Why We Listen to What They Say

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COERCION Why We Listen to What They Say Douglas Rushkoff Most Riverhcad Books are available at special quantity discounts for bulk purchases for sales promotions, premiums, fund-raising or educational use. Special books, or book excerpts, can also be created to fit specific needs. For details, write: Special Markets. The Berkley Publishing Group. 375 Hudson Street. New York. New York 10014. RIVERHEAD BOOKS New York Riverliead Books Published by 'I hc Berkley Publishing Group A division of
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  Most Riverhcad Books are available at special quantity discounts for bulkpurchases for sales promotions, premiums, fund-raising or educational use.Special books, or book excerpts, can also be created to fit specific needs.For details, write: Special Markets. The Berkley Publishing Group. 375Hudson Street. New York. New York 10014. COERCION Why We Listen to What They Say Douglas Rushkoff  RIVERHEAD BOOKSNew York  Riverliead BooksPublished by 'I hc Berkley Publishing GroupA division of Penguin Putnam Inc.375 Hudson SheetNew York, New York 10014Copyright © 1999 by Douglas Rushkoff Cover design by Kiley Thompson and Dawn Velez-LcBronAll rights reserved. Tin's book, or parts thereof, may nol be reproducedin any form without permission.First Riverhead hardcover edition: August 1999First Riverhead trade paperback edition: October 2000Riverhead trade paperback ISBN: 1-57322-829-X'lire Penguin Putnam Inc. World Wide Web site address ishttp://www.peiiguinputnam.coinThe Library of Congress has catalogued the Riverhead hardcover editionas follows:Rushkoff, Douglas.Coercion : why wc listen to what they say / by Douglas Rushkoff.p. cm.Includes bibliographical references.ISBN 1-57322-115-5I. Mass media —Influence. 2. Persuasion (Psychology)I. Title.P94.R87 1999302.23—dc2) 99-18230 CIPPrinted in the United States of America10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2  For Bennett—my trusted brother, sometimes teacher, and always friend   INTRODUCTION They Say They say human heings use only 10 percent of their brains.They say polyunsaturated fat is better for you than saturated fat. Theysay that tiny squiggles in a rock prove there once was life on Mars.They say our children's test scores arc declining. They say Jesus wasa direct descendant of King David. They say you can earn SI 5,000a week in your spare time. They say marijuana leads to LSD, andLSD can lead to suicide. They say the corner office is a position of power. They say the elderly should get flu shots this season. They sayhomosexuality is an environmentally learned trait. They say there's agene for homosexuality. They say people can be hypnotized to doanything. They say people won't do anything under hypnosis that theywouldn't do when conscious. They say Prozac alleviates depression.They say mutual funds arc the best long-term investment. They saycomputers can predict the weather. They say you haven't met yourdeductible.Who, exactly, are they, and why do they say so much? Moreamazing, why do wc listen to them?We each have our own theys —the bosses, experts, and authorities (both real and imaginary) who seem to dictate our lives, decideour fates, and create our futures. In the best of circumstances theycan make us feel safe, the way parents do. They make our decisionsfor us. They do our thinking for us. We don't have to_worry aboutour next move —it has already been decided on~our behalf, and inour best interests. Or so we hoj)e.   I  2 COERCION one frame of mind, but found yourself inexplicably swept away bythe emotion of the crowd? How many times have you walked into amall to buy a single pair of shoes, only to find yourself purchasingan entire outfit, several books, and a few CDs before you made yourway back to the parking lot?Have you ever picked up the phone, realized the caller was froman organization you'd never considered supporting, and gone aheadand pledged a sum of money or bought a magazine subscription?How did that automobile salesman get you to pay more than you'dplanned to for a car, and add more features than you wanted, eventhough you came armed with your Consumer Reports? Why do the advertisements in fashion magazines make us feelinadequate, and after they do, why do we feel compelled to buy theproducts advertised anyway? How can we feel we're so aware of theeffects of advertising and marketing, vet still succumb to them?Why are our kids tattooing themselves with the Nike swoosh icon? Are they part of a corporate cult? If young people today aresupposed to be beyond the reach of old-fashioned marketing, thenwhy do they feel the need to find their identity in a brand of sneakers?No matter how many coercive techniques we come to recognize,new ones are alwavs being developed that we don't^ Once we've become immune to the forceful hard sell techniques of the traditionalcar dealer, a high-paid influence consultant develops a new brandwith an entirely new image —like the Saturn, whose dealers usefriendly soft sell techniques to accomplish the same thing,/moresubtlvT^vTedia-savvy young people have learned to reject advertisingthat tries too hard to make its product look cool. In response, companies now produce decidedly uncool advertisements, which appeal to the cynical viewer who thinks he can remain unswayed. Image is nothing. Thirst is everything, Sprite advertisers confess totheir hype-weary target market. Our attempts to stay one step aheadof coercers merely provokes them to develop even more advanced,less visible, and^arguably, more pernicious methods of persuasion.Corporations and consumers are in a coercive arms race. Every 1 !&ã For not everyone to whom we surrender ourselves is deserving of  gmJUiSt .The pretty young sales associate at the Gap may not bethe best judge of how that pair of blue jeans looks on us, or of whichbelt we should wear to a job interview. Even though she seems genuinely concerned with our well-being, we must not forget that she'sbeen trained in the art of the upsell and is herself under the influence of a barrage of incentives conceived at corporate headquarters.One scheme leads her to compete with her colleagues on the salesfloor for daily prizes, while another threatens penalties or terminationif she does not meet a certain quota of multiple-item sales by the endof the week. The coercive techniques inflicted on her, and the onesshe in turn inflicts on us, are the products of years dfpainstakingresearch into methods of influencing human behavior. The justifiably cynical among us have come to expect this sort of treatment from the professional people in our lives. When we walk into a shopping mall, we understand that wc will be subjected tocertain forms of influence. We recognize that retail sales arc aboutthe bottom line, and that to stay in business, shop owners dependupon our behaving in a predictable and somewhat malleable fashion.If instructing a salesgirl to unfasten the second burton of her blousemay gamer a larger volume of sales, the store manager owes it tohimself and his superiors and their shareholders to do so. And,chances are, it will work.But these techniques arc rapidly_spreading from the sales floor andthe television screen to almost every other aspect_of our daily experience^ Whether we arc strolling through Times Square, exploringthe Internet, or even just trying to make friends at the local bar, weare under constant scrutiny and constant assault by a professional classof hidden persuaders. In most cases, if the coercion works affordingto plan, we don't even realize it has been used.It's not always easy to determine when we have surrendered our judgment to someone else. The better and more sophisticated themanipulation, the less aware of it wc are... For example, have you everattended a sporting event, rock concert, or political convention in (jr^r^dr  scotfi ^ ^Ows -Wf 0$S*MM~
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