Heads or Tails?


Today’s persuasive writer is caught between two seemingly disparate paradigms. 


One side of the coin comes from the “father of public relations” and the author of the book Propaganda, Edward Bernays.


In the introduction to Propaganda, Mark Crispin Miller writes (emphasis mine):


“[Bernays’] aim was not to urge the buyer to demand the product now, but to transform the buyer’s very world, so that the product must appear desirable as if without the prod of salesmanship.” 


The other side of the coin – tossed and spinning in mid-air – is called by none other than the incomparable marketing genius Eugene Schwartz, author of Breakthrough Advertising.


He stated (paraphrased):


“Like a nuclear engineer, the copywriter does not create the forces he works with, rather he simply harnesses their power and directs it.”


And thus the predicament of today’s modern persuasive writer, as they sit in front of their computer keyboard, waiting for the coin to land:


Which method to use?


One strategy attempts to change someone’s reality from the outside… 


The other utilizes what is already present in that person’s reality to persuade them to see things in a new light…


Both methods are extremely powerful – but each has its respective downfalls.


As copywriters and advertisers with limited budgets (I’m assuming you don’t have access to the type of funding that can put headlines on every major news network in the country) we have an uphill battle ahead of us when it comes to changing the mass of public opinion in any significant way.


Likewise, when it comes to harnessing the power of what the market already desires, we find that we are at the mercy of the currently prevailing ideas of society – the ones which we have no power to change ourselves in any significant way.


Is there a solution to this predicament?




And is it any surprise that the answer is…


The internet!


What do I mean by that?


Well, both Bernays and Schwartz  – though their writings were separated by 3 or 4 decades – were writing at a time when “the masses” were the main concern for the advertiser (or the propagandist, as the case may be).


Every message had to be tailored to appeal to the vast majority of your audience – even if that audience was a smaller offshoot of a larger audience. Try as they might – and there are many examples of success with this, even back then –  they just did not have the ability to “segment” the way that we do today.


What does finer segmentation offer us today?


Well, if Bernays were around today he might build a list of followers based on their capacity to have their minds “molded”, who would be willing to read his work and would be open to his suggestions, to the point where he could then provide solutions to the “problems” that he himself has implanted into his audience’s mind.


Schwartz, on the other hand, might take advantage of the fact that markets can now be finely filtered into segments based on the interests that people have. He would then attract those people who already have that passion which he would like to harness to create sales.


I hope it is obvious which approach is more inherently ethical. (If not, please keep reading regularly. The ethics of marketing and salesmanship is one of the main reasons I began writing the Copyganda newsletter – and something I’ll be diving a lot deeper into in the coming days, weeks, months, years, decades, etc.)


So how do we reconcile these two approaches?


Which path will today’s persuasive writer choose to go down?




That’s right.


Bernays and Schwartz would no doubt have used both approaches given today’s technological abilities of communication.


The major difference today (other than the ethical implications) is in the scale of their approaches.


Back in the day, both methods were concerned with persuading the public “en masse”.


Nowadays, businesses and companies can attract a small segment of people based on their innate passions and drives – AND they can also “mold” the minds of those followers to be more likely to purchase their products and not the products of their competitors.


They truly are two sides of the same coin.


I would argue that “world building” – a strategy that more and more marketers are becoming familiar with and utilizing – is the sophisticated combination of both of these methods.


Like a coin that has landed perfectly on its side, both options are available.


Whichever method you choose, be sure to “spend” your coin wisely.




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