The End of Brainwashing

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Here’s a story within a story, and it begins and ends with my (mostly virtual) friend Brian Solis, author of The End of Business as Usual. Solis began things by posting a photo of my book on Posterous, tagging it as an item on his summer reading list. Solis then linked to that post on Twitter, which produced a small flurry of retweets and an interesting comment from Dan Miller, founder of Opus Research:

Miller’s comment was timely – I’m partway through reading The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations at this very moment. On the plus side, Bernays was indeed a genius at finding cultural hot buttons that enabled him to craft highly persuasive campaigns for his clients. On the minus side, he helped convert millions of women into smokers by positioning the habit as a form of independence.


“Brainwashing” may be a bit extreme, but even today, we are all susceptible to clever messaging and imagery that plays on our past experience and assumptions. Our human decision-making process is no more rational than it was when Bernays was at his manipulative peak.

But, one thing HAS changed since the heyday of Bernays and his peers – social media has wrested control of brand messaging from corporations and agencies and put it in the hands of consumers. This is the key point of Solis’s book, whose full title is The End of Business As Usual: Rewire the Way You Work to Succeed in the Consumer Revolution. Brands are no longer in control of their brand.

“Spin” is itself an endangered species – when consumers (or even competitors) detect a false message, they have massive platforms on which to share what they have detected. And, the more egregious the spin, the more the counter-message will develop a life of its own.

In short, manipulation and misrepresentation by marketers is still possible, but will have a much shorter half-life of effectiveness and may well cause terrible damage to the brand when it is exposed.

The NeuroNudge™

The brain-based marketing techniques I write about in Brainfluence and this blog don’t rise to the level of brainwashing, nor are they a sure-fire way to push anyone’s “buy button.” I think of them as NeuroNudges, a way to gently guide consumers in the right direction. Combined with a solid product and a consumer need or desire, they can help build both sales and a long-lived brand.

The Other Story

I promised a story within a story, and the wrapper for the Bernays/brainwashing piece is the fact that this exchange took place across multiple social media platforms. Solis’s original post was on Posterous, but spread across Twitter via tweets, Facebook via likes, Google via +1s, and so on. Miller’s response wasn’t on the original post, but appeared on Twitter. My response to Miller was too long to squeeze into a tweet, so it appears on a blog. This blog post will, in turn, be shared across other platforms and generate interactions on those platforms.

This chain of interactions, insignificant in the grand scheme of things, nevertheless underscores Solis’s message of change and is a good illustration of how communication occurs spontaneously and across channels that didn’t exist when spin was king.

Related posts:

  1. Why Business is Different Now
  2. Neuromarketing: From Soup to Nuts

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