patient as treatment for an illness. Its most familiarform is a sugar pill, but it may also include impressive machines, bundles of herbs,or virtually any object or symbol system invested with special therapeutic power.The potency of placebos lies partly in their powers of mystification. The inability tounderstand medical terminology, complicated equipment, and medicines enhancesthe possibilities for success. Ironically, a more thorough understanding of the limi-tations of treatments might take away the mystery that is the basis of the “cure.”

The remarkable fact about placebos is that they often work. When adminis-tered by medical authorities or other credible agents, placebos can have very realtherapeutic benefits: an outcome known as the placebo effect. Frequently, the meresuggestion that a person is receiving a therapeutic treatment is sufficient for actual“healing” to begin. Our knowledge about the powerful connections between mindand body remains rudimentary.

The power of suggestion can have significant physical and mental effects.Jerome Frank notes that “expectations have been shown to affect physiologicalresponses so powerfully that they can reverse the pharmacological action of adrug.”62 Some studies indicate that success in treatment with placebos ranges from30 to 60 percent. And for the treatment of conditions with a subjective dimen-

122  Chapter Five

Woodward-Denton Page 122 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

sion—such as depression and allergies—effectiveness may even by higher.63 Muchto the chagrin of the pharmaceutical industry, improvement rates for patientsreceiving placebos for pain can easily rise to 50%, sometimes rivaling the results ofpowerful new and expensive drugs.

Although recent studies have challenged some of the claims made for placebosin clinical trials of specific drugs and treatments,64 there is little doubt that treat-ments involving subjective outcomes are greatly affected by medical symbols andthe high expectations associated with them.65 The best explanation is that anticipa-tion fulfills the stated purpose attached with the placebo. Expectancy may beenough to produce a link between mind and body that triggers the release of endor-phins that can block symptoms and create an enhanced sense of well-being.Whether we take a placebo in a medical study or decide that a doctor’s languagequalifies him or her as an expert, our expectations may lead to compliance and (incertain kinds of treatment) substantive improvement.

We can assume a parallel set of outcomes in settings that go beyond conven-tional therapies. Any authority—shaman, faith healer, acupuncturist, psychothera-pist or motivational speaker—who enjoys the unqualified faith of a persuadee mayset some of the same wheels in motion. Results from placebo studies often demon-strate that we cannot afford to be too eager to dismiss faith-based or “alternative”treatments. The chemistry of drug therapy is sometimes superseded by the potencyof expectant attitudes about high credibility sources.

Authoritarianism and AcquiescenceHistory is filled with examples of strong leaders who have used official author-

ity and persuasion to reshape the attitudes and actions of compliant people. Hitler,Mussolini, and Japan’s Tojo were widely portrayed in the United States as havinghypnotic control over their followers during World War II. In his classic study ofthe “true believer,” Eric Hoffer noted that especially for people who see themselvesas society’s victims rather than beneficiaries, strong insurgent leaders can be espe-cially seductive. In Hoffer’s words:

People whose lives are barren and insecure seem to show a greater willingnessto obey than people who are self-sufficient and self-confident. To the frustrated,freedom from responsibility is more attractive than freedom fromrestraint....They willingly abdicate the directing of their lives to those whowant to plan, command and shoulder all responsibility.66

This is the central ideal of authoritarianism: a natural tendency among some todefer too readily to unambiguous authority.

T. W. Adorno was the lead researcher of the first major English language anal-ysis of social conditions and personality traits that give rise to obedience to author-ity.67 The researchers, some of whom had escaped from Austria at the start ofWorld War II, traced the origins of a multitude of central European personalitytraits, including anti-Semitism, “susceptibility to antidemocratic propaganda,” eth-nocentrism (judging others by one’s own cultural values), and predispositionstoward fascism. Their efforts to determine how patterns of upbringing instilledsuch traits is less important here than the fascinating questions their study brought

Theories and Models of Source Credibility  123

Woodward-Denton Page 123 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

into focus. Are certain kinds of listeners overly susceptible to appeals based onauthority, especially “official” sources? Are some types of audiences too willing tolook past the natural ambiguities of everyday life for the rigid ideological certain-ties of a demagogue (i.e., Hitler’s stereotypes of Jewish “failings”)? And what psy-chological needs are satisfied when total allegiance is promised to a leader?

The F (Antidemocratic) Scale inventory probed for signs of “authoritarian sub-mission” and “uncritical attitudes toward idealized moral authorities” to measureauthoritarian predisposition. It consisted of claims, such as the ones listed below,with which the respondent would agree or disagree.

• Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues childrenshould learn.

• Every person should have complete faith in some supernatural power whosedecisions will be obeyed without question.

• What this country needs most, more than laws and political programs, are a fewcourageous, tireless, devoted leaders in whom the people can put their faith.68

The researchers found that anti-Semitism, rigidity, ethnocentrism, unduerespect for power, and other traits tended to cluster within many of the same peo-ple. They theorized that the clustering was tied to styles of family life. They alsolearned that authoritarianism can be identified in segments of almost any popula-tion. Some people may be psychologically hardwired or learn through nurturing toseek a “place” in the social order and to follow official authority eagerly.

The dilemma this research raises, of course, is that while every society has animportant stake in the rule of law, the failure of ordinary people to challenge leaderswho support unjust or inhumane acts can coarsen or even destroy a society. Therehave been times (in colonial America, for example, or in the decisions of the formerSoviet republics to declare autonomy) when disorder arguably served justice. Onlywith the advantage of hindsight can we fully gauge when the price of obedience hasbeen too costly. For instance, it is now easy to criticize the average German soldier’sobedience to Hitler and his lieutenants during World War II. Nearly every discus-sion of that conflict questions how so many people in the democratic and relativelywell-educated Germany of the 1930s could have accepted the blatant xenophobiaand racism of the Third Reich.69 But, in fairness, others have also questioned whymany Americans accepted the decision to incarcerate 117,000 Japanese Americansin roughly the same period70 and hundreds of “enemy combatants” currently heldwithout trial or legal representation in U.S. military prisons.71 Slick Hollywood warfilms played their parts in demonizing the enemy in World War II,72 as have manypost-9/11 warnings about threats posed by our “enemies.” But a more completeanswer must also include the tendency of individuals to give up some freedoms andpersonal responsibility for a sense of collective security: a condition that govern-ments and leaders have often used to enhance their own authority.

Psychologist Stanley Milgram strikingly revealed how “decent” people can bemade to obey oppressive authority in his “shock box” studies. His well-known andcontroversial work in the 1960s measured the degree to which ordinary peoplewould follow problematic orders from a responsible official. His research designwas ingenious, even if most university research boards today would object to the

124  Chapter Five

Woodward-Denton Page 124 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

psychological stress he imposed on his subjects. Milgram advertised for volunteersto help conduct what was characterized as a learning experiment. Those whom heselected were asked to assist him in the teaching of a “learner”—in reality, a partic-ipant in the experiment. Each time the learner answered a question incorrectly, the“teacher” (the actual subject of the experiment) was instructed to administer anelectrical shock. This scheme of reward and punishment was ostensibly designed tohelp improve the skills of the learner.

In Obedience to Authority, Milgram explained how the subject teachers wereintroduced to the setting.

After watching the learner being strapped into place, he is taken into the mainexperimental room and seated before an impressive shock generator. Its mainfeature is a horizontal line of thirty switches, ranging from 15 volts to 450 volts,in 15 volt increments. There are also verbal designations which range fromslight shock to danger-severe shock. The teacher is told that he is to administerthe learning test to the man in the other room.

The learner actually received no shock at all. The point of the experiment wasto see how far a person would proceed in a concrete and measurable situation inwhich he was ordered to inflict increasing pain on a protesting victim.73 Thedilemma faced by the subject teacher was one of obedience. At what point shouldhe refuse to obey the commands of the experimenter?

In 1942, the United States government ordered more than 110,000 men, women, and children to leave their homes and detained them in remote, military-style camps. Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten camps where Japanese-American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were interned during World War II. Photograph by Ansel Adams. American Memory from the Library of Congress.

Theories and Models of Source Credibility  125

Woodward-Denton Page 125 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

The conflicts for the subject teachers was intense. The manifest suffering of thelearner pressured him to reject the instructions. Yet, the experimenter, a legitimateauthority to whom the subject feels some commitment, orders him to continue.74

Many did continue, even when the learner cried out in agonizing pain. Had thelearners actually been wired to the shock box as the subjects were lead to believe,they would have suffered physical and emotional injuries.

To witnesses of this research, the subjects who continued to obey Milgramappeared to be sad*stic. But Milgram concluded otherwise, citing the very humantendency to shift responsibility to a higher and seemingly legitimate authority. Henotes that “relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority. Avariety of inhibitions against disobeying authority come into play and successfullykeep the person in his place.”75

Admittedly, there are differences between a setting in which a subject agrees tocarry out the orders of a researcher and a persuasive situation in which a popularadvocate elicits support from an autonomous collection of individuals.76 The sub-ject’s desire to be helpful is probably greater than the average listener’s motivationsto accept the views of many persuaders. We doubt that most people in open societ-ies are the “servile flock...incapable of ever doing without a master” that Gus-tave LeBon described in his famous study of social movements.77 Even so, anycasual observer of the workplace, the classroom, and scores of other hierarchicalsettings will readily see how references to authority function as effective appeals.

 SummaryIn human communication, the content of a message is almost always under-

stood in terms of the quality and acceptability of a source. As we noted at thebeginning of this chapter, there are many questions about the nature of credibilitythat still need answers, and there are many ways to describe how credibility enablespersuaders to succeed. Three forms of credibility were outlined. First, audiencesexpect that those seeking their support will demonstrate positive traits of character,common sense, and goodwill. Second, in settings such as the courtroom and thelaboratory where audiences are prepared to weigh evidence to determine truth,sources are best measured by their abilities to observe events accurately and objec-tively—the rational/legal model of credibility. Third, the believability standard hasless to do with the search for truth or good character than with existing audiencedispositions. Specific personal attributes of persuaders are likely to be attractive orunattractive to particular types of people.

High credibility can also be understood as a kind of authority. We brieflyexamined five strategic forms of authority-centered persuasion, with special rolesfor legitimation through celebrity and charisma, inducements to acceptance usingverbal and placebo mystifications and the relaying of mass media messages to audi-ences through opinion leaders. We closed with a look at research on receivers whoseem especially susceptible to official sources. They combine the disposition to acton the words of others with a sometimes dangerous desire to relinquish responsibil-ity to others.

126  Chapter Five

Woodward-Denton Page 126 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

An audience’s awareness of an advocate’s place and character is often the firstimportant moment in the communication process. The sheer force of a dominatingadvocate remains one of the generative forces in persuasion. Like so many othertools of persuasion, the advocate’s credibility can lead to potential disaster or toextraordinary leadership and action.

 QUESTIONS AND PROJECTS FOR FURTHER STUDY1. Using any search engine such as Google, pick a controversial topic (i.e., “abor-

tion information” or “undocumented or illegal aliens”) and generate a randomlist of websites discussing it. Answer some of the following questions: Do any ofthe websites make statements about their own credibility? What cues or signalsare included to suggest high credibility? How do you think individuals wouldrespond to the absence or presence of credibility claims?

2. Billy Ray’s 2003 riveting feature film Shattered Glass, tells the true story of Ste-phen Glass, a respected staff writer for The New Republic, Rolling Stone, and otherpublications. We now know that Glass fabricated many of his stories, nearlydestroying The New Republic in the process. View the film and assess the credibil-ity issues Glass raised for his increasingly doubtful coworkers. How serious aproblem was the reporter’s fabrication of stories? In what other fields is one’spersonal credibility of equal or greater importance? Does an information sourcemake an implicit contract with a reader or consumer?

3. Observe some of the experts and spokespersons making guest appearances onnetwork news programs (i.e., CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, PBS’s Newshour, CBSEvening News, etc.). Note if the introductions of the guests establish their ethos forthe audience. Assess the credibility of one or two experts using both the ratio-nal/legal model and the experts’ own claims.

4. Locate several magazine ads that use prestige and legitimation as a persuasivestrategy. Describe the verbal and visual symbols that help sell the product.

5. Observe a criminal trial in your area. Study the way the prosecution and defenseattorneys attempt to establish or discredit the credibility of specific witnesses.(As an alternative, watch a film, such as The Rainmaker (1997), The Verdict(1982), Erin Brockovich (2000), or A Civil Action (1998).

6. From films or television programs you have seen recently, locate a characterwho seems to exhibit some of the characteristics of the authoritarian personality.

7. From your own experiences with family members or with people at work,describe the two-step flow of influence. What media source(s) did an opinionleader use? In your judgment, was the advocacy of the opinion leader moreeffective than if the audience had heard from the media source directly?

8. From the list below,78 identify and defend eight credibility traits that would mosthelp (1) a male member of a persuasion course advocating a compulsory year ofgovernment service for all eighteen-year-olds or (2) a senator from your stateurging a cross-section of citizens to support a 15-percent pay increase for allmembers of Congress.

Theories and Models of Source Credibility  127

Woodward-Denton Page 127 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

fair good speaker respectfulgood right honesttrustworthy loyal to listeners admirablejust patient correctsincere straightforward reliablevaluable unselfish nicevirtuous has goodwill calmmoral frank friendlyprofessional manner experienced energeticauthoritative has foresight boldaggressive active open-mindeddecisive proudobjective impartial

 ADDITIONAL READINGT. W. Adorno, Else Frankel-Brunswik, Daniel J. Levinson, and R. Nevitt Sanford, The

Authoritarian Personality (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950).Gary Cronkhite and Jo R. Liska, “The Judgment of Communicant Acceptability” in

Michael Roloff and Gerald Miller (Eds.), Persuasion: New Directions in Theory andResearch (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1980), pp. 101–39.

Andrew Flanagin and Miriam Metzger, “Perceptions of Internet Information Credibility,”Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Autumn, 2000, pp. 515–540.

Carl Hovland, Irving L. Janis, and Harold Kelley, Communication and Persuasion (NewHaven, CT: Yale University Press, 1953).

Charles A. Kiesler, Barry E. Collins, Norman Miller, Attitude Change: A Critical Analysis ofTheoretical Approaches (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1969).

William J. McGuire, “Attitudes and Attitude Change,” in Gardner Lindzey and Elliot Aron-son (Eds.), The Handbook of Social Psychology, Vol. II, 3rd ed. (New York: RandomHouse, 1985), pp. 262–269.

Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (New York: Harper & Row, 1974).Robert P. Newman and Dale R. Newman, Evidence (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1969).Daniel J. O’Keefe, Persuasion: Theory and Research, 2nd ed. (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 2002).Carolyn W. Sherif, Muzafer Sherif, and Roger E. Nebergall, Attitudes and Attitude Change

(Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1965).

Woodward-Denton Page 128 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Woodward-Denton Page 129 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM


The Mind in PersuasionTheories and Effects of Influence


 Cognitive Elements of PersuasionBeliefsAttitudesValuesHow These Elements Work Together

 Essential Theories and Models of PersuasionStimulus-Response TheoryInoculation TheoryAttribution TheoryConsistency Theory I: Theory of Cognitive DissonanceConsistency Theory II: Theory of Induced Discrepant BehaviorThe Boomerang EffectSocial Judgment TheoryElaboration Likelihood TheoryThe Motivated SequenceTheory of Motivated Reasoning


130  Chapter Six

Woodward-Denton Page 130 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you dis-agree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questionsyour sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.1

—Leon Festinger

We can study persuasion from many angles. We can survey audience attitudesbefore and after exposure to messages and sources. We can deconstruct messagesto see how their logic works. We can also identify common strategies for gainingcompliance. But at some point an analyst will also sense the need to make judg-ments about what is going on “inside” the receiver. Because persuasion involveschanges in attitudes and/or behavior, it requires the discovery of the psychologyinvolved in the process—theories that can help us decipher internal processes thatcannot be seen any other way. Theories and models of persuasion allow us to makepredictions about how certain persuasion inputs (a given source, a set of appeals, acertain medium) will affect a specific audience.

It’s possible to view (mistakenly) the major theories of attitude change thathave evolved since the 1920s as abstract and uninteresting. But in fact they lie at theheart of what it means to understand persuasion. We would be lost without the“golden ideas” that various researchers and thinkers have contributed to the field.Theories and models make the process much more transparent. They offer system-atic answers to important questions, such as: What is going on internally whensomeone we like says something we dislike? How do we handle the hundreds ofrequests for money, time, or attention that bombard us daily? What are the likelymental processes that occur when an idea we oppose aligns with one we like? Pos-sible answers may be tentative rather than certain, but they provide a clear advan-tage in predicting how sources and messages will “play” with audiences.

We preface this discussion of key theories with a reminder that even though weusually talk about “attitudes,” there are three levels of cognition that shape persua-sion outcomes. While attitudes are an essential element, we also consider therelated categories of values and beliefs.

 Cognitive Elements Affecting PersuasionIn chapter 1, we defined persuasion as the process of preparing messages to

alter or strengthen the beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors of the intended autonomousaudience. The clearest evidence of successful persuasion is some form of overtbehavior. The ultimate goal of most persuasive endeavors is to get someone to dosomething. Action usually occurs only after important internal changes. Tradi-tional persuasion theory argues that behavior change or modification is predicatedon some sort of internal transformation. While that may not always be the case, it

The Mind in Persuasion  131

Woodward-Denton Page 131 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

makes sense to start by examining the conventional categories of thoughts thatmotivate the ways we think and act.

BeliefsA belief is what we personally “know” to be true or false—our convictions—

even if others disagree. There are many types of beliefs. Deeply held beliefs becomecore values; we also hold beliefs about matters that are more incidental to our lives.For example, we might believe that honesty is a requirement for good character orthat The Daily Show is more entertaining than The Tonight Show. We also holdbeliefs about the relationship of an object to something else. We can believe thatMount Everest is the highest mountain in the world, and we can believe that climb-ing it is dangerous. Beliefs are informational statements that link specific attributesto an object.2 Our perceptions of how two or more things are related determine thecategories to which we assign information. Attitudes toward an object are a func-tion of salient beliefs about the object.

Consider, for example, some potential beliefs that may contribute to one’s atti-tude about abortion:

1. The purpose of sexual intercourse is procreation.

2. Government has no role in family planning decisions.

3. A woman should be free to decide what happens to her body.

4. Human life begins at conception.

5. Human life does not begin until the fetus can survive outside the womb.

Different individuals would rank some of these statements as true and othersfalse. The rankings would be based on individual experiences and knowledge,which would affect the depth of feeling and the confidence to evaluate the issues.Absolute scientific truth does not necessarily affect a person’s beliefs. Many peoplebelieve things that are clearly not true. Indeed, our own ranking of beliefs maychange over time. Life events may greatly influence the ordering or reordering ofbeliefs relevant to an issue. For example, it is reasonable to expect that life eventslike becoming a parent or knowing a rape victim might change one’s beliefs aboutabortion. It follows that the more information we have or know about an issue ortopic, the more certain our beliefs will be. While one new bit of information maynot have much effect, multiple inputs may cause us to question some of the beliefsthat contributed to an attitude.

AttitudesBeliefs provide the foundation for attitudes that become “knowledge struc-

tures” or “schemas” that affect the choices we make. Attitudes are a combinationof beliefs and the weight we assign to them. Attitudes evaluate; they emerge ineveryday conversation as opinions about an issue.3 In other words, attitudes involveour knowledge about a subject and the judgments we apply to it.

Think of beliefs as “givens” that lie at the core of thousands of attitudes aboutpeople, places, or things. Attitudes are also learned. When we evaluate some sym-bol in the world as desirable or undesirable, we are often repeating an attitude we

132  Chapter Six

Woodward-Denton Page 132 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

have heard others express. If we say “smoking is bad” or “Ford makes good hybridautomobiles” we might be mimicking the opinions of others whom we respect.

Gass and Seiter identify a number of definitional characteristics of attitudes,including the one just discussed that attitudes are often learned. In addition, atti-tudes precede and therefore influence individual behavior. They are the sometimesbreakable link between what we think and what we do. A person may accept that“smoking is bad” but still smoke. Third, attitudes have an evaluative dimension sig-naling direction of response and intensity of feeling. Persuaders usually think ofthem as strong, weak, or neutral. Sometimes it becomes vital to make such esti-mates of individuals or audiences in order to make decisions about how to planmessages designed to influence attitudes. Finally, attitudes are directed towardsome specific object. The object could be a person, group, idea, policy, event, etc.4

Pick an issue, product, or controversial event, and the chances are good we have anidentifiable attitude about it.

It is hard to overstate how many of our attitudes seem to emerge through ourinteractions with others. What passes as information in our daily lives frequentlycarries implicit attitudes that we accept as fact. When someone tells us about theirnightmare visit to an emergency room, the story and its facts can easily feed into ashared feeling that, to pick one common attitude, the U.S. health care system isbroken. We convert stories and face-to-face conversations and experiences intodurable beliefs and attitudes. In addition, we obtain a great of information from themass media. Many of our attitudes are influenced by what we see and hear in themedia, such the ways we think about sex, violent entertainment, or fashion, toname only a few.

Related to direct experience is observational learning, sometimes called model-ing or vicarious modeling. By watching others, we form attitudes about what isright and wrong, good and bad. When we emulate those we admire, we acceptsome of their attitudes and reenact them. (This is a form of social proof, which isdiscussed in chapter 7.) We are in a constant state of comparing our attitudes withothers. As social animals, we seek social acceptance and validation. If we “hangout” with a group whose values differ from our own, there will most likely be someadjustment. Parents often fear that the college experience will “ruin” the values oftheir children. In truth, a university environment provides a diversity of attitudesand opinions. A good education will force each of us to question our fundamentalbeliefs and values. However, in most cases, we retain the attitudes formed through-out the years.

Finally, a few studies suggest a genetic basis for the development of at leastsome attitudes. Some scholars note that phobias or personality traits may well beinherited and thus individuals are more “predisposed” toward certain attitudesthan toward others. For example, identical twins are more likely to have similarattitudes than nonidentical twins. While still somewhat controversial, investigatingthe genetic connection with attitude formation is a growing area of study.5

There are numerous ways and techniques to measure attitudes. First, we cansimply ask people. Some of the most useful instruments for measuring attitudes areself-reports. You have probably filled out your share at work, in a shopping mall, orby agreeing to answer questions on a website. Second, we can observe people’s

The Mind in Persuasion  133

Woodward-Denton Page 133 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

behavior—what they say in daily conversation or their actions. There is usuallysome attempt to correlate attitudes to behavior. For example, it is reasonable toassume that if someone wears a “Redskins” jacket every day, the person probablylikes and favors the team. Third, people tend to associate with others who holdsimilar beliefs, attitudes, and values. By identifying a person’s business and socialassociations, one might ascertain an attitude profile of an individual (althoughthere is always room for surprises). For example, if someone belongs to theNational Rifle Association, we can infer a number of attitudes about a range ofpolitical issues that the individual is likely to endorse. Users of Twitter, LinkedInand Facebook are studied by analytics companies who assess the extent to whichthey influence others.6

Interestingly, there are also a number of physiological devices and methods toinfer attitude intensity and interest within audiences. Galvanic skin response mea-sures the electronic conductivity of the skin. Drastic changes of heart rate or skinmoisture responses can reflect intensity of feelings about a subject, as does the extentof eye pupil dilation.7 Even eye movement across a page or website can be convertedinto estimates of interest. As two Google researchers recently noted, monitoring eyemovement “is the next best thing to actually being able to read their minds.”8

Attitudes result from an accumulation of information; therefore, they canchange based on new information. While we have numerous attitudes, they differgreatly in terms of their importance or salience to us. The value we assign to some-thing determines its salience. To persuade, we need to examine what consequencesare associated with an issue. The goal is to change or to reinforce (depending onthe outcome we hope will happen) the receiver’s perceptions about what will resultfrom the action we’re advocating. Mary John Smith identifies four factors thatdetermine the salience of any specific attitude: the number of beliefs an individualhas regarding one area of experience; the extent to which one’s beliefs are hierar-chically arranged in an interrelated, supportive structure; the degree to which indi-viduals judge their beliefs to be “true”; and the intensity of one’s affectiveevaluation of each attitude.9

The formation, changing, and maintenance of attitudes are ongoing and life-long processes. Crime, for example, may not be viewed as a major problem untilone becomes a victim. We also form many attitudes based on what we hear orread. This material, in turn, feeds into attitudes based on stereotypes—assumptionsresulting from limited and potentially inaccurate information. Attitudes of thisnature abound. Statements of sexism and racism reflect attitudes based on stereo-types. If the sources of our information are not accurate and fair, the very basis forour attitudes may be questionable.

As a general rule, attitudes based on direct experience have more impact onbehavior than do general arguments. And it appears that the more informationpeople have about a particular issue, the greater their attitude-behavior consistency.10

That is, what they say or express on a given subject generally fits with the way theyact. Studies also indicate that the degree of vested interest in an issue affects atti-tude-behavior consistency—the greater the potential impact on the individual, thegreater the consistency.11

134  Chapter Six

Woodward-Denton Page 134 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

ValuesValues are our central, core ideals about how to conduct our lives. They repre-

sent what we consider intrinsically right or wrong. As a result, values are far morestable than attitudes and beliefs. In general, we learn our value system in child-hood—the legacy of our cultural, community, and group affiliations. Terms like“freedom,” “fairness,” “equality,” “generosity,” and “courtesy” are repeated sooften that we sometimes overlook the fact that they represent first-order valuesinvoked as reasons for attitudes or actions. Different values may assume more orless importance at different stages in our lives, but our core values and moral beliefstend to remain consistent over time. Among other things, we express them toremind ourselves and others what we consider to be part of our identity.

How These Elements Work TogetherThe likelihood that we will accept or reject a message and act accordingly

depends on a subtle intermixing of values, attitudes, and beliefs. The “cognitive”dimension of the self focuses on beliefs—what we know about the object. There isalso an “affective” dimension to our attitudes—how we feel about the object. Feel-ings are the sum total of our experiences that affect the relevance of a topic for us.And, of course, there is a “behavioral” dimension as well, revealing the probabilityof our acting in accordance with our attitudes and beliefs.

For example, supporters of more stringent gun laws in the United Statesattempt to tap into strong feelings and memories of tragedies resulting from hand-gun violence. Handgun Control Inc. sponsors campaigns that link handguns withdeaths. Their ultimate goal, of course, is to combine negative feelings about gunswith specific information that will encourage individuals to act on their attitudesand beliefs. The behavioral outcome of the “right” attitudes is to give money tocounteract the legislative clout of the powerful National Rifle Association. TheNRA uses much the same attitude-belief-behavior linkage. Editorials in The Ameri-can Rifleman tap into existing views that gun control threatens basic freedoms.Members are encouraged to vote for political candidates who support the NRA.The motivating language is both graphic and masculine: “It means a total commit-ment to safeguarding your firearm freedoms on every front with a square jaw andan iron fist.”

Many of our beliefs and values are the “unexamined inheritances” of growingup in specific communities and cultures. As rational beings, it is likely that we canbe persuaded to take a look at the underpinnings of certain beliefs and to reassessour opinions. We also have a number of attitudes that may have been formed with-out a sufficient amount of information. These, too, are subject to change. Both atti-tudes and beliefs are relatively easy to ascertain. We express them daily inconversations. Values are much more elusive. We don’t as frequently discussthem—perhaps we could not even name some of the principles guiding our actions.Thus, values are the least likely candidates for change through persuasion.

If we put all of these elements in play, we can see how belief-attitude-value sys-tems shape our daily decision-making. First, this combined system influences ourbehavior. As we attempt to cope with people, ideas, and situations, our attitudes

The Mind in Persuasion  135

Woodward-Denton Page 135 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

incline us toward or against certain actions and responses. The crush of informa-tion, requests, and solicitations we receive daily would overwhelm and paralyze usif we had to assess the consequences of each proposal without any shortcuts. Atti-tudes provide a shorthand for responses that have been effective in the past—allow-ing us to respond quickly without having to cognitively process possible courses ofaction for each and every response.

Second, this complex system serves an ego-defensive and expressive function byhelping us know who we are and what we stand for—reducing internal and mentalconflict.12 We put these elements on display when we show the flag, place bumperstickers on our cars, or demonstrate our concerns by attending a rally.

Third, there is a knowledge function. Our value system gives meaning to theworld around us by providing frames of reference and cues for accepted behavior.13

Attitudes help us form the “dos” and the “don’ts” of our daily life. There is a dan-ger, of course, that some attitudes and beliefs are wrong or unfair, and that ouractions offend some of our core values. Indeed, pointing out such disconnects (in,say, our love of freedom against evidence of a very high rate of incarceration ofyoung males) is a common persuasive gambit. But they remain the important moti-vators of our conduct.

By understanding the functions of beliefs, attitudes, and values, the analyst ofpersuasion has a better chance of understanding some of the internal states thatproduce certain kinds of outcomes. The remainder of the chapter looks at the keytheories that use these elements in making predictions about persuasion.

 Essential Theories and Models of PersuasionImagine persuasion theories as similar to the schematics of electrical design. A

cell phone or any device works when data is processed by circuits and software toyield predictable results. If theory applied to the rich variability of human actionlacks the precision and predictability of electrical circuit design—and it clearlydoes—persuasion theories at least allow us to estimate plausible outcomes thatmay be activated by certain kinds of messages. While we cannot be exhaustive, ourlist includes theories with a great deal of explanatory power. These include some ofthe most powerful tools we have to account for how the mind processes specificappeals and requests.

Stimulus-Response TheoryA simplistic behavioral model for persuasion is the stimulus-response model of

learning theory. The most famous example of this theory is Pavlov’s dog. Eachtime the dog was fed, a bell was rung. Soon, upon only hearing the bell, the animalbegan to salivate. Learning theories center on the relationship between stimuli andresponses. Infants enter the world with a “clean slate.” They learn what behavior isacceptable, what is right, and what not to do. Most learning theories assume rein-forcement is necessary to induce learning.14 Throughout life we learn to seek favor-able rewards and to avoid unfavorable ones. Positive rewards reinforce certainattitudes and behavior. If we are told enough that we are good, beautiful, or smart,we begin to believe it and act accordingly. The stimulus of a teacher’s praise rein-

136  Chapter Six

Woodward-Denton Page 136 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

forces the student’s motivation to do good work. To the extent this linkage works, aconditioned response is a predictable outcome.

Robert Cialdini argues that such conditioning preprograms scripts of behavior.The scripts are mental shortcuts that we use in making everyday judgments. Forexample, we are conditioned to equate expensive items with quality or social sta-tus. Named brands are preferred to generic brands. “Preprogrammed” shortcutspreserve time, energy, and mental capacity. Indeed, much of the process of gettingpeople to comply with requests and suggestions is based on the tendency for auto-matic, shortcut responses to external stimuli.15

Research demonstrates that we are more likely to be attracted to those whohold similar attitudes. The stimulus is the discovery of shared attitudes; theresponse is attraction. Similar attitudes have a reward value for us because theinteraction confirms our view of the world and related issues. Attitudes that arerewarded will grow stronger.

Learning theory is important in persuasion. People make decisions by learningto associate consequences with proposals. The persuader wants the audience toassociate particular feelings with a proposal. The feelings elicited by a consequencebecome connected with the object. In the language of learning theory, we are “con-ditioned” to expect a particular result. Thereafter, we identify the proposal itselfwith our feelings about the consequences. Conditioning works by arousing a dis-like or like without the necessity of repeating the consequences—just the mentionof the object is sufficient.

Advertising uses this concept daily. When we hear “Progressive” or “Geico,”what images come to mind? The ever-helpful “Flo”? An Australian gecko with per-fect diction? These icons with cheeky humor keep the two brands near the top ofthe charts in terms of audience recognition—a form of stimulus-response. If youwere to exchange an expensive wine and a cheap wine in the bottles, which do youthink would win a taste contest among your friends? Would the stimulus of anexpensive label predispose them to favor that bottle? If you were to purchase twopaintings from a local artist and sign one Smith and the other Picasso, which doyou think would receive more money at an auction? The same process is usedwhen advertisers use a famous spokesperson for ads. They hope we will suspendjudgment and attach our good feelings about the celebrity (the stimulus) to theirproduct. As a result, we respond to the person and not to the attributes of the prod-uct. The key is the power of association between objects and images.

Inoculation TheoryIn our earlier discussion of language in chapter 3, we briefly mentioned the

idea of inoculation. But as a core theory, it merits a more detailed look. Inoculationis a warning not to be taken in by certain messages. The strategy of inoculation isentrenched in many forms of persuasion—from political campaigns to court trialsto prevention messages in many health campaigns. The theory predicts that a per-suader who delivers a warning about a future message from a different source can“inoculate” an audience from that message’s persuasive effects.16 When trial law-yers begin their opening statements to a jury by noting that the other side “will tryto convince you...,” or when politicians “get out in front” of a problem by reveal-

The Mind in Persuasion  137

Woodward-Denton Page 137 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

ing a mistake they made years ago, they are engaged in inoculation. The theorypredicts that the first warning of a problem will increase audience skepticism for alater message that has already been labeled untrustworthy. Thus, after the openingstatements of the attorneys in a trial, the jury has been warned to expect certainarguments or testimony that will have dubious value. Similarly, with a candidatewho has several DUI arrests or similar run-ins with legal authorities, the rule ofthumb is to admit it early, explain it, then move on in the hope that opponents andthe press will not have the value of being the first to define the event for voters.

Think of inoculation in terms of its metaphoric origins. Just as immunizationcan prevent disease by introducing a benign form that triggers the body’s defenses, soit seems equally possible to do much the same in a persuasive message. Inoculationpromotes resistance to persuasion. There is strong evidence to suggest, for example,that exposure of preteens to antismoking messages featuring inoculation elements(“Films, friends and the giant tobacco industry will try to convince you that smokingis cool.”) actually work quite well.17 It is less effective to reach older teens, who arenot as responsive to authority figures. They may have been inoculated with so manywarnings that they have grown weary, and the strategy no longer works.

The prime condition for effective inoculation involves being one of the first toexpose an individual to an idea or behavioral request. Unfortunately, by the time

138  Chapter Six

Woodward-Denton Page 138 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

the average American has reached adulthood, there seem to be fewer opportunitiesto deliver fresh warnings, especially on entrenched health or social issues such assmoking, binge drinking, gambling, excessive credit card use, and so on. Indeed,the persuasion and counterpersuasion that bounces around popular culture onthese topics may mean that older inoculating messages on all sides have reducedthe chances for any persuasion at all. Inoculation opportunities remain muchgreater in areas where a subject is fresh to an audience.

Attribution TheoryFritz Heider noted that it is human nature to try to make sense of the world

and the behavior of others by assigning responsibility, blame, and motives.18 Attri-bution theory is a mainstay of research in the social sciences, education, and theanalysis of consumer behavior. We receive messages, decode them, and interpretthem. By analyzing the broad situation or context of an action, we attribute a motive,cause, or reason for a behavior. We seem hardwired to do this. Drama and storytellingengage the audience with their invitations to consider why a character has donesomething. We are constantly “reading” each other’s words and actions so that wecan assign meaning to them. As the influential thinker Kenneth Burke remindedus, human action is purposive. We expect that we will be able to account for otherpeople’s actions by discovering their motivations.19

Even though they are often left unspoken, attributions of motives are a part ofthe subtext of all messages. There may be no direct reference to a source’s motive ina message or conversation. But the receiver will always make a side calculation ofthe message’s value in terms of the perceived motives of the source. Put another way, therecipient of a persuasive message hears the message, but also implicitly assigns reasons for thesource’s advocacy.20 For example, suppose you are a car salesperson and you begin aconversation with a potential customer by complimenting his or her clothing. Howwill the potential buyer interpret the compliment? It could be read as a sincere ges-ture. But it is more likely to be interpreted as a calculated bit of flattery intended to“soften” up a potential customer. All the communication that follows will be inter-preted in light of the meaning the customer attributes to the persuader’s compliment.

The task for the persuader is to figure out how certain messages or behaviorswill be interpreted. What makes the process complex is that human perceptionplays a major role in interpreting the messages of others. Perception is comprised ofa multitude of variables that function differently depending on the individual.Because no two people process information the same way, attributions of intent canvary within an audience exposed to the same persuasion. One person may praise apresident for making a courageous defense of policy; another may condemn thevery same effort as a collection of cleverly worded half-truths. See figure 6.1.

There are two classifications of attributions: situational and dispositional.21 Situ-ational attributions focus on factors in the environment that might cause people toact in certain ways. A classic example is attributing criminal behavior to environ-mental factors such as poverty, broken homes, or ineffective schools. For example,one of the authors of this text comes from the Appalachian region of North Caro-lina. He tends to be rather “conservative” on social issues such as abortion becauseof the social values and Baptist upbringing of his youth. The other author from a

The Mind in Persuasion  139

Woodward-Denton Page 139 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Democrat-leaning “blue” state is more socially “liberal.” Each region could beinterpreted as one motivating factor in each person’s views. In each case one’s ownhistory and situation can be a predictor of why someone is motivated to act orbelieve in a certain way.

Dispositional attributions identify internal, personal factors (such as core valuesand beliefs) that might affect people’s behavior. For example, religious beliefs orphilosophical dispositions may influence behavior. A privileged individual withinherited wealth might have little interest in addressing poverty because of a strongbelief in the ability of everyone to “work hard and get ahead.” If we know enoughabout what a person thinks, we are usually confident that we can determine whatmotivates their thinking. As social creatures interacting with others we do this allthe time. As persuaders and analysts, we can reverse the process and make estimatesabout how attributions will affect an audience’s acceptance of a message.

As essential as the calculation of attribution is, it offers no guarantees. Obvi-ously, there is no certainty that we can formulate a correct or precise interpretationof an individual’s motives or an audience’s likely assignment of them. It is entirelypossible that two individuals could attribute different motives to a single source.And in such ambiguous situations, it is difficult to make predictions about how anevent will “play.” For example, a friend has asked you to spend a weekend dayworking on a Habitat for Humanity building project. It makes a difference if youthink his motives are altruistic—he wants to contribute to a good cause. Therequest looks different if less noble reasons are attributed to your friend. For exam-



AudienceJudges Force

of Presentation


Evaluates motive of source

(based on situational and

dispositional attributions)

Audiences consider source motives when judging message importance.

Figure 6.1 Attribution Theory

140  Chapter Six

Woodward-Denton Page 140 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

ple, he might need to solicit another volunteer to complete a service-learningrequirement for graduation. But note that even if attributions can be ambiguous,the theory is not. It only asserts that motives will be assigned and ultimately affectthe salience of the message. It is up to the analyst to make estimates of the mostprobable attributions.

Consistency Theory I: Theory of Cognitive DissonanceThere is probably no more important category of persuasion theories than

those dealing with consistency and “balance.” In various ways, these theoriesassume that individuals can be made to feel uncomfortable with inconsistency andthen will work to reduce any discrepancies between new information and their atti-tudes or behaviors. Although these theories are not ironclad predictors of how atti-tudes might change, they present the possibility of identifying how we mightinduce change in others. Imagine, for example, that you found out that a closefriend has been charged with theft of a piece of artwork owned by the university. Ifyou felt uneasy, would you change current beliefs and attitudes? Would you changeyour attitude about your friend? Persuasion happens, according to consistency theo-ries, when apparent contradictions between two connected attitudes or behaviorsforce a realignment toward consistency or consonance.

To imagine how imbalance produces change, consider that—for any attitude—there is at least one related attitude that should be consistent. If the related attitudeis inconsistent, it may produce cognitive dissonance, or “mental stress.” For exam-ple, if you have a high regard for the president but a low regard for his ideas aboutreforming the nation’s high schools, you may feel the “disequilibrium” that LeonFestinger first described as “cognitive dissonance.”22 Or imagine that you have dis-covered that ancestors in your family owned slaves. Writer Cynthia Carr remem-bers her shame and guilt when she learned that fact about her grandfather. Shesought to resolve the dissonance by telling an African American friend.23 Like thecharacter of Fanny who is adopted by a slave-owning British family in the film ver-sion of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1999), Carr disowned any association withthe racism and cruelty of slavery to alleviate the discomfort she felt.

How does a person resolve the discrepancy created when a respected persontakes on a disliked idea? Dissonance theory predicts that the disparity will beresolved by altering one or both of the two original attitudes. If respect for a presi-dent is high, but a person’s attitude toward his administration’s proposal of a publicservice requirement for all citizens is low, we would expect a process of change thatwould bring the two elements in consonance. That is, the person’s enthusiasm forthe president will moderate and/or his dislike of mandated public service maysoften a bit. In short, the balance is restored by changing attitudes to create consis-tency. Possible comments could be: “I still think he’s a pretty good president” or “Idon’t like the idea of the enforced public service, but there may be times when it isnecessary.” Such comments reveal that there has been a change that reduces theinconsistency between the two elements.

Festinger’s ideas have been refined and modified many times since he firstintroduced them in 1956.24 Our focus here will be on its basic assertions. Revealedinconsistency produces dissonance or mental stress. The intensity of discomfort

The Mind in Persuasion  141

Woodward-Denton Page 141 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

with inconsistency varies. If an issue is rather minor and not central to one’s beliefsystem, then the discomfort is small. For example, one may hold strong beliefsabout environmental issues but will still accept plastic bags at the grocery store. If,however, the issue is central to one’s beliefs, then the discomfort increases.25 Theremoval of the stress may take the form of changing an attitude or behavior toreduce the inconsistency. Roger Brown has offered a concise summary of disso-nance theory.

A state of cognitive dissonance is said to be a state of psychological discomfort ortension that motivates efforts to achieve consonance. Dissonance is the name for adisequilibrium and consonance the name for an equilibrium. Two cognitive ele-ments, A and B, are dissonant if one implies the negation of the other: i.e., if Aimplies not-B. Two cognitive elements are consonant when one implies not thenegation of the other element but the other element itself: i.e., A implies B. Finally,two elements, A and B, are irrelevant when neither implies anything about theother. Dissonance is comparable to imbalance: consonance to balance.26

In this model of persuasion think of all individuals as collections of attitudinalor behavioral preferences expressed on a continuum. For many individuals or audi-ences, attitudes or active behaviors can be located somewhere along the linebetween “agree–disagree” or “like–dislike.” Sometimes we are indifferent or neu-tral on a topic: for example, the subject of the second president of the United States:

At other times, our position is well defined, as is usually the case with the thirdpresident:

Most Americans revere Thomas Jefferson. Yet he owned slaves, refusing tofree them even at the end of his life. How does this information alter our view ofJefferson? Festinger’s theory predicts dissonance and the need for an attituderealignment that will bring about consonance.

The basic assumptions of Festinger’s theory—that dissonance causes tensionand that inconsistency will motivate people to do something to reduce the uncom-

John Adams

Like Dislike

(mid-scale neutrality)

Thomas Jefferson

Like Dislike

(strong positive attitude)

142  Chapter Six

Woodward-Denton Page 142 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

fortable imbalance—are similar to other consistency theories. The more importantor critical the attitude or behavior, the more dissonance one experiences. The pres-sure to change increases with the relative importance of two related but “out ofsync” elements.

Many simple statements or arguments gain their force by laying out apparentcontradictions that imply the need for change. Consider a few examples:

• “I can’t understand why you signed a year-long lease if you want to move toArizona next month.”

• “The TSA screening at airports is excessive, but we don’t want another 9/11.”

• “I know smoking is a health risk, but I can’t seem to quit.”

• “I always thought Disney World was a bit hokey, but I have to admit that Ihad a pretty good time.”

• “If you really value the implied right of privacy, how can you support federaleavesdropping without federal court oversight?”

Each statement implies that various related elements (attitudes and other atti-tudes, or attitudes and other behaviors) should be consistent. When a persuaderpoints out an inconsistency, he or she hopes to create dissonance, which then canleverage attitude or behavior change.

To be sure, Festinger and other dissonance theorists have been well aware ofthe possibility of denial.27 What may seem like a glaring inconsistency to oneobserver may seem to another like an unreasonable attempt to link two dissimilarideas. Our capacity to compartmentalize actions and words can leave us blissfully



Like Dislike

Thomas Jefferson

Slave Ownership




Like Dislike




Attitude change

Attitude change

The Mind in Persuasion  143

Woodward-Denton Page 143 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

at peace with our contradictions. Metaphorically, at least, human beings rival smallrodents in their abilities for getting out of apparently tight boxes.28

Consistency Theory II: Theory of Induced Discrepant BehaviorThe most interesting variation on dissonance theory involves the strategy of

requesting a new behavior from an individual with the strategic goal that, once per-formed, the behavior itself will create a dissonance gap that separates the individ-ual from prior attitudes. The theory of induced discrepant behavior proposes that wenaturally want to lessen the discrepancy between a new enforced behavior and theinconsistent attitude that we hold. A possible outcome is that the dissonance result-ing from the new behavior nudges us to give up the old attitude.

Consider several examples. If a friend who has little interest in politics is askedto “help out” with the distribution of candidate pamphlets in a neighborhood, thetheory predicts that the sheer act of behaving like a campaign worker is likely todecrease the friend’s apathy. When we willingly take on a new behavior, it becomespart of our identity, sometimes forcing a quiet abandonment of the older discrepantattitude. Something like this pattern shows up in the recent award-winning docu-mentary, The Education of Shelby Knox.29 Knox was a high school junior in LubbockTexas who argued that the school board needed to reform its abstinence-only sexeducation, as well as open up its facilities to gay and lesbian classmates. Theresponse of the board was a firm “no” to both requests. In turn, this denial of theuse of facilities for the student’s Gay-Straight Alliance triggered city hall demon-strations for and against gays. When a group from out of town started parading upand town local sidewalks with placards suggesting AIDS was “God’s Curse” forbeing hom*osexual, Shelby decided she would join her friends on the opposite sideof the street in their own vigil. Through all of this, Shelby’s mother—who describedherself as a conservative Christian Republican—mostly tried to understand if notfully support her daughter’s emerging activism. But she was concerned to have herdaughter out on a picket line alone and somewhat reluctantly went along to marchwith Shelby and others in the Gay-Straight Alliance. Ms. Knox’s sign simply said“Judge Not”: a small step, to be sure. But the theory predicts that the inducementto support her daughter probably also had the effect of moving her toward the posi-tion that the group was advocating.

Similarly, the authors have seen countless students take on speech or essay top-ics where they had to argue or defend a point of view. Even though initial interestin the topic may have been low, it was not unusual after the presentation to discoverthat the single most persuaded person in the room was the writer/speaker. Inducedbehaviors are powerful motivators for realigning related attitudes.

Marketing professionals use the same process. If you are a regular user ofBrand A toothpaste but notice that Brand B is on sale at half price, you might beinduced to try the sale item. The act of purchasing Brand B is a new behavior thatis a little out of sync with your preference for Brand A. Assuming that Brand Bworks well, you now have a gap between your long-term preference and your buy-ing behavior. Would you buy Brand B again? Probably. You have already taken onthe behavior of a purchaser of that product. The old preference could yield to thenew reality that either brand is acceptable.

144  Chapter Six

Woodward-Denton Page 144 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

It is important to remember that you can’t force someone to take on a newbehavior and expect that it will create dissonance. In fact, the stronger the threat offorce, the less dissonance an individual may experience. Individuals must retain freechoice in order to experience the sense that their behavior and beliefs or attitudesare not quite consistent. In addition, there are all kinds of ways we can rationalizeaway the dissonance designed into a message. First, you can simply dismiss thesource or validity of the conflicting information. For example, one may not acceptdata about teen smoking from the Tobacco Institute or gun safety from theNational Rifle Association. Second, one may reduce dissonance by finding newsupportive or consonant information or sources. For example, one may reason thatit is far better to be a little overweight than to keep smoking. Or a person may disre-gard messages that drinking alcohol has risks in favor of studies that suggest thatdrinking wine reduces the likelihood of heart attacks. Weighing some informationas more important than other information can reduce dissonance.

Gass and Seiter identify several additional strategies for resolving apparentinconsistencies. One is called bolstering, which amounts to a rationalization of dif-ferences. A fish-eating “vegetarian” may believe that harvesting of seafood is not ascruel as the slaughtering of cattle or fowl. The possible inconsistency is denied withan explanation they consider reasonable and defensible. Differentiation is anotherkind of rationale where ideas are shown to be dissimilar. Thus, the fish eater mayclaim that most fish do not feel pain or are closer to plants than sentient animals.30

The various cognitive elements (bits of information) that comprise attitudesbecome critical in how an individual will respond. Reread the quotation from LeonFestinger at the beginning of the chapter. He recognized that individuals havemany mental stratagems for denying messages that others might perceive as induc-ing dissonance.

The Boomerang EffectThe Australian boomerang, when thrown correctly, follows an elliptical path

and returns to the thrower. Of course, if the thrower isn’t skilled, the object mightreturn like a heat-seeking missile. The boomerang effect is a theory of unintendedconsequences where a persuasion attempt returns with the reverse of its intendedeffect—it undermines the goals of the original source. It is the probably the mostfeared and most common of all persuasive effects.

Consider a representative case. A study conducted several years ago at the Uni-versity of Colorado at Boulder and the Children’s Hospital in Boston found thatteenagers who received pressure from peers and others to turn down the volume oftheir iPods actually turned them up instead. It was a reasonable assumption thatpeer-to-peer influence would produce a positive outcome: greater compliance withthe request to listen at volume levels safe for the ear. But somehow peer pressurehad the reverse of its intended effect.31

So-called message boomerangs are actually quite common. They occur when amessage actually pushes the audience away from the direction that an advocate in-tended to go. Who could be so ineffective as to trigger reactions 180 degrees fromwhat they intended? In fact, all of us are sometimes dubious winners of this un-wanted prize. If you have ever found yourself saying, “I wish I hadn’t said that,” or

The Mind in Persuasion  145

Woodward-Denton Page 145 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

“They looked at me like I was crazy,” you probably have produced message boo-merangs. In truth, it is not difficult to get mixed results from a message. One mes-sage rarely fits all in a mixed audience. What works for some may have no effect onothers and could alienate some. As students of persuasion, we admit to some vicar-ious pleasure in watching the effect unfold on an unsuspecting advocate. Watch anold or recent comedy film or series32 and watch for messages that boomerang, leav-ing the sources baffled by the consequences they never intended. But, of course, it’snot fun if it happens to us.

Messages boomerang for many reasons: their designers have ignored needs or val-ues of the target audience; they have offended other attitudes; the source is unattractive;the advocate has picked the wrong words, arguments, or appeals. Consider several ad-ditional cases. In 2004, the Guardian newspaper in Great Britain urged its readers towrite to voters in a key state to try to influence the outcome of the presidential election.Many wrote to voters in Clark County, Ohio, urging residents to send PresidentGeorge W. Bush packing. The suggestions from our British cousins were not greetedwith enthusiasm. One Clark County resident’s response began with the salutation“Dear Limey Assholes.”33 The Guardian eventually ended its campaign to enlightenAmerican voters.

There are multiple examples of citizens trying to instruct others whom theybelieve have drifted from the truth. One of the authors lives along a narrow, single-lane road bordering a creek; no speed limits are posted. In many spots, the bridges



Persuader Message Audience




Figure 6.3The Boomerang Effect

146  Chapter Six

Woodward-Denton Page 146 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

can accommodate only one car at a time. He thought that since the road is used bycars, hikers, and cyclists, it would be nice if the township posted a maximum speedof 25 mph. He wrote letters and attended meetings. The outcome? The road is nowlittered with signs allowing a significantly higher speed. The best intentions of evensomeone who has studied persuasion for years can go down in flames.

The causes of some boomerangs are subtle. Congress created the NationalYouth Anti-Drug Media Campaign in 1998. It appropriated almost $1 billion overthe next six years for the campaign, which included TV and radio advertising. Thetargeted teen audience saw more than two advertisem*nts per week created to dis-courage youths from initiating the use of illegal drugs, especially marijuana andinhalants, and to convince the occasional drug user to stop using illegal drugs.34 Tothe surprise of all—and the embarrassment of the White House, which suppressedan evaluation report for two years35—the study found increased use of marijuanaamong some teen groups exposed to the campaign’s messages. In short, some anti-drug messages made teens more tolerant of drug use. What went wrong? In thewords of the $43 million evaluation study, “higher exposure” to messages actuallyleads to “weaker antidrug norms.”36 The more antidrug messages from movie starsand others that the teens saw, the more they were likely to consider marijuana usean identifying feature of their age group—a classic boomerang outcome callednorming the problem. In addition, it can be a challenge to design media that keeps upwith a group that cherishes its burgeoning separation from traditional sources ofauthority. Ads issuing warnings to teens are, for many, old news. The earnestness ofthe messages can seem sterile in relation to chic messages of rebellion.

Persuasion can be so difficult because it is hard to anticipate fully the mean-ings, associations, and effects of a given message. Cruise ship advertisem*nts, forexample, often depict photos of the ship’s interior that resemble the hallways of anupscale shopping mall. While this might once have been an appealing image tosome, it doesn’t match many people’s thoughts about the ideal “getaway” today.Most persuaders would be unhappy to learn that their messages had no effect on anaudience. Ironically, that outcome could be more desirable than some alternatives.

Social Judgment TheoryWhen we say it is cold outside, just how cold is it? It all depends on how warm

it was in the very recent past. For people in the northern tier of the United States,the first 60-degree day following winter seems very warm. However, the first 60-degree day following summer seems very cool. Our judgment about temperature isrelative to our prior experience.

Social judgment theory grew out of the work of psychologist Muzafer Sherif.37

The theory suggests that the beliefs and biases of the target audience are key ele-ments in deciding what type of message will be most effective. Sherif argues thatpeople do not evaluate messages based on merit alone. People compare argumentswith their current attitudes and then decide if they should accept the advocatedposition. Their current attitudes serve as reference points or “anchors” for theirevaluations. The theory asks the analyst to consider a key question: what is theanchor position for an individual, and how large is the anchor? For example, if anexperimenter turned on a light in a darkened room and said the wattage was 100,

The Mind in Persuasion  147

Woodward-Denton Page 147 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

that brightness would become the anchor, the reference point. If you were asked tojudge the brightness of four other lights, you would probably see the ones closest inintensity to the anchor as even more similar than they really are. This is the assimi-lation effect. Thus, you might judge a 75-watt light as the same as the 100. Youwould probably judge dimmer lights as even less similar than they actually are; thisis the contrast effect.

Sherif applied these principles to how we judge messages, with current beliefsserving as the anchor point. This theory treats attitudes and beliefs as a continuumin which there is a range of acceptable positions, a range of neutral feelings, and arange of unacceptable positions. A key variable is the critical ingredient of “egoinvolvement.” The more relevant an issue is to one’s self-image, the stronger theanchoring opinion. When we perceive a contrast among attitudes, we see them asfarther away from our anchor points. When we perceive attitudes as similar to ours,we assimilate them and view them as closer to our anchor points.

In understanding how our internal anchors or reference points function interms of attitude change, there are three important concepts to consider: latitudes ofacceptance, rejection, and noncommitment. The latitude of acceptance is the cluster orrange of attitudinal positions around the anchor that is acceptable. On most issues,there is a range of positions or statements that people could accept. Even thosewho are generally against abortion may favor exceptions in cases of rape or incest.Persuasive messages that fall within the audience’s latitude of acceptance are morelikely to be successful.

Messages that fall into the latitude of noncommitment are, by definition, not pro-ducing significant change. This may not be an exciting outcome, but it is realistic.With this category, the theory acknowledges resistance to change as a commoneffect. The most a persuader can hope is that, because of the assimilation effect, cer-tain messages in this range may be perceived as similar to the anchor point. Those

Latitude ofacceptance

Latitude ofnoncommitment

Latitude ofrejection

Acceptable Neutral Unacceptable

ego involvement

expands or contracts

latitude of rejection





current beliefs

serve as

internal anchors

low ego involvement equals

wide latitude of noncommitment

Persuasion Failure to Persuade

Figure 6.4 Social Judgment Theory

148  Chapter Six

Woodward-Denton Page 148 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

farther along the continuum may be pushed into the unacceptable range. Again, amajor variable is how much an individual is motivated to consider the message.

In contrast, the latitude of rejection is the cluster of positions that are absolutelyunacceptable. Messages in this category will not encourage attitude change; in fact,just the opposite often occurs. Messages that fall within this region tend to have theunwanted effect of reinforcing existing attitudes or positions—the boomerangeffect. Therefore, it is important to know where the latitude of acceptance ends andthe latitude of rejection begins. For example, when does one person’s free speechbecome another person’s obscene language? When does one advocate’s plea forequal opportunity become the receiver’s perception of discriminatory preferences?If a person is highly ego-involved in an issue or topic, the latitude of rejection isquite large, and the latitude of noncommitment is small. Tipping points againstchange are activated when people who feel strongly about an issue hear a requestthat falls in their latitude of rejection. This is one reason why people highly com-mitted to one point of view are difficult to persuade.38

The theory’s implications for persuasion are many. Assimilation constitutespersuasion; but contrast has the reverse effect. It is very different with individualswho have wide latitudes of acceptance. They are open to greater changes in atti-tudes than those with narrow latitudes of acceptance. If an audience is known tofavor an idea similar to ours or is at least noncommittal, it may take only one ortwo attempts to have our messages assimilated into the latitude of acceptance. Butif the audience is highly ego-involved and opposed to our position, a single mes-sage will probably be contrasted and rejected. In such cases, it usually takes manyattempts to expand the latitude of acceptance gradually and to move the anchorposition closer to the persuader’s.

According to Richard Perloff, this theory has special implications for politi-cians and political actors. Political communicators must always moderate theirmessages for very diverse audiences, which can mean delivering an ambiguousmessage so that constituents are not offended.39 Candidates are trying to gain sup-port by sharing their views with the largest number of voters. In terms of socialjudgment theory, candidates want to encourage voters “to perceive that the candi-date shares their position on the issue.”40 It is not surprising, therefore, that politi-cians so often “straddle the fence” on issues and appear to talk “out of both sides oftheir mouths.” From the perspective of social judgment theory, it is a sensible strat-egy of persuasion.

Elaboration Likelihood TheoryRichard Petty and John Cacioppo developed a theory of persuasion that is ele-

gantly intuitive.41 According to their elaboration likelihood theory, we process mes-sages differently depending on how much mental energy we are willing to invest inthe task of seeking understanding. Their model addresses questions about the levelsof attention toward messages and the effects of higher levels of attention. Theydefined two useful benchmarks along a continuum of personal interest, rangingfrom peripheral processing, the low end of involvement, to central processing on thehigh end of involvement. As Robert Cialdini states,

The Mind in Persuasion  149

Woodward-Denton Page 149 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

You and I exist in an extraordinarily complicated environment; easily the mostrapidly moving and complex that has ever existed on this planet. To deal withit, we need shortcuts. We can’t be expected to recognize and analyze all theaspects in each person, event, and situation we encounter in even one day. Wehaven’t the time, energy, or capacity for it. Instead, we must very often use ourstereotypes, our rules of thumb, to classify things according to a few key fea-tures and then to respond without thinking when one or another of these triggerfeatures is present.42

The shortcut method described above fits the peripheral processing route.When a message is processed through peripheral routes, the receiver employs somesimple decision rule to decide about the advocated position. The decision rulecould be based on communicator credibility or expertise. In contrast, when a mes-sage is processed through the central processing route, the receiver uses criticalthinking to assess all aspects of the message. The central route involves extensiveissue-relevant thinking; careful examination of the information contained in themessage, close scrutiny of the message’s arguments, consideration of other issue-related material, etc. Rather than testing whether the arguments presented in themessage make sense (central route), those using the peripheral route tend to focuson characteristics of the speaker, such as likability or attractiveness

The key element in the theory is contained in the word “elaboration,” whichrefers “to the extent to which a person scrutinizes the issue-relevant arguments con-tained in the persuasive communication.”43 Sometimes receivers will engage inextensive issue-relevant thinking while at other times very little effort is extended.When conditions encourage people to engage in issue-relevant thinking, “elabora-tion likelihood” is high. To be salient in this context, appeals must contain well-con-structed arguments supported by strong evidence. Studies have revealed numerousfactors that may influence the degree of elaboration. Some of the factors include thereceiver’s mood, the degree to which the attitude is based on a mixture of positiveand negative elements, the presence of multiple sources with multiple arguments,the personal relevance of the topic to the receiver, and the receiver’s degree of needfor cognition or to engage in thinking.44 (See figure 6.5 on the following page.)

Petty and Cacioppo argue that people want their attitudes to be consistent withbehavior but also to be correct. We learn from our environment if our attitudes areright, wrong, acceptable, etc. We must identify some standard for making judg-ments. For some, it may be a religious doctrine, political philosophy, or writtendocuments. For many, it results from merely comparing one’s attitudes to those ofothers. We know, for example, that holding opinions similar to those held by amajority of others increases our confidence in the validity of our opinions.

Two key elements affect the probability of choosing one route over the other:ability and motivation.45 The ability to elaborate is affected by our knowledgeabout the subject matter presented in the persuasive message. Motivation is affectedby our involvement with the issues presented—how important we believe the con-sequences of accepting the message will be to us. The number and variety of argu-ments presented also affect motivation. If we hear a number of competing views,the central route may be the only means available to process and organize the infor-mation. One other factor influencing motivation is personality. Some people thrive

150  Chapter Six

Figure 6.5 Central Peripheral Routes

Woodward-Denton Page 150 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

The Mind in Persuasion  151

Woodward-Denton Page 151 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

on analyzing issues and weighing possibilities; others find the process stressful. Thehigher one’s ability and motivation, the more likely the central route will beemployed. If an issue is important enough to us to activate our powers of reasoningto understand it, we use the central route. If the issue is important but we don’t feelqualified to assess the argument, our emotions will seek cues from the situation.

According to the model, the central route of elaboration requires both abilityand motivation. If ability is high and motivation is low at the time of message expo-sure, little argument processing will occur. Any influence will be the result of somecontextual cue associated with the persuader. For example, the highly credible orwell-liked source of the message may be the most influential component. In con-trast, if motivation is high and ability low, the desire to process the message will notbe matched by the capacity to do so. Again, situational cues may have more influ-ence in the processing of the message.

Postulates of the Elaboration Likelihood Theory of Persuasion

1. People are motivated to hold correct attitudes.

2. People vary in the amount and nature of issue-relevant elaboration in which they are willingor able to engage to evaluate a message.

3. Variables can affect the amount and direction of attitude change by (a) serving as persuasivearguments, (b) serving as peripheral cues, and/or (c) affecting the extent or direction of issueand argument elaboration.

4. As motivation and/or ability to process argument are decreased, peripheral cues become rela-tively more important determinants of persuasion. Conversely, as argument scrutiny isincreased, peripheral cues become relatively less important determinants of persuasion.

5. Attitude changes that result mostly from processing issue-relevant arguments (central route)will show greater temporal persistence, greater prediction of behavior, and greater resistance tocounterpersuasion than attitude changes that result mostly from peripheral cues.

Source: Richard Petty and John Cacioppo, Communication and Persuasion: Central and Peripheral Routes toAttitude Change (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1986), pp. 5–24.

Since the probability of elaboration depends on a number of factors, individu-als will differ in how they react to messages. As was true with social judgment the-ory, there is a “likelihood continuum” for individuals. Some issues will fallsquarely in the central route while others will almost certainly be peripheral. Forissues between those two extremes, persuasion may involve cues associated withboth the central and peripheral routes. For example, a parent of a teenager with alearner’s permit could decide to search the web for information about teenage driv-ing. A parent who happens upon a website about cars going from 0 to 60 miles perhour in five seconds will probably process that information via the peripheral route(if at all). They are far more likely to use the central route to process informationon a website that discusses the risks of serious injury for teens who drive withoutusing seat belts.46 By contrast, even responsible high schoolers may be inclined toprocess the warnings about seat belts peripherally, having been inoculated by expo-sure to many other safety messages.

152  Chapter Six

Woodward-Denton Page 152 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

As stated in postulate 5, the most consistent, powerful, long-term, and influen-tial attitude change results from the central route of elaboration. Attitude changegenerated through the central route of elaboration is relatively permanent, resistantto counterpersuasion, and predictive of behavior. By contrast, under the peripheralroute, attitude changes are more temporary, susceptible to counterpersuasion, andless predictive of behavior. Even so, especially in the cluttered and competitive envi-ronment of the mass media and Internet, message designers may have no choicebut to design messages for peripheral processors.

The Motivated SequenceOne of the simplest models for thinking about how to sequence message ele-

ments is also one of the most effective. Alan Monroe’s motivated sequence is basedon a progression of elements that is psychologically satisfying to audiences.47 Hesuggested five steps for organizing motivational appeals and supporting materials.In structuring appeals, it is important to consider the psychological tendencies oflisteners. Each step builds on the previous one. Monroe’s framework of consecutivesteps breaks down persuasion into sensible parts.

The motivated sequence starts with attention. The first task of any persuader isto set the stage so that the audience is willing to focus on the issue or message.After gaining attention, the next step involves describing the problem, which is fol-lowed by presenting a solution. This is the heart of the sequence. The more we areable to convince others that a condition exists that needs a remedy, the more thepersuasion will seem relevant and important. In the final two steps, the solution ismade concrete through visualization—framing the solution as it might work in thelives of audience members. The sequence closes by requesting action, asking theaudience to take the first steps toward the suggested solution to the problem.48

For example, a persuader might hope to convince members of an audience thattheir next pet should come from an animal shelter rather than from a pet store orbreeder. Following the motivated sequence, the persuader would first get the audi-ence interested in the topic. Pets not only create bonds with people, but our talkabout them often forms bonds between people. Once the audience is focused on thetopic, the next task is to explain the precarious lives of millions of dogs and cats liv-ing in shelters. There are more animals than potential rescuers, which results inmany wonderful animals being euthanized if they cannot be placed in a home. Inan effective PSA from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, actress Charl-ize Theron points out: “If you choose a dog from the mall, a dog you could havesaved from the pound will die.”49 The statement efficiently links the problem andthe solution even for peripheral processors. The next stage is to help the target visu-alize how the adoption process works. Finding the right pet for the right familyneeds to be more than an impulse decision. Visualization explains how a local shel-ter matches the right animals to the right families. And, finally there is the call toaction. What should audiences motivated by each of the earlier stages do first?What web resources are a good place to start? If looking for a pet, are there sheltersnearby that can match pets and families? The action step often seizes on changedattitudes and perhaps a new receptivity, converting those impulses into behaviorsthat make the commitment even stronger.

The Mind in Persuasion  153

Woodward-Denton Page 153 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

The motivated sequence is useful because it can help identify why a message issometimes not working very well. For example, attempting to persuade an audi-ence by proposing a solution and action without first making a sufficient case for aproblem is unlikely to succeed. We tend to forget that problems that are real to usare less apparent to others. Only problems recognized as significant and urgent willmotivate an audience to accept solutions.

Theory of Motivated ReasoningWe close with brief reference to a commonsense idea in persuasion. The theory

of motivated reasoning offers a general behavioral assertion that includes a predictedeffect. In simple terms, we tend to pay more attention to evidence and examplesthat confirm what we already believe.50 We all understand the process: it’s naturalfor most of us to search out confirmations of what we already know. Our use of evi-dence is less for discovery than for confirmation.51 As the cultural critic MichaelBérubé has noted, “It is very difficult to get a man to understand something whenhis tribal identity depends on his not understanding it.”52 The potential dissonanceof disconfirming evidence is perhaps the most direct explanation for why we areselective about the examples and testimony to which we pay attention. Hotweather in the summer confirms beliefs in rapid climate change. An unusually coldwinter disconfirms it for climate change skeptics.

This simple theory is useful because it easily names the selective perceptionthat is so much a part of the human experience and discourse. Combined with dis-sonance theory, it allows us to account for why many people maintain existing atti-tudes by searching for evidence that confirms them.

 SummaryThe psychologist Kurt Lewin once observed that “there is nothing more practi-

cal than a good theory.”53 In this chapter, we have explored a number of elementalbut crucial theories of persuasion, with a special emphasis on ideas that have stoodthe test of time. Theories allow us to imagine and predict the internal processes thattake place when we are exposed to messages and appeals. After exploring howbeliefs, attitudes, and values provide the basis for cognitive and behavioral pro-cesses, we highlighted some essential landmarks in predicting how they areaffected by persuasion.

Stimulus-response theory explores the fundamental idea of conditioning. Asso-ciations and connections that build up through systems of reward and repetitionestablish deep roots as core values and beliefs. Any single lifetime is governed byelaborate systems of rewards and conditioning. Schools, family, work, and peers allfunction as agents of socialization—reminding us that persuasion is intimately tiedto the fundamental idea of learning itself. Inoculation theory offers explanations forresistance to persuasion. As hopeful persuaders, we are prone to forget that we willprobably fail more than we succeed. Inoculation predicts failure or limited effectswhen others have been able to offer warnings that “arm” audiences against accept-ing subsequent messages. In the communication-saturated environment of modernlife, many such counterpersuasive messages come our way, making us wary and

154  Chapter Six

Woodward-Denton Page 154 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

more resistant. Attribution theory explains a related phenomenon: the desire tomake sense of a message by calculating the intent or motivation of its source.

Among the most potent of all persuasion theories are those that deal with con-sistency. Dissonance theory and its related cousin, the theory of induced discrepantbehavior, assume that attitudes or behavior can change when it becomes apparentto an individual that these elements are inconsistent. Dissonance is mental stress.We seek to reconstruct our attitudinal or behavioral selves when we become con-scious of our inconsistencies. Our belief that attitudes and behavior should be con-sistent is explored in consistency theories, and accounts for our preference for“motivated reasoning.”

Several theories posit relationships in the ways we process information. Elabo-ration likelihood theory recognizes that we sometimes apply full reasoning powersto messages, and sometimes we rely on automatic responses that have worked inthe past. Social judgment theory alerts us to the anchors and reference points weuse for analyzing how far we are willing to stretch to accommodate a new attitudeor behavior. A persuader who pushes too far is likely to force a person beyond their“latitude of acceptance,” resulting in a failed attempt. Push much too far, and theresult may be the boomerang effect: the interesting if sometimes frustrating phe-nomenon of triggering reactions so negative that audiences end up further from thepersuader’s view than was the case before he or she even started.

The chapter closed with an overview of two useful frameworks for assessingmessages. The motivated sequence offers a simple checklist of goals that—whencombined in a single message—produce a psychologically satisfying series of mes-sage elements, where each step builds on the one before it. The theory of motivatedreasoning explains why messages might not resonate with audiences. Selective per-ception can override the best efforts of persuaders.

All of these key ideas make us smarter analysts of messages. But they are by nomeans fully predictive. In the middle of our review of key models we introducedthe idea of boomerangs—messages that do not work as intended or predicted. AsLeon Festinger notes in the opening quotation of this chapter, people do not alwaysreact as we would expect they would. A statement meant to produce cognitive dis-sonance could produce anger instead. An appeal designed to reassure a targetregarding the goodwill of the source could—for reasons that are sometimes hard tofathom—make a person more suspect. Persuasion is sometimes a poker gamewhere the wildcard of a boomerang comes up at the least expected moment.

 QUESTIONS AND PROJECTS FOR FURTHER STUDY1. Using the antitobacco website,, apply some of the

chapter’s models and theories to selected messages. What are the chances ofboomerangs in some of the antismoking messages that target teens?

2. Choose an issue that has been debated or discussed recently, for example: allowingguns on campus, requiring women to watch “educational” videos prior to gettingan abortion, jailing individuals who possess small amounts of marijuana, prose-cuting individuals engaged in illegal file sharing, etc. Identify what you believe arethe underlying beliefs, attitudes, and values on each side of a single issue.

The Mind in Persuasion  155

Woodward-Denton Page 155 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

3. In the recent past was an outspoken opponent to the demands ofstates like California that the company should be collecting sales tax when itsells products to their residents. Other retailers with facilities in a state must col-lect sales tax. For the authors, Amazon’s position created cognitive dissonance.Amazon is convenient, easy to use, and less expensive without taxes. But hard-hit states depend on sales tax revenues. Local businesses are penalized becausethey must collect taxes, making it more expensive to buy from them than fromAmazon. Think of a similar split between two attitudes, or an attitude andbehavior, that has created dissonance within you. How could a persuasiveappeal on your topic or ours be worded to exploit such dissonance in others?

4. Attribution theory describes why assumed motives in an advocate matter. Cite anexample where you think you can predict how a piece of persuasion will be receivedbased primarily on anticipated audience attributions of the source’s motives.

5. Recall from your own experience a case of a “message boomerang.” What hap-pened in the message that contributed to its failure?

6. Visit a university health center. Assess several of the brochures in the waitingroom using the Elaboration Likelihood model. Would the messages work forperipheral processors? Do they provide enough detail and compelling reasonsfor central processors?

7. Inoculation is a common strategy when political candidates have some unhelp-ful or embarrassing part of their biographies that they must own up to. Supposea candidate for an important office had several convictions for “driving underthe influence” 20 years ago, when he was a college student. What might the can-didate say about it? And what would be the justification for “getting this on therecord” many months before the election?

 ADDITIONAL READINGRobert B. Cialdini, Influence: Science and Practice, 5th ed. (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2009).Joel Cooper, Cognitive Dissonance: Fifty Years of a Classic Theory (Los Angeles: Sage, 2007).James Price Dillard and Lijiang Shen (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of Persuasion, 2nd ed. (Los

Angeles: Sage, 2013). Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen, Belief, Attitude, Intention, and Behavior (Reading, MA: Addi-

son-Wesley, 1975).Robert Gass and John Seiter, Persuasion, Social Influence, and Compliance Gaining, 5th ed.

(Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2014).Eric S. Knowles and Jay A. Linn (Eds.), Resistance and Persuasion (Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2004).Richard Perloff, The Dynamics of Persuasion, 4th ed. (Hillside, NJ: Taylor & Francis, 2010).Richard Petty and John Cacioppo, Communication and Persuasion: Central and Peripheral Routes

to Attitude Change (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1986).

Woodward-Denton Page 156 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Woodward-Denton Page 157 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM


Persuasion, Audiences,and Social Learning


 A Conceptual Baseline: Social Learning

 Audiences: The Generative Forces of PersuasionThe Challenge of Finding hom*ogenous AudiencesIs There a Common Center?

 The Audience Analysis ProcessThe Principle of IdentificationUniversal CommonplacesAudience-Specific Norms

 Advocates, Messages, and AudiencesBelieving in Our WordsHigh Credibility/High Agreement PersuasionHigh Credibility/Low Agreement PersuasionLow Credibility/High Agreement PersuasionLow Credibility/Low Agreement Persuasion


158  Chapter Seven

W-D Page 158 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:25 PM

Theater is something we human beings do, when all of us who areinvolved are alive and present, and at least some are paying attentionto others, for a measured time and in a measured place. Some of usdo things while others watch.1

—Paul Woodruff

Bill Clinton was strangely malleable, a creature of his audience,besotted with the ability to charm, constantly trying to please.2

—Joe Klein

The psychological explanations of persuasion discussed in the preceding chapteraddress the internal processes that occur within individuals when considering mes-sages. Other theories of persuasion have their roots in social explanations andassume that the responses and behaviors of specific individuals are manifestationsof the interactions they have with others. Social theorists look at the power of cul-ture to shape values and beliefs. They start with the premise that we are largelywhat our contact with others has made us. As soon as we enter the world, we beginto acquire attitudes from a maze of contacts that give our lives meaning and pur-pose. As George Herbert Mead famously noted, communication “requires theappearance of the other in the self, the identification of the other with the self, thereaching of self-consciousness through the other.”3 In short, we are the actors withlines to learn and audiences to win over.

The socialization process begins in the family and continues with a variety ofassociations at church, school, work, etc. Sociologist Émile Durkheim noted thatour world becomes governed by networks of obligations and memberships throughwhich we acquire and share common attitudes:

Sentiments born and developed in the group have a greater energy than purelyindividual sentiments. A man who experiences such sentiments feels himselfdominated by outside forces that lead him and pervade his milieu. He feelshimself in a world quite distinct from his own private existence....Followingthe collectivity, the individual forgets himself for the common end and his con-duct is oriented in terms of a standard outside himself.4

The familiar claim that we are “social” animals is thus basic to the study ofpersuasion. By nature we are learners, adaptors, and imitators. We accept whatothers model in their words and actions. And we like to think we have succeededwith others when our communication produces something like what John DurhamPeters idealizes as the “direct sharing of consciousness.”5 To be sure, this abilitycomes to some more easily than to others whose communication generates alienat-ing rather than pleasing interactions. Prince Philip of Great Britain has a reputa-tion for being the prince of slights. For example, he asked a Scottish divinginstructor, “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them to

Persuasion, Audiences, and Social Learning  159

Woodward-Denton Page 159 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

pass the test?” In the Cayman Islands, he asked a museum director if most of Cay-manians “were descended from cannibals.” In Nigeria, he greeted the presidentgarbed in traditional dress by saying: “You look like you’re ready for bed.”6

Other things can go horribly wrong when addressing audiences. In 2010 TheToday Show’s Ann Curry gave a commencement address in which she mentionedonly famous alumni from another institution with a similar name—alienating thegraduates in her audience.7 Disney prides itself on its lineup of children’s program-ming. To their dismay, a marketing study with mothers of young children about thecompany’s purchase of the Power Rangers franchise revealed that hand-to-hand com-bat as entertainment for tots was not a good match. Disney soon unloaded the show.8

This chapter explores the complex processes of identifying and appealing toothers, focusing on our nature as essentially “other-directed” beings, and introduc-ing a number of essential variables. We begin with a reminder of how much of ourattitudes are inherited and modified through daily interaction with others and witha caution about the challenges of aggregating attitudes in audiences. We concludethe chapter by considering several models that help conceptualize the varied rela-tionships that can exist between persuaders and their audience “targets.”

 A Conceptual Baseline: Social LearningAmong the few principles common to almost all forms of persuasion is the

idea of social learning, which is sometimes also called “peer influence” or “socialproof.” It is deceptively simple but absolutely essential to an audience-centeredapproach to persuasion. The principle states that what we believe or do usuallyarises from learning the norms of others. We have a natural interest in conformingto what others expect, since the rewards for compliance are almost always greaterthan the costs of being an outsider. Robert Cialdini notes that “we view a behavioras correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.”9

Whether we are deciding the appropriate topics of conversation in a restaurant, ifwe should laugh out loud in a movie theater, or if we should voice our opinionabout a politician, we often take our cues from other people. As a rule, we willmake fewer mistakes and take fewer risks by acting in accord with social evidencethan by behaving contrary to it. Culturally speaking, when a lot of people are doingsomething, it is almost by definition the right thing to do. We use attitudes andbehavior as confirmations of our membership in a community. They function asbasic indicators of a person’s “place” in the collective.

Social learning is often defined in negative terms, as when parents stereotypi-cally worry about the ostensibly bad habits their children have picked up from theirpeers. But as Tina Rosenberg notes, the “social cure” of positive peer pressure maybe the most effective route to moving people to better choices and behaviors. Theremay be no better route to persuasion than the immersion of an individual in agroup with a commitment to the new attitude you want them to share.

Identification with a new peer group can change people’s behavior where strat-egies based on information or fear have failed.... The social cure is a naturalsolution to help people take care of their own health—to encourage them toaccomplish the difficult tasks of avoiding risky sex; abstaining from cigarettes,

160  Chapter Seven

Woodward-Denton Page 160 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

alcohol, and drugs; losing weight; getting exercise and following doctors’orders. But it also has been successfully applied to problems in fields as diverseas political change, university education, organized religion, criminal justice,poor-country economic development, and the art of war.10

The point is obvious but important. The inability to learn the scripts of dailyinteraction, or defiance against pressures to do so, usually results in ostracism or alife at the margins of basic social groups such as the family or community. Novel-ists and screenwriters give us heroes and protagonists who push back against whatthey perceive as the oppressive conformity of adaption. Narratives of innovatorslike Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg often follow this thread.11 Char-acterizations of iconoclasts are appealing—perhaps because we can vicariouslyshare their defiance of convention without having to pay the price of living a lifeoutside the nurturing attachments of community.

In most Western cultures, the socialization process is complex and sometimescontradictory, as illustrated by the social and problematic dimensions of alcoholuse. Alcohol is used to celebrate life’s various transitions and achievements, as areward for a difficult day, or—in the case of many college students—a rite of pas-sage sanctioned by many of their peers. At the same time, our society spends mil-lions of dollars constructing very different messages warning about the costly socialeffects of alcohol. Drug and alcohol programs exist in virtually every corner of ourorganizational life. Universities, for example, have hired more and more people tohelp curb alcohol abuse, which in one study affected 31 percent of all undergradu-ate students.12

One of the most interesting approaches to the “culture of drinking” is to reso-cialize students by giving them statistical information on the actual attitudes andbehaviors of other students. Called social norms marketing, the idea is to use ads andposters to reach students with actual statistical data suggesting that most of theirpeers are only moderate drinkers and that binge drinking is aberrant, unusual, andpotentially offensive. These campaigns use data to persuade students that they haveoverestimated the extent to which similar others consume alcohol. Inviting a groupto reconsider the benchmarks of others’ attitudes is basic to who we are.

Social learning is also increasingly relevant today as the best explanation forwhat is driving the “peer-to-peer” influence built into most forms of social media.The online process of “liking” a person, product, or company functions to publi-cize potentially persuasive associations. This simple act of affiliating oneself withanother is perceived as more genuine than traditional advertising.

 Audiences: The Generative Forces of PersuasionThe study of public persuasion would be unmanageable without the conve-

nient idea of the audience. We understand that persuasion is directed to someoneand that its message must satisfy some of the needs or prior beliefs of specific indi-viduals or groups. We resemble actors on a stage, destined to repel or attract othersas we negotiate the demands of interaction with others. Even an audience of oneembodies the essential dramatic formulations: proscribed roles, scripts that must befollowed, and expectations that must be met—and the fact that persuasion must be

Persuasion, Audiences, and Social Learning  161

Woodward-Denton Page 161 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

oriented to others. Our rhetoric reflects the dramatic similarities. We wonder if we“captured” their interest, if our “performance” was good enough, if we “acted”improperly, or perhaps if a whole “scene” degenerated into “farce.”

The Challenge of Finding hom*ogenous AudiencesThe idea of an audience can be problematic. One of the key assumptions is that

we can group individuals into a cohesive unit. We depend heavily on the idea ofhom*ogeneity—an expectation that individuals share some key attitudes and prefer-ences and demographic and lifestyle similarities (age, sex, income, region of resi-dence, interests, gay versus straight, and so on). Media outlets often “sell” theiraudiences to advertisers based on some of these features. And virtually every music,film, and television producer is convinced they know their “niche” or “market.”Even so, the concept of the audience rarely works as well in fact as it does in theory.

The biggest challenge is that audiences rarely turn out to be as uniform orhom*ogeneous as we assume. As James Webster and Patricia Phalen note, “audi-ences are not naturally occurring ‘facts,’ but social creations. In that sense, they arewhat we make them.”13 Even the basic idea of a group of people who have volun-tarily come together in the same space at the same time has its complexities. Themotives of those who self-select themselves into the same group can be surprisinglydiverse. What are the common characteristics of a viewer of a YouTube video? Orwhat common personality or demographic features would likely be present in agroup gathered in a university theater to hear a retired U.N. Secretary General? Wemight make some guesses. But an exact survey of demographic features wouldlikely spill out beyond our generalizations. In the case of the campus speaker, manycome to support a leader they admire; some come as skeptics. Others may havetagged along with a friend; and some are there because attendance is required for aspecific course. In the case of YouTube, it would be a mistake to assume that its 2billion hits a day are by demographically similar users.14

There are other historical and structural problems as well. The idea of theaudience was born in a simpler period. Aristotle wrote his text, Rhetoric, with aneye on a few hundred citizens of a small city, meeting in the same place at the sametime. Even American participatory democracy in the late 1700s was intended for avery restricted citizenry of white male landowners. Today, by contrast, audiencesare sometimes defined in the millions, with wide demographic variations.

Structurally, the largest of our mass media—especially the commercial televi-sion networks—have made diverse audiences a fact of life. As Joshua Meyrowitzhas pointed out, the electronic media now make it easy for individuals to “eaves-drop” on messages intended for others.15 The stratified world of television facili-tates eavesdropping on messages intended for a much narrower demographic.“Lifetime” television and the “Oprah Winfrey Network” are billed as media forwomen. But they exist only one click away from different television content onmost cable systems. The result is that men consume them as well.

The permeability of media intended for specific groups means that we can iden-tify at least three distinct types of audiences: two that persuaders plan for and one thatis sometimes beyond the ability of the persuader to control. Primary audiences arethose that the advocate wishes to reach, such as an inoculation campaign to dis-

162  Chapter Seven

Woodward-Denton Page 162 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

courage adolescents from taking up smoking. Secondary audiences form an outerring around the target audience, and the message may be relevant for this group aswell. An antismoking advocate may welcome the attention of parents to a messagedesigned for teens. Eavesdropping extends the reach of the message. The third typeof audience is one that is, by definition, potentially more problematic for the advo-cate. An unintended audience is a group or community that may react negatively tothe message and possibly undermine its effectiveness. Difficulties with unintendedaudiences arise typically when a message targeted to one group is reported via themass media to a second group with different sensibilities or expectations.

The results may be humorous, as in the classic farce The Naked Gun (1988),where the bumbling inspector Frank Drebin concludes a speech to a large gatheringand forgets to remove his wireless public address microphone before visiting therestroom. The resulting bathroom noises broadcast into the auditorium highlightan important point: electronic media make it less possible to isolate audiences fromeach other. The results of unintended audiences can also have negative, long-lastingeffects. University graduates looking for work may be dismayed to discover thatpotential employers are using Facebook to research job candidates. One inter-viewer checked the Facebook entry of an applicant from Duke University. Afterseeing the photographs and summaries of sexual and drinking escapades, the inter-viewer was “shocked by the amount of stuff that she was willing to publicly dis-play.”16 The scheduled interview was cancelled. Just how public these sites arevaries. However, the unintended audiences of social media can seriously under-mine an individual’s or an advertiser’s control of the message they want to deliver.17

Political campaigns illustrate how careful strategists have become in delivering“microtargeted” or “narrowcast” messages that stay below the radar of the newsmedia or unintended audiences who would be offended. The analytics departmentof the Obama campaign in 2012 was five times larger than it had been in 2008,headed by an individual who had previously crunched huge data sets to maximizethe efficiency of supermarket sales promotions. The department created a megafilethat merged information from pollsters, fund-raisers, field workers, consumer data-bases, social-media and mobile contacts, and voter files. The metric-driven campaignhelped raise $1 billion by creating detailed models of voters that could be used toincrease the effectiveness of everything from phone calls and door knocks to directmailings, targeted TV ads, and the use of social media. The campaign used Face-book to help get out the vote. People who had downloaded an app were sent mes-sages with pictures of their friends in swing states. They could click a button to urgethose targeted voters to action—whether registering to vote, voting early, or going tothe voting booth. About 20 percent of people contacted by a Facebook friend actedon the request, largely because the message came from someone they knew.18

Most social media are not exclusive to their intended receivers. Ours is an agewhere individuals expect that they will be able to “eavesdrop” without difficulty ondigital messages that straddle the line between “public” and “private.”

Is There a Common Center?As citizens in a large and diverse nation, we can experience growing doubts

about the beliefs and values that we actually have in common. This can be an out-

Persuasion, Audiences, and Social Learning  163

Woodward-Denton Page 163 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

growth of the American faith in individualism and our inherent suspicion of orga-nizations, governments, and social movements. In contrast to our rhetoricaltradition embracing the idea of inclusion (i.e.: “All men are created equal...”),modern life has fostered a greater consciousness of racial, gender, lifestyle, andclass distinctions. These sensitivities have been productive in furthering the legiti-mate civil rights objectives of many communities. But one of the prices we havepaid for these advances is a fraying of our faith in the idea of a true national com-munity. Beyond our love of shopping malls and mass market films and television,do we share something deeper, something approaching a common civic culture?19

Are there universal values and ideals that define our national life? Some social the-orists have noted that we are less a “melting pot” that dissolves our differences thana culture that more or less accommodates them.20 If that is the case, the idea of anaudience of members more or less sharing the same values and priorities may bepartly an illusion.

Even with all of these reservations, it is hard to think about persuasion verylong without making estimates about how a given group exposed to the same mes-sage will respond. The idea of audiences with shared attitudes is a necessary tool inthe process of designing and measuring the effectiveness of appeals. But it is clearthat persuaders must be cautious about making simple or glib judgments about thefeatures that audiences allegedly have in common.

 The Audience Analysis ProcessExperienced persuaders usually “try out” their messages prior to the actual

presentation. This auditioning may be informal, such as when we attempt to gaugethe probable reactions that friends may have to a statement prior to actuallyexpressing it. Or it may be formal, as in the elaborate and expensive surveyresearch and audience analysis studies that are commissioned by broadcasters,Internet portals, content providers, and especially advertisers. At either end of thespectrum the goals are generally the same: to identify the personal and demo-graphic characteristics of audiences, so that content can match their needs andinterests. The benchmark for most advertisers, for example, is framed in terms of“cost per thousand ” (CPM ): how much money you have to spend to purchase spaceor time in a given television program or other media outlet to reach one thousandpeople in your target audience. If the target is women 16 to 25 in the United States,Cosmopolitan is going to be a much better “buy” than an ad in Sports Illustrated. Ifyou are trying to sell pain relief products to seniors, CBS’s 60 Minutes will offer alower CPM than The Daily Show.

Traditional methods of testing messages and attitudes include phone inter-views, Internet questionnaires, focus groups, and dial groups. Focus groups are asmall sample of a target audience (10 to 15 people) gathered together in one placeto react to some form of persuasion. Various marketing, media, and testing organi-zations have refined this auditioning process into even more refined dial groups.ASI Entertainment, for example, operates market research facilities in North Hol-lywood designed to test audience responses to everything from television shows toscreen tests for game show hosts. In a dial group test, a wide range of people are

164  Chapter Seven

Woodward-Denton Page 164 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

given free tickets to screenings. The participants begin their roles as audience mem-bers by completing questionnaires about their television-viewing and product-pur-chasing habits. They are then seated in the comfortable theater where each chaircontains a “ViewTrac” control knob that can be turned to settings reflecting theiropinions about the action unfolding on the screen in front of them (very good,good, normal, dull, and very dull). These controls are connected to a computer thatprovides a “real time” graph of the audience’s collective reaction to whatever is onthe screen. A pilot for a new television series “tests well” if the collective responseof the group is generally higher than the norm. Or, as is often the case, separatelines may indicate that men like what they are seeing more than women. And inmany cases, the producers of the show may learn that one character does not workwell in the medium. Everyone from actors to politicians will be looking for newjobs if the audience regularly turns the dial toward the negative zones in reaction totheir on-screen appearances.21

The Principle of IdentificationNot all communicators are persuaders, because some communication is not

intended to win over audiences. For example, some writers and musicians maywork to please only themselves or to achieve a private aesthetic goal. In such cases,self-expression may be its own reward. Even though most art is rhetorical (that is,those who produce it actively court receptive audiences), it is plausible that a cre-ator of some form of art might say “I like it, and that is all that’s important.” Per-suaders, however, must always go further; they must construct messages thatnarrow the gap between their attitudes and those of their audiences. In ways notdemanded of other manipulators of words and images, they must reconcile theirdifferences with those they seek to influence. Identification is the primary tool forachieving this goal.

The principle of identification may be the most universal of all the elements ofcommunication. Imagine a film, television drama, or novel where the story deliber-ately denied our psychological alignment with any character—chances are goodthat we would lose any interest in what happens next. We seek “connections” withothers and “resonance” with their ideas or experiences. Music would lose one of itsmost appealing aspects if it did not transport us back to a particular time or placewith which we identify.

Reaching an audience is rooted in an advocate’s ability to understand the col-lective beliefs of the members of the audience: what they like and dislike, what theytake for granted, and what they are likely to challenge. St. Augustine noted that aperson is persuaded if he “embraces what you commend, regrets whatever youbuild up as regrettable, rejoices at what you say is cause for rejoicing”—in short,when the person thinks as you do.22 Persuasion may be described as a process thatuses the familiar to gain acceptance for the unfamiliar.

These opportunities for identification are enormously important and more var-ied than one might first suppose.23 In our casual usage of the term, we oftenobserve that identification is the product of various forms of similarity, for instance:ideological (“I agree”), demographic (“We are both men”), or shared circ*mstances(“Both of us grew up in Colorado”). What more intensive study reveals, however,

Persuasion, Audiences, and Social Learning  165

Woodward-Denton Page 165 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

is our remarkable capacity to extend our empathy to people and situations evenwhen there seem to be no obvious analogies. Given the inclination to do so, we aresurprisingly adept at “standing in another person’s shoes.”

We can establish identification on many different levels. Our manner of dressand style of delivery can communicate physical similarity, while the expressions andexamples we use can reassure an audience that we share similar experiences. Thismethod can be seen in the seminal work of Tony Schwartz, who became a legend inthe history of radio and television commercials. Schwartz believed that the mosteffective persuasion triggers beliefs and feelings that already exist within a person.Effective advocacy depends as much on calling forth what individuals alreadybelieve or “know” as on advancing new ideas. Schwartz notes that an audience is thepersuader’s “workforce.” A persuader, “must deeply understand the kinds of infor-mation and experiences stored in his audience, the patterning of this information,and the interactive...process whereby stimuli evoke this stored information.”24

Identification is the sharing of this common “information”; it is achieved when lis-teners and readers sense that what is being said expresses their own attitudes.

Universal CommonplacesIdentification flows from a sense that advocate and audience share the same

cultural beliefs. Known as commonplaces, these beliefs represent the core thoughtsand ways of thinking that characterize a particular society. According to the Frenchsocial theorist Jacques Ellul, a commonplace “serves everyone as a touchstone, aninstrument of recognition. It is rarely quoted, but it is constantly present; it isbehind thought and speech; it is behind conversation. It is the common standardthat enables people to understand one another.”25

The earliest compilers of commonplaces were the early Greek and Roman rhet-oricians, notably Aristotle and Cicero.26 Both identified habitual patterns of thoughtcommon to particular segments of their societies. But anthropologists, sociologists,and communications analysts have used commonplaces through the ages to mapthe ideological landscape of a tribe, nation, or culture. In 1935 researchers Robertand Helen Lynd studied a city (Muncie, Indiana) dubbed “Middletown” with aninterest in discovering the attitudes held in common by large sections of the commu-nity. They catalogued the essential commonplaces of the city—“the things that onedoes and feels and says so naturally that mentioning them in Middletown impliesan ‘of course.’ ”27 A sampling from their list of attitudes on the general subject of“the proper roles for government” illustrates that many could be expressed today.

• The government should leave things to private initiative.

• The American democratic form of government is the final and ideal form ofgovernment.

• The Constitution should not be fundamentally changed.

• Americans are the freest people in the world.28

The Pew Research Center looks for generational, political, and demographicdifferences.29 However, they often find more similarities than differences. Socialscientists like Alan Wolfe regularly focus on broad trends in American attitudes.

166  Chapter Seven

Woodward-Denton Page 166 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Wolfe’s widely cited 1998 study entitled One Nation, After All identified a number ofareas of general agreement. He surveyed eight middle-class suburbs around thenation. The statements for which he found substantial agreement, some of whichappear below, are probably universal to the culture as a whole.

• The problems of America’s inner cities are largely due to people’s lack ofpersonal responsibility for their own problems.

• Even though it has its problems, the United States is still the best place in theworld to live.

• People who do not speak English well should (not) be taught in the schoolsin their native language.

• It has become much harder to raise children in our society.

• There are many different religious truths, and we ought to be tolerant of allof them.30

Not every individual would accept all of these commonplaces, nor do theyalways remain unchanged from generation to generation.31 They are universal inthe sense that they reflect mainstream public opinion at a specific time and in aspecific society. We can isolate them as the building blocks of persuasion becausethey are readily accepted by so many within a culture. Locating the right common-places is vital in initiating a sequence of persuasive appeals that can move an audi-ence toward agreement.

Thus, when the woman who first organized the new Consumer Finance Pro-tection Bureau spoke at a meeting of the United States Chamber of Commerce, sheexpected that they would oppose many of her initiatives to regulate the bankingindustry. But Elizabeth Warren reached for a commonplace that they could allendorse: “I do not consider myself in hostile territory right now because I believewe share a point of principle.” Then came the commonplace: “Competitive mar-kets are good for consumers and for businesses.” She rightly assumed her audiencewould find no quarrel with that statement, using it to make her ultimate point thatmarkets don’t work well “unless there are some well-enforced rules.”32

Virtually every presidential address is a reservoir of commonplaces. Presidentsmust find common ground with as many Americans as possible. Consider the com-monplace of regard for individual initiative as expressed by three recent presidents.In his 1992 address, Bill Clinton noted:

It is time to break the bad habit of expecting something for nothing from ourgovernment or from each other. Let us all take more responsibility, not only forourselves and our families, but for our communities and our country.33

George W. Bush repeated the theme in 2001:

America, at its best, is a place where personal responsibility is valued andexpected.34

And Barack Obama’s 2012 address continued to emphasize personal responsibility.

Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work andpersonal responsibility, these are constants in our character.35

Persuasion, Audiences, and Social Learning  167

Woodward-Denton Page 167 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

All three statements express the same core value as a cultural commonplace.Precisely because these statements are unremarkable, they provide useful paths topersuasion. Getting someone to agree with you is not usually about confrontingthem with foreign or new ideas. It is about finding pathways to agreement, thenusing these pathways to leverage change on related ideas that the persuader wants to foster.

Audience-Specific NormsThere is a second level of beliefs that work as commonplaces. Audience-specific

norms differ from universal commonplaces by appealing to groups or communitieswithin a society, but not necessarily to all. Earlier we discussed the potency of thegroup in shaping its members’ attitudes. Aristotle understood audience-specificnorms as a key process in persuading others. He devoted many pages of his studyof persuasion to a distinction pollsters continue to explore: the different beliefs thatdivide the young from the old.36 The Pew Research Center recently concluded that“millennials” (people born after 1980) generally have different norms about mar-riage and parenthood than do their parents or grandparents. Among youngerAmericans there is greater tolerance for a range of domestic relationships, includ-ing couples who live together prior to marriage, interracial couples, and gay Amer-icans who want to adopt a child.37 There are fewer rules to stigmatize or isolatenontraditional couples and families. Progressive idealists spoke about such toler-ance in the last century; in this century, younger Americans tend to live it.

Identifying common attitudes held by particular demographic groups remainsuseful. But norms are perhaps even more widely considered by contemporaryadvocates who place more emphasis on a person’s “membership” in real or virtualcommunities of people with shared interests or concerns. Subjects such as legalabortion, the death penalty, and gay marriage are so crucial to many individualsthat they can be fairly described as identity issues: positions that we see as signifi-cantly defining who we are. But well beyond this high-intensity inner ring are layersof other rings of attitudes that define some sense of alliance with others.

American society consists of thousands of organizations and coalitions, someformal and some informal, others intensely personal, religious, or political. Thesegroups are defined by their shared attitudes, some of which place supporters in themainstream of public opinion or in a minority with others content to be defined asthinking differently. When we are swimming against the tide of public opinion ondeeply held beliefs, we learn how important group norms can be. Pew’s researchabout current attitudes about the American Civil War, for example, found Ameri-cans deeply divided about why the war was fought and whether it is okay for leaderstoday to praise confederate leaders or display the Confederate flag. Skin color,region of the country, and education all play a role in predicting how an individualwill react to such communication and actions. Not surprisingly, white Southernersare most positive in interpreting the war and its leaders. Northern African Ameri-cans, followed by northern whites, are less positive about these symbols of identity.38

We could describe many other attitudes linked with specific organizations:Handgun Control Incorporated (“Handguns are too abundant in the UnitedStates”), the National Rifle Association (“The Second Amendment protects theprivate ownership of firearms”), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

168  Chapter Seven

Woodward-Denton Page 168 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

(“Animals have rights that should not be ignored”), or Planned Parenthood (“GetInvolved”).39 Being a supporter of a group or organization can become a badge ofhonor and a way to construct our own identity. “Make Love, Not War,” “Save theWhales” and “Jesus Saves” may be old bumper stickers, but they and others likethem are also emblematic norms that suggest our willingness to display our mem-bership in a community of shared values. Norms that are accepted by others conferlegitimacy on groups, even while sometimes creating tensions in the larger society.

Research has identified two types of norms. Descriptive norms account for agroup’s attitudes or behavior, while the things a group approves of or disapprovesof are covered by injunctive norms. Robert Cialdini and his researchers discoveredthat injunctive norms can be especially effective in controlling out-of-norm behav-ior in public places. They studied the rate of thefts of small pieces of petrified woodin Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park, finding that signs around the park tak-ing the injunctive form, “Please don’t remove petrified wood from the park” weremore effective than signs with the descriptive norm, “Many past visitors haveremoved the petrified wood from the park, changing the state of the Petrified For-est.” The latter signs seemed to actually encourage theft, probably by norming theproblem—theft—that they sought to change. The unintended implication in thesign is that “everybody does it.” The more direct injunction had the advantage ofimplying that there are limits to what others “like us” will accept or not accept.40

Using the same logic, public television and radio fund-raisers should avoidstating that very few listeners or viewers contribute. Staffers at a local affiliate inPhiladelphia sometimes note “only 1 in 10 users actually contribute.” Such state-ments are “norming” what they intend to communicate as a significant problem.We suspect they would be better off using the injunctive form that talks about thefriends and neighbors “like you” who contribute.

There are generally two ways to locate audience norms. One is to consider thedemographics of a group to arrive at reasoned inferences about what they currentlybelieve. Certain attributes such as age, occupation, and religious affiliation cansometimes be used to predict attitudes. The second method is to test for attitudesby doing surveys of samples of an audience. Dial groups discussed above representthese efforts. Our focus here is on various forms of inference-making.

Although it is always risky, some audience norms can be inferred from certaintraditional demographic measures such as age, sex, income level, education, geo-graphic location, and membership in formal associations. Variations within anygroup can be broad, but some groups show greater similarities than differences inat least some key attitudes. Radio stations and their advertisers, for example, gener-ally find that preferences for musical formats correlate with particular kinds of lis-teners (teens, older adults, suburban adults, young urban men, and so on).41

Similarly, cable and television networks and commercial websites attempt to showprospective advertisers that their programs reach commercially lucrative segmentsof the population, such as adult women who make a high percentage of all house-hold purchases.

Inference making involves using known facts to arrive at conclusions aboutprobable beliefs. Although such inferences are inexact, it is advantageous to makeestimations about the attitudes of people based on what is known about their per-

Persuasion, Audiences, and Social Learning  169

Woodward-Denton Page 169 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

sonal and social situations. Audiences with heavy concentrations of farmers needto be addressed differently than audiences of small business owners, retirees, unionmembers, or college seniors. Persuaders addressing these groups essentially workbackwards from general traits to conclusions about probable attitudes and values agroup could be expected to endorse or condemn. For example, we would perhapsjudge union members to share more norms with the Democratic Party than theRepublican Party, favor governmental activism in the areas of health care and ahigher federal minimum wage, and exhibit suspicions about the motives of largecorporate employers. Of course, one might be close to the mark for the group as awhole but probably wrong about some norms for any single individual. Such is theuncertain nature of inference making about anyone’s beliefs: the law of averagesmeans we can project tendencies in groups better than for any single individual.

Jury selection in trials remains one of the most interesting forms of inferencemaking about audiences. In criminal proceedings lawyers and judges have the rightto query and reject prospective jurors. In the age of high stakes “mega-trials,” theattempts by defense attorneys to seat twelve sympathetic individuals on the jury

170  Chapter Seven

Woodward-Denton Page 170 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

have become highly strategic. Television’s “Dr Phil,” for example, had an earliercareer as a “litigation consultant” where, among other things, his Courtroom Sci-ences Incorporated helped Oprah Winfrey overcome a lawsuit brought by theAmerican cattle industry as a result of her disparaging remarks about beef on herpopular talk show that cattlemen claimed caused beef prices to fall.42 Similarly, juryconsultants played significant roles in the trials of Martha Stewart, Enron’s JeffreySkilling, and Casey Anthony (the young mother who was acquitted in 2011 of mur-dering her child).43 In was is now considered a benchmark case on the art of juryselection, lawyers defending O. J. Simpson against charges of murdering his ex-wifeand her friend looked for male jurors rather than women, older rather than youngerjurors, African Americans, and “football buffs rather than football widows.”44 Thecommon thread was a clear—if simplistic—notion of finding norms that couldbecomes bases of identification.

 Advocates, Messages, and AudiencesFor the moment it is useful to reduce persuasion to its three essential variables.

For persuasion to occur, there must be an advocate (someone or some group with aviewpoint to express), a message (the point of view the advocate wants listeners toaccept), and an audience (listeners, viewers, or readers). Removal of any variablemakes communication impossible. Our three-sided model of this process presentedin figure 7.1 is based on the work of researchers attempting to look at how peoplemaintain and change their attitudes.

Imagine that for any persuasive setting it is reasonable to estimate relationshipsbetween the three variables as positive (+) or negative (–). A positive sign indicatesapproval, a negative sign indicates disapproval. The model predicts resistance oragreement on the critical variables of acceptance of the advocate and acceptance of themessage. Its six different configurations essentially show the possibilities that canflow from two key questions about any persuasive encounter: Does the audiencelike the advocate? Does the audience share the advocate’s point of view? Takentogether, the model’s different scenarios offer some revealing conclusions aboutwhat may need to happen in an individual setting to alter an audience’s attitudes.

For example, the most difficult form of persuasion is diagrammed in the lastscenario. The audience has negative feelings toward the persuader as well as his orher ideas—a fairly common circ*mstance in our current political environment.Before exploring this difficult circ*mstance and other possible combinations, we’llstart with the baseline precondition: the only relationship that should be (scenario 1),but is not always (scenario 2), constant is the advocate’s positive faith in the rightnessof the ideas presented.

Believing in Our WordsAlthough what an audience thinks about a topic may range from approval to

disapproval, the audience rightly assumes that expressions of support for an ideaare sincere. We expect advocates to believe what they say; the advocate’s convictionis the default expectation for person-based persuasion, represented by the “plus”between the message and the source. Assuming no coercion, people are not likely

Persuasion, Audiences, and Social Learning  171

Woodward-Denton Page 171 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

to argue for what they do not believe. If we learn the reverse—that a persuader sup-ports a position he or she does not accept—we may feel used. Bad faith communi-cation is diagrammed in the second scenario, where the minus sign indicates that aspeaker is saying one thing but believing another.

To be sure, there are times when people are required to “front” for someoneelse’s viewpoints. Fronting typically happens when individuals must represent theviews of organizations to which they are attached, but with which they privatelydisagree. Many people face the challenge of loyalty (or continued employment)over honesty, either as retail or service workers or in defenses we feel obligated tomake on behalf of family and friends. Beyond a limited range of professional andpersonal loyalties, we will assume that individuals will be authentic in theirexpressed support for an idea—that what a person professes is what they actuallybelieve. To assume otherwise makes communication an endless chain of funhousemirrors, where integrity and honesty are lost. Advocate conviction thus represents awidespread social presumption of personal authenticity. Bad faith represents thedarker problem of performing advocacy without any conviction.


Advocate Message


Advocate Message


Advocate Message


Advocate Message


Advocate Message


Advocate Message

– +

+ +




+ +


6low credibility/low agreement

5low credibility/

high agreement

4high credibility/low agreement

3high credibility/high agreement



Figure 7.3 Modeling Persuasion Challenges and Opportunities

172  Chapter Seven

Woodward-Denton Page 172 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

High Credibility/High Agreement PersuasionThe ideal communication environment is one in which the audience is positive

about both the message and its presenter (the third scenario)—enthusiastic support-ers gather to hear a popular leader recite esteemed beliefs. Democratic Party cam-paign speeches given to Democratic audiences and Mormon sermons given toMormon congregations are two examples of “preaching to the converted.” Audi-ences attentive to a candidate appearing on television or face-to-face are heavilypopulated by people who already appreciate the source and the message.45 Basicpersuasion research suggests that “people pay attention primarily to content thatalready interests them and that is congenial to their point of view.”46 High credibil-ity/high agreement persuasion may seem unnecessary, since the advocate and audi-ence agree. It is, however, a mistake to overlook the need for “reinforcing”communication. Rhetoric that fits in with an existing attitude is extremely satisfy-ing; it fulfills our need for membership in communities and it involves practicallyno risk. It is obviously more rewarding and less threatening than the reverse, whichwould involve facing an audience whose members have doubts about us and ourmessage. Such reinforcement may seem empty and ritualistic, but organizationsand movements must periodically remind believers of the tenets basic to their faith.Speeches, websites, and rallies prolong the enthusiasm of members who need occa-sional psychological renewal.47

Persuasion for reinforcement sometimes also benefits from mass media expo-sure, which allows it to reach secondary audiences who are not so unified. In someinstances, a message that seems to be intended for people who are already truebelievers may actually be designed to use the enthusiasm of those believers to infecta larger and previously indifferent mass media audience. The primary audience’ssupport becomes part of the persuasive message, generating the kind of enthusiasmthat may impress those witnessing the event secondhand. This explains the laughtracks or “sweetening” of the audio of situation-comedies. Lest we forget that weshould be having a good time, the laugh track is there to remind us that others findthe material hilarious. Political conventions similarly exploit this dual audiencearrangement. They know that potential voters watching on television may be influ-enced by the zeal on the convention floor. The familiar sight of a presidential can-didate addressing like-minded party members who can barely contain theirexcitement is intended to draw us in. The activity of the supporters is a perfectbackdrop against which to address the undecided 5 or 6 percent who could makethe difference between electoral success and failure.

High Credibility/Low Agreement PersuasionHigh credibility/low agreement persuasion (the fourth scenario) occurs when an

advocate has earned the goodwill of the audience but tests their sympathy by argu-ing the merits of an unpopular idea. Political leaders often test the patience of theirmost ardent supporters by advocating ideas many of them may not like.

In 2006, for example, former President Jimmy Carter disappointed someadmirers with a new book that accused the Israelis of inhumane practices in theiroccupation of Palestine. Palestine Peace Not Apartheid triggered resignations from the

Persuasion, Audiences, and Social Learning  173

Woodward-Denton Page 173 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

board of directors of the Carter Center and accusations that Nobel Peace Prizewinner Carter was anti-Semitic. But even unlikely audiences like students and fac-ulty at Brandeis University gave the president a respectful hearing.48 Likewise,many African American clergy—traditional supporters of Barack Obama—tookissue with his announced support for gay marriage in 2012.49

Two very different approaches seem well suited to the high credibility/lowagreement setting. One is to intensify audience identification with the favorablepublic image of the advocate (“If such a terrific person believes this, maybe my ownview is wrong”). With this approach, more time is spent focusing on the advocate’sacceptance with an audience. Most celebrity endorsem*nts of products functionthis way. In advertisem*nts very little is said about the product itself; the emphasisis on its association with a person we admire. A second strategy—and one that hasgreater merit—is to make the best case possible in defense of the idea to which theaudience is indifferent or hostile. The advocate’s reputation is sufficient to guaran-tee that an audience will listen to a reasoned presentation making a convincingcase for a problematic issue.

Low Credibility/High Agreement PersuasionThe situation represented in the fifth scenario is the exact reverse of the one

discussed above arrangement. Unlike the well-liked persuader outlining what anaudience does not want to hear, the audience in low credibility/high agreement per-suasion fundamentally agrees with the ideas being expressed but has low regard forthe advocate.

A persuader might analyze this situation and conclude, “Why bother? I’m con-tent to do nothing if the audience already agrees with me.” This is a reasonable con-cern based on the idea of the boomerang effect. The association of a popular ideawith an unpopular advocate could possibly sour some of the audience on the idea.

But an advocate with effective presentation skills can find at least one majorreason for using low credibility/high agreement persuasion: the opportunity toincrease personal credibility. By exploiting the audience’s agreement on an issue,he or she may be able to reverse some negative feelings. Like the chameleon thatblends in with the colors of a landscape, the advocate may gain protection againstan audience’s hostility by carefully cultivating shared ideas as a vindication of hisor her own suspect character. Ideas serve as membership cards to groups thatwould otherwise reject the low credibility speaker.

Undoubtedly, one of the most difficult speeches President Bill Clinton evergave was a 1993 Memorial Day address at Washington’s Vietnam Veterans Memo-rial. To many of the veterans and military leaders who had gathered, Clinton didnot have the required credentials to be a Veterans Day speaker. His reputation as a“draft dodger” had endured beyond the bitter 1992 campaign. Like many othercollege students of his day, he avoided service in Vietnam and protested against thecontinuance of the war. When he began to speak, he was greeted with bothapplause and boos, but he persisted with ideas that resonated with his audience. Hewas eloquent in identifying common ground and in making a plea to put the nega-tive feelings generated by Vietnam in the past.

174  Chapter Seven

Woodward-Denton Page 174 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Let us continue to disagree, if we must, about the war, but let us not let it divideus as a people any longer. No one has come here today to disagree about theheroism of those whom we honor, but the only way we can really honor theirmemory is to resolve to live and serve today and tomorrow as best wecan...Surely that is what we owe to all those whose names are etched in thisbeautiful memorial.50

The primary strategy of a persuader confronting audience perceptions of lowcredibility is to identify shared values, experiences, and ideas—commonplaces thatcan function as bridges between a suspicious audience and the persuader. The goalin this setting is less to change attitudes about ideas than to change attitudes aboutthe advocate. Common belief in the message’s idea is the potential agent for creat-ing more goodwill toward the speaker. We are reminded that some people like theDixie Chicks, Bruce Springsteen,51 or the French are liked in the United Statesmore for their art than their politics. In the long run the cultural products they pro-duce can soften perceptions of who they truly are.

Low Credibility/Low Agreement PersuasionWe return now to the persuasive situation that carries the heaviest burdens—

but is also the most interesting to study (especially if someone other than ourselvesare confronting the difficult situation). Low credibility/low agreement is the situationin which the audience is hostile to both the persuader and his or her ideas. The twominuses signify two large obstacles to overcome. Not unexpectedly, most people donot tackle such an arrangement joyfully. Indeed, more than a few students havesuggested that a persuader should come to this setting only with bodyguards and afamiliarity with possible escape routes! Such settings are usually less ominous.

Over the years, Harvard University’s various schools have invited a number ofunpopular speakers to appear. When Norman Finkelstein spoke at the Law Schoolin 2005, few in the crowd were sympathetic to him or his views. Finkelstein is acritic of Israel and what he describes as the “holocaust industry,” resulting in whata reporter from The Crimson chronicled as a meeting filled with constant “shout-ing” and “vocal harassment.” “Many onlookers at the speech repeatedly disruptedthe lecture, heckling, shouting rebuttals, and holding fluorescent posters protestingFinkelstein’s stated views.”52

Nearly a year later former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami was invitedto address the school’s Institute of Politics on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. The date was a coincidence. And eventhough Iran’s government was not directly implicated in the attacks, then GovernorMitt Romney condemned the visit of a “terrorist” and noted that the state wouldprovide no police protection for his visit. About 200 demonstrators gathered out-side the Kennedy School of Government chanting “Shame on Harvard,” but theaudience inside listened politely and then asked a range of questions about humanrights in Iran and other issues.

Like most speakers facing a hostile audience, the reform-minded Iranian presi-dent was able to find common ground with many in the audience, eventually win-ning grudging acceptance. Noted one Harvard student, he was “more evenhanded”than she expected.53 Khatami condemned Osama bin Laden and violence directed

Persuasion, Audiences, and Social Learning  175

Woodward-Denton Page 175 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

against any group. He also condemned his successor’s oft-quoted wish that Israelbe “wiped off the map.” He attempted to find norms shared by the group. Listedbelow are some of his credibility-establishing statements.

• I stand before you to once again express my deepest sympathy with the fam-ilies of the victims [of Sept. 11] and with all the great American people.

• One cannot, and ought not, be engaged in violence in the name of any reli-gions. Just as one cannot and ought not turn the world into one’s militarycamp in the name of human rights and democracy.

• The East ought to choose democracy as the most fitting method of collectivelife and progress.54

Sometimes a great idea is worth the uphill battle of facing doubting audiences.As we noted in chapter 1, suffragists like Carrie Chapman Catt knew that winningthe vote for women would mean persuading hostile groups: 480 campaigns target-ing mostly men to get legislatures to submit amendments to voters, 277 campaignsto get states to write women’s suffrage planks, and many more efforts to influencethe political parties and other groups.55 This type of persuasion requires a commit-ted, hardy, and resolute advocate. The challenge of overcoming both low agreementand low credibility is daunting. Both tasks must be undertaken simultaneously. It isessential to find commonplaces or norms that can be initial stepping stones toagreement and to build credibility—perhaps by invoking key similarities—thus soft-ening the opposition to both the message and the persuader.

 Summary: The Ethics of AdaptationThe central theme of this chapter has been that successful persuasion must be

measured against the necessity to adapt to specific audiences. We naturally accessour strengths and weaknesses in relation to those we want to influence. Sometimesour strengths lie in who we are; in many instances, they reside in the specific ideas weadvocate. In either case, we assume persuaders will maximize their leverage over anaudience by finding common ground—their ethos, commonplaces, and group-spe-cific norms—to establish effective connections. This is the primary dynamic of adap-tive persuasion. There are few other communication skills that matter as much as theability to link one’s own persuasive message to relevant audience beliefs or values.

Built into this theme is what many consider the troubling question of whenadaptation goes too far. Plato called excessive attention to audience beliefs “pander-ing,” and claimed that it was a common if unfortunate feature of persuasion astaught by most of his peers. He worried that the presence of the audience and itscherished norms put enormous burdens on a persuader to ignore the truth andtheir better instincts.56 Anybody who has witnessed someone reject long-heldbeliefs to win someone else’s approval can understand what Plato feared.

This simple but common complaint sometimes conceals a false dilemma. Theidea of pandering requires accepting the supposition that communication in itsmost basic sense is not naturally audience based—that when we are alone with ourthoughts, we are somehow truer to our authentic selves. In truth, the reactions ofothers not only do matter, they should matter, functioning as essential reference

176  Chapter Seven

Woodward-Denton Page 176 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

points in our quests to prosper within groups and communities. Social learning isnot just an adaptive strategy but a learning and survival strategy as well. Theadmonishment to “not to worry about what others think” sounds romantic andperhaps heroic, but it denies the essential sociality of human communication. Wecited George Herbert Mead at the beginning of the chapter as a reminder that—toa large extent—we are defined by our interactions with others. We cannot escapethe influences and judgments of individuals within our orbit.

There may be times when we praise the idea of acting and speaking withoutcompromising with the feelings of others. Luckily, we have melodramas, rappers,and film stars who can act as surrogates for our fantasies of living as defiant “out-siders.” But the truth is, few of us really want to give up the comfortable immersionthat a communal world of friends, families, and communities provides. Surely anethical line is crossed when adaptation extends beyond the natural process of medi-ation and reaches into the denial of core values or beliefs. The bad-faith persuaderwho deliberately ignores beliefs for the sake of performance has violated theacceptable threshold of accommodation. It is reasonable and shrewd to determineand to exploit audience values that also support deeply held personal beliefs, but itis unethical to sacrifice personal feelings simply for the sake of winning over others.

In the end, persuasion is an ongoing dialogue with an audience. Outwardly itappears as if the audience is asked to do most of the “giving.” The persuader’sintention to transform the attitudes or behaviors of a group of people implicitlysays, “Give me both your attention and the benefit of your agreement.” But if theaudience is—as this chapter suggests—truly the generative source of a message’sideas, then the competent persuader entering into this process is complimenting theaudience. Anyone who seeks change from a group of people by giving their beliefsserious consideration can hardly be accused of pandering.

 QUESTIONS AND PROJECTS FOR FURTHER STUDY1. Look for commonplaces within an article in a mass-market magazine or its

online equivalent. Locate more specialized group norms in a media outlet witha narrower audience such as Maxim or Ms. Describe how some of these elementsfunction as appeals to the audience.

2. Using the online resource, Nielsen Wire (,identify some current audience analysis trends in media use. Consider some ofthe findings in terms of the chapter’s discussion of the challenges of thinkingabout modern audiences.

3. In spite of the fact that we believe that we are responsible for our own commit-ments, a theme in this chapter is that we acquire most of our attitudes throughour associations with others. What authorities or associations can you identifythat have influenced your beliefs and attitudes?

4. At one point in the chapter, the authors note that an ethical presumption thatgoes with all forms of persuasion is that persuaders should believe in what theywant others to accept. To do otherwise is “bad faith.” Publicly representing anorganization’s position about which one has doubts is also called “fronting.”Cite an instance of “fronting” that involved you, or cite some situations where

Persuasion, Audiences, and Social Learning  177

Woodward-Denton Page 177 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

fronting is common and perhaps necessary. Do any of these situations suggestthat fronting may be ethical?

5. Using recent news items, interviews, blogs, or personal experiences, illustratewhat is meant by the following terms used in the last two chapters:

• Boomerang Effect

• High Credibility/Low Agreement Persuasion

• Using commonplaces to find common ground

• Identity Issues

• Norming the Problem

6. View Bill Clinton’s short address to vets at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial(YouTube: “President Clinton at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall” Identify commonplaces used to tryto win over this hostile audience.

7. Pick an issue or position on which you hold strong views. Given your positionon the particular question chosen (i.e., defending a politician, a controversialpolicy, or group), identify an organization that would hold contrary or differentattitudes. Imagine that you were invited by this organization to explain yourconvictions online or face to face. After giving your “invitation” some thought.Describe the norms you think the hypothetical audience holds and how youwould “build bridges” to increase their support or understanding of your pointof view.

8. We have noted that peer pressure (social proof) is a significant form of influence.Using your own experiences or an example with which you are familiar, illus-trate Tina Rosenberg’s idea of the “social cure” at work. Where have othersclearly been persuaded by a strong group norm that affected the thinking of anew member of the group?

 ADDITIONAL READINGRobert Cialdini, Influence: Science and Practice, 5th ed. (New York: Longman, 2009).Robert Cialdini, Linda Demaine, Brad Sagarin, Daniel Barrett, Kelton Rhoads, and Patricia

Winter, “Managing Social Norms for Persuasive Impact,” Social Influence, March, 2006,3–15.

James Hay, Lawrence Grossberg, and Ellen Wartella (Eds.), The Audience and Its Landscape(Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996).

Charles Kiesler, Barry E. Collins, and Norman Miller, Attitude Change: A Critical Analysis ofTheoretical Approaches (New York: John Wiley, 1968).

William McGuire, “Attitudes and Attitude Change,” in Gardner Lindzey and Elliot Aron-son (Eds.), Handbook of Social Psychology, Vol. II, 3rd ed. (New York: Random House,1985), pp. 233–346.

Tina Rosenberg, Join the Crowd: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World (New York: Nor-ton, 2011).

Tony Schwartz, The Responsive Chord (New York: Anchor, 1974).Gary Woodward, The Idea of Identification (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003).

Woodward-Denton Page 178 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM



The Contextsof Persuasion

Woodward-Denton Page 179 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Woodward-Denton Page 180 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Woodward-Denton Page 181 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM


Interpersonal Persuasion


 Dimensions of Interpersonal Communication

 Variables of Interpersonal PersuasionVerbal CharacteristicsNonverbal CharacteristicsPower and ControlCompliance-Seeking MessagesConflictGender DifferencesCulture and DiversityLeadership

 Contexts of Interpersonal PersuasionOrganizationsSalesInterviews


182  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 182 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

While we may be born communicators, we are not born with effec-tive interpersonal skills—those we need to learn. Nor are effectiveskills static; the same techniques may not work for all people in allsituations. The culture of each person, his or her gender, the environ-ment, and the individual’s goals will determine how that personapproaches and processes interpersonal communication.1

—Teri Gamble and Michael Gamble

We experience the process of persuasion in a wide variety of contexts rangingfrom sitting alone thinking to talking with a friend to participating in a mass dem-onstration. The three basic levels of persuasion are: intrapersonal, interpersonal,and public. Although the essential processes of persuasion are alike for each level,there are noticeable differences in appeals, strategies, and tactics. Intrapersonal per-suasion is communication with oneself; it provides cues for interpreting sensations,personal identity, and motives for our behavior. Interpersonal persuasion, the topicof this chapter, focuses on face-to-face interaction with others. We address publicpersuasion in the next chapter.

Much of our face-to-face interaction—whether among family, friends, orstrangers—is purposeful and persuasive. It may be as simple as requesting someoneto bring you a book, as important as asking someone to hire you, or as emotionalas asking someone to marry you. Within the interpersonal context, persuasiveefforts may be characterized as:

1. Dynamic—participants send and receive signals continually and simultane-ously; the situation is not static.

2. Interactive—participants influence each other; they are interdependent.Each person is constantly aware of the other and assumes the roles of bothsender and receiver, which involves continual adaptation and adjustment.

3. Proactive—involves the total person. Beliefs, attitudes, values, social back-ground, and previous transactions all influence the nature of the interaction.

4. Contextual—environmental and situational factors influence the interaction.

5. Intense—content of the interactions are most often personal, intimate, andrevealing, thus producing the risks of rejection, withdrawal, exposure, andeven weakness.

After reviewing in greater detail the elements of persuasion that are directlyrelated to interpersonal interactions, we will focus on the specialized contexts oforganizations, interviews, and sales. The persuasive potential of interpersonal per-suasion is particularly apparent in these three areas.

The various theories, strategies, and tactics of persuasion are applicable toany level or context of human communication. They may differ, however, interms of degree and effectiveness. The forms of dyadic (two-person) communica-

Interpersonal Persuasion  183

Woodward-Denton Page 183 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

tion range from the most social (intimate), to the most formal (interview), to themost stressful (interrogation). Within these areas, persuasive strategies and tacticsmay range from the subtle to the overt, the rational to the psychological, and theverbal to the nonverbal.

Interpersonal persuasion is challenging and complex. Timothy Mottet and col-leagues define interpersonal communication as “a transactional process that occurswhen two people use verbal and nonverbal messages to create understanding andto influence each other to manage the relationship.”2 Thus, the act of persuasionand influence is at the core of interpersonal communication.

 Dimensions of Interpersonal CommunicationMost interactions are purposeful; the parties have a goal to accomplish. To

illustrate the cognitive (rational) dimension of the persuasive interpersonal commu-nication process, suppose you wanted to sell your old car. How much information(mileage, motor size, oil usage, miles per gallon, prior accidents, etc.) should youshare in the sales pitch? What type of opinions (condition, treatment, value, etc.)will you offer about the car? Planned persuasive strategies include language choice,attitudes, logic, and credibility. Information, opinions, and actions will beexchanged during the encounter. Information shared may be incomplete, inaccu-rate, or biased. Opinions expressed may be unwarranted based on the informationpresented. Actions taken or requested may reveal the persuader’s motives.

The second dimension of persuasive interpersonal communication is relation-ships. Pioneer scholar William Schultz provided the foundation for understanding theimportance of interpersonal communication by detailing the three primary humanneeds it can satisfy.3 The first is the need for inclusion. As social animals, we need tobelong, to be accepted, and to be recognized. Through interaction, we establishfriends and relationships, prestige and status, commitment and group participation. Awell-adjusted person is usually characterized as someone who has self-confidence, iswell liked by others, and is comfortable in a wide variety of social settings. Socialinclusion is important for acceptance, compliance, and task performance.

Control is the second basic human need; it implies more than just power overothers. It includes knowing when to defer to others as well as when and how toassert one’s self-interests. The military is primarily organized by control. Roles arevery clearly defined. In most other organizations, control is a process of give andtake—negotiating responsibilities and rewards. We will return to the role of controlin interpersonal persuasion later in the chapter.

The third need is for affection, a connection that moves beyond the need forinclusion to a more committed relationship. Humans need to love and to be loved.All three dimensions of relational interpersonal communication contribute toefforts to influence another person. It is easier to persuade someone if they acceptus, trust us to negotiate control equitably, and like us.

Certain aspects of our car example also illustrate the relational process. Even ifyou sell the car to a stranger, the first part of the interaction involves establishingtrust and building identification. You must persuade the person that you are honestand have nothing to hide; the potential buyer must convince you that he or she

184  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 184 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

intends to buy the car and has the funds to pay for it. You might emphasize similar-ities and commonalities between you and the potential buyer (such as mutual inter-ests or experiences) to establish a mini-relationship during the transaction.

 Variables of Interpersonal PersuasionAs we have already noted, some would argue that all persuasion is interper-

sonal in the sense that some source creates and sends a message received by anotherperson who interprets, analyzes, and responds to the message. We will revisit ele-ments introduced in previous chapters in the context of face-to-face interactions.

Verbal CharacteristicsIn chapter 3, we discussed the nature of symbols and language in creating the

reality within which we act. Human communication is a purposeful process ofselection, interpretation, and symbolism. We select our verbal behaviors largelybased on interactions that were successful in the past. We repeat verbal behaviorsthat created satisfying exchanges; those that led to ineffective exchanges are elimi-nated from our repertoire of possible behaviors.

We know that words and language influence perceptions of situations, individ-uals, and artifacts that increase or decrease favorableness. Words and languageinfluence our thoughts and what we think about, our actions and behavior, and ourrelationships. One’s personality and how one uses language influence one’s verbalcommunication style. Dominant verbal style consists of intense, direct, and opinion-ated language. This style leaves the impression of control, competence, confidence,forcefulness, and competiveness. Dramatic style uses very vivid language, sarcasm,satire, and anecdotes that tend to enhance interpersonal attentiveness, attractive-ness, and popularity. A contentious style utilizes factual and logical messages toargue and challenge others. This style may lead to impressions of a quarrelsome,rude, or aggressive communicator. The attentive style uses messages that paraphrasestatements of others and reflects attentiveness to what others are saying. This styleprojects feelings of warmth, friendliness, caring, and empathy. An open verbal styleis more conversational, informal, and disclosive—expressing emotions, experiences,and feelings. Such a style enhances trust and confidence. A friendly verbal style useshumor, encouragement, and positive messages expressing affection and caring foranother individual. This style engenders perceptions of being sociable, friendly, andoutgoing. Finally, the precise verbal style uses very careful, direct, concise, and con-crete messages. The precise style enhances credibility and competence.4

Of course, we use a combination of different styles across contexts and rela-tionships. Interestingly, studies show that verbal style combinations influencedegrees of competence, interpersonal satisfaction, and compliance. For example,patients prefer physicians to be attentive or dramatic but not dominant or conten-tious. Employees want managers to be more open and dramatic. Open, attentive,and precise communicators are perceived as more likeable and friendly. Studentsprefer teachers to be attentive, dramatic, and friendly.5

A pragmatic approach to interpersonal effectiveness focuses on communicativebehaviors that help the speaker and listener accomplish desired goals or outcomes.

Interpersonal Persuasion  185

Woodward-Denton Page 185 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

In general, other-oriented communication is expressive, immediate, and character-ized by interaction management skills that demonstrate consideration and respectfor the interaction participants and also generate attentiveness and interest. Linkyourself to others in the conversation by using terms such as “we,” “our,” or “us.”Echo the feelings expressed by others by relating similar stories or experiences.Reinforce the comments of others with head nods, smiles, and touch (nonverbalbehaviors, which are discussed below). Confidence and expressiveness generatetrust and involvement. Interaction management techniques maintain the properpacing of an interpersonal exchange in its evolution toward a decision or resolu-tion. In contrast, one should avoid using very general or confusing language, over-generalizations, extreme meanings, stereotyped or sexist language.

We tend to develop and maintain relationships that provide more rewards thancosts. The most satisfying relationships are those where the rewards and costs areequal for both parties. Conscious efforts to provide positive rewards in daily inter-actions (examples include simple behaviors such as saying “thank you,” inquiringhow people are feeling, or acknowledging the efforts of others) strengthen relation-ships. Both the structure and content of an interpersonal interaction help establisha relationship that will provide a context for future interactions. Today’s conversa-tion will impact future conversations. For example, in a job where you depend onothers for task completion, the quality of your interpersonal interactions will affectyour job performance and evaluations.

Nonverbal CharacteristicsNonverbal codes and symbols have many of the same characteristics as verbal

codes and symbols. They convey distinct meanings within a culture or society.Both nonverbal and verbal meanings are arbitrary; they are formed as a result ofsocial interactions. Nonverbal communication is an essential part of all humancommunication. Some scholars argue that the meaning we get from interactionscomes primarily from the nonverbal dimensions of message exchange.6 Nonverbalmessages may emphasize or accentuate a particular part of a verbal message. A cer-tain look, gesture, or increase in volume may provide clues about the attitudes oremotions of the communicator. Nonverbal messages may complement or contra-dict what is stated verbally. In addition to emphasis, nonverbal behaviors also regu-late the flow of interactions. From certain nonverbal cues, we learn when it is ourturn to speak or when someone wishes to interrupt. Nonverbal messages also sub-stitute for verbal messages. A simple nod of the head or shaking of a finger can pro-vide a reply to some questions.

There are numerous channels for nonverbal communication. Body communica-tion refers to the various messages sent by our physical presence, such as gestures,posture, movements, and appearance. Facial and eye communication include smiles,frowns, raised eyebrows, scowls, winks, and eye movements such as eye contact andpupil dilation. Artifactual communication includes all the material objects accumu-lated by people, such as pens, clothing, and cars. Artifacts communicate social class,status, or success. There are often expectations of style and dress, for example, asso-ciated with many professions. Most research indicates that certain artifacts, espe-cially clothing, can influence compliance and persuasiveness. Spatial communication

186  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 186 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

deals with human use of personalspace and territory. Tactile commu-nication focuses on touch and phys-ical contact. Paralanguage refers tothe sounds and the meanings asso-ciated with how words are spoken.Vocal rate, pitch, volume, andpauses all affect the meaning com-municated in our verbal messages.Smell, as a code system, deals withhow odor communicates. Besidesnatural scents and perfumes, thereare cultural differences in reac-tions to smell. Finally, temporalcommunication focuses on humanuses of time. This brief explanationof the many channels of nonverbalcommunication emphasizes howpervasive and important nonverbalcodes are in everyday conversation.

There are three aspects of non-verbal behaviors that affect persua-sion. First, the level of animation,expression, or enthusiasm shownduring an interaction enhances per-suasion and the effectiveness of themessage. Vocal variety, affirmingnods and gestures, and maintainingeye contact are a few behaviors thatenliven contact with others. Sec-ond, nonverbal behaviors that ex-press liking and attraction enhance

message reception. Increased proximity, smiling, and touching are obvious ways toshow attraction. Finally, the level of relaxation displayed during an interaction isimportant in gaining trust and the appearance of truthfulness. A relaxed postureand the absence of vocal anxiety are important elements in establishing credibility.General persuasiveness increases when nonverbal behaviors communicate enthusi-asm, attraction, and relaxation.

People who are aware of and consciously utilize nonverbal encoding (sending)and decoding (receiving) skills are more successful in interpersonal relations andinfluence. Nonverbal behavior can create powerful persuasive outcomes. Peter Ander-sen notes that nonverbal immediacy behaviors communicate power, attention,warmth, and liking and have a substantial impact on compliance (often stronger thanverbal message variables).7 Judee Burgoon and Gregory Hoobler argue that nonver-bal communication is just as much a skill set as oral or verbal communication andhighlight some of the findings of contemporary studies of nonverbal communication.8

What do these facial expressions, gestures, artifacts, and clothing communicate about the individual? How would they affect his attempts to persuade?

Interpersonal Persuasion  187

Woodward-Denton Page 187 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

• Strong encoding skills are greater among those who are extroverted, expres-sive, high in self-esteem, persuasive, and physically attractive. Those strongin decoding skills are more gregarious and sociable.

• Nonverbally skilled individuals are more successful in deceiving and influ-encing others.

• Females are superior in encoding nonverbal skills, especially in visual cuesand nondeceptive messages. Women are also more accurate interpreters ofnonverbal cues than men. In short, women are more expressive and sensitiveto nonverbal cues.

• Age, occupation, and training are related to skills of nonverbal encoding anddecoding but race, education, and intelligence are not. Those with betternonverbal skills are more inclined toward people-oriented occupations.

Scholars have reported other findings about eye contact, facial expression, andbody movements. Eye movements perform six functions: attention, persuasion, regu-latory, affective, power, and impression management.9 Eye movement and exchangescan gain attention, signal desire to speak, or show support and empathy. Eye move-ment may enhance trust and credibility by maintaining eye contact—whereas look-ing down or blinking frequently may signal deception. It is common for our eyes toconvey feelings of emotion. Strong leaders maintain direct eye contact, while thosewho view themselves as weak tend to avoid eye contact and look away from others.

188  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 188 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

In general, more dynamic speakers are more persuasive. Specific examples ofdynamic behavior include frequent gesturing, hand movements, head nodding,smiling, and high levels of energy. Of course, these activities must appear natural,genuine, and sincere or questions about credibility will outweigh any persuasivegains from dynamic presentation. Body movements and gestures also reveal likesand dislikes.10 Leaning forward, orienting one’s body and head directly toward aperson, affirmative head nods, and smiling are nonverbal behaviors indicating lik-ing—while an absence of gestures and a rigid body posture are signs of tension anddislike. The audience also uses body movements and gestures to assess assertive-ness, power, and status. A relaxed posture, dynamic gestures, and varied vocalinflections communicate confidence and power, while hunched shoulders, vocalfillers such as “uh,” and nervous hand movements communicate powerlessness.Audiences perceive information about us through our personal appearance. Formany, attractiveness signals success and talent. It can also influence perceptions ofcompetence and credibility.

Interpersonal touch is probably one of the oldest forms of human communica-tion. Research shows that touch communicates emotion such as anger, fear, love,sympathy, and gratitude, to name a few.11 We learn appropriate touching behaviorin specific contexts through social interaction. The “rules of touch” vary greatly byculture. In the United States, there are clear sex differences in touching behavior.For men and women, touch by close friends is positive and reinforces feelings ofa*greement, support, and empathy. When there is no reason for a touch, men aremore averse to being touched than women are.

Touching can also be a powerful tool of reinforcement for compliance. Forexample, studies revealed that almost any touch increases likelihood of complianceof a request ranging from signing petitions, to purchasing items, to leaving highertips.12 While touching tends to stimulate feelings of liking, trust, and interpersonalinvolvement, there are cultural norms and limitations to such behavior. In makinga request, a slight touch on the arm may increase compliance. However, a sus-tained touch may increase anxiety and stress. The person touched will interpret themeaning of the nonverbal behavior.13 How well you know the participant in theinteraction is, therefore, crucial in deciding how and when to touch someone.

The same is true when considering the distance of interaction. Standing closeto the persuadee is usually more likely to gain compliance in cultures where prox-imity to others indicates liking. If, however, someone feels that his or her personalspace has been invaded, there may be a perception of intimidation. The persuadermay be perceived as demanding, desperate, or needful. Mediterranean, MiddleEastern, or Latin cultures tend to interact at closer distances. Italians maintain lessdistance than do Germans or Americans. In the United States, intimate distance ofinteraction has historically been up to 18 inches, personal distance between 18inches and 4 feet, social distance between 4 feet to 12 feet, and public distancegreater than 12 feet.14

Speech fluency is another important factor to consider. Speech pauses, hesita-tions, and vocal repetitions decrease speaker credibility and perceived competence,thus reducing the persuasiveness of a message. Communication scholars have iden-tified language characteristics that result in powerless types of speech. Forms of

Interpersonal Persuasion  189

Woodward-Denton Page 189 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

powerless speech include: hesitations (“uh,” “ah,” “well,” “um,” or “you know”),hedges (“kinda,” “I think,” or “I guess”), tag questions (“isn’t it?”, “wouldn’t it?”,or “right?”), disclaimers (“Don’t get me wrong, but,” “I’m not sure, but”), accounts(excuses or justifications), and side particles (“like,” “simply,” “you know,” or “thatis”). The use of these types of speech forms in conversation—and even more so informal presentations—lowers credibility, perceptions of competence, and trustwor-thiness.15 A conversational style of delivery is perceived as more competent, knowl-edgeable, sincere, and trustworthy. A more passionate presentation tends to beperceived as emotional. Of course, the purpose and context of the event would dic-tate the style of presentation. At the very least, a confident speaker will be moresuccessful than a tentative, hesitant one.

Power and ControlIn the process of negotiating meaning through verbal and nonverbal codes, the

need for control is often a hidden agenda in our interactions with others. In fact, com-munication scholars regard power or interpersonal dominance as a primary condi-tion underlying interpersonal relationships and interactions.16 Some form of power isusually present—whether in the workplace or in an intimate relationship. While wetend to react negatively to overt displays of power and control, we also generallyadmire those whom we perceive as having influence. Space does not permit a detaileddiscussion of the concepts of interpersonal power and control, but we will highlight afew of the elements important toinfluence and persuasion.

Power should not be confusedwith authority. Authority is a legalor managerial right to make deci-sions, assign tasks, and insure satis-factory performance. Therefore,authority is the right to do some-thing; power is the ability to dosomething. Properly used, power isa force that enhances authority.Michael Hackman and CraigJohnson define power as the abilityto influence others.17 The founda-tion for exercising power lies in thestructure of the relationship. Whileone person may exert more influ-ence in a group than others do,there is still some form of mutualinfluence and interdependence.

In their classic study, JohnFrench and Bertram Raven identi-fied five sources of power.18 Coercivepower is based primarily on the useof punishments or threats to induce

Authority is the right to make decisions; power is the ability to influence others. Referees have legitimate power.

190  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 190 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

desired behavior. Coercive power is not an enduring form of influence, and it maycause resentment and a lack of trust among acquaintances. Reward power is the abilityto give something of value to others in exchange for desired behavior. Rewards canrange from a simple “thank you” to more tangible items such as money or a largeroffice. The use of rewards to stimulate compliance can enhance cooperation andmotivation. Legitimate power is based on the authority of a position. The manager canexpect compliance based on her position, although the employee may find that type ofpower less satisfying and effective than other forms of power. Expert power is based onthe skills and general competence of a person. Compliance results from respect for theindividual’s knowledge. In effect, one earns power through expertise. This form ofpower is positive and long lasting. Finally, French and Raven identify referent powerthat results from feelings of admiration, affection, and loyalty. People comply withrequests because of their attachment to the individual and/or his or her charisma.

Generally, the most useful forms of power for persuasive purposes are thosebased on personal qualities of individuals rather than those based on the authorityof position or coercion. Power comes from the ability to recognize and meet theneeds of others. The degree of meeting personal and psychological needs of othersdetermines the degree of power. In most relationships, both individuals have somepower. Power can vary depending on the circ*mstances, and the balance of powercan change over time. Finally, power is a process of negotiation—give and take.When power is negotiated, there is less conflict.19

As mentioned above, our use of language influences perceptions of power.Powerful language is task oriented and focuses more on information beingexchanged. Powerless language and speech uses pauses, hesitations, hedges, tagquestions, and disclaimers. In the workplace, people who use primarily powerlesslanguage are perceived as having lower social status and are viewed as less knowl-edgeable, trusting, and dynamic.20

We can communicate dominance and power through learned, skilled behaviorsor through intimidation and threat. Behaviors that reflect social skills include project-ing a poised and confident image, controlling conversational cues, and demonstratingverbal as well as nonverbal dynamism. Behaviors based on threat or intimidationinclude: sustained eye contact (staring), speaking loudly, strategic use of silence, or ver-bal and nonverbal intrusions.21 While intimidation may elicit compliance, the effect isfleeting. Using skilled behaviors results in more effective and longer lasting influence.

There are many verbal strategies that enhance compliance through fear, intim-idation, humiliation, or social pressure. In such situations, one may ignore theappeals without altering behavior, or one could treat the episode as an isolatedinstance by objecting to it. If you choose the latter alternative, you should expressyour feelings, describe the behavior to which you object, and offer to discuss salientissues of contention openly.

Compliance-Seeking MessagesCompliance-gaining research focuses on influence in interpersonal, face-to-

face contexts—attempting to find what strategies are most effective in getting peo-ple to comply with requests. Compliance gaining “is taking actions in interpersonalrelationships to gain something from our partners—to get others to comply with

Interpersonal Persuasion  191

Woodward-Denton Page 191 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

our goals.”22 Timothy Borchers argues that this is one of the most widely studiedareas of research in interpersonal communication.23 Some compliance-gainingtechniques are very obvious, such as offering rewards or threatening punishment;others are more subtle, such as persuading another to comply by establishing one’sexpertise or credibility. Not all strategies are appropriate in all situations. Issues ofpower, intimacy, relational outcomes, empathy, personality, context, and rewardsare factors that affect the choice of strategies. Some scholars would argue that allcompliance-gaining strategies are persuasive—that is, intentional verbal and non-verbal attempts to influence the beliefs, attitudes, values, or behaviors of others. Allthe strategies are grounded in some form of interpersonal power.

There are numerous categories of compliance-gaining strategies. Erwin Bet-tinghaus and Michael Cody developed one of the most widely accepted typolo-gies.24 They divide the strategies into seven general categories.

Direct requests are the most common strategy of getting others to do what wewant them to do. The context and social dynamics of the situation affect compliancewith direct requests. Responding to a friend or boss is different than responding to atotal stranger. In addition, the size or magnitude of the request impacts compliance.

Rationality strategies involve providing reasons and evidence to support one’srequest. The supporting data legitimize the request as well as provide motivationfor compliance. This general strategy works well when making requests of strang-ers or of fellow workers. Providing details develops trust and rapport and does notobligate the requester beyond the necessity to provide good reasons.

Exchange strategies seek some mutual benefit for complying with a request. Thesestrategies may be as simple as trading favors (“I’ll drive today if you drive tomorrow”)or as elaborate as negotiating the exchange of money or other tangible items.

Manipulation strategies are more varied and complex. They seek compliancethrough emotional appeals. The most common is to “butter up” an individual priorto making a request. The use of praise and flattery may enhance compliance. Thisstrategy can fail, however, if the praise and flattery are viewed as shallow or insin-cere. Inspirational appeals are attempts to arouse enthusiasm by appealing to anindividual’s values, ideals, aspirations, hopes, and dreams. Rewards are anotherform of manipulation strategies; for example, a car dealer can offer a bag of pop-corn and a beverage. The most common form of manipulation is to make a prom-ise for future favors if compliance occurs. Negative emotional appeals can also gaincompliance. Displays of anger, disappointment, and hurt often force compliancethrough guilt. Negative appeals are very effective in the short term but may hinderfuture compliance.

Coercive strategies employ the use of negative sanctions and threats for non-compliance. These are the most extreme and harsh tactics. While certainly effec-tive, they do not enhance future compliance and may decrease motivation forcooperation even with simple requests.

Indirect strategies involve dropping hints about a desired behavior without actu-ally making a direct request. For example, stating that it is important to have thephones answered immediately when open for business or mentioning that thephones start ringing even before the doors open may motivate employees to be attheir desks a few minutes early every day. Coalition tactics involve using the sup-

192  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 192 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

port of others or specific groups to convince the target to agree. The key is to pro-vide enough information, needs, or desires so that the target will recognize thedesired behavior.

The final category of compliance strategies identified by Bettinghaus and Codyis emotional appeals, involving love and affection. These appeals are more intimateand are based on personal commitments. An example would be asking your par-ents to get regular physical examinations because you love them and are worriedabout their health.

Gerald Marwell and David Schmitt developed another useful typology thatidentifies 16 techniques divided into the five general strategies: rewarding activities,punishing activities, referencing expertise, activating internalized commitments(playing on the feelings of others), and activating interpersonal commitments(based on how others will perceive individual behavior or response).25 Rewards canbe gifts, promises of help, or compliments. Punishment often consists of threatsabout noncompliance or withholding access to something someone wants. Appeal-ing to expertise can involve detailing either positive or negative effects (i.e., statis-tics about improved health or about the risks of certain behaviors). Persuaders canenlist internal feelings through moral appeals or by enhancing self-esteem. Activat-ing interpersonal commitments can be accomplished through guilt or pointing outpotential negative or positive perceptions of others if one does or does not complywith the request.

There are almost an unlimited number of specific compliance-gaining tactics.For example, we could explore tactics using trickery. These might include strategiesof “turning the tables” (give me reasons why you should not do this), using “con-trast” (ask for more while being willing to settle for less), taking an indirectapproach by offering a “suggestion,” or the use of “altercasting” (it would be bad ifyou did not comply). We could also investigate power tactics: using “authority”(because I said so), “threats,” or “warnings.” Pressure tactics would involveapproaches such as guilt (others will see that you did or did not do something),“personal or third-party debt” (how could you not help me after all I’ve done foryou? or how could you say no to X?), or surveillance threats (I will see if you do ordo not do X). Examples of soft-sell tactics would be to promise something (I’ll helpyou with your next project), to play on “self-esteem” (you’ll feel good), or to beingratiating (you can do this because you are so smart or “if you do this, then oth-ers will follow”).26

Robert Cialdini organizes compliance tactics into seven categories. Authorityinvolves more than using one’s position to influence compliance; it also includeselements of personality and presence. Consistency tactics emphasize how the requestfits the norm or status quo. Contrast tactics play on our perceptions to judge one itemin relation to another (remember the assimilation effect in chapter 6). Liking playson the affection of the receiver (compliments, gifts, other gestures). Reciprocation tac-tics appeal to a person’s sense of fair play by making the person feel obligated tocomply. Scarcity is an interesting set of tactics where one encourages compliancebefore it’s too late (the deadline passes or items may no longer be available, etc.).Finally, among the most powerful compliance tactics are those offering social proof(everyone is doing it).27

Interpersonal Persuasion  193

Woodward-Denton Page 193 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Situational factors influence compliance. The degree of intimacy is a powerfulfactor affecting our willingness to comply with requests. The more intimate therelationship, the more we tend to rely on emotional appeals.28 Compliance-gainingstrategies also vary with the degree of dominance in the relationship. A subordi-nate tends to use nonconfrontational strategies and rational or indirect appealswith a superior. Superiors use more direct tactics, since they have more power inthe relationship. If people think they have a “moral right” or are justified in makinga request, they will be more direct. However, if an individual believes they do nothave the right to make a request, they will use soft techniques or approaches. Simi-larly, the response to resistance also depends on the nature of the relationship.Threats are most likely when there is a power differential and when one is notafraid of putting an interpersonal relationship at risk.

There are significant individual differences that influence compliance-gaining.Personality is a major factor. Some people are more direct, more sensitive to others,more socially conscious of how others perceive their behavior, etc. High self-moni-tors adapt their strategies to fit the person they are trying to influence. Low self-monitors simply use the same strategies with everyone.29 Culture is another impor-tant factor. Societies that emphasize individualism stress independence, self-deter-mination, and the pursuit of one’s self-interest. In contrast, collectivism emphasizesgroup harmony and the maintenance of positive interpersonal relationships. TheUnited States is more individualistic than Asian societies. Finally, gender influ-ences compliance-gaining. Primarily because of socialization, women are morelikely to use “polite” tactics and to incorporate elements of compromise, whereasmen are more likely to use competitive strategies. Gender differences in compli-ance-gaining, however, are not large.

The context of a request is an important consideration, as are prior interactionsand personal motives. We comply with requests for a multitude of reasons. We mayrespond to a superior’s request not out of fear of sanctions but out of respect. Wemay respond to a friend’s request out of a sense of loyalty and value rather than outof an anticipated exchange of future favors. The strategic dimensions of a requestor compliance may not be apparent from the verbal statement.

It is important to remember that one-shot persuasive attempts are not usuallysuccessful; influence generally requires several attempts. Studies show that sequen-tial influence techniques are more likely to succeed.30 One such technique is the foot-in-the-door tactic. This tactic assumes that people will comply with a second, largerrequest if they first agree to a smaller initial request. Scholars find that this tech-nique is more successful if the request is prosocial—meaning that it benefits some-one other than the requestor. The effectiveness of the size of the request is lesscertain. It appears that both too small and too large initial requests may inhibitacceptance of the second request.31 Another technique is the door-in-the-face tactic.Here, the first request is so large that it is certain to be declined. The second,smaller request is granted, which is what the person wanted in the first place. Thebasis of this tactic is to start high and scale down. Another example of multipleattempts at gaining compliance is called low balling. With this tactic, compliance isobtained by starting low and then adding to the original requests. The differenceamong all of these examples is the magnitude of the initial request.

194  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 194 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

The strategies and tactics discussed thus far are attempts to increase the“attractive” features or reasons to comply with requests. Another body of researchfocuses on ways to reduce “resistance” to compliance.32 Research reveals there aregenerally three forms of resistance. The first is reactance, an emotional response to arequest that generates an adverse reaction. The feeling is intense and may be gener-ated as much by personal feelings about the requestor as by the specific requestit*elf. The second form of resistance is skepticism. The request arouses suspicionsand generates doubt. The source of the resistance is concerns about the practicalityand consequences of the request. The final form of resistance is inertia, indicatinglittle interest or motivation to address the request or to change the status quo. Theindividual is basically unresponsive to the influence agent.

There are specific strategies to address each form of resistance. For example,strategies to overcome reactance could include: minimize the request; depersonal-ize the request so that it appears less self-serving; redefine the interpersonal rela-tionship by de-emphasizing differences of status or rank; acknowledge the potentialfor resistance that allows for more interaction and reasoning; and provide choicesor additional alternatives.33 Strategies to address skepticism could include counter-argument providing additional reasons and rationales for the request; guarantees ofsuccess or positive results; positive views of the future gained through compliance;or a reframing of the proposal by identifying different outcomes of compliance.Dealing with inertia is the most difficult. However, increasing self-efficacy by com-plimenting or bolstering the self-esteem of the individual may increase motivationto consider a request.

There are several strategies for overcoming resistance to persuasion. One possi-bility is to take into account the individual’s feelings and personality when framingthe initial message, as well as anticipating possible objections or noncompliancewhen deciding what to say. Reframing the message to minimize resistance isanother approach. Adding more information or providing another perspective forlooking at the request is often effective. Acknowledging and confronting resistancehead on is a third strategy. Finally, one can attempt to disrupt the resistance or dis-tract attention from it. This is usually done with humor or through redirecting therequest. Interpersonal persuasion is challenging, difficult, and complex. It is also adaily occurrence. The nature of the relationship is the key to strategy selection.

ConflictConflict is a natural element of human interaction—and therefore unavoid-

able. Stephen Littlejohn and Kathy Domenici define conflict as “the state of beingchallenged by human differences. We experience conflict when differences matter andare potentially problematic to us.”34 As the authors note, conflict is not necessarilya negative state; it provides an opportunity to find value in the differences.

Resistance to persuasion can lead to open conflict, and open conflict can leadto attempts at persuasion. As discussed previously, persuasion must address differ-ences in attitudes, beliefs, values, and behavior among people. Conflict is not anexternal reality but an increased perception of incompatible differences, the loss ofperceptions of credibility, and the dissolution of perceived similarity.35 Communi-cation plays a dual role in conflict and conflict management. Communication—the

Interpersonal Persuasion  195

Woodward-Denton Page 195 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

particular verbal and nonverbal symbols chosen—probably created the originalconflict. Improperly managed, more communication may worsen the conflict. Onthe other hand, skillful communication may be the only path to ending or lesseningthe problem.

Today, it is increasingly difficult to have disagreements without anger or hostil-ity. Talk shows and the evening news broadcast images of international conflict,hate, and anger. Since most of us feel uncomfortable in conflict situations, we oftenblindly follow the models of behavior seen at home, with friends, or displayed bythe media. In an increasingly strident society, the differences between disagreementand conflict are often forgotten, which can be disastrous for relationships. Dis-agreements are rather common, but they do not need to escalate into conflict. Thecommunication strategies one chooses often determine whether disagreements areresolved or conflicts erupt.

William Cupach, Daniel Canary, and Brian Spitzberg note: “Communicationprovides the means by which we recognize and express conflict. In addition, com-munication most often distinguishes productive conflict from destructive con-flict.”36 The more competent we are as communicators, the more likely we canmanage conflict so that it does not harm our interpersonal relationships. As Little-john and Domenici advise:

Communication creates meaning and shapes the very realities in which weexist. The symbols and meanings that form human experience are built throughcommunication, and our orientation to every aspect of life is determined bysymbolic meanings emerging from social interaction. In short, our worlds aremade through communication.... Humans construct and manage their differ-ences through communication. Sometimes these differences are seen as valu-able, sometimes as problematic, and sometimes as harmful.37

There are several different levels and different types of conflict. There can beinterpersonal conflicts over specific behaviors, such as what movie to see on Fridaynight or whether to serve pork or beef. Another level of conflict is relational roles,such as who is willing to commit to taking the relationship to the next level. Thethird level is conflict about personal characteristics and attitudes, such as political pref-erences or jealous behavior.38 Content conflicts are the most common type of con-flict. They consist of disagreement over facts, definitions, goals, or the interpretationof information. Increased interaction between the parties is critical in solving con-tent conflicts and reaching mutual understanding. Sometimes interactions revealthat differences have been exaggerated. Such cases could be labeled pseudoconflictsbecause perceived differences were greater than any actual incompatibility. Ego con-flicts are potentially the most harmful. If proving that one has superior power,knowledge, and expertise is linked to the outcome of the conflict, the possibilitiesfor a mutually satisfying resolution are slim. More interaction alone will have littleimpact on resolving ego conflicts. Value conflicts are the most difficult to solve.Recall from chapter 6 that values rest at the core of our being and are stable idealsthat most of us will not readily change. Finding strategies to convince others toadopt our values can be difficult, if not impossible. Indeed, depending on the valuesin conflict, these types of conflicts can be the most intense or violent.

196  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 196 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

There are many different ways people cope with adversity and conflict. Somepeople are very passive. In conflict situations, they are reluctant to state their opin-ions or feelings. More specifically, some individuals withdraw physically or psycho-logically, thus removing themselves from the situation. This strategy, of course,does not address or solve the conflict. Others surrender or give in to avoid furtherconflict or to spare themselves emotional turmoil. They may even submit todemands regardless of the consequences. While this may seem sensitive to the feel-ings of others, it is really being dishonest and often causes resentment and anger tobuild up internally. It is better to deal with conflict than to hold feelings of hurt andanger inside.

Other people become more aggressive in confrontational situations. They lashout with highly charged, emotional responses. Aggressive behavior tends to be judg-mental, dogmatic, and coercive. Outright displays of aggression are likely to result inlose-lose situations. Such behaviors are not in the best interest of a relationship andmay escalate the degree of hostility. Finally, some people adopt assertive behavior.Here the person stands up for him- or herself by expressing opinions and feelings—while keeping the potential response of the receiver in mind. In short, assertive peo-ple employ persuasive techniques, including discussion and negotiation.39

The essence of interpersonal persuasion involves strategies of bargaining andnegotiation. Michael Hackman and Craig Johnson distinguish between the twoconcepts.40 For them, bargaining is a “win-lose” situation. Bargaining ofteninvolves an adversarial relationship—one or more parties taking rather extremepositions. The bargaining process also involves clashes of wills, demands for con-cessions, the use of threats, and sometimes even deception. In contrast, negotiationis a process of problem solving, often resulting in a “win-win” situation. The focusis on a common goal, not emotional clashes or a test of wills. Objectivity and fair-ness are important characteristics of the negotiation process.

Hackman and Johnson describe four basic steps in the negotiation process.41

First, separate the people from the problem so that the focus is on the issue at ques-tion, not the egos or personalities of the individuals involved. If the problembecomes personal, then solving the conflict will be difficult. Second, focus on theinterests of those involved, not their positions. Another way to view this step is tofocus on the end result and to work from there. Third, invent options for mutualgain. Time spent brainstorming possible solutions or resolutions to problems or con-flict is a good tactic because it expands the possible alternatives. Finally, use objec-tive criteria mutually accepted by all parties to determine the terms of resolution.

Some people are naturally resistant to any persuasive effort. Those who arehighly ego-involved in an issue or those who possess an extreme conviction or posi-tion on an issue will not be open to opposing views. In addition, those who arerigid, authoritarian, and older tend to be less open to persuasive attempts. Persua-sion is also difficult when listeners have been rewarded for their positions in thepast and are unfamiliar with the speaker’s background and opinions.

In terms of your own persuasive efforts, there are specific communication stylesor behaviors that encourage conflict and thus should be avoided. First, avoid nega-tive, derogatory labels for the actions of others (such as bad, silly, crazy, etc.). Sec-ond, avoid personal attacks. Third, avoid presenting “all or none” distinctions or

Interpersonal Persuasion  197

Woodward-Denton Page 197 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

alternatives; they polarize the disagreement, reducing the likelihood of a cooperat-ing solution. The essential ingredient in persuasion is to keep the lines of communi-cation open. People who have not firmly committed to one action or position aremore receptive to calmly reasoned presentations. Fourth, avoid speaking in broadgeneralities. Always provide specific facts and examples to support arguments. Fifth,avoid speaking from an authoritarian perspective. Remember, the best solution iscreated jointly, in collaboration with the other person. Position the discussion as anexploration of alternative perspectives, not a debate on values. Finally, avoid emo-tional verbal and nonverbal communications. Emotional outbursts dilute argumentsby redirecting attention to the outbursts and away from the arguments. Threats,demands, intimidation and sarcasm will heighten conflict. Aggression, hostility, ten-sion, and/or rivalry seldom help in accomplishing long-term goals and objectives.

There are numerous suggestions for managing conflict. They generally revolvearound good practices of persuasion and human communication. Withdrawal is astyle of conflict management that involves physically or psychologically removingoneself from an encounter. This style demonstrates little concern for one’s owngoals. The accommodating style acknowledges and accepts the desires, goals, oractions of another. One must not assume that consent means that the person grant-ing concessions will maintain positive feelings. In contrast, compromise implies awin-win situation. Both sides give up something, but both sides care about the rela-tionship and future interactions. The more important an issue or action, the lesssatisfying compromise would be as a solution. Forcing is a competitive and aggres-sive conflict style based on exerting power or influence. Tactics include the moreemotional appeals discussed above such as bullying, threats, and intimidation.Finally, collaboration is the most positive and constructive form of conflict manage-ment. This strategy incorporates integrating the goals of both parties. Mutual prob-lem solving, innovative reconciliation, and “thinking outside the box” are part ofthis approach. No one loses or compromises. However, this strategy takes time,motivation, and mutual respect for the other person.42

An interesting strategy for managing and resolving conflict is a DESC script.The acronym is formed from: describe, express, specify, and consequences. The first stepis to describe in detail why one is bothered by the situation. Description involvesstraightforward, concrete, and specific explanations. In the express step, one sharesfeelings about the situation. Use personal statements of feelings, naming them andmaking comparisons. By sharing your genuine feelings, you help the other personunderstand your position without alienating or accusing them. The next step is tospecify how you would like to resolve the problem or conflict. Again, this shouldbe simple and direct. Finally, the last phase is articulating the consequences—whathappens if nothing changes? if there are some changes? if everything changes? Thegoal is full understanding of the implications of the conflict in various scenarios.43

Four variables contribute to interpersonal conflicts: The attributes (personali-ties, needs, attitudes, etc.) of the parties in conflict; the conflict issues (causes of thedispute and the positions involved); relationship variables (degree of trust, power,interdependency); and contextual factors (the environment in which the conflictoccurs).44 Fostering a climate of cooperation and collaboration while reducing thecompetitive climate helps reduce conflict.

198  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 198 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Avoiding a defensive climate is one step toward creating a positive atmospherefor conflict resolution. Critical evaluations, attempts to control the other party, hid-den agendas, and rigid adherence to one’s own position are all examples of behav-iors that create a negative climate. Characteristics of a cooperative climate includeopen and honest communication, an emphasis on similarities or items of common-ality, portrayals of trust, mutual problem solving, and a reduction of conflictinginterests.45 To create a supportive climate, use evidence to describe the issues orpositions; do not use emotional terms or appeals. Be as specific as possible in defin-ing the problem. Focus on the task at hand without attacking the other person.Deal with one aspect, issue, or factor at a time. Finally, be empathetic; make aneffort to understand the feelings of the other person.

As noted at the beginning of this section, conflict is not necessarily negative.Conflict can be productive and lead to very positive outcomes.46 Conflict can helpus think critically, enhance creativity, improve problem-solving skills, expand intel-lectual and emotional resources, build community, reduce tensions, and clarifyroles. Several strategies help make conflict productive rather than nonproductive.47

First, learn to ask good questions in order to explore all aspects of the conflict. Sec-ond, make understanding conflicts a priority. Third, attempt to learn from yourprevious conflicts or from other people’s conflicts. Finally, learn to manage con-flicts more effectively through strategies of negotiation.

There are several “myths” or misunderstandings about conflict. Among themost common are: conflict is a sign of poor interpersonal relationships, conflictcan always be avoided, and conflict is inherently unproductive. As already men-tioned, conflict is part of life and inevitable in every relationship. The key is howconflict is managed. In fact, conflict can strengthen relationships through identify-ing issues that need to be addressed, sharing ideas about possible changes, anddemonstrating caring about one another’s concerns. Finally, it is important to notethat some conflict simply cannot be resolved.48 Some conflicts or disagreementsare so intense that resolution is simply not possible. This most often occurs in dif-ferences of fundamental values.

Two topics receiving increased attention, especially within the realm of intenseinterpersonal conflict, are forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness “is a cogni-tive process that consists of letting go of feelings of revenge and desires to retali-ate.”49 Reconciliation “is a behavioral process in which we take actions to restore arelationship or create a new one following forgiveness.”50 Forgiveness is a process.It starts with anger but evolves to transform the meaning of the event that triggeredthe intense reaction. The process involves reduced focus on the other person andevent as a defining moment in one’s life, affirmation of the other person, lack ofdesire for revenge or hurtful behaviors, and a rejection of the role of victim. It isimportant to recognize that forgiveness is not about forgetting a transgression,denying hurt or anger, or becoming a martyr. We forgive because it is good for usboth psychologically and physically. Anger and resentment allows others to controlour emotions and increases feelings of guilt, depression, and general anxiety. Pro-longed anger and feelings of stress increase susceptibility to illness.51 Reconcilia-tion is a process where actions are taken to restore the relationship. The processgenerally involves an explanation and apology; an acceptance of the account and

Interpersonal Persuasion  199

Woodward-Denton Page 199 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

apology or the decision to no longer harbor ill will; the beginning of letting go ofanger and resentment; communication of forgiveness; some direct actions to rees-tablish or to transform the relationship; and, in the end, some evidence or acknowl-edgement of enacted forgiveness.

Conflict, according to Saul Alinsky, is an essential element of life. He asserts,“Life is conflict and in conflict you’re alive.”52 From this brief overview, we cancharacterize conflict as: inevitable, based on communication, potentially harmfulor beneficial, varying in degree based on communication style, and sometimesincapable of resolution. As Littlejohn and Domenici note,

It is not necessary to resolve all conflicts. Once we grasp that freeing attitude,we can move forward and engage conflict and change the way we conduct our-selves within it. Resolution will happen in many cases, but it will happen withina complex system of needs, processes, actions, pauses, timetables, rehearsals,disappointments, and hopes.53

Gender DifferencesDifferences in communication behavior develop because of cultural and societal

influences plus individual backgrounds and experiences. Generally, there are severalareas of gender differences in conversation and discourse, including voice, pronuncia-tion, intonation, choice of words, argumentation styles, lexicon, syntax, interactionaland conversational behavior, as well as visual features and nonverbal communica-tion.54 For more than a decade, scholars have debated about the degree of genuinegender differences. Most scholars recognize that differences between men andwomen are both biologically and culturally based. However, the causes, implications,and magnitude of differences are in dispute. Furthermore, other identity factors (suchas ethnicity, geographic location, and economic status) may account for some of thedifferences. For example, scholars are discovering that differences in ethnic and cul-tural backgrounds contribute more to overall differences than does gender.

Gender differences in communication continue to change and evolve, espe-cially over the past decade. Sex is a biological classification, whereas gender refersto sociocultural dimensions of identity. Gender is culturally and relationally deter-mined. Thus, conceptions of male and female communication behaviors continueto change.55 Stereotypes of femininity in contemporary American culture include:be sensitive and caring, accept negative treatment by others, be a superwoman, andmaintain a pleasing appearance. Stereotypes of masculinity include: be successful,be aggressive, be sexual, be self-reliant; don’t reveal weakness.

The research literature describes masculine and feminine styles of communica-tion. One style is not superior to another, and the styles do not necessarily correlatewith specific sexes. Some women may be socialized in the masculine style, whilesome men may show more characteristics of a feminine style of communication.Over a decade ago, sociologist Deborah Tannen urged that recognizing the differ-ences between men and women means seeking understanding—not placing blameor rendering judgment. As Tannen observed, “recognizing gender differences freesindividuals from the burden of individual pathology.... If we can sort out differ-ences based on conversational style, we will be in a better position to confront realconflicts of interest—and to find a shared language in which to negotiate them.”56

200  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 200 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Historically, men and women differ in frequency of talk; with whom they talk;amount of disclosure; and use, purpose, and content of talk. Gendered identities,learned in childhood, shape conversational styles.57 Women speak and hear a lan-guage of connection; men speak and hear a language of status. For women, conver-sation establishes rapport, a way to establish connections and negotiate relationships.For men, conversation is used to report, emphasizing knowledge and ability to nego-tiate status in the social hierarchy.58 The masculine style is competitive, assertive,and task oriented. Communication tends to be more individualistic, instrumental,and reserved. In contrast, the feminine style is characterized as cooperative, support-ive, and relational. Communication tends to be more expressive and focused oninterpersonal relationships.

Men tend to interrupt others more frequently, to talk for longer periods of time,to be less self-disclosing, and to control the situation by offering opinions, sugges-tions, and information. Women tend to disclose more information about them-selves, use more euphemisms and emotional terms, provide greater frequency andlonger duration of eye contact, and are more likely to express support. Womenattempt to keep conversations balanced so that all parties are on an equal footing.Women expect conversational partners to invite participation; men assume thatanyone with something to say will volunteer his or her opinion.59

Men and women also tend to differ in the amount of listening or turn taking inconversations. From a role perspective, men lecture and women listen.60 Throughlistening, women seek to build rapport and to establish a closer relationship withothers. Women use listening cues as signs of paying attention and interest. Thesecues can be misinterpreted. Women may use affirming sounds to indicate that theyare following the conversation, while men may interpret the affirmation as agree-ment. If they interpret attempts to establish connections through the lens of status,they may view cooperative listening as a signal of subordinate status. Men usefewer listening cues and fewer relational elements in general conversation. Whenwomen do not hear any signals, they may mistakenly perceive that men are not lis-tening. Men focus on the message level of an interaction, while women focus onthe metamessage (relationship) level.

Women and men also differ in nonverbal messages. Women smile more, standcloser, and are more likely to face their interaction partners. Men extend their bod-ies, literally taking up greater areas of space than women. Women gesture more fre-quently, but men use larger, more expansive gestures. Whether speaking or listening,women look more at other people and attempt to make more eye contact.61

According to Shari Kendall and Deborah Tannen, the workplace provides sev-eral unique constraints that impact gender communication: a hierarchical rankingsystem, a history of greater male participation, requirements for evaluation of per-formance, and the requirement to interact regularly with others.62 Within the work-place, men are more likely to speak in ways that call attention to themselves and toclaim credit for contributions. Women, in contrast, are more likely to preface state-ments with a disclaimer and to be more succinct. Women also tend to minimize sta-tus differences, while men use rhetorical strategies that reinforce status differences.

Conversational rituals are particularly noticeable in the workplace environment.For example, men often use banter, joking, teasing, and playful put-downs, which

Interpersonal Persuasion  201

Woodward-Denton Page 201 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

usually elevate one partner in the interaction at the expense of the other. In contrast,women’s rituals tend to focus on the nature of relationships by maintaining anappearance of equality, taking into account the effect of the exchange, and attempt-ing to downplay displays of authority.63 Men tend to have a more direct communica-tion style, sometimes to the point of rudeness. Women, on the other hand, are moreindirect in making requests of others. The degree of conversational directness com-municates power and comfort with one’s authority. Men are more likely to be indi-rect when expressing a weakness or an error, or when sharing a problem.64

Difficulties arise when various rituals and strategies are misunderstood. Men aremore likely to take adversarial positions (arguing one side of an issue rather than try-ing to see other viewpoints). This ritual opposition can appear hostile and arrogant.Women who use conversational strategies to demonstrate empathy and to avoidappearing boastful may be perceived as lacking confidence and/or competence.

John Gray (who gained national attention with the publication of his bookMen Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus) advises:

Without a positive understanding of our differences, many possibilities forcooperation and mutual trust and respect are overlooked and go untapped. Toooften men do not recognize the value that women bring to the workplace, whilewomen mistrust the support that it is possible to receive from men. Throughunderstanding our differences in a more positive light, both men and women atall levels of the workplace can begin to appreciate each other more.65

To improve the interpersonal communication between the sexes, Tannen rec-ommends taking “each other on their own terms rather than applying the stan-dards of one group to the behavior of the other.”66 Perhaps “women could learnfrom men to accept some conflict and difference without seeing it as a threat tointimacy, and many men could learn from women to accept interdependence with-out seeing it as a threat to their freedom.”67 Tannen concludes her best-selling bookwith the notion that “understanding the other’s ways of talking is a giant leapacross the communication gap between women and men, and a giant step towardopening lines of communication.”68

Since the classic works of Tannen and Gray, thousands of women have enteredthe workforce and become managers and team leaders. In fact, by the year 2014,projections predict that women will compose 61 percent of the workforce.69 Menand women starting their careers today have been sensitized to the changing natureof organizations, the importance of team and group work, and the growing culturaldiversity of our daily work environments.

After a decade of intense scholarly examination of gender communication,many in the field recognize significant changes in male-female interactions from thesomewhat stereotypical earlier descriptions. After reviewing current research in thearea, Linda Carli concludes “both men and women communicate in a less domi-nant manner with men and a warmer manner with women.”70 Elizabeth Ariesargues: “we have tended to polarize differences, misrepresenting small differences asmutually exclusive differences.”71 For her, it is better to understand the role and sta-tus of the individuals, the type of conversation in which they are engaged, and thegoals they are trying to achieve. In essence, researchers are “beginning to move

202  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 202 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

toward an understanding of sex as something that people do in social interaction...the display of feminine or masculine behavior depends on the situational context.”72

Scholars who criticize the research on sex differences argue that suchapproaches reinforce or perpetuate stereotypes. Differences are actually very mini-mal and contextual. People should not have predisposed behavior expectationsbased upon gender.73 Some research has found that there are differences in howmen and women engage in conflict, depending on the circ*mstances. Women aresometimes more likely to avoid conflict, while men are more likely to steer the con-versation in their preferred direction. Women can be more emotional and showmore negative affect; men can be more rational and withdrawn. In social relation-ships, the general differences may apply, but in close personal relationships whenpeople are more fully informed about their partner, sex roles may reverse them-selves. Women may become more assertive and pursue the topic presenting theconflict; men may withdraw. The person who wants the relationship to change willgenerally pursue the conflict, regardless of gender.74 In an extensive examination ofsex differences, researchers found more similarities than differences in the conflictbehaviors of men and women. Areas of similarity included: positive affect behav-ior, influence strategies, autocratic behavior, democratic behavior, communication,facilitation, and leader emergence.75

Culture and DiversityCulture “is a learned system of knowledge, behavior, attitudes, beliefs, values,

and norms that is shared by a group of people.”76 Culture informs our use of lan-guage, social relationships and rituals, our worldview, and virtually every aspect ofour life and behavior. Culture is acquired—learned from our parents, friends, com-munities, schools, and general social interaction. Today, exposure to people fromother cultures is increasingly common. To name just a few examples, people workfor foreign-owned companies with locations in the United States; others work over-seas for multinational companies. We interact daily with millions of immigrantsand naturalized citizens from throughout the world.

One approach to understanding cultural implications for communication is todistinguish between individualistic-oriented cultures and collective-oriented cul-tures. In individualistic cultures, the individual is pivotal and at the center of theculture. Life decisions are individually oriented; space and privacy are valued;communication tends to be more direct and explicit; concrete results are importantand expected. The United States is considered an individualistic-oriented culturewhere work and communication are task oriented, purposeful, and strategic toobtaining goals and objectives. Most northern and western European countries,Australia, and New Zealand are individualistic cultures.77 In contrast, collectivecultures are common in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Central and South America,and the Pacific Islands. The pivotal element in these cultures is the cohesive unit orgroup such as family, clan, profession, corporation, or religion. Group decisionsand collective values prevail rather than individual decisions. Space and privacy areless important than relationships; communication is more intuitive and complex;and formal business interactions focus more on relationships and future interac-tions than on “data” or immediate results.

Interpersonal Persuasion  203

Woodward-Denton Page 203 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

To translate these descriptions into specific behaviors, consider how you wouldnegotiate or conduct business in an individualistic culture. The most effectiveapproach would:

• focus on the transaction and the outcome;

• use data and facts to support arguments;

• create clear and explicit messages, using direct communication.

In contrast, if negotiating with more collective cultures, one should:

• spend time developing the relationship before discussing business;

• be aware of contextual factors of protocol, etiquette, and the history of therelationship;

• strive for consensus rather than winning in recognition of the importance ofthe future of the relationship over time;

• avoid direct questions and be patient.78

High-context and low-context communication is another distinguishing featureamong cultures. Tradition guides rules of interaction in high-context cultures, such asthose in Asia. Communication is implicit, with an emphasis on nonverbal communi-cation. It is indirect, less confrontational, more face-saving, and seeks preservation ofthe relationship. Low-context cultures exhibit more direct and explicit communica-tion, emphasize verbal over nonverbal communication, separate job tasks from rela-tionships, follow linear reasoning, and incorporate individual initiative and decisionmaking. Western cultures tend to use the low-context communication style.79

In high-context communication culture, one would:

• be aware of the importance of contextual information;

• be aware of implied messages;

• develop relationship before addressing tasks;

• rely on trust and intuition;

• expect circular reasoning.

For low-context communication cultures, one would:

• rely on explicit and direct verbal communication;

• view tasks as separate from relationships;

• expect more individual decision making and initiative;

• support arguments with facts, data, and statistical evidence;

• use linear reasoning, cause and effect.80

While we do not have the space to discuss cultural sensitivity in depth, somegeneral principles are outlined below.

• Address people of other cultures with the same respect you would like to receive.

• Describe your perceptions of the world as accurately as possible; expect todiscover that perceptions vary from culture to culture.

• Encourage people from other cultures to express their uniqueness.

204  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 204 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

• Attempt to emphasize commonalities of cultural beliefs and values ratherthan focusing on differences.

• Practice self-monitoring behaviors; choose words and gestures carefully; beaware that verbal and nonverbal communication patterns vary from cultureto culture.

• Avoid idioms, slang, and jargon when speaking.

• Be careful using jokes and humor.

• Listen very carefully.

• Avoid stereotypical and prejudicial associations, descriptions, or assumptions.

LeadershipThe study of leadership continues to grow; universities are adding academic

majors and minors in leadership studies. People once believed that “leaders are born,”but most now believe that leadership is a set of skills and values that can be taught andthat becoming an effective leader is a lifelong process. Successful leaders are willing tointeract with others and have developed effective communication skills.81

James Kouzes and Barry Posner have studied leadership in a variety of contextsand situations for years. Through their interviews, surveys, and research, they foundthat the content of leadership does not change; however, the context does change formany reasons (technology, world events, cultural and social demands, etc.). Theyhave identified five practices of exemplary leadership: model the way, inspire ashared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart.82

We expect our leaders to be role models in every way: to inspire us, to chal-lenge us, and to provide clear direction for future actions or behaviors. By challeng-ing the status quo, leaders are pioneers, taking us in new directions and confrontingnew issues. We expect our leaders to be enthusiastic, energetic, and positive aboutthe future. Inspirational leaders impart meaning and purpose to our lives. Aleader’s vision articulates goals and objectives and communicates the beliefs andvalues that influence and shape cultural and behavioral norms.

Although the concept of leadership is difficult to define, we agree with MichaelHackman and Craig Johnson that “leadership shares all of the features of humancommunication.”83 Leaders use symbols to create reality, communicate about thepast/present/future, and often use persuasion to accomplish goals. Leadershipmay be viewed as a special form of human communication. Hackman and Johnsondefine leadership as “human (symbolic) communication, which modifies the atti-tudes and behaviors of others in order to meet shared group goals and needs.”84

Leaders use a number of communication strategies to enhance effectiveness.They develop perceptions of credibility, build and use power bases effectively,empower followers, make effective use of verbal and nonverbal influence cues,develop positive expectations for others, foster creativity, manage change, gaincompliance, negotiate productive solutions, develop argumentative competence,and adapt to cultural differences. We revisit many of these strategies when we dis-cuss the leaders of social movements in chapter 9.

Legal authority or a designated title does not guarantee leadership status. Ulti-mately, the follower grants the role of leader. As a result, leadership is a special cir-

Interpersonal Persuasion  205

Woodward-Denton Page 205 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

c*mstance of interpersonal communication. Although certain aspects of leadershipare more suited to group, organizational, or mass contexts, the foundation is therelationship between each leader and follower. For many years Kouzes and Posnerhave surveyed well over one hundred thousand individuals to identify the essentialcharacteristics and traits of leaders. They have developed a consistent list of twentycharacteristics. To follow someone willingly, constituents must believe that a leaderis honest, forward-looking, competent, and inspiring.85 According to their research,these characteristics or traits are consistent across countries, cultures, ethnicities,organizational functions, gender, education, and age groups.

Jay Conger and Ronald Riggio have identified five major themes across thestudies of leader development. Leaders need to engage and involve their followers;effective leaders proactively monitor, measure, and adapt to their environments;leaders need to model the way; leaders must be responsive and proactive; and lead-ership is a developmental process learned over time.86 Each of these themesinvolves elements of interpersonal communication.

Styles of leadership impact both the effectiveness and the popularity of theleader.87 An authoritarian style exhibits group control, direction, and conflict.Although this style may result in increased productivity and task performance, itmay also result in less satisfaction and more aggression among followers. A moredemocratic style of leadership attempts to involve followers in setting goals andencourages group interaction and teamwork. Democratic leadership fosters betterfollower morale, participation, innovation, and commitment. Communicationskills and abilities are essential in developing and maintaining a democratic leader-ship style. The laissez-faire style of communication characterizes a leader who iseasygoing and offers little guidance or support. As a result, productivity, cohesive-ness, and satisfaction suffer. Some would argue that this style appeals to individu-als who value autonomy and self-rule. If working with peers similar in rank, age, orexperience, the laissez-faire style would be effective. The various styles are summa-rized in figure 8.1 on the following page.

Some leaders have a task communication orientation; others focus on an inter-personal communication orientation. Task-oriented communication stresses thesuccessful completion of task assignments. The concern for getting the work doneis greater than the concern for individuals.88 In contrast, the interpersonal orienta-tion emphasizes relationships and follower feelings and general welfare. The inter-

Kouzes and Posner’s Characteristics of Admired Leaders in Order of Priority

Honest Dependable CaringForward-looking Supportive LoyalCompetent Straightforward ImaginativeInspiring Cooperative MatureIntelligent Determined Self-controlledBroad-minded Courageous IndependentFair-minded Ambitious

206  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 206 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

personal orientation incorporates many of the characteristics of the democraticstyle: teamwork, cooperation, and supportive communication.

Some of the most recent research on leader development focuses on leader-mem-ber exchange theory (LMX). Particularly for management positions in the workplace,the theory suggests that leaders today should focus on developing close one-on-onerelationships to develop meaningful leader-follower relations. The process involvesattempting to understand the character, motivations, strengths, and weaknesses ofindividuals.90 It also implies that relationships will vary and that different leadershipstyles, strategies, and tactics are required, depending on the individual. Research sug-gests that strong LMX relationships improve employee commitment, autonomy, andsatisfaction, while increasing productivity and decreasing job turnover.91

Followers also play an important role in the leadership process and need todevelop their communication skills as well. Robert Kelley identifies three sets ofskills that characterize exemplary followership. First, followers add value to theorganization and to meeting its objectives. They are committed and share in theorganization’s values; they actively seek the skills necessary to insure the success ofthe organization. Second, good followers fully integrate themselves within theorganizational social structure by joining teams and building relational bridges toothers throughout the organization. Finally, exemplary followers are guided bycourteous and ethical behavior at all times. Such behavior reduces internal conflictand increases morale.92

Effective leaders must influence people to support proposals and implementdecisions. Gary Yukl identified proactive influence tactics for gaining compliance,including the following. Rational persuasion uses logical arguments and factual evi-dence to demonstrate the importance of a task. Inspirational appeals target valuesand ideals to arouse the emotions to gain commitment to a request. Consultation

Authoritarian Leadership

Increases productivity when the leader is present.

Produces more accuratesolutions when leader isknowledgeable.

Is more positively accepted in larger groups.

Enhances performance on sim-ple tasks and decreases perfor-mance on complex tasks.

Increases aggression levels among followers.

Increases turnover rates.

Democratic Leadership

Lowers turnover and absen-teeism rates.

Increases follower satisfaction.

Increases followerparticipation.

Increases follower commit-ment to decisions.

Increases innovation.

Increases a follower’s per-ceived responsibility to a group or organization.

Laissez-Faire Leadership

Decreases innovation when leaders abdicate, but increases innovation when leaders provide guidance as requested.

Decreases follower motivation and satisfaction when leaders abdicate.

Results in feelings of isolation and a decrease in participation when leaders abdicate.

Decreases quality and quantity of output when leaders abdicate.

Increases productivity and satisfac-tion for highly motivated experts.

Figure 8.1 The Effects of Authoritarian, Democratic, and Laissez-FaireLeadership Communication Styles89

Interpersonal Persuasion  207

Woodward-Denton Page 207 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

asks for suggestions, making individuals feel part of the solution. Collaboration goeseven further in this direction to ensure follower input and participation. Personalappeals that rely on friendship or past favors should be used sparingly. Legitimatingtactics verify the authority to make the request and the legitimacy of the requestit*elf.93 Note the absence of unwarranted pressures or threats in these compliance-gaining strategies.

Noted historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author James MacGregor Burns haswritten about “transformational leadership.” This occurs through interaction where

people raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality. Their pur-poses, which might have started out as separate but related, as in the case oftransactional leadership, become fused. . . . But transforming leadership ulti-mately becomes moral in that it raises the level of human conduct and ethicalaspirations of both the leader and the led, and thus it has a transforming effecton both.94

 Contexts of Interpersonal PersuasionEvery interaction takes place within a specific situation or environment. We

conclude this chapter with three specialized situations of interpersonal persuasion:organizations, sales, and interviews.

OrganizationsIn the twenty-first century, changes occur rapidly in the workplace. Markets

are global, and the workforce is diverse. Technology impacts every facet of an orga-nization—from product development and manufacturing to mass marketing toproduct delivery. Likewise, the workforce is very different than it was just twodecades ago. Employees are more mobile, less loyal to corporate America, anddesire more balance among career, family, and community. Satisfaction with thejob often outweighs the size of the paycheck. Communication has never been moreimportant or critical to the very survival of organizations.

Organizations are usually defined as collectivities of individuals organized toachieve some purpose or goal. In some cases, the purpose may be economic—toproduce some product or to provide a particular service that can be sold in the mar-ketplace. In other cases, the purpose of the group may be more social—peoplebrought together because of common beliefs, ideology, or community function.Hackman and Johnson argue that “organizations are formed through the processof communication.... Communication is not contained within the organization.Instead, communication is the organization.”95 For George Cheney and his col-leagues, “when we speak of organizational communication, we mean to include awhole array of things, such as symbols, messages, interactions, relationships, net-works, and larger discourses. The communication of an organization is somethingwe ‘step into’ like the flow of a river but also contribute to as we affect that flow orthrow something into the stream.”96

Because all organizations are purposeful and structured, they impact thenature of human communication in very specific ways. The idea of an organizationinvolves concepts such as rules, roles, power, specialization, leadership, hierarchy,

208  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 208 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

and control, to name only a few. The structure of organizations often masks thefact that a majority of the communication interactions that take place are interper-sonal. The hierarchical structure of superior/subordinate roles and the culture ofthe organizational environment affect the nature of interpersonal relationships, butthe theories and approaches to interpersonal persuasion still apply.

Four approaches to organizational communication have attracted the largestnumber of adherents.97 The communication as information transfer orientationemphasizes the flow of communication from one person to another. Communica-tion is a tool to accomplish organizational objectives and goals. The approachassumes that one person can compose an effective message and that the other willinterpret it as the first person intended. Problems with the approach include itssequential nature, the assignment of the listener to a passive position rather thanone as an interactive creator of meaning, and the failure to include nonverbal chan-nels as effective carriers of meaning.

The transactional process acknowledges that people are in a constant state ofinteraction—encoding and decoding messages, providing feedback, and influenc-ing further interactions. The primary advantage to this perspective is the recogni-tion that the meanings of messages do not solely reside with the sender;communication is a mutual process of constructing meaning. The transactionalmodel is useful when considering the styles, techniques, and strategies of effectiveleadership. It also provides insight into team and consensus building.

Viewing communication as strategic control focuses on how communicationbecomes a tool for controlling the organizational environment. Communication isnot always designed to maximize understanding, particularly when personal inter-ests are at stake.98 This perspective recognizes the social, political, and ideologicalmotivations in employee and employer interactions. Ambiguity in messages some-times serves both individual and corporate interests. The focus of the strategic-con-trol approach is on individuals controlling the environment through communicationand the effects of those efforts on interdependent relationships, including coopera-tion, coordination, power, and inequality.

The fourth perspective views organizational communication as a balance of cre-ativity and constraint.99 This approach looks at how people create the organization,its culture, its environment, and its norms through communication as well as howthe organization attempts to constrain interaction or promote change. There is aconstant tension between constructing social reality and then being constrained bythose very same constructions. This approach attempts to consider the enablingand constraining dimensions of communication within the organization.

Traditionally, we tend to think most about internal organizational communica-tion activities, such as between coworkers, superiors, or subordinates. However,there is increasing attention focusing on external communication activities toinclude public relations, investor relations, employee relations, community rela-tions, advertising, media relations, labor relations, and government relations, toname just a few. There are two important trends related to external communica-tion. Today there is greater focus on customer relations and satisfaction. Organiza-tions make concerted efforts to be customer centered and to encourage repeatbusiness and loyalty by spending money to develop closer relationships with key

Interpersonal Persuasion  209

Woodward-Denton Page 209 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

constituents and training employees to develop more satisfying interactions withcustomers. The second trend for corporations is developing close relationships withsubcontractors, vendors, and suppliers. This trend results from organizationsbecoming leaner and outsourcing many functions. Personnel interact on a regularbasis with counterparts from other organizations. Thus, it is important to think ofwork relationships well beyond the confines of the organizational structure.100

Communication activities within organizations can be formal or informal.Formal communication activities are those officially sanctioned by the organiza-tion and are usually task oriented. These include items like memos, policy state-ments, and newsletters. Informal communication activities are those that occuramong the individuals of an organization. Some would argue that informal com-munication activities are sometimes more important than formal organizationalcommunication activities.

The flow of communication is usually characterized by the direction fromwhich it originates. Upward communication consists of messages sent from lowerlevels of the organization to upper levels of the hierarchy. For managers, upwardcommunication is the primary source of information about worker problems andissues. As a process, upward communication encourages employee participationand provides an outlet for conflict and tension. Upward communication, however,is difficult. Workers are usually reluctant to share negative messages with superiors.Mid-level supervisors may actively discourage upward messages, viewing suchcommunication as diminishing their power and jeopardizing their job security.Communicating dissatisfaction or general problems can pose a serious dilemma foremployees at all levels of an organization.

Downward communication—messages from higher to lower levels—is themost obvious and prevalent within organizations. It ranges from direct verbal ordersto more formal activities such as employee performance evaluations. Downwardcommunication provides the primary means for sharing job-related informationand organizational goals and philosophies. The challenge is for downward commu-nication to be respectful of employees and to enhance their job performance.

Lateral communication describes messages shared between equals (those atthe same level in the hierarchy) within an organization. This form of communica-tion is also very important. In addition to improving teamwork and worker morale,it facilitates task coordination and completion. It provides an informal network ofemployee support and information. Nevertheless, even lateral communicationendeavors can be problematic. A lack of cooperation and trust among colleagues,as well as power-hungry peers, may sour the work environment.

Perhaps the most sensitive area of interpersonal relationships within organiza-tions involves romantic and sexual relationships. Historically, any form of fraterni-zation with colleagues was discouraged. In fact, most organizations have explicitpolicies and guidelines that limit various forms or degrees of on-the-job relation-ships. However, the simple reality is that most professionals spend more time atwork than at home. Teamwork with colleagues of like mind, motives, and goalsprovides a natural environment for romantic relationships to evolve.101 Mostresearch finds that romantic relationships formed are based on genuine caring andlove rather than motivated by the potential for job advancement or a sense of

210  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 210 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

adventure or excitement. Nevertheless, negative perceptions and interpretations byothers can cause workplace morale problems. In addition, if a romance ends, main-taining a working relationship may be tense and awkward. Corporations are nowattempting to establish reasonable solutions and alternatives when romanceblooms. For example, if two employees within the same store, office, or sectionstart dating, one party might transfer to another position within the company.

People became more aware of the problem and extent of sexual harassment inthe 1990s. According to some studies, one out of every two women has experi-enced sexual harassment sometime in the workplace. Harassment is a form of com-munication that humiliates or degrades others. Sexual harassment encompassesany verbal or nonverbal communication of a sexual nature. Some contemporaryscholars focus on how sexual harassment is discursively constructed, experienced,contested, and how it differs between the sexes. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 plusfederal, state, and local court rulings detail behaviors that constitute civil viola-tions. In general, the prohibited harassment behaviors are those that offer employ-ment rewards in exchange for sexual favors and/or threaten punishment fornoncompliance with sexual demands or create a hostile work environment markedby sexually explicit verbal or nonverbal communication perceived as intimidatingor offensive. Sexual harassment is a “multi-level phenomenon embedded in socialstructures, cultures, and ideologies.”102

Some critics worry that the legal system is invoked for reasons other than thenecessary goal of protecting employees from discrimination. Classical organiza-tional theory viewed affective elements of human life as out of place in organiza-tional life and conflicting with productivity and professional competence.“Sanitizing” the workplace

does not eliminate sex discrimination; it allows the organization to treat harass-ment as a stand-alone phenomenon—deplorable individual behavior—ratherthan a symptom of larger patterns of discrimination and inequality.... Thelarger question is whether we as a society can value the workplace as a realmalive with personal intimacy, sexual energy, and “humanness” more broadly.The same impulse that would banish sexuality from the workplace also seeks tosuppress other “irrational” life experiences such as birth and death, sicknessand disability, aging and emotion of every kind. But the old Taylorist dream ofthe workplace as a sterile zone in which workers suspend all their human attri-butes while they train their energies solely on production doesn’t begin to reflectthe rich, multiple roles that work serves in people’s lives. For most people,working isn’t just a way to earn a livelihood. It’s a way to contribute somethingto the larger society, to struggle against their limits, to make friends and formcommunities, to leave their imprint on the world, and to know themselves andothers in a deep way.... Work isn’t simply a sphere of production. It is also asource of citizenship, community, and self-understanding.103

Kathleen Reardon talks about three models of organization-employee interac-tion.104 The first is called the exchange model. Organizational incentives and rewardsprovide employee motivation for productivity. In essence, the organizationexchanges money, benefits, and social outlets in return for work performed.Employee participation is limited, and rules are seldom challenged. The second

Interpersonal Persuasion  211

Woodward-Denton Page 211 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

model is the socialization model. The organization actively persuades employeesabout the value of organizational goals and objectives. Corporate culture, peerpressure, and leadership by example are key factors in securing employee coopera-tion. While there is more individual autonomy, there is still little direct employeeparticipation in the life of the organization. The final approach to organization-employee interaction is the accommodation model. Employees actively participate inshaping organizational rules as well as production goals. The structure of the orga-nization attempts to maximize the skills, abilities, and unique characteristics ofeach employee. They become partners in the problem-solving and decision-makingactivities of the organization.

Eric Eisenberg, Harold Goodall, and Angela Trethewey note that positiveinterpersonal relationships with trusted coworkers are the most dynamic source ofpower in contemporary organizations. “Informal relationships allow employees toget things done across functions within organizations, across organizations, andamong business, government, and other stakeholders.”105 One of the importantinterpersonal interactions is with customers (specific strategies and techniques arediscussed in the sales section of this chapter). Responsiveness, courtesy, and goodlistening skills are vital to positive customer service.

Interpersonal communication among people within or across departments orfunctions in an organization creates informal groups or cliques. “The most power-ful groups within organizations are those that emerge from the formal and infor-mal communication among people who work together. These groups are referredto as emergent communication networks.”106 The density of organizational net-works influences the acceptance of new ideas or technologies; close connectionshelp people overcome uncertainty and encourage acceptance of change. Employeeswho gain control over their organizational life are empowered. An employee’s per-sonal communication network affects the experience of empowerment, involve-ment, and participation at work.

Many employees in the United States work in some type of team-based organi-zation structured around interdependent decision-making groups for improved workprocesses and better quality and service to customers. Organizational effectivenessdepends on communication and collaboration, blending both technical and socialfactors. Teams generally fall within three categories: project teams, work teams, andquality-improvement teams. Project teams are organized around the design and devel-opment of new products or services. Work teams are most often responsible for theentire task process that delivers a product or service to a client. Quality-improvementteams focus on customer satisfaction and team performance evaluation.

Through interaction with others, we begin to develop various organizationalroles. Within teams, individuals usually assume one of three different roles.107

Group members in the task role summarize and evaluate ideas, playing a major partin idea generation and performance progression. Members in the maintenance roleare active in reducing tension or conflict to maintain team harmony and morale.The self-centered role is unproductive and harmful to teams. The individual domi-nates all aspects of the project and communication exchanges. As is the case insmall groups, members will play a variety of roles during task performance andcompletion. Successful teams characteristically exhibit mutual respect among

212  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 212 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

members, a high degree of cooperation, and self-monitoring behaviors that focuson others rather than self.

Organizational climate is an important part of organizational culture and suc-cessful communication. Pioneer scholar of organizational communication, CharlesRedding, developed the model of “Ideal Management Climate.” Components ofthe model are supportiveness, trust, openness, emphasis on high-performancegoals, and participative decision-making. These elements provide a way for anorganization to be both productive and generate a positive work climate.108

Today, scholars are approaching organizational communication from a cul-tural perspective, emphasizing the importance of establishing the corporate cli-mate, socializing employees, and establishing expectations of behavior. Forexample, how does the corporate culture of McDonald’s differ from that of BurgerKing? IBM from Hewlett-Packard? One of the authors (RED) learned very quicklyhow corporate culture can differ while working in advertising. Some advertisingagencies emphasize creativity while others focus on account management. Someagencies are more traditional in terms of offices and division of labor while othershave no walls or assigned accounts. In the latter case, individuals work on numer-ous accounts, based on their area of expertise.

We can look at corporate culture along three dimensions.109 The first encom-passes artifacts and patterns of behavior. This includes such elements as the corpo-rate logo, the company’s headquarters, annual reports, even the general businessattire of the office staff. These artifacts and behaviors provide the outward, observ-able manifestations of corporate beliefs and values. Some of the artifacts that revealculture include architecture, furniture, technology, dress, written documents, andart. Behaviors are similarly revealing. For example, how people address each otherreveals whether the culture is formal or informal and also indicates power relation-ships and status.

The second dimension—corporate values and beliefs—reflects the ideal of howthings should be done in an organization. Slogans or ad campaigns, such as FordMotor Company’s “Quality is Job 1” or General Electric’s “We bring good thingsto life,” communicate corporate values. Of course, organizations don’t actuallyhave values; individuals do. The people who formed or who currently lead the com-pany establish goals, priorities, and objectives based on their values. The corporateleader may exert a strong influence on the values emphasized and rewarded—andhence on the organization’s culture. Employees who share these values arerecruited and hired, strengthening the values that pervade the corporate culture.

The third level of consideration, basic assumptions of the organization, is moreabstract and difficult to assess. It requires analysis of the differences between what acompany says and what it does. For example, if employees at a bank that advertisesitself as warm and customer friendly treat customers rudely, the bank could welllose consumer confidence and trust—two very important elements for any business.

Globalization, technology, and growing markets worldwide make organiza-tional change an essential element of corporate life. Communication and changeare intricately connected. “Communication is more than a tool for change; commu-nication constitutes change.”110 Many organizations emphasize change in their mis-sion statements. In addition, organizations face constant decisions about how to

Interpersonal Persuasion  213

Woodward-Denton Page 213 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

change to meet global demands or how to incorporate new technologies. Foremployees, change becomes a personal issue; it will affect their daily activities andstatus. Thus, communication about change and its implementation are importantelements of corporate culture. An organization can encourage an adaptiveapproach to organizational change by asking members to identify issues that needto be addressed; developing a shared vision of how to organize for competitiveness;fostering consensus for the new vision; involving all units in the process of imple-menting change; and monitoring and adjusting strategies in response to the changeprocess. Some specific communication tactics include soliciting input, using infor-mal networks to carry change messages, being strategic in message design and lan-guage, and formulating a comprehensive communication plan.111

SalesSelling can be viewed as a special form of interpersonal communication. In a

sense, we are all salespeople—whether advocating a specific opinion, idea, service,or product. Regardless of occupation, anyone who is successful is an effective sales-person. The basic appeals, strategies, and tactics of persuasion are essential to suc-cessful sales.

Working in sales is always challenging, but today there are even greater obsta-cles to consider. In the workplace today, there are four generations who each havetheir set of ideas, behaviors, attitudes, and motivations. The Matures were bornbefore 1945 and have also been called the Silent Generation or the Greatest Gener-ation. This generation has respect for authority, pride themselves as hard workers,and prefer one-on-one communication. Baby Boomers were born between 1946and 1964. They are known for being workaholics, thriving on competition, andseeking personal fulfillment. They also question authority and are not afraid ofconfrontation. Baby Boomers are less hierarchal and are team players. GenerationXers, born between 1965 and 1980, work hard but seek work/life balance. Thisgeneration will take many different jobs, are more independent and desire morefreedom in the work environment. They prefer communicating via e-mail ratherthan face-to-face. Millennials are also known as Generation Y or Echo Boomers.They are the youngest in the workforce and were born from 1981 to 2000. They tooseek work/life balance and tend to be entrepreneurial and goal oriented, but workis only viewed as a means to an end. They are social, confident, speak their mindsfreely, and expect flexible work schedules. They are also very comfortable withtechnology and prefer to use it to communicate. This cohort started entering theworkforce about ten years ago. The next generational cohort will be entering theworkforce in just a matter of years. They are already being called such names asiGeneration, Gen Tech, Digital Natives, and Net Gen.112

The workforce is more dynamic and diverse than ever before. Success in salesmeans being able to adapt to different people with different priorities and motiva-tions. In addition, the rapid pace of the development of new communication tech-nologies provides both opportunities and challenges. Using e-mail, voice mail,instant messaging, and all the wonders of the Internet means adapting strategiesand tactics to the uniqueness of the new media. Finally, competition in almost allindustries continues to increase. Globalization means more products, greater

214  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 214 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

sources of manufacturing, and the necessity to compete on price with companieswhose cost structures vary significantly. Competition is global—no longer acrossthe street or confined to national boundaries.113

The classic view of sales in the past focused on communicating product valuein the marketplace. Today, there is greater focus on establishing various relation-ships with customers. There is a growing body of literature on customer relation-ship management. Many of the models define the role of the sales force to be howthe firm can best manage its interactions with customers.114

There are multiple approaches to sales. The selling formula approach treats allcustomers alike. Sales result from taking the customer through a series of mentalstates: attention, interest, desire, and action. The salesperson has a developed scriptor canned presentation. The idea is that there are certain product appeals or attri-butes that will be attractive to all individuals regardless of situation or context.

A more recent approach to sales assumes that purchases are made to satisfyneeds. In order to make a sale, one must discover the customer’s needs and demon-strate how the products or services will meet those needs. This need-satisfactionapproach requires greater skills of conversation and persuasion. Because each cus-tomer is unique, the salesperson uses conversation to test the appeals most likely toappeal to a specific individual. Bill Brooks argues that the secret to selling is to be“in front of qualified prospects when they are ready to buy, not when you need tomake a sale.”115 This means that the prospects are aware of your product or service,have a genuine need or desire for it, and have the ability to pay for it. Brooks fur-ther observes that people don’t always buy what they need—but they always buywhat they want.

There are three distinct phases to this process. In the need development phase ofthe conversation, the salesperson encourages the prospect to talk about his or herneeds or requirements while actively listening to the information shared. As thesalesperson gains insight into the customer’s needs and desires relevant to the prod-uct or service, the conversation shifts to the need awareness phase of the conversa-tion. The salesperson talks more, repeating the salient needs and observingwhether the customer responds positively. In the final phase, need fulfillment, thesalesperson demonstrates how the product or service will fully meet the needs dis-cussed. In this phase, the seller is doing all the talking. Notice that in this approach,the sales pitch is tailored to the specific needs or requirements of the customer. It iscritical for the salesperson to know the features of the product or service as well ashow to phrase questions for the need-development phase. The goal is to control theinterview without seeming to do so. The best way to obtain both customer partici-pation and information is to ask questions.

David Mayer and Herbert Greenberg have spent years studying what makes agood salesperson. They find that there are two basic qualities that any good sales-person must have. The first is empathy—the ability to understand the feelings, per-spective, rationale, or motives of the customer. The second is what they call egodrive. Any salesperson must have a strong desire to complete the transaction,which brings personal satisfaction and enhances confidence.116

Rolph Anderson offers a seven-stage model of personal selling.117 The firststage is prospecting and qualifying—identifying potential customers based on a set

Interpersonal Persuasion  215

Woodward-Denton Page 215 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

of criteria, such as financial capability, social rank, organizational authority, orgeneral favorableness toward the product or service. Planning the sales call is thesecond stage. Five specific activities should be considered. (1) Establish the objec-tive of the call: the motivation to generate sales, to develop a contact list, to main-tain current customers, etc. (2) Choose a persuasive strategy: foot-in-the-door,door-in-the-face, need satisfaction, etc. (3) Plan for an effective and efficient meet-ing: do not waste the customer’s time. (4) Prepare for the customer’s reactions: givethought to the objections that might be raised and how to handle them. (5) Displayconfidence and professionalism: set a tone that will enhance the sales attempt.

The third stage is approaching the prospect, and the initial impression is criti-cal. Verbal and nonverbal behaviors—from the firmness of the handshake, to howone is dressed, to the level of comfort with the interaction, to knowledge about theproduct or service—will determine how receptive the customer will be to the nextstage. The fourth stage is making the sales presentation. After articulating the fea-tures and benefits of the product or service, the next stage is negotiating resistanceor objections. To overcome objections, differentiate between valid objections aboutthe product or service from excuses for avoiding a decision. Try to turn objec-tions—which are an indication that the customer is seriously thinking about howthe product or service might be used—into a positive: link price objectives withquality or proven customer service, for example. The sixth stage is closing the sale.The seventh and final stage is servicing the account. The old saying, “it is easierand less expensive to keep customers than to win new customers,” highlights theimportance of this stage.

The Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) argues that the building of mutualtrust is one of the most effective sales strategies. How do you build trust? Theanswer is the same as for any interpersonal relationship: be genuine, engage inappropriate self-disclosure, and display empathy. The MDRT provides seven basicrules for closing a sale:118

• Establish your credibility.

• Know your product.

• Know your client.

• Keep it simple.

• Sell concepts and benefits.

• Communicate your enthusiasm, your certainty, and your commitment.

• Take a chance, ask for the sale.

Another popular approach to sales is to match strategies and tactics with thecustomer’s personality type. The basic idea is that personal characteristics influ-ence any decision-making process.119 There are four general personality types:dominant, influential, steady, and compliant. People, of course, are a combinationof all types, but one set of characteristics tends to prevail over the others most of thetime. Dominant personality types, for example, like to be in control. Often, theyare self-employed; they are accustomed to giving orders and making their owndecisions. In selling to dominant types, demonstrate how the product or servicewill make them even more productive, profitable, and successful. They must be

216  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 216 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

confident that you can deliver on promises; they don’t want details—just a sum-mary of the features and benefits.

Influential personality types like to have fun and to be popular. They like work-ing with people in an active environment and tend to be very task oriented. Whenselling to influentials, one must first win them over and become their friend. If theydon’t like you, they will not buy from you. They also like small talk—relational talkthat goes beyond the specific item or service to be purchased. Don’t talk too much;let them do most of the talking. If you can relate stories of how the product or ser-vice has helped others, you are more likely to make the sale.

Steady personality types do not like to rush decisions. They are easygoing andgenerally friendly. They are thinkers and planners and tend to have a high concernfor others. Selling to this type of personality is more difficult than selling to otherpersonality types. They like taking their time and do not respond favorably to pres-sure or pushy salespeople. They need data to make decisions. Interestingly, they donot like major change, so it is best to explain how the product or service willenhance rather than revolutionize the status quo.

Compliant personality types like to collect information. They tend to ask ques-tions and require a fair amount of time to make a decision, especially if it mayinvolve a great change of routine. Information and data are more important tothem than need, friendliness, or desire.

There are several techniques used most often to close a sale. The presumptiontechnique involves acting as if the deal were done, such as writing up an invoice orgoing to the cash register. The choice technique is based on closing the sale on aminor aspect of the product or service. In essence your presentation is offeringchoices among features and benefits of the product, rather than asking whether thecustomer intends to make a purchase. For example, the question asked may be,“Do you prefer a PC or a Macintosh?” The inciter technique is a last-resort effort toclose. The technique involves incentives such as free delivery, no interest, free gift,or some special discount. The rationale is to prevent the prospect from waitinguntil tomorrow to consider the purchase. The report technique involves sharing astory that parallels the prospect’s situation. The anecdote demonstrates how thepurchase solved an identical problem for another person. Obviously, in order tomaintain trust, the story or anecdote must be true, using real names, etc. Finally,one of the most common closing techniques is comparison and contrast. A preciseand honest comparison of the features and benefits of one’s product or service witha competing brand can result in a sale.120

We briefly touched on handling objections above. There are several techniquesto help navigate this critical part of the sales presentation. First, anticipate possibleobjections. The better you know the prospect and his or her motivations, the betteryou can anticipate possible objections. Careful analysis will allow you to preemptspecific questions or objections by addressing them within the body of the presenta-tion. Another general rule is to answer objections immediately. If you hesitate ordelay responding, the prospect will focus even more on the objection. However,there are two situations when delaying a response may be advantageous: when theobjection is not related to the point under consideration and when questions aboutprice are raised before you have completed your presentation.121

Interpersonal Persuasion  217

Woodward-Denton Page 217 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

There are other successful techniques as well. One is called the boomerang,turning an objection into a reason for buying the product. Another is I’m coming tothat, a tactic used when the salesperson wants to convey critical information beforeanswering the objection. If salespersons must concede the objection, they often willuse a yes, but technique of quickly following the objection with an advantage or pos-itive product attribute. The offset technique admits the validity of the objection butthen follows with a superior point that more than compensates for the originalobjection. Sometimes by asking questions relevant to the objection, the salespersonforces the prospect to provide support or evidence for the objection. Finally, a sim-ple direct denial can be effective by attributing the objection to a misunderstandingor wrong interpretation of information.122

We would be remiss if we did not highlight some of the problematic areas ofsales in relationship to traditional persuasive theory. Especially in a democraticsociety, persuasion is based on the concept of informed choice. Despite the phrasecaveat emptor (let the buyer beware), the ethical burden is on the persuader to insurethat products are fairly presented. There are also other issues to consider. Does theseller really believe in the product? Does the buyer really need the product or ser-vice? In terms of persuasion, there is little difference between the selling of ideasand the selling of products. Both are important to our society and utilize the sametools of persuasion.

InterviewsIn many ways the interviewing process is also a type of sale. When you inter-

view for a job, you are both the product and the salesperson. You need to be pre-pared to talk about your unique attributes and to persuade the interviewer that youwill be an excellent employee. Your resume and cover letter are just the first stepstoward employment.

It is possible to argue that nearly all dyadic communication is a form of inter-viewing. In social conversation, people rotate roles and exchange information thatprovides the basis for future transactions and behavior. However, interviewing is amore formal, prescribed form of dyadic communication. Charles Stewart and Wil-liam Cash define interviewing as “an interactional communication processbetween two parties, at least one of whom has a predetermined and serious pur-pose that involves the asking and answering of questions.”123 The key words in thisdefinition are “predetermined and serious purpose.” According to Stewart andCash, an interview is a formal communication transaction where one or both ofthe parties have specific behavioral objectives in mind. Even mini-interviews—those that seek to elicit the opinions of colleagues, etc.—may mask a persuasiveintent. The questioner may appear to have an open mind but, in reality, have nointention of accepting the interviewee’s position.

Today’s technology provides almost instantaneous communication and oppor-tunities for more formal interviews through e-mail, cell phones, and PDAs. Stewartand Cash, however, offer several examples of when face-to-face interviews aremore beneficial.124 If it is necessary to verify that the interviewee is who he or sheclaims to be or if it is necessary to challenge or to ask for clarification about infor-mation on an application, face-to-face interactions are an excellent discovery tool.

218  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 218 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

In addition, much valuable information is revealed through the nonverbal dimen-sions of a face-to-face conversation. Answers to questions in face-to-face interviewsare often longer and more detailed than in written questionnaires. Interviewees aremore willing to share personal information in face-to-face conversations, therebyincreasing the likelihood of revealing their attitudes, beliefs, and values.

In an interview situation, the interviewer and interviewee share dual roles. Inthe best interviews, participants freely rotate between the roles. Without such anexchange, participants sacrifice power, control, and personal motives. This perspec-tive recognizes that each participant in an interview has a purpose, and each mustprepare for the encounter accordingly.

There are many types of interviews: informational, employment, appraisal, orcounseling, to name only a few. The general purpose and the context of the inter-view determine the type. Most interviews employ the same strategies and tacticsfound in other persuasive contexts, such as public speaking and advertising. Beforeentering an interview, you should analyze all of the elements thoroughly. Whatshould be accomplished? What can be expected? How can you best present your-self ? Many of the suggestions provided in this book relating to other persuasivetopics can be used in your analysis (see especially chapter 13).

Minimally, you should consider the persuasive situation and topic and thencarefully develop appropriate strategies and tactics. In terms of the person youwant to persuade, you should analyze the person’s values and background in orderto gain insight into what motivates that individual. The goal is to understand betterhow the receiver will perceive the situation. You will then be able to develop strongarguments and appeals for your points and objectives. When and where the inter-view takes place will impact such persuasive elements as attention, control, andlength of the interview. Finally, you should spend as much time preparing the con-tent of the interview as you would when preparing a public presentation. Youshould structure your argument carefully by identifying key appeals and supportingyour ideas with examples and evidence.

Stewart and Cash suggest a basic structure to follow for a persuasive inter-view.125 The elements include: analyze the interviewee, analyze the situation, knowthe “issue,” plan the interview, select the strategies, conduct the interview, andclose the interview. It is important to establish immediate rapport with the otherparty. This may be accomplished with an exchange of greetings and small talkabout weather, sports, or the headlines. The goal is to establish an open climatewhere there can be a free exchange of ideas and information. A feeling of trust andmutual goodwill between the participants is important. Once a good communica-tion climate has been established, there should be a brief orientation to explain thepurpose and nature of the interview.

Stewart and Cash recommend preparing an interview guide that provides astructured outline of topics and subtopics to be addressed. Of course, the degree ofstructure may vary depending on the degree of formality of the interview. At oneauthor’s university, the list of specific questions asked during employment inter-views for staff members must be provided to the personnel office, and the questionsmust be asked of each referred applicant. Formal interviews require very specifictopic and subtopic planning.

Interpersonal Persuasion  219

Woodward-Denton Page 219 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

There are several patterns one could follow in developing questions.126 A topi-cal pattern is the most common. Questions flow from the particular subject beingdiscussed. A time-sequence pattern develops questions in some chronologicalorder, such as stages or the order in which events happen. A cause-to-effectsequence is an option in which possible causes of the issue are explored, followedby a discussion of effects. Related to this pattern is the problem-solution sequencewhere first there is an attempt to understand the perceived problem and then anexploration of possible solutions. The funnel sequence begins with broad, openquestions and then narrows to more specific, detailed questions. The purpose ofany of the patterns is to develop mutual understanding and, depending on the pur-pose of the interview, agreement.

In the closing portion of the interview, it is important to summarize what hasbeen discussed and to review agreements reached. The closing usually occurs inthree stages. When appropriate, you begin to focus on the solution and ask “yes-response” questions to verify positions. The agreement stage of the closing is themost dangerous period. At this point, you should obtain a final agreement and com-mitment from the interviewee. While being pleasant and reassuring, you want toeliminate any doubt about the action to follow. Finally, it is a good idea to arrangefor a follow-up interview. This is useful to establish rapport once again and to checkthe status of commitment expressed throughout the interview. Your leave-takingshould be relaxed and positive. Do not bring up any new issues; take some time forsmall talk, if possible. Be sincere and honest. Don’t make promises you cannot keep.Also, don’t rush the closing. This is an opportunity to strengthen rapport.

Interviewing is a good example of how persuasion is an integral part of mostcommunication. The key ingredients for all forms of communication are planningand preparation.

 SummaryThe foundation for all persuasion is a thorough understanding of the audi-

ence—whether an audience of one or of millions. We engage in interpersonal per-suasion much more frequently than we realize. The amount and type of persuasionwe use (or are exposed to) depends on the nature of particular interpersonalencounters. We may seek the approval of others to satisfy the relational needs ofacceptance, affection, and respect. We frequently seek compliance to accomplishspecific tasks: to finish a project, to sell a product, or to be hired. Many interper-sonal encounters involve both cognitive and relational processes. The verbal andnonverbal symbols we choose to communicate our intentions affect the outcome.Compliance depends on the strategies we select, the situation or context, and thenature of the relationship.

Conflict often results from prolonged, intense efforts of interpersonal persua-sion. Frequently, a negative reaction results not from the actual facts of the dis-agreement but from the quality of the communication exchanged. The mostimportant aspect to remember about conflict is that it must be managed. If weapply the knowledge we have gained about how to communicate effectively, we

220  Chapter Eight

Woodward-Denton Page 220 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

should be able to conduct our participation in interpersonal exchanges—includingconflict—effectively.

In the twenty-first century, our society and workplace are more diverse thanever before. Therefore, sensitivity to issues of cultural and gender communicationare vitally important. While interpersonal communication within the organiza-tional context ranges on a continuum from formal to informal, much of the workaccomplished depends on effective interpersonal communication. While interviewsand sales are formal types of interpersonal persuasion, they rely on the same princi-ples of communication we have identified and discussed throughout this book.

 QUESTIONS AND PROJECTS FOR FURTHER STUDY1. In terms of the three types of relationship structures, how would you catego-

rize your relationship with your father (mother, teacher, employer, girlfriend,boyfriend, classmates)?

2. Can you think of a time when you and an intimate friend had an argument?What happened? Analyze the conversation and argument in terms of genderdifferences discussed in this chapter.

3. You have a 2012 Honda Accord automobile you wish to sell. Develop the salesappeals and arguments for persuading a friend, a stranger, or a middle-agedman or woman to purchase the car. How do the appeals differ and why?

4. For the above automobile, prepare a specific appeal that would address buyermotivations of profit and thrift, safety and protection, ease and convenience,pride and prestige, sex and romance, love and affection, adventure and excite-ment, performance and durability.

5. Describe the leadership qualities you like best and explain why. Describe theleadership qualities you do not like and explain why.

6. You are the manager of a department at a large clothing store. Prepare ques-tions for a job interview, a work appraisal interview for a problem employee,and an employee termination interview. How do these interviews differ instrategies and appeals?

7. From your own experience, provide an example of a pseudoconflict, a contentconflict, and an ego conflict.

8. You have been working in a furniture store for one year. Prepare argumentsyou would use in asking for a raise.

9. Discuss the ethical issues, dimensions, and implications of:

a. attempts to sell a $70 Bible to a family of six with an income of $20,000 a year.

b. attempts to sell a used car that had been in a major accident and recentlyrepaired.

10. Describe the nonverbal behaviors associated with interactions with friends,acquaintances, and employers.

11. If you work for an organization or company, how would you describe its val-ues and climate? With whom do you interact the most on the job? Do you feelfree to make suggestions for job improvement to superiors?

Interpersonal Persuasion  221

Woodward-Denton Page 221 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

 ADDITIONAL READINGBrenda Allen, Difference Matters, 2nd ed. (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2011).Peter A. Andersen, Nonverbal Communication: Forms and Functions, 2nd ed. (Long Grove, IL:

Waveland Press, 2008).George Cheney, Lars Thøger Christensen, Theodore E. Zorn, Jr. and Shiv Ganesh, Organi-

zational Communication in an Age of Globalization, 2nd ed. (Long Grove, IL: WavelandPress, 2011).

William R. Cupach, Daniel J. Canary, and Brian Spitzberg, Competence in Interpersonal Con-flict, 2nd ed. (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2010).

Teri Gamble and Michael Gamble, Interpersonal Communication: Building Connections Together(Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2014).

Laura K. Guerrero and Michael L. Hecht, The Nonverbal Communication Reader: Classic andContemporary Readings, 3rd ed. (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2008).

Michael Hackman and Craig Johnson, Leadership: A Communication Perspective, 6th ed. (LongGrove, IL: Waveland Press, 2013).

Stephen W. Littlejohn and Kathy Domenici, Communication, Conflict, and the Management ofDifference (Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2007).

Sana Reynolds and Deborah Valentine, Guide to Cross-Cultural Communication, 2nd ed. (Bos-ton: Prentice-Hall, 2011).

Charles Stewart and William Cash, Interviewing: Principles and Practices, 13th ed. (New York:McGraw-Hill, 2011).

Kathryn Sue Young and Howard Paul Travis, Communicating Nonverbally: A Practical Guide toPresenting Yourself More Effectively (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2008).

Woodward-Denton Page 222 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Woodward-Denton Page 223 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM


Public and Mass Persuasion


 Public Communication and PersuasionCharacteristics of Public CommunicationPublic Opinion and Persuasion

 Persuasive CampaignsProduct or Commercial CampaignsPublic Relations CampaignsPolitical CampaignsIssue Campaigns

Grassroots LobbyingCorporate Advocacy/Issue Management

 Social MovementsCharacteristicsPersuasive FunctionsLife CycleLeadershipResistance to Social Movements

 Campaign Implementation


224  Chapter Nine

Woodward-Denton Page 224 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Democracies depend on citizens to have the necessary competenciesfor participation in the ongoing deliberations that identify andresolve public concerns.1

—Gerard A. Hauser

Public persuasion involves interactions on a societal scale. Through public com-munication, we discuss issues, formulate and debate policy, campaign for publicoffice, and implement societal reform and changes. As our society becomes morecomplex, individual and independent actions are no longer sufficient to guaranteesuccess or survival. Group efforts impact us daily, and we join forces with others toinsure that our views are heard and our needs are met.

When we think of public campaigns, we tend to think of political election cam-paigns. However, public campaigns encompass numerous issues and social causesfrom public health and safety to protecting the environment to gay rights to abor-tion. Some campaigns may be controversial; the goals of others may be unortho-dox; and marginalized groups may conduct campaigns for recognition of issuesignored by mainstream society.

At the very heart of democracy is public communication. The quality of thatpublic communication directly impacts the quality of our democracy and society atlarge. Mitchell McKinney, Lynda Lee Kaid, and Kianne Bystrom view “the funda-mental nature of a democracy as that of a civic dialogue, an ongoing conversationbetween and among our elected leaders or candidates and the citizens they lead orwish to lead.”2 Thus, citizen engagement and participation in civic affairs aregrounded in communication. In this chapter, we investigate the nature of publiccommunication and persuasion. Our focus is on the multiple strategies of variouspublic persuasive campaigns.

 Public Communication and PersuasionAs we noted in chapter 2, public persuasion has been a sophisticated art for

centuries. Over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle’s Rhetoric detailed the strategies for con-vincing others. Verbal skills were highly valued and a necessity for public life. Themaster of public discourse was eloquent, ethical, and civic minded. The Greekstrusted and preferred oral, face-to-face interaction to the written word. With theadvent of the printing press in 1450, literacy was no longer a privilege of the aristoc-racy. With the printed word, public communication and persuasion extendedbeyond immediate audiences. Electronic communication further extended thepower and impact of human communication and persuasion. As we enter thetwenty-first century, the Internet and prospects of media convergence opens newand powerful means of reaching audiences and influencing behavior, not only inthe United States but also around the globe. In our modern world, oral, written,

Public and Mass Persuasion  225

Woodward-Denton Page 225 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

and electronic communication are essential to our lives. However, the growth infrequency and availability of public communication has not necessarily improvedthe human condition. Some argue that increased public communication has ampli-fied public deception, confusion, interpersonal isolation, and the complexity ofmodern life.

Characteristics of Public CommunicationTwo different but complementary definitions of public communication cam-

paigns exist. Definitions featuring objectives focus on efforts to change attitudes andsubsequent behaviors. This type of definition is most common with controversialissues. The second definition focuses on the methods employed by groups. Some meth-ods may be conventional (for example, a mix of brochures, posters, and advertise-ments). In a crowded communication environment, unusual methods, such as guerillatheater and provocative billboards, are more likely to draw the public’s attention.3

We define public communication as intentional efforts to change or modify thebeliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors of an audience through the use of symbolsin a public forum. Our broad definition of public communication identifies persua-sion as the goal, the use of symbols as the means of meeting objectives, and thepublic arena as the context of interaction.

Several characteristics distinguish public from other forms of communication.Many of the terms have been defined in other chapters, but it is useful to reviewthem briefly.

• Public communication is simply more public. The interactions are not pri-vate, and intimacy is sacrificed. Consider, for example, that although OprahWinfrey frequently interviews celebrities within the seemingly comfortablesecurity of their homes, their responses will be heard by millions of people.

• Communication settings are less relevant. For example, a politician’s com-ments before an Iowa caucus are not limited to the immediate audience;they are broadcast throughout the nation.

• Audiences are larger, more diverse, and anonymous. Because a message willbe heard by people with varying backgrounds, beliefs, and values, appealsare general and few specifics are detailed. The politicians campaigning inIowa cannot make promises to farmers that could upset urban voters inanother region.

• Public communication is mediated. The form and content of messages dependson the medium selected. Television is naturally better suited for movement,action, and drama than is radio. Newspapers and magazines offer expandedspace for written messages, allowing for more examples, details, and argumen-tation. The Internet and social network sites can activate, unite, and energizelike-minded individuals. The use of mass media restricts audience feedback,and the interpretation of the message is thus vulnerable to misunderstanding.

• Public communication provides an opportunity for change. People, groups, andopinions can be mobilized quickly. Mass persuasion is best at linking ideasand potential audiences for some common action.

226  Chapter Nine

Woodward-Denton Page 226 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Public communication provides several social functions, including informa-tion, persuasion, entertainment, and culture dissemination. Public communicationshares information needed to conduct business and to regulate social life. It has apersuasive function that provides opportunities for various viewpoints or ideas tobe presented, discussed, and debated. The entertainment function often blends sev-eral purposes. For example, The Help, a multiple Academy Award winner in 2011,is a story of a young white woman and her relationship with two black maids. Thewoman writes a book from the viewpoint of the maids that exposes the racismendured during the 1960s.

Public communication preserves and disseminates all the rituals and ceremo-nies of our culture. Films, speeches, lectures, television programs, and other eventsweave a cultural fabric that unites people, groups, and ideas. Through public com-munication, humans give cultural meaning to a bewildering variety of daily events.

Public Opinion and PersuasionOver the last two decades, public opinion polls have proliferated exponentially.

Phrases such as “margin of error,” “sample size,” “likely voters,” and “favorableapproval ratings” have become part of our national political vocabulary. Polls areused not only to inform us about our collective beliefs, attitudes, and values butalso to persuade and even manipulate our attitudes and behavior. They also serveto inform elected leaders of public sentiment to influence public policy. Polls havebecome an integral part of print and broadcast news coverage on virtually all socialissues, as well as public and political campaigns.

There are many types of polls beyond those conducted by the media. Commis-sioned polls are conducted on behalf of an organization. They are not necessarilydesigned for public consumption but are useful in guiding the decision making ofthe organization. Commercial firms as well as special-interest organizations maycommission polls to gauge public trust and confidence in a product or a position onan issue. If the results are favorable, especially to a special-interest group, the resultsmay be released for public awareness and support. For example, the Sierra Clubreleases polls demonstrating that the majority of Americans support keeping publiclands free from development, mining, or logging activities.

Pseudo-polls are those where print and electronic media organizations encour-age audiences to register their opinions on a topic or subject matter. These are notvalid polls because the sample of respondents is self-selected, not random, andresponse rates are very low. Even the questionnaires that members of Congress dis-tribute to constituents are unreliable. These types of polls are more of a public rela-tions gimmick than a valid attempt to gather information on public attitudes.

Political public opinion polls have become an essential element of both cam-paign management and news coverage. Technology has increased the frequency,sophistication, and types of opinion polls. Opinion polls evolved to play a centralrole in campaigns because of their usefulness in targeting audiences and issues.From a campaign perspective, polls provide detailed information about voters: whothey are, what they think, how they feel, and how they will behave in the votingbooth. Polls identify the most important issues, suggest how to talk about them,and specify which issues appeal to a particular constituency group. Feedback from

Public and Mass Persuasion  227

Woodward-Denton Page 227 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

polls provides valuable information for creating, adjusting, and refining effectivemessages. Finally, campaign polls reveal information about perceived strengths andweaknesses of candidates and the public image projected.

In addition to candidate-sponsored polls, there has been an incredible growthof news-media public opinion polls. During the campaign season, major newsorganizations release weekly polls at the national and state level, and these pollscan dramatically impact election coverage. According to Mark Blumenthal, seniorpolling editor and founder of, “we live in a news environment where acombination of cable news and websites of every imaginable variety have an insa-tiable appetite for polling numbers.”4 In fact, he notes that today “we are con-fronted with polls from sources we have barely heard of, including someorganizations that appear to exist solely for the purpose of disseminating polls.”5

Polls influence how candidates are covered, how much airtime they will receive,which reporter will be assigned to cover them, and the portrayal of a candidate’scampaign. Some scholars argue that media polls lead to biased coverage and mis-representation. Simply reporting which candidate is ahead and by what marginprovides very little information about issues. They encourage more coverage of the“horse race” than policy or issue positions of the candidates. The numbers in thepolls imply a scientific accuracy that may not exist; the reporting on polls oftenfavors one candidate over the other. In the 2012 presidential election, there wasmuch controversy over polls that showed such wide variance in results. Disagree-ments about the make up of sample sizes and potential turnout models dominatedthe debate over polling results from both the Obama and Romney campaigns.

In general, the public is becoming more skeptical of polls—especially thoseused during elections. Exit polling at voting locations has received special scrutiny.Indeed, the lack of precision by the networks attempting to identify the winner dur-ing the 2000 presidential elections was embarrassing. In fact, after much effort andexpense to improve the technology and method of analyses for exit polling, errorswere so great that networks declined to report the data during the mid-term elec-tions of 2002. In 2004, early indicators leaked on the Internet predicted a JohnKerry victory over George W. Bush. In 2006, the networks agreed not to releasedata until 5:00 PM or to make predictions until the polls closed in each state. Since2004, Edison Research conducts national exit polls for the National Election Poolpartnership of ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC, and the Associated Press. In 2012,they completed exit polls in only 31 states. The surveys remain controversial andhave become more expensive.

Since the Nixon presidency, all administrations have spent millions of dollarson public opinion polls to develop public policy and strategies to persuade the pub-lic; the Clinton administration, in particular, relied on polling.6 In fact, Diane Heithfinds that contemporary presidents use polls to assist in message design, to shapeconstituency relations, to construct strategies in dealing with Congress, and to trackevaluations of performance.7 The Obama administration invests heavily in data andtechnology to isolate public opinion by all sorts of demographic and psychographicvariables. Their micro-analysis guides their actions in governing and in campaigns.

We tend to think of public opinion as a monolithic entity. Leaders espouseviews and positions based on the “public’s opinion” with great certainty. However,

228  Chapter Nine

Woodward-Denton Page 228 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

the truth is that public opinion is not static, and polls are just another tool of per-suasion. In order to understand the persuasive potential and impact of polls andpublic opinion, we need to look briefly at the nature of public opinion.

The more abstract the goal or objective, the greater the consensus of opinion.For example, nearly everyone wants to curb the increase in crime. There is muchless agreement about how to lower crime. The more specific a claim, the less con-sensus one will find among the public. Thus, many politicians are very general intheir pronouncements and calls to action. There is more risk in being specific.

Carroll Glynn and his colleagues provide four reasons why public opinion isan important consideration for public persuasion.8 First, a democratic governmentshould reflect the will of those governed; policy should be based on the opinions ofcitizens. Second, respect for public opinion is a safeguard against demagoguery.Third, public opinion provides clues about culture. Public sentiment toward spe-cific issues provides insight into contemporary norms and values. Fourth, electedofficials must mobilize public sentiment and support during times of national cri-sis. However, as a word of caution, there is the strong assumption, especially withina democracy, that the general public is well informed about issues and public pol-icy. As will be discussed later in the chapter, a major task of all social movements isto mobilize public support for an issue, event, or action.

Public opinion is the collective expression of opinion of many individualswhose common aims, aspirations, needs, and ideals bind them together. Few issuesinspire opinions or feelings from the entire citizenry. At the heart of any opinion isthe issue of salience or self-interest. We may offer opinions on many issues, butthere are few that motivate us to take action (such as writing a letter, going to a pub-lic rally, or sending money to an organization). To motivate people to take action,persuasive appeals and messages often focus on the commonality of the group.

Public opinion does not anticipate events; it only reacts to them. Eventsbecome crucibles for public opinion. For example, the horrible shooting at SandyHook Elementary School in December 2012 that left twenty children and sixadults dead raised a firestorm of discussion and debate over the issues of gun con-trol and mental health. All elected officials responded to the tragedy with legisla-tive hearings, investigative task forces, and legislation. The tragic bombing of thefederal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 focused a great deal of attention oncivilian paramilitary groups. United States involvement in Kosovo as part of aNATO action in 1999 sparked debate about the role of our military in the post-coldwar world. The tragic attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, raisedquestions about immigration, the extent of government surveillance on its citizens,and our role in fighting international terrorism. The devastation of HurricaneKatrina in 2005 renewed discussions of race, poverty, individual and governmentalaccountability and responsibility, as well as issues of local corruption. A socialissue may languish for lack of attention until dramatized by an event. Awarenessand discussion may lead to crystallizing opinions and attitudes. However, even dra-matic events rarely sway public opinion for an extended length of time.

Public opinion is intertwined with a variety of cultural forces and institutions;it evolves as standards change. For example, twenty-five years earlier, former presi-dent Bill Clinton probably would have resigned before the impeachment hearings

Public and Mass Persuasion  229

Woodward-Denton Page 229 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

began. However, in 1998, many Americans distinguished between the privateactions of a president and the public management function of government.

William Paisley and Charles Atkin argue that there are three social forcesinfluencing public communication campaigns: public distrust, episodic issues, andthe rise of issue literacies.9 Americans have become increasingly critical of govern-ment since Watergate and the presidency of Richard Nixon; political, social, andcorporate scandals and crises have amplified public cynicism and distrust. In addi-tion, issues continually rise and fall on the national agenda. The numbers of spe-cial-interest groups competing for national attention constantly increase, andalmost every issue is portrayed as a “crisis.” Citizens feel less confident about find-ing solutions and distrust those who portray themselves as specialists or experts onthe issues.

 Persuasive CampaignsA military campaign refers to a connected series of military operations forming

a distinct phase of a war. In a general context, a campaign is a connected series ofoperations designed to bring about a particular result. It involves planning, strategy,competition, winners, and losers.

Herbert Simons defines persuasive campaigns as “organized, sustainedattempts at influencing groups or masses of people through a series of messages.”10

This definition of persuasive campaigns emphasizes three key characteristics. First,campaigns are generally well-organized events; they are not spontaneous publicevents. There is an identifiable organizational structure with leaders, goals, andestablished routines. Campaigns most often have beginning and ending dates. Thesecond major characteristic of a campaign is large audience size. As already dis-cussed, this factor greatly influences the form and content of messages. It alsoimplies the use of mass communication media. The third characteristic of persua-sive campaigns is the use of multiple messages to alter the beliefs, attitudes, values, orbehaviors of a segment of the general public.

Public persuasion campaigns are fundamentally communication exercisesabout politics (broadly defined to include elections or mass social movements),issues, products, and services. A communication approach to campaign analysischallenges the basic assumption of behaviorists that public campaigns play a minorrole or have little influence in citizen decision-making. Communication scholarsargue that campaign research has focused too much attention on individual atti-tude change or voter conversion. Such research ignores the long-term, cumulativeeffects of public persuasive campaigns and the fact that the purpose of many cam-paigns is reinforcement of existing beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors.

As argued in chapter 3, we create and manipulate reality through symbols.Campaigns are exercises in the creation, re-creation, and transmission of signifi-cant symbols. Communication activities are the vehicles for action—both real andperceived. Samuel Becker advises “any single communication encounter accountsfor only a small portion of the variance in human behavior.”11 He characterizes ourcommunication environment as a mosaic.12 The mosaic consists of an infinite num-ber of information bits on an infinite number of topics scattered over time and

230  Chapter Nine

Woodward-Denton Page 230 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

space; exposure is varied and repetitive; and the bits are disorganized. As these bitsbecome relevant or address a need, they receive attention. We must arrange thesebits into a meaningful cognitive pattern. Public campaigns are great sources ofpotential information and contain, however difficult to identify or measure, ele-ments that impact decision-making. New information bits can replace other bits tochange or modify our worldview, attitudes, or opinions. Broadly speaking, thereare five types of campaigns. While specific strategies and tactics of persuasion mayoverlap, these types of campaigns contain unique elements and specific processesof persuasion.

Product or Commercial CampaignsProduct or commercial advertising campaigns are the focus of chapter 10. The

purpose of such campaigns is to sell specific ideas, products, or services. Advertis-ing is the most pervasive form of persuasion in the United States. It is both a cre-ative and a scientific process. Advertising campaigns are intricate and complex,utilizing psychological strategies and tactics to move consumers along a continuumfrom awareness to knowledge, to liking, to preference, to conviction, and to pur-chase. Because of their scope and impact, advertising campaigns are significant ele-ments of public communication, fulfilling both social and economic functions.

Public Relations CampaignsThere are numerous definitions of public relations. They all encompass the

idea of the “management of communication” between an organization and its“publics.” There are three primary functions of public relations. First, public rela-tions “control publics” by influencing what people think or how they behavetoward an organization. Second, public relations activities function to “respond topublics,” reacting to the developments, problems, or initiatives of others. Finally,public relations function to “achieve mutually beneficial relationships among allthe publics that an institution has.”13 This recognizes a comprehensive view of pub-lics to include employees, consumers, suppliers, and any group that interacts withthe organization.

The practice of public relations usually occurs in five job settings: agencies,corporate/business, nonprofits/associations, governments, and independent con-sultations. Public relations generally include the activities of advertising, promo-tion, publicity, marketing communications, propaganda, special events, internalcommunication, public affairs, issues management, media relations, governmentrelations/lobbying, community relations, industry relations, employee/memberrelations, financial relations, fund-raising, and minority relations.14 Each activityrequires the construction of carefully crafted messages designed for specific targetsor audiences. In short, each activity is about purposeful, persuasive communica-tion. Some PR activities are done by agencies; some are done “in-house” by corpo-rate professionals or by hiring independent professional consultants.

There are 7,000 to 10,000 PR firms in America and over 60 national andregional professional associations representing nearly 200,000 members. It fact,over 3 million people work in PR worldwide.15 Most companies and corporationshave dedicated departments devoted to public relations activities.

Public and Mass Persuasion  231

Woodward-Denton Page 231 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

In short, public relations campaigns are designed to address an issue, to solve aproblem, or to improve a situation. Doug Newsom, Judy Turk, and Dean Krucke-berg identify six types of public relations campaigns.16 A public awareness campaignis designed to make people aware of something. This type of campaign ranges fromsomething as simple as the date of a school opening to a local civic event. A publicinformation campaign goes beyond citizen awareness of an event and shares somevital information. A public education campaign involves an additional step beyondawareness and information—explanation of the material so that the public canunderstand how it applies to daily behavior. Attitude reinforcement campaigns focuson attitudes and behaviors of those who are in agreement with the organizationalgoals or values. In contrast, attitude change campaigns attempt to alter the attitudesof those who disagree with the goal. A mixture of the two are some of the contem-porary campaigns on drugs, smoking, and drunk driving, for example, which eitherreinforce existing attitudes or attempt to modify existing behavior. Finally, behaviormodification campaigns are the most difficult and complex. They must motivate thepublic to change current behavior.

Crisis communication has become a specialty function of public relations. Acrisis is “a major occurrence with a potentially negative outcome affecting an orga-nization as well as its publics, services, products, and/or good name.”17 A crisismay not necessarily mean the end of a company or even a product. Seven peopledied over a 3-day period in late September 1982 after ingesting Extra-Strength Tyle-nol capsules to which cyanide had been added. The manufacturer, Johnson &Johnson, swiftly removed the product from store shelves and reintroduced it onlyafter designing more secure packaging. Other examples of critical events and theoutcomes they induced include: the Exxon Valdez oil spill that increased member-ship in environmental groups that lobbied for stricter regulatory legislation; theshootings at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook ElementarySchool that led to new school security measures, gun control, and mental healthlegislation; the corporate scandals of Enron and Tyco and Martha Stewart’s insidertrading that resulted in increased attention to corporate malfeasance and violationsof securities and exchange rules. The attacks of 9/11, in addition to the thousandsof victims and the devastating impact on the nation’s psyche, created a number ofcrises for commerce. The airlines, tourism companies, and financial industries wereamong the hardest hit. The worldwide financial crises of 2008 resulted in the worsteconomy since the Great Depression. Crisis communication involves “the verbal,visual, and/or written interaction between the organization and its publics (oftenthrough the news media) prior to, during, and after the negative occurrence.”18

Forward-thinking companies prepare contingency plans in case they confront acrisis. They develop strategic communication considerations for each of the fivestages. Detection is the first stage, during which the organization watches for warningsigns. The second stage is preparation/prevention. In this stage, the organization pre-pares a proactive campaign to address a potential crisis or, if possible, to avoid one. Instage three, containment, the communication is designed to limit the duration of the cri-sis or to keep it from becoming more serious. The fourth stage is recovery, where theorganization attempts to get out of the news and back to business as usual. Finally, thelearning stage consists of careful evaluation of the crisis and a review of actions taken.19

232  Chapter Nine

Woodward-Denton Page 232 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

There are several types of crises. Victim crises exist when the organization isalso a victim of the crisis—for example, crises caused by natural disasters; rumorsor the circulation of false and damaging information; workplace violence; or prod-uct tampering/malevolence where external agents cause harm to an organization.Accidental crises are those where organizational actions that led to the harm wereunintentional such as technical accidents, equipment failure, or defects in productsdiscovered only after production and dissemination. Finally, preventable crises arethose where organizations knowingly placed people at risk, took inappropriateactions, or willfully violated the law.20

All crises demand an appropriate response, and there are numerous strategies.They most often range from simple denial, attacking the accusing party, providingan excuse or justification, communicating corrective actions, or a full apology. Thekey in any crisis is communication planning. Essential elements include the assess-ment of potential risk factors, designation of members of a crisis managementteam, identification of key audiences, and the creation of a written plan.

Political CampaignsFor communication scholars, the essence of politics is human interaction. The

interaction may be formal or informal, verbal or nonverbal, public or private—butalways persuasive, encouraging individuals to interpret, to evaluate, and to act. Polit-ical campaigns are our national, state, and local conversations. They are highly com-plex and sophisticated communication events involving the communication ofissues, images, social reality, and personas. They are essentially exercises in the cre-ation, re-creation, and transmission of significant symbols through human commu-nication. As we attempt to make sense of our environment, political bits ofcommunication contribute to our voting choices, worldviews, and policy preferences.

The United States holds more elections than any other modern society. Wehave well over 500,000 elected officials with over a million elections held in everyfour-year cycle.21 The evolution of communication technologies and reliance onsocial science methodologies, such as polling, have changed how campaigns areconducted. Today, political campaigns are major, expensive, and intense events.

Modern political campaigns follow three or four relatively distinct phases: pre-primary, primary, nomination conventions for presidential campaigns, and generalelection. Communication functions differ in each phase of a campaign. During thepreprimary phase, communication activities define the candidate’s image, informthe public about positions on issues, and create a sense of viability and legitimacyfor the candidate’s campaign. During the primary phase, the candidate engagesopponents, responds to attacks, and attempts to generate support and motivate sup-porters. During presidential campaigns, candidates at the national convention par-ticipate in rituals providing a sense of legitimation, reaffirmation of candidacy, anddemonstration of party unity. Many of the communication functions for the generalelection phase revisit strategies from the previous phases: reinforce image, compareand contrast issue positions, respond to attacks, and motivate support.

The limited effects model of campaign communication dominated scholars’ viewsfor nearly 40 years; the model was based on data from the 1940 elections.22 At thattime, most voter decisions were based on attitude predispositions, group identifica-

Public and Mass Persuasion  233

Woodward-Denton Page 233 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

tion, and interpersonal communication; mediated messages contributed little toconverting voters from one candidate to another. Campaigns were conducted byvolunteers and party activists, and face-to-face canvassing was essential to winning.Beginning in the 1960s, new communication technology, particularly television,changed campaigns. With the decline of political parties, the increase of single-issuepolitics, the prominence of mass media, and the sophistication of social scienceresearch, the terrain today differs significantly from that of the 1940s and 1950s.

The uses and gratifications model of campaign communication is increasing inpopularity. This model basically argues that the effects of a campaign on votersdepend on the needs and motivations of the individual voter. Voters may turn tocampaign messages for information, issue discussion, or pure entertainment. Cur-rently, the most popular approach to the study of campaign communication isagenda-setting theory. Agenda-setting theory explains how the news media exertinfluence on political decision making. In particular, it describes how the newsmedia decide what issues and events will receive the most coverage. Basically, thetheory states that the media do not tell the public what to think, but they do decidewhat information to present and therefore do tell the public what to think about. Byhighlighting some items and not others, the media influence the subjects we discuss

234  Chapter Nine

Woodward-Denton Page 234 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

and the topics we are more likely to consider—thus affecting the issues aboutwhich we form opinions.

Second-level agenda-setting theory looks at how reporting focuses our atten-tion on particular aspects of an event or a person to the exclusion of other aspects.Agenda extension is useful for revealing when the media move beyond neutralreporting of issues, people, and events. Researchers in this area have discovered thatthe reportorial practices of the news media still tell us what to think about (agendasetting) and also how to think about it (agenda extension). Researchers looking atthese aspects focus on how the media prime their audiences to judge the items innews stories. They also look at how the media frame an issue or event. Research inagenda extension looks specifically for how attributes are presented to the public.23

The powerful media effects of priming and framing will be discussed in chapter 11.Campaigns perform both instrumental (task goal) and consummatory (meta asso-

ciations) functions.24 Three instrumental functions are: behavioral activation, cognitiveadjustment, and legitimation. Campaigns motivate behavior (whether helping with acampaign or voting on election day), which reinforces voter attitudes. By discussingissues, campaigns stimulate awareness. Analysis of a candidate’s positions can lead cit-izens to modify opinions on a topic or find reasons to support previous preferences.Campaigns legitimize the newly elected and the rules, laws, and regulations they pass.

Consummatory functions go beyond tasks such as the selection of candidatesor enactments of legislation. They help create the metapolitical images and social-psychological associations that provide the glue that holds our political systemtogether. Campaigns provide personal involvement in many forms: direct participa-tion, self-reflection and definition, social interaction and discussion, and aestheticexperiences of public drama and group life. Campaigns also legitimate the electoralprocess, reaffirming commitment to our brand of democracy.

Ultimately, it is important to remember that political campaigns do more thanelect public officials. They communicate and influence, reinforce and convert, andmotivate as well as educate. As Bruce Gronbeck argues, campaigns “get leaderselected, yes, but ultimately, they also tell us who we as a people are, where we havebeen and where we are going; in their size and duration they separate our culturefrom all others, teach us about political life, set our individual and collective priori-ties, entertain us, and provide bases for social interaction.”25 We discuss politicalcampaigns in greater detail in chapter 11.

Issue Campaigns Although related to political campaigns, issue campaigns attempt to get audiences

to support a certain course of action or belief independent of official political structures,systems, or procedures. Organizations generating such campaigns include politicalaction committees, religious organizations, schools, and hospitals, to name only a few.Campaigns range from specific lobbying efforts to general public awareness campaigns.

The federal government and most state agencies refer to their public cam-paigns as public affairs or public information activities. Despite the language, these arepersuasive campaigns. Consider the Smokey Bear Wildfire Prevention campaignsponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and the National Association of State Forest-ers. Created in 1944, the campaign is the longest running public service campaign

Public and Mass Persuasion  235

Woodward-Denton Page 235 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

236  Chapter Nine

Woodward-Denton Page 236 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

in history.26 Smokey received so much mail that he was assigned his own zip code(20252) in 1964. While not necessarily wholly attributable to the PSA campaign,the total number of acres burned annually by wildfires has dropped significantlyfrom 22 million acres in 1944 to an average of 6.9 million annually today. Smokey’sfire prevention message remained unchanged until April 2001, when the Ad Coun-cil updated his adage to “Only you can prevent wildfires.” (Prior to 2001, the word-ing was “forest fires.”) The campaign entered the digital age of promotion in 2008by migrating Smokey’s message and information online and throughout socialmedia. Today, Smokey has nearly 200,000 fans on Facebook.

There is an increasing trend toward the “organized dissemination of governmentinformation.” In fact, general information campaigns are common in virtually everyfederal agency. Agencies usually contract with private public relations or advertisingfirms to conduct information campaigns. News releases, press conferences, posters,reports, bulletins, special events, exhibits, public service announcements, brochures,and paid advertising are rather routine governmental communication endeavors. Infact, the federal government spends billions a year on activities related to publicaffairs. Twenty-three of the 24 federal agencies and all cabinet agencies have a pres-ence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.27

Because the government does not publish its own newspaper or operate radio ortelevision stations, it must rely on communication professionals to transmit vitalinformation to the general public. Today, it is not unusual to see local, state, or federalgovernments launch campaigns using press releases, press conferences, media events,and advertising. Recent campaigns include such diverse topics as antismoking, AIDSawareness, prevention of drunk driving, and immunization, to name a few.

According to Ron Faucheux, “In the modern world, few major issues aremerely lobbied anymore. Most of them are now managed, using a triad of publicrelations, grassroots mobilization, and lobbyists.”28 Many large public affairs firmsare now organized into separate divisions for governmental relations, public rela-tions, and grassroots lobbying. Corporations, industries, labor unions, and othersspent $3.31 billion in 2012 to lobby for policies favorable to their interests.29 Thereare over 250,000 lobbyists within Washington, DC.30

Grassroots Lobbying. Lobbying is the process by which an interest group pro-vides information to the general public and legislators in an attempt to persuade law-makers to enact legislation favorable to the group’s goals. Citizens targeted formobilization usually have some affiliation with the organization and are predisposedto support the cause advocated. Grassroots lobbying is an $800 million industry.31

The goal of grassroots lobbying is to create massive pressure to move a legisla-tor toward the desired position of an organization and to convince him or her tocast a key vote. The more individualized or personalized the appeal, the better. Themost effective grassroots programs are those that allow constituents to communi-cate in their own words to legislators. To supplement the various contacts of voters,organizations sometimes use television commercials to educate the public on spe-cific legislation or to describe an issue. Often the commercials urge calling a repre-sentative or senator, providing phone numbers and information about legislation sothat the caller can encourage or discourage passage of specific bills. From 1988 to

Public and Mass Persuasion  237

Woodward-Denton Page 237 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

2013, the top ten spending organizations on lobbying efforts were: the U.S. Cham-ber of Commerce, General Electric, American Medical Association, AmericanHospital Association, Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America,National Association of Realtors, American Association of Retired Persons(AARP), Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Northrop Grumman, and Exxon/Mobil.32 Thetop areas targeted were federal budget appropriations, defense, health issues, taxes,transportation, energy, environment, government issues, education, and trade.33

Like most campaigns, grassroots lobbying efforts follow distinct phases (see fig-ure 9.1). The first phase is research, when public attitudes as well as legislative votingrecords are reviewed. During this phase, the basic strategy is devised and the cam-paign plan is prepared. In the targeting phase, the organization determines whichpublic officials need to hear from constituents and which constituents should bemobilized. Sensitizing is a phase unique to grassroots campaigns. The goal of thisphase is to create the right political climate for the message by using public relationsevents, press conferences, ad campaigns, editorial board meetings, and other similarstrategies. Recruitment is another unique and important phase to grassroots lobbyingcampaigns. During this phase, direct mail, phone banks, and other methods areused to recruit volunteer activists. Activation is the phase of getting volunteers towrite, fax, call, or visit elected officials. Thisphase usually occurs while legislatures are insession and focuses on key votes or issue de-bates. Because the ultimate success of grassrootscampaigns depends on volunteers, the follow-up/maintenance phase is important for successivemobilization attempts. Organizations expressappreciation to volunteers and regularly com-municate with them. Communication is a fun-damental, ongoing requirement for any interestgroup; it is not limited to any one phase of acampaign. Finally, if an issue goes to ballot or apublic referendum, a political campaign must beorganized and orchestrated. This often requiresa new and distinct campaign initiative.34

Citizen action groups must make four strate-gic decisions concerning issues and tactics: (1)whether to encourage input from members—inmany large citizen action groups, participation isusually limited to those who have made financialcontributions to the organization; (2) whether toreject compromises and lobby publicly on highlyvisible issues that receive extensive media atten-tion or to work behind the scenes and to bargainwith opposition groups; (3) whether to use directlobbying by the organization’s staff or to rely ongrassroots efforts; and (4) whether to join coali-tions with other groups or to lobby alone.35





Follow-up andMaintenance


Public Referendum

Figure 9.1 Grassroots Lobbying Phases: A Typical Mobilization Campaign

238  Chapter Nine

Woodward-Denton Page 238 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Just how do grassroots campaigns work? Let’s examine a few examples of thistype of advocacy. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) is oneof the largest and most sophisticated associations in the United States, with over600,000 members. The association built a state-of-the-art membership databasethat includes names, addresses, phone and fax numbers, geographic region, legisla-tive districts, number of employees, type of business, issue positions, and politicalbackgrounds. The computer network is connected to fax machines that makeinstant communication possible. The association has 50 state directors andemploys 600 field representatives, whose jobs include membership growth andsome lobbying activities.

NFIB divides the membership list into several categories. There are 400,000members who responded to at least one direct-mail solicitation; this is the A-list.Refining that list to members who responded to more than one direct-mail solicita-tion yields the AA-list, with 200,000 members. The guardian list consists of the40,000 most active members. The key contact list is the most valuable; it contains thenames of the 3,000 members who have close relationships with public officials anddecision makers. While direct mail is the mainstay of their communication efforts,NFIB uses extensive “telelobbying” efforts to connect members to elected officials.They report a response rate among members of 66 percent. Another technique isrolling mail. This involves timing mailings among congressional districts in order tomaximize the flow of member response to legislative officials.

The AARP also uses a variety of methods to mobilize their more than 38 mil-lion members. Founded in 1958, AARP exerts a great deal of influence, especiallyon issues related to health care and social security. The association relies on theirwebsite, a monthly magazine, a monthly newspaper, a quarterly Spanish newspa-per, a national radio network series (Prime Time ), direct mail, a blog, digital news-stand, all types of videos, webinars, and telephone trees to mobilize their mostactive members. In addition, they use paid ads, video teleconferencing, and com-munity meetings to reach members. AARP has staffed offices in every state. Volun-teers are the heart of the organization. All members of the board of directors, allnational officers, state presidents, and thousands of legislative and program leadersare unpaid volunteers. They are involved in advocacy at the national and state lev-els plus innovative community service and education programs such as tax prepa-ration assistance (Tax-Aide), a driver safety program, grief and loss counseling,independent living programs, health care reform, prescription drug benefit pro-grams, and a senior community service employment program (SCSEP). AARP’soperating revenue in 2012 was over $1.3 billion, and their expenditures on legisla-tive advocacy and education totaled over $174 million.36

The National Rifle Association is a very high profile and extremely activegrassroots lobbying organization. The organization has been around since the CivilWar; it was started by Union officers to promote the improvement of marksman-ship among members. Members support the Second Amendment. After violentacts involving weapons, there are frequently attempts to control who purchasesguns. The NRA strongly opposes any legislation placing restrictions on gun owner-ship. Following the assassination of President Kennedy and the passage of the GunControl Act of 1968, the NRA opposed the act on the basis of infringement on Sec-

Public and Mass Persuasion  239

Woodward-Denton Page 239 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

ond-Amendment rights. In the aftermath of 9/11, the NRA supported arming air-line pilots. After the tragedy at Virginia Tech’s mass shooting, the organizationfavored concealed carry on campuses. In 2012 with the Sandy Hook Elementarymassacre, the NRA advocated placing law enforcement officers in all schools.

The NRA has a full-time staff of more than 300 individuals. There are over 4million members, and membership benefits include various types of insurance,training, and discounts on everything from hotels to airline tickets. Membersreceive a free magazine subscription to one of its four publications: American Rifle-man, American Hunter, America’s 1st Freedom, or NRA Insights. The organization iscomprised of more than 10,000 state associations or local clubs.

The NRA spent $2.5 million on lobbying in 2012 and $25 million on elec-tions.37 Its activities include grading candidates on their positions about firearms;publishing ratings in American Rifleman; endorsing candidates; contributing fundsto political candidates; making “in-kind” contributions (such as fund-raising activi-ties on behalf of candidates); and providing funds to produce radio, television, ordirect-mail advertising on behalf of candidates.

There are numerous strategies and tactics in grassroots lobbying. Membermobilization involves organizing supporters to demonstrate a show of strength to apublic official on a certain issue. Mass or volume grassroots programs involve get-ting sympathizers to sign petitions, to mail preprinted postcards or form letters, orto send Mailgrams to public officials. Common activation tactics include Astroturf,action alerts, and grasstops. Astroturf refers to manufacturing instant public supportfor a point of view; this mass grassroots program plays on the emotional reactionsof the public to a specific event or news story. An action alert (whether in the formof a letter, newsletter, Mailgram, phone call, fax, e-mail, or other communicationfrom an interest group to supporters) is designed to activate a response. In order togenerate a response, most direct-mail solicitation stresses conflict and extremismrather than compromise or moderation. Negativism and emotional appeals charac-terize the vast majority of messages. A grasstops action by an interest group involvesthe identification, recruitment, and activation of a small number of opinion leadersand influential citizens to contact public officials through personalized letters,phone calls, or visits.

Specific tactics include telephone patch-throughs, bounce-backs, satellite con-ferencing, and interactive kiosks. A telephone patch-through is when an organiza-tion calls members and, if the reaction is suitable, immediately forwards the calls toan elected official so the members can deliver a personal message or view. Bounce-backs are direct-mail response vehicles signed by members and forwarded to offi-cials to register a specific message or opinion. Satellite conferencing is an electronicmeeting in which group constituents in a targeted legislator’s district can discuss aspecific issue or pending legislation. Interactive kiosks are exhibit booths at conven-tions or related conferences where interested citizens or group members may for-ward phone calls, faxes, or messages to elected officials.38 Web-based techniquesfor grassroots campaigns include: advocacy advertising, toll-free phone lines, bulkfaxing, online notices; instant messaging; dedicated chat rooms; downloadable let-ters and text, mail, and e-mail addresses; solicitation of feedback; and listings ofvarious opportunities for volunteers to help.39 Of course, organizations utilize all

240  Chapter Nine

Woodward-Denton Page 240 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

facets of social media such as blogs, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, texting,Twitter, Wikis, Podcasts, and mobile apps, to name just a few.

Information technology has transformed U.S. culture and politics. One resultis that corporations and trade associations are building public constituencies fortheir issues. The number of national citizen action groups increases each year. Allsuch groups have a particular issue to protect, define, and/or promote. Althoughcitizen action groups have existed since the beginning of our nation’s history, polit-ical action committees (PACs) are a more recent phenomenon.

The first PAC was formed in 1944 by the Congress of Industrial Organizations(CIO) to raise money for the reelection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Thecontributions were legal because they were voluntary donations from union mem-bers themselves rather than from the organization (the Smith Connally Act of 1943prohibited unions from contributing to federal candidates).40 In the beginning,PACs were oriented to business or labor concerns and were created to raise moneyfor political candidates likely to further the interests of the PACs. Super PACs are anew type of political action committee created in 2010 after a federal court decisionin v. Federal Election Commission. These PACs do not spend on behalfof candidates or parties; rather, they make “independent expenditures” advocatingthe election or defeat of specific candidates. Alarming to many observers, there areno spending limits for these Super PACs.41

There are two major types of political action committees: affiliated and inde-pendent. Affiliated PACs include labor unions, corporations, cooperatives, andprofessional organizations. Funds collected through such PACs are designated“separate segregated funds” because the money is deposited in a bank account sep-arate from that of the sponsoring corporation or union. Independent PACs includethose organized to support a particular politician or issue. These are the fastestgrowing PACs.42 In 1974 there were 608 registered PACs; in 2010 there were5,431.43 Beyond serving as an essential source of political campaign funding (PACcontributions to Congressional candidates in 2010 totaled more than 400 mil-lion),44 organizational PACs often run their own issue campaigns.

Over the years, political action committees have changed from representinglarge industry groups to working on behalf of smaller subsets focusing on just afew issues. PACs are now more specialized and ideological, more likely to repre-sent a narrow wing of a national party or special interests on a specific issue. Poli-ticians can form leadership PACs to raise money to help fund other candidates’campaigns; the funds cannot be used directly for the sponsoring candidate’s cam-paign. Leadership PACs often indicate aspirations for leadership positions in Con-gress or for higher office. In 2012, contributions from 456 leadership PACs totaledover $46 million.45

Interest groups, labor unions, corporations, political parties, and even privateindividuals often engage in issue advocacy activities. Contributions for the electionor defeat of specific individuals (“hard money”—whether contributed by individu-als, national/state/local organizations, or PACs) are restricted by law. Contribu-tions for issues (“soft money”) are unlimited. For example, such funds can be usedto pay for commercials that do not explicitly call for the election or defeat of an indi-vidual. Of course, it is rather easy to structure an advertisem*nt that clearly

Public and Mass Persuasion  241

Woodward-Denton Page 241 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

expresses preference without naming individuals. The Bipartisan CampaignReform Act prohibits national political parties from soliciting or spending soft-money. Most 527 PACs (tax-exempt groups organized under section 527 of theInternal Revenue Code that engage in political activities, often through unlimitedsoft money contributions) are advocacy groups trying to influence federal elec-tions through voter mobilization efforts and issue advertisem*nts that praise orcriticize a candidate's record.46 In 2012, over six hundred 527 PACs contributedover $573 million.47

Modern grassroots lobbying is one of the hottest trends in politics today. Inter-est groups expand and quickly become professional organizations; the news mediacan spotlight group activities, and technology makes building volunteer organiza-tions easier, simplifying the creation/maintenance of an electronic database, thesolicitation of financial support, and maintaining contact with supporters. Corpora-tions, such as General Electric, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Northrop Grumman, Exx-onMobil and Verizon Communications, to name a few, use proactive, grassrootsmobilization for controversial issues such as the sale of cigarettes or waste removal.Organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Rifle Association,and AARP are extremely accomplished at mobilizing grassroots support.

Orchestrated grassroots activities alarm many political observers. Some viewgrassroots lobbying as a weapon of powerful corporations and special-interestgroups. Others, however, view such efforts as a means to reinvigorate and educatethe public on issues of great importance to our nation. The orchestration of publicopinion to promote a particular view is nothing new; it falls squarely within ourdemocratic tradition. Grassroots lobbying will undoubtedly increase in intensity inthe future.

Corporate Advocacy/Issue Management. In the early 1970s, corporations weresuffering from a variety of social and economic problems: recession, inflation, oilcrises, decline of public trust, increased public hostility toward large companies, andincreased legislative restrictions and controls. Corporations developed extensivepublic relations staffs to inform the public about company policies. The social andpolitical environment required skillful communication to present the companies in afavorable light.

Today, many corporate communication endeavors advocate specific view-points on issues. Although corporations continue to recognize the value of main-taining public goodwill, they are also willing to engage in open debate about avariety of social issues. They compete to influence public attitudes and/or behav-ior. In exercising their First-Amendment right of freedom of speech, companiesaggressively assert their social, political, and economic agendas. The participationin the formation of public opinion is now an essential element of corporate publicrelations. Such activities are part of a genre of advertising known as corporateadvocacy and issue management. Practitioners must possess the skills necessary fordeveloping and executing strategic communication campaigns and activities.

Advocacy advertising is a form of lobbying to influence public opinion in a direc-tion favorable to the organizations sponsoring the campaigns.48 The goals of advo-cacy advertising are to counteract public hostility to corporate activities, to counter

242  Chapter Nine

Woodward-Denton Page 242 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

the spread of misleading information by critics of the organization, to educate thepublic on complex issues of importance to an organization, to counteract inadequateaccess to and bias in the news media, and to promote the values of free enterprise.

Issue management encompasses more strategic activities than does advocacyadvertising. Issues management is “a proactive and systematic approach to predictproblems, anticipate threats, minimize surprises, resolve issues, and prevent crises.”49

Howard Chase and Barrie Jones identify five steps as part of the issue managementprocess. First, organizations must anticipate and identify potential problematic issues;the media may have talked or written about topics that could impact the organization.In addition, the organization should monitor behaviors of activist groups and thoseless supportive of the industry or organization. Second, the organization should ana-lyze the potential impact of an emerging issue and delineate the ways the issue mayhurt the company in terms of product sales, public image, or goodwill. Third, theorganization should prepare strategy options to address each issue identified, rangingfrom broad responses to the specific media channels available to communicate themessage to the creative material that will best express the response. Fourth, if the issuehas prominence, an action plan must be implemented that addresses key audiencesand publics. The critical final step is to evaluate what worked well, what did not, whatefforts should be ongoing, etc. (including anticipation, interpretation of public opin-ion, directed research, campaign implementation, and evaluation).50

One of the earliest (and now classic) advocacy campaigns was the ExxonMobilop-ed advertising program. Since 1970, ExxonMobil has placed full-page editorialsin newspapers, news magazines, and service-club magazines like Rotarian, Kiwanis,and Elks. They actively seek to interject themselves in the marketplace of ideas overissues of oil discovery, recovery, and the environment. The corporation openlychallenged the belief that commercial enterprises should not comment or take posi-tions on political, social, or fiscal national policy.

When ExxonMobil began the campaign, three major issues faced the oilindustry: oil cutoffs from foreign nations, environmental concerns from the publicover oil drilling and excavation, and low public confidence in the credibility of cor-porations. The first op-ed piece appeared on October 19, 1970, with the headline:“America has the world’s best highways and the world’s worst mass transit. Wehope this ad moves people.” The ad was not self-serving; it addressed the need formore and better mass transit systems to reduce oil consumption.

Today, the company posts all its op-eds on its website by topic: algae biofuels,corporate citizenship and sustainability, energy and the economy, energy outlook,energy security, energy technology, natural gas, reducing emissions, safety, and taxpolicy.51 When ExxonMobil began the advocacy program, it adopted a long-termperspective. Results would not be measurable immediately, but the company wouldcontinue to address important social issues.

Corporations are primarily concerned with how issues and legislation aboutthe environment, public health and safety, and governmental regulations affecttheir business. For example, oil and chemical companies usually address environ-mental issues of conservation and pollution. Tobacco companies address freedomof choice and smokers’ rights. Insurance companies actively support seat belts andair bags for automobiles.

Public and Mass Persuasion  243

Woodward-Denton Page 243 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

There are generally five steps in the issues management process. The first step isidentifying issues of concern that the industry or organization needs to address. Thenext step involves analyzing the issues to understand all the dynamics and potentialimpacts. In the third step, the organization develops an action plan, focusing onpolicy options, message creation, communication strategies, and tactics. Imple-menting the plan comes next. The fifth and final step is performance evaluation.The process is not unlike most campaigns or public communication initiatives.

An aggressive corporate advocacy and issue management perspective allowslarge companies to become active players in the political process, which is a legiti-mate cause for concern. Large corporations have access to media and multimillion-dollar budgets, unlike most citizens and civic groups. How will opposing view-points or legitimate challenges to corporate claims and information be dissemi-nated? Should corporations pay for such ads from after-tax profits, or are thesecampaigns general business expenses and thus tax deductible?

An important part of the process of designing persuasive campaigns involves planningpublic events that may be covered as part of the day’s news. Press conferences, open meetings,rallies, and protests can become powerful forums for the communication of a group’s social orpolitical agenda. Many now routinely employ guidelines developed by political campaigners,who have always needed to reach potential supporters via the free news media. Here is a list ofcommon rules for promoting the coverage of an event by the broadcast and print media:52

• Schedule events early in the day, at times convenient for the media from whom you wantcoverage. If you want to make a noon newscast, plan a 9:30 to 10:00 AM starting time.

• Organize the event around one basic theme. Determine the lead you want the press towrite, then organize the event to achieve it.

• Make sure your primary spokesperson is well briefed with accurate information andknowledge of the questions he or she may be asked.

• Call assignment editors and ask for coverage. In the unsubtle publicity arts, shyness isnot a virtue.

• Make your event as visual as possible. The announcement of a lawsuit against a localpolluter will be more interesting to television if it is made at the site of the pollutionrather than in an organization’s office.

• Prepare packets of information to back up your basic message. Make it as easy as possi-ble for reporters to get the necessary facts.

• Consider the convenience of the reporters from whom you want coverage. Will theyneed telephones, suitable background and lighting for video, a common audio feed forthe public address system, a place to sit, etc.?

• If the goal is television and radio coverage, break up your statement into short, quotablesegments. In a perfect world the average television news story would run longer than 40seconds. Because short stories are the rule, your advocate will probably receive a 15-sec-ond sound bite. Make it count.

• If members of the press fail to attend, send them coverage of the event anyway: pressreleases with relevant quotes to the print media or your own videotape to the televi-sion media.

Figure 9.2 Planning an Event for News Coverage

244  Chapter Nine

Woodward-Denton Page 244 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

 Social MovementsThere have been times in our nation’s history when large groups of citizens

mobilized to express anger, support, or ideas about a wide variety of issues and top-ics. Groups were organized by race, sex, age, and social or political beliefs. Actionsranged from advocacy to violent demonstrations. In the eighteenth century, a socialmovement led to the Revolutionary War and independence. In the nineteenth cen-tury, social movements fought to free slaves, end child labor, improve the workingconditions of factory workers, gain voting rights for women, and prohibit the saleof alcohol. In the twentieth century, many of the earlier movements continued toengage supporters, while new causes such as advocating world peace, abortionrights, protection for the environment, and protection of the rights of the elderly,gays, African Americans, Latinos/as, and Native Americans gained traction. Inthe twenty-first century, many of the same movements continue to seek political,social, and religious justice. There are still concerns over the environment andglobal warming, gay marriage, right to work and limits to unions, personal freedomand government regulation, as well as the national conflicts associated with global-ism. Americans have always joined together to exercise, and sometimes evenstretch, the principles of democracy. Collective social actions are called socialmovements and are a special form or type of persuasive campaign—the primarypurpose of which is to bring about or to resist change. Charles Stewart, CraigSmith, and Robert Denton argue that social movements are unique, with specialcharacteristics that distinguish them from other forms and functions of mass per-suasion, such as political parties, advertising campaigns, lobbying, or other special-interest group campaigns.53

CharacteristicsSocial movements are an organized collectivity.54 Some movements are more

organized than others. During the 1960s, the civil rights movement was well orga-nized, with Martin Luther King recognized as the major leader; the AmericanIndian movement was less visible and much smaller in scope. It should be notedthat there may be many organizations within the same basic movement. For exam-ple, within the pro-life movement there are various religious and secular organiza-tions that seek legislation limiting abortions. Social movements may encompassnumerous campaigns by different organizations to achieve specific goals; overtime, they tend to be organized from the bottom up.

Social movements are uninstitutionalized collectivities because they operate out-side the established social order.55 Access to institutional channels of power, com-munication, and funding are not available. The activities of most labor unions,PACs, and legislative committees are not social movements. Such groups, however,may have been part of an earlier movement. For example, the United Auto Workerswas at one time a movement organization; today it is part of the established order.Thus, social movements are always an “out-group,” populated by ordinary citizens.

Movements must be significantly large in scope.56 Movements must be largeenough in terms of geographic area, time, and participants to accomplish specifiedprograms and tasks. The larger the movement, the greater the visibility and funding

Public and Mass Persuasion  245

Woodward-Denton Page 245 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

possibilities. As noted, movements grow from the ground up rather than from thetop down. It may take decades and numerous leaders for movements to becomerecognized as a political and social force.

Movements propose or oppose programs for change in societal norms, values, orboth.57 The rhetoric of movements prescribes what must be done, who must do it,and how it must be done. Innovative social movements, for example, hope toreplace existing norms or values with new ones. Examples of innovative move-ments include women’s rights, civil rights, or gay liberation movements. Revivalis-tic movements work to return to the norms or values of an idealized past; theNative American, pro-life, and environmental movements are revivalistic. Finally,resistance movements work to prevent changes in existing norms or values. Often,such movements favor the status quo and arise in opposition to newly formedmovements. Examples of resistance movements include anti-civil rights, Aryansuperiority, and pro-choice movements.

Movements encounter opposition in a moral struggle.58 Movement membersbelieve they possess moral authority and legitimacy of purpose. They view theiractions as a moral imperative—a mission to correct social injustice or evil. Chal-lenges to social norms and the status quo generate opposition from various organi-zations or established institutions such as universities, churches, businesses,regulatory bodies, and so on. The opposition believes equally fervently that theirgoals to preserve the status quo are principled and righteous.

Finally, persuasion is pervasive in social movements.59 Through verbal and non-verbal symbols, social movements work to change audience perceptions and behav-ior. Although violence is sometimes associated with social movements, it is

On August 28,2011 (the forty-eighth anniver-

sary of theMarch on Wash-

ington for Jobsand Freedom),

the solid-granitememorial was

dedicated toMartin Luther

King, Jr.

246  Chapter Nine

Woodward-Denton Page 246 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

incidental and used primarily for symbolic purposes. Persuasion is the primarymeans for satisfying the major functions and requirements of social movements.

Persuasive FunctionsSocial movements must fulfill a number of roles if they hope to contribute sig-

nificantly to change. Stewart, Smith, and Denton identify six basic persuasive func-tions: transform perceptions of reality, alter self-perceptions of protestors,legitimize the social movement, prescribe and sell courses of action, mobilize foraction, and sustain the social movement.60 Transforming perceptions of realityincludes altering perceptions of the past, present, and future. Movements mustchallenge accepted ways of viewing historical events and people in order to empha-size the severity of a problem and the need for drastic action. For example, thewomen’s movement had to confront and to change the established view that awoman’s place was in the home caring for children while a husband established acareer and provided for the family.

There are several ways movements alter perceptions of the present. For exam-ple, renaming or redefining an event or object provides an opportunity for people toview the circ*mstance differently. Within the pro-life movement, language refer-ring to the fetus as a baby and abortion as murder has a strong impact on listeners.Movements use god terms and devil terms to create clear images of good and badbehavior or thought. For most Americans god terms include democracy, freedom,liberty, equality, and justice (to name only a few); in contrast, communism, slavery,and prejudice are devil terms. Another common way to alter perceptions of thepresent is to provide information that counters or demonstrates inconsistencieswith the information provided by the established order. Like political candidates,social movement leaders must provide a utopian vision of a future full of hope andoptimism. To accomplish this, the rhetoric includes bleak images of what the futurewill be if the goals of the movement are not met.

An ongoing task is to enhance perceptions of the movement and its members.This is often accomplished by contrasting selfless movement members altruisticallyworking for the common good with opponents who have selfish motives with noredeeming value. Opponents are grand conspirators who have secretly committed acrime against the people. The movement is at war with the opposition.

Social movements must transform self-perceptions of members so that theybelieve in the righteousness of the cause and in their power to accomplish the goalsof the movement. For example, the women’s liberation movement conducted con-sciousness-raising groups to enhance self-concept, dignity, and worth. Through thistransformation, women could recognize their potential and gain strength to com-pete in a “man’s world.” In the 1960s, blacks chose the word black to replace theword Negro, which had been selected by whites. Black power became the symbolfor independence, power, and dignity.

One of the most difficult tasks for a movement leader is to maintain the legiti-macy of the movement and to confer that legitimacy on movement members. Commonground strategies involve creating a sense of identification by emphasizing similarities,shared experiences, and a common cause with targeted audiences. Conflict strategiesemphasize dissimilarities and conflict with those who oppose the movement’s goals.

Public and Mass Persuasion  247

Woodward-Denton Page 247 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

After developing a program of change with specific demands, actions, andsolutions to problems, social movements must then sell, defend, and justify the pre-scribed course of action. Movements also specify who is most qualified to effectneeded changes. They provide rationales for why their organization, leaders, andmembers provide the best means of creating the desired change. Finally, move-ments must articulate how the changes should be instituted. This may be one of themore critical persuasive tasks. Movement members differ in terms of intensity offeeling, identification with the cause, and patience. The more radical factions mayprefer ultimatums, confrontation, or terrorism to bring about the desired change.Others may prefer nonviolent resistance tactics such as sit-ins, boycotts, or strikes.Others may simply wish to petition the establishment for a fair hearing, preferringto work within the legislative structure to bring about the desired change.

Leaders must be sufficiently persuasive to inspire people to join and participatein the movement. They must continually disseminate the movement’s message inorder to attract new members, maintain current supporters, and mobilize membersto work for the movement’s goals. Leaders must unify, organize, and energize adiverse membership.

Sustaining a movement is a major persuasive task. It is easier to start a move-ment than to sustain one. Leaders must justify setbacks and remain optimisticabout accomplishing movement goals. For the movement to be successful, it mustremain visible and viable. As a movement ages, these tasks become more difficult.Movements use special ceremonies, annual conventions, and anniversary celebra-tions to keep the movement visible.

Life CycleAlthough it is nearly impossible to divide movements into separate phases,

there are recognizable patterns of development. Stewart, Smith, and Denton iden-tify five stages of social movements: genesis, social unrest, enthusiastic mobiliza-tion, maintenance, and termination.61 As a movement matures, the persuasiverequirements evolve and change.

The genesis stage consists primarily of intellectuals or prophets articulatingsome imperfection in society through essays, editorials, songs, poems, pamphlets,lectures, or books. They identify a problem and visualize a bleak future if the prob-lem is not solved. Bob Dylan and others addressed the dangers inherent in the Viet-nam War in folk songs nearly a year before the Gulf of Tonkin incident thatescalated U.S. involvement. Betty Friedan’s book entitled The Feminine Mystique ini-tiated the women’s movement by describing the status quo and the need for change.Such works provide a source for public discussion about key issues. Sometimes aspecial event will trigger attention to an issue or cause. The Roe v. Wade decision in1973 by the Supreme Court legalized abortion in all fifty states and provided theimpetus for the pro-life movement.

In the social unrest stage, prophets and intellectuals become agitators, and thegoals of the movement begin to coalesce. Concerned citizens alerted to the prob-lems become active members. The movement produces its own literature, oftenincluding a manifesto or declaration presented at a convention or conference. Theideology clearly identifies the “devils” responsible for the problem and the “gods”

248  Chapter Nine

Woodward-Denton Page 248 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

who will forge solutions. In attempting to transform perceptions of society, we/theydistinctions are extremely important. Most rhetorical energies during this stageinvolve petitioning the groups perceived to be responsible for the status quo.

The enthusiastic mobilization stage of a social movement is exciting. The char-ismatic leader emerges and captures a great deal of attention for the movement andits issues. Membership expands to include sympathizers from both the general pub-lic and the establishment. All available channels and means of communication areutilized to advance the cause. The movement now confronts serious opposition,and the strategies must extend beyond legislative petition and discursive measures.Mass rallies and demonstrations are used to disseminate the movement’s message,to draw attention to itself, and to pressure the opposition. The persuasive goal ofthe movement during this phase is to raise the consciousness level of the public andto force the establishment to comply with movement demands.

It is difficult to maintain the energy and enthusiasm of the earlier stages. Asdefeats mount and goals are not immediately realized, members become impatient,and the public becomes bored. In the maintenance stage, persuasive tactics focuson legislative measures, membership retention, and fund raising. The leadershipchanges from agitators to statesmen. The primary channels of communication arenewsletters, journals, and the occasional television talk show. Sweeping demandsare compromised, and the rhetoric is moderated.

In the termination stage, the social movement ceases to exist. The movementmay have accomplished its goal (as did the antislavery movement of 1865 with thepassage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution) or it may be trans-formed into part of the establishment (as was the Nazi movement in Germany).Some movements die while others become pressure groups, such as the AmericanIndian movement or the consumer rights movement. Some organizations that wereonce part of a movement may become institutionalized and part of the politicalestablishment (AARP, for example). Few social movements are totally successful intheir efforts. Some members become disaffected and drop out or join a splintergroup, while others simply become part of “the system.”

Each stage requires specific persuasive skills, personalities, and tactics. In opensocieties, social movements are often the primary initiators of social change. Thus,although all social movements end, they do impact society in a variety of ways,such as new laws, social awareness, or new social groups, to name only a few.

LeadershipSocial movement leaders are frequently from higher strata groups—teachers,

students, professionals, clergy, and so on.62 Perhaps the most important function ofsocial movement leaders is becoming the symbol of their movement. They are iden-tified with its mission and cause and are responsible for the members’ actions.While they are decision makers, they lack the powers of reward and punishmentusually associated with more traditional views of leadership. Movement leadersmust cope with a variety of tasks, pressures, and audiences; they must be capable ofhandling diverse and often conflicting roles on a daily basis. Leaders must be ableto communicate with the media and establishment members, while maintainingthe trust of the “true believers” of the movement.

Public and Mass Persuasion  249

Woodward-Denton Page 249 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Movement leaders obtain their positions by being perceived as charismatic,prophetic, or pragmatic. Charisma refers to a public presence that inspires confi-dence and attracts followers. Prophecy relates to the leader’s ability to articulatemovement principles, values, and beliefs. Of course, a leader must ultimately getsomething done. A mere ideologue will not be sufficiently pragmatic to be able tosustain a leadership role. Movement leadership is a difficult and challenging task.Without question, most movement leaders are admired by some and hated by oth-ers. They must be able to handle diverse and conflicting roles, change as the move-ment changes, adapt to events, and lead without getting too far ahead or too farbehind their movements.

Resistance to Social MovementsBecause establishments have a strong commitment to the status quo, it is not

surprising—in fact, it should be expected—that they will respond to disruptionsand challenges.63 In a democratic society, just how strong should the response be?While the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, there are certainly limitsof expression. When does a shout become disruptive? When does a gesture becomeobscene? In essence, how does the establishment balance its legal obligations andthe rights of society against the rights of individuals, minorities, and/or unpopularideas or opinions?

The established order employs several strategies to confront and resist socialmovements. Evasion is usually the first strategy; the movement is largely ignored.Establishment figures refuse to acknowledge or meet with movement leaders. Ofcourse, movements and leaders try to gain media attention. However, they seldomdo so unless there are massive demonstrations or violence.

The strategy of counterpersuasion occurs when the establishment can no longerignore the movement. In this case, institutions actively challenge the goals, assump-tions, and leaders of the movement. Leaders are discredited; goals are character-ized as dangerous. Opponents may claim that the movement threatens democracyand promotes anarchy. Movement leaders are portrayed as extremists or fanatics—rhetoric that often generates fear among the “silent majority.” From a bureaucraticperspective, government agencies can postpone action on movement requests ordeny permits for meetings or parades.

A more aggressive approach is the strategy of coercive persuasion that involvestactics ranging from general harassment to labeling movement leaders as criminalto prosecution of movement leaders and members. Coercion attempts can include,for example, police arrests, creation of secret files, tax audits, military reclassifica-tions, or challenges to government funding or loans. Such tactics send a powerfulmessage to movement leaders and followers, creating fear and hesitation amongmovement members.

The strategy of adjustment gives the appearance of working with the move-ment, providing some concessions without accepting movement demands orgoals. Symbolic gestures may include appointing special committees or commis-sions to study proposals, firing or replacing midlevel personnel who were targets ofattacks, or incorporating movement leaders and sympathizers within the institu-tional structure.

250  Chapter Nine

Woodward-Denton Page 250 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

The strategy of capitulation is the total acceptance of a movement’s goals,beliefs, and ideology. This rarely occurs. The established order controls communi-cation channels and has too many resources at its disposal. However, over a periodof time, many movement goals and objectives find their way into mainstreamAmerican life.

 Campaign ImplementationThe key to the execution of any successful campaign is systematic planning.

The basic steps in developing a campaign are the same regardless of its size, scope,or focus. Figure 9.3 identifies six basic considerations that would be appropriate fornearly all types of campaigns.64

The primary purpose of the situation analysis step of planning a campaign is togather needed information that will become the basis for designing the persuasivemessage, strategies to make the message public, and execution of the desiredaction. A careful situation analysis provides an assessment of potential audiencesand the social environment plus the strengths and weaknesses of the issue.Research is vital for this phase of campaign planning. Secondary research involvesfinding relevant information that has already been collected by others; it provides ageneral orientation. The major source of secondary research is Internet (exercisingcaution about checking the legitimacy of sources) or the local library. Primaryresearch is original research conducted to gather specific information. For example,although secondary research could reveal a national trend toward more healthyfood and drink, a specific survey may be needed to isolate probable successfulappeals and which categories of food items to target. Three descriptive variables ofthe audience are important. Demographic characteristics are derived from statisti-cal studies of the population. Such characteristics include age, sex, income, educa-tion, family size, and occupation. Geographic characteristics focus on differencesamong urban, suburban, and rural areas of the country as well as regional differ-ences. Finally, psychographic analysis attempts to describe lifestyle issues, activi-ties, interests, and opinions of the targeted audience.

Stage Components

1. Situation analysis target audience; issue/idea; competition or opponent

2. Objectives missions; goals; outcomes

3. Strategies messages; media; presentation activities

4. Budget labor; material; media; talent; production

5. Implementation timing; follow-up

6. Evaluation what people say; what people think; what people do

Figure 9.3 Campaign Implementation Overview

Public and Mass Persuasion  251

Woodward-Denton Page 251 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

The next step is to determine objectives—what the campaign seeks to accom-plish. Objectives should be clear, specific, and measurable statements of desiredoutcomes of the campaign. Clear objectives help reduce uncertainty and providestandards for evaluation. Some objectives describe the behavior the campaignhopes to stimulate in audiences. For example, the targeted audience of the cam-paign may be asked to call a number, return a reply card, seek more information,contribute to a cause, vote for a specific candidate, or attend an event. Sometimesthe objectives focus on communication effects such as general awareness, messagerecall, or conviction about the issue. Objectives may range from general outcomesdesired by a campaign to more specific activities to be completed by workers tovery specific, measurable, or observable results.

Objectives target what needs to be done; strategies explain how to do it. Strategicareas of concern include message construction, media selection, tactics, publicity,and promotions. The goal is to construct a message or series of messages that willinfluence a target audience to think, act, or behave in the desired way. The key tomost successful strategies is to isolate the appeals, promises, solutions, or benefitsthat will have the greatest impact on the target audience. One of the best knowntechniques for structuring effective, persuasive communication is the AIDA formula:an acronym for attention, interest, desire, and action. Good research provides theclues to message creation and tactic selection. (Message construction strategies arediscussed in detail in chapters 4, 6, and 13.)

Budget impacts all other elements of campaign design and development.Today, with the cost of media, labor, and material, the campaign budget becomes avital consideration in the formation of a campaign. It is often useful to generateseveral possible budgets for a campaign—from an optimal budget that satisfiesevery possible need to a more modest budget that will accomplish fewer, but stillimportant, objectives. The creation of multiple budgets increases flexibility in cam-paign execution.

Timing is critical for the next step: implementation of the plan of action. Fol-low-up activities reinforce initial impressions and provide the foundation for thefinal step.

A systematic evaluation of the campaign reveals what worked and what did notwork. Criteria for evaluation are planned ahead of time; they should be used fromthe start of the campaign all the way through to the conclusion. There are manycomponents to measure other than win-lose. Elements of awareness (knowledge,recall, or recognition), attitude (perceptions, feelings, or preferences), and behavior(vote or support) are examples of areas to assess and evaluate. Thus, the evaluationof a campaign involves more than just the visible outcomes, especially if onewishes to maximize effectiveness in future efforts. Many of the same research tech-niques used in analyzing the original situation can be used in evaluating the per-suasive campaign.

 SummaryPublic persuasion differs from interpersonal persuasion in size and scope. The

larger the audience, the more elements of persuasion needed to alter beliefs, atti-

252  Chapter Nine

Woodward-Denton Page 252 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

tudes, and values. Mass persuasion requires numerous messages, numerousappeals, and numerous communication channels. Persuasive campaigns are ahighly organized series of messages designed to meet all of these criteria. The mes-sages must appeal to large numbers of people.

The systematic execution of a campaign includes analyzing the situation,developing objectives, planning strategies, preparing budgets, implementing thecampaign, and evaluating its success. These processes are true for all types of cam-paigns: product advertising, political, and issue, which includes grassroots and cor-porate advocacy/issue management.

Although a form of public persuasion, social movements are unique collectivephenomena that are more complex than the other types of campaigns. Persuasion isthe essence of social movements. It is the key ingredient needed to transform con-ceptions of history, alter current perceptions, prescribe courses of action, mobilizefor action, and sustain the movement. Across the various stages of a movement—genesis, social unrest, enthusiastic mobilization, maintenance, and termination—persuasion requirements evolve and change.

Social movements have played an important role in our society. They havestimulated argument and debate about human rights, war, and peace. They haveprovided the catalyst for social change and legislative action. Public persuasion is avital part of a democratic society. It influences what we want, what we buy, whatwe think, and how we interact with others.

 QUESTIONS AND PROJECTS FOR FURTHER STUDY1. Select a product and find ads for it in 8 to 10 different magazines. How are the

ads similar? How do they differ?

2. Select examples of the following types of campaigns: commercial advertising,political, governmental, corporate advocacy, and issue management. How arethey similar? How do they differ?

3. Formulate a hypothetical product and develop a campaign according to thesteps presented in the chapter.

4. Construct a national public relations campaign on the issue of alcohol abuseusing awareness, information, education, reinforcement, and behavior modifica-tion approaches. How are they similar? How do they differ?

5. According to the criteria presented in the chapter, which of the following is asocial movement? Why?

survivalists Nazi

consumer rights Gray Panthers

ecology tax reform

American Indian Greenpeace

6. Select a social movement and demonstrate how the movement fulfills the per-suasive functions identified in the chapter.

Public and Mass Persuasion  253

Woodward-Denton Page 253 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

 ADDITIONAL READINGRobert E. Denton, Jr. and Jim Kuypers, Politics and Communication in America: Campaigns,

Media, and Governing in the 21st Century (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2008).Paul Herrnson, Christopher Deering and Clyde Wilcox, Interest Groups Unleashed (Los Ange-

les, CA: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2013).Robert Shapiro and Lawrence Jacobs, The Oxford Handbook of Public Opinion and the Media

(Oxford, England: University of Oxford Press, 2011).Charles Stewart, Craig Smith, and Robert E. Denton, Jr., Persuasion and Social Movements,

6th ed. (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2012).Judith Trent, Robert Friedenberg and Robert E. Denton Jr., Political Campaign Communica-

tion, 7th ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011).Dennis Wilcox and Glen Cameron, Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics, 10th ed. (Boston:

Pearson, 2012).

Woodward-Denton Page 254 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Woodward-Denton Page 255 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM


Advertising as Persuasion


 Advertising TodayExpendituresCelebrity Endorsem*ntsCross Selling

 What Is Advertising?Consumer Decision MakingInvolvementCreating DemandReach, Frequency, and Integrated

MarketingSubliminal Advertising

 The Evolution of Advertising from a Communication Perspective

Cultural FramesIdentification with a ProductUsing Music to Structure the


 The Role of Psychology in AdvertisingNeuromarketingPsychographicsBranding

 How Advertising Works

 Advertising as Myth

 Common Advertising AppealsEmotional Appeals


Transformative AppealsPowerMeaningSelf-Esteem

Rational-Functional AppealsNormsReminder Ads

 How to Critique Ads

 Criticisms of AdvertisingDeceptionLanguageChildrenConsumerismSocial EffectsFreedom of SpeechPrivacyPrivate versus Public Interests

 What Can I Do?



256  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 256 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

The historians and archeologists will one day discover that the adsof our times are the richest and most faithful daily reflection that anysociety ever made of its entire range of activities.1

—Marshall McLuhan

Advertising is undoubtedly the most pervasive form of persuasion in our society. Inthe 1970s, people were exposed to about 500 advertisem*nts per day; some estimatessuggest that we now see or hear 5,000 commercials daily.2 An hour of prime-time net-work programming contains almost 17 minutes of advertising, with cable and day-time programs exceeding 20 minutes per hour. One-third of daytime television istaken up by commercials.3 Sixty percent of newspapers is advertising. The Sundayedition of The New York Times contains about 350 pages of ads.4 By the time Ameri-cans reach the age of 65, they will have been exposed to nearly 140 million advertise-ments across all media and will have watched 2 million television commercials.5

 Advertising TodayAdvertising expands continually into our daily lives. Monthly bills are stuffed

with direct-mail ad pieces; clothing items have become billboards for products likeCoca-Cola; professional golfers wear hats and shirts paid for by sponsors; ads popup on virtually all web pages. Ads precede feature presentations at the movies andon DVD purchases, rentals, and downloads. Products are strategically and promi-nently placed throughout films. Ads are on the sides of buildings, taxis, and in therestrooms of restaurants. Ads are even in the schools. Channel one provides freeequipment to schools for educational satellite programming. Embedded within a12-minute newscast are 2 minutes of advertising.6

ExpendituresAdvertising expenditures hover around $500 billion a year and are expected to

exceed $600 billion by 2015.7 U.S. Internet advertising was $8.1 billion in 2000; adecade later, it was more than $32 million; three years later it surpassed $42 billion.Consumers spend about 26 percent of their time online, which explains the explo-sive growth of Internet advertising.8 Google search scores over 6 billion impres-sions a day for its ads.9 Millions go to YouTube to watch ads on a daily basis. InFebruary 2013, the top five ads watched were: PlayStation 4 (26.3 million views),Samsung Mobile USA (21.4 million views), Official Ram Trucks (14 millionviews), Jeep “Whole Again” (7.5 million views) and Harlem Shake (5.5 millionviews).10 Beginning in 2012, more was spent on online advertising than on printmagazines and newspapers combined.11

Next on the horizon is mobile advertising, which will not consist of typicalbanners and boxes. Video ads are more effective on smartphones. Geo-location ad

Advertising as Persuasion  257

Woodward-Denton Page 257 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

targeting is in the experimental stage. As one approaches various stores or restau-rants, coupons and various deals will be “pushed” to mobile devices. By using sta-tistics and user data, ads can be delivered to targeted mobile users as never before.The use of tablets is growing and offers another opportunity to communicate withconsumers. In 2013 consumers were spending about 10 percent of their time onmobile devices. As that percentage increases, so will strategies and tactics for get-ting advertising messages to those consumers.12

Many commercials are produced and directed by some of the biggest names(e.g., Martin Scorcese and David Lynch) in the entertainment industry; they rivalnetwork shows in sophistication, creativity, and expenditures. David Lynch in2010, for example, directed a series of four commercials for Christian Dior. Onecommercial was shot in Shanghai and featured all the “trademark Lynchian (heavyon the Twin Peaks) touches: a blue rose, red curtains, eerie score, and all the strangedreaminess that goes along with it.”13 As consumers, we pay dearly for those com-mercials. The cost of advertising is added to the price of the product. Commercialscan cost more on a per-minute basis than most major Hollywood feature films. Theaverage cost to produce a national spot is $350,000.14

Celebrity Endorsem*ntsCelebrity endorsem*nts of products have been a mainstay of advertising for

years, but the opportunities across multiple mediums have expanded substantially.There are several advantages to using celebrities to promote products. Celebritiescan build brand awareness, attract new users or customers, and even revive life intoa failing brand.15 Many Hollywood stars are featured in foreign ads. In Japan, BradPitt promotes Softbank, George Clooney endorses Honda, and Gwyneth Paltrow

Ad Spending (by total $ spent)(dollars in millions)

Advertiser Headquarters 2012 2011

Procter & Gamble Co. Cincinnati $4,829.7 $4,903.2General Motors Co. Detroit 3,067.4 2,815.7Comcast Corp. Philadelphia 2,989.1 2,763.4AT&T Dallas 2,910.0 3,135.0Verizon Communications New York 2,381.0 2,523.0Ford Motor Co. Dearborn, Mich. 2,276.9 2,141.3L'Oreal Clichy, France 2,239.7 2,124.6JPMorgan Chase & Co. New York 2,086.9 2,351.8American Express Co. New York 2,070.9 2,125.3Toyota Motor Corp. Toyota City, Japan 2,008.1 1,749.4

Source: Bradley Johnson, “Big U.S. Advertisers Boost 2012 Spending.” AdAge, June 23, 2013.

Figure 10.1 Top 10 Leading National Advertisers

258  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 258 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

appears in Coach ads.16 Until recently, celebrities could earn substantial sums with-out damaging their U.S. images by appearing materialistic. However, the Internetextends viewership beyond geographical boundaries.17 Celebrities can influencepurchases of items by their fans. Beyoncé inked a deal with Pepsi worth $50 mil-lion. The soccer star David Beckham earned nearly $60,000 per day in 2011 as the“face” of Armani, Adidas, Samsung, and Diet co*ke. His lifetime contract withAdidas is worth $160 million.18

For many celebrities, Twitter has become little more than a glorified ad page.Rapper Snoop Dogg praises the Toyota Sienna minivan; actress Tori Spelling islinked to a website for rental cars; and Khloe Kardashian Odom endorses OldNavy brand of jeans by tweeting “Want to know how Old Navy makes your buttlook scary good?”19 Some celebrities get as much as $10,000 per tweet: Kim Kar-dashian $10,000, Charlie Sheen $9,500 and Snooki (Jersey Shore) $7,800.20

Cross SellingIn 1937, Disney was the first studio to merchandize films by selling toys and

items linked with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The proliferation of cross-sellinghas grown exponentially since then and includes license merchandizing, productplacement, and cross-promotion with fast-food restaurants. Consider the placementof products in movies. In 1982 sales of Reese’s Pieces increased 300 percent when E.T.ate the candy. When Tom Cruise wore Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses in Top Gun, salesincreased by 40 percent.21 The sales of Red Stripe, a Jamaican beer, increased morethan 50 percent in the U.S. market in the first month after the release of The Firm.

Cars have been an important part of movies for years. From 2001 to 2012, forexample, Ford appeared in 159 films, Mercedes in 93, Chevrolet in 92, and Cadil-lac in 65.22 In 2012 alone, Mercedes appeared in 10 major films; Ford and BMW in6; Chevrolet, Porsche, and Ferrari in 5; and Jeep, Volkswagen, Toyota, RangeRover, and Rolls Royce in 3.23 In the same year, top films had dozens of featuredbrands. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 featured Apple, Belstaff, Jansport,Mercedes, Rainier, Steinway & Sons, and Volvo. The James Bond film Skyfallshowcased AgustaWestland, Anderson Wheeler, Aston Martin, Audi, Aurora,BBC, Belstaff, Beretta, Caterpillar, Citibank, CNN, Coca-Cola Zero, CourvoisierVSOP, Heineken, Jaguar, Land Rover, Macallan, Mercedes, Omega, Range Rover,Royal Doulton, Scrabble, Sony, Sony VAIO, Sony Xperia, Swarovski, VolkswagenBeetle, and Walther.24 The 2013 box office hit, Man of Steel, breaks the currentrecord of product placement with over 100 featured items, earning more than $170million before the film ever opened in theatres.25

Product placement is common on television programming as well. For manyyears soap operas advertised products in their programs. In 2011, the prime-timeshow with the most product placement was American Idol with 577 product place-ments, followed by The Biggest Loser with 533 product placements, and then Celeb-rity Apprentice with 391 product placements.26 For the same year, Apple productsappeared in 891 television shows.27 “Digital” or “virtual” product placementallows advertisers to switch products featured in programs. Computer technologyallows advertisers to add products that did not appear in the original version, creat-ing the potential for new advertising revenue when series are sold into syndication.

Advertising as Persuasion  259

Woodward-Denton Page 259 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Increasingly there is product placement in books, video games, and evenmusic. Bulgari commissioned noted British author Fay Weldon to write a novelfeaturing Bulgari products. Companies generate children’s books featuring theirproducts (for example, Skittles Riddles Math by Barbara McGrath and Roger Glassor The M&M’s Brand Counting Book by Barbara McGrath). Play the video gameCrazy Taxi and you will be taken to Pizza Hut or Kentucky Fried Chicken; theSurf Riders game has G-Shock watches and banners for Ms. Zog’s Sex Wax (a surf-board wax). Artists such as Dirty Vegas and Phil Collins clue consumers to theirproduct choices by placing “as seen in TV commercial” stickers on their albums.Run-DMC recorded “My Adidas” on their platinum album Raising Hell; they singabout the shoes, wear them during public appearances, and feature them promi-nently in videos.28

Commercials are such a feature of daily life that many advertising symbols andslogans become part of our culture. Advertisers focus attention on certain aspectsof culture and ignore others. Advertising creates role models, heroes, and heroines.We can easily identify our favorite commercial characters, slogans, and songs. Insome way, we are all experts on advertising. We know what we like, what is ingood taste, what is clearly “in” or “out” of style. Ironically, we do not believe adver-tising influences our buying decisions.29 In a telephone survey, only 14 percent ofthe respondents said they were influenced by advertising. Interestingly, however,respondents believed that women, young people, and people in low-income groupswere more affected by advertising than other groups. Individuals from those groupsdisagreed. As a society we tolerate, remember, and enjoy advertising messages—but are quick to dismiss their value or impact.

Jean Kilbourne argues that “magazines, newspapers, and radio and televisionprograms round us up, rather like cattle, and producers and publishers then sell usto advertisers.”30 The various types of media become devices to deliver audiencesthat meet the specific criteria advertisers consider important for the purchase, sup-port, and acceptance of their products or services. Narrowcasting is the term usedfor reaching very specific markets. The explosion of cable channels has resulted ina number of programs designed for very particular interests. For example, businessexecutives are likely to watch CNBC, while teenagers and young adults tune in toMTV. In addition, cable subscribers are younger, more affluent, and better edu-cated with greater purchasing power. The specialized programming on cable thatreaches specific markets appeals to advertisers.31

Juliann Sivulka observes, “No single institution has played a greater role inboth reflecting and shaping American life.... Advertising both mirrors a societyand creates a society.”32 In this chapter, we investigate the persuasive dimensions ofadvertising. By identifying the tactics and techniques of persuasion, we can becomebetter critics of advertising and more knowledgeable consumers.

 What Is Advertising?James Twitchell offers several characteristics of advertising.33 It is ubiquitous.

As described above, advertising is everywhere—from what we wear to what we seeor hear to our digital forays. Advertising is symbiotic. It plays on our cultural icons,

260  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 260 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

heroes, and events (both good and bad). Michael Jordan/Air Jordan shoes, TigerWoods/Nike, or Britney Spears/Pepsi are very strong associations. (The risk ofcelebrity endorsem*nts is that if a celebrity engages in behaviors of which societydoes not approve, the disapproval may extend to the product.) Advertising is pro-fane. To break through the glut of images vying for our attention, the goal often is toshock, especially in print ads. Advertisers rely on the irreverent or vulgar to bememorable. Finally, contemporary advertising is magical. Products “do” amazingthings, from promises of love and success to looking younger.

There are several ways to discuss the essential nature and characteristics ofadvertising. In the traditional sense, advertising is a function or tool of marketing.Most definitions from this perspective emphasize four major characteristics.

1. Advertising is a paid form of communication. The message is shared as a resultof financial payment (except in the cases where prominent logos work as aform of unpaid advertising when the consumer wears the item purchased).

2. Advertising is a nonpersonal, presentational form of communication. Advertis-ing is distinct from face-to-face sales presentations.

3. Advertising messages are concerned with the presentation of ideas, products,and services. All too often, we associate advertising only with products.Increasingly, advertising addresses political, social, and philosophical ideas.Because of the drastic increase in service occupations and employment,much advertising espouses the virtues of the various service industries.

4. Sponsors of advertising messages are identified. Sponsorship identificationcontributes to message accountability and financial responsibility.

We can also look at advertising in terms of information. In the early 1900s,N. W. Ayer, who later founded the first advertising agency in the United States,defined advertising as “keeping your name before the public.”34 Later, the aware-ness function was combined with information. Most commercial messages con-tain a great deal of information about product purpose, usage, price, oravailability, but they also do more than inform. The messages are highly con-trolled. Great care is given to message content, direction, and length. Persuasionis now an essential element of advertising. Advertising does not pretend to pres-ent both sides of a decision, nor is it required to do so. By design, advertising isperhaps the strongest form of advocacy.

A communication definition of advertising recognizes the importance of themass media in carrying the messages. The various media impact the style, content,and presentation of any message. Advertising uses strong narratives, influential lan-guage, nonverbal expressions, sophisticated lighting, sound effects, and editing toproject its messages.

Still another way to gain insight into the nature of advertising is to reviewmethods of classifying advertising. One classification scheme is by audience. Someads are aimed at large, general audiences while others are aimed at small, perhapsregional audiences. Some are designed for audiences with specific demographiccharacteristics (age, sex, income, or occupational status), while other ads appeal tospecific lifestyles or psychographic variables based on audience beliefs, attitudes, or

Advertising as Persuasion  261

Woodward-Denton Page 261 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

values. Advertising is also classified according to the types of advertisers: national(general) or local (retail), business (industrial, trade, professional) or noncommer-cial (government, civic groups, religious groups), product (service, goods) or corpo-rate (image, ideas), primary (create a demand for a generic product for an entireindustry) or selective (create demand for a specific brand of product).

From a pragmatic perspective, one can focus on what advertising does. Advertis-ing does many things other than just sell products. All advertising must communi-cate effectively and efficiently with the target audience—whether electing candidates,promoting causes, or advocating a service. Many ads are designed to enhance theimage of a company, to solicit investment, or to recruit employees.35 Advertising canboost sales of a specific brand, describe specific product/brand values, defend abrand’s market share, slow down market-share losses, build market penetration(bring new users), increase frequency of product purchase, stimulate trial usage, orreinforce existing brand loyalty. Advertising can try to persuade consumers byemphasizing attributes, attempting to change the relative importance to a consumerof an attribute, or trying to change beliefs about competing brands/products.36

Finally, social scientists tend to investigate advertising from a theoretical andsocial perspective. From this orientation, advertising is viewed as the most influen-tial institution of socialization in modern society. Sut Jhally, for example, arguesthat advertising plays an important role in the mediation of the relationshipbetween people and objects (see next section).37 Most of this chapter is concernedwith the social implications of advertising.

To define advertising, therefore, is not a simple task. It is a vital force in oureconomy as well as a powerful means of communication. It influences who we are,how we live, and how we judge others. For our purposes, we define advertising ascommunication by a specific group or industry utilizing mass media for purposes of selling aproduct, service, candidate, or idea. This definition has several advantages. First, it rec-ognizes that the most effective form of persuasion is that which is created with aspecific audience in mind. An effective commercial is one that speaks to a specificgroup—to its wants, desires, and problems. It is one that gains attention, addressesneeds, and solves problems. The definition also recognizes the importance ofmedia adaptation. Today’s technology is more than just a conduit for the transmis-sion of symbols. Its role is as important to the reception and understanding of themessage as is packaging in influencing our decision to select a product.

Although advertising is mediated, a well-crafted message functions much likeinterpersonal communication. Advertising is targeted communication; successfulappeals are tailored to the receiver demographically and psychographically. On apower/impact dimension, cognitive response resembles interpersonal exchange.Attention, retention, and response are essential in both advertising and in interper-sonal communication. Indeed, successful advertising sometimes results in the audi-ence responding to advertising characters as real people.

Advertising, as with most persuasion, is both a science and an art. As a sci-ence, advertising must observe, measure, and analyze individuals, groups, andinstitutional behavior. It must establish cause-and-effect relationships and provide arationale and evidence for conclusions reached. Advertising is also an art; itembraces intuitive judgment, encourages creative application of symbols (both ver-

262  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 262 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

bal and nonverbal), and harnesses subjectivity to connect with the audience itwants to persuade.

While informing us about products, advertising also informs us about our-selves, society, social values, and behavior. We learn from the roles and models pre-sented in ads. The more pervasive and persuasive, the more invisible advertisingbecomes in terms of influence and impact. Its presence and images become natu-ral, expected, and even desired. The irony is that the less we notice, the more openwe are to the persuasive message. We must pay attention to the world presentedand to the tactics and techniques of presentation. Decades ago, Vance Packard rec-ognized the potential impact of advertising and warned, “the result is that many ofus are being influenced and manipulated far more than we realize, in the patternsof our everyday lives.”38

 The Evolution of Advertising from aCommunication Perspective

In an elaboration of the view of advertising as social communication, WilliamLeiss, Stephen Kline, Sut Jhally, and Jacqueline Botterill analyzed the evolution ofthe “cultural frames” for goods.39 They argue that individuals become acquaintedwith meanings of objects through society’s culture and customs. Today, advertisingand marketing are the primary means of imparting the meaning of objects to peo-ple. Advertising has become “the discourse through and about objects, whichbonds together images of persons, products, and well-being.... The symbolic attri-butes of goods, as well as the characters, situations, imagery, and jokes of advertis-ing discourse, are now fully integrated into our cultural repertoire.”40

Cultural FramesLeiss and his colleagues have identified five cultural frames for goods that

incorporate distinct time periods, advertising and marketing strategies, and themes(see figure 10.2).

The first frame, the idolatry phase, covers the period from 1890 to 1920. Thefocus was on the product; the approach was rational, descriptive, and informative.Products were devices to meet the utilitarian needs of consumers. The iconistic phaseof advertising lasted from 1920 to 1950. It shifted attention away from the attributesof products to what the product represents. A brand of soap did more than get youclean; it also demonstrated caring. Products developed social meaning throughsymbolic attributes. The third frame extended from 1950 to 1970. In this narcissisticphase, advertising explained how products would meet personal, individual needs.Products were less symbolic and more transformative. They became the vehiclesfor personal change and satisfaction. The insight of psychology provided the emo-tional strategies for ad development and execution. The fourth frame, totemic,reflects a synthesis of the other three phases and covers the period from 1970 to1990. Products are portrayed as emblems of group membership. Product usagedefines self within a larger context or social group. Thus, the advertising is morespecific and targeted to lifestyle variables. The fifth frame is labeled mise-en-scène,

Advertising as Persuasion  263











ral F













r A























in A












in A







s fo

r G










rs /












ct q



s /


ce /




y, u


l, d






y: P



s ar

e a













, pre





re u

















ct s





ct q






lic a







ily, h






ic; s









y: P



s ar

e e













d in








































; se



y; b













: Pro








d a






is ju






























g p



a an




s to






, he


; g









m: P



s ar

e e



s o

f g












































; sp








; div



; tr




n o

f o













s fo

r th

e s












s an

d li




Woodward-Denton Page 263 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

264  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 264 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

suggesting “an arrangement of elements in a setting in order to achieve a uniquestyle, or as setting the stage for action.”41 This frame is much different from formerones. Rather than rigid, this one is fluid, with individuals moving among andbetween contexts and defined situations. Products are “stage-props” for scenes andsettings. Consumers are “directors” “who can use these props in the service of vir-tually unlimited set of creations and re-creations of value and shared meanings.”42

Self-identity emerges from the use of products or services—they become a means ofstanding out in a crowd and promote the recognition of one’s uniqueness. Thebrands we use define who we are.

Although William Leiss, Stephen Kline, and Sut Jhally have not extended theiranalysis past the year 2000, we can see the influence of new communication tech-nologies and social media in advertising. Individuals are targeted based on theirsocial behavior and networks. New technology makes viral marketing/advertisingfast and free. Real time interactions with shared narratives of others focusing onbrand experience are key. Maximizing social interaction is critical in today’s suc-cessful marketing endeavors. Social and online advertising will soon top the moretraditional forms.

The frames highlight the evolution of advertising messages from what a prod-uct does to what a product says to who we are. Clothes are worn for self-identityrather than fashion or warmth; they reflect our social values rather than social sta-tus or durability; they present the self rather than represent style or utility. Productsare portrayed as having unique personalities, emotions, and significance beyondtheir chemical and physical characteristics. Most importantly, we identify with theproduct’s values and promises.

Identification with a ProductOne of the most interesting examples of consumer attachment to a product

was the public outcry against Coca-Cola when it changed the flavor of its popularbeverage in 1985. The company had decided to change the flavor after years of test-ing the tastes consumers said they preferred. The research was based solely ontaste; the outcry arose from emotional attachment to the product. Soon after thelaunch, the company brought back “Classic co*ke” with the original formula.

Since 1886, Coca-Cola has employed various strategies to sell its product. Inthe early years, the company highlighted the medicinal properties of the beverage:“For headache and exhaustion, drink Coca-Cola” or “The favorite drink for ladieswhen thirsty, weary, and despondent.” Later, the focus was on the taste and thirst-quenching attributes of the drink. In the 1980s and 1990s, the focus was on the“social” uses of the product. We were told “Have a co*ke and a smile,” “co*ke is it,”“Can’t beat the feeling,” and “Always Coca-Cola.” In the last few years, co*ke hasused slogans that define or reflect on the user such as: “Life tastes good,” “Make itreal,” and “The co*ke side of life.” The product represents a significant emblem inAmerican culture (as the attempt to change the formula clearly indicated).

Using Music to Structure the MessageSeventy-five percent of all radio and television commercials use music in some

manner.43 Music and the advertising industry joined efforts in the late 1800s, and

Advertising as Persuasion  265

Woodward-Denton Page 265 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

music became a mainstay of commercial radio broadcasting in the 1920s.44 In earlyadvertising, music was used primarily as a mnemonic device. Rhyme and repeti-tion were used to keep the brand name in mind. Later, jingles or “singing commer-cials” were used to capture a feeling or mood and to recall past experiences.

One of the earliest successful jingles (1908) was the song “In My MerryOldsmobile” by Johnny Marks. In the early days of radio, programs and bands werenamed after products, such as “The Royal Typewriter Salon Orchestra,” “VicksVapoRub Quartet,” or “the A&P Gypsies.” Country music was the primarymedium used to reach rural audiences. Companies would sponsor numerous sta-tions and several bands throughout the nation. “Pepsi-Cola Hits the Spot” was thefirst jingle played on network radio in 1941. The Chiquita banana jingle was createdin 1944 for the United Fruit Company by a BBDO advertising team, and it quicklybecame the number one jingle of the day. The Lucky Strike radio show that beganin the 1930s was reincarnated as a successful NBC-TV show in 1950 with a cast ofsingers named “The Lucky Strike Gang.” Ralston-Purina Company was the first touse an original rock song to sell cereal in 1956.45 During the 1960s and 1970s, com-panies and corporations turned out their own albums as promotional items.

Some songs that were created as jingles became national hits. For example,General Motors commissioned a song entitled “Little GTO” about its new Pon-tiac. The song became a top-40 hit, as did Coca-Cola’s “I’d Like to Teach theWorld to Sing” and Pepsi’s “Music to Watch Girls By.” By the late 1960s andthroughout the 1970s, music stars began singing and appearing in commercials ona regular basis. Coca-Cola used The Troggs, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, RayCharles, the Everly Brothers, Otis Redding, the Box Tops, and Leslie Gore, toname a few. By the mid-1980s, boomer nostalgia for rock resulted in commercialsusing original hits with changed lyrics: the Platters’ “Only You” became “OnlyWendy’s”; Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” morphed intoBurger King’s “Whole Lotta Breakfast Goin’ On”; and “Mack the Knife” became“It’s Mac Tonight,” to name a few examples. Heavy metal joined the ranks ofmusic used in advertising in 1987 with Aerosmith’s “Walk this Way” for a SunCountry Cooler campaign and ZZ Top for Busch beer. New Age music was used totarget upscale boomers in luxury car commercials. By the mid-1990s computertechnology and software allowed advertisers to create custom music and jingles forlocal and small businesses.46

Music contributes to advertising in a number of ways.47 As simple entertain-ment, music is a good way to gain the attention of the audience and to attract inter-est. Music also helps structure the message. It provides continuity by tying togetherthe visual images. It can also heighten or emphasize a dramatic moment, much asit does in films. Music or a clever jingle makes a product or a brand name easier toremember; it increases familiarity and recognition. In addition, hearing a specificmelody or song triggers associations. As already mentioned, music serves as a mne-monic device, especially when a jingle includes a phone number or address.Another way music enhances ads is through the use of lyrical language. The use ofemotive and poetic language enhances a feeling or mood. Musical lyrics provide anauthoritative frame for sharing product information. Lyrics are easily acceptedwithout critical thought or challenge. Music is a natural way to target audiences. To

266  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 266 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

target a younger audience, advertisers use music and/or musical artists popularwith that age group.

The structure and nature of advertising is directly related to the political andsocial structure of society. In countries where tradition and the status quo are val-ued and there is little technological innovation, advertising is not needed and thushas little social impact. In authoritarian countries, advertising is tightly controlledand is used to promote national goals and specific consumption patterns. In theUnited States, where self-interest, individualism, rationality, competition, and free-dom of choice are highly valued, advertising plays to those tendencies. Capitalisticsociety encourages consumerism. For many immigrants, North America was pre-sented as a “land of milk and honey” with an abundance of goods. The wage sys-tem of labor encouraged consumption. Advertising is vital to advanced capitalisticsocieties, where it is necessary to motivate people to work hard so they can accu-mulate money, which can then be used to buy products.

From this brief overview of the evolution of advertising, we can make severalassumptions about its practice in the United States. Advertising must be consideredwithin the cultural context of a nation. Advertising messages are extremely com-plex—utilizing rational, emotional, and social elements. Thus, the messages areopen to various interpretations, and actual effects are not clearly known. Whatdoes the practice of advertising today say about human nature? Over thirty yearsago, Vance Packard observed that humans are “simply reactors to stimulus fromthe environment” and are “creatures of almost limitless plasticity.”48 This skepti-cism stemmed from the heavy reliance on modern techniques and theories of psy-chology in advertising.

 The Role of Psychology in AdvertisingAs early as 1954, several professional publications began devoting more and

more attention to what they called “motivation research.”49 By the 1980s, manylarge ad agencies hired psychologists and anthropologists to advise on human needs,nature, and behavior in order to discover cues that would lead to purchasing behav-iors.50 Advertisers began looking for those “extra-psychological values” related toproducts in order to give them more potent appeal. The concern is not with specificpsychological strategies or tactics but with a general orientation to product defini-tion that plays on individual strengths, weaknesses, hopes, and fears. In the advertis-ing industry, such an orientation is known as product positioning.51 From thisperspective, the advertiser does not begin with the product but with the mind of theconsumer. That is, advertising does not try to change minds but rather links productattributes to the existing beliefs, ideas, goals, and desires of the consumer.

NeuromarketingThe latest in the field of scientific marketing research is “neuromarketing” that

studies consumers’ sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective responses to product stim-uli. Using electroencephalography (EEG) (a wired cap with electrodes to measurebrain signals), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) (measures brain activ-ity by looking at changes in blood flow), biometrics (monitoring heart rate, respira-

Advertising as Persuasion  267

Woodward-Denton Page 267 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

tory rate, galvanic skin response), and eye-tracking technology, researchers attemptto learn why consumers make the decisions they do and what part of the brain influ-ences decision making. This approach helps marketers to understand those morehidden and subconscious elements of the decision process. Researchers can track theintensity of emotional reactions and responses to verbal and visual messages.

Frito-Lay hired a neuromarketing firm to investigate how consumers respond toeating Cheetos. The firm found that consumers respond positively to the fact thateating Cheetos turns their fingers orange with residual cheese dust. This finding ledto a campaign called “The Orange Underground” with television spots featuring themascot, Chester Cheetah, encouraging consumers to get messy eating Cheetos.52

In another study, when subjects were given a blind taste test of Coca-Cola andPepsi, half of the subjects selected Pepsi (scans showed a stronger response in theirbrain’s ventromedial prefrontal cortex—the area that processes feelings of rewards).However, when the same subjects were given a cup labeled “co*ke” and asked tocompare it to an unlabeled sample, 75 percent said co*ke tasted better (brain scansof this response showed activity in the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus—areas of high cognitive processes and memory). Thinking about co*ke related tomemories and other impressions. As this experiment demonstrated, many peoplebuy co*ke because of the pleasant memories associated with the product, ratherthan the taste.53

Our minds accept attitudes or behaviors that match prior knowledge and expe-rience. To say that a cookie tastes “homemade” or “like Mother used to make”does not tell whether the cookie is good or bad, hard or soft, sweet or bland.Rather, the statement elicits the aroma of fresh-baked cookies and fond memoriesof Mother’s baking. Advertisers are more successful if they position a product tocapitalize on established beliefs or expectations of the consumer.

Product brand selection or loyalty often says more about who we wish to bethan who we actually are. John Jones, who spent over 25 years in the advertisingbusiness, argues that “in product design, in packaging, in promotion, in direct-response materials—in short, in every piece of communication directed to consum-ers—there is a speaker, someone who is making assumptions about the reader. Andthere is a mock reader, the person you and I are supposed to become.”54

A positioning approach to advertising is a response to an “over-communi-cated” society. Each year there are thousands of new books published, numerousnew cable channels, abundant specialty magazines, and a proliferation of websitescrowding the Internet. All of these mediums bombard us with information andintroduce thousands of new products. During a year, the average American willview over 1,500 hours of television, listen to over 1,000 hours of radio, and spendover 300 hours reading newspapers and magazines. In addition, an increasingnumber of people spend many hours searching for products and services on theInternet. There is a great deal of competition for our attention. Product positioninghelps cut through the clutter, providing a shortcut to the brain.

In their book, Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein discuss behavioral eco-nomics, which combines standard economics with an understanding of humanpsychology.

268  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 268 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

A key behavioral problem involves the limits of our attention. We are all busy,with many things to think about, and we can’t attend to everything. As a result,we often live our lives on automatic pilot. We go with the flow, leave things asthey are, except if someone captures our attention. Then we jump.55

The authors suggest that policy makers should use the realities of human behavior,such as the tendency to conform, to design programs (using what the authors call“choice architecture”) that give people choices but also to coax them away fromfollowing cognitive or social forces that lead to poor choices.56

Simplified messages based on consumer experience and knowledge do notrequire logic, debate, or lengthy explanations. The most effective ads are those thatwork on a “stimulus-response” motivation. How can William Shatner be so effec-tive promoting the website of Priceline for hotel and airfare accommodations? Is itbecause he is so knowledgeable about the travel industry? Probably not. Since he isfunny and likeable, people are attuned to his message because of his public per-sona. Shatner’s credibility profits from his celebrity status and the characters he hasportrayed on television shows.

There is another important reason why psychology invaded the advertisingcommunity. In the early 1970s, the purchasing power of the dollar decreased by 60percent, and many households required two paychecks to survive.57 The solution tothe problem was image transformation. Advertisers attempted to increase the per-ceived value of mass-produced products. The primary strategy was to offer an emo-tional reward for using a product. In short, brand “personality” became moreimportant than brand “performance.” Sexy jeans have a stronger appeal than long-lasting jeans. A stylish, designer watch is favored over an accurate one.

Behavioral psychologists can find parallels between Ivan Pavlov’s conditioningexperiments and advertising. Pavlov rang a bell whenever he presented food to adog in his experiment; the food stimulated salivation. After a number of condi-tioned responses, the dog would salivate at the sound of the bell—even when nofood was presented. A communications research manager at Coca-Cola remarked:“Pavlov took a neutral object and, by associating it with a meaningful object, madeit a symbol of something else; he imbued it with imagery, he gave it added value.That is what we try to do with modern advertising.”58 While the power of a singleadvertisem*nt to shape any one individual’s behavior may be minimal, repeatedadvertising images and slogans can have an impact. The use of humor in advertis-ing is another means of conditioning. If listeners find the message funny, they mayassociate the good feelings with the product being advertised. Purchasing thatproduct becomes connected to good times and pleasure.

PsychographicsThe term psychographics was coined in 1968 to describe market research that

classifies population groups according to psychological variables such as attitudes,interests, and opinions. Arnold Mitchell was interested in the implications of thefragmentation of U.S. society in the 1960s and 1970s on the economy. He incorpo-rated psychographics in a model developed to explain changing values and life-styles; its acronym was VALS. After its inauguration in 1978, VALS was

Advertising as Persuasion  269

Woodward-Denton Page 269 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

recognized by Advertising Age as “one of the ten top market research breakthroughsin the 1980s.”59 In 1989, the typology was reworked to maximize its ability to pre-dict consumer behavior. Personality traits replaced social values as the mechanismfor segmenting the marketplace because individual differences affect purchasebehavior more directly than social trends and are more stable over time. The foun-dation of the VALS™ approach is that independent psychological traits controlbehavior. Demographics such as gender, age, and education are not sufficient topredict how people consume goods and services. Personality traits such as leader-ship, innovativeness, and vanity affect decisions in combination with the materialresources available.60

Psychographic variables (lifestyle, likes, dislikes, perceptions, etc.) rather thandemographic variables (age, sex, income, occupation, etc.) have become the core ofmarketing endeavors. Psychographic variables tend to be better motivators and pre-dictors of purchasing behavior.

BrandingToday the process and practice of branding is king. Branding goes well beyond

the selling of a product or service. According to Marcel Danesi, “Advertising ismore an art of persuasion than it is of information, designed to showcase a productin the marketplace in terms of how it can satisfy various emotional, social, andother kinds of human needs.”61 Companies invest a great deal of time and moneycreating brand identities for themselves, “identities that generate a sense of good-will and care for the product.”62

Coca-Cola was one of the first corporations to brand its image. Coca-Cola pro-moted its name as well as associations with its product—a beverage enjoyed withfamily and friends, a symbol of hospitality, and something to make life better. ForDanesi, “Brands are one of the most important modes of communication in themodern media environment.”63 A successful brand suggests the kind of consumerwho buys and uses a product. For the manufacturer, branding helps create cus-tomer loyalty, maintain market share, and allows for price stability because of per-ceived value. For retailers, branding generates customers and outlet or retaillocation loyalty. Brands communicate specified attributes, values, personality andemotional benefits.

The practice of “branding” began in the late nineteenth century. As marketsexpanded and products proliferated, marketers discovered that people wouldremember and recognize products with specific names, thus increasing sales. Mostscholars agree that the first product to be named was Ivory Soap. In 1879 HarleyProcter decided to name his white soap; the idea came to him while reading apsalm in church. In December of that same year, Procter introduced a slogan forthe soap: “99 and 44/100% pure.” The name and the slogan helped people remem-ber the product and its attributes.64

In psychological terms, naming serves as a “life-giver.” “By naming a product,the manufacturer is, in effect, bestowing on it the same kinds of meanings that arereserved for people. In a basic psychological sense, a product that is named is‘humanized.’ ”65 Names classify products by linking them with socially relevantmeanings. For example, “Royal Baking Powder” characterizes the product as

270  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 270 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

something “regal,” “special,” and of “quality.” At a very practical level, names cre-ate identification between consumer and product.

Robin Landa notes that a brand has three integrated meanings.66 First, it is thesum total of all characteristics of the product, service, or group—including physicalfeatures, emotional assets, and cultural/emotional associations. Second, the visualand verbal articulation of the brand is comprised of components such as the brandname, logo, packaging, letterhead, website, and even business cards. Third, thebrand is a function of the targeted audience’s ongoing perception of it—their iden-tification with the values and promises of the brand. “A brand is the sum total of allfunctional and emotional assets of the product, service, or group that differentiateit among the competition.”67

There are several types of branding. Consumer branding focuses on product andservice categories such as household goods, home electronics, automobiles, food andbeverages, etc. Corporate branding creates identities and experiences for new compa-nies, company mergers, or companies in need of revitalization. Digital branding uti-lizes digital media to form, launch, or strengthen relationships between a brand andits users. Organizational branding refers to political, social, issue, or nonprofit orga-nizations. Global branding is developed for an international audience in order toadjust and tailor the brand experience to address cultural and social differences.68

Some brands are named for the company’s founder(s), such as Harrods, Ben &Jerry’s, Heinz, or Levi’s. Other brand names are explanatory, such as Toys “R” Us,America Online, or the American Heart Association. There are expressive orinvented names such as Google, Yahoo, Xerox, or Timex. Others refer to fictitiouspersonalities, such as Mr. Clean or Betty Crocker. Automobiles use animal namesto tap into cultural symbolism. For example, Jaguar suggests an exotic, powerfulcreature, and Cougar invokes associations with speed. Finally, there are allegoricalor symbolic names: Nike is the Greek goddess of victory; Sirius is the brightest starin the sky. Iconic brands provide aspects that contribute to the consumer’s personalidentity and self-expression.

Danesi argues that our branded culture taps into our basic psychological needs.“In effect, the promotion of products in a modern consumerist culture is based onthe principle that people will buy things if they perceive them as satisfying somebasic emotion, desire, or social need.”69 What are we really buying when we pur-chase a product? For example, a luxury watch provides quality but psychologicallyit also provides status. Cosmetics enhance appearance, which raises self-esteem.Mouthwash eliminates bad breath, which removes a barrier to social acceptance.

 How Advertising WorksTo compose effective messages, advertisers need to understand consumer

behavior. What processes do consumers follow before making a decision? How doconsumers select and evaluate information? What motivates them to make a pur-chase? The nature of the product or service and its importance to the consumer, thepersonality traits of individuals, and involvement with brands all affect the process,but it is useful to examine how consumers generally make decisions (keeping inmind that individuals are complex and multi-dimensional).

Advertising as Persuasion  271

Woodward-Denton Page 271 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Consumer Decision MakingThe five-stage model presented here looks at consumers as information proces-

sors and problem solvers engaging in a variety of mental processes to evaluate prod-ucts or services. The stages in the decision-making process correspond to internalpsychological processes (see figure 10.3).70 The first stage in the buying process isproblem recognition. The consumer perceives a need or recognizes a desire to befulfilled. For example, one may recognize that their current suit no longer fits wellor may be out of style, thus generating the desire for a new suit. The need or desiremay be stimulated by recent advertising that emphasizes current trends in mens-wear, while announcing a three-day sale on suits. Or the need or desire may be gen-erated by previous purchases, such as a shirt and tie that do not coordinate with thesuit hanging in the closet. The correlating internal psychological stage is motiva-tion—the factors that influence the consumer to take a particular action. For exam-ple, once a consumer recognizes the need to purchase a new suit, the motivation forpurchase could be style, durability, material weight (winter or summer), or color.

The second stage of the buying process is information search. Consumers beginto search for product (or service) information in order make a purchase decision.For some products, the search may be internal, based on previous purchases, experi-ences, or knowledge. External searches may involve consulting friends or relatives,relying on advertising, or comparing products firsthand. The psychological correlat-ing phase is one of perception, the process of how an individual receives, selects,organizes, and interprets the productinformation in a meaningful way. Theprocess of perception is rather compli-cated. Few of us pay attention to all ofthe advertising messages we see or hearevery day. Some messages we attune to,others we ignore. I may not pay atten-tion to an ad proclaiming 50 percent offsuits unless I am thinking about buyinga suit. Some product features mayescape my attention or not be relevant tomy primary motivation for purchase.

The next stage is alternative evalua-tion. In this stage, consumers comparevarious brands or products based on theneeds or motives identified. The criteriafor evaluation may be functional andtangible or more psychological in termsof self-esteem, image, or other desiredmental outcomes. Attitude formation isthe correlating psychological phase.Attitudes reflect the consumers’ overallfeelings toward a product. We have atti-tudes towards individuals, brands, prod-















Figure 10.3 The ConsumerDecision-Making Process

272  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 272 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

ucts, and even retail outlets. For example, a positive attitude toward a celebrity maygenerate a positive attitude toward an endorsed product. Likewise, some peoplewould not buy clothes at Walmart; they purchase only at upscale departmentstores. Advertising, of course, is designed to influence attitudes. It may emphasizespecific attributes in comparison with other products (“bigger,” “better,” “smarter,”“easier,” “most reliable,” “safest,” “most dependable,” etc.); or it may attempt tochange current attitudes toward a product (“new and improved,” “all new design,”“environmentally friendly,” etc.).

The next to last stage is the actual purchase. This reflects an intention or pre-disposition to buy a certain product or brand. Depending on the product or brand,this stage may require other decisions: when will I make the purchase, at whichstore or Internet retailer, and for what price? These decisions may influence theultimate purchase. The integration phase focuses on the different types of decisionrules consumers use to decide among alternatives. As you can imagine, this stage iscomplex and very individual.

The final stage is evaluating the purchase. After using a product or service,consumers compare the level of performance in terms of expectations and perhapspast experiences with other brands. Performance satisfaction enhances future pur-chases and brand loyalty. Companies may follow-up with e-mails, letters, or sur-veys to reassure buyers and to reinforce the wisdom of the decision. Theaccompanying internal psychological stage is consumer learning. There are manyfactors that influence each phase of the process—past experience, cost of product,testimonials by friends, etc. However, pre- and post-purchase, we continue to learnabout the selected product by firsthand experiences as well as competitor advertis-ing. Some of the learning is direct; we seek information on the product. However,much of the learning is less conscious and is a response to emotional appeals, prod-uct promises, and other marketing strategies.

InvolvementOne of the oldest models of consumer decision making is based on the vari-

ables of involvement and experience; it remains relevant today. Involvement is thedegree of relevance and importance that a product has for the consumer. Purchas-ing a car usually involves more consideration than a loaf of bread. However, thosewho love cooking will exhibit more involvement in purchasing kitchen and fooditems than those who do not cook. Involvement levels may differ across productcategories and items. Experience refers to the frequency of purchase and knowl-edge of products and brands. Thus, all purchasing of products involves varyingdegrees of frequency of buying a product and involvement with the product.

Creating DemandThere are four distinct levels of persuasion on the continuum of consumer

decision making.71 The most simple and basic level is precipitation; the persuasivegoals are brand awareness and knowledge. The advertising messages must fightclutter and penetrate the mind of the consumer. The second level is called persua-sion; the messages appeal to human feelings and emotions and attempt to induce

Advertising as Persuasion  273

Woodward-Denton Page 273 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

purchase. This level is the most powerful and perhaps the most subtle. The thirdlevel is reinforcement; the goal is to legitimize existing purchases and to validate pre-vious purchase decisions. Reminder is the final level; the goal is to reinforce brandloyalty. For example, most McDonald’s ads are designed to keep “top-of-mind”awareness rather than to describe product attributes.

According to William Leiss and his colleagues, advertising creates demand inthree ways.72 Through technological manipulation, advertising utilizes the latest inpsychographic and demographic research to identify tactics and techniques of massappeal. The production techniques and drama offered by the various mediaheighten impact and response to creative advertising messages. False symbolism alsocreates demand; the focus is on how products become symbols for desired attri-butes. Why do specific articles of clothing represent status or group identification;why do certain perfumes promise sex? The third means of creating demand is falseclaims. Leiss and his colleagues argue that many ads simply promise more thanthey can deliver and are deceptive in nature.

It is important to recognize that advertising, in many ways, counters tradi-tional ideas about how we learn and how we acquire attitudes. Many scholarsargue that the learning process is linear and consistent. Information is transmitted;once the information is understood, there may be a reorganization of attitude orbelief structure. Once an attitude changes, then corresponding behavior will follow.Emotion can be a primary motivating factor. The linear model doesn’t account foraffective elements and nonrational preferences.

We purchase some products simply because we recall the ads from televisionand just want to try them. We may then like the product and will form a favorableattitude. In other cases, the advertising causes an attitude to form without everexperiencing the product, as in the belief that Mercedes are superior automobiles.We attach emotional significance to the products (status or prestige, for example)before any purchase takes place. In this sequence, we start with an attitude change,develop emotional ties, and then, if circ*mstances allow, purchase the car.

One school of thought is that likability enhances persuasion; however, manywell-liked ads have no impact on sales. Conversely, advertisem*nts that consumersfound aggravating generated sales. Others claim that commercials that are liked getbetter exposure. The basis of this hypothesis is that well-liked ads will be watchedmore than disliked ads. We are less likely to leave the room or to change channels.Still others think that liking is a surrogate for cognitive processing. The basis of thishypothesis is that when consumers actively process messages, they are more likelyto act on those messages. Liking a message predisposes the individual to believe itsmessage content. Another hypothesis is that liking an ad generates a positive affectthat is transferred from the commercial to the product. Finally, it is thought thatliking evokes a gratitude response. While perhaps a stretch, it is thought that part ofconsumer behavior is based on the pleasure of the advertising itself.73

John Jones argues that successful advertising campaigns have three character-istics. An amusing and entertaining advertisem*nt rewards viewers who committheir time to watching the ad. Thus, the intrinsic properties of the campaign offer areward. Second, effective advertising campaigns communicate visually rather thanverbally. Finally, the campaigns serve as an “emotional envelope.”74 In short, the

274  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 274 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

campaigns are intrinsically likable, highly visual, and encourage viewer engage-ment by communicating promises in terms relevant to the consumer.75

Reach, Frequency, and Integrated MarketingTwo important concepts in advertising are reach and frequency. Reach is how

many people in the target audience will see or hear an ad. Frequency is how manytimes the target audience will see or hear the ad within a specified time frame. Acertain frequency of seeing an ad is required in order to evoke product awarenessand eventually a purchase. The ideal is to maximize both reach and frequency.

The Internet has extended both reach and frequency. There are 220 millionInternet users in the United States alone (1.8 billion worldwide). Most companiespost their ads on YouTube.76 For example, 108 million people watched the SuperBowl in 2013, and advertisers paid $3 million for a 30-second commercial.77 The costper thousand viewers makes the Super Bowl an efficient media buy for many adver-tisers. The shelf life of the commercials extends well beyond the game. YouTubeadblitz posts all the commercials and asks viewers to vote on favorites. Two weeksafter the Super Bowl XLVII, 61 million people had viewed the ads again.

After Old Spice introduced “The Old Spice Man” during the 2010 SuperBowl,the commercial for what had been a moribund brand was viewed 13 million times.The ad agency parlayed that success 5 months later by posting “Today could be justlike the other 364 days you log into Twitter, or maybe the Old Spice Man shows up@Old Spice.” People tweeted questions about manliness. The bare-chested Old SpiceMan responded to the queries in near-real-time video vignettes, as ad agency copy-writers worked furiously to provide him with humorous answers. There were 180video “shout-outs” during the two-day blitz, including exchanges with celebritiessuch as Ellen DeGeneres, Demi Moore, Christina Applegate, and Alysa Milano.78

Integrated marketing is the term used for marketing campaigns with consistentbrand messaging and communication across all channels. The weaknesses of onemedium are compensated for by the strengths of another. Advertisers leverage eachmedium’s strengths to reinforce and unify all their communication. New marketingchannels—from apps to publicity stunts—appear daily.79 The growing number ofmessages and channels make it difficult for a single message to be effective; inte-grated marketing is one method of overcoming the fragmentation of audiences.Steve McKee explains:

Not so long ago, it was enough to have great strategy and a big idea. Today,even the best ideas have a hard time getting off the ground as consumers’ mediaand purchasing options—not to mention their attention spans—grow increas-ingly fragmented. While perfect integration is unachievable, companies that dothe best job of harmonizing all their marketing efforts have an advantage.

The Internet is changing the way companies market and communicate withconsumers and other businesses. It is a multifaceted promotional tool. GeorgeBelch and Michael Belch observe, “in addition to advertising on the Web, market-ers offer sales promotion incentives such as coupons, contests, and sweepstakesonline, and they use the Internet to conduct direct marketing, personal selling, andpublic relations activities more effectively and efficiently.”80 Of course, it is the

Advertising as Persuasion  275

Woodward-Denton Page 275 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Internet’s interactivity that makes it especially unique. Not only can marketers gainpersonal information from customers and prospects, but they can also adjust offersor sales instantly.

By offering two-way communication, it is easier to measure the effectiveness ofmarketing strategies and tactics. The advantages are numerous. One can provide agreat deal of information without the time constraints of traditional advertisingmediums. It allows an individual or company (large or small) to expand its poten-tial market and to provide national and even international access. Use of the Inter-net is relatively inexpensive compared to other advertising media. It providesunparalleled targeting of consumers. The behavior of searching for a specific prod-uct clearly indicates a potential customer. Somewhat related, Internet marketingprovides customer analytics. Individual usage can be traced and tracked for effec-tiveness. A customer profile can easily be established. Finally, the Web offers inno-vative visuals and activities (for example, video, avatars, games, and otherinteractive features).

Social media marketing has become a specialty of Internet marketing. The keyto social media marketing is consumer interactions—with the brand or company aswell as with other consumers. The goal is to have individuals share positive com-ments and reactions as well as forward product recommendations to friends andfamily. This process generates buzz—word-of-mouth campaigns. People tend totrust the opinions of third-party individuals. Corporations can build brand relation-ships with customers, increase satisfaction, and improve customer service.

There are 57 million radios in use (5.6 per household) in the United States,reaching 71 percent of Americans older than 12. The average American spends 3hours each weekday plus five hours each weekend listening to the radio.81 Radiospots are relatively inexpensive to produce and to air. Radio provides reach and fre-quency at a lower cost than other media. Another advantage of radio advertising isselectivity—the ability to target the message. The various program formats as wellas specific geographic coverage provide opportunities to target messages to specificdemographic and lifestyle groups. Radio also offers flexibility because spots can bechanged quickly and on short notice. While the creative options are limitedbecause radio is an auditory medium only, a well-crafted advertisem*nt can invokemental imagery that mimics the effect of visual images. A radio ad campaign cancomplement other media including television, magazines, and newspapers.

Similar to radio, one of the main advantages of magazine advertising is selec-tivity.82 There are literally thousands of magazines, which facilitate targeting spe-cific consumers. Another advantage, from a creative standpoint, is the reproductionquality of the ads. Since magazines are a visual medium, the design, graphics, andillustrations are an important part of the ads. As a result, the reproduction quality,especially compared to newspapers, is far superior. Magazine ads also offer creativeflexibility in terms of type, size, and placement—ranging from simple inserts tocenterfolds to wild graphics. There is a prestige factor associated with ads in publi-cations with a favorable image. Upscale magazines provide a good environment forads of luxury items. Ads in consumer magazines, like Good Housekeeping, can pro-vide product and warranty information that may increase customer confidence in aparticular brand.83 Coupons offer consumers a chance to try a product at a reduced

276  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 276 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

price. Finally, the general adult population enjoys and trusts magazine advertisinginformation above all other media.

Television is perhaps the ideal advertising medium. It offers numerous advan-tages over all other media for creativity and impact. The combination of sight andsound allows one to tell a story, provide drama, or evoke emotion. Television isalso an excellent medium for product or service demonstration. Another advantageis that television provides access to the largest audiences and mass markets.Because television reaches such large audiences, it is a cost-efficient means of com-municating with potential consumers. Because of its pervasiveness and intrusivenature, television advertising is difficult to ignore or escape. Thus, exposure to adsis virtually guaranteed for a large percentage of the viewing audience. Finally, tele-vision does allow for selectivity and flexibility.84 Programs tend to “deliver” audi-ences of a particular age, income, or lifestyle. Advertisers use that demographicinformation to place advertisem*nts most likely to appeal to a specific audience.Cable programs, whose content is chosen for audiences in a particular area, alsooffer geographic targeting.

Direct mail (frequently referred to as “junk” mail) is an efficient means of adver-tising. Today’s technology facilitates audience segmentation by specific variables.Direct marketers can buy consumer lists with as many or as few criteria as desired sothat their messages and appeals will reach a receptive audience. The relatively lowcost of direct marketing allows advertisers to send multiple “hits” to targeted con-sumers. Finally, direct marketing allows creativity in message presentation—rangingfrom colorful brochures to stamps to CDs to videos, frequently with the recipient’sname prominently displayed.

Subliminal AdvertisingSome people believe advertising uses subliminal messages to sell products and

services. These messages allegedly target the consumer’s subconscious. The notionof subliminal advertising originated in a famous study that projected messages of“eat popcorn” and “drink Coca-Cola” on movie screens for 1/3,000 of a second.85

The messages increased sales of popcorn by 57 percent and of co*ke by 10 percent.Whether advertisers hide symbols or phrases in their messages is widely dis-

puted. Wilson Bryan Key, in his controversial books Subliminal Seduction and MediaSexploitation, provided numerous examples of sexual symbols, words, and pictureshe believed were embedded in ads.86

There are several problems with the notion of subliminal advertising. First, theoriginal study was conducted during the movie Picnic, which contained severalscenes of people eating and drinking during hot summer weather. Was the audi-ence responding to the subliminal advertisem*nt or simply mimicking the behaviorin the movie? In addition, the study has never been replicated with the same dra-matic results. Scholars Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson reviewed over 150academic articles and more than 200 professional papers on subliminal advertising.They conclude, “in none of the papers is there clear evidence that supports theproposition that subliminal messages influence behavior.”87 Also, industry profes-sionals continue to deny widespread use of subliminal techniques—for the verypractical reason that they simply do not work.

Advertising as Persuasion  277

Woodward-Denton Page 277 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Of course, as we have already argued, the appeals are very subtle. Subliminaladvertising may be in the eyes of the beholder, because many of the appeals are amatter of perception. For example, a product that uses a movie star as a spokesper-son might appeal to one consumer because the star has successfully portrayed prac-tical, down-to-earth characters. Another consumer might focus on the celebrity’sfame and wealth. Another might find the star’s physical attractiveness appealing.Appeal is emotional and depends on the receiver’s perception of the star.

Even the most subtle actions may generate a strong appeal. Recall the subtlebut powerful impact of products used in movies noted at the beginning of this chap-ter. Consider also, as an example, perfume or cologne ads that may explicitly showan attractive couple in bed. One appeal is the person, the other is sex. Oneapproach is subtle; the other is more direct and plays on our human interest in sex.Advertising utilizes deeply ingrained desires and motives of human nature.

The advertising industry relies on the subtle and the obvious, the rational andthe absurd, the everyday and the novel in order to lead us from awareness to ulti-mate purchase. Keeping that in mind, we will now consider some of the more com-mon tactics and approaches to persuasion in U.S. advertising.

 Advertising as MythFrom a cultural perspective, there is a growing trend toward viewing advertis-

ing as myth. Ancient Greek and Roman mythologies were stories of explanation, away to understand the universe based on heroic stories. According to JosephCampbell, myths help us realize the wonder of the universe and our place in it;they also validate the customs and social rules of our culture.88 Myths are enduringstories that teach valuable lessons as well as entertain. The subject of myths usuallydeal with the concerns common to humans throughout history: birth, life, death,good and evil, afterlife and human nature.

Nearly all advertising tells a story. Ads function much like popular fiction,encouraging the suspension of disbelief. Most ads contain the following three ele-ments: characters, settings, and plots. They also involve conflicts pitting one set ofcharacters or social values against another. The conflicts are resolved by using theproduct. In effect, the products become the hero. Ads are most effective when theycreate attitudes and reinforce values. The narrative fiction of ads communicatesinformation about a product in the context of the values, lifestyles, and culture ofthe target audience. Advertising is the means of creatively tapping the mind’s per-ceptual inventory—linking images, symbols, and feelings to the object or ideabeing sold. Over time, advertising creates mythical worlds and characters thatbecome associated with specific brands.

Sal Randazzo explains how advertising functions as mythology and operatesbelow the radar of awareness.

Each advertisem*nt or commercial represents an individual mythology, whichalso contributes to the overall brand mythology.... Megabrand advertisingdoesn’t just sell a product, it creates an emotional bond between the brand andthe consumer. Advertising creates this bond by mythologizing the product; byhumanizing it; and by giving the product a distinct identity, personality, and

278  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 278 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

sensibility. Advertising mythologizes brands by wrapping them in consumers’dreams and fantasies.89

The use of mythical figures and stories in advertising makes automatic connectionswith the audience and allows for condensing meanings into a text or image. McDon-ald’s is an excellent example of this process. A constant theme in its advertising is thatMcDonald’s is more than a restaurant. It is a mythical and magical place where kidsand parents are happy; everyone is welcome; and everyone is forever young at heart.

Mythic archetypes provide many of the story lines and characters found incommercials. For example, there are two major Western archetypical images offemales: the mother and the maiden. The “mother” archetype embodies attributesof warmth, nurturance, comfort, and security. Roles include mother, teacher,homemaker, cook, and gardener, to name just a few. The “maiden” archetypeemphasizes youth, beauty, enchantment, and seduction. Maiden images occur on acontinuum between virgin and harlot, and include roles such as damsel or siren.There are also two major Western archetypal images of males: father and warrior.The “father” image reflects the attributes of reason, order, law, protector, and pro-vider—roles such as coach, teacher, leader, etc. The “warrior” reflects indepen-dence, strength, and courage. Roles include cowboys, sports stars, and soldiers.

Advertising as Persuasion  279

Woodward-Denton Page 279 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

The archetypal roles and stories in advertising are usually quite obvious.Campbell soup ads often use the mother archetype—a loving and nurturing care-taker who smoothes any rough patches with a bowl of “wholesome soup.” BettyCrocker has been the corporate symbol of General Mills since 1921. The nameBetty was popular at the time (e.g., Betty Grable, Betty Boop), and Crocker was thesurname of the company director, William G. Crocker. The first Betty Crockerlooked like a homemaker of the 1930s. Her image has been refined to reflect a morecontemporary universal mother. An example of the maiden archetype is the Breckgirl in shampoo ads, which has also been around for more than 50 years. Therehave been more than 200 Breck girls; Brooke Shields, Kim Basinger, Jaclyn Smith,and Cybil Shepard are just a few of the women whose images advertised Breck.90

An example of the father archetype is the Quaker Oats man. This image wascreated in 1877 by the Quaker Mill company. The original image resembled thepicture of William Penn in Quaker clothes. It was meant to convey confidence,trustworthiness, and value. On a more unconscious level, the Quaker Oats manrepresents a religious father figure. The basic image has been revised only fourtimes in over 100 years. The Maytag repairman is a fatherly figure who is calm,patient, and above all dependable. Mr. Goodwrench represents the protective andcaring aspects of the father archetype. The Marlboro man is a warrior archetype—the lone cowboy symbolizing a rugged, pioneering spirit. The Marlboro man hasbecome an icon—one of the most successful examples of brand image and person-ality in the history of U.S. advertising. The Old Spice Man (played by former NFLwide receiver Isaiah Mustafa) is a more recent example, as is the “Most InterestingMan in the World” (played by Jonathan Goldsmith for Dos Equis).

In addition to the mythic images of people associated with a brand, the prod-uct itself is linked to specific qualities. For example, the attributes of Budweiserbeer include beechwood aging, the Budweiser heritage, and commitment to qual-ity. The brand personality is the masculine, hard working, and self-assured male,and the brand positioning in the consumer’s mind is “a premium beer for the aver-age Joe.”91

Some companies, brands, and products explicitly evoke ancient myths. Aetnawas the mountain goddess, daughter of Uranus (god of the sky) and Gaia (goddessof the earth). Mt. Etna in Sicily is named for her, as is the health insurance companyin the United States. Nike was the goddess of victory—an attractive symbol forsports clothing and shoes. The name influences consumers to believe that buyingNike products will make them victorious in sports competition. The Honda Odys-sey is named for Odysseus, the Greek hero who went on many long and adventur-ous journeys; the vehicle can thus take you to many places and last a long time.

Martin Green summarizes the mythic nature of contemporary advertising.

In the mythic world of advertising, products displace the world of the spirit.Life becomes defined by the products accumulated or used. Community, love,family, and religion are expressed through icons of industrial production. Pepsiis youth and youth is Pepsi, forever frolicking in an Eden of sun-filled streamsand beaches, engaging in an eternal baptism of innocence. McDonald’s restau-rants serve as social centers and nurturing institutions, locales of conviviality,providers of food and drink in never-ending abundance.92

280  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 280 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

 Common Advertising AppealsAs we have already mentioned, the process of advertising is complex. Some

advertising attempts to motivate consumers to purchase products; other ads posi-tion candidates or causes in a particular light. In general, an advertising appeal is“the approach used to attract the attention of consumers and/or to influence theirfeelings toward the product, service, or cause.”93 There are literally hundreds ofappeals used in advertising. However, most fall within three broad categories: emo-tional appeals, transformative appeals, and rational-functional appeals.

Emotional AppealsMuch of the advertising today plays on emotions. Emotional appeals address

consumers’ social and psychological needs for purchasing a product or service.Emotion can stimulate purchase, create empathy, or generate an attachment to abrand or product. There are personal and social emotional appeals. Personal emo-tional appeals include safety, love, joy or happiness, pride, self-esteem, comfort,ambition or success, etc. Social emotional appeals include aspects such as recogni-tion, respect, acceptance, or status. Among the more powerful emotional appealsare: fear, humor, guilt, isolation, and sex.

Fear. Advertising can make us fearful of many diverse circ*mstances—fromburning in a fire to smelling bad at a party. There are many types of fears, includingphysical, social, and psychological. Consumers are more likely to remember adsthat use fear appeals than those using positive, upbeat appeals.94 Products may pre-vent disaster, solve our problems, or at least reduce the risk of embarrassment. Fearappeals are so basic that it is difficult to find an ad that does not use them in somefashion. One of the most overt appeals to fear has been utilized by Volvo for severalyears. Their commercials focus on safety rather than styling, gas mileage, or resalevalue. Insurance companies play on the fear of not having adequate coverage for alltypes of accidents and tragedies.

Products such as deodorants, mouthwash, or dandruff shampoos invoke fearsof embarrassment, implying that using the product will eliminate potentially dis-tressing problems. Since 1950, Dial soap has successfully played on the fear of bodyodor with the tag, “Aren’t you glad you use Dial? Don’t you wish everybody did?”More recently, Axe shower gel uses fear as the subtext of ostracism because of badbody odor. Fear can also be the main ingredient in political advertising. Doom isthe promised result if an opponent is elected. Consultants have discovered that it iseasier to get citizens to vote against a candidate rather than for a candidate.

When advertising increases apprehensions, it may succeed in convincing us tobehave according to its plan, but it leaves a residue of unaddressed emotion. Therehave been numerous campaigns based on fear appeals to convince us to stop smok-ing and to reject illicit drugs. Too strong a fear appeal can cause a person to feelhelpless and without control over the situation, thus decreasing attention and theeffectiveness of the message. It is also interesting to note that fear appeals are moreeffective when the message recipient is self-confident and prefers to meet chal-lenges head-on rather than to avoid them. Fear appeals work best when they offer

Advertising as Persuasion  281

Woodward-Denton Page 281 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

specific recommendations for overcoming a potential threat—and when the recom-mended action is perceived as reasonable, realistic, and effective.95 The antidrugcampaign of “Just Say No” in the 1980s was generally thought to have failedbecause the solution of “just say no” was too simplistic and unrealistic.

Humor. Funny and humorous ads are usually among the most liked andremembered across all categories and advertisers. Humor is used in about 30 per-cent of all advertising and works best in radio and television advertising.96 Humor-ous messages gain and hold audience attention; they also create a receptive moodthat can result in a positive opinion of the product. Critics argue that sometimes thehumor dominates over product attributes or brand recall. In addition, some arguethat humorous commercials lose effectiveness more quickly than nonhumorouscommercials. Once people “get the joke,” they will tune out repeated exposures tothe advertisem*nts.

Today, it is also important not to use humor at the expense of a particulardemographic group. For example, ads that portray senior citizens as “deaf ” and“grumpy” may well lead to resentment. Advertisers have generally found that notevery product or service lends itself well to the use of humor.97 There are severalaudience factors that enhance the use of humor: younger, more educated, upscale,male, and professional. Humorous ads also work best with more established andcommonly purchased items such as fast food, cell phones, and alcoholic drinks.

Guilt. Perhaps the most prominent appeal used in advertising is guilt. We areurged to buy products to insure the safety, health, intelligence, and social well-beingof loved ones. As an appeal in advertising, guilt works in a number of ways. Itencourages sympathy for the message or for the sender. Many advertisem*nts andcommercials for diamonds imply that a gift of diamonds is the only way to showyour love for your spouse: “if you love her enough.” Some advertisem*nts specify theminimum expenditure; you should spend no less than three months’ wages on anengagement diamond. Guilt can motivate behavior to compensate for a wrongdo-ing—for example, sending flowers for missing an appointment. It can also play on adesire to repair a self-image—sending a gift to “start over.” Guilt is a potent incentiveto purchase what the marketer is trying to sell. The advertiser uses guilt to establish anorm of buying behavior—prescribing what is acceptable for a caring relationship.

Isolation. Many ads play on the fear of isolation and loneliness. We all needfriends; we want to be liked and accepted as part of a group. From watching a gameto relaxing with friends at a party, ads usually portray an intimate social setting.Social factors encourage purchases related to recognition, affiliation, approval, andacceptance. Product appeals provide a means of identifying with a particular crowd(e.g., “The Pepsi Generation” or “Catch the Wave” with Coca-Cola) or protectingagainst an imagined faux pas (e.g., “Friends are worth Smirnoff ”). Advertisem*ntsimply that popularity will result from using the products. The message establishes anorm that equates friendship with spending money on the “right” products.

Sex. Advertisers are increasingly incorporating sex in their messages; the adsare bolder, more diverse and use sex to sell more categories of products.98 Psychol-ogists suggest that sex is the second strongest psychological appeal behind that of

282  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 282 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

self-preservation. We are accustomed to the use of sex in perfume, lingerie, andliquor ads, but we now encounter it in ads for cheese, soft drinks, junk food, andeven power tools.

Tom Reichert, professor of advertising at the University of Georgia, has stud-ied thousands of ads. His research reveals that ads for health and hygiene productsuse the most sex appeals, 38 percent over three decades of study. Beauty productswere next at 36 percent, and drug ads were third with 29 percent. Today, the per-centage for beauty ads is 51, while 37 percent of all alcohol ads use sex.99

Sexual content is used in a variety of ways. Nudity and various stages ofundress are common for clothing, underwear, and lingerie advertising. Some adsuse behaviors such as flirting, posturing, body movement, hugging, touching, orkissing. Most models in the ads are chosen for their physical attractiveness andbeauty. Sexual references and innuendo are popular in contemporary advertising,as is the suggestive use of objects that connote sexual actions and body parts.100

There is no question that sexual appeals work best on men. One study foundthat 48 percent of men indicated that they liked sexual ads, while only 8% ofwomen indicated liking them. Men not only liked sexual ads more but they alsoliked the products advertised more and were more likely to purchase the products.Women scored sexual ads much lower than nonsexual ads on all three of the crite-ria.101 An interesting exception may be Victoria’s Secret that uses sexual appeals inits catalog with supermodels clad only in panties and bras. From just three bou-tiques in 1980, the franchise has grown into one of the most recognizable brands inthe United States. They have promoted a sexually sophisticated image, one whichappeals to many women who want to be associated with the products.

Sexual appeals in England are more blatant. A poster for Coca-Cola shows anaked woman, her curves replicating the contours of a co*ke bottle, with the tagline: “Get your hands on a contour.” Another advertisem*nt shows a man’s tonedstomach resembling the ribbing on a co*ke bottle, with the tag line: “Get yourhands on a six-pack.”

Sexual appeals in advertising attempt to define sex roles in society. The adssuggest roles and behavior for courtship, fashion, and other types of social behav-ior. Many social scientists decry the perpetuation of sexual stereotypes of powerand dominance in contemporary advertising. Many ads reinforce sexist notionsabout the idealized woman and man, promoting unrealistic notions about our bod-ies, feelings, and emotions. The ads also exploit human sexuality; they encourageus to think of sex as a commodity.

Transformative AppealsTransformative appeals are those that evoke psychological associations that

create feelings, images, or meanings when consumers use the product. Using theproduct makes us happier, prettier, more desirable, or more effective. The mostcommon transformative appeals are power, meaning, and self-esteem.

Power. There are many kinds of power—economic, physical, political, andsocial, to name only a few. Many advertising messages offer products as a means ofobtaining power, placing the consumer in a power-seeking position. Advertisem*nts

Advertising as Persuasion  283

Woodward-Denton Page 283 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

present vignettes, images, icons, or emblems of power available for a price. Forexample, Marlboro cigarette ads appeal to those who aspire to be strong and inde-pendent. Truck and car ads emphasize power. Chevy claims to be built “like a rock.”Ads for sport utility vehicles emphasize powerful engines, huge tires, and the abilityto tackle the most challenging terrain in any weather. The names are rugged andproject powerful images: Mountaineer, Blazer, Pathfinder, Navigator, Expedition,Durango, Explorer, and Sequoia. Cars identified with animals (e.g., cougars, mus-tangs, and vipers) attempt to link the vehicle with a primitive, wild form of power.

Power appeals abound in nearly every product category. Cologne ads for bothmen and women promise sexual strength and power. Some ads offer economicpower by assuring the audience, for example, that “You can lease a BMW for only$400 per month” or “You now qualify for an additional $10,000 line of credit onyour Visa or MasterCard.” Of course, many political ads offer us power as mem-bers of certain groups whose views and needs will be heard in Washington if weelect the right person. Sometimes the product itself is used to epitomize power. Forexample, we know that: Dodge trucks are “ram tough,” Die-Hard batteries fromSears are “heavy duty,” and Glad’s Alligator garbage bags are “puncture proof.”Most products offer some kind of power or strength.

Meaning. We live in a complex world. Advertising offers products that willmake it easier to be effective and to navigate the complexities of our environment.We can combat hunger by giving $10 per month to sponsor a child in a foreigncountry; General Electric will help us bring good things to life; we’ll be in goodhands with Allstate; we can have a good weekend if we drink Michelob. Ads tell uswhat is chic, the best, the ultimate, and so on.

Carol Moog is concerned about the language of advertising where appeals tar-get people’s searches for identity. “The trouble with the advertising mirror is that wenever see ourselves reflected; we only see reflections of what advertisers want us tothink their products will do for us.”102 In effect, advertisers sell definitions of whowe are. Thus, all we need to do to “buy” an identity is to buy the product. Marketersare aware that attractiveness persuades through identification. We seek a relation-ship with an attractive source and adopt similar beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.103

The United States is a society that relies on marketing. People learn to marketthemselves. Using brand names gives people a sense of security that their behaviorwill be approved. We use products that announce to others our socioeconomiclevel, our taste, and our impression of who we are. Our personalities become prod-ucts, sometimes based on the material culture we embrace. A general review of adsin fashion magazines tells us that men should be powerful, rich, confident, and ath-letic, while women should be beautiful and thin. Qualities such as honesty, gener-osity, and loyalty are relegated to a lesser role in the quest to acquire products thatpromise acceptance based on fashionable images.

The slogan “Diamonds are Forever” first appeared in 1947. DeBeers successfullylinked diamonds to love and marriage; it is now universally accepted but was totallycreated by advertising. Diamonds have become part of our marriage ritual. The sloganimplies more than the strength of diamonds; it links diamonds with love, marriage,and anniversaries. Meaning and identity are packaged and sold like commodities.

284  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 284 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Self-Esteem. A number of ads play on feelings of self-esteem. Some ads pur-posely attempt to highlight our inadequacies or make us feel less than adequate orperfect. As mentioned earlier, many products promise to make us better; mostfocus on appearance, age, and interpersonal relationships. Clothing, hairstyles,weight, and facial features are presented as elements of self-esteem. Age can repre-sent wisdom, knowledge, or success as well as physical weakness, unattractiveness,or old-fashioned attitudes. For both genders, advertising attempts to link the pur-chase of a product with enhancement of connections or bonds with other people.

Americans spend more money on dieting and weight loss than any other coun-try in the world. Women are targets for most of that spending. Fifty percent ofAmerican women are on a diet at any given time, and 90 percent of teenagers dietregularly.104 Models are becoming thinner and less representative of the generalpopulation. A generation ago, the typical model weighed 8 percent less than theaverage woman; today she weighs 23 percent less. In America, half of all womenwear size 14 or larger, while most clothing outlets and department stores cater tosizes 14 and smaller. Retail brands have actually modified measurements so thatsomeone who wore a size 12 may now wear a size 8 or 10.105

There is continuing concern that advertising portrays unrealistic and unhealthyfemale body images. This contributes to low self-esteem and even bulimia oranorexia among teenagers. According to Michael Jacobson and Laurie Mazur,

Girls and teenagers are perhaps the most vulnerable to beauty-industry propa-ganda. For them, advertising is a window into adult life, a lesson in what itmeans to be a woman. And lacking the sophistication of their older sisters andmothers, girls are less likely to distinguish between fact and advertising fiction.106

Kilbourne is concerned about the impact of advertising on young women.“Primarily girls are told by advertisers that what is most important about them istheir perfume, their clothing, their bodies, their beauty. Their ‘essence’ is theirunderwear.”107 Advertising plays on desires to improve looks and health, to beliked, and to be happy about who we are. Most ads present images that make usfeel inadequate, not normal, or socially alienated—hoping that we accept theimplication that using the product will alleviate our shortcomings. The influencegoes well beyond the self-image of women. In a study on a well-known collegecampus, males shown centerfolds from Playboy and Penthouse were much morelikely to find their own girlfriends less sexually attractive.108

In 2004, the Dove Corporation launched the “Campaign for Real Beauty.”The campaign challenges traditional stereotypes of beauty and invites women toreconsider perceptions of beauty. In 2010 Dove initiated the girls unstoppablemovement for self-esteem. They publish a self-esteem discussion guide and hope toreach 15 million girls by 2015.109 Working with the Girl Scouts of USA, Girls, Inc.,and Boys & Girls Clubs of America, they provide educational programs and activi-ties to mentor the next generation and to celebrate real beauty. In a 2011 world-wide survey, they found that 72 percent of 10- to 17-year-olds felt pressure to be“beautiful,” and only 11 percent would use the word “beautiful” to describe theirlooks.110 In 2013, Dove prompted a global conversation about the definition ofbeauty. They produced a three-minute YouTube film about how women view

Advertising as Persuasion  285

Woodward-Denton Page 285 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

themselves, which became the most watched online ad with 163 million globalviews. It was uploaded in 25 languages to 46 Dove YouTube channels.111

Rational-Functional AppealsRational appeals focus on the practical or utilitarian need for a product or ser-

vice, providing information and reasons plus a description of how the product orservice will meet perceived needs. Although the appeals are primarily rational, theads frequently include an emotional component. “Rational” motives for using aproduct include comfort, convenience, or a health benefit as well as quality, price,performance, or dependability.

Norms. Advertising tells us what is good or bad, in or out, right or wrong.Fashion advertising, as discussed above, establishes specific norms for behavior.Ads reveal how we should look, dress, and eat. It is interesting to note the transfor-mation of blue jeans from working-class attire to a status symbol of high fashion.During the civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam years, jeans symbolized resent-ment, protest, and denial of high fashion. Jeans were the uniform of the counter-culture. In 1977, Jordache used television commercials to advertise tight jeansusing sexy models. Jeans were transformed into a fashion statement, and “designerjeans” commanded significantly higher prices than the proletarian versions. Thetrend eventually waned, and jeans returned to being a symbol of causal and com-fortable dress for all ages. In 2000, 7 for All Mankind introduced premium denim,and the luxury denim market exploded. By 2007, jeans selling for $200 and upbecame status symbols, and Hollywood celebrities sported jeans made by TrueReligion and Rock & Republic. The utilitarian denim product once again became astatus symbol. Today, “skinny jeans” are in to top fashion. They are elastic and fitall sizes and shapes of bodies. Men and women both are into the “look.”

Product usage can define us socially and can disclose (or be perceived as dis-closing) what we believe. For example, many people find the billboards for Hootersoffensive and judge people who frequent the restaurant accordingly. It is importantto remember that advertising appeal is not monolithic. Individuals will accept orreject the norms in the message based on their values and experiences.

Reminder Ads. These ads attempt to build brand awareness and to keep thename before the public as much as possible. Some products or services have sea-sonal patterns. Thus, most holidays or the start of new seasons prompt the pur-chase of certain products. For example, advertising for candy increases aroundHalloween, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and Easter.

 How to Critique AdsA primary goal of this book is to provide tools of analysis for the persuasion

we encounter in various contexts. Because of the extensive daily exposure to adver-tising, it is important to learn to look beneath the surface to understand howimages create an impression. Every ad creates structures of meaning. Advertise-ments transform statements about things into statements of significance to people.For example, if a characteristic of a car is high gas mileage, then this characteristic

286  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 286 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

is translated into beliefs about economy and rationality. The key is to transform thelanguage of objects into the language of people.

As a critic, one should look at the textual relationships between the parts of themessage and the meaning created. Through ads, diamonds come to mean love—atransformation beyond mineral and rock to a purely human emotion. In some ads,objects become the symbols for human messages (e.g., “say it with flowers” or“gold says I love you”). In other ads, people are identified with the objects thatproject significance (e.g., “I’m a Pepper” or “become part of the Pepsi generation”).

The visual image created plays a very important part of the meaning created.In fact, the more prominent the visual in an ad, the more ambiguity created. In anow famous television ad for Apple computers reminiscent of George Orwell’s1984, a striking woman hurls a sledgehammer through the video screen that hun-dreds have been watching in a trance. The spot was a media sensation and won sev-eral creative awards; it relied entirely on the visual image for its power. The clearimplication was that the new Apple Macintosh computer was a breakthrough forindividual creativity and freedom, releasing us from the world of domination andcontrol by “big brother.” Another highly visual campaign was the original cam-paign for the Infiniti automobile. For the first two years of the television and printcampaigns, the car was never shown. The visuals were of sweeping landscapes,accompanied by poetic descriptions. The Infiniti was more than a car; the experi-ence of owning an Infiniti was more than transportation.

We can use a textual approach to look for meanings within the ad. What arethe appeals? What does the product promise in human terms? The product maypromise smooth skin but imply younger looks. The product may promise a closeshave but imply greater female approval and attraction. If we learn to identify theimplications, we can be more critical of all the claims being made.

When analyzing advertising, look for patterns of similarities and differences.For example, how are people portrayed in print ads—as housewives or executives,smart or dumb, fat or thin? How frequently are certain roles portrayed? What arethe sex roles and models for expected behavior? This approach to viewing adsreveals cultural roles and stereotypes. First, focus on the attributes, claims, andpromises of the product. Next, analyze the images, stereotypes, and placement/positions of the visuals. Finally, consider the implied audience, claims, warrants,and the evidence—the specific wording of the message. By analyzing surface andimplied meanings of advertising messages, we can better recognize the persuasiveappeals and assess their validity.

The questions and considerations listed below are useful as a general guidelinewhen assessing an advertisem*nt.

1. What benefits does the ad promise the product will provide?

2. What does the ad not say?

3. What claims are made?

4. What type of language is used?

5. What types of appeals are used?

6. What visuals are used? Why?

Advertising as Persuasion  287

Woodward-Denton Page 287 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

7. What does the ad imply is “normal?”

8. What reasons are given to encourage purchase?

9. What proofs are offered for promises made?

10. What was the first thing that caught your attention?

11. What are the social relationships being portrayed? Who is in charge? Whoholds the power?

12. What is the target audience of the ad? Why or how can you tell?

13. Remember, all advertising presents pieces of “persuasion.”

14. Remember, people often buy more than products. A Mercedes is morethan transportation; we buy the world that it represents.

15. Remember, there is no relationship between the brand and its image.

16. Remember, read all the fine print.

17. Remember, we participate in our own persuasion.

 Criticisms of AdvertisingAlthough we accept advertising as a daily practice, there has always been some

criticism of the industry. We seem to have a “love-hate” relationship with advertis-ing. For most businesses, advertising is a “necessary evil.” For consumers, the com-mercial interruptions are sometimes pleasant, sometimes informative, but alwaysintrusive. There are several issues of advertising that deserve special attention.

DeceptionMost of us suspect that advertising is a business based on deception and half-

truths. In reality, however, most of the factual messages presented in ads are true,and the factual statements can be verified. The problem is that there are few factualstatements in most advertising messages. Consumers do not make distinctionsbetween factual statements and value judgments. As noted in chapter 4, statementsof fact are verifiable, whereas statements of value express opinions that are, to saythe least, very subjective and judgmental. What does it mean when an ad claimsthat a restaurant has the best hamburgers? Does it mean they have the best ham-burgers in terms of taste, size, toppings, or price? Certainly, several restaurantchains can claim to have the best hamburgers, but can they all claim to have thebiggest? Perhaps they can. Some restaurants may have the biggest based on weightbefore cooking or after cooking, or based on size by using very large buns or byusing thin but large-in-circumference hamburgers.

There is a difference between false advertising and misleading advertising.False advertising means claims are explicitly and literally false. Most ads makeclaims that are explicitly true but generate false meanings. The implied claims arethe most powerful and motivate consumers to purchase the product. Thus, mostadvertisers settle for the subtle “half-truth.” For example, Reebok ran a series of adsin 2009 and 2010 for the shoes EasyTone and RunTone shoes claiming that theywould “work your hamstrings and calves up to 11% harder and tone your butt up

288  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 288 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

to 28% more than regular sneakers.” A Federal Trade Commission investigationactually found they made it more uncomfortable to walk! Reebok was forced torefund more than $25 million in purchases.

Some ads are misleading because of the nature of the comparisons made in theirpresentations. An advertisem*nt for aspirin claims: “All aspirin is not alike. In testsfor quality, Bayer proved superior.” The implication is that Bayer is a better painreliever than other brands of aspirin. However, the tests for quality referred to in thead were conducted by Bayer itself and showed that Bayer’s tablets were “superior”because they were whiter and less breakable than other brands tested.112 Impliedsuperiority claims abound in product ads and are becoming even more subtle.

Claims may state equality but imply superiority. For example, if all pain cap-sules take about the same amount of time to work, one brand can claim that “nopain reliever works faster!” Although the literal claim is true, the consumer is led toinfer that the brand is superior to all others. Other examples include “Nobodybuilds a more productive line of farm equipment” (International Harvester);“Nobody does it better” (Winston Light cigarettes); “No leading brand gets rid ofdandruff better than Selsun Blue”; “No other cereal has more natural food fiberthan Kellogg’s All-Bran.”

The vast majority of assertions made in advertising are subjective rather thanfactual claims: “Nestle’s makes the very best chocolate” (Nestle’s); “Made from thebest stuff on Earth” (Snapple); or “The Ultimate Driving Machine” (BMW).Research has shown that consumers not only accept implied claims and pufferyfrom ads but tend to exaggerate and expand on the claims presented.113 We mustbe careful in accepting the claims made in comparative advertising. If we resist theappealing images, we can usually challenge the rationality of claims made in ads.

Another misleading aspect of advertising is false promises. Can the productreally make us more beautiful, rich, young, successful, or sexy? Is there a logical rela-tionship between the problem presented and the solution offered? For example, con-sider the Coast soap commercials. If you feel sleepy and sluggish in the mornings, allyou have to do is shower with Coast and at once you feel alert, happy, and energetic!Solutions such as improving your nutrition or going to bed earlier would be logicallyconnected to the problem. Showering with a particular brand of soap is not.

Visual lies and distortion also reinforce an implied claim. In a 1990 Volvocommercial, a monster truck drove across a line of cars, crushing all of them exceptthe Volvo. Although never stated, the implied claim was that Volvo was strongerand thus safer than the other automobiles. However, the audience was notinformed that the visual demonstration was false. The Volvo wagon had been rein-forced with steel and wood, and the other cars were weakened for the shot. Volvopaid over $600,000 in fines because of the misleading nature of the commercial.114

Advertising is misleading when it provides incomplete or exaggerated descrip-tions of products or services. An ad may state that a desk is made of “all wood” butomit the fact that the wood is actually compressed wood parts. The more ludicrousads will often contain small print caveats about the claims made. Ads touting high-yield investments will tell you in small print that they require a large amount ofmoney for participation; free checking requires a large minimum monthly balance; anew car for $100 a month requires a large down payment—the examples are endless.

Advertising as Persuasion  289

Woodward-Denton Page 289 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Most advertising focuses on trivial aspects of products—elevating the insignifi-cant to significant status. Minor qualities are exaggerated. In fact, differences amongmost brands or product categories are slight. Much of the distortion in advertising isaccomplished in the visual aspects of the message. Frequently food looks better,clothes fit better, and gadgets are handier in commercials and pictures than most con-sumers find to be the case after a purchase has been made. Ivan Preston argues thatthe primary cause of deceptive advertising is that “advertisers typically sell brandsrather than just products. Because a brand must be presented as different from otherbrands although they are not, advertisers are tempted to create false differences.”115

The consumer is deceived by exaggerated product differences and by contrivedcompetition. For example, Tide and Gain are both Procter & Gamble laundry deter-gents; Kraft sells Maxwell House and Gevalia coffees; Unilever sells Breyers and Ben& Jerry’s ice cream, as well as Degree and Axe deodorants. Multiple products give usthe illusion of choice, and each one tells us they are superior to their “competitors.”

Ads are deceptive when they use the following techniques:

• Pseudo claims. An ad for toothpaste may claim to “fight cavities,” but is itthe chemical composition of the paste, the movement of the toothbrush, orregular brushing that fights cavities?

• Comparison with an unidentified other. An ad for toothpaste may claim thatit “has superior cleaning action,” but is the comparison to another brand orto not brushing at all?

• Comparison of the product to its earlier form. An ad for toothpaste mayclaim that the product is “new and improved.” In what way is it better?What was wrong with the old version?

• Irrelevant comparisons. An ad may claim that the toothpaste is the “best sell-ing of its kind.” But what does “kind” mean? Best among whiteners? Amonggels? Among those that contain fluoride?

• Pseudo survey. An ad for toothpaste may claim that “4 out of 5 dentists rec-ommend the toothpaste.” What were the criteria for selection? Were the den-tists paid for their endorsem*nts?116

• Juxtaposition. An ad shows a young smiling mother reporting that therewere no cavities found at the children’s checkups, but she does not mentionusing the product advertised.

Perhaps the most difficult question involving deception concerns the motives of theadvertiser. Many local retailers advertise a low-cost model, hoping consumers willswitch to a more expensive model once in the store. Thus, while the ads are notdeceptive, their purpose is not to offer the consumer a good value or necessarily agood product; the primary purpose is “bait-and-switch.”

LanguageAdvertising has a tremendous impact, and many educators are concerned that

advertising debases our language. The violation of rules of grammar and punctua-tion is commonplace. Advertising copy contains a multitude of dashes, hyphens,and sentence fragments (for example, Subway’s Eat Fresh slogan). Words in titles

290  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 290 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

and names of products are frequently misspelled. Some scholars argue that the con-stant use of superlatives in ads cheapens and lessens the power of words and lan-guage. How many times can a product be “new and improved”? Words like“quick,” “easy,” “amazing,” or “best” lose their power when used frequently.

ChildrenFor more than 45 years, there has been a national debate about the impact and

influence of advertising on children. The primary concern is that children do nothave the critical thinking skills necessary to resist the persuasive messages—and theeffects of advertising on current and future expenditures. American advertisersspend more than $14 billion a year on advertising, and children under 16 influenceover $1 trillion in overall family spending.117 The “nagging strategy” seems towork. A survey by the Center for a New American Dream reveals 55 percent ofkids indicate that parents give in to their desired purchases.118 In fact, childrenbetween the ages of 12 to 17 will ask their parents for products an average of ninetimes until the parents agree to purchase. Advertisers have long understood thatcreating brand loyalty when a child is young can result in a customer for the next60 or 70 years. Research has shown that babies as young as six months old canform mental images of logos and mascots. Brand loyalties can be established asearly as age two.119

The effects of advertising have been linked with the issue of childhood obesityand the contributions of fast-food consumption to the problem. Children watch anaverage of 4.5 hours of television per day and are also exposed to advertisem*ntsduring the additional 1.5 hours they spend on the computer.120 Advertisers haveincreased online advertising and marketing efforts by 50 percent.121 Kids watch

Advertising as Persuasion  291

Woodward-Denton Page 291 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

more than ten food-related ads every day; virtually all of the ads are for foods andbeverages that are high in fat, sugar, or sodium. Children will eat about 167 extracalories for every hour of television watched.122 Cereal makers and fast food restau-rants spend $2 billion to advertise to children.

Virtually every television program for children has a line of merchandise fromtoys to clothing. Movies aimed at children generate licensed toys and accessories.They contain numerous product placements as well. Advertisers use bright colors,fast-paced editing, animation, and special sound effects to engage the attention ofchildren. Most cartoons are nothing less than program-length commercials to selltoys and products. Toys seem larger, more exciting, and easier to operate than isactually the case. Psychologists claim that children may actually suffer lower self-esteem if they do not own a popular toy, such as the Cabbage Patch doll of 1985,the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of 1990, or the “right” tennis shoes, to name justa few. When teenagers started stealing Nike Air Jordans and satin Starter jackets,several public school systems proposed that students wear uniforms to avoid thesocial problems associated with the status of popular brands.

Research shows that advertising has an influence on the perception of childrenabout gender roles, race, and social stereotyping. It also affects the creation of sex-ual and physical identities. When children think or daydream about commercialsthey’ve seen, they are engaging in mental replays.123 Studies have found verbal,physical, and mental replay behaviors after exposure to advertising, especially foryoung children. Examples of verbal replays include singing popular jingles or talk-ing to friends about favorite ads or advertising characters. Physical replays involveacting out or imitating scenes or actions from commercials.

Roy Fox notes that “More than any other experience or text, commercials are‘read’ by more students, more often, than Romeo and Juliet, or A Tale of Two Cities,or Huck Finn, or The Catcher in the Rye.”124 Studies also reveal that advertisingmakes kids more materialistic, generates friction between parents and children, andlimits the formation of moral and ethical values. Fox concludes that commercialsplay significant roles in the lives of children. Children accept, value, and embraceadvertising. They are thoroughly familiar with commercials, products, and packag-ing—but they are unable to critically evaluate content.125

Generational groups are contemporaries born during a particular period withshared interests and attitudes. Marketing has targeted the cohort of Generation“Y” (born between 1979 and 1994) more than any other generation. Advertisersattempted to hook “them into a cycle of labor and shopping during their youth,”hoping that the appeal would extend throughout their lives.126 However, Gen Ymembers became skeptical of traditional advertising while growing up in a brand-conscious world saturated with promotion. To capture their attention now, market-ers need to break through the skepticism with novel approaches.127

There can be little argument that children are especially vulnerable to the persua-sive impact of advertising. Many social groups are calling for more regulation andcontrol. The nations of Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the Canadianprovince of Quebec ban all advertising to children on radio and television. Fox makesseveral recommendations relevant to children and advertising: ban electronic andprint advertising in schools, establish media education curriculum in schools, reduce

292  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 292 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

the number of commercials in children’s programming, and classify all toy-based pro-grams as infomercials, thus allowing greater regulation by the Federal Communica-tion Commission.128 The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, amongother things, that children under the age of two not watch any television.129

ConsumerismThe word consumer did not always have positive connotations. In its original

French usage, consumption was viewed as an act of pillage, destruction, and waste.With industrialization, the idea of using things up became associated with prosper-ity. The sole purpose of advertising is to entice us to buy products; critics argue thatit makes people too materialistic. If happiness and success are measured by thethings we possess, the race to “keep up with the Joneses” is an endless cycle.Advertising perpetuates the cycle by supplying images that fuel unhappiness withourselves and with our possessions.

Advertisers do more than encourage us to buy what we do not need; they go togreat lengths to make what we already have obsolete. We then have no choice butto update equipment, cars, or appliances (particularly if the manufacturers stopmaking replacement parts for repairs). In 2012, Apple released its iPad 4 just sevenmonths after iPad 3. Many industry people think the few technological updates ofthe iPad 4 could have been incorporated in the third edition. Some claim this ispart of Apple’s strategy of “planned obsolescence” motivating people to purchasethe new version.130

Social EffectsWith the erosion of the influence of traditional social institutions (the family,

the church, and schools) young people learn social skills and values from televisionshows and commercials. Critics are concerned about the social influence of adver-tising in defining who we are, our values, and our self-esteem. Kilbourne summa-rizes the social influence of advertising:

It often sells a great deal more than products. It sells values, images, and con-cepts of love and sexuality, romance, success, and, perhaps most important,normalcy. To a great extent, it tells us who we are and who we should be. Weare increasingly using brand names to create our identities.131

We briefly discussed the tendency of commercials to stereotype people. Women,old people, and minorities are often stereotyped by the advertising industry interms of looks, occupations, roles, and behavior. Kilbourne goes even further. Shethinks advertising turns people into objects. “Women’s bodies, and men’s bodiestoo these days, are dismembered, packaged, and used to sell everything from chainsaws to chewing gum.”132

There is also concern about the impact of advertising on the cultural climate ofour nation. Does advertising contribute to societal greed, selfishness, and socialcrassness? Some ads are in poor taste, yet find public approval. Twenty years ago,advertisem*nts for hemorrhoid treatments, contraceptives, and erectile dysfunctionwould have shocked the public. Advertisem*nts today are more suggestive andchallenge traditional values. It appears that no subject is off limits.

Advertising as Persuasion  293

Woodward-Denton Page 293 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Freedom of SpeechWe know that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees and

preserves freedom of speech. Advertising is commercial speech; a fee is charged toair this type of expression. Not everyone has equal access to commercial speech.Advertising can have a large impact on freedom of speech in the United States. Interms of special issues, corporate images, or political advertising, only those organi-zations or individuals with money have access to traditional media to disseminatetheir messages.

As mentioned in chapter 2, private interests often dictate what will be broad-cast or published. Some critics suggest that influential sponsors of programs oradvertisers in newspapers and magazines even direct the content of the news bythreatening withdrawal of advertising support. Negative news stories jeopardizemajor corporate sponsorship. It is common to hear on the radio that “the news isbrought to you by....” Shouldn’t we have access to news regardless of whether ornot someone will pay for it?

Advertisers increasingly influence entertainment program content. Productboycotts have become a major weapon for citizen groups that desire to get a pro-gram off the air. If shows, characters, or plots are too controversial, advertisers willbuy time on other programs. Protests have had varying effects in recent years, per-haps reflecting audience fragmentation. In 2012 Ellen DeGeneres was selected asthe JCPenney’s spokesperson, and One Million Moms, an antigay group, pro-tested. JCPenney supported its choice and ran two ads featuring gay characters.One of the largest, nationwide boycott attempts was against Chick-fil-A. In 2012,the president of the company, Dan Cathy, expressed his view of supporting “thebiblical definition of the family unit.” Within a week there were organized calls forboycotting the company. Former Republican presidential candidates Rick Santo-rum and Mike Huckabee called for a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.” The com-pany enjoyed historic highs in revenues.

PrivacyWith new communications technologies and social media, marketers can track

consumer’s web locations and all transactions. Web activity is tracked without theawareness or consent of consumers. Cookies track websites visited and capture andstore data along with the IP address of users. New technologies enable surveillanceas never before.

Companies are developing software (predictive technology) to track the cluespeople leave in their everyday life—from loyalty cards at stores to restaurantreceipts to ATM withdrawals. They sell the information to companies to assist inmarketing decisions. The software could advise a convenience store owner aboutwhether Snickers or lottery tickets would sell better near the checkout register. Thesoftware can track which advertisem*nts with which supermodels stimulate themost sales for a retail store.133 The software tests the prices of hamburgers to themost attractive store hours to the preferred colors of walls to the ideal type of furni-ture in motel rooms.

294  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 294 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Google announced in October 2013 that it was changing its term of service toallow the company to incorporate profile photos and user posts in its advertising.Facebook had found that a friend’s endorsem*nt helped boost sales. One marketingfirm estimated that social-ad business would soon reach $9.5 billion in annualsales. While the practice can be lucrative, it can also alienate users and subject com-panies to lawsuits over privacy. In August 2013, a judge approved a settlement of aclass-action suit against Facebook. The company now gives users control overwhether they promote a product.134 Other social-ad activities include companiespaying to have users’ tweets amplified across Twitter. Users of Vine, a social net-work for six-second video clips owned by Twitter, have been paid prices rangingfrom $1,000 to $20,000 to upload videos promoting products.135

Private versus Public InterestsThe advertising industry shows very little responsibility to society. Its goals and

responsibilities are selfish—to serve the marketing goals of the company paying thebills. John Kenneth Galbraith argues that ads primarily serve private rather thanpublic interests.

Advertising operates exclusively... on behalf of privately produced goods andservices.... Every corner of the public’s psyche is canvassed by some of thenation’s most talented citizens to see if the desire for some merchantable prod-uct can be cultivated. No similar process operates on behalf of the nonmer-chantable services of the state.136

Michael Hyman and Richard Tansey argue that advertisers should be moreresponsible to public interests; they advocate three simple practices.137 First, adver-tisers should carefully assess both the medium and the market. Some images usedin advertisem*nts can have a negative impact on some groups, such as AIDS vic-tims, combat veterans, young men and women, and gamblers, to name only a few.Second, Hyman ad Tansey suggest that advertisers should clearly label psychoac-tive ads with an introductory announcement (such as the one used by news pro-grams to advise viewer discretion because of strong imagery or themes). Finally,they suggest that advertisers should avoid shocking dramatizations, such as show-ing a young child killed in a car accident because of a drunk driver.

Jacobson and Mazur summarize the problems of private versus public inter-ests—commercialism—in a democracy:

Any culture that surrenders its vision and its self-sustaining human values tothe narrow judgment of commerce will be neither free nor just. Commercialismdoes serious damage to the substance of democracy; if not to its forms. It leadsto censorship or self-censorship of the media, to invisible chains that keep peo-ple from speaking out, to the indentured status of politicians, and to an overallcoarseness that deprecates the humanitarian impulses and the creative drives ofa culture in balance, a culture having commerce without commercialism.138

Advertising as Persuasion  295

Woodward-Denton Page 295 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

 What Can I Do?There is growing concern about the impact of commercials in our culture.

Some of the remedies suggested violate individual freedom of speech and decisionmaking. Many recommendations focus on specific areas or audience groups. Forexample, some argue commercial messages of all types should be banned inschools. Others suggest that students should be taught elements of media literacyand effects at a very early age. Some advocacy groups even argue media issuesshould be treated and viewed as public health issues. Others suggest that we create“ad-free zones,” especially on public land, parks, and scenic parkways.

If you are serious about minimizing the influence of advertising on your pur-chasing behavior and want to show concern for the environment, here are somesuggestions:

• Don’t “go shopping.” Don’t go to a store unless you need a specific item.

• Live within your means. Avoid using credit when making purchases; thiswill reduce impulse purchases.

• Take care of what you already own to extend the useful life of the item.

• “Wear it out.” Postpone buying new items.

• Do it yourself—learn to fix items.

• Research value, quality, and durability. Become a comparative shopper.

• Get it for less. Buy items only on sale and do comparative shopping formajor items.

• Buy it used. Secondhand retail stores and Internet sites such as eBay andcraigslist offer unlimited choices.

 SummaryOur purpose in this chapter was to identify the functions, techniques, tactics,

and appeals of contemporary advertising. Advertising is as powerful, subtle, andintensive as any face-to-face encounter. It is both a creative and scientific process.Advertising messages are inherently persuasive; they seek to convert the individualby playing on human emotion, hopes, and fears. People’s interests are targetedbased on demographic characteristics such as age, sex, income, or lifestyle. Oursociety is characterized by material possessions that often carry symbolic signifi-cance for the owner.

The quantity of advertising is increasing, and the lines between advertising andother forms of communication, such as news and information, are often blurred.Advertising, like all persuasive communication, is not neutral and will alwaysinvolve a battle of “psychological wits.” To balance the pervasive presence of adver-tising, consumers must engage in constant, critical analysis of advertising’s mes-sages and influence.

296  Chapter Ten

Woodward-Denton Page 296 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

 QUESTIONS AND PROJECTS FOR FURTHER STUDY1. Select a print ad, a radio ad, and a television commercial and critique the ads

following the questions and guidelines provided in the section on “How to Cri-tique Ads.”

2. Thumb through a monthly or weekly magazine; find examples of ads that cre-ate appeals based on:

a. fear

b. humor

c. guilt

d. isolation

e. sex

f. power

g. meaning

h. self-esteem

i. norms

3. Select a magazine ad and perform a detailed content analysis of both theexplicit and implicit meanings and promises contained in the ad.

4. Select an issue of Gentlemen’s Quarterly and Vogue. How are men and womenportrayed in each magazine? Do the portrayals differ? If so, how? What type ofrelationships, roles, and social status are the models portraying?

5. Record all the ads you see in one day from these sources: television, radio,newspapers, magazines, World Wide Web, billboards, and “point of sale” dis-plays in stores. How does the list you compiled compare to the lists of others inyour class?

6. Think about the items you have purchased in the last two weeks. How did youlearn about them? Why did you buy one particular brand rather than another?

7. Select one product category and one major magazine (for example, automo-biles and Time magazine). Go to the library and find back issues of the publica-tion and see how the advertising for the product has changed for each decadesince 1940.

8. Take one product category and see how many different appeals are used in adsfor the product appearing in magazines written for varying reader interests.

9. Watch one hour of television and record each commercial shown.

10. List your three favorite ads. Why do you like them? What appeals to you in theads and makes them effective?

Advertising as Persuasion  297

Woodward-Denton Page 297 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

 ADDITIONAL READING Bob Batchelor and Danielle Coombs (Eds.), We Are What we Sell (Santa Barbara, CA: Prae-

ger, 2014).Chris Linford and Jo Hodges, The Fundamentals of Digital Advertising (New York: Fairchild

Books, 2014).Marieke de Mooij, Global Marketing and Advertising: Understanding Cultural Paradoxes, 4th ed.

(Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2013).Carol Pardun (Ed.), Advertising and Society: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-

Blackwell, 2013).A. K. Pradeep, Mind Men: How Neuromarketing Advances are Transforming Advertising (Hobo-

ken, NJ: Wiley, 2014).

Woodward-Denton Page 298 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Woodward-Denton Page 299 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM


Political Persuasion


 Language, Communication, Politics, and Persuasion

 Characteristics of PoliticalCommunication and Persuasion

Short-Term OrientationSpecific ObjectivesMediatedAudience Centered

 Ideology

 The Political Socialization ProcessPolitical Socialization OutcomesAgents of Political SocializationLevels of Interaction

 Forms of Political PersuasionAdministrative Persuasion

Setting the Public AgendaBuilding Productive CoalitionsChanneling the National Mood

Legislative PersuasionInfluence of StaffDeliberationHearingsConstituent and Party Pressure

Campaign PersuasionPolitical MarketingCampaign ResearchCampaign StrategyImportance of Media Framing

and PrimingPolitical Persuasion through

Symbolic and Status IssuesPolitical Persuasion in the Context

of Entertainment

 What We Can Learn from Political Persuasion

Limited Effects ModelSignificant Effects Model

 Politics and Trust



300  Chapter Eleven

Woodward-Denton Page 300 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody. It will bedone by somebody or other. If wise men decline it, others will not; ifhonest men refuse it, others will not.1

—John Adams, encouraging his son to enter public life

As members of communities, we have a significant interest in public business.Politics is the means for negotiating these terms. We are all politicians. Our politi-cal selves endlessly negotiate a range of power relationships—from the ways wepresent ourselves in a job resume to the vows we write for a wedding ceremony.

We establish contacts and ties that bind us together and sometimes pull usapart, whether on a personal or a governmental level. The fraying of relationswithin human groups can lead to violence. An alternative is to manage themthrough political institutions, using persuasion, negotiation, and compromise astools for problem solving. To be sure, we are often cynical about politics, and espe-cially professional politicians whom we frequently judge to be the agents of specialinterests. But politics is an indispensable process for negotiating our differences.Public business, free choice, and persuasion are inseparable. Open societies requirepolitical activity and the bartering that comes with it. As John Bunzel has noted,the presence of a political situation implies the absence of agreement and the exis-tence of multiple patterns of influence. “Only in a closed society, where people areaccustomed to accept what the rulers are convinced is ‘good’ for them, can the dis-tinctive context of politics be totally removed in favor of the art of imposition.”2

Despite the importance of political activity in open societies, Americans for anumber of decades have seemed uneasy and frustrated. Opinion polls have shownthat more than half of Americans routinely indicate the United States is headeddown the “wrong track,” and people are dissatisfied with the way things are going.3

Since 1973, the Harris Alienation Index has found that a majority of Americansbelieve: the people running the country do not care about them; people with powertake advantage of others; and the opinions of citizens count for very little. In addi-tion, nearly half of all Americans had negative feelings for both the Democraticand the Republican parties. About the same number thought few members of Con-gress were honest or trustworthy or worked for the benefit of the people they repre-sent. In fact, the Alienation Index is hitting historic highs (percentages in the 60s)in the decade that began in 2010.4

The polarization of the United States was vastly evident in the aftermath of the2000 presidential election. George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore. After abitter dispute primarily about the voting in Florida, Bush was declared the winner bythe Supreme Court. There were cries of voter fraud and corruption and allegations of“stealing” the election. Journalist Michael Barone of the National Journal labeled theUnited States the “49 percent nation” in 2001.5 George W. Bush was the third consec-utive winner of the presidency with less than 50 percent of the vote. States became

Political Persuasion  301

Woodward-Denton Page 301 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

“red” or “blue,” matching the depiction of an electoral map in The New York Times.Bush received a plurality of votes in “red” states, while Gore carried the “blue” states.6

The distinctions were geographically striking, and the terms “red” and “blue”became code words. “Red” America is comprised of small-town, religious folks,and “blue” America is much more secular, urban, and diverse.7 In 2004, Ameri-cans, once again, chose “red” over “blue” by a slightly larger margin. Althoughsome academics do question the red/blue dichotomy, Larry Sabato thinks the dif-ferences are real and “were stark in 2004, a great gulf separating the average audi-ence one would encounter in the Northeast or California from those of the Southor Midwestern breadbasket states.”8

The 2008 presidential campaign was historic in many ways: the nation’s firstAfrican American elected president, first Roman Catholic elected vice president,first time since 1960 that a sitting U.S. Senator was elected president, the longestand most expensive campaign in history, and a record number of votes cast repre-senting the highest percentage of eligible voters since 1960.9 There are two otherimportant elements to the 2008 election. First, the 18–29-year-old vote was at his-toric levels and was a major contributor to President Obama’s electoral vote vic-tory, turning several states traditionally “red” (Virginia and North Carolina, forexample) to “blue.” Second, it was the first campaign in which the traditionalmedia—television, radio, and newspapers—were overshadowed by new mediatechnologies. The Obama campaign changed forever the use of the Internet andWeb 2.0 technologies.10 The Obama campaign used Twitter, YouTube, and Face-book to bypass traditional media and to inform voters on their own turf.11

In many ways the 2012 presidential election was similar to 2008. PresidentObama maintained his support in the Northeast, Pacific West and a slim advantage inthe Midwest. Governor Romney’s support was in the Greater South, the Plains andInner West. President Obama’s support remained strong among African Americans,Hispanics, 18–29-year-olds, and non-married and professional women. In contrast,Governor Romney did well among men, middle- and older-aged citizens, and mar-ried women. In many ways, it was a status quo election, although it was also very par-tisan and polarizing. The contest pivoted in just a handful of states. President Obamawon 62 percent of the Electoral College votes, but only 22 percent of all the countiesin the nation. Governor Romney won 52 percent of all congressional districts.

Media usage is another indicator of the polarization of politics in the UnitedStates. Americans tend to select their source of news based on perceptions of thephilosophical and ideological leanings of the news outlets. Some view Fox News asconservative and watched primarily by Republicans; CNN is perceived as liberaland watched by Democrats. The pattern is repeated for newspapers, with The WallStreet Journal favored by conservatives and The New York Times by liberals. Liberalswatch mainstream network news, while conservatives prefer talk radio. Technologyallows for even more selective and personal media choices, as evidenced by theincreasing impact of new media technologies. Sixty-six percent of social media usersengage in political activity on those platforms. Younger users are more likely to posttheir thoughts about issues, post links to political material, react to others’ postings,encourage others to take political action, belong to a political group on a social net-working site, and follow elected officials on social media. Social media users with

302  Chapter Eleven

Woodward-Denton Page 302 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

strong ideological ties—liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans—are morelikely than moderates in both parties to use social media for political purposes.12

Although it might seem that partisan politics and rivalries have only recentlydominated our social and cultural landscape, partisanship has a long-standing tra-dition. We cannot escape “politics.” Politics, broadly defined, is the “currency” ofsocial life. From the sublime to the ridiculous, politics influences our lives on adaily basis. In this chapter we look at the role of communication in politics, broadlydefined. Our focus extends beyond electoral politics to encompass how communi-cation in political contexts is or becomes persuasive.

 Language, Communication, Politics, and PersuasionOver 2,300 years ago, Aristotle recognized that politics and communication

go hand in hand because they are essential parts of human nature. He wrote aboutthe natural kinship of politics and communication. In Politics, he argued thathumans are “political beings [who] alone of the animals [are] furnished with thefaculty of language.”

[Communication] serves to indicate what is useful and what is harmful, and so alsowhat is just and what is unjust. For the real difference between man and other ani-mals is that humans alone have perception of good and evil, just and unjust, etc.13

Aristotle began his systematic analysis of discourse in Rhetoric by proclaiming “rhe-torical study, in its strict sense, is concerned with the modes of persuasion.”14

Language, as the means of passing cultural and political values within orbetween generations of people, provides a group or an individual a means of identi-fication with a specific culture, set of values, or political entity. Words are themolds for concepts and thoughts; they become symbols reflecting beliefs and val-ues. Thus, the creation of language, or symbol systems, is required before societiesand political cultures can develop. Language serves a number of invaluable func-tions. It is the agent of social integration, the means of cultural socialization, thevehicle for social interaction, the channel for the transmission of values and ideol-ogy, and the glue that bonds people, ideas, and society together.

David Green argues that the history of language is also the history of politics:“Politics is a process of conflict resolution, conflict creation, and conflict manage-ment; and political language at once reflects and contributes to these processes.”15

Language and policy are closely related as well. The use of language—specifically,language used in political settings—negotiates the outcomes of conflicts over power.

Murray Edelman, an early scholar of communication and politics, defines apolitical setting as “whatever is background and remains over a period of time, limit-ing perception and responses.”16 A political setting “is more than land, buildings,and physical props. It includes any assumptions about basic causation or motivationthat are generally accepted.”17 The setting, then, creates the perspective from whichmass audiences will analyze a situation, define their response, and establish the emo-tional context of the act that enfolds. Political actors must carefully assess the situa-tion, calculate the appropriate action, and identify effective roles. Settings, therefore,condition political acts. For example, there have been recurrent calls since the 1980s

Political Persuasion  303

Woodward-Denton Page 303 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

for an amendment to the Constitution to ban flag desecration (e.g., burning the flagas a form of political protest). At the time this textbook was published, the politicalsetting was focused on fighting terrorism. Thus, any attempts to pass or to veto anamendment prohibiting flag desecration would be affected by that particular setting.

For G. R. Boynton, “Politics is conversation, talk, argument and persuasion,and communication.”18 More specifically, he defines politics as “conversationsflowing through institutionalized channels punctuated by the vote.” In fact, politi-cians spend almost all of their time (whether in hearings, in briefings, at publicmeetings, making public announcements, or campaigning) engaged in persuasion.Voting is the way they or we, depending on the context, record the current state ofthe talk before returning to the ongoing conversation. Institutionalized channelsare the sites in which conversations take place. The primary channel is the massmedia, but other channels include conversations on the campaign trail, pressreleases, letters, etc. As Boynton concludes, “there are many conversations andmany channels and great interaction between public and officials.”19

As the use of public opinion polls, voter demographics, and models of votingbehavior have proliferated, academics sometimes separate the concepts of politicsand campaigns. However, political scientists Bruce Bimber and Richard Davis notethat “the fabric holding all of this together is communication. For this reason, tounderstand who is elected and why, one must think about elections in terms of howcandidates communicate and what effect that communication has and does nothave on the public.”20

304  Chapter Eleven

Woodward-Denton Page 304 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Sharon Jarvis makes four assumptions about the nature of politics and politicallanguage/discourse.21 First, as already noted, citizens come to know politicsthrough discourse or interaction. Second, citizen discussions about politics is led,but not fully determined by, the discourse of the “elite” (certain politicians, pundits,religious, or social leaders). Such discourse contains clues for understanding andbehaving. Third, labels function as powerful shortcuts in modern life and haveimportant psychological effects on citizens. Finally, the meanings of political termsshift from time to time and may become broader, narrower, or change entirely.

Language is political not because of its particular vocabulary or linguistic formbut because of the substance of the information it conveys, the setting in which theinteraction occurs, and the explicit or implicit functions performed by the lan-guage. Political language, then, is about power, social relationships, ethics, andidentity, to name only a few elements. Paul Corcoran argues:

All language is political because every speech setting, however private and inti-mate, involves power relations, social roles, privileges, and contested meanings.It is not simply difficult to separate out the intermingling of politics and lan-guage. Rather, one cannot distinguish between politics and language becausethey do not occupy separate spheres of existence that merely “overlap.” In amuch stronger sense, language articulates and confirms all the things that wecall political: the weak and strong, the valued and the rejected, the desired andthe undesirable, “us” and “them.”22

 Characteristics of Political Communication and PersuasionWe have established that persuasion is a process of altering or strengthening

beliefs, attitudes, or values in an effort to elicit a desired behavior. To talk about“political persuasion” we must explore the influences of context, medium, andpurpose on the message. Although the types of political messages and the formsthey take are limitless, there are commonalities among them. The most generalcharacteristics of political communication include four elements: (1) short-termorientation, (2) specific objectives, (3) primarily mediated, and, above all, (4) audi-ence centered.23

Short-Term OrientationPolitical life is preoccupied with transitory issues and limited time frames.

Messages are typically planned, prepared, and delivered with an eye to immediateoutcomes. The sequence generally follows this pattern: an issue needs to beaddressed; a campaign begins; the ultimate goal is a vote on a proposed solution.Political persuasive messages usually are part of the continuous flow of public dis-cussion within a specific time frame. The limited and specific time frames for polit-ical campaigns are rather obvious—after votes are cast, the campaign is over. Butthe public discussion and consideration of issues are comprised of many initiatives.Issues are discussed in a variety of ways, over numerous time periods. According toLloyd Bitzer, most political messages occur in specific historical situations thatstructure possible responses. “Political speakers find themselves in situations thatpresent problems, crises, obstacles, or other kinds of exigencies which they seek to

Political Persuasion  305

Woodward-Denton Page 305 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

modify by addressing messages to mediating audiences—that is, to audienceswhich have sufficient power to modify the exigencies.”24

After an issue or problem has been identified (often as the result of a targetedcampaign), some type of action will occur if sufficient numbers of people call for aresolution. The action could be a new law, a court ruling, a national or state refer-endum, or a designated investigation.

Specific ObjectivesThe political talk of campaigns, of legislation, and of public discourse is care-

fully molded, crafted, and sometimes tested to insure an intended effect. Soundbites are created, answers to anticipated questions are rehearsed, and messages aretargeted to very specific audiences of essential constituents. As Brian McNairargues, political communication is “purposeful communication about politics.”25

Purposeful communication is directive and intentional. Because political communi-cation seeks to alter beliefs/attitudes/values and to induce individual or collectiveaction, it is founded squarely on the principles of persuasion.

MediatedThe primary source of information about politics, issues, leaders, and cam-

paigns is some form of mass media: television, radio, newspapers, magazines,direct mail, blogs, or websites. Because political communication is largely medi-ated communication, the mass media are basic to the study and practice of politics.The media compete with politicians to set public agendas, define issues, and framepublic debate. For the public, the mass media (including, increasingly, the Internet)become the primary source of political information, knowledge, and opinion onissues and campaigns of concern.

Audience CenteredAll practical communication is audience centered. However, political dis-

course is especially audience centered or audience sensitive. Politicians and govern-ment officials are motivated by the desire to gain the support of specificconstituencies. Political messages are not neutral; they are created with a targetedaudience in mind.

Robert Denton and Jim Kuypers define political communication as the “publicdiscussion about the allocation of public resources (revenues), official authority(who is given control; i.e., the power to make legal, legislative, and executive deci-sions), official sanctions (what the state rewards or punishes), and social meaning(what does it mean to be an American, the role of the citizen, implications of socialpolicy, etc.).26 How revenue is generated and allocated are clear matters of politicaldiscussion, debate, and policy. The Affordable Care Act dominated much of Presi-dent Obama’s first term and the 2012 campaign in terms of costs, funding, and cov-erage. Political campaigns are official exercises in granting authority to electedofficials to represent citizens or to implement policies advocated during the elec-toral contest. There are all types of sanctions beyond legal compliance. Tax poli-cies, for example, sanction very specific types of behavior. The public debate over

306  Chapter Eleven

Woodward-Denton Page 306 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

same-sex marriage is another example. The final consideration of meaningacknowledges that political communication is much more than the enacting of leg-islation and the election of officials. Public debate expresses our beliefs and valuesas a nation. Our debates over abortion, gun control, affirmative action, or charterschools all reflect firmly held beliefs. Thus, most political communication activitiesencompass core beliefs and values.

 IdeologyThe original Greek meaning of the word “ideology” was “the science of

ideas.” Today, the term refers to a shared system of beliefs, assertions, and idealsreflecting the aspirations and social needs of an individual, group, or culture. Ideol-ogies are socially constructed and are subject to a continual process of redefinitionand interpretation. Ideology is a symbolic belief system that turns listeners intobelievers and believers into actors. For the individual, internalizing a political ide-ology requires a continual assessment of political acts based on norms or valuesthat become a permanent motivation for political action. Ideology provides thestructures of understanding that unite citizens in effective political action.

Ideology provides several useful functions in our democracy.27 First, it pro-vides a consensus in the definition of a situation. Within days after the events of 9/11, leaders portrayed the assault as a “sneak attack” on our nation by terrorists.Second, ideology provides legitimacy. It endorses the proper response—in thiscase, the “war on terrorism.” It also provides the moralization of action—not justan appropriate response but also a just and moral response. An ideology helps citi-zens identify with a national action and with the leaders. Finally, it situates eventsin our history.

Interestingly, the United States is generally characterized as being less ideolog-ical than most nations, especially Europe. Our political system focuses on specificissues and personalities rather than on political parties and abstract ideologies. Asa result, terms such as liberal and conservative have lost some of their utility.

They are devoid of historical content and offer little to predict how one group orthe other will respond to changing circ*mstances. This lack of coherence, con-text, and predictability has a debilitating effect on political decision making. Itproduces a political discourse that distances citizens from engaging with oneanother, and it prevents the vibrant debates and discussions essential for a dem-ocratic process.28

Today, politicians target voting groups—the retired, soccer moms, hunters, unionmembers—with promises and sound bites. Rather than offering an ideology of therole of government in our collective lives, most politicians appeal to special inter-ests to attract votes.

Accepting an ideology implies a commitment toward a specific social reality.On a larger scale, the commitment toward an ideology links one to a community ofbelievers who largely share the same interpretation of the world. This commonalityof perspective provides a strong rationale for specific societal behavior or action.

Political Persuasion  307

Woodward-Denton Page 307 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

 The Political Socialization ProcessWhy are you a Democrat or Republican? Liberal or conservative? Why do you

vote? The process of learning about politics and our political system is generallyreferred to as “political socialization.” The process explains how we develop politi-cal attitudes and values. Although specific definitions differ, James Gimpel, CelesteLay, and Jason Schuknecht define political socialization as “the process by whichnew generations are induced into political culture, learning the knowledge, values,and attitudes that contribute to support of the political system.”29 The content ofwhat is transmitted is important because the goal is the perpetuation of values con-sistent with the governance of the nation. Effective political socialization enhancesknowledge about and support for democratic processes and promotes participa-tion. The foundation of the knowledge transmitted occurs early in life. Researchdemonstrates that what is learned during childhood affects adult political behaviorand opinions.

Scholars identify three conceptual frameworks of the political socializationprocess.30 The system theory perspective is the broadest and views the process asone of system inputs and outputs that garner general support over time. It is adynamic process of give and take. Social policies, such as general welfare or protec-tion from enemies, generate citizen support; grateful citizens, in return, supportgovernment actions. The structural-functional approach views socialization as amore linear process of “teaching” or instructing youth of the expectations ofdesired behavior and citizenship. The narrowest approach is individual analysis. Itfocuses on the factors and agents of influence in the socialization process.

All socialization takes place through interaction with others. The general goalof political socialization is to persuade and educate citizens to support and to par-ticipate in the political system. Michael Carpini notes:

Political socialization is a continuing process influenced by ongoing interac-tions with family and friends, the workplace, and significant personal and soci-etal events, as well as through life cycle changes that affect one’s contact withand relationship to the political and social world.31

Political Socialization OutcomesThere are several important outcomes of the political socialization process.

The first is general political knowledge. By political knowledge, researchers mean“the capacity of citizens to recall facts about what government is and does.” Thesefacts include knowledge about the history of the country, political structures, andthe roles of various officeholders, for example.32

A second outcome of political socialization is political efficacy. There are twotypes of political efficacy. Internal efficacy refers to the perception and belief thatone has the resources and knowledge to impact or participate in the political pro-cess. It is “one’s self-confidence regarding involvement in politics.”33 External effi-cacy refers to the perception that government is responsive to citizens’ attempts tobe heard. Will my efforts make a difference? Will my voice be heard? Today, asalready noted, we see declines in voting and rising feelings of cynicism. If the cli-mate continues, external efficacy may be in jeopardy.

308  Chapter Eleven

Woodward-Denton Page 308 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

A third outcome of successful political socialization is frequency of politicaldiscussion. Discussion is a way to gain information, clarify points, and influencethe thoughts of others. A free marketplace of ideas is vital to the concept of democ-racy. Diversity of thought and respect for dissent are hallmarks of the values of free-dom and justice. When multiple viewpoints are heard and expressed, the“common good” prevails over “private interests.” Another value of democracy iscollective deliberation on disputes about issues and fundamental values. Nationaland public debates determine the collective wisdom and will of the people. Thus, atthe very heart of democracy is public communication. The quality of that publiccommunication directly impacts the quality of our democracy and society at large.

We are, after all, the Arguing Country. We are born to debate, free of top-downrulers and their absolutes; no other place has such a provenance and responsi-bility. We are—and must remain, if we are to thrive—a never-ending series ofarguments about the meaning of personhood and citizenship; about the struc-ture of government, credit and the law; about our relationship to the rest of theworld and even to the demands of our own history.... Facts change, but theunderlying creative tensions do not. The trick is to tap the heat of the friction inthe service of progress as we struggle toward the Founders’ “more perfectunion.” We’ve been doing it since 1607.... In a nation built on the idea ofargument, the object of reform is not to reach a point where everyone agrees—because no one ever does—but to ensure that everyone is heard.34

A fourth outcome of successful political socialization involves positive atti-tudes and support for the system of government. It is important for citizens torespect public officials and to trust that the judicial system is fair and equal.Expressions of support for the political system means not only voluntarily obeyinglaws and supporting policy decisions but also voting and participating in otherpolitical activities. In the United States, respect for the political process supersedeswinning or losing a particular campaign or vote. We respect the process (perhapsafter following any available, legal remedies such as recounts) even if the particularoutcome we wanted did not happen. We expect to lobby, campaign, or vote againat the next opportunity to attempt to change the outcome to one we find moreacceptable. Rarely do we reject the entire process.

Agents of Political SocializationThe four most influential agents of political socialization are families, schools,

social/peer networks, and the media. Without question, the family has the greatestamount of influence in the political socialization process. Parents pass along theirpolitical orientations to their children. At an early age children develop politicalbeliefs about authority, property, and political symbols. Beginning at age five and con-tinuing through adolescence, children form and hold specific “orientations” regard-ing the president and other political leaders, political parties, political institutions,social issues, and ideology.35 Common experiences shared in a household forge andreinforce political beliefs and values. The most enduring influence of the family onchildren is party affiliation. This allegiance occurs early and tends to remain through-out one’s life, barring a significant, life-changing event. The transmission of politicalvalues to children is strongest in families where the parents are active politically.

Political Persuasion  309

Woodward-Denton Page 309 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

A later source of family influence is one’s spouse. The effect is not necessarilydue to persuasion; rather, spouses share common life experiences that shape theirpolitical attitudes collectively in the same direction. The highest levels of couplecommonality are found for party identification and choice of candidates.36

Spouses tend toward like-mindedness because of the selection processes thatbring them together in the first place. After marriage, mutual socialization alsoworks to produce commonalities in political outlook over time. Because of thisprocess, in both a relative and an absolute sense, husbands and wives really dobegin to look more alike as the marriage ages.37

Schools are the agents with the second greatest amount of influence. They pro-vide general civic education and teach rituals such as reciting the Pledge of Alle-giance that help shape students’ attitudes toward government. Of course, individualteachers can exert a great amount of influence, to the chagrin of some parents.Overall, schools are most effective in teaching obedience to authority, the mechan-ics of our system of government, and the broad responsibilities of citizenship.38

However, there are differences in political socializations based on the economicand social backgrounds of the students. Those from homes with college-educatedparents and from upper socioeconomic backgrounds are more interested in politics,pay more attention to news, perform better on tests of civic knowledge, and havehigher levels of electoral participation.39

The next most influential agents of political socialization are our social networksor peer groups. Social network members exert a strong influence on key politicaldecisions such as candidate choice, partisan support, and opinions about issues.40

The role and influence of friends, neighbors, and close associates tends to be one ofreinforcement. Most of our associations are with people of similar attitudes, values,socioeconomic and class backgrounds, and political beliefs. Thus, our peer andsocial networks provide information and support of preexisting beliefs and atti-tudes. Some of our peers take on leadership roles. Since the mid-1950s, researchershave looked at how individuals act as both filters of mediated content and assources of interpersonal influence. Chapter 5 discussed influence as a two-step flowprocess where opinion leaders (1) serve as conduits of information obtainedthrough the mass media; and (2) share their interpretations or opinions about theinformation with others, who accept and take action on the basis of that analysis.

The media are also major agents of political socialization. The mediated social-ization process starts early in life, providing the “raw material” that makes up ourpolitical beliefs, attitudes, and values. Much of what is taught to children throughinterpersonal interactions with family, peers, and teachers originates from themedia.41 It is important to note that both entertainment and public affairs program-ming continue to shape one’s perceptions on all types of social issues.

Except for the media, all other agents of political socialization are products ofthe local social and political environments. They generally reinforce the politicalvalues of the community. The social characteristics of our community, neighbor-hood, and larger social networks influence how we discuss politics and withwhom. As noted in chapter 8, citizens gain information and seek advice throughinteraction. Political influence develops through patterns of communication

310  Chapter Eleven

Woodward-Denton Page 310 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

among citizens; the exchange of opinions in interpersonal interactions may lead topersuasion to alter existing beliefs.

Levels of InteractionSilvo Lenart investigated three levels of interpersonal political processes: per-

son-to-person, group-to-person, and opinion climate-to-person.42 The person-to-person level comes from the classic “two-step flow” model of political influence.As mentioned above, opinion leaders are very similar to the individuals they influ-ence in terms of attitudes, beliefs, and values. They tend to belong to the same pri-mary groups (e.g., family, friends, or coworkers). Most studies show this to be themost powerful mode of influence, although being in the “echo chamber” (a contextof similar opinions and beliefs) with friends (who may not be opinion leaders) hasan equally strong influence. The role of the media is secondary to the role of inter-personal influence.

Studies investigating group influence on individuals come primarily from “net-work analysis” and “social context” research. This perspective views individuals ashighly interdependent with others in hom*ogeneous groups where members conformto group goals and identity through peer pressure. The interpersonal relationshipsprovide networks of communication and anchor points for individual beliefs, atti-tudes, and values. The more cohesive the group, the higher the level of individual sat-isfaction and the greater the tendency to influence and to be influenced by others.43

Through social interaction with group members, individuals learn which attitudes areacceptable and thus have the potential for positive reinforcement and social approval.

Many believe that the mass media function as opinion climates. Research dat-ing back to the 1950s demonstrates that many people eventually agree with whatthey perceive to be the majority point of view. Prominent German pollster ElisabethNoelle-Neumann introduced the concept of “the spiral of silence” in 1974.44 It pro-vides insight into why people think the media have such strong influence when,empirically, studies find very minimal direct effects. She posits that we are con-stantly surveying our social environment for cues about what is popular and what isin disfavor. On issues of political or social importance, we assess and form animpression among various viewpoints that seem to have the most public support.We make such evaluations, according to Noelle-Neumann, because we do not wantto be perceived as ill informed and risk being isolated by others. If our opinions orviewpoints are not those of the majority, then we suppress our opinions. Rather thanvoicing our opposing views, we simply keep quiet. Thus, “the spiral of silence holdsthat (a) those in the minority will curb the expression of their views, with (b) theresult that the impression of public opinion resulting from the tripartite of personalexperience—others, events, and media—will be distorted toward an overestimate ofsupport for the majority and an underestimate of support for the minority.”45

George Comstock and Erica Scharrer reviewed the body of scholarship onpolitical socialization and arrived at the following three propositions.

• Although the mass media are often central in the dissemination of newsabout what has transpired, their influence on the judgments and opinions ofindividuals is small.

Political Persuasion  311

Woodward-Denton Page 311 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

• Political allegiances and ideological outlook are largely rooted in personalexperience, including socialization by parents and the social influence ofthose with whom one associates.

• There is a strong tendency to conform to the expectations of others.46

 Forms of Political PersuasionPolitical persuasion consists of two primary elements: the process of negotiating

differences that surface in our organizational and community life and the outcomethat gives power to some (and usually takes it from others). In this section we turnour attention to some of the major features of administrative, legislative, and campaignpersuasion. Each offers its own problems and possibilities and suggests a range ofstrategic persuasive options that are useful in many contexts beyond politics.

Administrative PersuasionThe formal powers of most governmental leaders rarely fall in the category of

unilateral orders that are carried out swiftly. Despite being elected president forfour terms (1932 until his death in 1945) and steering the country through theGreat Depression and World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt thought he hadvery little power, once telling an amused gathering of reporters,

The Treasury is so large and far-flung and ingrained in its practices that I find italmost impossible to get the action and results I want.... But the Treasury isnot to be compared with the State Department. You should go through theexperience of trying to get any changes in the thinking, policy, and action of thecareer diplomats and then you’d know what a real problem was.... [And theNavy?] To change anything in the Na-a-vy is like punching a feather bed.47

For presidents, mayors, and officers of corporations, leadership requires per-suasion. Although topping the organizational chart, they recognize that authorityis not sufficient. To be an effective leader, they must cultivate their persuasive skills.A judge in a court of law renders decisions and sentences, but others know thatthey cannot govern by decree only. The need to win the allegiance of their ownbureaucracies (not to mention the support of members of Congress and the massmedia) dictates the necessity for constant attention to the techniques of persuasion.While prime minister of Great Britain in 2008, Gordon Brown described the worldas at a tipping point where opportunities to eradicate poverty and to establishsocial justice vied with the struggles of people to adapt to globalization, technolog-ical advances, and climate change. One reporter suggested that in order to accom-plish his goal of reforming international institutions, “he will have to acquire a skillhe has never perfected—the ability to communicate and persuade.”48

Over the last quarter of the century, we have seen the convergence of the activ-ities, skills and demands of political and corporate leadership and management.Many members of the business community enter politics, and long-term politiciansenter the corporate and academic arenas. We look to leaders for more than thedaily management of governmental affairs. We expect their actions and words toembrace our goals and values; leaders are simultaneously symbols and symbol

312  Chapter Eleven

Woodward-Denton Page 312 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

makers. The success that any single leader enjoys is partly a function of skill inevoking a public sense of participation. Broadly speaking, administrative persua-sion sets the public agenda, builds coalitions, and channels public attitudes into aworkable course of action.

Setting the Public Agenda. One measure of any leader’s success is how wellhe or she can focus attention on a common problem and dramatize its significance.At any given time, public attention is limited to a relatively small number of issuesthat dominate newspaper headlines and evening news broadcasts. A governor withan eye on shaping a state’s agenda may repeatedly focus on a limited number ofurgent issues in order to orchestrate news coverage that will alter public opinion.This is sometimes called “staying on message,” or “managing the news agenda.”

The Reagan administration in the early 1980s was highly successful in manag-ing the news agenda. Reagan combined his considerable personal charm with aunique ability to stay “on message.” Access to the president was limited, and advis-ers kept the press busy with at least one “message of the day” and one photo oppor-tunity. As one unhappy journalist noted, “together they sold the official myths ofReagan’s presidency to the American public by developing a sophisticated newmodel for manipulating the press.”49

Barack Obama’s 2012 convention nomination address was written in seven-minute segments that made it ideal for YouTube presentation. Media scholar Rob-ert Thompson of Syracuse University said the address was “made for use by theDemocrats for social media.”50 More than 36 million people watched the accep-tance address and generated 4 million tweets. The Obama campaign not only man-aged the news agenda but also successfully challenged what had become anaccepted way of thinking about how the news is presented.

Building Productive Coalitions. The essence of political leadership is coali-tion building. Finding ways to get groups with different goals to work together is apowerful skill. Effective leaders know when to make alliances and when to endthem. Bill Clinton used a strategy of “triangulation” between Republicans andDemocrats to put together coalitions on a range of issues including free trade, fam-ily leave, and welfare reform. While George W. Bush built a coalition for his earlyefforts against the war on terrorism, he failed to win international understandingfor the abandonment of the ABM missile treaty with Russia and the Kyoto accordsto prevent global warming. Many Europeans came to view Bush as a unilateralistcontent to ignore the opinions of other nations.51 Ted Sorensen, former speech-writer for John F. Kennedy, compared Barack Obama’s historic primary campaignin 2008 to the efforts of Kennedy, the first Catholic president. He remarked thatKennedy’s victory in Protestant West Virginia electrified the country. Of Obama, hesaid, “At the root of all this is his remarkable ability to transcend traditional politicsand reach across lines—regional, political, racial—just as John F. Kennedy did.”52

Channeling the National Mood. The early presidents rarely addressed Con-gress or the public in person, but their modern counterparts are expected to expressthe collective grief, anger, joy, and resolve of their constituents. Theodore Rooseveltdeclared the White House a “bully pulpit,” and each succeeding leader has under-

Political Persuasion  313

Woodward-Denton Page 313 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

stood the role of president as encompassing an important public dimension. Weexpect the president to be, in Mary Stuckey’s words, our “interpreter in chief.” Asshe notes, the holder of the highest office in the land has become “the nation’s chiefstoryteller,” offering narratives of “what sort of people we are, [and] how we areconstituted as a community.”53 George W. Bush’s first address to Congress after theterrorist attacks on New York and Washington and Ronald Reagan’s eulogy for thecrew lost in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger gave voice to the feelings ofmost Americans, expressing both national resolve and grief.

Legislative PersuasionMembers of Congress spend their time shuttling between Washington DC and

their home state—between governing and campaigning. In a routine day, a senatoror representative may meet with constituents in the morning, lunch with a lobbyistat noon, question an expert witness in an afternoon committee meeting, andreceive an evening phone call from a cabinet official soliciting support on anupcoming vote. In between these events, members may consult with a dozen col-leagues, plan strategy on the introduction of a piece of legislation, tape a radioreport to constituents back home, and review the schedule for a busy weekend ofcampaigning. The time spent actually “voting” on legislation is slim.

We tend to judge our representatives by communication with the citizens oftheir district, the way they deal with constituents, and the services they provide forthe district. Constituent service includes voicing concerns of the district, solvingindividual problems that citizens have with the government, and making sure thatthe district gets its share of federal money and assistance. The majority of the con-stituent work is done by district staff members.54

The primary job of a member of Congress is “talking”—communicating withconstituents by mail, with the media on the phone or in person, with lobbyists, inpublic appearances, in Congressional speeches, at meetings or fund-raisers orsocial gatherings. Legislating is an endless round of exchanges in which informa-tion or support is sought from colleagues, the press, constituents, and interestgroups. The currency of legislative life is communication with staff members, con-stituents, and peers. When it comes to voting, however, there is very little talk. Inthe 112th Congress, the House introduced 6,711 bills and the Senate 3,695, yetonly 283 were enacted. Since 2000, less than 5 percent of all bills introduced arevoted into law.55

Influence of Staff. Members of Congress and their staffs work in an environ-ment of competing messages from constituents, government officials, and otherinterested parties. The interaction between members and their staffs is vitallyimportant. Staff members play major roles during three stages of decision making:when members are attentive to issues while the staff monitors policy developmentand formulates responses; in shaping members’ legislative agendas by identifyingkey issues to address; and shaping specific responses and alternatives to legislationfor member advocacy.

Congressional members routinely receive three types of information each dayfrom staff: policy information, political information, and procedural information.

314  Chapter Eleven

Woodward-Denton Page 314 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Policy information includes understanding the causes and magnitude of a problemand the impact proposed legislation has on budgetary issues as well as on specificconstituencies and society at large. Political information refers to the position ofother members, the point of view of party leaders, and the views of constituents.Procedural information includes the tracking of legislation, the schedule of activityin committees and on the floor, as well as the rules that govern consideration andvoting of measures.

Deliberation. Congressional deliberation is important in three ways. First,adequate and full discussion of issues makes resulting policies more legitimate; it isimportant that there be opportunities for all sides of an issue to be heard. Second,congressional debate (conveyed through news reports highlighting key argumentsand positions) educates the public on issues of concern. Finally, the more construc-tive the deliberation, the more likely that good policy and intelligent legislation willbe the end products.

Paul Quirk defines congressional deliberation as an intellectual process thatincludes the following elements: identifying and developing alternative policies,estimating the consequences of those policies, assessing the ethical or emotionalsignificance of policies and consequences, and refining provisions of proposed leg-islation. The primary vehicle for congressional deliberation is debate. “Memberslisten, and may contribute, to a stream of discourse about policy choices. Otheractors—such as the president, other executive branch officials, interest group repre-sentatives, and various experts—also contribute.”56 Legislative debate may be for-mal or informal. The primary formal settings include committee hearings,committee markups (drafting legislation), and floor debates. Informal avenues arethe meetings with interest groups, White House staff, and others from the executivebranch to argue for or against potential provisions of a bill.

Quirk makes the point that the rules, structure, and procedures of Congressinfluence the quality of deliberation. Some of the more important elementsinclude: the amount of time and attention Congress gives to a decision; the avail-able resources and expertise to address an issue; the information available for con-sideration; the opportunities for broad discussion among members; and incentivesfor deliberative effort, such as rules for selecting committee members and chairs.57

Although most congressional deliberation is done in committees, the finalstage is the floor debate. This stage gains the most media attention and hencereceives the greatest public awareness. According to Quirk, “a useful debate willfeature direct confrontation between opposing claims, with substantial presentationof reasoning, evidence, criticism, and rebuttal. Finally, it will go on for a reasonableperiod and then end with a decision.”58

Hearings. One of the most potent forums for the persuasion of both the U.S.public and individual legislators is the committee hearing. This venue is wheremuch of the work of legislating and negotiating is done. In 1973, the three majorcommercial networks devoted over 235 hours to the presentation of Senate hear-ings into the Watergate affair.59 The political and cultural history of the UnitedStates could be partly written from the minutes of the legislative hearings that havetaken place in the nation’s capital—ranging from Joseph McCarthy’s attempts in

Political Persuasion  315

Woodward-Denton Page 315 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

1954 to find Communists in the State Department to the confirmation hearings forthe appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court to the testimony oftobacco executives in 1998 to the testimony of Jeffrey Skilling (former CEO ofEnron) in 2006 to the testimony of baseball pitcher Roger Clemens in 2008 toAttorney General Eric Holder’s testimony about the “fast and furious” weapons in2012 to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s testimony in hearings on the BenghaziEmbassy attack in 2013. Millions of Americans become transfixed by the theater ofthese high-visibility proceedings.

Hearings are conducted by the members of committees who have jurisdictionover specific types of proposed legislation. They present an ideal setting for support-ers and opponents of legislation to dramatize their concerns. Victims, experts, andlobbyists regularly appear before committees that consider early drafts of proposedlegislation. Committee members often count on the presence of the press—espe-cially television cameras—to place issues of concern before the general public.Hearings have an inherent drama—whether a heated exchange between a commit-tee member and someone called for questioning or the prepared statements of thosewho have suffered a loss. The testimony of victims is often graphic and dramatic;the narratives highlight innocent victims and the villains who have harmed them.For example, the Enron employees who lost their jobs and their pensions fueledpublic anger against the company executives called by House and Senate commit-tees to explain their accounting practices.60 Committee leadership can orchestratehearings to sway public opinion and to make a convincing case for new legislation.

Constituent and Party Pressure. Members of legislatures are also the recipi-ents of influence from constituents and colleagues. In a representative democracy,messages from constituents receive attention, although action is not always taken.Letters, faxes, phone calls, and e-mail from a legislator’s district can all be factors indetermining how he or she will vote on a pending question. Office holders andinterest groups rely on the Internet to maintain and extend electoral support and tobring public pressure for or against individual bills.61 Individuals and groups areempowered by e-mail, Internet blogging, text messaging, and other online commu-nication—adding their voices to campaigns.62 The new voices represent bothopportunities and challenges for Congressional members.

Another source of influence is the party. Political parties are less dominant thanthey once were, but they are still important. Parties in Washington and the state cap-itals used to be able to “deliver” the votes of their members with great regularity.Prior to the 1950s, the act of going against one’s party was a risky business. Powerfulleaders like Lyndon Johnson in the Senate and Sam Rayburn in the House of Repre-sentatives headed well-drilled teams of floor managers and whips who would regu-larly deliver the votes of members on questions that had been defined as party issues.

In terms of general voting, most legislatures follow the will or direction of theirparty. However, in controversial votes or issues, they may well rely on personalbeliefs or values or clear preferences of key constituencies. Sometimes, individuallegislators are influenced by fellow member colleagues who are friends, are fromsimilar geographic areas, or perhaps voting as a result of “reciprocity”—returning afavor for support of a previous vote.63

316  Chapter Eleven

Woodward-Denton Page 316 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Campaign PersuasionIn chapter 9, we provided a brief overview of the features, phases, functions,

and strategies of political campaigns. In this chapter, we delve deeper into cam-paigns and focus on their inherent persuasive nature. According to longtime politi-cal operative Ed Rollins:

The modern campaign... is a high-tech, high-maintenance, high-anxiety, high-concept monstrosity where response time is instant. The candidate may havenever held office. The manager is a professional political consultant who may bejuggling three other races. The pollster samples public opinion every night forweeks. The press is frantically looking for dirt on the candidate and his or herevery relative, dead or alive. The television budget may be larger than the grossnational product of Niger. And if your ads don’t slash and burn, you’ll lose.64

Much of the change to contemporary campaigns, of course, comes at thehigher levels of electoral politics. There still are true “citizen-politicians” at thestate and local level; however, there is an increasing professionalization of politicalcampaigns, even at the local levels. As Daniel Shea and Michael Burton note:

The Internet, which found its political footing in the 21st century, has wroughtfundamental change. Every position paper, every advertisem*nt, every newsrelease, can now be personalized to voters across the World Wide Web. In thenew millennium, the local knowledge once monopolized by local politicalworkers who knew constituents by name or at least by reputation is being sup-planted by computer-generated voter lists that serve much the same function.65

Increasingly, campaign workers and money come from outside the geographicarea of the race. Money rules the day in terms of staff, advertising, and the use ofcampaign technology. Of course, money has always been the lifeblood of politics.In the 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy spent $70 million ($2.05 pervote received.) Each campaign becomes more expensive and breaks previousspending records. In 2008, John McCain was limited to spending just $85 millionfor the general election because of his participation in the public financing system.In contrast, the Obama campaign spent $750 million. In 2012, Mitt Romney spent$992 million, while Obama spent $1.07 billion.66

According to Shea and Burton, it is essential for every campaign to have atheme. “A good theme is a carefully crafted merger of what the voters want, what thecandidate has to offer, and what the opponent brings to the table.”67 Public opinionpolling helps candidates develop a theme that sums up voter concerns. Challengershave more latitude in theme selection. Incumbents are more restricted because theyhave a record to defend or exploit and prior rhetorical postures from which deviationis difficult. Campaign themes are most effective for voters who make their choice ofwhich candidate to support for reasons other than party affiliation or incumbent sta-tus. Campaign themes try to be as inclusive and broad as possible. Consistency andrepetition of the campaign theme are critical considerations. Themes can include theeconomy, peace, prosperity, participation, hope, leadership, and change. Campaignslogans often reflect campaign themes. Examples include: “Vote yourself a farm”(Abraham Lincoln); “Peace and prosperity” (Dwight D. Eisenhower); “The stakesare too high for you to stay home” (Lyndon B. Johnson); “It’s morning in America”

Political Persuasion  317

Woodward-Denton Page 317 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

(Ronald Reagan); “Yes, America can” (George W. Bush, 2004); “Change we canbelieve in” (Barack Obama, 2008) and “Forward” (Barack Obama, 2012).68

In campaigns, there are two basic types of issues. Positional issues are those thathave well-defined sides and require definitive positions. Issues such as abortion,gun control, embryonic stem cell research, and same-sex marriage are examples ofpositional issues. Valence issues reflect more general concerns about which mostpeople agree: a strong national defense, good schools, safe roads, and less crime?Campaigns express and communicate more valence issues than positional ones.

Political Marketing. Politicians increasingly use marketing techniques andresearch tools to plan effective campaigns. Joe McGinniss wrote The Selling of thePresident after learning that both presidential candidates in 1968, Richard Nixonand Hubert Humphrey, had hired advertising agencies “to package them like prod-ucts and sell them to the American people.”69 Television changed how candidatescampaigned. Nixon’s image adviser stated bluntly, “the response is to the image,not to the man.... It’s not what’s there that counts, it’s what’s projected.”70

The Sawyer Miller Group in the 1970s “married Madison Avenue with Penn-sylvania Avenue, selling candidates like consumer goods in an electronic democ-racy.”71 The political consulting group very successfully “wrapped intellectualvoter appeals in emotional clothes.” By the time it dissolved in the early 1990s, itsvictorious clients included four senators, six governors, Vaclav Havel, and Israel’sShimon Peres. Its techniques included constant polling, sloganeering, and attackads. James Harding’s Alpha Dogs traces the spread of the very effective techniquesnationally and internationally. As he notes, “we now live in a tactical age, not anideological one. Managers, speechwriters, pollsters and get-out-the-vote specialistshave more power than we’d like to admit.”72

Darren Lilleker and Jennifer Lees-Marshment argue that the global public isthinking and behaving like a consumer in all areas of life, including campaigns andelections. They and others call this the “Americanization,” “Coca-Cola-ization” or“McDonaldization” of the world. Business and commercial techniques and strate-gies permeate the political arena. The “market-oriented party” is not tied to histor-ical ideology; it is “focused on developing a credible product with which to satisfyits core electoral market.”73

Gary Mauser argues that candidates and marketers have the same basic prob-lems and goals.74 Both entities compete for the support of a specified target groupunder the constraints of time, money, and personnel. Bruce Newman and RichardPerloff define political marketing as:

the application of marketing principles and procedures in political campaignsby various individuals and organizations. The procedures involved include theanalysis, development, execution, and management of strategic campaigns bycandidates, political parties, governments, lobbyists and interest groups thatseek to drive public opinion, advance their own ideologies, win elections, andpass legislation and referenda in response to the needs and wants of selectedpeople and groups in society.75

Lilleker and Lees-Marshment remark that any political organizations, whetherpolitical parties, parliaments, or government departments, using techniques (such

318  Chapter Eleven

Woodward-Denton Page 318 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

as market research in the form of opinion polls or focus groups) and concepts orig-inally used in the business world to help them succeed in passing legislation or win-ning elections are engaging in political marketing.76

Lisa Spiller and Jeff Bergner argue, following contemporary marketing theory,“the task is to begin with what people want, and to shape the image of a candidate to fitthese wants. We have moved altogether beyond a product-centric marketingapproach to an approach that is completely customer-centered.”77

In marketing terms, the political party is viewed as the company, and the voteis the purchase. Instead of analyzing political parties from the perspective of theirhistory, ideology, or policy platforms, political marketing considers them in termsof their market standing or competitive position.78 Are they market leaders, chal-lengers, followers, or nichers? When a political party is the market leader, strategiesfocus on expanding the total market as well as maintaining current market shareand working to extend it. Of course, the market leader is always under attack. Theproblem of increasing market share involves balancing the appearance of stabilityand dominance with that of being innovative and open to new ideas and constitu-encies. Achieving this delicate balance requires a blend of product (policies) andpromotion (communication). The primary strategy is to maintain market share byreinforcing the existing image among supporters as well as reminding them of rea-sons for remaining loyal to the party.

Today, candidates, as with celebrities, become “brands.” Brands and brandingfor products have been around a long time. In terms of a political brand, it’s a per-sona that envelops a product (candidate promises and issue positions), organiza-tion (political party), and person (candidate attributes).79 Components of a brandconsist of words, images, sounds and personified characters.80 For example, in2008, Barack Obama used the campaign theme of “hope” and “change,” a brandidentity of “charisma” and “confidence,” and the slogans of “Change We CanBelieve In” and “Yes We Can.” The candidate theme and brand emerges. Today,the political marketing equation is: Marketing + Politics + Technology.

Campaign Research. Campaign research is a highly specialized function andprovides the basis for strategy development and execution. Campaign research pro-vides a great deal of the data necessary for the overall plan—voting patterns, voterturnout, demographic correlates of voting, voter attitudes, opinions, issues, registra-tion, and election projections, to name a few. Dennis Johnson argues that politicalcampaign research is very different from traditional academic social scienceresearch.81 Campaign research is applied research. Its purpose is to provide informa-tion that one can use in a variety of ways during a campaign. It does not attempt to beobjective or reflect both sides of an issue. While the information is selective, it muststill be accurate and genuine. Campaigns will often claim that opponents’ facts arewrong when, in reality, it is the interpretation of the facts that is usually problematic.

Most campaigns prepare a “bible” that summarizes the relevant issues of thecampaign, profiles friendly voters, analyzes opposition strengths, weaknesses, andstrategy, and provides information about specific localities for campaign stops.Like campaign planning and strategy development, research is a continual process,especially as Election Day approaches.

Political Persuasion  319

Woodward-Denton Page 319 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Thousands of hours are spent on campaign research, and thousands of itemsrecorded. Ironically, probably 95 percent of the material will never be used.82

Research is first conducted on one’s own candidate. Incumbent or not, thisresearch is essential, and it reveals potential problem areas as well as accomplish-ments. The accomplishments are normally identified by key constituent groups; bymedia market; by issue and subject areas. For incumbents, the data will be classi-fied by year in office and by the names of individuals, groups, or organizations thatbenefited from legislation passed or services provided.

Microtargeting matured in the primary campaigns of 2008. Microtargetingidentifies small but important groups of voters who may be attracted to a candidate(and the messages that will resonate with that group). The selective surveying andlaser-focused voter contact is much more finely tuned than larger, less differenti-ated groups such as “soccer moms.” Microtargeting has revolutionized the ongoingtasks of mobilizing support, political advertising, and raising funds.83

Predictive analytics combines computer science and statistics and uses technol-ogy to analyze data to predict the future behavior of individuals in order to makebetter decisions about campaign activities.84

The process involves gathering elaborate information on voters that can includepublic items like party affiliation, ZIP code-based assumptions on income leveland housing, and fairly detailed consumer preferences such as which car youdrive, where you vacation and which entertainment you prefer. That informa-tion is augmented by surveys that link those traits and behaviors to attitudes onpolitical and social issues.85

With refined techniques, improved software, and technological advances in per-sonal computers, mining of databases can be done from virtually any computer.People surfing the Web leave a history of browsing that allows researchers to con-struct individual profiles of interests and locations, allowing campaigns to makephone calls, place ads, or to send direct mail to people whose profiles indicate thatthey would be receptive to the message. Firms, such as Democratic DSPolitical andRepublican CampaignGrid buy data and then match it to public voter registrationrecords. The information provides insight into past voting, routinely visited web-sites, and opportunities for communicating with a voter.86 Google allows marketersto target users based on demographic information and even launched “GooglePolitical Toolkit” for candidates to reach potential voters by a whole host of criteria.

The process of contemporary microtargeting consists of three steps. First, a“cookie” or digital marker is dropped in a user’s computer tracking website visitsand/or purchases. Second, a profile is constructed matching offline data about theindividual in terms of interests or other purchasing behaviors. Finally, the collecteddata and profile is matched against voting records, donations, and other activities.This makes it easy to link individual interests to candidates in favorable onlineenvironments. In fact, in the 2012 presidential campaign, it was possible for twopeople in the same household to receive different messages.87

An important element of campaign research today focuses on the opposition.Opposition research is more than simply finding dirt on one’s opponent. It isdetailed information that covers every aspect of an individual’s private and public

320  Chapter Eleven

Woodward-Denton Page 320 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

life. The key is how to interpret, apply, and communicate a particular piece ofinformation. Opposition data may reveal past actions and behavior that disqualifya candidate for selection, or it may provide a basis to predict future behavior or atti-tudes about specific policies that may be contrary to prevailing public desires.

Opposition research is usually presented in two parts. The first is simply acompilation of data and information under several categories: incumbent legisla-tive record and candidate voting record, property records, court records, interestgroup ratings, resume verification, newspaper searches, government budget analy-sis, statements of economic interest, and review of campaign finance disclosurestatements. The second part is the analysis and interpretation of the raw informa-tion. Such analysis provides themes, attack strategies, and messages.88 The explo-sion of Internet websites has revolutionized political research. There is anextraordinary range of public information (driving records, property records, bank-ruptcy, tax records, etc.) available at the fingertips of anyone with a computer.89

Campaign Strategy. Every campaign needs a strategy or a blueprint for win-ning an election. A strategy is how to position the candidate and allocate resourcesto maximize the candidate’s strengths and to minimize the candidate’s weaknesses.According to Ron Faucheux:

Message is the reason you give voters to select you over the opposition. Howand when you communicate that message (sequence, timing, intensity, persua-sion) and how and when you mobilize your resources are the strategic compo-nents of every campaign, large and small.90

Faucheux identifies the following four campaign strategies. A message sequence strat-egy identifies the order of presenting arguments to voters. A timing and intensitystrategy specifies when the candidate acts and at what pace. A mobilization and per-suasion strategy targets voter preferences and allocates resources to specific favor-able voting groups. An opportunity strategy finds ways to exploit situational eventsor obstacles.

Shea and Burton designate three main goals for campaign strategy: reinforce-ment, persuasion, and conversion. Reinforcement is keeping core or base voterscommitted to the campaign. Persuasion is gaining the support of swing or unde-cided voters. Conversion is bringing opponent supporters over to your side. Gener-ally, campaigns reinforce their own partisans, persuade the swing voters, andconvert partisans of the opposition. Of course, it is easier to reinforce or persuadevoters than to convert them.91

Message strategies may be based on the personal virtues or vices of the candi-dates (e.g., (in)experience, (in)competence, integrity or lack thereof, compassion,and so forth); ideological or partisan differences (e.g., liberal, conservative, libertar-ian, etc.); or some combination of the two. The main point is that the campaignmessage must draw a line of distinction between the candidate and the oppositionby framing a clear choice for voters.92

Political campaigns offer numerous messages about our past, future, and cur-rent situations. Campaigns are uniquely communication events: communication ofimages, characters, and persona. Most campaign strategies are designed to do more

Political Persuasion  321

Woodward-Denton Page 321 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

than get votes. They are designed to project a certain image, to alter a perception,or to counter the opposition. As primarily communication phenomena, campaignsinfluence and impact our behavior in both obvious and subtle ways. Their impor-tance transcends the preference for one individual over another.

The impact of media consultants on our political process is an unsettled ques-tion. For some, consultants are the new kingmakers, blamed for attack ads that cor-rode and debase the democratic process. “Professionally driven campaigns changethe tone and temperament of the contest. Many fear that the authentic voices ofcandidates are lost or transformed beyond recognition, filtered and reconstructedthrough survey research and test-marketing, packaged for maximum persuasiveimpact.”93 Consultants, of course, believe that they are making the electoral pro-cess more democratic. They claim that they cannot control votes as the old politicalbosses did through the patronage system. Consultants further argue that they makeelections more open and provide access for reporters to candidate strategies, views,and campaign information.

As the role of professional consultants increased in the latter decades of thetwentieth century, volunteers became disenchanted or felt shunted aside. There arenow signs that concerned individuals and community organizations can make a dif-ference.94 The Internet and other new media technologies may indeed make the pro-cess more democratic. Web pages, social networking sites such as MySpace andFacebook, and YouTube allow individuals to communicate their opinions, as well asenabling candidates to reach potential voters at very little cost. Candidates with lessname recognition can generate support and a following by talking directly to votersand avoiding the party power structure. The Internet and Web 2.0 technologies arenow essential to establishing a grassroots campaign, fund-raising, and getting out thevote. In addition, websites invite people to volunteer, to make phone calls, and toattend nearby events. Web 2.0 is specifically designed for interactive communication.

Importance of Media Framing and Priming. Increasingly, analysts of theelectoral process and other forms of political persuasion point to the power of themedia to significantly impact attitudes by framing their narratives and priming newsconsumers. Framing and priming are two pivotal concepts that focus on how theplacement or deletion of story details can alter audience attitudes about politicalagents. Priming theorists Shanto Iyengar and Donald Kinder note:

Political persuasion is difficult to achieve, but agenda setting and priming areapparently pervasive. According to our results, television news clearly and deci-sively influences the priorities that people attach to various national problems,and the considerations they take into account as they evaluate political leadersor choose between candidates for public office.95

It is possible to dramatically alter an audience’s judgment about the competenceand integrity of a politician by altering the sequence of details presented. If a cam-paign story about a candidate starts with a negative fact about him or her, that factwill loom as a significant measure of the candidate for the rest of the story. It isnotoriously difficult to induce attitude change from a television or a news story, butit is comparatively easy to use television news or ads to build a sense of importancefor a topic.

322  Chapter Eleven

Woodward-Denton Page 322 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Framing is similar to priming, but more general. It represents a persistent pat-tern for structuring stories, always reminding us that “the devil is in the details.”Frame analysts do not necessarily argue that the media employ a secret tool tosmuggle attitudes into ostensibly objective reporting. However, all stories must startfrom a specific perspective—and that perspective dictates what facts and detailswill be relevant.96 It is useful to think of a media frame as a window with a limitedview of the terrain outside. Other windows in different locations might offer a verydifferent perspective. The press, in essence, chooses the window from which welook at the territory.

The Internet presents framing and priming problems as well. Unsubstantiatedfacts that frame an unflattering portrait of a candidate or his/her stance on issuesspread virally—a simple copy and paste is all that is required to disseminate astory. Videos on the Internet have a much longer shelf life than a newspaper story;televised or audio stories can be captured and posted. Audience opinions may beprimed months after the original airing. Electronic rumors about Barack Obamaincluded false reports that he was a Muslim and that he could not produce hisbirth certificate. During both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, his cam-paign dedicated websites to counter misinformation. Followers could report “falseattacks,” obtain accurate information, address rumors, and “spread the truth”—using the same electronic channels as detractors had used to spread the falsehoods.In 2008 the site was “” and in 2012 it was “”97

One of the media frames employed since Gary Hart campaigned for the presi-dency in 1988 is character. Prior to that time, “political reporters generallyobserved an unwritten rule: a politician’s private life was private, absent compellingevidence that personal conduct was affecting public performance.”98 Hart hadpromised to adhere to the very highest standards of integrity and ethics. TomFiedler, a veteran political reporter for the Miami Herald, learned that Hart was hav-ing an affair; he investigated and wrote a story about Hart’s private life. Hart with-drew from the presidential primaries two days later after an avalanche of coverage.Paul Taylor (at the time a reporter for the Washington Post and currently with thePew Research Center) views Hart’s story as “a milestone in the evolution of ourcultural norms, and our press norms.”99 The “journalistic watershed” occurred in asetting where Watergate and Richard Nixon’s resignation had primed the audiencethat personal traits were as important, if not more so, than positions on issues.

Today, the surge of nontraditional media has added to the scrutiny of candi-dates. The director of the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, Tom Rosen-stiel, remarked: “With bloggers and talk radio and the more partisan media in fullflower, the norms of what’s a story and what’s not a story have been broadened. Itis a given now that everything is fair game.”100 There is a bewildering array of web-sites offering information that ranges from highly reliable, nonpartisan, and fairreporting to highly partisan opinions, character assassination, and rumor monger-ing. “Many websites and blogs perform valuable civic service, while others practiceguerilla warfare.”101 Online expert Michael Cornfield describes the Internet as“Part deliberative town square, part raucous debating society, part research library,part instant news source, and part political comedy club.”102

Political Persuasion  323

Woodward-Denton Page 323 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Political Persuasion through Symbolic and Status IssuesThus far, we have primarily described political persuasion in instrumental

terms—the use of persuasion to achieve specific goals. However, politics also has adramatic and expressive function in any society. Like all of the popular arts, politi-cal discussion sometimes exists more for the emotional lift it gives its participantsthan for the specific effects it may produce in the nation’s governmental and civillife.103 A Memorial Day tribute—with music, flags, and soldiers—hardly lendsitself to a discussion of the foreign policy decisions that caused the deaths of thosebeing honored. The cross, the flag, and their verbal counterparts are not instru-ments of discussion as much as expressive symbols of affirmation. Political lan-guage defines who we are or who we want to be as often or more often than itcontributes to social change.

Sometimes a specific issue matters less for how it might evolve into legislativeproposals than for what our position on it says about who we are. In his interestingdiscussion of what he calls status politics, sociologist Joseph Gusfield notes that wetend to combine our attitudes toward specific issues with stereotyped attitudesabout certain kinds of people.104 A topic becomes a status issue when a group col-lectively makes the judgment that where other people stand on a question demon-strates their superiority or inferiority. In short, status issues are linked to identity.

324  Chapter Eleven

Woodward-Denton Page 324 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

For example, how should the western expansion of the United States be por-trayed in school history books? Was government negotiation with Native Ameri-cans fair? Did government policy serve the nation or enforce harsh terms onindigenous people with prior claims on the land? Story lines for history books arehotly debated by many school boards in many states.105 Should golfers join clubsthat restrict membership by race or gender? While many might ignore the implica-tions of such membership, others view it as rejecting the civil rights of others.

Heated debates about gay rights, veterans’ benefits, affirmative action, andwomen’s issues all speak to the vital issue of group and self-esteem. When state-ments are made that confirm the prestige of groups with which we identify, ourown self-esteem is confirmed. A victory for the group is a victory for us as well.The concept of status politics is a potent reminder that political persuasion is notonly about objective changes in policy but also about our sense of solidarity orestrangement from others.

Political Persuasion in the Context of EntertainmentMuch of the discussion of political persuasion to this point was drawn from a

fairly narrow sector of public discourse. Civic discourse today has merged into thelanguage and forums of public amusem*nt. News is now marketed as entertain-ment and competes with other prime-time programming for ratings. With so manycable and satellite offerings, most programs aim for a specific audience and dealwith themes of social and political life. Hollywood continues to generate films anddocumentaries with targeted social and political messages.

In some ways drama is the perfect vehicle for mass-oriented political discus-sion. It comes to the receiver in an attractive context (as entertainment) and in aperfect persuasive environment (e.g., a movie theater, or viewing TV at home)when the viewer’s defenses against persuasion are reduced. Dramatizations rou-tinely illustrate society’s successes and failures. Popular melodramas, comedies,and films are well suited to show the ironies and hypocrisies of government andmodern life. Even forms of mass media with ostensibly nonpolitical objectives fre-quently contain at least an implicit political subtext or motivation. An exhibit, film,or television program that may have the manifest goal of simple entertainment canitself be the direct outcome of an intensely political agenda or a sustained powerstruggle—for instance, The Day After Tomorrow cinematically depicts the cata-strophic effects of global warming.

Dan Nimmo argues that “movies of all genres—be they screwball comedies,musicals, westerns, science fiction, historical sagas, gangster, private eye, romance,war, religious, or what have you—touch directly or indirectly on matters that go tothe heart of politics: conflict and consensus, power and authority, order and disor-der, etc.”106 Commercial films communicate what we collectively want to praise orcondemn in our national life. Small towns may be sentimentalized (Back to theFuture, My Girl, The Best Years of Our Lives), with suburbs as their opposite (AmericanBeauty, Fargo). Businesses may be populated by cunning and corrupt figures (WallStreet, The Insider, Jerry Maguire). Many films provide portraits of women who defyconventional boundaries of class or sexism (Working Girl, Thelma and Louise, TheBusiness of Strangers).

Political Persuasion  325

Woodward-Denton Page 325 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

The decade of the 1990s introduced new types of programming and politicaltalk on television—challenging “the assumptions of what constitutes knowledge,who gets to speak, what issues can be addressed, as well as what types of politicaltalk audiences will find both informative and pleasurable.”107 Political talk pro-gramming has a long history. First was NBC’s Meet the Press in 1947 followed byCBS’s Face the Nation in 1954. The journalistic roundtable started on public televi-sion in 1967 in various incarnations such as Washington Week in Review (PBS 1967),The McLaughlin Group (PBS 1982), and Capital Gang (CNN 1988). Today, not onlyare there are all types of political talk shows, but there are also dedicated newscable channels—FOX News, MSNBC, CNN, and CNBC.

AM talk radio transformed the nature of political talk and punditry. The enor-mous success of Rush Limbaugh ushered in a populist, common-person approachto political discussions that encouraged skepticism of elite authority and the “lib-eral media.”108 The conservative perspective originally dominated this type of pro-gramming. Cable outlets soon followed the radio example, providing programmingthat incorporated citizen participation and commentary: “Political commentaryand opinions from viewing audiences could become part of the programming via e-mail, faxes, voice mail, phone calls, chat rooms, video-conferencing, and bulletinboard systems.”109

With the transformation of political talk shows also came changes in stylisticfeatures. The host or participant was no longer an independent, objective partici-pant; he or she now speaks from a certain perspective or issue position. Second,many of these talking heads are celebrities in their own right. They are well known,demand large speaking fees, and often become the subject of stories themselves.Finally, in competition for ratings, the shows must have an edge—generate excite-ment, controversy, and confrontation resulting in “spectacle.”110

Another interesting innovation was late-night political talk shows focused oncomedy. Beyond the simple jokes and celebrity banter of standard network late-night fare, cable options provided “aggressively iconoclastic, sharp-tongued, andsharp-witted comedian-hosts” who offered programming that “addresses the fak-ery in public life as manifest in news and late-night television talk.”111 PoliticallyIncorrect with Bill Maher, Dennis Miller Live, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewartaddress politics directly and aggressively through rants, parody, and sometimes,insult. Jeffrey Jones argues adamantly that these shows do not trivialize politics.Instead, they demand a sophisticated knowledge about both politics and popularculture in order to understand the humor, anger, amusem*nt, dismay, and disagree-ment woven into the narrative flow of each show.112 During the 2004 presidentialcampaign, the University of Pennsylvania’s National Annenberg Election Surveyfound that viewers of late-night comedy programs were more likely to know theissue positions and backgrounds of presidential candidates than those who did notwatch late-night comedy. This was especially true for viewers of The Daily Showwith Jon Stewart on Comedy Central.113

Many social scientists and academics bemoan the fact that The Daily Show isnot only the primary source of political information for today’s young people butalso, for many, the only source of political information.

326  Chapter Eleven

Woodward-Denton Page 326 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Making fun of politicians is as American as singing “The Star Spangled Ban-ner” at the start of a baseball game. But does the relentless ribbing have a seri-ous underside? If the late-night talk shows make fun of every politician, nightafter night and election cycle after election cycle, is the butt of the joke no lon-ger the politician but the American democratic system?114

Russell Peterson once worked as a political cartoonist and stand-up comedian.Now at the University of Iowa, he thinks that the cumulative effect of political lam-pooning is corrosive. The political comedy of Leno, Letterman, and O’Brienfocuses relentlessly on personality flaws. Peterson sees more value in the satire ofStewart, Colbert, and Maher who have more time to develop comedy based onissues rather than personalities. Robert Thomson notes that the competition hasaltered the nature of political comedy. “You’ve got to shout a little louder to getattention. But the culture has changed vastly, too. You can’t get through Vietnam,Watergate, O. J. Simpson and Monica Lewinsky without changing.”115

Politicians and political candidates happily submit to the satire of Jon Stewartand Stephen Colbert “as a badge of coolness [that they have arrived] in this self-conscious, New York–Washington media world.”116 However, campaigns alsoactively seek appearances on shows whose audiences are much less tuned into pol-itics: Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The View,and World Wrestling Entertainment. In 1991, Samuel Popkin coined the phrase “lowinformation signaling” to describe how seemingly trivial details impact politicalchoices.117 People who watch entertainment programming are often undecided;they don’t identify strongly with a particular ideology, so they may be more per-suadable, especially if they like the candidate. Some argue that low information isimportant because it demystifies politicians and politics. If potential voters areinterested in the candidates, they may tune into the campaign and the issues.

Negative evidence is an invaluable tool for the persuasion analyst when dissect-ing the political overtones in content. Sometimes the most interesting—and mostrevealing—feature of a message is what is not present—the absence of somethingone might reasonably expect to find. Television’s Linda Ellerbee once observed:“When we point the camera at one thing, we are pointing it away from another.Thus, one of the first things to look at when viewing the media is what you cannotsee.”118 In assessing the content of the broadcast networks’ nightly newscasts, forexample, one would expect to find stories on certain topics. Among the importantstories that were seriously unanticipated and underreported in the U.S. media—especially television news—was the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, thedeceptive accounting practices of companies such as Enron and WorldCom in2001, and the subprime crisis in the mortgage market in late 2007. Advertiser-sup-ported media generally produce some interesting patterns of negative evidence.Many studies confirm that media content—in news or entertainment—generallyplays to our fantasies and beliefs rather than to our mistaken impressions.119

Indeed, journalists who truly report the unexpected sometimes pay a high price forthe business and power interests they offend.120

In today’s popular culture, it is virtually impossible to separate the politicalfrom the nonpolitical. “From documentary and feature films to nonfiction booksand novels, television talk and comedy programming, radio shows, Internet humor

Political Persuasion  327

Woodward-Denton Page 327 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

and blogs, and music videos, concert tours, and CDs, popular culture [is] saturatedwith and consumed by popularly mediated political expressions.”121 We engageand participate in politics much more so through the media than we do through theact of voting, which occurs much less frequently. Our civic discourse is part ofentertainment and popular culture. We follow issues, candidates, and campaignsthrough a wide variety of media programming: from talk radio, to prime-time com-edies, to news talk shows, to reading blogs, to late-night comedies. Perhaps, morethan any other time in our history, citizens are in a true 24/7 political environmentthat comprises a major portion of our popular culture.

 What We Can Learn from Political PersuasionAs with virtually all contexts for persuasion, shaping political attitudes is a

struggle. How much of a struggle is still open to debate. We can simplify the discus-sion for our purposes by looking at two different camps, one that holds that politicalagents—especially the mass media—have a great deal of power to shape attitudes.The other camp acknowledges that persuasion occurs but that its effects are limited.

Limited Effects ModelFor years, political scientists questioned whether or not campaigns mattered. It

can be extremely difficult to isolate the effects of messages and mediums from theother influences that ebb and flow through our lives.122 However, we can identifysome elements of stability in political attitudes. Core political attitudes tend to bequite stable. For example, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents are likely toretain their identities for long periods of time, if not entire lifetimes. One axiomcited by campaign professionals is that “40 percent of the people will always votefor your party, and 40 percent will never vote for your party, and the remaining 20percent are up for grabs.”123 News stories rarely change minds, but they can influ-ence the undecided.124

Individual messages, like political commercials, are heavily discounted by con-sumers wary of their claims, although negative ads often do shape attitudes.125 Thepublic is generally subject to less manipulation from political or media sources thansome observers assume. Others might argue that given the targeted nature of cam-paigns from a voter and electoral perspective, much campaign information isaimed at a small number of voters in a few battleground states. Most political com-munication is about reinforcing existing beliefs, attitudes and values—not aboutchanging large numbers of individual opinions or views.

Doris Graber notes that media content plays a significant role in helping usjustify our decisions.126 She also argues that we cannot fully assess the media’sinfluence because of the many components of the “media message omelet.” Eachmedium can affect the others. When we read a newspaper story, our impressioncan be affected by a subsequent television or radio interview or an interpersonalconversation. As she states, commercials are a major ingredient in campaigns,

but it is well-nigh impossible to isolate their contribution because all the ingre-dients—print and electronic news stories, editorials, talk-show banter and pun-

328  Chapter Eleven

Woodward-Denton Page 328 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

ditry, Internet messages, advertisem*nts, even political jokes and skits onentertainment shows—mix inextricably with one another and become trans-formed in the process.127

As a result, Graber believes the most important influence of media is shaping andreinforcing predispositions and influencing the selection of candidates.

Significant Effects ModelA number of observers have argued that because media portrayals of politics are

difficult to measure, they conceal significant effects. John Zaller believes that tradi-tional measures of political impact are too clumsy to detect the significance of changes.

[T]he true magnitude of the persuasive effects of mass communication is closerto “massive” than “small to negligible” and... the frequency of such effects is“often.” Exactly as common intuition would suggest, mass communication is apowerful instrument for shaping the attitudes of the citizens who are exposed toit, and it exercises this power on an essentially continuous basis.128

The changes are there; we just need to do a better job of measuring them. Forexample, part of the “large effects” hypothesis makes more sense when one distin-guishes between relatively demanding changes in attitude and more subtle butimportant changes in awareness. As we noted with regard to framing and priming,the media seem to have more power to create awareness of a subject than to createa particular attitude toward it. This is called agenda setting, and it is a cornerstone ofstudy for all types of mass media effects.129

Consider Kathleen Jamieson’s observation that perhaps only 20 percent of thevoters in an election can be influenced by campaign messages. Who would arguethat one-fifth of an audience’s attitudes or votes are insignificant? We have alreadynoted that recent presidential contests have been decided by just a fraction of a per-centage, especially in several key states. Many congressional races, referenda, andlocal campaigns are also decided by razor-thin margins. One of the important les-sons any persuader can take from the study of politics is that even voters on theedges can spell the difference between victory and defeat.

 Politics and TrustWe close with a cautionary word about our national distrust of politics and

political messages. The commonly accepted stereotype of the political persuader isthat of a human weather vane whose persuasion is shaped by the prevailing windsof public opinion. Some of the most compelling figures in dramatic literature arecharacters caught between a sense of personal duty and the need to maintain a pub-lic face. Shakespeare made this a central feature in many plays; strong and decisiveheroes, such as Coriolanus, were forced to balance their private ideals against theneed to say politically correct things to satisfy potential allies. Of the honest Corio-lanus who says what he thinks even when it is impolitic, a friend observes, “hisnature is too noble for the world.”130 Because he has little interest in winning thesupport of others, he stands out as the nonpolitical hero.

Political Persuasion  329

Woodward-Denton Page 329 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

Ours is a very different time, but the dilemma of serving the needs of manywhile remaining true to oneself remains. The images of politicians as men andwomen dominated by expediency rather than principles are generally nurtured by acynical press.131 But like all stereotypes, they tend to fall apart when examinedmore closely. From a persuasion perspective, democratic politics should be seen asa process for turning conflict into consensus. We should expect that the diversity ofpolitical opinions on any one question will reflect the diversity of opinions in soci-ety as a whole and that political figures will attempt to adjust to these opinions as well asattempt to change them. The hero Coriolanus is not a politician precisely because heis disengaged. He stands apart from the community and makes minimal attempts toplay a role in it. Ironically, we honor him and his modern counterparts who havedismissed the political world, but as John Adams suggests at the beginning of thischapter, at what price?

The process of seeking consensus requires attitudes that will flex and positionsthat must be compromised. Not all consensus builders are liars or weak-willedopportunists. Indeed, many of the heroes of the world’s great moral and socialmovements—for example, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Nelson Mandela, or MartinLuther King—can be productively studied for their attempts to accommodate theviews of others even while pressing their own demands.132 Imagine the costs totheir supporters and their causes had these leaders decided to disengage, to liveapart from the political world. What if they had decided that an ongoing conversa-tion with their complex and imperfect societies would be more of a bother than itwas worth? We are perhaps too comfortable with the idea that those who shun thegive and take of public life have somehow preserved their good character. We thinkone good lesson can be taken from the engagement that is the essential work of pol-itics: we can be too quick to dismiss the honor and dedication that is bound up inthe messy but essential business of serving the public interest.

 SummaryIn this chapter, we have illustrated the scope of U.S. political persuasion by sur-

veying some of the communication patterns common to politics in a variety of con-tests: administrative, campaign, and policy-making activities, as well as expressiveforms of persuasion tied to status issues and messages embedded in popular enter-tainment. No single overview is adequate to describe the wealth of thought andresearch that has been directed to the processes involved in shaping public opinion.However, we offer some broad conclusions.

• We are all political, both as agents of groups seeking influence and as therecipients of the appeals of others.

• Politics is not only about the state and its institutions but also about how allkinds of institutions reach decisions and accommodate differences.

• Administrative and legislative persuasion thrives on coalition-building activ-ities. Political leadership requires listening more than demanding, accommo-dation as well as idealism.

330  Chapter Eleven

Woodward-Denton Page 330 Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:03 PM

• Political campaigns represent ideal case studies for the processes and diffi-culties of persuasion. They provide opportunities to see the effects of mediaagenda setting, framing, and priming. They also are a reminder of the varietyof media that can be used to deliver messages, ranging from television ads tothe Internet.

• At the national level, political persuasion is increasingly a professionalizedprocess involving the technologies of polling, microtargeting, news manage-ment, and mass communication.

• It would be a mistake to consider political activity as separate from otherforms of popular culture, especially novels, films, and prime-time television.Popular media reflect the values and attitudes of our political culture.