According to Media Literacy Project, there are 40 different approaches used to persuade viewers to believe something. Advertising is the largest user of persuasive language, whether it’s convincing consumers what vacuum to buy or for which candidate to vote. From political races to lobbying, persuasion has often been used in politics. Public opinion is formed by on what is presented. Persuaders use many approaches to get attention, trust and to motivate behaviors for their cause.
There are many groups trying to persuade media viewers at any given time. Often, it is opposing groups trying to win supporters. Each groups’ goal is to have more backers than the other and they may use a number of persuasive techniques to influence viewers. Politics is probably the best example of this, with each side presenting similar information in radically different forms.
Here is a commercial that was created for the 2004 John Kerry campaign. The biographical clip was meant to introduce Kerry to the American people and persuade them to vote for him. The ad associate Kerry with the average American by showing his humble beginnings and numerous images of him with ”average people.” Many of those images are with kids to provide a “warm and fuzzy” association. The ad spends a majority of the time talking about his military service in Vietnam, portraying him as heroic and mentions the medals he was awarded. Plain folks with which he served provide testimonials about his bravery a service. Bravery is mentioned repeatedly during when talking about him as a soldier, prosecutor and senator. The persuasive techniques the Media Literacy Project lists that are shown through the ad include association, nostalgia, average folks, testimonials, repetition, emotiol and charisma.
The second video is an anti-Kerry advertisement created by a group called Swiftboat Veterans for Truth. This ad does not attempt to promote another candidate but to discredit claims made in the previous ad, particularly the part about his military services. It is ad hominem and works as a diversion from current issues by focusing on one from 40 years prior. The ad opens using a line by Senator John Edwards in a favorable speech that is taken out of context and edited to appear as an introduction to this ad. Like the previous ad, this one has plain folk that served with Kerry providing testimonials. The word “lied” is used repetitively by those in the ad. The ad uses fear and extrapolation to convince the viewer that Kerry would not be a good leader. The testimonials include use of name calling and generalities. The men in the ad are associated with Kerry by showing them in pictures with him, making their claims seem credible.
Kerry is trying to use his military service to persuade voters to his side, while the Swiftboat Veterans are using his military service to persuade people not to vote for him. Literacy Project points out, “political rhetoric is more difficult to analyze, not only because it involves more emotional issues, but also because it is more likely to be seen in bits and fragments, often filtered or edited by others.” This is an important statement. Some of the same images are used in both ads, but how they are framed in order to persuade is vastly different. Neither ad provides solid evidence, just sound bites that either sound good or bad for Kerry. Each ad was created with an agenda of convincing the public, not necessarily providing reliable information. Much of the information in both ad is little more than opinion and glittering generalities.
Identifying persuasion techniques is important because of the significance public opinion holds in a democracy. Understanding the language of persuasion can help in understanding arguments, define issues, and solve the problems. This is even more important today in a world of media fragmentation where exposure to opposing ideas may be limited. Getting information in bits and pieces may not lead to a full understanding of facts especially if the presentation of those fragments are structured to cater to an audience.