Have you noticed that certain opinions become commonplace almost overnight? While interviewing different people, I’ve listened to one person citing a thing as bad and then, a stranger to the first person, in a completely different walk of life and educational level, spouts the exact same words on the subject.
The source of those opinions might be traced back to a deliberately engineered Public Relations campaign. Simply put, Public Relations (PR) is a battle for your mind, fought in the public arena using armies of media ads, films, front groups, public speakers, cell phone texts and mail that gets you to buy something, be it laundry soap, beer, or a President.
The precursor to a good PR campaign is data collection, known as Data Mining, which regularly finds out almost everything about people like us who use cell phones, email, or post on public sites and buy groceries with a credit or debit card. Facebook, as one example, posts ads on your page that have been geared specifically to your interests.
Data mining is defined on Investopedia.com as, “A process used by companies to turn raw data into useful information. By using software to look for patterns in large batches of data, businesses can learn more about their customers and develop more effective marketing strategies…”
In other words, data miners take millions of consumer purchases of beer, chips or soft drinks, for instance, and analyze the data for patterns. Do people buy one bottle or two; a case of 12 colas or 6, three bags of chips or one, what day of the week do they buy the most, is it women or men, what age groups? If it turns out that the majority of women under 30 buy chips on Saturdays, the supermarket can start a campaign to attract young women to other products in the chips aisle on Saturdays.
The PR coup of our time was the brain child of P.R man, David Axelrod. His campaign got Barack Obama elected to the United States Presidency. Axelrod needed a candidate that looked good, was a good talker, and was appealing to young voters. Enter Obama, a hip young community organizer from Chicago with a Harvard law degree.
First, an Axelrod and company P.R. campaign won Obama a seat in the US Senate and then, barely eight months later, Obama entered the 2008 Presidential race. At that time in 2008, David Axelrod had been plotting wins for politicians since 1985. He specialized in crusades to bend public opinion to the will of his clients.
He’s famous for a technique called “Astroturfing,” – a stealth marketing campaign that falsely makes it look like something or someone is widely accepted through a spontaneous grass roots action – hence the name Astroturf, or fake grass. Front groups are formed to protest or rally in favor of whatever the client wants. If there’s a fight to ban dogs from city parks and a P.R firm is in charge, there could be a group called something like, “Citizens Against Pets in Parks,” protesting loudly in front of TV cameras on the steps of City Hall.
Journalist, Sharyl Attiksson describes astroturfing in her recent speech at the University of Nevada: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bYAQ-ZZtEU Bravo Sharyl!
Axelrod created and staged venues, and paid rock bands to play free public concerts. In Germany, Raemonn and reggae singer Patrice, two of Europe’s top names at the time, performed before Obama spoke. Two hundred thousand people turned out. While it looked to some like an imitation of President John F. Kennedy’s famous Berlin speech; it got international press coverage. In the US, Bruce Springsteen tickets can run hundreds of dollars, but for Obama, his shows were free.
Here’s a formula for a PR campaign geared to change minds:
- Define the goal. (Sell a million widgets, get a politician elected.)
- Do thorough surveys of public opinion, broken down into demographically similar groups, to get the words that bring forth emotion on a subject, also known as, “Button Words.”
From ASGK, a David Axelrod company web site: “Commission solid, thorough research to gauge public opinion on specific issues and test potential messages with targeted audiences.”
- Concoct the message to push those buttons. (Example: In the 2008 recession where a large percentage of the working population were unemployed or underemployed, and thousands of jobs were being lost monthly, “Hope and Change,” Axelrod’s button words for the Obama Presidential campaign won the day.
- Select an acceptable candidate or spokesperson to deliver your message.
- Approach every possible press and media contact to support your campaign.
David Axelrod’s media connections go back decades from the 1970s when he was a political reporter for the Chicago Tribune. From ASKG, an Axelrod company’s website: “Our team knows how to draw the right media attention for clients through unique events and background briefing with influential journalists, creating opportunities for media coverage around our clients’ key issues and campaign messages.”
- Now comes the interesting part; manipulate the press and media to get the message out. A good campaign needs to encompass these things: Controversy, Big names, Money, and an Attack on someone or something. While not always necessary, Sex will send it viral.
From the ASKG website: “Our job is to activate the messages of our clients through immersive campaigns that shape public debate and influence policy.”
- Give the potential buyers something for nothing to make your guy or thing the good one. (Free rock concerts did the job in the Obama campaign.)
David Axelrod is now retired but his company carries on. Today, numerous PR firms engage in changing public opinion, yours and mine, to sell a product or elect a public official. ASGK boasts of clients including, Allstate, at&t, Cargill, Citi bank, Ticketmaster, General Dynamics, the US Olympics, and Zerox, to name a few.
The next time you read an article, or watch ads on TV, see if you can spot the agenda – what are they trying to get you to believe? Are certain button words repeated? Did you have your mind made up against something, only to wake up one morning to find yourself in favor of that very thing? What influenced you?
It doesn’t matter what your politics are; it does matter that you know when and how someone is trying to hijack your mind.