The Power of Persuasion
“This is a book that walks a very fine line,” writes Dave Lakhani in the first chapter of his book, Subliminal Persuasion: Influence & Marketing Secrets They Don’t Want You to Know. “My publisher, with whom I have a tremendous relationship, wouldn’t publish the book I wanted this to be because it was too edgy, too dangerous. So I’m going to reveal the most cutting-edge subliminal persuasion techniques anyway.” He adds, “And you’ll be reading this because my publisher will agree that I took off enough of the edge without losing the value of the content.”
Apparently his publisher agreed with his final results because in Subliminal Persuasion, Lakhani presents the basics of how to secretly persuade and influence people. He examines this fascinating subject through a marketing lens, discussing a range of techniques from garnering endorsements to playing semantics, to utilizing new technologies such as blogs and podcasts in order to establish market position and attract consumers.
Propaganda and Cults
For many people, the concept of subliminal persuasion raises concerns linked to sinister cults and propagandists. Lakhani, who makes several references to having grown up in a cult himself, is quick to recognize this association, pointing out that it is the unethical use of these techniques that enables these entities to take advantage of people. However, he maintains that when used ethically, subliminal persuasion can be a powerful and effective tool.
Lakhani begins his book by attempting to create a distinction between the negative side of propaganda and what he calls “applied propaganda,” Lakhani’s self-coined term for public relations (PR) information. “When asked, most people will say that they are not regularly influenced by the news and even hold it in low regard for its accuracy; yet we don’t often realize we are being influenced by public relations,” Lakhani writes.
What follows is a fascinating look at the use of PR as a way of influencing an audience. Lakhani uses the career of early-20th-century public relations pioneer Edward Bernays as a vivid example of this power. Lakhani chronicles Bernays’ work in creating the American idea of a “bacon-and-eggs” breakfast as the best choice to increase the public’s purchasing of bacon, as well as his efforts to establish smoking as a sign of women’s liberation in order to make female consumers a viable customer base for tobacco companies. Lakhani then further discusses how Bernays’ early techniques formed the basis for modern PR efforts to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS and global warming.
Throughout Subliminal Persuasion, Lakhani provides concrete examples of how techniques such as these have been used in the past and can be used in the future. For instance, in his chapter “Control the Emotion and the Content,” Lakhani’s fictional portrayal of how a salesperson can appeal to a customer’s key emotions in order to influence a sale succinctly illustrates how this technique can be used to great effect. Lakhani examines how businesses such as Apple and Harley-Davidson have harnessed the positive power of subliminal persuasion not to create outright cults but rather to build cult-like followings of clients and consumers who are passionate about their products. His analysis provides insight into how such true-believing, dedicated communities can be encouraged and fostered.
The Man Behind the Curtain
While Subliminal Persuasion is a fascinating entrée into the mysterious world of influence and indirect marketing, Lakhani undercuts his authority at times by blatantly engaging in some of the techniques he writes about. For example, he engages in some rather obvious product placement, recommending Moleskine notebooks and certain digital cameras as tools that the reader should use while implementing his techniques. But, overall, Lakhani’s book provides a solid jumping off point for anyone interested in learning more about the applications of subliminal persuasion.