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How the Media Manipulates You Without Your Knowing

Unconscious tactics guaranteed to win you over (and how you can use them too)

Let’s face it, not only are we all consumers but we’re also all marketers. We sell ourselves at work, we sell ourselves in our social groups, and we sell our wares in the marketplace. So it is not surprising, that the marketing and media experts have discovered a few tricks to push our buttons at the depths of the unconscious mind, the seat of our behaviors.

I have developed a 7-step process that sheds scientific light on how we become influenced. My first post introduced Step 1 - Interrupt the Pattern, i.e., when we are surprised by the unexpected it alerts our attention, directing our focus towards an incoming message. But “interrupts” also prepare us for possible threats. We have evolved to avoid harm, which makes us very skittish buyers.

So the next step to winning people over requires opening their minds to new possibilities, a mental state that only comes with an easing of tensions and the building of trust. Before you can get people excited about your pitch, you need to first ease their apprehensions by engendering receptivity to your overture.

This is Step 2 - Create Comfort and here are three of the most powerful ways to do just that.

Make them laugh. Ever wonder why humor is so prevalent in advertising? What about those canned laugh tracks that have been used for more than half a century, punctuating every other line in sitcom TV shows?

Laughter is essentially social bonding communication. It’s akin to saying, “I like you” or “I want you to like me.” According to the neuroscientist Robert Provine, laughter is not really primarily about humor but rather social relationships, as it tends to disappear when there is no audience. It is also an innate, cross-cultural response triggered unconsciously, which is why it is so hard to fake real laughter.

Shared laughter synchronizes the brains of speaker and listener toward greater emotional attunement, the hallmark of successful communication. Laughter also functions to release tension by releasing the hormone oxytocin which fires the trust circuits within prospective mates, friends or high status business associates. This explains why partners in love laugh so often, and why everyone laughs when the boss intimates the slightest hint of a joke.

Mirror their behavior. Are you surprised by the fact that reality television now accounts for a majority of network programming? Or are you curious to know why your Internet experience increasingly feeds back to you the types of things or sites you’ve engaged with in the past?

Marketers have learned that humans are programmed to respond favorably to the familiar and the like-minded, such as ordinary people like you and me in reality shows, or others who share similar interests online. Research has even shown that Marshas prefer Mars bars instead of Snickers.

Our social brains were not designed to work in isolation but rather in a back and forth looping process with the minds of other individuals, unconsciously inclining us to transcend the boundaries of our own being. We are hardwired to synchronize with similar others through our mirror neurons, which are involved in processing empathy and imitation. Activation of the mirror neurons allows us to vicariously envision and feel ourselves engaged in their behaviors and feelings. Studies have revealed that the happier couples are, the greater their facial similarity resulting from the parallel sculpting of facial muscles over years of conditioning, reinforced by their shared emotions and similar expressions.

Mimicry can even persuade customers to fork over more money. Research by Dutch psychologist, Rick van Baaren, showed that waitresses who mirrored their customers yielded 140 percent larger tips and that these customers were often unable to consciously notice when they were being imitated.

Be congruent. Have you ever noticed how leading marketers have a clearly identifiable look and feel to all of their advertising? Or how a political candidate becomes toast if he waffles even slightly on an important issue?

Harmonious connection to people and brands is often determined by the extent to which there is alignment of their words, appearance, behavior, and deeds. And when companies or people are out of sync with their own promises others instinctively develop a feeling of distrust that reflexively undermines their intentions.

Our brains do this by unconsciously scanning for contrast and inconsistencies in the information being interpreted, equipping us with built-in B.S. meters that communicate the perils of deception and the treachery of cheaters. When things don’t add up, or something just doesn’t feel right, it is because the brain is simultaneously parallel processing multiple channels of sensory information. When there is a mismatch of signals being sent, stress chemicals like cortisol are released, warning us to beware.

It’s like when you make eye contact with a stranger on the street who looks normal enough as he acknowledges you pleasantly, yet something feels inexplicably askew. Perhaps it’s a faint twitch, an avoidance of eye contact or a fleeting inconsistent micro-expression of emotion that gives you a somewhat alarming gut feeling. Sure enough, he approaches you and asks: “Can I borrow a dollar?”

If you want people to buy what you are selling, you need to become aware of the many hidden signals you send to others.

And to learn more about the many ways marketers mold us into customers, check out my new book at:

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