Public Opinion and Persuasion: Lecture 1


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First and introductory lecture for POP, second year unit on the BA (Hons) Public Relations unit

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  • Two concepts – supposedly interrelated! Possibly circular in their influential power Not a training course – more of a discussion of ideas designed to encourage thought on how we are persuaded, how we persuade and so how to apply consider how to persuade in the context of corporate, political and public sector communication. persuasion, models of persuasion and how persuasion works Public Opinion, its nature, how it is measured. Case studies!!
  • There is no magic bullet to persuasion, though advertisers may appear to think that chucking a good deal together with a celebrity endorser may be highly influential, the nature of the deal and how that celebrity is viewed by the audience is the factor that will have the impact. People are sovereign in their reception of communication; PR tries to get around that not by repeat-remind, drip feeding information and key messages but by understanding their key audience and playing on the access points. If we imagine the human brain to be a building with a labyrinth of corridors, we can also imagine it having doors in. We can lock those doors, but there are entry codes. The entry codes are not physical but emotional, so the right emotional stimuli can act as a key to accessing a part of your intended receiver’s brain.
  • Communication focuses on five elements – this really is basic stuff and from the dawn of time. We look at messengers – what factors make some able to influence public opinion (Who would influence you?) Then the message – how is public opinion drawn to follow some messages and not others The Medium – How is the message delivered – is this important? (WHY?) The ‘To’ or ‘To Whom’ – this is often where we start in reality – (WHY?) There is no one messenger. Message or medium that will grab everyone anymore – if there really ever was. Maybe radio (Churchill!!). But now persuasive communication is very much a smash and grab raid on our senses – but there is a question – is there an effect. Lippmann wrote in 1922 that persuasive communication shaped public opinion by informing us about the world around us and creating pictures in our head – Is this true?? (WELL??) PR deals in key publics. Communicators first identify that group, create the message, decide where to place it, consider ways of making it more effective and then measure the effects (where possible). Means that most communication is research led. Can be easy – Selling Heat magazine Or tricky – Poole Quay events
  • History of changing opinions. First and most basic – where to drink, try these drugs, lend me some money etc. Most common in history is force of state – threat!! (Coercion). Is there a choice. Catholicism / Protestantism. Crime and Punishment. Is this still relevant? Buy Shredded Wheat or get heart disease! More common is suggestion. Ladies, buy L’Oreal and become a supermodel!! Some argue the cause of anorexia. Men wear Lynx and be irresistible (Yeah right!). Do we believe these advertising messages? Interpersonal recommendation can be more powerful. Norms – this is accepted, this is not. Tricky to create and enforce. But consistent with the idea of persuasion – fine ethical line anyway – but consider advertising, marketing and PR and its ethical nature!!
  • Problem for persuaders is that everyone is at it. This is a blunt example – wear Calvin Klein and get a supermodel wrapped around you. The second has two elements, the crowd could be a taxi queue or something more sinister (waiting to get you if you walk) – but advertises our own dear bus service. Question – which messages do we accept, which do we reject and why?
  • The changing of norms – social advertising – is the most tricky. One example is aids – once seen as ‘The Gay Plague’. Poster is one attempt – failed – WHY? Led to hostility against the homosexual male community – as well as a number of weird and ill-informed myths. All Dept of Health ideas failed – The uneducated Georgie (Educating Oz) Campaign centred around the idea that something must be done!! – this example gives us some insights into how persuasive communication can and does work!!
  • During the 1980s two things were achieved, increase in the use of condoms, understanding that AIDS was just another STD that could be transmitted from all sexes to their partners
  • But, AIDS retained associations with homosexuality and this meant that heterosexuals were less likely to recognise a threat but condemned the victims of the disease. ‘Queer bashing’, promoted by certain right wing groups was often linked to the ‘gay plague’ issue. The lack of understanding and open hostility meant that sufferers who could live normally were too afraid to admit their disease and so unable to ensure others were not put at risk. However that hostility changed due to the deaths of two prominent and popular entertainers from aids. While gay icons, they earned universal acclaim with many seemingly ignoring their sexuality; in many ways this helped to change the climate.
  • Things culminated that changed the public’s negative perception of the disease and its sufferers. One was not a stunt but was carefully planned by a woman whose personal PR skills were second to none: Princess Di – she dispelled the myth that any contact was dangerous Then the official campaign kicked in. Eastenders character Mark Fowler, played by former child star and ‘boy next door’ Todd Carty, became the human (non-gay) face of AIDS. He was our mate at school, our son, our brother, a normal guy. He was infected by a woman, but the important message was the way that he should be treated and so a greater understanding of what it is like to live with AIDS was encouraged
  • Things to note! Persuasion is about changing attitudes and behaviour. Sometimes through influence, sometimes it is more targeted. Style and method can be tried and tested (Ads using Kate Moss etc), or trial and error (AIDS). Campaigns do not rely on one level, one message, one media and maybe will communicate to many publics at once. So much clutter!!! So maybe ineffective. Effects very hard to measure anyway This unit will explore these issues and consider them carefully.
  • Public Opinion and Persuasion: Lecture 1

    1. 1. Persuasion & Public Opinion Lecture 1 Introduction
    2. 2. PR & Persuasion <ul><li>PR provides the public a window onto a part of the world outside </li></ul><ul><li>It shapes our emotional responses towards brands and individuals </li></ul><ul><li>It persuades us to adopt attitudes and behaviours </li></ul><ul><li>Persuasion is strategic & scientific </li></ul>
    3. 3. Persuasion is Personal <ul><li>We decide whose communication we ‘let in’ to our psyche </li></ul><ul><li>We decide who is credible </li></ul><ul><ul><li>We create our own benchmarks </li></ul></ul><ul><li>We decide whether we are convinced </li></ul><ul><li>We determine our own behaviours </li></ul><ul><li>We are persuaded everyday </li></ul>
    4. 4. <ul><li>Clear effects here: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Partisanship! </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Specific phrases </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Body language </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Facial expressions </li></ul></ul>
    5. 5. Publics & Communication <ul><li>Who </li></ul><ul><li>What </li></ul><ul><li>Where </li></ul><ul><li>To </li></ul><ul><li>With What effect </li></ul>
    6. 6. Persuasion <ul><li>Interpersonal </li></ul><ul><li>The power of force (Coercion) </li></ul><ul><li>The power of suggestion </li></ul><ul><li>The creation of norms </li></ul><ul><li>Fundamentally, persuasion is making someone do something without duress </li></ul>
    7. 7. Persuasion is all around
    8. 8. Searching for the right approach 1
    9. 9. Searching for the right approach 2 <ul><li>Oz: Well its only pooftas and the like that get that </li></ul><ul><li>Denis: No man, its like every sexually transmitted disease, you gotta wear a condom. </li></ul>
    10. 10. A changing climate
    11. 11. The Aids Campaign
    12. 12. <ul><li>Though perhaps overly dramatised, the narrative provides a window into the world of an HIV+ man: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Misunderstandings </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The possible reactions (pity and fear) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The difficulty in revealing infection </li></ul></ul>
    13. 13. Persuasion & Public Opinion <ul><li>We use persuasion to: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Affect attitudes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>influence the masses </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>shift public opinion </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>change behaviour </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The style and method depend on the audience </li></ul><ul><li>Messages are multifarious </li></ul><ul><li>Persuasion is ubiquitous – so ignored? </li></ul>
    14. 14. For Seminar 1 <ul><li>What has made you </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Change an opinion of someone (individual or brand) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Made you do, or not do, something </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Made you think differently about something (person, issue) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>All examples are valid, keep them realistic! </li></ul>