Monday, June 5, 2017
Advertising, Politics and the Behavioral Model
I have written many times before that politicians and advertisers will try almost any argument to persuade us to buy their product or support their point of view. They are counting on us not to use our critical thinking or rely on the many valid sources of information at our fingertips. Instead Americans are inclined to just reflexively accept or reject the premise and move on. This is especially true of scary or sensational news.
Here is a prime example. Last Friday, while expressing his shock and concern that President Trump plans to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, former Secretary of State John Kerry warned, “kids will have worse asthma in the summer” because of this decision. With all the strong reasons he could have offered, why did he pick this one? Citing the health of our children is an attempt to pull at our heartstrings, rather than to present a logical, persuasive argument. It keeps us in an emotion-charged, reactive mode – the opposite of critical thinking.
But what do the authorities say? According to WebMD, “the cause of asthma is unknown. Health experts believe that inherited, environmental, and immune system factors combine” to produce the symptoms. They go on: “Studies show that exposure to allergens such as dust mites, cockroaches, and animal dander may influence asthma's development. Some experts believe there are more cases of asthma because of pollution and less exposure to certain types of harmful bacteria and other germs.” Pollution may irritate the airways and the modern, ultra-clean environment we strive for to protect our children may lower their natural defenses. At this point, however, these are only possibilities.
Don’t trust WebMD? Mayo Clinic says, “the underlying causes of childhood asthma aren't fully understood.” Triggers for Asthma attacks “vary from child to child.” Their list of possible triggers includes: viral infections; exposure to air pollutants such as tobacco smoke; allergies to dust mites, pet dander, pollen or mold; physical activity; weather changes or cold air. “Sometimes, asthma symptoms occur with no apparent triggers.”
Until recently carbon dioxide (CO2) wasn’t even considered a pollutant. Furthermore, every time a child exhales his or her airways are exposed to CO2. Since CO2 is the focus of the climate agreement, it’s hard to tell what bearing any increase or decrease would have on the situation. Perhaps an increase would cause an increase in flowers in the summertime increasing the pollen. But pollen is only one of the many possible triggers of asthma; and not all types of plants release pollen in the summer. The real cause is still unknown.
This is not a criticism or personal attack against John Kerry, just a warning to us all. Politicians, advertisers and other “influencers” will use any tactic at their disposal to sell a product, idea or a point of view. They sell political ideas, food, drugs, insurance, dietary supplements, charitable causes, physical and psychological fitness programs, cars, bicycles, performance bracelets – and the list goes on and on. Each time we turn on the TV or look at our phone or tablet, we are exposed to hundreds of these messages. John Kerry may be sincere in his belief that the decision to not sign an agreement will lead to an asthma epidemic, but it is still an attempt to gain political backing for his position with a very dubious claim intended to spark worrying rather than questioning.
It takes no more than 3 minutes to research statements like this one, to find a reputable source and think about what is being said instead of reacting emotionally. How many people actually do it? How many parents this summer will blame the president (instead of, perhaps, their own insistence on perfect sanitation) for their child’s asthma just because John Kerry planted a seed of suspicion? And how many other similar beliefs lead us to commit to questionable products, services or ideas, because we fail to think critically and investigate?
With all the reference material we have at our disposal it’s a shame that so many people are so easily manipulated. We have it in our ability to force all those influencers to be more honest, more careful and more accountable. Until we do, they will continue this type of behavior.