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Study of Persuasion

Persuasion is a skill through which we use reasons or opinions to try to convince someone to believe or to do something. Include course terms and concepts from the required text reading, weekly lecture, and video viewings to answer the following discussion question.

Is the use of persuasion more valuable as a means of interpersonal communication or as a way to persuade large groups of people through the use of media?

Discussion 1
Must post first.
Study of Persuasion
Persuasion is a skill through which we use reasons or opinions to try to
convince someone to believe or to do something. Include course terms and
concepts from the required text reading, weekly lecture, and video viewings
to answer the following discussion question.
Is the use of persuasion more valuable as a means of interpersonal
communication or as a way to persuade large groups of people through the
use of media?
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 To learn about how and why persuasion
functions the way it does by
 To become a more effective
practitioner of persuasion
 We are surrounded by persuasion.
 Persuasion is an “art” and a
 People can be stubborn,
 Even the most well-funded, well-
designed persuasive campaigns
may fail.
 A powerful, positive social force.
 A necessary feature of human
 Essential to public health awareness
 Crucial for charities, philanthropic
 Useful for motivating and inspiring
Advertising spending is expected to increase
in 2010 to $162 billion per year (Magna,
The average person is exposed to 300-400
persuasive messages per day from the
media alone (Rosseli, Skelly, & Mackie,
The average person is exposed to 300-1500
advertising messages per day (Jones,
The average person watches 1,000
commercials per week (Berger, 2004).
An average of $800 per person is spent on
advertising in the U.S. each year (Berger,
Image courtesy of www.freefoto.com
 Persuasion in the
 Scientists are actively
involved in persuasion.
 Over theories and
 Over methodologies
and research findings
 Over grants and
 Persuasion in the Arts
 Artists seek to shape
public opinion in and
through their work.
 Picasso’s Guernica
(1937) offers a moral
indictment of war
 Movies can change
attitudes, alter beliefs,
increase awareness.
 Non-obvious
Contexts for
 Bumper stickers
 12 step programs
 Intercessory prayer
(3rd party)
 Plays and musicals
 Panhandling
This homeless person is using
humor/satire as a panhandling
strategy (photo by John Seiter)
 Persuasion…just between us
 Most influence attempts occur in the
interpersonal arena.
 Persuasion is most effective in faceto-face contexts.
 Less obvious or overt
 Harder to say “No” in person
 Easier to analyze, adapt to one’s
 Persuasion skill is a form of
communication competence.
 Communication competence
requires effectiveness and
 Like any skill-set, persuasive skills
can be improved through training
and practice.
 Gaining a better understanding of
how persuasion works
 Overcoming habitual persuasion:
 Individuals are often unaware of
their own habitual, reflexive
patterns of persuasion.
 Becoming a more savvy, discerning
consumer of persuasive messages
 Being less likely to succumb to high
pressure sales tactics
 Exposing unethical strategies and
 Dispelling folk-wisdom, false
stereotypes, and “common-sense”
misconceptions about persuasion
 gaze avoidance is not a reliable sign of
 Subliminal influence is ineffective.
 Learning about non-obvious, counter-
intuitive research findings
 The “logic” versus “emotion” distinction
represents a false dichotomy.
Is teaching/learning about persuasion
The study of persuasion is fraught with ethical
Little of the good in the world could be
accomplished without persuasion.
Not studying persuasion, won’t make persuasion
go away.
People who claim that persuasion is
manipulative are themselves taking a
persuasive stance.
 Persuasion deserves study
because it is complicated.
 A number of reliable
generalizations have been
 Buzz marketing circumvents traditional
media by generating free publicity.
 In addition to traditional media, buzz
marketing relies on:
 the blogosphere
 Facebook
 face-to-face interaction
 email
 texting
 Twitter
 YouTube
 Like a virus, word about a product or
service spreads from one consumer to
Tipping point:
Viral theory of marketing:
the threshold or critical point at which an idea, product, or
message takes off
ideas and messages can be contagious, just like diseases
The law of the few
Large numbers of people are not required to generate a trend.
A select few enjoy a disproportionate amount of influence over
 Mavens: possess
expertise, and seek
to share it.
 “Mavens are data
banks. They provide
the message.”
 Mavens want to
educate more than
persuade or sell.
 Connectors: know
everybody, are
networkers, have many
 “Connectors are social
glue: they spread it.”
 They have large social
 They are social gadflies;
they blog, chat, text,
 Salespeople: are
 They are charismatic
 They are good at
building rapport.
 They often rely on
“soft” influence (not
the hard sell).
 Note: All three types
are needed for a
phenomenon to takeoff:
 Mavens
 Connectors
 Salespeople
 Power of context
 The idea, message, or product must
happen at the right time and place.
 The stickiness factor
 The idea, message, or product has to
be “sticky” or inherently attractive.
 Scalability: message must be able
to go from very small to very large
without “gearing up.”
 Effortless transfer: the message
must be easy to disseminate.
 “word of mouse”
 leveraging free media
 Momentum may not reach the
tipping point.
 No guarantee the initial “buzz” will
become contagious
ï‚¡ Difficult to orchestrate word of mouth
 Good ideas don’t always gain traction.
 Trends come and go quickly.
ï‚¡ Like a contagion, a trend can die out
quickly or be replaced by a new one.
How does it differ from coercion, social
influence, and other related terms?
Pure persuasion
Obvious, clear-cut cases of persuasion
 a TV commercial
 an attorney’s closing remarks to a jury
 a pop-up ad on the Internet
Borderline persuasion
Less clear-cut cases of influence
 a derelict’s appearance
 social modeling of behavior
 persuasive attempts that backfire
Pure persuasion is:
 intentional
 measured by its
Borderline persuasion:
 may or may not be
 may or may not produce
the intended effect
Litmus tests for defining persuasion
intentional vs. unintentional
effective vs. ineffective (or even
free will and conscious awareness vs.
coercion and/or lack of awareness
symbolic action vs. pure behavior
interpersonal versus intrapersonal
Are there cases of “accidental”
Persuaders’ goals aren’t always clear.
Parental modeling of behavior
The unintended receiver effect
Difficulties in interpreting another’s intent
Interpersonal influence is mutual, two-way.
Has persuasion occurred if nothing
Persuasion as a product or outcome vs.
persuasion as a process or activity
The activity of persuading occurs even if
there is no observable change.
Persuasion is often two-way, not one-way or
Measuring persuasive outcomes can be
Persuasion may boomerang, producing the
opposite of the intended effect.
Is a free, voluntary
choice required?
Persuasion often
operates at a low level of
Persuasive may occur
without another’s
conscious awareness.
Few decisions ever
involve completely free
 rewards, punishments,
incentives, drawbacks
 social consequences for
saying no
Does persuasion exist in the “world of
words” and symbolic actions?
Much of persuasion is visual.
 Images carry meaning outside of words.
Much of persuasion is nonverbal.
 Not all nonverbal cues are clearly codified.
A person who watched an infomercial with
the sound off might still be persuaded.
Does persuasion require two or more persons?
Self-persuasion does occur.
 A person might talk him/her self into doing (or not doing)
 New Year’s resolutions are designed to increase commitment.
Persuasion involves numerous intrapersonal processes
 attitude formation and change
 desire for cognitive consistency
 counter-arguing
Pure persuasion:
is intentional
is effective or successful
is noncoercive
relies on language and
symbolic action
involves two or more persons
Borderline persuasion
is missing one or more of
these litmus tests
The communication context shapes how
persuasion occurs
Mass media is linear, with delayed feedback.
Face to face persuasion is synchronous or
Email, Texting, IM and Twitter lack nonverbal cues.
Socio-cultural factors affect message processing.
Participants’ goals affect how persuasion functions.
“ Persuasion involves one or more persons who are
engaged in the activity of creating, reinforcing,
modifying, or extinguishing beliefs, attitudes,
intentions, motivations, and/or behaviors within the
constraints of a given communication context” (Gass &
Seiter, 2011, p. 33).
Most human communication involves the
potential for influence.
Things that don’t necessarily qualify as
persuasion include:
Breathing, sleeping, sneezing
Stubbing your toe on a rock
ESP, clairvoyance, and other psychic phenomena
Chameleon-like behavior in the animal kingdom
 Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM)
 Heuristic-Systematic Model
 Unimodel
Two basic routes to persuasion:
Central and Peripheral
They represent the ends of an
“elaboration continuum.”
They represent qualitatively
different modes of information
The Central route is
reflective, requires
mental effort, and relies
on cognitive
Motivation (willingness)
to process a message
Ability to process
(understand) a message
Example: Lulu is car
She looks up information
comparing safety, reliability,
performance, customer
satisfaction, mileage, and
depreciation for three makes
of sporty cars.
She scrutinizes the
information carefully before
making a decision.
The Peripheral route is
reflexive, based on mental
credibility, appearance cues,
quantity of arguments
heuristic cues (decision
rules): rules for simplifying
the thought process
Example: A Christian
homeowner hires a
plumber because the
plumber’s ad in the Yellow
Pages includes an ichthys
symbol (sign of the fish).
Peripheral Cues
The role of involvement
“Experts can be trusted.”
High involvement increases the
likelihood of central processing.
“As seen on TV”
“Always tip 18%.”
Low involvement increases the
likelihood of peripheral processing.
“It’s your watch that says the most
about you” (slogan for Seiko
High involvement decreases
reliance on credibility (peripheral
If a celebrity endorses a product
does that mean it’s good?
Are 10 arguments necessarily
better than 3?
Persuasion that takes place via the
central route tends to be more
Persuasion that takes via the
peripheral route tends to be more
Bears many similarities to the ELM
Two basic routes or modes of information processing
Systematic processing is more thoughtful, deliberate, analytical.
Analogous to “central” processing in the ELM
Heuristic processing is more reflexive, automatic.
Analogous to “peripheral” processing in the ELM
Relies on decision rules, e.g., “Never pay retail,” “Buy low, sell
Decision rules are activated under the appropriate
Is there true simultaneous processing, or
simply rapid switching back and forth?
Multi-tasking as an example:
driving + cellphone (difficult)
studying + background music (less difficult)
If simultaneous processing exists, does it
exist for words? For images?
Processing two oral or written messages at
Processing a written message and an image?
Available: stored in memory for
potential use
Accessible: activated from
Applicable: related to the
receiver’s goals or objectives
Motivation and ability to process a
message are key determinants.
Sufficiency principle: people don’t want to
spend too much or too little time/effort
making a decision.
HSM allows for the possibility of
simultaneous processing (both
systematic and heuristic).
Example: Ned thinks Mini Coopers look really
cool and, after doing some research, he finds
they also perform well in crash tests and
have higher than average reliability.
An alternative to dual process models.
The unimodel rejects the notion of two
distinct types of processing.
There is simply more or less processing.
One can think more or less about an issue.
If one thinks more, cognitive elaboration will
be higher.
If one thinks less, cognitive elaboration will
be lower.
less elaboration
more elaboration
Copyright © 2011, 2007, 2003 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved
Definition: An attitude is a learned
predisposition to respond favorably or
unfavorably toward some attitude object.
Attitudes are:
Learned or acquired
Predispositions to respond
Evaluative, e.g., favorable or unfavorable
Directed toward something
Likert scales
Known as “equal appearing interval” scales
5-7 scale points
Ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree
Uncertainty regarding the neutral point
Sample Likert-Type Scale Item
The death penalty should be abolished.
moderately neutral/
moderately strongly
not sure disagree
Differential Scales
Sample scale items from McCroskey’s Ethos
Based on the
connotations of words
Kanye West
Relies on bipolar
adjectives (antonyms)
expert ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ inexpert
unselfish ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ selfish
5-7 scale points
timid ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ bold
Respondent checks the
“semantic space” between
the antonyms
tense ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ relaxed
trained ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ untrained
Uncertainty regarding the
neutral space
Correlation (ABC) is
stronger when:
A specific attitude is being
Multiple measures of the
attitude are made.
The attitude is based on
personal experience.
The attitude was formed
via central processing.
Attitudes central to the belief
system are involved.
The respondents are low selfmonitors.
The attitude is accessible or can
be activated.
Social Desirability Bias
Respondents may make up opinions so as not to appear
Acquiescence Bias
Respondents may provide the “socially correct” response.
Respondents may provide the answer they think the
investigator wants to hear.
Respondents may not be aware of their own attitudes.
Memberships, affiliations, social networks
Clothing, artifacts, and other appearance cues
Actions, habits, lifestyles
Physiological measures
Galvanic skin response, facial electromyography, fMRI
 Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA)
 Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB)
 Consistency Theories
Developed by Fishbein & Ajzen in the 1970’s
 The TRA is a “rational” model of persuasion.
It presumes people are rational decision makers.
 It presumes people make use of available information.
Behavioral intentions are the best predictor of
actual behavior.
Belief about
the outcome
Evaluation of
the outcome
toward the
Motivation to
Ned has begun drinking heavily since he started
 Attitude toward the behavior: “I think drinking is
ruining my health and it caused me to get fired from
my job.”
 Subjective Norm component: “I know my friends and
family would like me to stop drinking.”
 Intention: “I intend to stop drinking altogether.”
 Behavior: Ned attends his first AA meeting the next
An extension of the TRA
 The TpB adds the additional element of perceived
behavioral control (self-efficacy).
Internal factors might prevent or reduce control (lack of
knowledge, lack of skill).
 External factors might prevent or reduce control (limited
time or resources).
Intentions correlate more strongly with actual
behavior when there is perceived behavioral control.
Attitudes exist in
associative networks.
Persuaders seek to
establish connections
among attitudes.
The goal is to link their
product, brand, idea to
favorable attitudes.
school prayer sex education
family values
premarital sex
family leave
marital fidelity child support
dead-beat dads
brands are matched with
idealized lifestyles.
Symbols are
appropriated and paired
with brands.
Brand Personality
Associations endow
brands with human
fun, sophisticated, tough,
Slogans foster favorable
“Breakfast of Champions”
“Diamonds are forever”
Brought to you by…
“In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope.”
Charles Revson (Founder of Revlon)
“An image . . . is not simply a trademark, a design, a slogan or an easily
remembered picture. It is a studiously crafted personality profile of an
individual, institution, corporation, product or service.”
Daniel Boorstin (Historian)
“You now have to decide what ‘image’ you want for your brand. Image
means personality. Products, like people, have personalities, and they can
make or break them in the market place.”
David Ogilvy (British Advertising Executive)
A teen admires a particular brand,
image, or lifestyle.
A new product is paired with that
brand or lifestyle.
For example, iPhones and iTunes
Ads for a new energy drink show
teens listening to their iPods
while enjoying the drink.
The teen comes to equate the
product with the brand.
The energy drink seems to go
with iPhones and iTunes.
People desire consistency.
People prefer a state of harmony among their attitudes,
beliefs, behaviors.
Inconsistency causes psychological discomfort.
 The magnitude of dissonance
The degree of psychological discomfort depends on the
centrality of the attitudes.
Greater attitude salience results in greater dissonance.
People are motivated to restore consistency.
A child admires Popeye.
The child doesn’t like to
eat spinach.
Popeye is positively
associated with spinach.
+ +
This is a cognitively
imbalanced state, which
should motivate the child
to change one of the

Balanced psychological states
Any combination of even minus signs, or all plus signs is
psychologically comfortable.



Unbalanced psychological states
❑ Any combination of odd minus signs, or all minus
signs is psychologically uncomfortable.


Denial: ignoring the inconsistency
Bolstering: adding rationalizations
Differentiation: distinguishing between the conflicting
and non-conflicting elements
Transcendence: looking at the larger picture
Modifying attitudes: changing one or more associations
Communicating: convincing others one is being
People seek to maintain a stable, positive, selfconcept.
People rationalize their choices and actions in light
of their self-concept.
Behavior that contradicts one’s beliefs or selfconcept causes dissonance.
Making a decision produces dissonance or
“buyer’s remorse.”
The more important the decision, the greater the
Lyle, a commuter, buys a
large, 4 X 4, SUV.
Soon afterward, the price
of gasoline soars.
Every time he fills up the
tank, he experiences
Some ways Lyle could reduce
his dissonance include:
Convince himself the “gas
guzzler” would also be safer in
a crash.
Take up off-road sports to
justify the vehicle’s other
Coach a soccer team or little
league team to justify having all
those seats.
Sell or trade-in the car at a loss
and chalk it up to “experience.”
Free choice paradigm
the more free choice one
has in making a decision,
the more dissonance one
will suffer.
When a person is forced to
do something, little
dissonance is aroused.
 The person can rationalize
the action by saying “I had no
Belief disconfirmation
Exposure to information
contrary to strongly held
beliefs may increase
adherence to those beliefs
(e.g., stubbornness).
Induced compliance
Effort justification
The greater the effort or
sacrifice involved, the greater
the dissonance.
Selective exposure
which is not the same as
being rational.
Paying attention only to
information that supports
the choice made.
Avoiding information that is
inconsistent with the choice
Polarization of alternatives
Any of the strategies for
maintaining cognitive
Modifying one or more
Exaggerating the differences
between the alternatives
once the choice is made.
Also known as “reverse psychology”
 Backlash: A perceived threat to one’s freedom
produces a defensive reaction.
 Forbidden fruit: Outlawing something may make it
even more attractive.
 Examples:
 A pushy salesperson may drive customers away.
 When restrictions are placed on firearms, firearm
sales increase dramatically before the ban takes
 A parent who criticizes a daughter’s boyfriend may
drive the daughter into the boyfriend’s arms.
Playing “Devil’s Advocate”: Advocating a contrary
position shifts one’s attitudes toward the contrary
No external incentives should be present.
 The advocacy should be volitional (not compelled).
 The advocacy should be public (in writing or out loud).
The person will internalize the choice to advocate
the contrary position.
The person’s attitudes will shift (partially) toward the
contrary position.
Once we are committed to a course of action, it is
hard to turn back.
 A car owner may “throw good money after bad” making
one repair after another.
 Gamblers may double their bets every time they lose.
Social customs are designed to increase
 Wedding customs
 Initiation rituals
Commitments can grow legs.
 People add additional justifications for their original
Persuasion: Social
Influence and Compliance
Fifth Edition
California State University, Fullerton
Utah State University
First published 2014, 2011, 2008, 2005, 2002 by Pearson Education, Inc.
Published 2016 by Routledge
2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN
711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA
Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business
Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008, 2005, 2002 Taylor & Francis. All rights reserved
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic,
mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any
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Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and
explanation without intent to infringe.
Credits and acknowledgments borrowed from other sources and reproduced, with permission, in this textbook appear
on appropriate page within text.
ISBN: 9780205912964 (pbk)
Cover Designer: Ilze Lemesis
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Gass, Robert H.
Persuasion, social influence, and compliance gaining / Robert H.
Gass, California State University, Fullerton, John S. Seiter,
Utah State University. — Fifth edition,
pages cm
Includes index.
ISBN-13: 978-0-205-91296-4
ISBN-10: 0-205-91296-6
1. Persuasion (Psychology) 2. Influence (Psychology) 3. Manipulative behavior. I. Seiter, John S. II. Title.
BF637.P4G34 2013
Please visit the companion website at www.routledge.com/9780205912964
Why Study Persuasion?
Aims and Goals
Persuasion is not a Dirty Word
Persuasion is Our Friend
The Pervasiveness of Persuasion: You Can Run But You Can’t Hide
Word of Mouth: What’s the Buzz?
Social Media: Rise of the Machines
Tipping Points
Ãœber Influencers
Orchestrating the Next Big Thing
Infectious or Inexplicable?
Gamification: Farmville as a Cash Cow
Persuasion in the Sciences
Persuasion in the Arts
Other Not-So-Obvious Contexts for Persuasion
Weird Persuasion
Persuasion in Interpersonal Settings
Four Benefits of Studying Persuasion
The Instrumental Function: Be All That You Can Be
The Knowledge and Awareness Function: Inquiring Minds Want to Know
The Defensive Function: Duck and Cover
The Debunking Function: Puh-Shaw
Two Criticisms of Persuasion
Does Learning about Persuasion Foster Manipulation?
Are Persuasion Findings Too Inconsistent or Confusing?
Ethical Concerns About the Use of Persuasion
What Constitutes Persuasion?
Pure Versus Borderline Cases of Persuasion
Limiting Criteria for Defining Persuasion
Free Will and Conscious Awareness
Symbolic Action
Interpersonal versus Intrapersonal
A Model of the Scope of Persuasion
The Context for Persuasion
A Working Definition of Persuasion
So What Isn’t Persuasion?
Dual Processes of Persuasion
The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion
The Heuristic Systematic Model of Persuasion
The Unimodel of Persuasion
Attitudes and Consistency
What Is an “Attitude” in 20 Words or Less?
So How Do You Measure the Durn Things?
Explicit Measures: Self-Report Scales
Likert Scales
Semantic Differential Scales
Visually Oriented Scales
Pitfalls in Measuring Attitudes
Implicit Measures: What’s Rattling Around Inside Your Brain?
Implicit Association Test (IAT)
Other Implicit Measures
More Roundabout Ways of Measuring Attitudes
Judging a Book by Its Cover—Appearances
Birds of a Feather—Associations
You Are What You Do—Behavior
Physiological Measures of Attitude
The Theory of Reasoned Action
Attitude toward the Behavior
Subjective Norm
Gals, Guys, Culture, and the TRA
The Theory of Planned Behavior
The Persistence of Attitudes
Attitudes as Associative Networks: Your Mind Is a Web
Manufacturing Favorable Associations: Jiggling the Web
Brands and Branding: That’s the Life!
Who Are You Wearing? Brand Personality
Authenticity: Keeping It Real
Cause-Related Marketing: The Feel-Good Factor
Psychological Consistency
The Inner Peace of Consistency
Methods of Maintaining Consistency
Marketing Strategies: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too!
Brand Loyalty: Accept No Substitute
Write and Tell Us Why You Love This Book In 24 Words or Less
Marketing Inconsistency
Capitalizing on Inconsistency
Cognitive Dissonance Theory
Cognitive Dissonance and Buyer’s Remorse
Polarization of Alternatives
Cognitive Dissonance, Self-image, and Culture
Factors That Affect the Magnitude of Dissonance
Dissonance and Persuasion: Putting It All Together
Forbidden Fruit: Psychological Reactance
Counterattitudinal Advocacy: Playing Devil’s Advocate
I’m All In: Increasing Commitment
Commitments Can “Grow Legs”
Getting Carried Away
Throwing Good Money After Bad
Celebrity Selling Power: The Answer is in the Stars
The Match-Up Hypothesis: Why Jonah Hill Should Not Be Revlon’s Spokesperson
Catch a Falling Star
What Is Credibility?
Credibility Is a Receiver-Based Construct
Credibility Is a Multidimensional Construct
Credibility Is a Situational/Contextual Phenomenon
Credibility Is Dynamic
The Factor Analytic Approach to Credibility
Primary Dimensions of Credibility
Secondary Dimensions of Credibility
The Factor Analytic Approach and the Real World
Credibility As a Peripheral Cue
It’s What’s Up Front That Counts
The Sleeper Effect
Credibility and Image Management
Interpersonal Credibility, Impression Management, Facework, and Accounts
Strategies for Enhancing One’s Credibility
Communicator Characteristics and Persuadability
Demographic Variables and Persuasion
Age and Persuasion: Pretty Please with Sugar on Top
Gender Differences and Persuasion: The Times, They Aren’t a-Changin’
Ethnicity, Culture, and Persuasion:“Me” and “We” Perspectives
Intelligence and Persuasion: Dumb and Dumber
Psychological and Communication States and Traits
Self-Esteem and Persuasion: Feelin’ Kinda Low
Anxiety and Persuasion: Living in Fear
Preference for Consistency: I Wouldn’t Change a Thing
Self-Monitoring and Persuasion: Periscope Up
Ego Involvement: Not Budging an Inch
Issue Involvement: What’s This Have to Do with Me?
Dogmatism, Authoritarianism, and Social Vigilantism: You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New
Cognitive Complexity and Need for Cognition
Persuasion and Aggression: Sticks and Stones
Analyzing and Adapting to Audiences
Pay Attention to the Situation
Keep Your Audience’s Mind in Mind
Remember the Importance of Audience States and Traits
Don’t Forget About Audience Demographics
Conformity and Influence in Groups
Conformity as Persuasion: In With the Crowd
In the Beginning: Early Research on Conformity Effects
Variables Related to Conformity
Does Group Size Affect Conformity? The More the Scarier?
Security in Numbers: The Effect of More Than One Dissenter
Moral Conviction: Wrong Is Wrong
Indoctrination: Intense Initiations and Mindless Membership
Identification and Conformity: You’re My Kind of People
Communicator Characteristics and Conformity
The “Whys” of Conformity
Social Proof: Using the Sheep Factor to Persuade Others
Ostracism: Shuns and Guns
Deindividuation, Social Loafing, and Social Facilitation: Getting Lost in the Crowd
What a Riot: An Examination of Deindividuation
Social Loafing: Not Pulling Your Own Weight
Social Facilitation: Would You Rather Be Alone?
How Groups Affect Decision Making: To Risk or Not to Risk
Language and Persuasion
Symbols, Meaning, and Persuasion: The Power of Babble
Connotative and Denotative Meaning: That’s Not How I See It
Ultimate Terms: Speak of the Devil
Aphorisms, Familiar Phrases, and Persuasion: That Rings a Bell
The Power of Labeling
Euphemisms and Doublespeak: Making the Worse Appear the Better and Vice Versa
Language Intensity, Vividness, and Offensiveness
##@!!!!##: Profanity and Persuasion
Political Correctness
The Effects of Vividness: A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words
Language Intensity
Powerless Language and Persuasion: Um’s the Word
Nonverbal Influence
The Direct Effects Model of Immediacy
Types of Nonverbal Communication
Kinesics: Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, Knees and Toes
The Eyes Have It
About Face
From the Neck Down: Persuasion and Body Language
Self-Touching Behaviors (Adaptors)
Haptics: Reach Out and Touch Someone
Keep Your Distance?: Proxemics and Persuasion
Chronemics: All Good Things to Those Who Wait?
Artifacts and Physical Features of the Environment: Dress for Success
Physical Appearance: Of Beauties and Beasts
Paralinguistics and Persuasion: Pump Up the Volume?
Structuring and Ordering Persuasive Messages
Implicit and Explicit Conclusions: Let Me Spell It Out For You
Gain-Framed versus Loss-Framed Messages: Keep on the Sunny Side?
Quantity versus Quality of Arguments: The More the Merrier?
The Use of Evidence: The Proof’s Not In the Pudding
Repetition and Mere Exposure: You Can Say That Again
Order Effects and Persuasion: First Things First
Primacy and Recency Effects: The First Shall Be Last, and the Last Shall Be First
An Ounce of Prevention: Inoculation, Message-Sidedness, and Forewarning
Inoculation Theory: Of Needles and Arguments
One-Sided versus Two-Sided Messages: Both Sides Now
Forewarning: You’d Better Watch Out
Sequential Persuasion
Pregiving: The Old “I’ll-Scratch-Your-Back-If-You’ll-Scratch-Mine” Approach
Why Is the Pregiving Tactic Persuasive?
Foot In the Door: The “Give-Me-an-Inch-and-I’ll-Take-a-Mile” Tactic
Why Is a Foot In the Door So Persuasive?
When Does a Foot in the Door Work?
The-Foot-in-the-Mouth Effect: “How Are You Today?”
The Door-in-the-Face Tactic: “Ask for the Stars”
Why Is a Door in the Face So Persuasive?
When Does a Door in the Face Work?
The That’s-Not-All Tactic: Seeking Compliance by Sweetening the Deal
The Lowball Tactic: Changing the Deal
Why Lowballing Works
“Sorry, We Don’t Have Any More of Those in Your Size, But…”: The Bait-and-Switch
The Disrupt-Then-Reframe Technique: I’m So Confused
Legitimizing Paltry Contributions: Even a Penny Will Help
Fear-Then-Relief and Happiness-Then-Disappointment Procedures: The Emotional
Roller Coasters of Social Influence
The Dump-and-Chase: I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again
Compliance Gaining
Actions Speak the Loudest: A Definition of Compliance Gaining
In the Beginning: The Roots of Compliance-Gaining Research
Situation: The “It Depends” of Compliance-Gaining Behavior
Seeking Compliance from Strangers and Intimates
Power, Legitimacy, and Politeness
Who are You? Individual Characteristics and Compliance-Gaining Behavior
Problems Facing Compliance Research: Trouble in Paradise
Problems with Typology Development: Here a Strategy, There a Strategy
Creating versus Selecting and Other Methodological Problems
The Study of Compliance-Gaining Goals: Eyes on the Prize
How Goals Bring Meaning to Compliance-Gaining Situations: What’s It All about, Alfie?
Primary and Secondary Goals: Wanting and Eating Your Cake
What Is Deception? Lies and Damn Lies
Telling Lies: The Enactment of Deception
Theoretical Frameworks
The Four-Factor Model
Interpersonal Deception Theory
Criticisms of Theoretical Assumptions
What Makes a Liar Persuasive?
The “Wool Pullers”
Are Some Lies Easier to Tell Than Others?
Deceptive Situations and Deceptive Success
Detecting Deception: I Can See Right Through You
Factors That Influence Detection
“Look Me in the Eye”: Stereotypes and Intuitions about Deception
Training People to be Effective Lie Detectors
Humans as Polygraphs
Familiarity, Biases, and Deception Detection
Probing and Deception Detection
Eliciting Cues to Deception: Puttin’ the Squeeze On
Contextual Knowledge and Deception Detection: What’s the Sitch?
Motivational Appeals
Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Motivation
Emotional Marketing
Logical and Emotional Appeals: A Fuzzy Distinction
Fear Appeals: If You don’t Stop Doing that, You’ll Go Blind
Fear Level or Intensity: The Goosebump Factor
The Extended Parallel Process Model: There’s Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself
Appeals to Pity and Guilt: Woe is Me, Shame on You
Humorous Appeals: Stop Me if You’ve Heard this One
Humor as an Indirect Form of Influence: All Kidding Aside
Humor and Credibility: Laugh, Clown, Laugh
Self-Disparaging Humor: LOLing at Yourself
But Is Humor Persuasive?
Maximizing Humor’s Potential
Pride and Patriotism: Turning Red, White, and Blue into Green
For Mature Audiences: Sex Appeals
How Sex Sells
Caveats and Cautions
Warmth Appeals: Straight from the Heart
Ingratiation: Polishing the Apple
Mixed Emotions: Other Appeals and Combinations of Appeals
Visual Persuasion
Image Is Everything
Overlooked and Under-Appreciated
The Power of Images
How Images Persuade
Iconicity: Bearing a Resemblance
Indexicality: Seeing Is Believing
Syntactic Indeterminacy: Don’t Look for Logic in Images
Art As Persuasion: Mona Lisa Made Me Do It
The Paintbrush Is Mightier Than the Sword
Activist Art: I Must Protest
Awareness Through Interpretation
Awareness Through Participation
Cinematic Persuasion: Sex, Drugs, and Popcorn
Acting Out: How Movies Persuade
Exporting Values Abroad
Promoting Popular Culture
Modeling Behavior: Social Proof
Cultivation Theory: It’s a Mean, Scary World
Viewer Identification
Perpetuating Stereotypes
Images in Advertising: And Now a Word from Our Sponsors
Visual Extravaganzas: Now You’ve Got My Attention!
Anti-Ads: You Can’t Fool Me
Image-Oriented Advertising: Materialism as Happiness
Shock Ads: Edgy Images as Persuasion
Photojournalism as Persuasion: The Camera Does Lie
Playing Tricks with the Camera: Photographic Deception
Esoteric Forms of Persuasion
Color As Persuasion: The Grass Is Always Greener
Color Coded at Birth: Dyed in the Wool
Colorful Associations: A Blonde Walks Into a Bar…
Seeing Red
Color and Branding: Big Blue, Red Bull, and Pink (Victoria’s Secret)
Color Lines: Not Black or White
Colorism: Who is The Fairest of them All?
Color Complex: Is Beauty Only Skin Deep?
Color and Emotion: Mood Indigo
Color and Behavior: Hue Made Me Do It
The Color-Aggression Link: Men In Black
Red Cars and Traffic Tickets? Not So Fast
Subliminal Influence: Hidden Messages or Hokum?
The Laboratory vs. the Real World
What Is and Isn’t Subliminal
Subliminal Advertising: Much Ado About Nothing
Embedded Images
Proof of Existence Is Not Proof of Effectiveness
Subliminal Priming: That Rings a Bell
Importance of a Prior Need or Drive
Not So Fast: Limitations of Subliminal Priming
Subaudible Messages: The Power of Suggestion
Backward Masking and Reverse Speech: The Devil Made Me Do It
What Advertisers Really Do
Neurolinguistic Programming: The Emperor’s New Clothes
Music As Persuasion
Music as a Central and Peripheral Cue
Music in Advertising and Sales
Music and Branding: Like a Rock…
Mere Exposure Effect: Hearing is Believing
Music as a Mnemonic Device
Background Music: Shop Till You Drop
Music Videos and Persuasion: Is Hip-Hop Harmful?
Weaponizing Music: What a Buzz Kill
Cautions: Face the Music
Aroma and Persuasion
Perfume: Romance in a Bottle
Love Stinks
Ambient Aromas: Something Special in the Air
Aromas and Moods: Am I Blue?
Aromas and Task Performance: Smell that Productivity
Ambient Aromas and Consumer Behavior
Caveats and Qualifications
The Ethics of Persuasion
Is Persuasion in General Unethical?
The Motives Color the Means
Ethics, Culture, and the Issue of Central versus Peripheral Processing
Ethical Questions That Can’t Be Answered Through the Study of Persuasion
Our Approach: Characteristics of Ethical Influence
Ethics and Our Model of Persuasion
Conscious Awareness
Free Choice/Free Will
Language and Symbolic Action
Persuaders as Lovers
Bunglers, Smugglers, and Sleuths
Ethical Issues Arising from Previous Chapters
Ethics and Credibility
Ethics and Communicator Characteristics
Ethics and Deception
Ethics of Using Threats as a Compliance-Gaining Strategy
Ethics and Fear Appeals
Ethics and Emotional Appeals
Ethics and Ingratiation
Ethics and Visual Persuasion
Ethics and Subliminal Influence
Name Index
Subject Index
ith each edition of this text, we have marveled at how much new research there is on the
subject of persuasion. In the last edition, we highlighted the ascent of new and emerging
media such as the blogosphere, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and YouTube. We underscored
their role in viral marketing or word-of-mouth influence. Since the last edition, social media
have kept the world abreast of developments in the Arab Spring movement. YouTube has
become more than a collection of cat videos. It now functions as an important source for
video journalism, bringing eyewitness accounts and raw footage of events from around the
world. Digital activism now allows people to affiliate with causes online. Hashtag activism
allows people to promote causes in 140 characters or less. The blogosphere functions as the
online equivalent of tabloids, often dictating trending topics, and occasionally getting the
story right. Websites such as Cause.com and DoSomething.org allow ordinary people to
launch causes and promote change. The transformational role of social media as a form of
influence is updated in the pages that follow. Social media, however are not the whole
story. There are grass roots movements, such as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, that
rely on “old-fashioned” strategies, such as sit-ins, protest marches, and civil disobedience.
Moreover, traditional persuasion in the form of advertising, marketing, and political
campaigning continues to thrive. Mainstream persuaders have stepped up their game by
embracing strategies such as authenticity or genuineness in their branding or cause-related
marketing to show they really care. They have begun to rely on sentiment tracking to follow
consumers, voters, and others on social media in nearly real time. The TED conference, or
Ted Talks, merges “old-school” presentations with new technology, offering a venue for
sharing and promoting big ideas through lectures, demonstrations, and art performances.
As always, we view persuasion not only as an altogether intriguing and mostly desirable
form of activity but also as an indispensable feature of human interaction. We hope you
will catch our enthusiasm for this field of study and come away with a better understanding
of how persuasion functions, an improved knowledge of ways to maximize your own
persuasive efforts, and a greater ability to resist influence attempts, especially unscrupulous
influence attempts, by others.
We would like to offer our heartfelt thanks to everyone at Allyn & Bacon/Pearson
Education for their unwavering support throughout all five editions of this text. They are a
skilled, talented group. We are extremely grateful to Karon Bowers, who gave us our first
shot at publishing a text way back when. We tip our hats to Melissa Mashburn and Megan
Hermida for taking over the reins for the fifth edition. They guided us skillfully through
the labyrinth of requirements for obtaining permissions for all the photos, cartoons, and
other graphics included in the text. We also want to thank Chitra Ganesan for
painstakingly proof-reading and copyediting drafts of all the chapters. She and her team
went the extra mile to accommodate all our revisions.
Both authors are extremely grateful to the graduate and undergraduate students who
offered numerous illustrations of real-life examples of persuasion. In particular, we are
grateful to Jonathan Gibbs and Jonathan Shipley for their help collecting materials and to
Taylor Halversen for her excellent work on Box 12.3. Every time we think we have taught
the brightest group of students ever, another sharp group comes along. Both authors also
want to thank the many instructors using our book who have sent us comments and
suggestions for this edition, as well as the many short-course participants who have offered
ideas and insights leading up to this edition.
Why Study Persuasion?
Aims and Goals
Persuasion Is Not a Dirty Word
Persuasion Is Our Friend
The Pervasiveness of Persuasion: You Can Run but You Can’t Hide
Word of Mouth: What’s The Buzz?
Social Media: Rise of the Machines
Tipping Points
Gamification: Farmville as a Cash Cow
Persuasion in the Sciences
Persuasion in the Arts
Other Not-So-Obvious Contexts for Persuasion
Weird Persuasion
Persuasion in Interpersonal Settings
Four Benefits of Studying Persuasion
The Instrumental Function: Be All That You Can Be
The Knowledge and Awareness Function: Inquiring Minds Want to Know
The Defensive Function: Duck and Cover
The Debunking Function: Puh-Shaw
Two Criticisms of Persuasion
Does Learning about Persuasion Foster Manipulation?
Are Persuasion Findings Too Inconsistent or Confusing?
Ethical Concerns about the Use of Persuasion
One of the authors was enjoying a day at the beach with his family. As he sat in a folding
chair, lost in a good book, he could hear the cries of seagulls overhead and the pounding of
the surf. Nothing was bothering him. He was oblivious to the world around him. Or so he
thought. As he reflected more on the situation, however, he became aware that he was
being bombarded by persuasive messages on all sides. A boom box was playing a few yards
away. During commercial breaks, various ads tried to convince him to subscribe to a
wireless phone service, switch auto insurance companies, and try a new bacon cheeseburger.
A nearby sign warned that no alcohol, glass objects, or smoking were permitted on the
beach. A plastic bag in which a nearby family’s children had brought their beach toys
advertised Wal-Mart on its side. The family picnic cooler proudly displayed its
manufacturer, Igloo, as well.
And that was only the beginning. A plane flew overhead, trailing a banner that
advertised a collect calling service. The lifeguard’s tower displayed a Hurley logo. The
lifeguard’s truck, a specially equipped Toyota, announced that it was the “official
emergency vehicle” of “Surf City USA,” a moniker that is trademarked by the city of
Huntington Beach, California. Oh, the indignity of being rescued by an unofficial vehicle!
There were oral influence attempts too. His son tried to lure him into the water by
saying, “Come on, it’s not that cold.” But he knew better. His son always said that, no
matter how cold the water was. “Would you mind keeping an eye on our things?” the
family next to the author’s asked. I guess our family looks trustworthy, the author thought.
His wife asked him, “Do you want to walk down to the pier? They have frozen bananas.”
She knew he would be unable to resist the temptation.
And those were only the overt persuasive messages. A host of more subtle messages also
competed for the author’s attention. A few yards away, a woman was applying sun block to
her neck and shoulders. The author decided he’d better do the same. Had she nonverbally
influenced him to do likewise? Nearby a young couple was soaking up the sun. Both were
wearing hats with the Nike “swoosh” logo. Were they “advertising” that brand? A young
man with a boogie board ran by, headed for the water. His head was shaved, his faced was
heavily pierced, and he sported a goodly number of tattoos. Did his appearance advocate a
particular set of values or tastes? Was he a billboard for an “alternative” lifestyle? Every male
head on the beach turned in unison as a trio of bikini-clad women walked by. Were the
males “persuaded” to turn their heads or was this simply an involuntary reflex? Two tan,
muscular males were tossing a Frisbee back and forth. Both had six-pack abs. The author
made a mental note to do more sit-ups. There seemed to be as many persuasive messages,
or potentially persuasive messages, as there were shells on the beach.
The preceding examples raise two important issues. First, persuasion is pervasive. We
are surrounded by influence attempts, both explicit and implicit, no matter where we are.
Second, it is difficult to say with any certainty what is and is not “persuasion.” Where
should we draw the line between persuasion and other forms of communication? We
address the first of these issues in this chapter. Here we examine the pervasive nature of
persuasion and offer a rationale for learning more about its workings. In the next chapter,
we tackle the issue of what constitutes persuasion and related terms such as social influence
and compliance gaining.
This is a book about persuasion. Its aims are academic and practical. On the academic side,
we examine how and why persuasion functions the way it does. In so doing, we identify
some of the most recent theories and findings by persuasion researchers. On the practical
side, we illustrate these theories and findings with a host of real-life examples. We also offer
useful advice on how to become a more effective persuader and how to resist influence
attempts, especially unethical influence attempts, by others.
If learning how to persuade others and avoid being persuaded seems a bit manipulative,
remember, we don’t live in a society populated with unicorns and rainbows. The real world
is brimming with persuaders. You can avoid learning about persuasion, perhaps, but you
can’t avoid persuasion itself.
Besides, we can’t tell you everything there is to know about persuasion. Nobody knows
all there is to know about this subject. One of the points we stress throughout this book is
that people aren’t that easy to persuade. Human beings are complex. They aren’t that
malleable. They can be stubborn, unpredictable, and intractable, despite the best efforts of
Persuasion is still as much an “art” as it is a “science.” Human nature is too
complicated, and our understanding of persuasion too limited, to predict in advance which
influence attempts will succeed and which will fail. Think how often you flip the channel
when a commercial costing millions of dollars to produce and air appears on television. As
one advertising executive put it, “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted…but I
don’t know which half” (cited in Berger, 2011, p. 1). Think how many candidates for
public office have spent fortunes campaigning, only to lose their elections. Or think how
difficult it is for the federal government to convince people to stop smoking, practice safe
sex, or buckle up.
The science of persuasion is still in its infancy. Despite P. T Barnum’s axiom that
“there’s a sucker born every minute,” people are uncannily perceptive at times. It is
tempting to believe that if one only knew the right button to push, one could persuade
anybody. More often than not, though, there are multiple buttons to push, in the right
combination, and the sequence is constantly changing. Even so, persuasion is not entirely a
matter of luck. Much is known about persuasion. Persuasion has been scientifically studied
since the 1940s.1 Written texts on persuasion date back to ancient Greece.2 A number of
strategies and techniques have been identified and their effectiveness or ineffectiveness
documented. Persuaders are a long way from achieving an Orwellian nightmare of thought
control, but a good deal is known about how to capture people’s hearts and minds. Before
proceeding further, we want to address a common negative stereotype about persuasion.
The study of persuasion has gotten some bad publicity over the years. Everyone seems to
agree that the subject is fascinating, but some are reluctant to embrace a field of study that
conjures up images of manipulation, deceit, or brainwashing. There is, after all, a sinister
side to persuasion. Adolph Hitler, Charles Manson, Jim Jones, David Koresh, Marshall
Applewhite, and Osama bin Laden, were all accomplished persuaders—much to the
detriment of their followers.3 We, however, do not think of persuasion as the ugly stepsister
in the family of human communication. Rather, we find the study of persuasion to be
enormously intriguing. Persuasion is the backbone of many of our communicative
endeavors. We can’t resist the urge to learn more about how and why it works. Part of our
fascination stems from the fact that persuasion is, on occasion, used for unsavory ends. It is
therefore all the more important that researchers learn as much as they can about the
strategies and tactics of unethical persuaders.
Persuasion isn’t merely a tool used by con artists, chiselers, charlatans, cheats, connivers,
and cult leaders. Nobel Peace Prize recipients and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists are also
persuaders. In fact, most “professional” persuaders are engaged in socially acceptable, if not
downright respectable, careers. They include advertising executives, campaign managers,
celebrity endorsers, clergy, congresspersons, diplomats, infomercial spokespersons, lawyers,
lobbyists, mediators, media pundits, motivational speakers, political cartoonists, press
secretaries, public relations experts, radio talk show hosts, recruiters, salespersons, senators,
social activists, and syndicated columnists, to name just a few.
Let’s focus on the positive side of persuasion for a moment. Persuasion helps forge
peace agreements between nations. Persuasion helps open up closed societies. Persuasion is
crucial to the fundraising efforts of charities and philanthropic organizations. Persuasion
convinces motorists to buckle up when driving or refrain from driving when they’ve had a
few too many. Persuasion is used to convince a substance-abusing family member to seek
professional help. Persuasion is how the coach of an underdog team inspires the players to
give it their all. Persuasion is a tool used by parents to urge children not to accept rides
from strangers or to allow anyone to touch them inappropriately. In short, persuasion is the
cornerstone of a number of positive, prosocial endeavors. Very little of the good that we see in
the world could be accomplished without persuasion.
Persuasion, then, is a powerful and often prosocial force. Having highlighted the
positive side of persuasion, we address the question of why the study of persuasion is so
valuable. The next section, therefore, offers a justification for the study of social influence.
We’ve already mentioned one of the primary reasons for learning about this subject:
Persuasion is a central feature of every sphere of human communication. We can’t avoid it.
We can’t make it go away. Like Elvis impersonators in Las Vegas, persuasion is here to stay.
Various estimates suggest that the average person is exposed to anywhere from 300 to 3,000
messages per day.4 Persuasion is part and parcel of the “people professions” and is ever
present in our daily interactions with friends, family, and coworkers. There are more ways
to persuade than ever before. You can give a TED talk to promote your big idea, engage in
hashtag activism, advocating a cause by tweeting, or promote change through a website such
as www.dosomething.org.
Word of Mouth: What’s the Buzz?
Nowadays, it is hard to avoid “buzz.” You may even be doing some of the buzzing yourself.
According to some estimates, the average American comments on specific products and
services 60 times per week (Moore, 2010). So ubiquitous is word of mouth (WOM) that it
generates 3.3 billion messages per day (Berger & Schwartz, 2011). So why all the buzz
about this strategy? Consumers have grown cynical. They no longer trust traditional
advertising. They place more trust in friends than in Madison Avenue. As a result, a
message that is spread via social networks can be highly effective. Like tossing a rock into a
pond, the ripples of influence spread among social circles.
Persuasion is everywhere—even in the womb!
Baby Blues © 2001 Baby Blues Partnership. King Features Syndicate. Reprinted with special permission.
Because buzz marketing relies on friendships to spread the word, it is essential that it be
perceived as genuine (Salzman, Matathia, & O’Reilly, 2003). WOM succeeds when it
seems authentic rather than manufactured, spontaneous rather than choreographed, and
peer driven rather than corporate-sponsored. WOM enjoys several advantages over
traditional advertising and marketing techniques. It operates largely through interpersonal
channels (face to face, cellphone, email, IM, texting), lending it an air of authenticity. It is
inexpensive compared to traditional media. And it is self-perpetuating. Moreover, buzz is
more effective than mainstream media at reaching younger audiences.
Social Media: Rise of the Machines
Perhaps nowhere is the omnipresence of social influence more apparent than in new media.
Some people seem to spend their every waking moment texting, tweeting, blogging, or
posting their views on all matter of subjects large and small. New media aren’t just
entertaining diversions, they are important mediums for influence. When we friend
someone on Facebook or follow someone on Twitter, it is a result of influence. Roughly
one in five microblogs, for example, mentions a specific brand (Jansen, Zhang, Sobel, &
Chowdury, 2009).
Social media is so important that companies now specialize in sentiment tracking, a
process of monitoring and measuring social media to gauge the public’s mood in nearly real
time. Software can track how a person, brand, or issue is trending based not only on the
number of tweets generated but also on how favorable, neutral, or negative those tweets are
(Benady, 2012; Leonhardt, 2011). The software recognizes words related to feelings,
emotions, and opinions and uses them to take the public’s pulse on an issue.
In addition to its marketing potential, Twitter has transformed the political landscape,
140 characters at a time. Social media even played a role in the Arab Spring movement. As
Savir (2012) noted, “the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen would not have
taken place without young people communicating and speaking their minds on Facebook
and other social media” (p. 24). Indeed, a Tunisian blogger, Lina Ben Mhenni, was
nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize (Cambie, 2012).
Tipping Points
Key concepts and principles associated with buzz marketing were laid out by Malcolm
Gladwell in his bestseller, The Tipping Point (2000). Gladwell likens WOM to a virus
through which a message is spread until the whole society is “infected.” Based on what he
calls “the law of the few,” a small number of influential people can generate a groundswell of
support for an idea, brand, or phenomenon. Once a message gains a certain amount of
momentum, it reaches a tipping point and becomes “contagious.” In order to reach the
tipping point, however, a number of things have to happen.
Ãœber Influencers First, the right kinds of people must be involved. Gladwell identifies
three types of people who are essential to the process. Mavens possess specialized expertise.
They are in the know. They may be celebrity chefs, fashionistas, fitness gurus, tech geeks,
or wine snobs. Mavens needn’t be rich or famous, but they must be ahead of the curve.
They are the early adopters, or what some call alpha consumers, the ones who hear about
ideas and try out gadgets first. “One American in ten,” Keller and Barry (2003) maintain,
“tells the other nine how to vote, where to eat, and what to buy” (p. 1).
In addition to mavens, Gladwell states that connectors are also essential. Based on the
viral metaphor, they are carriers. They have large social networks. When connectors learn
from mavens what the “next big thing” is, they spread the word. Since social circles tend to
be overlapping, forwarding messages spreads them increasingly outward from their
The last type Gladwell identifies is salespeople. They receive the message from a
connector and then talk it up within their own circle of friends. Salespeople tell their
friends, “You must see this movie,” “You’ve got to try this restaurant,” or “You gotta read
this book.”
Orchestrating the Next Big Thing In addition to having the right kinds of people, some
additional conditions must be satisfied for an idea to go viral. Context is critical. The idea
must come along at the right time and place. Social networking sites, for example, wouldn’t
have been possible before there was widespread access to the Internet. An idea also must
possess stickiness, which means that it is inherently attractive. Without some sort of natural
appeal, people won’t gravitate toward the idea or pass it along (Heath & Heath, 2008). The
yellow Livestrong bracelets associated with the Lance Armstrong Foundation had stickiness.
They offered a simple, convenient way for people to display their support for the fight
against cancer. Scalability is another requirement: It must be easy to ramp up production of
the idea, product, or message to meet demand. Effortless transfer is yet another ingredient in
the recipe for an effective viral campaign. A viral campaign has to leverage free media. Ideas
that can be spread by forwarding an email, including an attachment, or embedding a link
are easy to disseminate. The more time, effort, or money it takes to spread the word, the
less likely the idea will go viral.
An example of a successful viral video was Volkswagen’s “Darth Vader kid”
commercial, which received more than 50 million hits on YouTube. In the video, a kid,
dressed in a Darth Vader costume, believes he has summoned “the Force” to start a
Volkswagen Passat’s engine. In fact, the kid’s father started the car via keyless ignition. The
kid’s startled reaction is adorable. There are no guarantees, however. For every success story
like Volkswagen’s spot, there is a litany of failures. Viral marketing holds considerable
potential, but it is a hit-or-miss strategy, with far more misses than hits.
Infectious or Inexplicable? Despite the popularity of viral persuasion, the phenomenon
itself isn’t that predictable or easy to manufacture. Evidence for the effectiveness of tipping
points is largely anecdotal. Many messages go viral, but few are planned, deliberate efforts
to persuade. Orchestrating a viral campaign can be difficult. There is no guarantee an idea
will gain traction.
The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMM) offers advice for conducting
viral campaigns. The very concept of viral marketing, however, is something of an
oxymoron. A viral campaign is planned to appear unplanned. It is contrived to seem
genuine. As consumers grow wise to the strategy, it will become less effective. There are also
ethical questions about using friends as shills. The FTC now requires that any online
endorsement in which the endorser is compensated must be disclosed (Sprague & Wells,
2010). Not only is traditional persuasion, such as advertising and marketing, becoming less
obvious, persuasion also plays an important role in a variety of not-so-obvious contexts as
well. We examine three such contexts in the following sections: gamification, the sciences,
and the arts.
Gamification: Farmville as a Cash Cow
Parents have known for decades that one way to get infants to eat their vegetables is by
turning mealtime into a game. “Here comes the airplane,” the parent says with each
spoonful of strained peas. A modernized version of this approach, known as gamification, is
being used to stimulate consumer interest and involvement (McGonigal, 2011).
Gamification applies videogame methods to other contexts to increase consumer
engagement. People like to play games. They enjoy the competition. Why else would they
spend hours on end playing Angry Birds, Farmville, or Words With Friends? Games are
entertaining, challenging, and rewarding. Transforming a mundane task into a game can
make it more fun and exciting.
Games also can be used as a form of influence. For example, to encourage people to
take the stairs rather than the escalator, a project sponsored by Volkswagen involved the
redesign of a staircase to look like a piano keyboard. With each step a person took, a
corresponding note sounded. As a result, 66 percent more people took the stairs than
previously (www.thefuntheory.com). As another example, Nike+ gamified the activity of
running thanks to a shoe sensor that allows runners to post information about their
running regimens, including distance, time, and calories burned. Runners are able to
socialize and compete with each other using downloadable apps (Are you game? 2011).
Through points, badges, leaderboards, and other incentives, gamification keeps people
coming back for more. This approach has been used to enhance education, improve
workplace productivity, increase voter turnout, and promote awareness and participation in
social causes.
Persuasive messages must struggle to cut through the background of media clutter.
Reprinted with permission: http://www.andysinger.com.
Gamification is not without its critics, however. Ian Bogost (2011), a professor and
expert in videogames as cultural artifacts, cautioned that “‘exploitationware’ is a more
accurate name for gamification’s true purpose” (para. 12). Critics charge that earning
badges and points trivializes activities such as learning, working, exercising, or participating
in social causes.
Persuasion in the Sciences
You may not think of them this way, but scientists are persuaders (Glassner, 2011). The
ongoing debate about climate change illustrates the persuasive challenge facing
climatologists. Despite widespread agreement among evolutionary biologists that evolution
is a fact rather than a theory, there is a continuing social controversy over the teaching of
creationism alongside evolution in public school curriculums. Even in fields such as
chemistry, mathematics, or physics—the so-called hard sciences—persuasion plays a major
role.5 Scientists often have to convince others that their research possesses scientific merit
and social value. They also have to argue for the superiority of their theories over rival
theories. In this respect, Thomas Kuhn (1970) argues that all scientists employ “techniques
of persuasion in their efforts to establish the superiority of their own paradigms over those
of their rivals” (p. 151). Similarly, Mitroff (1974) comments that “the notion of the purely
objective, uncommitted scientist [is] naïve….The best scientist…not only has points of
view but also defends them with gusto” (p. 120). Scientists must do more than conduct
experiments and report their results. They also must persuade other scientists, funding
agencies, and the public at large of the merits of their work.
Persuasion in the Arts
Another not-so-obvious context for persuasion is the arts. Not all art is created “for art’s
sake.” Art serves more than an aesthetic or decorative function. Artists have strong opinions
and they lend expression to their opinions in and through their work. Consider film as an
art form, for example. Movies such as Dead Poets Society, Life Is Beautiful, and Schindler’s
List demonstrate the power of the camera to increase awareness, change attitudes, alter
beliefs, and shape opinions. Other art forms have the capability to persuade as well.
Playwrights, painters, muralists, sculptors, photographers, and dancers give voice to their
political and social views through their art.
Think about painting for a moment. Many of the famous works hanging in museums
were created out of a sense of social conscience. Using images rather than words, artists
comment on social conditions, criticize society, and attempt to transform the social order.
We examine this issue in more detail in Chapter 14, but for now let’s consider one
particular work of art, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. Through this painting, Picasso offered a
moral indictment of war and man’s inhumanity to man. The painting features people and
animals, the victims of the indiscriminant bombing of a Basque town during the Spanish
Civil War, in various states of agony, torment, and grief. As Von Blum (1976) notes, “the
purpose of the painting is frankly propagandistic. The artist’s intent was to point out the
inhuman character of Franco’s fascist rebellion” (p. 92). Picasso wasn’t trying to paint a
“pretty” picture. He was making a moral statement. The painting has been dubbed by one
art historian “the highest achievement in modernist political painting” (Clark, 1997, p. 39).
Not only Picasso, but also many other artists express persuasive points of view in and
through their art.
Other Not-So-Obvious Contexts for Persuasion
Persuasion operates in a variety of other contexts, some of which are not so obvious. We
highlight a few here as illustrations. Social scientists have studied bumper stickers as a form
of political expression and as an unobtrusive means of measuring attitudes (Endersby &
Towle, 1996; Sechrest & Belew, 1983). Scholars have examined the effects of intercessory
prayer (offered for the benefit of another person) on recovery from illness (Frank & Frank,
1991; Hodge, 2007). Studies have examined the military’s use of social influence (Cialdini,
2011; King, 2010). Other researchers have focused on 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics
Anonymous, and other support groups as forms of self-help and group influence (Kassel &
Wagner, 1993). One scholar has written about compliance-gaining tactics found in
dramatic plays, such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (Kipnis, 2001).
One of the authors investigated various styles and strategies of panhandling to see which
ones proved most effective (Robinson, Seiter, & Acharya, 1992).
Weird Persuasion
Sometimes persuasion is downright weird. A case in point is the town of Dish, Fexas,
formerly known as Clark, Texas. Its citizens agreed to rename their town as part of an
endorsement deal with Dish Network. In return, Dish Network agreed to provide all 125
residents free satellite TV service for 10 years. The main opponent of the idea, not
surprisingly, was one Mr. Clark, after whom the town was originally named.
Why would Dish Network and the town’s citizens agree to such a deal? In a word,
buzz. The strangeness of the transaction generated free publicity. The mayor of the town
said the new name would attract more customers. One wonders where a small town should
draw the line. Could there be a Viagra, Virginia, or a Depends, Delaware, in the not-toodistant future?
Yet another example of weird persuasion occurred in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire,
U.K. The citizens wanted to stop rowdy teens from loitering at an underpass at night.
Their solution was to install street lights with a bright pink hue. Why pink, you ask? Pink
light highlights acne. Teens with blemishes didn’t want to be seen with bright, glowing
acne. The plan worked: The teens moved on (Spotty Teens, 2009).
Scholars sometimes investigate quirky aspects of persuasion, too. Did you know that
participants in a study who consumed caffeine were more easily persuaded than participants
who had no caffeine (Martin, Hamilton, McKimmie, Terry, & Martin, 2007)? Now you
do. As long as the participants were motivated to pay attention to the message, caffeine
consumption increased agreement. Other researchers found that mixed-handed people were
more persuadable and more gullible than purely left- or right-handed people (Christman,
Henning, Geers, Propper, & Niebauer, 2008). And Briñol & Petty (2003) discovered that
asking people to nod their heads up and down (as if in agreement) made them more
agreeable than shaking their heads back and forth (as if in disagreement). What is the point
of such research, you ask? Such studies illustrate both the complexities and subtle nuances
of persuasion.
Persuasion, then, can be found in obvious and not-so-obvious places. Before
concluding this section, we examine one additional context in which persuasion occurs: the
interpersonal arena.
Persuasion in Interpersonal Settings
The extent of influence exerted in the interpersonal arena should not be underestimated.
Although we may think of Madison Avenue as all-powerful, face-to-face influence is far
more successful. Despite all the money spent on traditional advertising and the increasing
amounts being spent on new media, most influence attempts still take place in face-to-face
settings. Ninety percent of word of mouth recommendations, for example, take place
offline (Moore, 2011). On a daily basis we are bombarded with persuasive requests in the
interpersonal arena. Your brother wants you to hurry up and get out of the bathroom. A
homeless person asks if you can spare some change. Your parents try to talk you out of
getting a tongue stud. Or worse yet, your significant other uses the “F” word to redefine
your relationship: that’s right; she or he just wants to be “friends.” Aaahhh! Naturally, we
persuade back as well, targeting others with our own entreaties, pleadings, and requests for
Why is interpersonal influence so much more effective? Because it seems more genuine
and less conspicuous. Consider the following scenario:
The bait: Your friend calls up and says, “Hey, what are you doing Friday night?”
The nibble: Anticipating an invitation to go somewhere, you reply, “Nothing much, why?”
You’re hooked and reeled in: “Well, I wonder if you could help me move into my new apartment then?”
At least when you watch a television commercial you know the sponsor is after something
from the outset. In interpersonal encounters, others’ motives may be less transparent. Most
communication scholars agree that if you have a choice of mediums for persuasion, you
should choose the interpersonal arena. Our advice: Next time you want to turn in a paper
late, talk to your professor in person!
From our discussion thus far, it should be apparent that persuasion functions as a
pervasive force in virtually every facet of human communication. Kenneth Burke (1945,
1950, 1966), among others, has written that humans are, by their very nature, symbolusing beings. One vital aspect of human symbolicity involves the tendency to persuade
others. We are symbol users, and one of the principal functions of symbol usage is
The recognition that social influence is an essential, pervasive feature of human
symbolic action provides the strongest possible justification for the study of persuasion.
Persuasion is one of the major underlying impulses for human communication. By way of
analogy, one can’t understand how an automobile works without taking a look under the
hood. Similarly, one can’t understand how human communication functions without
examining one of its primary motives—persuasion.
Given that persuasion is an inevitable fact of life, we offer four primary benefits of learning
about persuasion. We refer to these as the instrumental function, the knowledge and
awareness function, the defensive function, and the debunking function. We examine each
of these in turn.
The Instrumental Function: Be All That You Can Be
One good reason for learning about persuasion is so you can become a more effective
persuader yourself. We refer to this as the instrumental function of persuasion, because
persuasion serves as an instrument, or a means to an end. We view the ability to persuade
others as an important aspect of communication competence. Communication competence
involves acting in ways that are perceived as effective and appropriate (Spitzberg & Cupach,
1984). Competent communicators possess the skills needed to achieve their objectives in
fitting ways for the particular situation.
A competent persuader needs to know how to analyze an audience in order to adapt the
message to the audience’s frame of reference. She or he needs to be able to identify which
strategies are appropriate and which will enjoy the greatest likelihood of success. A
competent persuader also must know how to organize and arrange a persuasive message for
maximum benefit. These are only some of the abilities required for successful persuasion.
But achieving the desired outcome is only one facet of communication competence.
How one goes about persuading also matters. A competent persuader needs to be viewed as
persuading in acceptable, appropriate ways. This means a persuader must be aware of social
and cultural norms governing the persuasive situation. For example, a parent who publicly
berates his or her child during a soccer match may be seen by other parents as engaging in
boorish behavior.
We are confident that by learning more about persuasion you will become a more
effective and appropriate persuader. Of course, not every influence attempt will succeed. By
applying the principles and processes presented in this text, and by adhering to the ethical
guidelines we offer, you should be able to improve your competence as a persuader.
The Knowledge and Awareness Function: Inquiring Minds Want to Know
Another good reason for learning about persuasion is because it will enhance your
knowledge and awareness of a variety of persuasive processes. Knowledge is power, as the
saying goes. There is value in learning more about how persuasion operates. You may not
plan on going into advertising for a living, but simply knowing how branding operates is
worthwhile in and of itself. You may not plan on joining a cult (who does?), but learning
more about what makes persons susceptible to cult conversion is worthwhile nonetheless.
Simply from the standpoint of an observer, learning about these topics can be fascinating.
An additional benefit of learning about how persuasion functions concerns overcoming
habitual persuasion. Many people rely on habitual forms of persuasion, regardless of
whether they are effective. They get comfortable with a few strategies and tactics that they
use over and over again. A good deal of our communication behavior is “mindless,” as
opposed to mindful, meaning we don’t pay much attention to how we communicate
(Langer, 1978, 1989a, 1989b). Sometimes persuasion operates this way. Just as runners,
swimmers, and other athletes need to learn to adjust their breathing in response to different
situations, persuaders—to maximize their effectiveness—need to learn to adapt their
methods to different audiences and situations. Persuasion isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” form of
The Defensive Function: Duck and Cover
A third reason for learning about how persuasion operates is vital in our view: The study of
persuasion serves a defensive function. By studying how and why influence attempts succeed
or fail, you can become a more discerning consumer of persuasive messages, unlike the
hapless fellow depicted in the accompanying cartoon. If you know how persuasion works,
you are less likely to be taken in. It is worth noting that people tend to underestimate the
influence of advertising on themselves and overestimate its effects on others, a phenomenon
known as the third-person effect (Davidson, 1983; Jensen & Collins, 2008). Thus, you may
be more defenseless than you realize.
Throughout this text, we expose a number of persuasive tactics used in retail sales,
advertising, and marketing campaigns. For example, we have found in our classes that after
students are given a behind-the-scenes look at how car salespeople are taught to sell, several
students usually acknowledge, “Oh yeah, they did that to me.” Admittedly, a huckster
could also take advantage of the advice we offer in this book. We think it is far more likely,
however, that the typical student reader will use our advice and suggestions as weapons
against unethical influence attempts. Box 1.1, for example, offers advice on how to
recognize various propaganda ploys. In later chapters of this book, we warn you about
common ploys used by all manner of persuaders, from cult leaders to panhandlers to
funeral home directors.
A little persuasive acumen just might save you from yourself.
© Lee Lorenz/The New Yorker Collection/www.cartoonbank.com.
BOX 1.1
Persuasion versus Propaganda and Indoctrination
What are propaganda and indoctrination and how do they differ from persuasion? To a large extent, it is a
matter of perspective. People tend to label their own messages as persuasion and the other guy’s as propaganda.
The same applies to indoctrination: We tend to think that our government educates its citizens, but foreign
governments, especially those we dislike, indoctrinate their citizens. Understood in this way, propaganda and
indoctrination are largely pejorative terms used to describe persuasive messages or positions with which people
disagree. Gun control advocates claim the N RA uses propaganda to thwart legislation that would place
restrictions on gun sales. Opponents of school prayer think that requiring students to recite a prayer in class
constitutes a form of religious indoctrination. When accused of propagandizing, the common defense is to state
that one was only engaged in an education or information campaign. Thus, whether a given attempt at influence,
such as the D.A.R.E. campaign, is persuasion, propaganda, or indoctrination is largely in the eye of the beholder.
Definitions of propaganda are many and varied, but we happen to think Pratkanis and Aronson’s (1991)
definition does a good job of capturing the essence of the term:
Propaganda was originally defined as the dissemination of biased ideas and opinions, often through the use of
lies and deception…. The word propaganda has since evolved to mean mass “suggestion” or influence through
the manipulation of symbols and the psychology of the individual. Propaganda is the communication of a
point of view with the ultimate goal of having the recipient come to “voluntarily” accept the position as if it
were his or her own. (p. 9)
Different scholars have offered different views on the nature and characteristics of propaganda (see Ellul, 1973;
Jowett & O’Donnell, 1986; Smith, 1989). However, there are some essential characteristics on which most
scholars agree. These are as follows:
â–  Propaganda has a strong ideological bent. Most scholars agree that propaganda does not serve a purely
informational function. Propaganda typically embodies a strong bias, such as that of a “left-wing” or “rightwing” agenda. The campaign of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (P ETA) to promote animal
rights would fall into this category. Propagandists aren’t trying to be neutral or objective. They are working a
specific agenda.
Propaganda is institutional in nature. Most scholars agree that propaganda is practiced by organized groups,
â–  whether they happen to be government agencies, political lobbies, private corporations, religious groups, or
social movements. For instance, the Anti-Defamation League is an organization founded to prevent libeling
and slandering of Jewish people. Although individuals might use propaganda too (a parent might tell a child,
“Santa only brings presents for good girls and boys”), the term usually is associated with institutional efforts to
â–  Propaganda involves mass persuasion. Most scholars agree that propaganda targets a mass audience and relies
on mass media to persuade. Propaganda is aimed at large numbers of people and, as such, relies on mass
communication (TV, radio, posters, billboards, email, mass mailings, etc.) to reach its audience.Thus, gossip
that was shared by one office worker with another at the water cooler wouldn’t constitute propaganda, but a
corporate rumor that was circulated via email would.
â–  Propaganda tends to rely on ethically suspect methods of influence. Propagandists tend to put results first and
ethics second. This characteristic is probably the one that laypersons most closely associate with propaganda
and the one that gives it its negative connotation.
What are some of the questionable tactics used by propagandists? The Institute for Propaganda Analysis,
which was founded in 1937, identified seven basic propaganda techniques, which still exist today (Miller,
1937).These include the plain folks appeal (“I’m one of you”), testimonials (“I saw the aliens, sure as I’m standing
here”), the bandwagon effect (everybody’s doing it), card-stacking (presenting only one side of the story), transfer
(positive or negative associations, such as guilt by association), glittering generalities (idealistic or loaded language,
such as “freedom,” “empowering,” “family values”), and name calling (“racist,” “tree hugger,” “femi-Nazi”).
The Debunking Function: Puh-Shaw
A fourth reason for studying persuasion is that it serves a debunking function. The study of
human influence can aid in dispelling various “common sense” assumptions and
“homespun” notions about persuasion. Traditional wisdom isn’t always right, and it’s
worth knowing when it’s wrong. Some individuals cling tenaciously to folk wisdom about
persuasive practices that are known by researchers to be patently false. For example, many
people believe that subliminal messages are highly effective and operate in a manner similar
to that of post-hypnotic suggestion. This belief is pure poppycock, as we point out in
Chapter 15.
Of considerable importance, then, are empirical findings that are counterintuitive in
nature—that is, they go against the grain of common sense. By learning about research
findings on persuasion, the reader can learn to ferret out the true from the false, the fact
from the fiction.
We hope you’ll agree, based on the foregoing discussion, that there are quite a few good
reasons for studying persuasion. We hope we’ve persuaded you that the study of persuasion
can be a prosocial endeavor. That brings us back to an earlier point, however: Not all
persuaders are scrupulous. At this juncture, then, it seems appropriate that we address two
common criticisms related to the study of persuasion.
Does Learning about Persuasion Foster Manipulation?
We’ve already touched on one of the common criticisms of studying persuasion; the notion
that it fosters a manipulative approach to communication. We address ethical concerns
surrounding the study and practice of persuasion more specifically in Chapter 16. For the
time being, however, a few general arguments can be offered in response to this concern.
First, our principal focus in this text is on the means of persuasion (e.g., how persuasion
functions). We view the means of persuasion not so much as moral or immoral, but rather
as amoral, or ethically neutral. In this respect, persuasion can be likened to a tool, such as a
hammer. Like any other tool, persuasion can be put to good or bad use. If this sounds like a
cop-out, read what Aristotle had to say on this same point in his Rhetoric:
If it is urged that an abuse of the rhetorical faculty can work great mischief, the same
charge can be brought against all good things (save virtue itself), and especially against
the most useful things such as strength, health, wealth, and military skill. Rightly
employed, they work the greatest blessings; and wrongly employed, they work the
greatest harm. (1355b)
Related to this idea is the fact that tools can be used in good or bad ways, depending on
their user. We believe that first and foremost, a persuader’s motives determine whether a
given influence attempt is good or bad, right or wrong, ethical or unethical. We maintain
that the moral quality of a persuasive act is derived primarily from the ends a persuader
seeks, and only secondarily from the means the persuader employs. It isn’t so much what
strategies and tactics a persuader uses as why he or she uses them.
To illustrate, suppose you asked us whether the use of “fear appeals” is ethically
justified. We would have to say, it depends. If a fear appeal were being used to warn
sexually active teens of the risks of HIV infection from unprotected sex, we would tend to
say the appeal was justified. If a fear appeal were being used by a terrorist who threatened to
kill a hostage every hour until his demands were met, we would say the appeal was
unjustified. In each case, the motives of the persuader would “color” the use of the fear
appeal. Consistent with our tool analogy, fear appeals, like other persuasive strategies, can
be used for good or bad ends.
A second response to this criticism was highlighted earlier. The study of persuasion
performs a defensive function insofar as it educates people to become more discriminating
consumers of persuasive messages. For instance, we believe our “Tips on Buying a New or
Used Car” (see Box 1.2) are useful to any potential car buyer who wants to avoid being
manipulated at a car lot. By increasing your awareness of the ploys of would-be persuaders,
this text performs a watchdog function. You can use the information contained herein to
arm yourself against the tactics of unscrupulous persuaders.
BOX 1.2
Tips on Buying a New or Used Car
Given the current state of the economy and the economic fix in which car dealers find themselves, buying a car
nowadays is easier than before. Car dealers are eager to sell cars. Nevertheless, car salespersons, especially used car
salespersons, have a bad reputation. We’ve met some honest, upstanding sellers. We’ve also met some shady
operators. Because a car is a major purchase, one would be well advised to err on the side of caution when
negotiating with a car salesperson. Caveat emptor, as the saying goes: Let the buyer beware.
1. Be wary. Remember, buying a car is a ritual in which the car dealer has the upper hand. This is the prototype
for high-pressure sales. They are professionals. They sell cars every day. You are an amateur. Who do you
think has more experience with persuasion in this setting?
2. Do your homework before you go visit a car dealer. Read up on the makes and models in which you’re
interested. Find out about performance criteria, standard features, and options before setting foot on a car lot.
Consumer Reports sells an excellent paperback that compares used cars on reliability, safety, and other criteria
based on data from actual owners. Research shows that doing your homework can save you money (Seiter &
Seiter, 2005).
3. Keep a poker face. If the salesperson knows you are eager or excited about the car purchase, he or she will
smell blood. Once the salesperson knows you are emotionally attached to a particular car, you’ll wind up
paying more.
4. Take a calculator with you. Car salespersons like to pretend that the prices of things are entirely up to the
calculator (“Hey, let’s see how the numbers shake out”). The implication is that the numbers aren’t negotiable
or flexible. Everything is negotiable! Do your own figuring to see if the numbers “shake out” the same way. If
not, ask why.
5. Once you are on the car lot, dealers will try to keep you there. They may put you in a cubicle, holding you
“hostage” during the negotiations. Their psychological strategy is to wear you down. After hours of haggling,
you’ll become mentally drained and more likely to give in. They may ask for the keys to your trade-in,
presumably to look it over and determine its value. Once they have your keys, you can’t leave.
6. The car salesperson will want to avoid talking about the total price of the car, opting instead to discuss the
monthly payment you can afford. You, however, should focus on four things: (a) the total purchase price, (b)
the finance period, (c) the interest rate, and (d) the monthly payment. Don’t discuss the monthly payment
unless you are clear on the finance period involved (a 3-year loan, 4-year loan, 5-year loan, etc.). If you admit
you can afford $300 per month, the salesperson may simply switch to a longer finance period—say, 4 years,
instead of 3, thereby adding thousands of dollars to the total purchase price.
7. During the negotiations, the salesperson may leave the room a number of times to talk with the “sales
manager.”This is all choreographed. The salesperson can’t agree to anything without checking with this
mysterious figure, so the person with whom you are negotiating really can’t commit to anything. You,
however, will be asked to commit to a lot of things. Don’t!
8. The salesperson will act like he or she is your best friend, even though you just met. The salesperson will look
for ways to identify with you or ingratiate himself or herself to you to establish camaraderie (“You like fly
fishing? That makes two of us.” “Whaddya-know, my granddaughter is named ‘Fifi’ too!”). During the
negotiations, the salesperson will pretend he or she is on your side and is willing to go out on a limb for you
(“Well, my sales manager may kick my butt for even taking him this offer, but hey, I like you!”). Remember
these two are working as a team, against you. Don’t be confused for a moment about where the salesperson’s
loyalties reside.
9. The car salesperson will do all kinds of things to get you to make a commitment to buy (“What would it take
to get you to buy this car? Just tell me, whudda-I-godda-do to get you in this car?”). Often the salesperson will
ask you to write down any amount you’re offering on a slip of paper or an offer sheet, even though it isn’t
legally binding (it does increase your psychological commitment, however). The car dealer wants you to sit in
the car, take it for a test spin, smell the upholstery, because then you will become psychologically committed
to owning the car.
10. If you get close to a deal, or alternatively, if a deal seems to be coming apart, don’t be surprised if another
salesperson comes in to take over the negotiations. Often a “closer” is sent in (sort of like a relief pitcher in
baseball) to complete the sale.
11. Beware of “loss leaders” (advertised specials at absurdly low prices). These are come-ons designed to get you
onto the lot. Once there, however, you’ll be subjected to the “old switcheroo.” You’ll find there is/was only
one car at that price. You will probably be told,”Sorry, it’s already sold…but I can make you a honey of a deal
12. The sale isn’t over simpl…
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