The modern human being is more self-aware and educated than ever before. One could imagine, that today’s person would be immune to the manipulation of their attitudes and values – sadly that is not the case.
Our attitudes and values are continuously being tested by our surroundings. For example, commercials and trends tend to shape, not only what we are on the outside, but who we are as well. Association, peer groups, cultural factors and authorities are the most powerful tools to shape our inner beings. A great example of how people act under authority, is the famous Milgram experiment. To summarize the experiment for those who are not familiar with it, the test subject was asked to give an electric shock to a person in the next room if the person was to answer incorrectly to the given questions (but seriously, look into it, it’s actually a pretty eye-opening experiment).
The Milgram experiment displays excellently how prone we are under authority. In Milgram’s first experiment, 65 percent of the test subjects dispatched the most powerful electric shock towards the actor, despite him screaming in agony after the previous shock treatment, just because they were advised to do so! The experimentees threw all of their values into the bin and blindly worked against everything they believed was good – just exactly what happened to common Germans in the Third Reich during World War II. Imagine that.
So, now that we have proven (although with an extreme example) that environment can stir our values, we have to ponder how we are going to use it to our own benefit as persons with marketing interests?
According to TNS-Gallup, one of the propulsive values of Finns is domestic-centered lifestyle (http://www.tns-gallup.fi/uutiset.php?aid=14941&k=14320). Let’s say our target person is someone who highly values home-oriented things in his life, but is also banging drums for a greener lifestyle, and we want to sell something not-so-environmentally friendly to him. What we need for persuading our target, via advertising or any other similar channel, is to make those values fight each other.
Our advertisement could say something like ”Coal Energy Company X, keeping your house warm at an affordable cost since yadda-yadda”, et cetera. Now our target faces an inner dilemma, where he has to weigh which of these values is more important to him: is he going to keep his family’s house warm with the cheap coal, or is he willing to pay the extra coin for greener heating system? (on a sidenote, studies have shown that when competitive altruism is not playing part in buying situations, people tend to be more superficial with their green values (http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1902361,00.html).
I don’t want to leave you under the impression that this value-changing process can only be used to fulfill our materialistic desires, and filling Rich Uncle Pennybags’ pockets. Yes, intervening with people’s values and behaviour can also help us habit the earth for generations to come. Professor Julian Savulescu briefly points out in this interview (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8PA0vQ7gec) that all of our soon-to-be escalating 21st century problems are all actually spawning from within ourselves.
It has never been more serious than this. This is ’do or die’ –degree stuff we’re going through. As a behaviourist of some sort, I believe, and I know for certain, that people are not capable of doing the cognitive reasoning all by themselves. When it comes to decisions of this scale, we are, like it or not, merely sheep in a paddock waiting for our shepherd to come and guide us. To a certain extent, we are going to need external influences and role models to push us in the right direction, but foremost for the leaders of the world to pull their heads out of the sand and start to see things as they truly are. No more can it be about the money and the power for those sitting on thrones – this buck stops in everyone’s office.