Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday dollars+sense: The science of sugestion

Kevin Rudd has squibbed on a promise to appear on the Insiders this morning. Instead he'll subject himself to scrutiny on the Rove McManus show tonight.

It's fitting, in a number of ways. One is that if it wasn't for Rove Kevin Rudd might not be where is today.

Around this time last year Kim Beazley gaffed at a press conference by referring to him as "Karl Rove" – the name of a US political strategist. Painted as out of touch and accident prone, he was knifed within weeks.

And both Rudd and Rove know about subliminal persuasion...

Rove's company produced the Channel Ten ARIA music awards broadcast
that last month infamously included single frame shots of the Bigpond
logo, the KFC logo and so on.

In Australian TV there are 25 frames per second. You can't flash
anything on the screen for a shorter time than that. And that's what
revealed the technique. Many people can spot something left on the
screen for a full 25th of a second, and many people did.

True subliminal advertising works when something is flashed for mere
thousandths of a second - long enough to be taken in in some way, but
far too short to be "seen".

Some decades back American researchers flashed Chinese characters onto
a screen for mere milliseconds. To the English-speaking Americans
watching they were logos. Later they showed them a number of
characters and asked which ones they most liked. They liked the ones
they had been flashed with.

More recently University of California researchers slowly flashed
pictures of unsmiling faces at their students. But buried within them
were much shorter subliminal flashes of faces either smiling or

Then they asked the students to try a new lemon-lime drink. The
students who had been subliminally smiled at poured themselves more
and also said they would be prepared to pay more to buy the drink.
But importantly this only happened to the students who had already
said they were thirsty.

Subliminal cues can't completely change behaviour, but they can nudge
it. It's no accident that the words "New Leadership" are in the
background everywhere Kevin Rudd speaks (just as the
unfortunately-chosen words "Go for Growth" were removed from John
Howard's background on the day interest rates rose).

Rudd appears at schools even when they are barely relevant to what he
has to say. He wants to send a message. Appearing on Rove will do it
too. Rove's cool. Barry Cassidy isn't.