Cheri Speak

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Selling Violence in America

 “We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn’t have a sort of influence, it does.” ~  Actor Jamie Foxx, 12/15/12 interview discussing the tragic events of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

How does he know this? He — just like everyone else in the media and entertainment industry, know this and the sad truth is they use this to make money without a thought to the harm they cause.  In reality, they even fight for their right to do this and we let them.

soldLather, Rinse, Repeat…

As a media marketing professional for more than twenty-years, I have had the term “frequency sells” hammered into my head time and time again. In fact I – and others, were taught to hammer the motto into the heads of prospective and active clients alike in order to get them to buy more advertising  they can hammer away at you in order to get you to buy their product(s) or service(s).

Why? because advertisers know that you have to get a message out over and over again to achieve results and any return on their investment (ROI).

Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhand, deceptive, or even abusive tactics.” ~ Who’s Pulling Your Strings? How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation, Harriet Braiker

So, what does advertising and the entertainment industry have to do with what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary?

A lot…

If you look at the psychology of advertising in any of its varied forms the goals are always the same:

  • (generate) Awareness
  • (produce) Knowledge
  • (instigate) Liking
  • (create) Preference
  • (assert) Conviction
  • (encourage) Purchase

While this seems innocent enough we must look at how these goals are achieved in order to understand what it means to humanity. We need to be more aware of how the game of media and entertainment is played so that we can make better choices.

“As a form of communication, advertisement uses repeated verbal and visual images to develop and alter society. Over time, these repeated images and symbols become associated with either positive or negative attributes and can modify the public’s evaluation of such cultural objects as people, religions, ethnic groups, and societal roles. Thus, the media forms the beliefs and values of the public through media portrayals.” ~  Political Economy of Communication: A Critique, Phil Graham

The more a person hears about or sees something…the more familiar they are with it. The more familiar one is with something; the less negative they are prone to be about it. Decades of consumer studies show this to be true and advertisers and entertainment people use this knowledge.

“Commercials often have the product logo appear or the product name be spoken several times in the course of a 30-second spot. Print ads run repeatedly in the same newspapers and magazines. Marketers use repetition to try to ingrain the product name in a consumer’s head so the product will stand out…” – What are the Different Commercial Advertising Techniques? ~

“Through repetition you establish your credibility. Repetition is fundamental to the success of any advertising program. The marketplace proves out this fact, as does scientific research. Science has shown through studies that a person must see your product NINE times before they will feel apathy toward it” ~  Business Knowledge Source

Everyday Examples of How You’ve Been Sold…

  • Regardless of what “soda pop” you want most people ask for a “Coke”.
  • When we want someone to pass a box of tissue we often instead ask for “Kleenex”
  • And, of course we all know who will “leave the light on for us”.

It’s not just traditional advertising. “Covert” advertising is more main-stream than ever. We know it as “product placement” and integration. We call it “entertainment”.

“Recognition is used as one cue among others in judgment and decision making.” – Richter, Tobias; Späth, Pamela – Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Vol 32(1)

Television shows, movies, video games, and more have desensitized not only our children, but us adults as well. February 2012 functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have shown that a subliminal stimulus does in fact activate specific regions of the brain despite any of us being unaware.

“Exposure to subliminal arousing stimuli induces robust activation in the amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate, insular cortex and primary visual cortex: a systematic meta-analysis of fMRI studies.”NeuroImage

In Latin, “Ad Vertere” Means “To Turn The Mind Toward.”

What have we allowed our minds to be turned toward? Acceptance, tolerance, and indifference towards violence. We are a desensitized nation and we have allowed this to happen merely because we want to be entertained and studies show most of us are willing to accept our entertainment with advertising and product placement.

“With movies, a lot of people are saying they want to see products because it’s more realistic than seeing a generic can of beer and on TV 59% were positive or indifferent” to having product placement in their entertainment. ~  Chief Marketer, Huxley

The Plot Thickens…

Most people have no idea they are being marketed to as much as they are because of something called “Plot Placement” in television shows, movies, and video games. Plot Placement relies on audio and visual information to produce higher levels of brand recall.

“In some cases, the product becomes a part of the plot, taking a major place in the story line or building the persona of a character…(it) can be conceived as the degree of connection between product and the plot. However, in cases where the actor is clearly identified with the brand, e.g. James Bond with his Aston martin. Then BMW Z3, or where the brand becomes a central part of the plot.” ~  Association of Consumer Research

The majority of surveyed consumers do not expect to find promotional motives in their advertisement and shockingly 30% of adults said they would be persuaded to buy something after having seen it in their entertainment choices. The numbers get scarier when it relates to the young among us. A Whopping 40% of 15 – 24 year-olds in America said they would be influenced in these situations.

What Does This Tell Us?

Americans are open to having their minds influenced by what they engage in, even when it’s entertainment. Although most are willfully unaware of what’s going on,  large numbers of those made aware still say they  would be willing participants in this desensitization.

“In psychologydesensitization (also called inurement) is defined as the diminished emotional responsiveness to a negative or aversive stimulus after repeated exposure to it. Desensitization is a process primarily used to assist individuals unlearn phobias and anxieties and was developed by psychologist Mary Cover Jones. Desensitization also refers to reduced responsiveness to actual violence caused by exposure to violence in the media.” ~ Encyclopedia of Psychopharmacology, Brian Heidelberg: Springer

In fact, by a consumer’s acceptance of this they allow the process to be more fluid. Just like patients being treated for anxiety disorders are first put into a relaxed state so they are more receptive to being desensitized to their fear(s). A relaxed mind is the most malleable.

“Research shows that initial exposure to violence in the media produces a number of aversive responses such as increased heart rate, fear, discomfort, perspiration and disgust. However, studies conducted show that prolonged and repeated exposure to violence in the media reduces or habituates the initial psychological impact until violent images do not elicit these negative responses. Eventually the observer becomes emotionally and cognitively desensitized to media violence. In an experiment to determine the effects on violent video games causing physiological desensitization to real-life violence, participants played either a violent or non-violent video game for 20 minutes. After that, they watched a 10 minute video containing real-life violence while their heart rate and galvanic skin responses were being monitored. The participants who played violent video games previously to watching the video showed lower heart rate and galvanic skin response readings compared to those who had not played violent video games displaying a physiological desensitization to violence.” ~  Media Violence and children: a complete guide for parents and professionals. U.S.A.

We know some minds are more susceptible to persuasion and so does the advertising and entertainment industries. So does the government. In fact, they bank on it and advertising and plot placements are created based on their studies and knowledge of it. What we have yet to define is at what cost.

OMG That’s Horrible! Now, What’s For Dinner?

When we hear or see the news about violence — especially violence against helpless children, we are horrified and for minutes, hours, or even days we truly feel. After that period of acknowledgement passes we turn on Sons of Anarchy & True Blood, we play Halo & Call of Duty, we go out and see James Bond & Limitless and we do nothing.

Parental Co-conspirators

Parents, restrict what your children watch and play. So what if that makes you the bad guy for a while? Better to be the bad guy vs. the mother of a bad guy that kills twenty (20) innocent and beautiful little children. And, don’t think it starts and ends with your kids. It doesn’t. It starts with you.

You need to step away from the glamour of death and destruction; you need to re-boot your mind. It is your responsibility. It is your duty to your children, your society, and yourself.

“My thought was, does my industry think that guns will help sell tickets? I don’t know … It seems like a question worth asking my own industry. And maybe there’s a reason, maybe yes. I don’t know, but it seems fair. I’ve noticed how often guns are used in ads, as though there’s something that translates in a positive way. I just don’t know. But I think it’s worth asking that question.” ~ Robert Redford 01/17/12

Life is not a fairy tale and the only happily ever after is the one we create.


MPAA signals readiness to talk about gun violence

Robert Redford: Debate on movie violence ‘overdue’


17 comments on “Selling Violence in America

  1. C. R.
    December 16, 2012

    please share…


  2. C. R.
    December 17, 2012

    I would like to make sure it is known by my readers that I do NOT in any way think the topic of this article is the only issue at play here. I just need to address one at a time and this particular topic is my expertise so I feel at liberty to write on it.


  3. PB Goodfriend
    December 17, 2012

    Pretty thorough, Cheri. Good piece. I don’t know, though, if violent entertainment necessarily begets a violent society, but it doesn’t do anything to negate the validation of violence as a tool in the social response toolkit.
    Working on my own post on this, trying to put it into the context of our culture, that says one goes to whatever lengths one must – even killing a perceived enemy – to prove one is right.


    • C. R.
      December 17, 2012

      Yes I agree with you, but I will say having come from the industry of “selling America” I have also been a part of the studies. Not everyone, not even most people are influenced in menacing ways, but we are all in one way or another somewhat desensitized. And, the weaker among us so much more so. I look forward to reading your piece. I enjoy your work immensely.


    • C. R.
      December 17, 2012

      I just re-read your comment and i am REALLY looking forward to reading your piece more so now. I was half asleep the first read lol.
      “even killing a perceived enemy – to prove one is right.”

      Ding Ding Ding YES!!! So very true and disgusting….hurry :p


  4. Corner of Confessions
    December 17, 2012

    I believe the media/government/society should have a part in what they allow to put out there in the world. In their minds( and banks accounts) they put out what they think can make them the most money. There should be more personable aspects into the decision making. Very moving and entertaining and educational stuff should be given a chance even if it doesn’t rake in the millions.

    it’s like the saying, we are what we eat. ( Which can be a whole other topic for discussion with fast food and all the yucky food on the market)
    But, its the same with our minds. We are what we watch. We are what we listen to. We are determined by out actions. Its only inevitable media influences that.

    Yet still, and I’m not a parent so my perspective is limited, but i think parents should take more initiative into their children. Yesterday while at work a child picked out a graphic tee for a video game and the image was of one of these games where its a shooting game and the imaged depicted that. The mother looked at it and said “No, you are not wearing that with that picture, pick something else”

    I was so moved by that cause that type of parenting is rare today. Parents are allowing tv and video games to raise their kids and letting teens explore life and raise themselves. They place responsibility on schools and media when it needs to start at home. I just think parents should be the ultimate factor in raising and teaching their kids and give them the tools to research and explore and make educated decisions and not be influenced by society and peer pressure.


    • C. R.
      December 17, 2012

      Well said! Thank you for the input, I do appreciate the interaction. And yes, just like the saying “you are what you eat”. Consumption is consumption.


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  6. C. R.
    December 17, 2012
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  8. shunpwrites
    December 21, 2012

    The nail on the head!


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