A little bit of brainy stuff

Why the first one into the media can always triumph over the facts

In the lower half of the left human hemisphere, there’s an area where the brain files what it perceives to be The Certainty Stuff. Not too far away, at the rear of the Right hemisphere, is that part of the imagination involved in thinking, ‘On the other hand, maybe not’. The 21st century so far has given us two decades of preemptive media use designed to persuade the right cortex that it’s Not Needed on Voyage.

I was incredibly lucky in my choice of discipline within the advertising profession. After two years of going nowhere as a copywriter, I sent a speculative letter to J Walter Thompson in London asking why nobody seemed to spend money asking the consumer if they understood the ads they saw – and if so, were they relevant.

JWT was in the process at that moment of setting up a Creative Research Unit, and my letter arrived on the desk of Judie Lannon – a delightful American anarchist risk-taker. It was the right missive at the right time: the Focus Group was in its infancy, so I got in on the ground floor.

Throughout my life since the age of about thirteen, I have been fascinated by how an idea achieves ‘social epidemiology’, and the role played by the human brain in that process. When I was starting out in the business, most advertising thinkers were wedded to the idea of the Unique Selling Point or USP. But after a few years, I began to grasp that – while the USP was a sort of Gold Standard – there were many brands making so-called generic claims….and being believed purely because they made the claim their own by saying it first with a lot of media investment behind it.

When you get down to it, advertising is propaganda. And it just so happened that my University thesis had analysed political propaganda. The Nazis didn’t gain adulation after 1926 by claiming a USP like, “We’re the only ones who want to get rid of the Jews”: they did it by establishing the Fuhrerprinzip – a generic feature of politics they attached to Adolf Hitler as the most messianic version of it.

A turning point was when Hitler met Josef Goebbels, and gave him free rein to write the Party’s advertising and PR releases. Goebbels had in fact been formerly employed as a copywriter at…..JWT Frankfurt.

One example of Goebbels’ genius was the creation of a hoarding to publicise the Fuhrer’s decision to hire a plane to ferry him around during the 1932 election – a first in German politics. The poster depicted the plane among the clouds, and was headlined “Hitler uber Deutschland”. The use of the dominance dimension of the German word “uber” (uber alles and not Untermenschen) had a massive impact. Above all, it positioned Adolf Hitler as the white heat of technology shaping the future.

In case anyone’s wondering, my education in this field convinced me never ever to work on political advertising. If you advertise Colman’s mustard, the consumer has the choice of leaving said condiment on the side of the plate. That choice wasn’t open to voters when it came to Thatcher, Blair, Reagan, Corbyn and Obama.

I deplore the now accepted use of image services by politicians. And I am particularly opposed to the pervasive – and perverted – use of such techniques in the 21st century.

Things have moved on from the decades of Personality Politics. That was bad enough, but now the game is solely about my personal insight developed nearly fifty years ago: get in first with tons of money behind you, and the vast majority will believe you.

Look at the events and issues of these first two decades after the Millennium: 9/11, WOMD, the 2008/9 bank rescue, Greek debt, Hackgate, Jimmy Savile, Brexit, the Trump election and Covid19. The State and its corporate allies used the media learnings of the late 20th century to pile in with blanket 24/7 propagandised versions of what happened – and were believed.

9/11 is suffused with contradictions, there were no WOMD, life without banks would not have been the end of human life on Earth, Greek debt was planned by Goldman Sachs and exaggerated by Berlin, Newscorp and other UK newspapers hacked celebrity phones for nearly twelve years, Jimmy Savile was a nasty piece of work used by Newscorp to distract attention from its own criminality, Brexit has been projected as an irrefutable disaster and the EU depicted as the people in the stronger negotiating position, Trump has been vilified far beyond reality, and Covid19 kills 64 people in one hundred thousand – even less if the management drugs are used correctly.

Every last one of these issues has proved to be miles from the Tsunami of media assertion that got there first….as Harry Truman said, “Before the Truth even had its pants on” – but the empirical data has not persuaded the majority.

There’s a good reason for this, and it involves the still little undertood science of psychographics.

Both neuroscientific and neuroanatomical evidence now points strongly to a reality in which some brains question the facts dysfunctionally, some do so on the basis of accumulating evidence, and the great majority cleave to the Mob catechism of their tribes. There’s no getting away from the fact that (as some of us worked out for ourselves decades ago) our species ability to weigh evidence varies widely thanks to nature (DNA inheritance) and nurture (events early in life of traumatic significance).

To give a parallel to the three typologies I mentioned in the previous paragraph, professionals would call them conspiranoid, doubters and acceptors. But the tabloid media – goaded by the State – would dub them Nutters, Moaners and Good Citizens. On such sandy foundations is totalitarianism based.

For myself, I would use the terms eccentric, balanced and Ideologues. But perhaps that reflects my own eccentricity – who knows? I’m biased in that I value the opinion of open minds.

All of this creates a dilemma for the contrarian commentator. If (once the narrative has been established by sheer weight of media) every fact suggesting an alternative interpretation bounces off the flock’s inherent need for conformity, maybe dramatic fake news is the way to fight faux fire with opposing faux fire.

Well, that isn’t the answer. JFK’s dictum was that combating Soviet lies with bigger lies was self-destructive to the cause of free speech democracy. Events since have shown he was right.

Ultimately, events catch out the liars. The very “viral” nature of the internet is a strength to which we must play. I for one would very much like to know if there is substance to the Navy Seal 6 acusations being dangled in front of us by Alan Howell Parrot. If his evidence is credible, it could sink the Biden cause without trace.