Friday, November 27, 2015


They are the stern, staring eyes of those grim-faced Republican candidates in the recent CNN promotion for their 16 December 2015 debate. And, they are an example of “resonance advertising” based on the latest social psychological research.
     Resonance Advertising is the most non-conscious evocative form of advertising. Developed by the late Tony Schwartz, the methodology was used by Lyndon Johnson’s campaign to literally blow Barry Goldwater’s presidential bid out of the water with a commercial called “Picking Daisies” which ended with the image of a thermonuclear explosion. Emotionally, though not literally, the :30 second television commercial called up subconscious voter fear that a vote for Goldwater would lead to nuclear war with the Russians.
     The CNN promo has only a drum beat audio, subconsciously saying military or regimentation, and the images are face after face of the leading Republican candidates staring menacingly at the camera.
     Powerful, eh? They are watching you.

     Social psychological research has shown that photos of stern, staring eyes are a psychological “prime” – they prime the situation with meanings that come from within us. Hence “resonance” advertising. Powerful images which call forth deep-seated emotional responses.
When added to the test environment of several studies; images of stern, staring eyes cause significantly measurable reactions among test participants. In one case, simply switching the photos on the wall above a “honor box” in a student canteen, led students to “feel guilty” and give money for coffee refreshments even though there was no printed or verbal directive to do so. Such images of these eyes are “authoritarian”.
The research went on to prove that people of an older generation (like “Baby Boomers”) are more susceptible to responding to these “authoritarian” eyes. (Oh great!)
     What do these images hope to communicate? Here are some possibilities: Authority. Seriousness. Control. Gravitas. You will change your behavior. We are your leaders.

This promo and these authoritarian eyes are certainly saying that if viewers haven’t taken the Republican candidates seriously up to this point, “you’d damn sure better take this debate seriously!”
     Not coincidentally, authoritarianism is now part of the message around which the Republican candidates are rallying and to which the Republican base is responding. Certainly Donald Trump’s followers shrug off charges of his “fascist” attitudes with apparently little concern about his motives. And, other Republican candidates have begun following Trump’s lead into authoritarianism.
     Okay. The CNN promo may not be a promo for authoritarian Republicanism.
It may only be about grabbing a larger audience. This is due to the fact that the ratings on some debates between the two parties have varied widely in viewership. Some debates have been monstrous and broken all viewer records. And with this many candidates remaining on the Republican stage, other research may have show that viewers were having trouble focusing and needed to be herded a bit toward the debate.
But, why authoritarian eyes?
     Do these images promote authoritarianism? Yes. Don’t doubt the underlying research.
Are they used only to grab a bigger audience, or are they used to “prime” the electorate for something bigger to come?
(Cue “Jaws” theme – “Bah-dah”.)
There may be nothing like a little dose of potential fear of authoritarianism to cause a bump in viewers. But there is a risk of taking Republican authoritarianism too lightly.
Let’s all watch now because “Big Brother” is watching us.

© Copyright 2015 Jean W. Yeager
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