UNIT 4. DISINFORMATION AND MANIPULATION
Part D: Mean World Syndrome
Have you ever thought that the world is dangerous and frightening after watching the news? Learn how negative news content affects our perception of the world.
What is
Mean World Syndrome?
Watch the video to figure it out.
BY EDERA & IREX
Case study:
How Advertising Affects our Lifestyle
Ever wondered how many ads you see per day? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands, maybe? In fact, the amount of advertising you consume depends on your lifestyle: where you live, what is your commute is like, and how you spend your free time.
According to advertising and marketing specialists from Red Crow Marketing, there is an avalanche of 5,000–11,000 different ads waiting for us every day. If you want to calculate precisely, you can repeat Ron Marshall's crazy experiment. The marketing specialist decided to list all the ads he encountered during the day. He counted 487 ads just while having breakfast. Shocked and surprised, he decided not to continue.

TheDanocracy, a popular YouTuber, conducted another experiment. He decided to click through each online ad and buy everything that was advertised. In less than an hour, he spent $1,000.

One thing is certain: ads are designed primarily to make us buy: buy goods, buy ideas, buy lifestyles.

So how does it work?
Advertising is closely tied to pop culture and media. Advertising and marketing experts carefully track society's current interests and gain insights into trends and necessities in order to leverage people's needs or experiences to sell a product.

Before we look at how these insights work in practice, think for a moment: what meaning do you attach to smoking cigarettes. Is it a bad habit? Is it a threat to others' health? Is it one of the causes of cancer?

Well, cigarettes used to be a symbol of freedom — women's freedom.
On March 31, 1929, during the New York Easter Parade, a woman named Bertha Hunt committed an outrage: she publicly lit a Lucky Strike cigarette, calling for other women to do the same. This didn't go unnoticed by journalists and photographers. In the following day, pictures of attractive women smoking flooded the front pages of major American newspapers and the cigarettes themselves became known as the "torches of freedom".

An interesting fact: journalists were notified that this was coming. Even more curious is that Bertha was employed by the man who told the media about the planned event. It was Edward Bernays. Nowadays, he is considered the pioneer of Public Relations — the science and practice of public opinion management.

In the 1920s, he started working as a consultant for different brands. One of the companies he worked for was the American Tobacco Company, the owner of the Lucky Strike brand. Today, what he did is called marketing.
The tobacco manufacturer's representatives wanted to spur sales, and this is where they turned their attention to women. In those years, society frowned upon women smoking — so much so that in some states a woman could be arrested for smoking in public. Tobacco and cigarettes were considered a male only product.

For smoking to become more acceptable for women, Bernays turned to psychoanalysis. The insight he gained was that cigarettes had to become a symbol of women's freedom because they previously appealed to a male-dominant audience and were even regarded as a symbol of male power. Hence, the cigarette became "the torch of women's freedom" and a symbol of combating old stereotypes.

This is how one man hooked women on cigarettes and made smoking fashionable, employing psychology and hidden mechanisms of persuasion.

Marketers and advertisers often resort to manipulation to bait consumers and anticipate our behavior. In the book Predictably Irrational, the author and behavioral economist Dan Ariely, described the way this can works.

One day, surfing the internet, Dan stumbled upon an offer from the Economist magazine. They proposed three subscription tiers:
Which of these would you choose?
If you are an Economist reader, your gut instinct should kick in: "What are you waiting for? That's an excellent offer! Sign up for a combo subscription right now!"

A professional marketer will immediately notice the trick here: the combo subscription is designed to divert the prospective customers' attention from the digital plan in favor of the more expensive print subscription. They offer largely the same content, but the advantage of a print subscription over the Digital one is unclear to us. Meanwhile, we do know that a combo subscription (print + digital for $125) is a better value than the print plan alone for $125. It's just about getting the best deal!

Dan devised an experiment to test this theory. He picked 100 Sloan Business School MBA students and asked them which subscription they would choose: 16 students insisted on the digital plan for $59, and the remaining 84 favored the $125 combo subscription. None of them even considered buying the print-only one!

Surprising things came a bit later when Dan picked another 100 students, leaving only 2 plans to choose from:
How do you think the students voted? It would seem they would vote the same way as in the first case because Dan just removed the plan no one previously chose! Only 32 people went for a combo subscription, while 68 chose the digital one.

What affected their decision?
In the first case, the students were persuaded to choose a combo subscription. It's how our brains are wired: the perceived value of the product always depends on the options available. We can't help comparing the options at hand. Moreover, the students' choice was easily predictable. Dan believes the core of it is predictable irrationality — one of the foundation of behavioral economics.

We are living in a time when we don't even need to leave our sofa to encounter advertisements. Hundreds of promotions are delivered to our screens every day. Some ads directly invite us to buy, and the others urge us to break stereotypes and go beyond sales. Advertising today is a necessity for business revenue, a form of communication, and sometimes even a form of art. It is impossible to totally protect ourselves from its influence, but, with awareness and critical thinking, we can be better equipped to navigate the advertising world in a smart way.
Are We in Control of
Our Decisions?
Watch a TED talk by Dan Ariely to find out more
Vocabulary