The “New” Psychology of Persuasion

I’ve just watched (online) the PBS documentary on the ‘new and surprising methods’ advertisers are using: The Persuaders (thanks to Douglas Rushkoff). It seems the ultimate persuasion is to persuade a person to persuade themselves. It is a technique that many companies are employing, like the ‘search operas’ mentioned in a previous post, where the entertainment company 4orty2wo ‘don’t send an advertising message into the maelstrom of other competing messages: we reverse-engineer the process, so that the consumer comes looking for our campaign and our client’s product’. Once again, like anything, the technique is nothing new. I’ve got a book, published in 1965, (Whitney, R.A., Hubin, T. and Murphy, J.D. (1965) The new psychology of persuasion and motivation in selling, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.) that outlines how the system is needed and works. A quote from the book details how in 1957 Dr Thomas Gordon explained to a National Sales convention the then recent research:

Traditionally we have been led to accept the common notion that the best way to influence or change people is to communicate something to them-tell them, advise them, suggest to them, appeal to them, teach them, persuade them.

Recent psychological research studies have turned up evidence that casts considerable doubt on the validity of this approach. The approach that appears to be far more effective in influencing or changing people is to encourage them to communicate to you, express their opinions and ideas, verbalize their needs and complaints, talk out their problems and deep feelings, discuss their resistance to change…

The chapter goes on to describe how when people are allowed to ‘genuinely participate in the decision making process they were much more likely to “buy”‘, that there needs to be a ‘two-way communication system between speaker and listener’ (40: original emphasis). ‘Social interaction’ was deemd the ‘most effective form of persuasion’ (48). In those days participation was enacted through discussion groups with housewives, with salesmen, since media was delivered to people through a one-way channel. Nowadays we have the Internet and feedback measuring techniques that make the process more two-way. The technique is the same but the application of it is not.

In my research into what motivates a user to act, to move between channels and modes through a cross media work (or ‘narrative universe’ as Henry Jenkins describes it) I’m looking at advertising techniques such as persuasion in the networked environment. I don’t think HCI techniques have quite touched on the dynamics of motivation like marketers have, and at the same time, franchise designers haven’t quite touched on motivation like narratologists have. I’ll end with a quote from the documentary by Frank Luntz — political consultant/spin-docotor?/reader-response expert?:

I don’t argue with you that words can sometimes be used to confuse but its up to the practitioners of the study of language to apply them for good and not evil. It is just like fire: fire can heat your house or burn it down.

Choose Your Own Ending

There is a new ‘mobile soap opera game’ (brace yourself there’s heaps more coming your way, including a ‘mobisode’ version of ’24’) called ‘TxtMsC’. It involves a series delivered on TV, mobile phone, with matchmaking service, the chance to win prizes and is marketed on radio and TV. The creator, Charlie Salem, claims it is ‘designed to be completely cross platform’. I couldn’t see how from the news items but in an interview with Salem (and iTV) the seems alot more compelling:

TxtMsC…presented viewers with a series of four 30-second music video-style comic vignettes–each featuring familiar UK television actors–that ran at the beginning and end of commercial breaks on the European version of E! Entertainment Television…Each vignette dramatized a dilemma, and was accompanied by a rap narrative delivered by a character called “Ms.
Cellulite,” played by Salem’s wife…Viewers were invited to decide what the characters in the vignette should do next: they could either text in a vote for a pre-determined option (“Text E if he should ask for her number”) or text in their own suggestion…Then, using artificial-intelligence and randomizing software that Salem wrote during his career as a video-game creator, a continuation of the narrative that corresponded to their individual votes or suggestions was sent to viewers’ mobiles, either in text or, if they had a 3G phone, in photostrip format.

The part I would baulk at was the dating element:

TxtMsC was also designed to function as a chat/dating/meet-up service: “When viewers
texted in their responses, they were invited to enter in their age, gender and post code,” he explained. “Because we knew where they were texting from, we were able to invite them to be matched up with people of a similar sense of humor, so that they could chat with them or even meet them. So, if you were texting from, say, North London, you could be texted back any time of the day with a message saying ‘There’s someone similar to you in your area: do you want to meet them or chat with them?’ Alternatively, if you need some kind of service or want to find someone in your area to do something with, it could be used to match you up.

Alternate uses to this system can be used in a story. Localised content is definately a device that can help immerse the player in the game, or story. I was fooled in another work (by myself not the designers), Jupiter Green, into thinking that the content was localised to my state. I was really excited about the idea and have been waiting to see something like this since. Though, GPS or localised media, is nothing new.
Another element of the work that was interesting, or at least a tick in the box of already recognised ‘aesthetics of immersive gaming’ (Jane McGonigal) is the notion of the audience having control. 4orty2wo call this ‘search operas’.

The fact that the vignettes generated a significant response was particularly gratifying, Salem added, in light of the fact that they were not promoted in advance: “Viewers actually told us that they were fascinated that these clips were just presented to them without any notice,” he said.

Salem has his sight on an even bigger project now:

“What I hope to target at the US would be a whodunnit version, called ‘MysteryTxT,’ in which television, cinema, Web and DVD audiences would get to work out who is the murderer.”

IST paper here

Here is a pdf of the paper I’ve contributed to Monique de Haas’ Cross Media Networking Session at IST titled: ‘Current State of Cross Media Storytelling: Preliminary observations for future design’
and the powerpoint is now online too.

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