The Art of Persuasion

Internet DNA Podcast

Advertising is nothing new and has honed it's skills in persuasion over many years, but with the introduction of data and the ability to minutely target and perhaps know you better than you know you, at what point is it too much, at what point is it no longer our decision, or was it never our decision? Oh, and apparently most people go left!



(this transcription is written by robots… so don’t be surprised!)

Hello, welcome to this week's episode with me, Abby, and I was about to say sweet. We have done back, which is very nice. Welcome back then I'm wig. I just talked about the art of persuasion in the digital age, which could mean a whole host of things. Starting from vote rigging down to how I get you to buy a pair of shoes. I don't even know where to start.

Well, I think topically we should probably start with fake news, shouldn't we? Which I think is a really interesting expression of a Soviet counterintelligence technique that's known as Masker rover, which means the masquerade and its principle is that if you make everything equally likely, you make everything equally unlikely. And so this is actually used by cigarette companies in the sixties and seventies so they knew that cigarettes caused cancer, but what they did was they inserted lots of news stories that maybe questioned it opened up a possibility or a suggestion that maybe that wasn't the whole story. And I think we see it today in climate change, for example, where a perfect one is using the word global warming and going, oh, it's cold winter, so much for global warming. And it's this kind of playing with how the mind works in other one's done with science. The classic example is the Bumblebee story, which is, you know, a Bumblebee can't fly according to physics, which is actually Peyton nonsense. But yeah. But the other way round is that. And the other one is a study discovered something blatantly obvious and all of these things are used to either ridicule or downplay the importance of the scientific method. Propaganda. It's a type of propaganda. Yeah. It's basically using doubt to lessen the authority.

So what you're saying is it's not bad reporting. It is actively used as a vice.

Yeah, it's an active device. As you know, my father worked in advertising and specifically in cigarettes, so I was slightly party to the sort of techniques that they use, especially in public relations. And it worked on you? Well yeah, obviously. But there you see that was more peer pressure in a weird way, which is my whole family smoke. So for me there was no barrier to that. In fact, there was a positive pull towards it. Everybody around you is doing something. Your natural tendency as a social animal is to mimic,

well there you go. Fake news could be peer pressure as well because if everyone's saying and seeing the same thing, then they're all party to, oh this must be right. I'm going to talk about this.

Yeah. But what fake news really does is so doubt. So if you are, let's say a candidate who is coming up against some factual issues in your cabinets to see,

just not thinking of anyone in particular,

specifically not thinking you're ready. One is then one of the ways to counter that problem is to sow doubt and to suggest that maybe those facts aren't as real as possible. Now, if you take the man Trump who is famous for the fake news thing,

yeah. But he uses it in a way that he just says everything. He doesn't like his fake news. Yeah,

exactly. And so basically what he's able to do, yeah. Is able to say all these allegations against me, they're all patiently nonsense. I, although we, and this will depend very much on which side of the political spectrum you lie, but it means that if you want to be a Trump supporter, you can dismiss the facts and if you don't want to be a Trump supporter, you can stick with the facts. You've got to be very careful about the word facts here because,

yeah, I mean I was actually also referencing British politics that seems to have a bit of a problem with facts as well. Yeah,

you could argue quite cogently that the Brexit debate, whichever side you sit on is massively damaged by the fake news on both sides. People keep saying things as if they're knowns. I mean, one thing we know about Brexit is we don't know. We have no idea whether it would be better or would not be better.

Yeah. Wonderful. Presidents quote, which President was it?

They're all no boats. There are unknown unknowns and they're all unknown, unknown. So

I think we're sitting in the unknown, unknown [inaudible] to see how [inaudible]

casting doubt on everything. What you then end up with is it then becomes a personality contest because there's no truth or there's no objectivity anymore. So now we can play with people's subjectivity and those kinds of emotions marketeers have played with for years. And so it allows you to operate in a way where not only do you not have to tell the truth, but you objectively can get away with just repeating a lie over and over and over again. Because when there is no truth and everything has equal weight, and this is why awesome

humans have always believed what they want to believe or heard. What they want to hear is that that's probably the way the powers of persuasion have always been so strong. We're talking about in the digital age, but they've always been there.

Yeah. And human beings are massively susceptible to cognitive bias. We will always err towards caution. I think the ones always given, you know, if there's a rustle in the grass and one type of person thing. So it's just the wind in the grass and the other person thinks it might be a lion and runs away. Now, if it was a wind in the grass, they both survive. But if it was a lion, the guy that thought it was the wind dies and therefore were evolutionary presupposed to be slightly more paranoid than maybe we need to be an er on the side of caution. And you can use that to frame things because human beings are lots of, as in I'll give you 50 pounds and I'll take 50 pounds, do not have equal weight. The receiving of the 50 pounds is, does not accumulate as many positive points as the taking away 50 pounds accumulates negative points. Do you see what I mean? Because we all naturally, yeah, yeah. That's the whole, don't miss out thing by now. Avoid disappointment. And it's really odd that when you think about it, because it's not lost that you're doing, it's missed opportunity, but your brain cognates that as a loss. And so that's where a lot of that kind of persuasion happens in the leveraging of loss of version,

which is why you can't look at an advert for anything online. I mean a listing, be it a hotel or holiday or anything. You can hardly even see the picture for two people are looking at it now. Five people have booked it. There's only one room left this stuff and it's so covered. You can't even see the image.

Yeah, but that five people are looking at this now. There is a part of loss of version in there, which is if you don't go now, other people looking at this, you might miss out, but there's also playing on the safety in numbers is the eight out of 10 cats prefer it, which is you don't know it's 50 50 but we're going to tell you that most people go left. Most people will go left. If you say that, even if you're walking down a path and 10 people go right and 50 people go left, given no reason to go left or right, you will tend to go left. That is just a human trait. That's because we're social animals. Why would you go? Right?

Because it's like the limpet in Jonathan Livingston Seagull. You just have to let go because it might be better. Oh, I think I would go right.

And there are people that do do that and they see this in monkeys as well, which is, and it tends to be, I want to say lower cost monkeys. So you do need, from an evolutionary standpoint, renegades, you need people who are going to not do what everybody else does because from an evolutionary point, otherwise you can walk yourself down on Easter island type of disaster because everyone just follows each other blindly. So you do need renegades. Yeah,

I like the idea of being a sort of 47 thing renegade mother. Yes. Well probably not, but I quite like the idea.

Yeah. I mean a lot of people like the idea of being a renegade, but actually being a renegade is quite uncomfortable. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And that's why they find, I think, I can't remember the type of monkey that they've studied, but it tends to be the lower cost one keys. So the ones that are not the alpha or the beets, right. Which way do they go? Well, the Alpha males want to preserve how it is now.

They go left. Yeah, and the low ones have got nothing to lose

news. Yeah, right. Might go right. Might go right. Some of those low cost monkeys will go left because they want the security and protection of the herd. All the ones we'll go, I'm getting nothing from this. I'm going to go right. Because maybe there's an opportunity on the right so I won't be able to, well, that's how Trump got in. Surely no Trump. So Trump used to make America great again. So he used a device which was best described as nostalgia, which is I think in America, if we suggest that maybe the American dream was at its zenith in the late fifties early sixties then almost all of the voting block that vote for him believe that America is getting worse because of democratic and globalist policies and they want to go back to an idea where America is the world leader and the leader and everything.

Things are really bad. I don't like it, they can't get worse, so I'm going to vote because it might get better. The issue is is that a lot of people don't understand why life has getting worse. So if you can tell them, especially when we were talking about this early persuasion. Yeah, especially if you can say, actually the reason why you're getting worse is because of this and here is a coherent set of reasons why that is. So it doesn't matter whether those reasons are correct or not. I mean, Hitler did this with his global minimalism, so basically shrinking markets policy. He believed that if industrialized nation like Germany traded with less industrialized nations in order to get the food they needed to be an industrialized nation, then what they should do is stop trading with those nations because otherwise those nations will eventually industrialize and then they won't want to trade.

He believed about self sufficiency and that drove his entire thing about why they needed laborers vile. Because basically what he wanted to do was to turn the east into the breadbasket and the west part of Germany or Germany as it was at that time into the industrialized. And then they could trade within each other without passing away the industrialization, which would then shrink their market. So it's a false understanding of economics, but that drove him, you know, everyone likes to go, Hillary is a madman. I think that's probably not true. He was a crystal meth addict, which is nice, but it was just a false premise that you started on, which led to some horrific things. But he had a very compelling argument about that. And he'd said it to a nation that had all this great industrialization, but it was suffering because hey, it was paying massive reparations and was feeling its position in the world was endangered.

And therefore anybody who told them that he was going to make Germany great again with a coherent set of reasons why he was going to do it appealed to a vast amount of people. And especially then when he started to actually look like he was succeeding at doing what he was doing. If you can treat people like that, then culturally we're not talking about the digital age at all, but I think that the same things apply because people don't understand why their lives are getting worse. If you can give them a reason why that's getting worse, especially one that ties into their natural prejudices.

Let's go back a bit further. The church, the Christian Church, and probably a lot of other religions as well. We're very much about, oh, things that bad for you, but we can make it better. You can have a great next life if you just pay a bit more in this life, and people would then be able to put that belief in something and because of that they would start to be positive and things would start to improve. So then they would believe what they had been told and on it would go. Now, I almost think that the demise of religion in the UK or Western religion in the UK has created a society of people that are looking for something to put their faith in. Someone's tell them what to do. And I think that lack of guidance has meant that lack of guidance, ah, politics.

There are things that have become the new religions, be that who is leading your country, who you're following on social media to try and put your faith and trust and get your positivity back. That used to be all done by the church and I'm sure you get a slate B now, but people in slightly have lost their way. And now I'm, I'm not religious. I believe God, my subconscious is the same thing. And so if I work hard to good, then it's a bit of both. But the community's gone. The ability to put your hopes outside of yourself and drive yourself forward because someone else is helping you. You know, I'm going to start off hearing back.

Yeah. So my understanding of belief of gonna use the word belief of why people are feeling that life is not improving is actually driven by the concentration of wealth and power in a very small subset, and I can explain this in much more lengths and I'll probably end up sounding a little bit like Hitler. I'm looking for some neighbor's room, but I think what's happened in the last 20 years or even 10 years maybe, is that people earn more and yet have less, and that's the first time that's happened in the modern Western world for probably hundreds of years. So there's this feeling of malaise. It's almost like a perfect storm. We've got a medium of communication that allows for the dissemination of unattributed opinions. We've got a very, very odd thing that happened with the Internet, which was supposed to give everybody freedom and actually has oddly by the way of data, but also by the concentration of digital power.

It's a very few groups controlled the message that we're actually hearing. And I think one of the biggest control of persuasion is if you don't hear certain views, you may never come to think, well wait a minute because you're only ever hearing variations of a single message from let's call it mainstream media that, and I think this is what we were talking with bill, which was you know, Facebook arbitrarily decides who and cannot be on their channels and that form of censorship is dangerous. And I know that people get into this really odd conversation in about freedom of speech, which you know, certain types of speech are not allowed and that's a very dangerous so of line to draw. It's the same with individual freedom. It cause it's shit by the backdoor. But when we're talking about persuasion we have to look at what are we trying to say. And I think we were probably hoping to talk a bit more about UI and how we use devices to accelerate people's decision making process.

Yeah, I was also thinking about vote rigging for all these actions and things going on.

I think we've got to be very careful about whether it's rigging or it's basically pandering to people's,

and I'm in this big difference between illegal account set up by Russians. We're still not sure if that's fake news or not. And the power of persuasion, which is advertising the power of persuasion advertising has been going on for years, for years, but now it can be much more direct using the algorithms of Facebook. And at which point does it become wrong because it was always there. It's just now been easier to tap into people and give them a sentence message. So at what point did you go, actually, no, you're not allowed to do that, or is that fine?

I was very contentiously put Wally as one of my top five films, not because I think the film is one of the top five greatest films ever made, but it has a discussion about our blindness to consumerism. That is really, really interesting. We're in the danger of this kind of herd mentality. You know, this year's color is blue and everyone just goes immediately changes to blue. They know who you are, they know what you do. I think it's Facebook once said, you've made more than 20% on Facebook. We know you better than your husband or wife or significant other. And that's a really interesting thing cause you'd think that can't possibly be true. But they explained it using, what's that singer that has the telephone on our hat, wore a meat dress, lady Gaga. Lady Gaga is a propensity signal for Roman Catholicism. Now would you even imagine such a thing?


so if you are a fan of Lady Gaga, you have a significantly higher than average chance that you're a Roman Catholic.

Well I'm not remembering Catholic and now she's done this film. I think she's amazing, but I didn't before. And maybe those signifies change. Maybe I think I'm directionless. I need the pope, my problems.

Well, it's interesting that it's not that I like lady Gaga. I'm not a Roman Catholic. No, that's not what the saying. What it's saying is if you do like lady Gaga, you're more likely to be Roman Catholic than any other religion. Now you put 50 of those signals together, you start to actually build a quite a high likelihood that you've got a very good of the who they are and what they're interested in. Not because you know about that one person, but you can put them into a propensity map of everything else that they do and what they're interested in. And you can go, actually, this person starting to look a lot like this kind of person, given all those signals. So even though you didn't tell them that you, you know, let's say Roman Catholic, but they've used a lot of other signals and actually gone. They probably are because they match a profile. Everybody thinks they're an individual, but we all know we're not.

Well, I want him to be a renegade. Yeah.

But anyone who works in data knows outliers are why their very nature outliers. Most people sit along a curve pretty tightly.

Oh, lush rubbish. Yeah, I know I need audition.

Yeah. Well, I think this is why religion is becoming a little bit more a thing. Yeah. And certainly why it's becoming a bit more polemic. I think that's why everybody's becoming much more black and white about stuff. One of the great things about growing up in the 70s like I did was it was almost a, everything's just a gray area. There are no hard blacks and hard whites. Everything is fund your position along the scale and maybe that's just my experience of growing up in this area.

So that's so interesting you said because yes, things do seem to be more black and white. I was reading a fascinating book about how nowadays millennials, poor millennials, they get blamed for everything. MTC empathy when we were growing up was for anybody that was the point of empathy. The Good Samaritan, it doesn't matter who it is, but now people are being directed, how people are choosing who they give their empathy to and they'll give lots of empathy to the people that they've chosen to, but then there's no empathy left for the people they haven't chose to, which all feeds into this polarization, how quickly people are to go against or for a cause. And I think that's quite scary that even empathy is moving in that direction as well. Because surely that's how that world wars happen. If you really have no empathy for the other side whatsoever. Yeah, and in fact almost a hatred because everything has to be balanced.

Yeah. You're either a or B, there is nothing else. It's very difficult to explain a position where you say, I don't like the EU as it is currently set up, but I'm a remainer because I believe in the fact that the more you expose yourselves to other people and other cultures, the greater the sum of everybody's

right. The more fulfilled life you have. Oh my goodness. If you don't want routine or boredom, this home much to explore if you do become global,

I always say I'm a radical centrist and people look at me as if I'm sort of half joking, but actually I'm kind of really not, which is I actually hate ideology in many ways, which is people who are clinging to an idea where they won't question the idea or even understand that that idea has its applications, but it also doesn't have its applications and there are places that will not be true, especially in social interaction. It's actually my problem with religion, which is it's an ideology which you cannot question. You know, you can't persuade someone who believes in God that there isn't a god any more than someone who doesn't believe in God, that there is a god that as a belief, people don't change their beliefs very often.

I always find that I'm always persuaded by side. I'm like, I believe this. And then someone puts their point across. I'm like, Oh yeah, oh, oh, okay. So maybe I'm a renegade sensualist as opposed to a radical and yeah, actually I do want to come back to at what point does the power of persuasion become too much or become role? At what point do we say no, that's therefore not my choice anymore? I mean, you could say all advertising, I buy that soap because it's been advertised to me. So at what point when I'm going, well I voted for that politician because it was advertised to me. At what point is it going to become an, how is that gray area going to come black and white between it was your decision and a persuaded decision.

Okay. So how much of our decision making is based on our principles and values? And that's a really interesting question because you say, well yeah, but your principles and values are received, which is why you have different principles and values than someone who lives in abject poverty in some third world country because your principles and values are relative and they were instilled in you. And so it's quite a difficult thing to actually say. Like at what point were you not persuaded? If you look at people, people under the age of five, they do what the bloody hell they want. They haven't been directed at all and they make arbitrary decisions based on what they want. I mean they can be bribed as we all know, but it's very short lived. But I think as you get older you will fall into mental constructs that you use to develop your life. And I think the fact is is that marketing and data and persuasion in politics or any at whether you're selling something, whatever you want to push, that it's become so sophisticated now and we are still really from a brain point of view, subject to mental constructs that were really, really useful when we were running around hunting, gathering, but probably,

well we didn't have advertising and marketing when we were running around hunting together.

No, we did an and so all brains evolved to hunt and gather.

Well, what you're saying then is if this is since we were hunter gathering, we have always conformed to assess of values, principles of morality and if you take it to extreme, I might as well tick a box saying I am this type of person. I fit in this group in spite of the fact that I think I met at guide. Therefore you, whoever you might be can make all the decisions for me because you've persuaded me that this is exactly what I am. Therefore, whatever you say for this group is going to be exactly what I agreed

trick the devil ever pulled off was to convince people he didn't exist. So there is an argument to say

stop all decisions just by taking a boat saying I am renegade.

You could argue, I don't believe it 100% but you could argue that you don't really make any decisions [inaudible]

so we're going to be a law saying, right? You're not allowed to persuade people. You may have people about washing powder, but you're not allowed to persuade them about.

I don't think that will be a law because it's in the vested interest of those in power to make sure you don't make any real decisions. You can choose what color you want your iPhone and you can choose who you want.

Yes. So yeah, you can say you can choose what color you want your eyes.

No, I can see a future where that's perfectly, you know, where you can go in and design your baby, whatever, or even

being persuaded that that's what I want my baby to look like.

Yeah. And then you know, you're getting back into the where everyone's just to Jane or John Because that's the look of the day and if when that looks changes to another look, then everybody just looks like that. And so that we all become this. We think we make the decisions, we think we make choices, but really do we, and I think that is an interesting question. Do we make meaningful choices or do we just make a load of meaningless choices, which gives us the feeling that we are directing our lives. But in reality are we? That's an interesting question. I don't know if I could answer it either way. I think we'd probably make some meaningful decisions in our lives, but a lot of the decisions we make are either meaningless or you're not really making that decision.

This, this, can you help us out? What do you think? And can I have some more positivity than all my decisions are made is what so frustrating is a lot of us, most of us find decisions quite stressful than difficult. And if they're meaningless anyway, the whole thing is pointless. We getting stressed over seven that had already been decided for us.

And so there are two types of people really in this area, which is there are people like you for example, who agonize over every decision. Okay. Worried about whether it will be the right or wrong decision. Yeah. And then there were other people probably closer to me who say it doesn't matter what you decide, it's an irrelevancy what you decide does the experience of the decision is what you learned from. So what's the saying? You learn nothing from success. So choose anything you like and see how it was and then you can make an informed decision whether you liked it or not. I have this at work where if there's a thing, which I call analysis paralysis, where nothing happens because everybody's trying to get the right answer, but the actual only way to get the right answer is to make any decision and test it and then say, okay, that was the wrong decision. Let's move to the next one. So does this idea of fail fast,

move fast and break things? Yeah,

exactly. And so that's a very different out actually in reality, you need a bit of both. You do need people to actually say, wait a minute, that's patiently a stupid bloody choice.

Yeah. Yeah. And so again, it comes down to size and how many people are affected because you could do that if you're a tiny little company or one person and it's not really gonna fit well, but you can't do that when you have a responsibility to a large number of people or things. Right. Actually what they've shown is that the length of time taking to make a decision doesn't necessarily affect the outcome. So you should go with your gut.

Well, my thing is that you shouldn't worry, you can probably cut out half the choices immediately. Like we're not doing those. You're, then you're going to get left with like one or two choices, which seem that they're fairly equal. Well then you might as well flip a coin.

Oh No, no. Let's say that my husband's always flipping a coin. I love the fact that he flipped a coin and you're like, oh, don't worry. Yes, I like to really just make sure it's the right decision. So, but I mean you, we need people like that

you to get us down to those two choices. But once you get down to those two choices, you need PD. Just going to flick a coin. Yeah. Hey, oop, B, let's go. Because otherwise when you get to choices that have very

pitting pros and cons, got test one, some point you've got a test score jump. Yeah. One way or the other. And it's obvious that you are not going to be able to determine this through a mental exercise, however much wireframing is an iteration you might do. Yeah. And so I've watched a really interesting program,

the French and British approach when they were building Concorde. And so the French would all sit in a room and they would draw and smoke pipes and blah blah blah. And then, you know, they would literally intellectualize the whole process and then they would go and build it. Whereas the British just went out with a couple of hammers and things and bang things. And so if they worked, they actually both ended up in very similar places and actually took very similar amount of time. I would argue that the British got a huge amount of experience of what did not work by banging things and slamming things, but it might have cost more money, may have cost more money, but the experience learnt is a value. Now what you probably find is the French, what they got out of it is that they had a very optimized, formalized process for actually determining what were the options that they should be looking at. Yeah. And so it's not that route a is better than a route B. Actually, the combined uses of both a and route B would probably lead to a better choice. This is, there's a point in the decision making process where you just gotta jump left or right. That's not to say you can choose any of the 64 you should probably get rid of all the ones that are very likely not to work, but once you're left with one or two choices, then you should probably just doesn't matter.

Okay. Say we're gonna have to save UI and persuasion till the next week cause we're really out of time. But there's a couple of things I wanted to add. One was you were talking about films and inception is one of my favorite films and of course the art of persuasion in there is extraordinary of having to drop the seed into the dream to make the person think that they came up with themselves, which is what persuasion is about. I lost the time, isn't it? It's subtle hidden persuasion. It makes you think that it was your idea.

Yeah, and I do it all the time. I actually call it sowing a seed. Sometimes when you know that it's not a conversation that you're going to be able to reach the end of immediately. What I will do is I will drop in seeds and then I will nurture them and some grow in, some don't.

Well, I think that makes a good leader if they help to sow the seeds in the people that they are leading and then let those people nurture and incubate them and help them grow. You're getting the direction that the leader by his experience should feel is the right direction. But he has giving the confidence and respect and support to the people he's leading to nurture them and bring them up to hopefully possibly leaders at another time.

And also they may grow that seed in a slightly different way than you would had visited you, that we may bring up options that you hadn't considered.

And the other thing that I thought was funny that I had this week was that, you know, the BBC to 500 words children's story and the volume of stories about Brexit. So I think there was a couple of thousand that were all about Brexit. And so it's moved from something boring that parents thought about to completely implements the imagination of children age 10 a bit under a bit older, which is slightly worrying about sowing the seeds that early in their lives that this thing is well and truly wedged in their brain.

That's been true forever. Conservative children are usually born of conservative parents. Labor children are usually born of labor power. I mean that.

So Brexit, children being born to Brexit, I mean, everyone's in Brexit, and that's a bit scary because surely that's going to polarize because your parents are either one or the other, and if you're nine or 10 it will only strengthen that this is what you thought about Brexit and depolarize the world more. Actually. What a lot of the stories I've tried to do is try to help trees in a so of Brexit. Apparently there was up to Unicorn called Brexit. There was the Catholic, so Brexit, it was very sweet. I liked them a lot, but we've got [inaudible]. Let's

go now. Yes, but until next weekend.

Dan & Abi work, talk & dream in tech. If you would like to discuss any speaking opportunity contact us.