Ann McClintock’s, “Propaganda Techniques in Today’s Advertising,” is just a part of a much bigger work in progress, focusing on the way propaganda techniques are used to influence consumers. McClintock’s definition says, “Propaganda is a systematic effort to influence people’s opinions, to win them over to a certain view or side. Propaganda is not necessarily concerned with what is true or false, good or bad” (239).The author informs readers of seven basic types of techniques using division and classification, so the large quantity of information given is manageable without confusion. McClintock states, if we think clearly rather than letting propagandists do our thinking for us, the flaws of an argument become visible. An advertisement printed on the day of President Obama’s inauguration seemed to use the occasion to their advantage. Now having knowledge of the tactics used by advertisers, the advertisement sent a different message than it once had. Three obvious techniques used for this advertisement were testimonial, transfer and glittering generalities.
The first technique, which is also the most noticeable, used by SunTrust Banks Inc., is testimonial. McClintock views this as being one of the, “most-loved and most-used propaganda techniques,” (241-42) amongst advertisers. They tend to take advantage of their target audiences admiration of a celebrity, or in SunTrust’s case, a respected politician. More likely than not when a reader turns the page and sees a full-size picture of the President on the day of his inauguration, they are going to take a minute to review it. Above the picture of Obama is his new title, President Obama. Below the picture of the president, the date, January 29, 2009, printed with one size smaller of a font used for his name above.
Below the date, in even smaller lettering is a message from SunTrust. Not very specific as to what their product is, but for argument’s sake, let us assume they are a bank looking to obtain new “bankers.” One’s perception when confronted with the saying, “Live Solid Bank Solid,” and a picture of the United States President could differ greatly from another’s. However, if we “let the propagandists do the thinking for us,” (McClintock 244) we obtain a belief that our newly elected President, a man many admire, is a solid man because he banks at SunTrust Inc. After much research, results show that Obama is not a SunTrust Bank’s account holder. He probably has never heard of this small, private bank. Consumers often overlook this propaganda technique, known as testimonial. The ideal outcome for advertisers would be that because consumers like the person so much they will ultimately like the product associated with them.
Another technique SunTrust used in their advertisement is transfer. Similar to testimonial, who rely on celebrities, the transfer technique is an attempt, “to improve the image of a product by associating it with a symbol most people respect, like the American flag.” (McClintock 241) An American flag pinned to President Obama’s suit, which oddly stands out is an example of the transfer technique. If proven effective, readers will believe Americans who, “Live Solid Bank Solid,” have to bank with SunTrust. Thus, through images SunTrust attracts their target of the All-American, which was the majority present to witness our nation’s president sworn into office. Who would have known advertisers could be so manipulative?
Glittering generalities, a technique often used in ads for politicians and political causes, use attractive, but also slippery catch phrases. Their goal is for the target audiences to think based on feelings rather than logically with their brains. The key for achievement through glittering generalities is simply vagueness. The terms advertisers surround their products with are unclear, or the meanings behind them differ amongst diversities. For example, Obama’s slogan during his run for office was, “Vote for Change.” Change, according to whose standards? Change in the country’s deficit, change from a republican to a democrat holding office, change the norm of society and elect an African-American president. Every single individual could define this saying differently. Referred to as, “buzz words,” that carry a strong, persuasive tone are high-pitched, empty phrases. Consumers seem to accept the product, without much thought, even if the phrases alongside them are irrelevant or have no meaning.
McClintock is is warning, not only consumers, but also, all people. She seeks awareness by consumers of the manipulative, deceptive and betraying techniques used by advertisers. She lists seven of the techniques, in her essay, used to persuade us into buying their products or voting in their favor. The three techniques in this piece are a brief glimpse at the techniques she elaborated much more on. Unfortunately there are many more to add to that list. More clever and thought out techniques are surfacing every day, so if one thinks they are immune to the propaganda techniques, tell them to think again. They too experience exposure to them daily, and unconsciously absorb them into our thoughts which eventually the advertiser’s thoughts become the consumer’s actions.
McClintock, Ann. “Propaganda Techniques in Today’s Advertising.” Nadell, Judith, John Langan and Eliza A. Comodromos. The Longman Reader. 1th. 2005. 239-244.
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