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STELLPFLUG COLUMN: Are you buying it?

STELLPFLUG COLUMN: Are you buying it?

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Why do we care what Oprah Winfrey’s favorite tea is? Does Katy Couric influence what winter boots you buy? Do football players really know more about beer than your neighbor?

When I was in college, I was in the school of social work for about five minutes. I was in journalism for at least 35 minutes, and that morphed into Radio, TV and film for a few years, which morphed into a degree in education combining all of these with human behavior.

I mention this because some of my earliest classes were in advertising, persuasion, propaganda, and how people respond to all of this. It all seemed to blend together as we studied the psychology of human behavior, whether it was writing to persuade, making a film to influence or giving a speech to motivate.

Often it seemed a lot like sales techniques, no matter what field it was in. If you want someone to do something, buy something or change behavior, there are techniques to use.

The basic ones I learned early on were simple and effective. One was “bandwagon.” If you say everyone is doing it, people clearly want to be part of the group and join in.

Repetition and transfer are two more techniques. Keep repeating a brand name or activity until it is imprinted on the listener, transferring the good feelings, good looks or great outcomes to the person for whom the product is intended.

Comparing and contrasting is an easy one. The viewer is led to believe one product or candidate or medicine is better than the other while no real proof is necessary. Simply put, our product is better than yours, so buy or vote for or use what we tell you to.

There is name-calling, using negative words to create an unfavorable opinion, often used these days by everyone and all major manufactures. And I just used another method, generalizations along with exaggerations. See how easy it is.

Which brings me to testimonial. All it takes is a famous figure or important person to endorse something and off we go. What makes books that Winfrey likes any better than the ones our best friends read? Why wouldn’t we ask our local librarian to recommend a fine biography, a stirring tale of intrigue, a story of deceit and redemption? Has Winfrey talked with you lately to know your personal interests?

Testimonial seems innocent enough until we start blocking advice, information and recommendations from people who actually know about good boots for Wisconsin, and good medicine for our age, our ailment or our circumstances.

The Kardashians are not experts, just public figures. When Kim Kardashian says she doesn’t like naming children after directions except north and adds, “I think South is so stupid. It’s the stupidest thing ever.” She might want to look in the mirror. Yet people will follow her testimonial, because that is part of human behavior.

When “Duck Dynasty” characters opine about race or homosexuality and people listen, its more about the people than the offensive and ineloquent Phil Robertson.

I learned the basic breakdown of persuasion with eight types. We could put it to the test with three categories. Ethos, Logos and Pathos. Ethos is linked with morality and ethics. It is the trustworthiness and intent of speaker, writer or sales person that is taken into account.

Logos uses reasoning, logic and convincing audience of their perspective. Pathos appeals to the emotion. We use and experience love, fear, anger, in our daily interaction. We are influenced and we try to persuade others with all of these and more.

When Verizon shows us with a map that they have better coverage than AT&T, we might be convinced, unless a famous person uses Sprint, or we’re told we won’t connect with our children unless we use T-Mobile, or Cellular One gives us free phones. Each method works in its own way.

All these things appeal to the different levels of response to persuasion. Did I mention the appeal to guilt? “Adopt a puppy or he won’t have a home.” If it’s a disabled puppy, even more emotional response. Mission accomplished. I think I need some of that ginger turmeric tea Winfrey loves.

Kay Stellpflug is an educator and trainer in interpersonal and professional communications. She works and lives in Beaver Dam and can be reached at


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