In their current exhibition, the British Library explores propaganda and the many ways that governments try to shape collective opinion. (Here’s a write-up of my own visit to the exhibition) There are all kinds of techniques for changing minds or building habits, and they’re not exclusive to politics either. Advertisers and campaigners use them too. Here are ten popular techniques to look out for in the wild.
- Appeal to patriotism – flag up the national interest, especially in the face of competing nations. Nobody wants to fall behind in the global race.
- Exploit existing beliefs – use prevailing attitudes and beliefs to your advantage, including stereotypes and prejudices.
- Use humour – disarm your audience by making them laugh, and make your message more memorable. Can also be used to belittle opponents.
- Create fear – build on existing anxieties, and use them to outline a threat or define an enemy. The reasoned arguments of your opponents will be powerless if you’ve got fear working for you.
- Imply everyone agrees – People like to fit in, so it’s always worth suggesting that Average Joe, the man on the street, and Britain’s hard working families who just want to get on all see things the way you do.
- Establish authority – 99% of doctors agree that referencing trusted authoritites makes your claim more believable.
- Disguise the source – We don’t like the idea of the government telling us what to think, so channel the message through think-tanks, quangos, and whatever apparently independent organisations you have available.
- Make false connections – We all want our children to be safe. So start with something everyone can agree with, and then jump to your more contested point.
- Be selective about the truth – whatever the issue, focus on the aspects that support the view you want to encourage, and don’t give airtime to the alternatives.
- Hammer it home – choose your message carefully and then repeat it until it is so common that nobody questions it any more.
For your homework, read David Cameron’s recent article on fracking with these techniques in mind, and see how many you can identify.