I did my thesis on “Brainwashing, attitude change and its relation to advertising”. It was controversial among my peers (“what do you mean advertising is not brainwashing?”), among the tribunal members (“what do you mean it is attitudes and not ‘motivation’ that is important?”) and among my coworkers, who believed that the key to coming up with great creative was to sit and write headlines until one “clicked” and were opposed to this “intellectual crap” invading the sanctum of the creative department.
My greatest discovery was the entire theory of Cognitive Dissonance.
From Wikipedia: In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.
Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. An individual who experiences inconsistency (dissonance) tends to become psychologically uncomfortable, and is motivated to try to reduce this dissonance—as well as actively avoid situations and information likely to increase it.
Reducing Cognitive Dissonance is key.
Cognitive dissonance theory is founded on the assumption that individuals seek consistency between their expectations and their reality. Because of this, people engage in a process called dissonance reduction to bring their cognitions and actions in line with one another. This creation of uniformity allows for a lessening of psychological tension and distress.
According to Festinger, dissonance reduction can be achieved in four ways. In an example case where a person has adopted the attitude that they will no longer eat high fat food, but eats a high-fat doughnut, the four methods of reduction are:
Leon & The Donald
One of the most frustrating aspects when speaking with Trump fans is the way that they ignore, rationalize or completely turn around events and actions that would sink other presidential candidates.
The press is full examples, but imagine what would happen if any “normal” candidate had a nude wife pictures all over the internet, five kids from three wives, refused to release his tax returns, invited Russia to spy on us, called 11 million Mexicans rapists and drug dealers, called a war-hero Republican ex-presidential candidate a failure because he was captured, called a judge useless because of his Mexican descend, had over 3,500 lawsuits and insulted the parents of a soldier who just died in an American war.
When other Republican leaders (e.g., Mitt Romney) attack Trump, their messages fall flat. When traditional media (e.g., The New York Times) attack Trump, their messages also fall flat. Those sources have no credibility whatsoever among Trump followers.
So, depending on the person you are talking with and the specific event or action addressed you can see each of the four actions described above in practice.
The Trojan Horse Approach.
There is only one way to deal with the thick defensive shields that most Trump followers have built around these dissonances. The Trojan Horse approach: present a message that is totally accepted initially and passes through the psychological filters, delivers such a contradictory ending that it forces the viewer to move his point of view (it can be done and it is described in the theory itself) and then destroy the original position so that there is no “going back”.
Finally, the message has to be delivered with the language and imagery that resonates with the target person, not some corporate or agency generic “persona”, so individualization and customization are basic.
The mechanism in all of these pieces is similar:
Streetfighting 101 – Relentlessly painful.
There are two rules to streetfighting: First, hit and hit and hit continuously, do not give the other person the chance to react and second, make sure that the other person can’t get up.
If I were consulting for the DNC I would make sure to have –literally—hundreds of pieces, from :30 and :60 commercials, to longer videos, a YouTube Channel, Facebook, Twitter, other blogs… everything lined up and then I would unleash barrage after barrage of these messages continuously.
I would not worry about targeting. Another of the key findings of Dissonance theory is that people tend to be exposed to the kind of messaging that reduces tension, that is, the one that they agree with. So, for example, are you worried about jobs… you will tend to watch the ads about jobs while excluding, say, the ones about the military.
In unleashing a barrage, you also make sure of two things:
Why ads ridiculing Trump will probably not work.
Let’s say that (for some unknown reason) you are an avid follower of the Futbol Club Barcelona. If I started ridiculing them after a loss, your reaction would be either to become angry and defensive (well… they lost because of this, because of that…) or completely tune it out. Why? Because in ridiculing them, I’m also ridiculing you.
If I wanted you to change positions on the FCB, an easier way would be to find out a chink in the armor, something that you think was pretty bad (perhaps a player, perhaps something that the trainer did) and then join forces with you to ridicule THAT. In doing so, it is “you” and “I” together ridiculing a third party.
In real life, you would not ridicule Trump for having a 3rd and much younger wife. You’d find common ground with some of the more conservative voters who might agree that Trump is being dumb because a younger “Russian” would only marry him for his money (whether that is true or not and whether she is “Russian” or not)
Yeah, baby, Trump's got your back!
30 years of expertise in all aspects of advertising: consumer insights, creative and media.