Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Control Theory

I started to think about commercials. Mostly I tend to see a TV ad as a time-out so I can run and finish loading the dishwasher for the night, go to the bathroom, or email a friend. A radio commercial is just a damn interruption from some good tunes. Print ads continue to do their good job of making me feel all inferior-like. (Skinny models and well decorated homes – don’t take no rocket scientist does it?) And everyone knows that the Super Bowl is just a mish-mash of clanking helmets and grass stained uniforms that appear in-between some of the finest efforts that Madison Avenue has put forth since – last year.

And it’s this effort that I applaud. For a long time I’ve harbored a secret desire to work in advertising. I don’t know much about story-boards and branding, and the industry is not exactly stress-free. Yet it fascinates me. The concept of creating a situation or series of imagined controls that will sway the behavior of a demographic. Of course, this is all around us. It’s not just on our TVs or radios. It’s in the way I plan dinner. (If I make something they like, they might take out the trash with less fuss.) It’s in education. Religion. Politics. (Duh!) And the Wachowski Brothers made a cool couple of bucks messing around with this concept of control.

Yesterday a local radio station was having issues with the Oprah show. They played a tape of Oprah announcing she was NOT doing some sort of long anticipated give-away on that day (for whatever reasons, they are not important). But the crowd went wild anyway. The DJs were laughing over this phenomenon, and played the tape of the cheering audience over and over.

Now, they didn’t exactly use the term ‘sheeple’, but it was implied. People get in a mindset of behaviors and seem to revel in doing what is expected of them. Again and again. Though I think this is not always such a good thing, I am still struck by the process. I think back on folks like Charles Manson and Adolph Hitler, or for that matter the Rev. King. What kind of charisma, or cojones did they have for getting their disciples to follow them? In the case of the former two, I have long wondered, ‘what if they used their powers for good?’

But with advertising, there is no wondering. There is no hidden agenda. Experts in manipulation and persuasion work in all fields, but in advertising their work is celebrated. These brainiacs can come out of the control closet with their heads held high; their blatant application of influential techniques is out there for all to see. It is what it is.