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The Subtleties of Persuasion


In The Tipping Point, Gladwell highlights a piece of research that students were told was for a company making headphones. The recruits were given headsets and asked to perform specific motions while listening to music and a piece of editorial concerning a rise in tuition fees . A third were told to nod, a third to shake their heads, and a third to remain still as a control group.

Afterwards they were asked some questions in an attempt to gauge how persuasive the editorial had been on them. The control group were unmoved by the editorial. Those who shook their heads from side to side while listening, ostensibly to test headphones, strongly disagreed with the proposed increase. Those who were told to nod up and down found the editorial very persuasive. They wanted tuition fees to rise. The simple act of moving their heads while listening was sufficient to cause them to agree with a policy that would take money out of their own pockets.

The authors of the study concluded that:

"television advertisements would be most effective if the visual display created repetitive vertical movements of the television viewers' heads (e.g. bouncing ball)." [My italics]

If one bouncing ball is persuasive, how persuasive are 250,000? Persuasive enough to make Bravia the world's best selling flat screen TV, push Sony back into profit and give it back its bounce.

Whilst I may agree with Huntington that the ad lacks a referent system that would give it greater depth of meaning, the execution itself is based on a compelling insight into persuasion.

Nice work Fallon London.