How much money does the average Fortune 500 Company spend learning the mind of consumers? How many psychologists, linguists, and marketers do their preferred advertising agencies consult before they start production on a commercial? They have to know how to make us laugh, what makes us cry, and they need to know what intrigues us. They also have the unenviable chore of finding a way to keep us from fast forwarding through commercials. The average commercial is only thirty seconds long, so advertisers need to pack a lot into a tight space. With all the time, money, and information packed into one thirty-second commercial, one could say that commercials provide a short, detailed report on the culture. If that’s true, all one needs to do is watch commercials to know that the art of persuasion has altered dramatically in our post-literate society. Booksellers argue that we don’t live in a post-literate society, as their quarterly reports indicate that books are selling better than ever. I don’t question their accounting numbers, but some of the commercials big corporations use to move product are so dumbed down and condescending that I wonder if fewer and fewer people are buying more and more books.
When advertisers make their pitch, they go to great pains, financially and otherwise, to find wonderful messages. They then hire a wonderful actor, or spokesman, to be the face of the company. By doing so, of course, the companies hope that we associate the wonderful person with them. If you’re not a wonderful person, their carefully tailored message suggests you can be if you follow their formula. If I am forced, for whatever reason, to watch a commercial, I find their pitches so condescending that I try to avoid their message.
Thirty seconds is not a lot of time when it comes to the art of persuasion, so advertising agencies are required to take shortcuts to appeal to us. These shortcuts often involve quick, emotional appeals. The problem with this is that people who watch commercials adopt these shortcuts in casual conversations, and they begin using them in everyday life.
This mindset is so ubiquitous in our society that I find it refreshing when someone approaches me with fact-based, critical thinking. I walk away thinking, “Hey, that’s a good idea!” Whether it’s actually a good idea or not, I appreciate the thought they put into making the appeal.
Some appear to think that the art of persuasion involves crying. “Don’t cry,” I say. “Prove your point.” A picture says a thousand words, right? Wrong. We’ve all come to accept the idea that powerful figures and companies require an array of consultants to help them tailor their message for greater appeal. Yet, if one has facts on their side, they shouldn’t need consultants, they shouldn’t need to be attractive, and the idea that they “seem nice” shouldn’t matter either. I know it’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle, but I don’t think the art of persuasion shouldn’t require superficial appeals.
What if we had a time machine and we could visit the future? How disappointed would we be to learn that little to nothing has changed? There’s little doubt that we would witness some leaps and bounds in technology, and we can guess that science will advance our knowledge on some matters, but what if everything else is pretty much the same? How many hundreds of millions do movie and TV producers spend trying to tell us that the future will be awful? Do they want to make a prediction that turns out correct? Do they have a message on the present that they want to propagate? Regardless, the provocative nature of such a forecast is lost on most of us, because movie producers have made that prediction so many times before that it has lost its effect. My bet is that the future will not change as much as these doomsayers want it to, and if it does, it will probably be for the better.
How many people truly want to create works of art? “I would love to write a book,” is something many people say. How many want it so badly that they’re willing to endure the trial and error involved in the process getting to the core of a unique, organic idea? How many of us know firsthand, what a true artist has to go through? If others knew what they have to go through, I think they would say, “Maybe I don’t want it that badly.”
On the flip side, some say that there are artistic, creative types, and there are the others. There’s no doubt that there are varying levels of talent, but I believe that with enough time and effort most people could create something beautiful and individualistic.
Leonardo da Vinci was a talented artist, who painted some of the greatest pieces of art in world history. From what I’ve read about the man, however, he achieved so much in the arts that it began to bore him. After working through his apprenticeship and establishing himself as one of the finest painters of his day, he received numerous commissions for various works of art from the wealthy people and government officials around him. He turned some down, never started others, and failed to complete a whole lot more. One theory I’ve heard on da Vinci is that if he had a starving artist period, he probably created hundreds of thousands of pieces in that period, but that a vast majority of those pieces were lost, destroyed, or are otherwise lost to history. By the time, he achieved a level of stature where those in his day wanted to preserve his work, painting bored by him so much that he created comparatively few pieces. Either that, or in the course of his attempts to create that elusive “perfect piece” da Vinci began studying the sciences to give his works greater authenticity. In the course of those studies, he became more interested in the sciences than he was in painting. These are just theories on why we only have seventeen confirmed pieces from Leonardo da Vinci, but they sound firm to me.
There is a hemispheric divide between creative types and math and science types. One barometer I’ve found to distinguish the two is the Beatles. So many types love the Beatles that we can tell what type of brain we’re dealing with by asking them what Beatles era they prefer. With the obvious distinctions in style, we can break the Beatles down into two distinct eras, the moptop era includes everything they did before Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, and the “drug-induced” era that followed. Numbers-oriented people generally love the moptop era more, and the creative, more right brain thinkers tend to prefer Sgt. Peppers and everything that followed. The moptop era fans believe the Beatles were a better band during the moptop era, because “they were more popular before Sgt. Peppers. Back then,” they say, “the Beatles were a phenomenon no one could deny.” Moptop era fans often add that, “the Beatles got a little too weird for my taste in the “drug-induced” albums that followed.” Although there is some argument over which album sold the most, at the time of release, it is generally argued that the latter half of their discography actually sold more than the first half. Numbers-oriented people should recognize that the latter albums were bound to sell more if for no other reason than the moptop Beatles built a fan base who would purchase just about anything they created after the moptop era. Those who lived during the era, however, generally think that the Beatles were less controversial and thus more popular during their moptop era, and if you’ve ever entered into this debate you know it’s pointless to argue otherwise. We creative types would never say that the pre-Sgt. Peppers Beatles didn’t have great singles, and Revolver and Rubber Soul were great albums, and we understand that those who lived during the era have personal romantic attachments to their era of Beatles albums, but we can’t understand how they fail to recognize the transcendental brilliance of the latter albums. We think the brilliance and the creativity they displayed on Sgt. Peppers and everything that followed provided a continental divide no one can dispute.
Further evidence of the popularity of the latter half of the Beatles catalog occurred in 1973. In 1973, the Beatles released two greatest hits compilations simultaneously for fans who weren’t aware of the Beatles during their era. The blue greatest hits album, which covered the 1967-1970, post Sgt. Peppers era has sold 17 million to date, while the red greatest hits 1962-1967, moptop-era album has sold 15 million. As anyone who has entered into this debate knows, however, it’s an unwinnable war.