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How Companies Learn Your Secrets

Posted by Admin on April 22, 2012

http://vigilantcitizen.com/latestnews/how-companies-learn-your-secrets/

By  | February 22nd, 2012 | Category: Latest News | 100 comments

Here’s an interesting article from the New York Times on the intensive research and data mining companies conduct on their customers in order to learn about them and to predict their future needs. It also describes some of the psychological techniques used in marketing in order to modify behavior and to create new habits. As it was stated in the Mind Control Theories and Techniques used by Mass Media, marketing does not simply seek to sell a product, it taps into psychological reflexes and instincts to create needs and to modify habits. Powerful stuff.

How Companies Learn Your Secrets

Andrew Pole had just started working as a statistician for Target in 2002, when two colleagues from the marketing department stopped by his desk to ask an odd question: “If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that? ”

Pole has a master’s degree in statistics and another in economics, and has been obsessed with the intersection of data and human behavior most of his life. His parents were teachers in North Dakota, and while other kids were going to 4-H, Pole was doing algebra and writing computer programs. “The stereotype of a math nerd is true,” he told me when I spoke with him last year. “I kind of like going out and evangelizing analytics.”

As the marketers explained to Pole – and as Pole later explained to me, back when we were still speaking and before Target told him to stop – new parents are a retailer’s holy grail. Most shoppers don’t buy everything they need at one store. Instead, they buy groceries at the grocery store and toys at the toy store, and they visit Target only when they need certain items they associate with Target – cleaning supplies, say, or new socks or a six-month supply of toilet paper. But Target sells everything from milk to stuffed animals to lawn furniture to electronics, so one of the company’s primary goals is convincing customers that the only store they need is Target. But it’s a tough message to get across, even with the most ingenious ad campaigns, because once consumers’ shopping habits are ingrained, it’s incredibly difficult to change them.

There are, however, some brief periods in a person’s life when old routines fall apart and buying habits are suddenly in flux. One of those moments – the moment, really – is right around the birth of a child, when parents are exhausted and overwhelmed and their shopping patterns and brand loyalties are up for grabs. But as Target’s marketers explained to Pole, timing is everything. Because birth records are usually public, the moment a couple have a new baby, they are almost instantaneously barraged with offers and incentives and advertisements from all sorts of companies. Which means that the key is to reach them earlier, before any other retailers know a baby is on the way. Specifically, the marketers said they wanted to send specially designed ads to women in their second trimester, which is when most expectant mothers begin buying all sorts of new things, like prenatal vitamins and maternity clothing. “Can you give us a list?” the marketers asked.

“We knew that if we could identify them in their second trimester, there’s a good chance we could capture them for years,” Pole told me. “As soon as we get them buying diapers from us, they’re going to start buying everything else too. If you’re rushing through the store, looking for bottles, and you pass orange juice, you’ll grab a carton. Oh, and there’s that new DVD I want. Soon, you’ll be buying cereal and paper towels from us, and keep coming back.”

The desire to collect information on customers is not new for Target or any other large retailer, of course. For decades, Target has collected vast amounts of data on every person who regularly walks into one of its stores. Whenever possible, Target assigns each shopper a unique code – known internally as the Guest ID number – that keeps tabs on everything they buy. “If you use a credit card or a coupon, or fill out a survey, or mail in a refund, or call the customer help line, or open an e-mail we’ve sent you or visit our Web site, we’ll record it and link it to your Guest ID,” Pole said. “We want to know everything we can.”

Also linked to your Guest ID is demographic information like your age, whether you are married and have kids, which part of town you live in, how long it takes you to drive to the store, your estimated salary, whether you’ve moved recently, what credit cards you carry in your wallet and what Web sites you visit. Target can buy data about your ethnicity, job history, the magazines you read, if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or got divorced, the year you bought (or lost) your house, where you went to college, what kinds of topics you talk about online, whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, paper towels, cereal or applesauce, your political leanings, reading habits, charitable giving and the number of cars you own. (In a statement, Target declined to identify what demographic information it collects or purchases.) All that information is meaningless, however, without someone to analyze and make sense of it. That’s where Andrew Pole and the dozens of other members of Target’s Guest Marketing Analytics department come in.

Almost every major retailer, from grocery chains to investment banks to the U.S. Postal Service, has a “predictive analytics” department devoted to understanding not just consumers’ shopping habits but also their personal habits, so as to more efficiently market to them. “But Target has always been one of the smartest at this,” says Eric Siegel, a consultant and the chairman of a conference called Predictive Analytics World. “We’re living through a golden age of behavioral research. It’s amazing how much we can figure out about how people think now.”

The reason Target can snoop on our shopping habits is that, over the past two decades, the science of habit formation has become a major field of research in neurology and psychology departments at hundreds of major medical centers and universities, as well as inside extremely well financed corporate labs. “It’s like an arms race to hire statisticians nowadays,” said Andreas Weigend, the former chief scientist at Amazon.com. “Mathematicians are suddenly sexy.” As the ability to analyze data has grown more and more fine-grained, the push to understand how daily habits influence our decisions has become one of the most exciting topics in clinical research, even though most of us are hardly aware those patterns exist. One study from Duke University estimated that habits, rather than conscious decision-making, shape 45 percent of the choices we make every day, and recent discoveries have begun to change everything from the way we think about dieting to how doctors conceive treatments for anxiety, depression and addictions.

This research is also transforming our understanding of how habits function across organizations and societies. A football coach named Tony Dungy propelled one of the worst teams in the N.F.L. to the Super Bowl by focusing on how his players habitually reacted to on-field cues. Before he became Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill overhauled a stumbling conglomerate, Alcoa, and turned it into a top performer in the Dow Jones by relentlessly attacking one habit – a specific approach to worker safety – which in turn caused a companywide transformation. The Obama campaign has hired a habit specialist as its “chief scientist” to figure out how to trigger new voting patterns among different constituencies.

Researchers have figured out how to stop people from habitually overeating and biting their nails. They can explain why some of us automatically go for a jog every morning and are more productive at work, while others oversleep and procrastinate. There is a calculus, it turns out, for mastering our subconscious urges. For companies like Target, the exhaustive rendering of our conscious and unconscious patterns into data sets and algorithms has revolutionized what they know about us and, therefore, how precisely they can sell.

Inside the brain-and-cognitive-sciences department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are what, to the casual observer, look like dollhouse versions of surgical theaters. There are rooms with tiny scalpels, small drills and miniature saws. Even the operating tables are petite, as if prepared for 7-year-old surgeons. Inside those shrunken O.R.’s, neurologists cut into the skulls of anesthetized rats, implanting tiny sensors that record the smallest changes in the activity of their brains.

An M.I.T. neuroscientist named Ann Graybiel told me that she and her colleagues began exploring habits more than a decade ago by putting their wired rats into a T-shaped maze with chocolate at one end. The maze was structured so that each animal was positioned behind a barrier that opened after a loud click. The first time a rat was placed in the maze, it would usually wander slowly up and down the center aisle after the barrier slid away, sniffing in corners and scratching at walls. It appeared to smell the chocolate but couldn’t figure out how to find it. There was no discernible pattern in the rat’s meanderings and no indication it was working hard to find the treat.

The probes in the rats’ heads, however, told a different story. While each animal wandered through the maze, its brain was working furiously. Every time a rat sniffed the air or scratched a wall, the neurosensors inside the animal’s head exploded with activity. As the scientists repeated the experiment, again and again, the rats eventually stopped sniffing corners and making wrong turns and began to zip through the maze with more and more speed. And within their brains, something unexpected occurred: as each rat learned how to complete the maze more quickly, its mental activity decreased. As the path became more and more automatic – as it became a habit – the rats started thinking less and less.

This process, in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine, is called “chunking.” There are dozens, if not hundreds, of behavioral chunks we rely on every day. Some are simple: you automatically put toothpaste on your toothbrush before sticking it in your mouth. Some, like making the kids’ lunch, are a little more complex. Still others are so complicated that it’s remarkable to realize that a habit could have emerged at all.

Take backing your car out of the driveway. When you first learned to drive, that act required a major dose of concentration, and for good reason: it involves peering into the rearview and side mirrors and checking for obstacles, putting your foot on the brake, moving the gearshift into reverse, removing your foot from the brake, estimating the distance between the garage and the street while keeping the wheels aligned, calculating how images in the mirrors translate into actual distances, all while applying differing amounts of pressure to the gas pedal and brake.

Now, you perform that series of actions every time you pull into the street without thinking very much. Your brain has chunked large parts of it. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any repeated behavior into a habit, because habits allow our minds to conserve effort. But conserving mental energy is tricky, because if our brains power down at the wrong moment, we might fail to notice something important, like a child riding her bike down the sidewalk or a speeding car coming down the street. So we’ve devised a clever system to determine when to let a habit take over. It’s something that happens whenever a chunk of behavior starts or ends – and it helps to explain why habits are so difficult to change once they’re formed, despite our best intentions.

To understand this a little more clearly, consider again the chocolate-seeking rats. What Graybiel and her colleagues found was that, as the ability to navigate the maze became habitual, there were two spikes in the rats’ brain activity – once at the beginning of the maze, when the rat heard the click right before the barrier slid away, and once at the end, when the rat found the chocolate. Those spikes show when the rats’ brains were fully engaged, and the dip in neural activity between the spikes showed when the habit took over. From behind the partition, the rat wasn’t sure what waited on the other side, until it heard the click, which it had come to associate with the maze. Once it heard that sound, it knew to use the “maze habit,” and its brain activity decreased. Then at the end of the routine, when the reward appeared, the brain shook itself awake again and the chocolate signaled to the rat that this particular habit was worth remembering, and the neurological pathway was carved that much deeper.

The process within our brains that creates habits is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop – cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward – becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become neurologically intertwined until a sense of craving emerges. What’s unique about cues and rewards, however, is how subtle they can be. Neurological studies like the ones in Graybiel’s lab have revealed that some cues span just milliseconds. And rewards can range from the obvious (like the sugar rush that a morning doughnut habit provides) to the infinitesimal (like the barely noticeable – but measurable – sense of relief the brain experiences after successfully navigating the driveway). Most cues and rewards, in fact, happen so quickly and are so slight that we are hardly aware of them at all. But our neural systems notice and use them to build automatic behaviors.

Habits aren’t destiny – they can be ignored, changed or replaced. But it’s also true that once the loop is established and a habit emerges, your brain stops fully participating in decision-making. So unless you deliberately fight a habit – unless you find new cues and rewards – the old pattern will unfold automatically.

“We’ve done experiments where we trained rats to run down a maze until it was a habit, and then we extinguished the habit by changing the placement of the reward,” Graybiel told me. “Then one day, we’ll put the reward in the old place and put in the rat and, by golly, the old habit will re-emerge right away. Habits never really disappear.”

Luckily, simply understanding how habits work makes them easier to control. Take, for instance, a series of studies conducted a few years ago at Columbia University and the University of Alberta. Researchers wanted to understand how exercise habits emerge. In one project, 256 members of a health-insurance plan were invited to classes stressing the importance of exercise. Half the participants received an extra lesson on the theories of habit formation (the structure of the habit loop) and were asked to identify cues and rewards that might help them develop exercise routines.

The results were dramatic. Over the next four months, those participants who deliberately identified cues and rewards spent twice as much time exercising as their peers. Other studies have yielded similar results. According to another recent paper, if you want to start running in the morning, it’s essential that you choose a simple cue (like always putting on your sneakers before breakfast or leaving your running clothes next to your bed) and a clear reward (like a midday treat or even the sense of accomplishment that comes from ritually recording your miles in a log book). After a while, your brain will start anticipating that reward – craving the treat or the feeling of accomplishment – and there will be a measurable neurological impulse to lace up your jogging shoes each morning.

Our relationship to e-mail operates on the same principle. When a computer chimes or a smartphone vibrates with a new message, the brain starts anticipating the neurological “pleasure” (even if we don’t recognize it as such) that clicking on the e-mail and reading it provides. That expectation, if unsatisfied, can build until you find yourself moved to distraction by the thought of an e-mail sitting there unread – even if you know, rationally, it’s most likely not important. On the other hand, once you remove the cue by disabling the buzzing of your phone or the chiming of your computer, the craving is never triggered, and you’ll find, over time, that you’re able to work productively for long stretches without checking your in-box.

Some of the most ambitious habit experiments have been conducted by corporate America. To understand why executives are so entranced by this science, consider how one of the world’s largest companies, Procter & Gamble, used habit insights to turn a failing product into one of its biggest sellers. P.& G. is the corporate behemoth behind a whole range of products, from Downy fabric softener to Bounty paper towels to Duracell batteries and dozens of other household brands. In the mid-1990s, P.& G.’s executives began a secret project to create a new product that could eradicate bad smells. P.& G. spent millions developing a colorless, cheap-to-manufacture liquid that could be sprayed on a smoky blouse, stinky couch, old jacket or stained car interior and make it odorless. In order to market the product – Febreze – the company formed a team that included a former Wall Street mathematician named Drake Stimson and habit specialists, whose job was to make sure the television commercials, which they tested in Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Boise, Idaho, accentuated the product’s cues and rewards just right.

The first ad showed a woman complaining about the smoking section of a restaurant. Whenever she eats there, she says, her jacket smells like smoke. A friend tells her that if she uses Febreze, it will eliminate the odor. The cue in the ad is clear: the harsh smell of cigarette smoke. The reward: odor eliminated from clothes. The second ad featured a woman worrying about her dog, Sophie, who always sits on the couch. “Sophie will always smell like Sophie,” she says, but with Febreze, “now my furniture doesn’t have to.” The ads were put in heavy rotation. Then the marketers sat back, anticipating how they would spend their bonuses. A week passed. Then two. A month. Two months. Sales started small and got smaller. Febreze was a dud.

The panicked marketing team canvassed consumers and conducted in-depth interviews to figure out what was going wrong, Stimson recalled. Their first inkling came when they visited a woman’s home outside Phoenix. The house was clean and organized. She was something of a neat freak, the woman explained. But when P.& G.’s scientists walked into her living room, where her nine cats spent most of their time, the scent was so overpowering that one of them gagged.

According to Stimson, who led the Febreze team, a researcher asked the woman, “What do you do about the cat smell?”

“It’s usually not a problem,” she said.

“Do you smell it now?”

“No,” she said. “Isn’t it wonderful? They hardly smell at all!”

A similar scene played out in dozens of other smelly homes. The reason Febreze wasn’t selling, the marketers realized, was that people couldn’t detect most of the bad smells in their lives. If you live with nine cats, you become desensitized to their scents. If you smoke cigarettes, eventually you don’t smell smoke anymore. Even the strongest odors fade with constant exposure. That’s why Febreze was a failure. The product’s cue – the bad smells that were supposed to trigger daily use – was hidden from the people who needed it the most. And Febreze’s reward (an odorless home) was meaningless to someone who couldn’t smell offensive scents in the first place.

P.& G. employed a Harvard Business School professor to analyze Febreze’s ad campaigns. They collected hours of footage of people cleaning their homes and watched tape after tape, looking for clues that might help them connect Febreze to people’s daily habits. When that didn’t reveal anything, they went into the field and conducted more interviews. A breakthrough came when they visited a woman in a suburb near Scottsdale, Ariz., who was in her 40s with four children. Her house was clean, though not compulsively tidy, and didn’t appear to have any odor problems; there were no pets or smokers. To the surprise of everyone, she loved Febreze.

“I use it every day,” she said.

“What smells are you trying to get rid of?” a researcher asked.

“I don’t really use it for specific smells,” the woman said. “I use it for normal cleaning – a couple of sprays when I’m done in a room.”

The researchers followed her around as she tidied the house. In the bedroom, she made her bed, tightened the sheet’s corners, then sprayed the comforter with Febreze. In the living room, she vacuumed, picked up the children’s shoes, straightened the coffee table, then sprayed Febreze on the freshly cleaned carpet.

“It’s nice, you know?” she said. “Spraying feels like a little minicelebration when I’m done with a room.” At the rate she was going, the team estimated, she would empty a bottle of Febreze every two weeks.

When they got back to P.& G.’s headquarters, the researchers watched their videotapes again. Now they knew what to look for and saw their mistake in scene after scene. Cleaning has its own habit loops that already exist. In one video, when a woman walked into a dirty room (cue), she started sweeping and picking up toys (routine), then she examined the room and smiled when she was done (reward). In another, a woman scowled at her unmade bed (cue), proceeded to straighten the blankets and comforter (routine) and then sighed as she ran her hands over the freshly plumped pillows (reward). P.& G. had been trying to create a whole new habit with Febreze, but what they really needed to do was piggyback on habit loops that were already in place. The marketers needed to position Febreze as something that came at the end of the cleaning ritual, the reward, rather than as a whole new cleaning routine.

The company printed new ads showing open windows and gusts of fresh air. More perfume was added to the Febreze formula, so that instead of merely neutralizing odors, the spray had its own distinct scent. Television commercials were filmed of women, having finished their cleaning routine, using Febreze to spritz freshly made beds and just-laundered clothing. Each ad was designed to appeal to the habit loop: when you see a freshly cleaned room (cue), pull out Febreze (routine) and enjoy a smell that says you’ve done a great job (reward). When you finish making a bed (cue), spritz Febreze (routine) and breathe a sweet, contented sigh (reward). Febreze, the ads implied, was a pleasant treat, not a reminder that your home stinks.

And so Febreze, a product originally conceived as a revolutionary way to destroy odors, became an air freshener used once things are already clean. The Febreze revamp occurred in the summer of 1998. Within two months, sales doubled. A year later, the product brought in $230 million. Since then Febreze has spawned dozens of spinoffs – air fresheners, candles and laundry detergents – that now account for sales of more than $1 billion a year. Eventually, P.& G. began mentioning to customers that, in addition to smelling sweet, Febreze can actually kill bad odors. Today it’s one of the top-selling products in the world.

Andrew Pole was hired by Target to use the same kinds of insights into consumers’ habits to expand Target’s sales. His assignment was to analyze all the cue-routine-reward loops among shoppers and help the company figure out how to exploit them. Much of his department’s work was straightforward: find the customers who have children and send them catalogs that feature toys before Christmas. Look for shoppers who habitually purchase swimsuits in April and send them coupons for sunscreen in July and diet books in December. But Pole’s most important assignment was to identify those unique moments in consumers’ lives when their shopping habits become particularly flexible and the right advertisement or coupon would cause them to begin spending in new ways.

In the 1980s, a team of researchers led by a U.C.L.A. professor named Alan Andreasen undertook a study of peoples’ most mundane purchases, like soap, toothpaste, trash bags and toilet paper. They learned that most shoppers paid almost no attention to how they bought these products, that the purchases occurred habitually, without any complex decision-making. Which meant it was hard for marketers, despite their displays and coupons and product promotions, to persuade shoppers to change.

But when some customers were going through a major life event, like graduating from college or getting a new job or moving to a new town, their shopping habits became flexible in ways that were both predictable and potential gold mines for retailers. The study found that when someone marries, he or she is more likely to start buying a new type of coffee. When a couple move into a new house, they’re more apt to purchase a different kind of cereal. When they divorce, there’s an increased chance they’ll start buying different brands of beer.

Consumers going through major life events often don’t notice, or care, that their shopping habits have shifted, but retailers notice, and they care quite a bit. At those unique moments, Andreasen wrote, customers are “vulnerable to intervention by marketers.” In other words, a precisely timed advertisement, sent to a recent divorcee or new homebuyer, can change someone’s shopping patterns for years.

And among life events, none are more important than the arrival of a baby. At that moment, new parents’ habits are more flexible than at almost any other time in their adult lives. If companies can identify pregnant shoppers, they can earn millions.

The only problem is that identifying pregnant customers is harder than it sounds. Target has a baby-shower registry, and Pole started there, observing how shopping habits changed as a woman approached her due date, which women on the registry had willingly disclosed. He ran test after test, analyzing the data, and before long some useful patterns emerged. Lotions, for example. Lots of people buy lotion, but one of Pole’s colleagues noticed that women on the baby registry were buying larger quantities of unscented lotion around the beginning of their second trimester. Another analyst noted that sometime in the first 20 weeks, pregnant women loaded up on supplements like calcium, magnesium and zinc. Many shoppers purchase soap and cotton balls, but when someone suddenly starts buying lots of scent-free soap and extra-big bags of cotton balls, in addition to hand sanitizers and washcloths, it signals they could be getting close to their delivery date.

As Pole’s computers crawled through the data, he was able to identify about 25 products that, when analyzed together, allowed him to assign each shopper a “pregnancy prediction” score. More important, he could also estimate her due date to within a small window, so Target could send coupons timed to very specific stages of her pregnancy.

One Target employee I spoke to provided a hypothetical example. Take a fictional Target shopper named Jenny Ward, who is 23, lives in Atlanta and in March bought cocoa-butter lotion, a purse large enough to double as a diaper bag, zinc and magnesium supplements and a bright blue rug. There’s, say, an 87 percent chance that she’s pregnant and that her delivery date is sometime in late August. What’s more, because of the data attached to her Guest ID number, Target knows how to trigger Jenny’s habits. They know that if she receives a coupon via e-mail, it will most likely cue her to buy online. They know that if she receives an ad in the mail on Friday, she frequently uses it on a weekend trip to the store. And they know that if they reward her with a printed receipt that entitles her to a free cup of Starbucks coffee, she’ll use it when she comes back again.

In the past, that knowledge had limited value. After all, Jenny purchased only cleaning supplies at Target, and there were only so many psychological buttons the company could push. But now that she is pregnant, everything is up for grabs. In addition to triggering Jenny’s habits to buy more cleaning products, they can also start including offers for an array of products, some more obvious than others, that a woman at her stage of pregnancy might need.

Pole applied his program to every regular female shopper in Target’s national database and soon had a list of tens of thousands of women who were most likely pregnant. If they could entice those women or their husbands to visit Target and buy baby-related products, the company’s cue-routine-reward calculators could kick in and start pushing them to buy groceries, bathing suits, toys and clothing, as well. When Pole shared his list with the marketers, he said, they were ecstatic. Soon, Pole was getting invited to meetings above his paygrade. Eventually his paygrade went up.

At which point someone asked an important question: How are women going to react when they figure out how much Target knows?

“If we send someone a catalog and say, ‘Congratulations on your first child!’ and they’ve never told us they’re pregnant, that’s going to make some people uncomfortable,” Pole told me. “We are very conservative about compliance with all privacy laws. But even if you’re following the law, you can do things where people get queasy.”

About a year after Pole created his pregnancy-prediction model, a man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.

“My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.

On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”

When I approached Target to discuss Pole’s work, its representatives declined to speak with me. “Our mission is to make Target the preferred shopping destination for our guests by delivering outstanding value, continuous innovation and exceptional guest experience,” the company wrote in a statement. “We’ve developed a number of research tools that allow us to gain insights into trends and preferences within different demographic segments of our guest population.” When I sent Target a complete summary of my reporting, the reply was more terse: “Almost all of your statements contain inaccurate information and publishing them would be misleading to the public. We do not intend to address each statement point by point.” The company declined to identify what was inaccurate. They did add, however, that Target “is in compliance with all federal and state laws, including those related to protected health information.”

When I offered to fly to Target’s headquarters to discuss its concerns, a spokeswoman e-mailed that no one would meet me. When I flew out anyway, I was told I was on a list of prohibited visitors. “I’ve been instructed not to give you access and to ask you to leave,” said a very nice security guard named Alex.

Using data to predict a woman’s pregnancy, Target realized soon after Pole perfected his model, could be a public-relations disaster. So the question became: how could they get their advertisements into expectant mothers’ hands without making it appear they were spying on them? How do you take advantage of someone’s habits without letting them know you’re studying their lives?

Before I met Andrew Pole, before I even decided to write a book about the science of habit formation, I had another goal: I wanted to lose weight.

I had got into a bad habit of going to the cafeteria every afternoon and eating a chocolate-chip cookie, which contributed to my gaining a few pounds. Eight, to be precise. I put a Post-it note on my computer reading “NO MORE COOKIES.” But every afternoon, I managed to ignore that note, wander to the cafeteria, buy a cookie and eat it while chatting with colleagues. Tomorrow, I always promised myself, I’ll muster the willpower to resist.

Tomorrow, I ate another cookie.

When I started interviewing experts in habit formation, I concluded each interview by asking what I should do. The first step, they said, was to figure out my habit loop. The routine was simple: every afternoon, I walked to the cafeteria, bought a cookie and ate it while chatting with friends.

Next came some less obvious questions: What was the cue? Hunger? Boredom? Low blood sugar? And what was the reward? The taste of the cookie itself? The temporary distraction from my work? The chance to socialize with colleagues?

Rewards are powerful because they satisfy cravings, but we’re often not conscious of the urges driving our habits in the first place. So one day, when I felt a cookie impulse, I went outside and took a walk instead. The next day, I went to the cafeteria and bought a coffee. The next, I bought an apple and ate it while chatting with friends. You get the idea. I wanted to test different theories regarding what reward I was really craving. Was it hunger? (In which case the apple should have worked.) Was it the desire for a quick burst of energy? (If so, the coffee should suffice.) Or, as turned out to be the answer, was it that after several hours spent focused on work, I wanted to socialize, to make sure I was up to speed on office gossip, and the cookie was just a convenient excuse? When I walked to a colleague’s desk and chatted for a few minutes, it turned out, my cookie urge was gone.

All that was left was identifying the cue.

Deciphering cues is hard, however. Our lives often contain too much information to figure out what is triggering a particular behavior. Do you eat breakfast at a certain time because you’re hungry? Or because the morning news is on? Or because your kids have started eating? Experiments have shown that most cues fit into one of five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people or the immediately preceding action. So to figure out the cue for my cookie habit, I wrote down five things the moment the urge hit:

Where are you? (Sitting at my desk.)

What time is it? (3:36 p.m.)

What’s your emotional state? (Bored.)

Who else is around? (No one.)

What action preceded the urge? (Answered an e-mail.)

The next day I did the same thing. And the next. Pretty soon, the cue was clear: I always felt an urge to snack around 3:30.

Once I figured out all the parts of the loop, it seemed fairly easy to change my habit. But the psychologists and neuroscientists warned me that, for my new behavior to stick, I needed to abide by the same principle that guided Procter & Gamble in selling Febreze: To shift the routine – to socialize, rather than eat a cookie – I needed to piggyback on an existing habit. So now, every day around 3:30, I stand up, look around the newsroom for someone to talk to, spend 10 minutes gossiping, then go back to my desk. The cue and reward have stayed the same. Only the routine has shifted. It doesn’t feel like a decision, any more than the M.I.T. rats made a decision to run through the maze. It’s now a habit. I’ve lost 21 pounds since then (12 of them from changing my cookie ritual).

After Andrew Pole built his pregnancy-prediction model, after he identified thousands of female shoppers who were most likely pregnant, after someone pointed out that some of those women might be a little upset if they received an advertisement making it obvious Target was studying their reproductive status, everyone decided to slow things down.

The marketing department conducted a few tests by choosing a small, random sample of women from Pole’s list and mailing them combinations of advertisements to see how they reacted.

“We have the capacity to send every customer an ad booklet, specifically designed for them, that says, ‘Here’s everything you bought last week and a coupon for it,’ ” one Target executive told me. “We do that for grocery products all the time.” But for pregnant women, Target’s goal was selling them baby items they didn’t even know they needed yet.

“With the pregnancy products, though, we learned that some women react badly,” the executive said. “Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We’d put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance.

“And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn’t been spied on, she’ll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don’t spook her, it works.”

In other words, if Target piggybacked on existing habits – the same cues and rewards they already knew got customers to buy cleaning supplies or socks – then they could insert a new routine: buying baby products, as well. There’s a cue (“Oh, a coupon for something I need!”) a routine (“Buy! Buy! Buy!”) and a reward (“I can take that off my list”). And once the shopper is inside the store, Target will hit her with cues and rewards to entice her to purchase everything she normally buys somewhere else. As long as Target camouflaged how much it knew, as long as the habit felt familiar, the new behavior took hold.

Soon after the new ad campaign began, Target’s Mom and Baby sales exploded. The company doesn’t break out figures for specific divisions, but between 2002 – when Pole was hired – and 2010, Target’s revenues grew from $44 billion to $67 billion. In 2005, the company’s president, Gregg Steinhafel, boasted to a room of investors about the company’s “heightened focus on items and categories that appeal to specific guest segments such as mom and baby.”

Pole was promoted. He has been invited to speak at conferences. “I never expected this would become such a big deal,” he told me the last time we spoke.

A few weeks before this article went to press, I flew to Minneapolis to try and speak to Andrew Pole one last time. I hadn’t talked to him in more than a year. Back when we were still friendly, I mentioned that my wife was seven months pregnant. We shop at Target, I told him, and had given the company our address so we could start receiving coupons in the mail. As my wife’s pregnancy progressed, I noticed a subtle upswing in the number of advertisements for diapers and baby clothes arriving at our house.

Pole didn’t answer my e-mails or phone calls when I visited Minneapolis. I drove to his large home in a nice suburb, but no one answered the door. On my way back to the hotel, I stopped at a Target to pick up some deodorant, then also bought some T-shirts and a fancy hair gel. On a whim, I threw in some pacifiers, to see how the computers would react. Besides, our baby is now 9 months old. You can’t have too many pacifiers.

When I paid, I didn’t receive any sudden deals on diapers or formula, to my slight disappointment. It made sense, though: I was shopping in a city I never previously visited, at 9:45 p.m. on a weeknight, buying a random assortment of items. I was using a corporate credit card, and besides the pacifiers, hadn’t purchased any of the things that a parent needs. It was clear to Target’s computers that I was on a business trip. Pole’s prediction calculator took one look at me, ran the numbers and decided to bide its time. Back home, the offers would eventually come. As Pole told me the last time we spoke: “Just wait. We’ll be sending you coupons for things you want before you even know you want them.”
– Source: New York Times

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Mind Control Theories and Techniques used by Mass Media

Posted by Admin on July 30, 2011

http://vigilantcitizen.com/vigilantreport/mind-control-theories-and-techniques-used-by-mass-media/

By  | April 28th, 2010

Mass media is the most powerful tool used by the ruling class to manipulate the masses. It shapes and molds opinions and attitudes and defines what is normal and acceptable. This article looks at the workings of mass media through the theories of its major thinkers, its power structure and the techniques it uses, in order to understand its true role in society.

Image source deesillustration.com

Most of the articles on this site discuss occult symbolism found in objects of popular culture. From these articles arise many legitimate questions relating to the purpose of those symbols and the motivations of those who place them there, but it is impossible for me to provide satisfactory answers to these questions without mentioning many other concepts and facts. I’ve therefore decided to write this article to supply the theoretical and methodological background of the analyzes presented on this site as well as introducing the main scholars of the field of mass communications. Some people read my articles and think I’m saying “Lady Gaga wants to control our minds”. That is not the case. She is simply a small part of the huge system that is the mass media.

Programming Through Mass Media

Mass media are media forms designed to reach the largest audience possible. They include television, movies, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, records, video games and the internet. Many studies have been conducted in the past century to measure the effects of mass media on the population in order to discover the best techniques to influence it. From those studies emerged the science of Communications, which is used in marketing, public relations and politics. Mass communication is a necessary tool to insure the functionality of a large democracy; it is also a necessary tool for a dictatorship. It all depends on its usage.

In the 1958 preface for A Brave New World, Aldous Huxley paints a rather grim portrait of society. He believes it is controlled by an “impersonal force”, a ruling elite, which manipulates the population using various methods.

“Impersonal forces over which we have almost no control seem to be pushing us all in the direction of the Brave New Worldian nightmare; and this impersonal pushing is being consciously accelerated by representatives of commercial and political organizations who have developed a number of new techniques for manipulating, in the interest of some minority, the thoughts and feelings of the masses.”
– Aldous Huxley, Preface to A Brave New World

His bleak outlook is not a simple hypothesis or a paranoid delusion. It is a documented fact, present in the world’s most important studies on mass media. Here are some of them:

Elite Thinkers

Walter Lippmann

Walter Lippmann, an American intellectual, writer and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner brought forth one of the first works concerning the usage of mass media in America. In Public Opinion (1922), Lippmann compared the masses to a “great beast” and a “bewildered herd” that needed to be guided by a governing class. He described the ruling elite as “a specialized class whose interests reach beyond the locality.” This class is composed of experts, specialists and bureaucrats. According to Lippmann, the experts, who often are referred to as “elites,” are to be a machinery of knowledge that circumvents the primary defect of democracy, the impossible ideal of the “omnicompetent citizen.” The trampling and roaring “bewildered herd” has its function: to be “the interested spectators of action,” i.e. not participants. Participation is the duty of “the responsible man”, which is not the regular citizen.

Mass media and propaganda are therefore tools that must be used by the elite to rule the public without physical coercion. One important concept presented by Lippmann is the “manufacture of consent”, which is, in short, the manipulation of public opinion to accept the elite’s agenda. It is Lippmann’s opinion that the general public is not qualified to reason and to decide on important issues. It is therefore important for the elite to decide ”for its own good” and then sell those decisions to the masses.

“That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough. . . . as a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power. . . . Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach.”
–Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion

It might be interesting to note that Lippmann is one of the founding fathers of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the most influential foreign policy think tank in the world. This fact should give you a small hint of the mind state of the elite concerning the usage of media.

“Political and economic power in the United States is concentrated in the hands of a “ruling elite” that controls most of U.S.-based multinational corporations, major communication media, the most influential foundations, major private universities and most public utilities. Founded in 1921, the Council of Foreign Relations is the key link between the large corporations and the federal government. It has been called a “school for statesmen” and “comes close to being an organ of what C. Wright Mills has called the Power Elite – a group of men, similar in interest and outlook shaping events from invulnerable positions behind the scenes. The creation of the United Nations was a Council project, as well as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.”
– Steve Jacobson, Mind Control in the United States

Some current members of the CFR include David Rockefeller, Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, mega-church pastor Rick Warren and the CEOs of major corporations such as CBS, Nike,Coca-Cola and Visa.

Carl Jung

Carl Jung is the founder of analytical psychology (also known an Jungian psychology), which emphasizes understanding the psyche by exploring dreams, art, mythology, religion, symbols and philosophy. The Swiss therapist is at the origin of many psychological concepts used today such as the Archetype, the Complex, the Persona, the Introvert/Extrovert and Synchronicity. He was highly influenced by the occult background of his family. Carl Gustav, his grandfather, was an avid Freemason (he was Grand Master) and Jung himself discovered that some of his ancestors were Rosicrucians. This might explain his great interest in Eastern and Western philosophy, alchemy, astrology and symbolism. One of  his most important (and misunderstood) concept was theCollective Unconscious.

“My thesis, then, is as follows: In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents.”
– Carl Jung, The Concept of the Collective Unconscious

The collective unconscious transpires through the existence of similar symbols and mythological figures in different civilizations. Archetypal symbols seem to be embedded in our collective subconscious, and, when exposed to them, we demonstrate natural attraction and fascination. Occult symbols can therefore exert a great impact on people, even if many individuals were never personally introduced to the symbol’s esoteric meaning. Mass media thinkers, such as Edward D. Bernays, found in this concept a great way to manipulate the public’s personal and collective unconscious.

1955 Time Magazine cover featuring Carl Jung. Looks a little like Avatar, doesn’t it?

Edward  Bernays

Edward Bernays is considered to be the “father of public relations” and used concepts discovered by his uncle Sigmund Freud to manipulate the public using the subconscious. He shared Walter Lippmann’s view of the general population by considering it irrational and subject to the “herd instinct”. In his opinion, the masses need to be manipulated by an invisible government to insure the survival of democracy.

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.

We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.

Our invisible governors are, in many cases, unaware of the identity of their fellow members in the inner cabinet.”
– Edward Bernays, Propaganda

Bernay’s trailblazing marketing campaigns profoundly changed the functioning of American society. He basically created “consumerism” by creating a culture wherein Americans bought for pleasure instead of buying for survival. For this reason, he was considered by Life Magazine to be in the Top 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century.

Harold Lasswell

In 1939-1940, the University of Chicago was the host of a series of secret seminars on communications. These think tanks were funded by the Rockefeller foundation and involved the most prominent researchers in the fields of communications and sociological studies. One of these scholars was Harold Lasswell, a leading American political scientist and communications theorist, specializing in the analysis of propaganda. He was also of the opinion that a democracy, a government ruled by the people, could not sustain itself without a specialized elite shaping and molding public opinion through propaganda.

In his Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, Lasswell explained that when elites lack the requisite force to compel obedience, social managers must turn to “a whole new technique of control, largely through propaganda.” He added the conventional justification: we must recognize the “ignorance and stupidity [of] … the masses and not succumb to democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interests.”

Lasswell extensively studied the field of content analysis in order to understand the effectiveness of different types of propaganda.  In his essay Contents of Communication, Lasswell explained that, in order to understand the meaning of a message (i.e. a movie, a speech, a book, etc.), one should take into account the frequency with which certain symbols appear in the message, the direction in which the symbols try to persuade the audience’s opinion, and the intensity of the symbols used.

Lasswell was famous for his media analysis model based on:

Who (says) What (to) Whom (in) What Channel (with) What Effect

By this model, Lasswell indicates that in order to properly analyze a media product, one must look at who produced the product (the people who ordered its creation),  who was it aimed at (the target audience) and what were the desired effects of this product (to inform, to convince, to sell, etc.) on the audience.

Using a Rihanna video as an example, the analysis would be as follows: WHO PRODUCED: Vivendi Universal; WHAT: pop artist Rihanna; TO WHOM: consumers between the ages of 9 and 25; WHAT CHANNEL: music video; and WHAT EFFECT: selling the artist, her song, her image and her message.

The analyzes of videos and movies on The Vigilant Citizen place a great importance on the “who is behind” the messages communicated to the public. The term “Illuminati” is often used to describe this small elite group covertly ruling the masses. Although the term sounds quite caricatured and conspiratorial, it aptly describes the elite’s affinities with secret societies and occult knowledge. However, I personally detest using the term “conspiracy theory” to describe what is happening in the mass media. If all the facts concerning the elitist nature of the industry are readily available to the public, can it still be considered a  “conspiracy theory”?

There used to be a variety of viewpoints, ideas and opinions in popular culture. The consolidation of media corporations has, however, produced a standardization of the cultural industry. Ever wondered why all recent music sounds the same and all recent movies look the same? The following is part of the answer:

Media Ownership

As depicted in the graph above, the number of corporations owning the majority of U.S. media outlets went from 50 to 5 in less than 20 years. Here are the top corporations evolving around the world and the assets they own.

“A list of the properties controlled by AOL Time Warner takes ten typed pages listing 292 separate companies and subsidiaries. Of these, twenty-two are joint ventures with other major corporations involved in varying degrees with media operations. These partners include 3Com, eBay, Hewlett-Packard, Citigroup, Ticketmaster, American Express, Homestore, Sony, Viva, Bertelsmann, Polygram, and Amazon.com. Some of the more familiar fully owned properties of Time Warner include Book-of-the-Month Club; Little, Brown publishers; HBO, with its seven channels; CNN; seven specialized and foreign-language channels; Road Runner; Warner Brothers Studios; Weight Watchers; Popular Science; and fifty-two different record labels.”
- Ben Bagdikan, The New Media Monopoly

AOL Time Warner owns:

  • 64 magazines, including Time, Life, People, MAD Magazine and DC Comics
  • Warner Bros, New Line and Fine Line Features in cinema
  • More than 40 music labels including Warner Bros, Atlantic and Elektra
  • Many television networks such as WB Networks, HBO, Cinemax, TNT, Cartoon Network andCNN
  • Madonna, Sean Paul, The White Stripes

Viacom owns:

  • CBS, MTV, MTV2, UPN, VH1, Showtime, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, TNN, CMT and BET
  • Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, MTV Films
  • Blockbuster Videos
  • 1800 screens in theaters through Famous Players

“Disney ownership of a hockey team called The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim does not begin to describe the vastness of the kingdom. Hollywood is still its symbolic heart, with eight movie production studios and distributors: Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Miramax, Buena Vista Home Video, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Buena Vista International, Hollywood Pictures, and Caravan Pictures.

The Walt Disney Company controls eight book house imprints under Walt Disney Company Book Publishing and ABC Publishing Group; seventeen magazines; the ABC Television Network, with ten owned and operated stations of its own including in the five top markets; thirty radio stations, including all the major markets; eleven cable channels, including Disney, ESPN (jointly), A&E, and the History Channel; thirteen international broadcast channels stretching from Australia to Brazil; seven production and sports units around the world; and seventeen Internet sites, including the ABC group, ESPN.sportszone, NFL.com, NBAZ.com, and NASCAR.com. Its five music groups include the Buena Vista, Lyric Street, and Walt Disney labels, and live theater productions growing out of the movies The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and King David.”
– Ibid

The Walt Disney Company owns:

  • ABC, Disney Channel, ESPN, A&E, History Channel
  • Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Miramax Film Corp., Dimensionand Buena Vista International
  • Miley Cyrus/ Hannah Montana, Selena Gomez, Jonas Brothers

Vivendi Universal owns:

  • 27% of US music sales, labels include: Interscope, Geffen, A&M, Island, Def Jam, MCA, Mercury, Motown and Universal
  • Universal Studios, Studio Canal, Polygram Films, Canal +
  • Numerous internet and cell phone companies
  • Lady Gaga, The Black Eyed Peas, Lil Wayne, Rihanna, Mariah Carey, Jay-Z

Sony owns:

  • Columbia Pictures, Screen Gems, Sony Pictures Classics
  • 15% of US Music sales, labels include Columbia, Epic, Sony, Arista, Jive and RCA Records
  • Beyonce, Shakira, Michael Jackson, Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera

A limited number of actors in the cultural industry means a limited amount of viewpoints and ideas making their way to the general public. It also means that a single message can easily saturate all forms of media to generate consent (i.e. “there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq”).

The Standardization of Human Thought

The merger of media companies in the last decades generated a small oligarchy of media conglomerates. The TV shows we follow, the music we listen to, the movies we watch and the newspapers we read are all produced by FIVE corporations. The owners of those conglomerates have close ties with the world’s elite and, in many ways, they ARE the elite. By owning all of the possible outlets having the potential to reach the masses, these conglomerates have the power to create in the minds of the people a single and cohesive world view, engendering a “standardization of human thought”.

Even movements or styles that are considered marginal are, in fact, extensions of mainstream thinking. Mass medias produce their own rebels who definitely look the part but are still part of the establishment and do not question any of it. Artists, creations and ideas that do not fit the mainstream way of thinking are mercilessly rejected and forgotten by the conglomerates, which in turn makes them virtually disappear from society itself. However, ideas that are deemed to be valid and desirable to be accepted by society are skillfully marketed to the masses in order to make them become self-evident norm.

In 1928, Edward Bernays already saw the immense potential of motion pictures to standardize thought:

“The American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world today. It is a great distributor for ideas and opinions. The motion picture can standardize the ideas and habits of a nation. Because pictures are made to meet market demands, they reflect, emphasize and even exaggerate broad popular tendencies, rather than stimulate new ideas and opinions. The motion picture avails itself only of ideas and facts which are in vogue. As the newspaper seeks to purvey news, it seeks to purvey entertainment.”
– Edward Bernays, Propaganda

These facts were flagged as dangers to human freedom in the 1930′s by thinkers of the school of Frankfurt such as Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse. They identified three main problems with the cultural industry. The industry can:

  1. reduce human beings to the state of mass by hindering the development of emancipated individuals, who are capable of making rational decisions;
  2. replace the legitimate drive for autonomy and self-awareness by the safe laziness of conformism and passivity; and
  3. validate the idea that men actually seek to escape the absurd and cruel world in which they live by losing themselves in a hypnotic state self-satisfaction.

The notion of escapism is even more relevant today with advent of online video games, 3D movies and home theaters. The masses, constantly seeking state-of-the-art entertainment, will resort to high-budget products that can only be produced by the biggest media corporations of the world. These products contain carefully calculated messages and symbols which are nothing more and nothing less than entertaining propaganda. The public have been trained to LOVE its propaganda to the extent that it spends its hard-earned money to be exposed to it. Propaganda (used in both political, cultural and commercial sense) is no longer the coercive or authoritative communication form found in dictatorships: it has become the synonym of entertainment and pleasure.

“In regard to propaganda the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or it might be false. They did not foresee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies — the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”
– Aldous Huxley, Preface to A Brave New World

A single piece of media often does not have a lasting effect on the human psyche. Mass media, however, by its omnipresent nature, creates a living environment we evolve in on a daily basis. It defines the norm and excludes the undesirable. The same way carriage horses wear blinders so they can only see what is right in front of them, the masses can only see where they are supposed to go.

“It is the emergence of mass media which makes possible the use of propaganda techniques on a societal scale. The orchestration of press, radio and television to create a continuous, lasting and total environment renders the influence of propaganda virtually unnoticed precisely because it creates a constant environment. Mass media provides the essential link between the individual and the demands of the technological society.”
– Jacques Ellul

One of the reasons mass media successfully influences society is due to the extensive amount of research on cognitive sciences and human nature that has been applied to it.

Manipulation Techniques

“Publicity is the deliberate attempt to manage the public’s perception of a subject. The subjects of publicity include people (for example, politicians and performing artists), goods and services, organizations of all kinds, and works of art or entertainment.”

The drive to sell products and ideas to the masses has lead to an unprecedented amount of research on human behavior and on the human psyche. Cognitive sciences, psychology, sociology, semiotics, linguistics and other related fields were and still are extensively researched through well-funded studies.

“No group of sociologists can approximate the ad teams in the gathering and processing of exploitable social data. The ad teams have billions to spend annually on research and testing of reactions, and their products are magnificent accumulations of material about the shared experience and feelings of the entire community.”
- Marshal McLuhan, The Extensions of Man
The results of those studies are applied to advertisements, movies, music videos and other media in order to make them as influential as possible. The art of marketing is highly calculated and scientific because it must reach both the individual and the collective consciousness. In high-budget cultural products, a video is never “just a video,” Images, symbols and meanings are strategically placed in order to generate a desired effect.
“It is with knowledge of the human being, his tendencies, his desires, his needs, his psychic mechanisms, his automatisms as well as knowledge of social psychology and analytical psychology that propaganda refines its techniques.”
– Propagandes, Jacques Ellul (free translation)
Today’s propaganda almost never uses rational or logical arguments. It directly taps into a human’s most primal needs and instincts in order to generate an emotional and irrational response. If we always thought rationally, we probably wouldn’t buy 50% of what we own. Babies and children are constantly found in advertisements targeting women for a specific reason: studies have shown that images of children trigger in women an instinctual need to nurture, to care and to protect, ultimately leading to a sympathetic bias towards the advertisement.
.
Strange old 7up ad using the cuteness of babies
Sex is ubiquitous in mass media, as it draws and keeps the viewer’s attention. It directly connects to our animal need to breed and to reproduce, and, when triggered, this instinct can instantly overshadow any other rational thoughts in our brain.

Subliminal Perception

What if the messages described above were able to reach directly the viewers’ subconscious mind, without the viewers even realizing what is happening? That is the goal of subliminal perception. The phrase subliminal advertising was coined in 1957 by the US market researcher James Vicary, who said he could get moviegoers to “drink Coca-Cola” and “eat popcorn” by flashing those messages onscreen for such a short time that viewers were unaware.
“Subliminal perception is a deliberate process created by communications technicians, by which you receive and respond to information and instructions without being consciously aware of the instructions”
– Steve Jacobson, Mind Control in the United States
This technique is often used in marketing and we all know that sex sells.

Although some sources claim that subliminal advertising is ineffective or even an urban myth, the documented usage of this technique in mass media proves that creators believe in its powers. Recent studies have also proven its effectiveness, especially when the message is negative.

” A team from University College London, funded by the Wellcome Trust, found that it [subliminal perception] was particularly good at instilling negative thoughts. There has been much speculation about whether people can process emotional information unconsciously, for example pictures, faces and words,” said Professor Nilli Lavie, who led the research. We have shown that people can perceive the emotional value of subliminal messages and have demonstrated conclusively that people are much more attuned to negative words.”
- Source

A famous example of subliminal messaging in political communications is in George Bush’s advertisement against Al Gore in 2000.

Right after the name of Gore is mentioned, the ending of the word “bureaucrats” – “rats” – flashes on the screen for a split second.

The discovery of this trickery caused quite a stir and, even if there are no laws against subliminal messaging in the U.S., the advertisement was taken off the air.

As seen in many articles on The Vigilant Citizen, subliminal and semi-subliminal messages are often used in movies and music videos to communicate messages and ideas to the viewers.

Desensitization

In the past, when changes were imposed on populations, they would take to the streets, protest and even riot. The main reason for this clash was due to the fact that the change was clearly announced by the rulers and understood by the population. It was sudden and its effects could clearly be analyzed and evaluated. Today, when the elite needs a part of its agenda to be accepted by the public, it is done through desensitization. The agenda, which might go against the public best interests,  is slowly, gradually and repetitively introduced to the world through movies (by involving it within the plot), music videos (who make it cool and sexy) or the news (who present it as a solution to today’s problems). After several years of exposing the masses to a particular agenda, the elite openly presents the concept the world and, due to mental programming, it is greeted with general indifference and is passively accepted. This technique originates from psychotherapy.

“The techniques of psychotherapy, widely practiced and accepted as a means of curing psychological disorders, are also methods of controlling people. They can be used systematically to influence attitudes and behavior. Systematic desensitization is a method used to dissolve anxiety so the the patient (public) is no longer troubled by a specific fear, a fear of violence for example. [...] People adapt to frightening situations if they are exposed to them enough”.
– Steven Jacobson, Mind Control in the United States
Predictive programming is often found in the science fiction genre. It presents a specific image of the future – the one that is desired by the elite – and ultimately becomes in the minds of men an inevitability. A decade ago, the public was being desensitized to war against the Arab world. Today, the population is gradually being exposed to the existence of mind control, of transhumanism and of an Illuminati elite. Emerging from the shadows, those concepts are now everywhere in popular culture. This is what Alice Bailey describes as the “externalization of the hierarchy”: the hidden rulers slowly revealing themselves.

Occult Symbolism in Pop Culture

Metropolis – a movie by the elite, for the elite?

Contrarily to the information presented above, documentation on occult symbolism is rather hard to find. This should not come as a surprise as the term “occult”, literally means “hidden”. It also means “reserved to those in the know” as it is only communicated to those who are deemed worthy of the knowledge. It is not taught in schools nor is it discussed in the media. It is thus considered marginal or even ridiculous by the general population.

Occult knowledge is NOT, however, considered ridiculous in occult circles. It is considered timeless and sacred. There is a long tradition of hermetic and occult knowledge being  taught through secret societies originating from ancient Egyptians, to Eastern Mystics, to the Knights Templar to modern day Freemasons. Even if the nature and the depth of this knowledge was most probably modified and altered throughout the centuries, mystery schools kept their main features, which are highly symbolic, ritualistic and metaphysical. Those characteristics, which were an intricate part of ancient civilizations, have totally been evacuated from modern society to be replaced by pragmatic materialism. For this reason, there lies an important gap of understanding between the pragmatic average person and the ritualistic establishment.

“If this inner doctrine were always concealed from the masses, for whom a simpler code had been devised, is it not highly probable that the exponents of every aspect of modern civilization – philosophic, ethical, religious, and scientific-are ignorant of the true meaning of the very theories and tenets on which their beliefs are founded? Do the arts and sciences that the race has inherited from older nations conceal beneath their fair exterior a mystery so great that only the most illumined intellect can grasp its import? Such is undoubtedly the case.”
– Manly P. Hall, Secret Teachings of All Ages

The “simpler code” devised for the masses used to be organized religions. It is now becoming the Temple of the Mass Media and it preaches on a daily basis extreme materialism, spiritual vacuosity and a self-centered, individualistic existence. This is exactly the opposite of the attributes required to become a truly free individual, as taught by all great philosophical schools of thought. Is a dumbed-down population easier to deceive and to manipulate?

“These blind slaves are told they are “free” and “highly educated” even as they march behind signs that would cause any medieval peasant to run screaming away from them in panic-stricken terror. The symbols that modern man embraces with the naive trust of an infant would be tantamount to billboards reading, ‘This way to your death and enslavement,’ to the understanding of the traditional peasant of antiquity”
– Michael A. Hoffman II, Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare

In Conclusion

This article examined the major thinkers in the field of mass media, the media power structure and the techniques used to manipulate the masses. I believe this information is vital to the understanding of  the “why” in the topics discussed on The Vigilant Citizen.  The  “mass population” versus “ruling class” dichotomy described in many articles is not a “conspiracy theory” (again, I hate that term), but a reality that has been clearly stated in the works of some of the 20th century’s most influential men.

Lippmann, Bernays and Lasswell have all declared that the public are not fit to decide their own fate, which is the inherent goal of democracy. Instead, they called for a cryptocracy, a hidden government, a ruling class in charge of the “bewildered herd.” As their ideas continue to be applied to society, it is increasingly apparent that an ignorant population is not an obstacle that the rulers must deal with: It is something that is DESIRABLE and, indeed, necessary, to insure total leadership. An ignorant population does not know its rights, does not seek a greater understanding of issues and does not question authorities. It simply follows trends. Popular culture caters to and nurtures ignorance by continually serving up brain-numbing entertainment and spotlighting degenerate celebrities to be idolized. Many people ask me: “Is there a way to stop this?” Yes, there is. STOP BUYING THEIR CRAP AND READ A BOOK.

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.”
– Thomas Jefferson

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The World Today: Exposing the Lies of Mainstream Media The mainstream media is owned by bankers and corporate kingpins

Posted by Admin on May 24, 2011

“Truth has to be repeated constantly, because Error also is being preached all the time, and not just by a few, but by the multitude.  In the Press and Encyclopaedias, in Schools and Universities, everywhere Error holds sway, feeling happy and comfortable in the knowledge of having Majority on its side.”   –Goethe

Dear Readers,

Thank you for visiting Global Research! We are reassured to know that you have come to this site because you are looking to find the truth, the REAL truth behind the “news”, to understand the political, social and economic forces shaping the world you live in.

Though Goethe made his insightful observation two hundred years ago, his words hold more meaning today than ever in history. Error can indeed be found throughout stories in the mainstream press, in “official reports” and coming from the very mouths of world leaders, many “democratically” elected. But what even Goethe could not have predicted is the broad extent to which these errors are knowingly, deceptively and insidiously woven into our daily news, effectively subverting the masses and keeping them blind and apathetic to the empirically-driven motives of the world’s elite.

If you are visiting this site, it is because you have realized that things aren’t “adding up”, that what world leaders and influential figures are telling us, as conveyed by mainstream media, does not accurately reflect the picture of the world today. You have seen that the only way to find the “truth” is to go to independent sources that aren’t funded and manipulated by corporate and political interests.

The aims of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG) and Global Research are to battle the tidal waves of misinformation and propaganda washing our minds on a daily basis. We have separated ourselves from the corporate-controlled mainstream news, whose only objective is to serve their corporate masters. We take no assistance from the major foundations such as Rockefeller, Ford, and MacArthur, who act as patrons (and thus pacifiers) of the alternative and critical voices challenging the forces of globalization.

We do this in order to remain an independent voice, challenging all that needs to be challenged and exposing all that remains in the dark. Bringing light to a dimly lit world is no easy task, and though the aim and method is “independence,” we are, in fact, entirely dependent upon YOU, our readers.

Without your support, we cannot continue our operations nor expand our horizons and opportunities. Global Research is indebted to our readers, and we are here for you and because of you. If you would like Global Research to continue and to grow, we need your support now more than ever.

The mainstream media is owned by bankers and corporate kingpins. Not only that, but it has been historically and presently infiltrated by covert government agencies, seeking to deceive and propagandize their agendas. The CIA has long had associations with major mainstream news publications. By far the most valuable of these associations, according to CIA officials, have been with the New York Times, CBS and Time Inc. The CIA even ran a training program “to teach its agents to be journalists,” who were “then placed in major news organizations with help from management.”

At Global Research, we seek to not only expose and criticize the larger picture, but to point the finger at the media, itself, and examine who is lying, why they lie, and how they get away with it. To continue in our endeavours, we need our readers to continue in their support.

One important and helpful thing that all of our readers can do is to help spread our name and information by “liking” our Facebook page here. We post articles daily that will appear in your news feed so that you don’t have to come to us, we can bring our information straight to you. “Like” our page and recommend us to your friends. Every bit helps!

You can also support us by continuing to send us your much needed donations which allow us to continue our day-to-day operations and help us expand our scope and content.

Supporting Global Research is supporting the cause of truth and the fight against media disinformation.

Thank you.

The Global Research Team

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UN plan for ‘alien ambassador’ a case of science fiction?

Posted by Admin on September 30, 2010

http://revolutionizingawareness.com/2010/09/28/un-to-appoint-earth-contact-for-aliens/

The predecessor Article to the following one was deliberately posted by the Author/Admin to help viewers discern between the obvious and the false. Please understand more of this type of nonsensical whims will make the rounds on the Internet,so do not jump up in haste every time. I assure you that Direct Contact will be made with our E.T brethren on a one to one basis globally.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/blog/2010/sep/27/un-alien-ambassador-mazlan-othman

ETMalaysian astrophysicist Mazlan Othman denies Sunday Times report that she is to become Earth‘s first contact for ETs

ET would have been directed to the UN’s Malaysian astrophysicist Mazlan Othman if it had landed on Earth today, according to the Sunday Times. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/Universal

This article is the subject of a legal complaint made by Jonathan Leake, science editor of The Sunday Times.

If a Martian, proverbial or otherwise, had landed on Earth in the last 24 hours the media had some practical advice. Or so it seemed. According to the Sunday Times and numerous other media outlets that followed up the story, the United Nations was “poised” to appoint an individual to be the first point of contact with aliens.

Malaysian astrophysicist Mazlan Othman was being lined up for the role, the story said. As head of the UN’s Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa) Othman would be the “nearest thing we have to a take me to you leader [person]“, Prof Richard Crowther, from the UK Space Agency, told the Sunday Times.

According to the paper, Othman is due to tell a Royal Society conference that as the detection of extraterrestrial life is more likely than ever, the UN needs to be ready to co-ordinate humanity’s response.

Reading all this our Martian visitor might have been encouraged to try to get in touch. They would have had a frustrating time.

The Royal Society knew nothing about it. The United Nations referred all queries to the switchboard of Unoosa in Vienna. Its switchboard number wasn’t much help. “The person at extension 4951 is unavailable, please leave your message after the tone,” it said. Those messages might make for some interesting listening today.

Finally an email from Othman herself would have prompted our Martian to trudge back to his spaceship. “It sounds really cool but I have to deny it,” she said of the story. She will be attending a conference next week, but she’ll be talking about how the world deals with “near-Earth objects”.

Our alien will just have to try someone else, or stop reading the Sunday Times.

Related Articles

UN plan for ‘alien ambassador’ a case of science fiction? (guardian.co.uk)

Mazlan Othman Denies Reports She Will Be UN Alien Ambassador (nowpublic.com)

“Mazlan Othman as UN space alien ambassador is sci-fi” and related posts (personalmoneystore.com)

Reports that UN is appointing ET ambassador not true (boingboing.net)

Meet Mazlan Othman, the United Nations ambassador to extraterrestrials [Breaking News] (io9.com)

The U.N. has no liaison for extraterrestrials after all [UFO Disappointment] (io9.com)

U.N. names Mazlan Othman Alien – UFO ambassador (rightpundits.com)

UN: Reported alien ambassador role is “nonsense” (newslite.tv)

Mazlan Othman: United Nations ambassador to extraterrestrials (sentientdevelopments.com)

Does the UN Have an Ambassador Assigned to Talk to Aliens? (neatorama.com)

UN is Reported to Have Appointed an Ambassador to UFO Aliens (grantlawrence.blogspot.com)

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Paradigm Research Group: Timely Questions

Posted by Admin on September 15, 2010

Paradigm Research Group

Press Release – September 13, 2010 – Timely Questions

Washington, DCPRG today released some more timely questions for consideration by the nation’s citizens, congressional members and political media.

Are you upset by this?

Check out this article on the CA gas explosion
If “yes”, then you should ask yourself the following questions?

Do you think these?

Run on this?

If your answer is “no”, then the following questions need to be posed to President Obama, the Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of Energy:

1)  does the United States Government have in its possession vehicles of extraterrestrial origin?

2)  if “yes”, has the United States Government for decades been studying the energy and propulsion physics of such vehicles?

3)  if “yes”, when will this technology be available to address the growing challenges facing the planet and the human race?

This press release is archived at:
http://www.paradigmresearchgroup.org/Press_Releases/Press_releases.html#9-13-10

Contact
Stephen Bassett
prg@paradigmresearchgroup.org
202-215-8344

__________________________________________

Paradigm Research Group
4938 Hampden Lane, #161, Bethesda, MD 20814
prg@paradigmresearchgroup.org    202-215-8344
http://www.paradigmresearchgroup.org

Here is the Marketwatch article on the California gas explosion:

California tragedy reveals danger, rarity of gas blasts

By Shawn Langlois, MarketWatch

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/blast-shows-dangers-scarcity-of-gas-explosions-2010-09-10

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — The natural-gas explosion that rocked a San Francisco suburb Thursday evening serves as a stark reminder of the dangers posed by the pressure cooker of pipelines crisscrossing the country.

The vast U.S. natural-gas network consists of more than 200,000 miles of interstate pipelines, another 85,000 miles for intrastate transmission and still another 40,000 miles of pipe to connect gas-extraction wells to processing facilities.


EIA

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