Public Relations in The Persuaders

For this assignment, I’d like you to watch a documentary about public relations and advertising called “The Persuaders.” You can watch online here, or if you have access to Amazon Prime, I believe you can find it there as well in one of the PBS Frontline seasons. And yes–I will definitely be able to tell in your response whether you’ve watched the entire film or not.

After watching, I’d like you to write a 400-word response that focuses on the person or segment of the film you found most surprising or interesting. As an overall question, I’d also like you to consider the ways in which excessive advertising and PR may or may not lead to a more materialistic, consumer culture in our country. According to some more dire media critics, advertising creates a situation in which we are consumers first (catering to our own selfish wants) and citizens (catering to the greater good) later. How does this celebration of individual, mostly false needs through advertising affect our society when the average person sees somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 ads per day? When we live in a place where problems are seen as being solved by simply buying a product, do we also end up living in a place where our values are dictated by what we buy (or choose not to buy) as well?

To give you a few places to go if you’re feeling stuck, here some interesting points brought up on PBS’ site about the program:

  • What surprised you in the descriptions of how much demographic information marketers have about potential customers? What kinds of information would you be willing to share about yourself or your family in order to: enter a contest? Get a discount? Would you be willing to reveal your name, address and phone number? What music you listen to or your favorite snacks? The grades on your last report card? How much your parents earn? What medications people in your family take? What kinds of information would you want to keep private and why?
  • In “The Persuaders,” marketer Kevin Roberts uses the term “lovemarks” to identify brands to which people are loyal even when devotion is not logical. Are there brands (or music) to which you are devoted? When you stop to think about it, is your loyalty to any particular brand logical or a “lovemark?” If purchasing a particular brand isn’t logical, why would you (or other people) do it?
  • Advertising executive Douglas Atkins argues that purchasing branded merchandise now provides that same sense of belonging that was once provided by community institutions like schools, churches, civic groups, or fraternal orders. What provides you with a sense of belonging or identity? What role, if any, does marketing play in what you identify with or where you hang out the most?
  • Political consultant Frank Luntz tells his clients that, “80 percent of our life is emotion and only 20 percent is intellect. I am much more interested in how you feel than how you think.” Contrast this with Thomas Jefferson’s notion that democracy requires an “informed citizenry.” What is the potential impact of Luntz’s political strategy recommendations on the health of democracy?

  • “The Persuaders” points out that there are laws governing truth in advertising for products and services, but that “politicians can legally say whatever they want.” Should political ads be governed by the same kinds of laws that govern product ads? Why do you think there aren’t such laws?
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