You and a friend went to a fast-food restaurant. Your friend said she would rather not have a cola because she “doesn’t like the taste.”
Two days later, you see her walking down the street, drinking cola, and wearing a T-shirt with a picture of her favourite actor drinking a cola.
What do you think accounts for your friend changing her mind?
A. She is merely following the fad of the day.
B. She likes the actor, so she likes cola.
C. She’s just strange.
D. She’s always liked cola and must have lied in the first case.
In his speech “Images of the Consumer’s Mind On and Off Madison Avenue,” Milton Rokeach described how advertisers have very effectively approached the audience’s belief systems in their persuasion campaigns.
The advertising man is not the only person who seeks to shape and change either people’s beliefs, attitudes, and behavior. There are many kinds of people in our society, professional non-professional, working for pay and for free, who for various combinations of altruistic and selfish reasons are vitally interested in the theory and in the practice of shaping and changing other people’s values, beliefs, attitudes, and behavior. Rokeach pointed, by way of illustration, to the psychotherapist, to the teacher, to the missionary, the politician, and the lobbyist. All these have in common, with the advertising man, the desire to influence and to persuade others to believe and to act in certain ways in which they would not otherwise believe and act.
This does not mean that the advertising man wants to change the same sort of beliefs that, say, the therapist or the politician wants to change. Every human being has many different kinds of beliefs, and every advanced society seems to have encouraged the growth of different kinds of persuaders who specialize in trying to change some kinds of beliefs and not other kinds.
TYPES OF BELIEF SYSTEMS
What, then, are the different kinds of beliefs that all men have, and what kinds of beliefs does the advertising man wish most to influence? What are the properties of the different kinds of beliefs, and how easily is one kind changed in comparison to another kind? And what are the special problems which arise to plague the advertising man because of the fact that he specializes in trying to change certain kinds of beliefs and not other kinds, and what can he do about these problems?
FIVE KINDS OF BELIEFS
According to Rokeach, there are five kinds of beliefs that he and his colleagues isolated in their work at Michigan State University. This work is part of a larger, on-going program of research extending over the past decade on the nature of man’s systems of belief: how such systems of belief are formed, organized, and modified, and how such systems differ from one person to the next.
All persons are assumed to have belief systems, and each belief system contains tens of thousands of beliefs. These beliefs can not all be equally important to the person possessing them. It is necessary to assume that beliefs vary along a continuum of importance or centrality. Further, we must assume that the more important a belief the more it will resist change and the more widespread the repercussions in the rest of the person’s belief system, because many of the beliefs “hooked up” with it will change too.
The five kinds of beliefs that Rokeach described may be represented by five concentric circles, with the key beliefs at the center, and the more inconsequential beliefs along the outside circle. To help keep track of them let he called the innermost beliefs Type A, which is then followed by Type B, and so on until we get to Type E along the outside circle.
Type A Beliefs
At the core are Type A beliefs which Rokeach called primitive beliefs. These are beliefs we all share with one another about the nature of physical reality, social reality, and the self. For example, “I believe this is a table. I believe this is an audience listening to a speech. I believe my name is Brian David Phillips.” These are all supported by one hundred percent social consensus. Type A beliefs are our taken-for-granted axioms which are not subject to controversy because we believe, and we believe everyone else believes. Such primitive beliefs are fundamental and we have evidence that shows that they are more resistant to change than any other type of belief. And scientists have obtained additional evidence suggesting that we become extremely upset when Type A beliefs are seriously brought into question.
Type B Beliefs
And then there is a second kind of primitive belief – Type B – which is also extremely resistant to change. Such beliefs do not depend on social support or consensus but, instead, arise from deep personal experience. Type B beliefs are incontrovertible and we believe them regardless of whether anyone else believes them. Many of these unshakable beliefs are about ourselves and some of these self-conceptions are positive ones – Type B+ – and some are negative ones – Type B-. The positive ones represent beliefs about what we are capable of, and the negative ones represent beliefs about what we are afraid of.
Rokeach illustrated some Type B+ beliefs which most of us here probably have: Regardless of what others may think of us, we continue to believe ourselves to be intelligent and rational men, able and competent, basically kind and charitable. Type B+ beliefs represent our positive self-images which guide our aspirations and ambitions to become even better, greater, wiser, and nobler than we already are.
But many of us also have Type B- beliefs – negative self-conceptions – which we cling to primitively, regardless of whether others may agree with us. We are often beset by phobias, compulsions, obsessions, neurotic self-doubts, and anxieties about self-worth, self-identity, and self-competence. These are the kind of primitive beliefs that we only wish we were rid of, and it is these Type B- beliefs which the specialized psychotherapist is often asked to change. Other specialized persuaders are generally not trained or interested in changing Type B- beliefs, but they may be interested in exploiting them without trying to change them.
Type C Beliefs
The third kind of belief, Type C, Rokeach called authority beliefs – beliefs we all have about which authorities to trust and which not to trust. Many facts of physical and social reality have alternative interpretations, are socially controversial, or are not capable of being personally verified or experienced. For these reasons, all men need to identify with authorities who will help them to decide what to believe and what not to believe. Is communism good or bad? Is there a God or isn’t there? How do we know the Chinese Nationalist Revolution actually took place? What about evolution? No man is personally able to ascertain the truth of all such things for himself. So, he believes in this or that authority – parents, teachers, religious leaders, scientists – and he is often willing to take some authority’s word for many things. Thus, we all develop beliefs about which authorities are positive and which are negative, differing from one person to the next, and we look to such authorities for information about what is (and is not) true and beautiful, and good for us.
Type D Beliefs
The fourth kind of belief, Type D, called peripheral beliefs – beliefs that are derived from the authorities we identify with. For example, a devout Buddhist has certain beliefs about birth control and divorce because he has accepted them from the authority he believes in. You believe Jupiter has twelve moons, not because you have personally seen them, but because you trust certain kinds of authorities who have seen them. You are quite prepared to revise my beliefs about Jupiter’s moons providing the authorities you trust revise their beliefs. Many people adhere to a particular religious or political belief system because they identify with a particular authority. Such peripheral beliefs can be changed, providing the suggestion or change emanates from one’s authority, or, providing there is a change in one’s authority.
Type E Beliefs
Finally, there is a fifth class of beliefs, Type E, which Rokeach call inconsequential beliefs. If they are changed, the total system is not altered in any significant way. “I believe,” for example, “you can get a better shave from one brand of razor than another; I believe that a vacation at the beach is more enjoyable than one on the mountains; I believe Li Ming-yi is prettier than Lan Hsin-mei. But, if you can persuade me to believe the opposite, the change is inconsequential because the rest of my belief system is not likely to be affected in any important way.”
In other words, the five kinds of beliefs can be summarized as: every person’s total system of beliefs is composed of beliefs that range in importance from the inconsequential, through the peripheral, to beliefs about authority, and, finally, at the core, to primitive beliefs which are extremely resistant to change, either because they do not at all depend on social support or because they enjoy universal support. All these five kinds of beliefs, considered together are organized into a remarkable piece of architecture which Rokeach called the belief system. It has a definable content and a definable structure. And it has a job to do; it serves adaptive functions for the person, in order to maximize his positive self-image and to minimize his negative self-image. Every person has a need to know himself and his world insofar as possible, and a need not to know himself and his world, insofar as necessary. A person’s total belief system, with all its five kinds of beliefs, is designed to serve both functions at once.
MICHIGAN STATE STUDY
You might wonder what objective evidence there may be that the five kinds of beliefs really exist. There is not enough space here to tell you about all the research addressed to this question. The best evidence has comes from a study in which Rokeach and his colleagues tried to change the five kinds of beliefs through hypnotic suggestion. This work was done by Rokeach, in collaboration with Dr. Joseph Reyher and Dr. Richard Wiseman at Michigan State University and the results they obtained are quite clear. Their data shows that all five kinds of beliefs change under hypnosis. But as they had expected, the amount of change in belief varies with the centrality of belief: the primitive beliefs, Type A and B, changed the least as a result of hypnotic suggestion. Beliefs about authority, Type C, changed more. Peripheral beliefs, Type D, changed yet more. And inconsequential beliefs, Type E, changed the most.
RIPPLE EFFECT OF CHANGED BELIEFS
The results also show that changing one kind of belief leads to changes in the other kinds of beliefs, but changes in Type A and B beliefs exert the greatest consequences on other beliefs. Changes in Type C beliefs exert lesser consequences, changes in Type D beliefs exert lesser yet consequences, and, finally, Type E beliefs – inconsequential beliefs, the ones most easy to change – exert the least effect on other beliefs.
WHAT DO PERSUADERS DO?
Now, given these five kinds of beliefs as a frame of reference, it is possible to obtain a somewhat clearer picture of what society’s specialized persuaders are trying to do, and which kinds of belief they wish to most act upon, to influence, and to change. As far as Rokeach could tell, there are no specialized persuaders whose main business it is to change the first kind of belief -the Type A beliefs which are universally supported by social consensus. But, as already stated, it is the business of the professional psychotherapist to change the second kind of primitive belief. The psychotherapist’s job is to help us get rid of our negative self-conceptions – Type B- beliefs – and to strengthen our positive self-conceptions – Type B+ beliefs.
By now, you can perhaps anticipate what Rokeach said about the kinds of beliefs which that specialized persuader – the advertising man – tries to form and change. Without in any way wishing to deny that the results of advertising may have important economic consequences, it could be stated from a psychological standpoint that the advertising man has concentrated mainly on changing Type E beliefs – inconsequential beliefs – to the extent that his purpose is to meet the competition, and he has concentrated mainly on Type D – peripheral beliefs – to the extent that his purpose is to give information. Furthermore, the more competitive the advertising, the more it addresses itself to changing psychologically inconsequential beliefs about the relative merits of one brand or another.
CHANGING INCONSEQUENTIAL BELIEFS
Inconsequential beliefs are generally easier to change than other kinds of beliefs. This does not mean, however, that the consumer will passively yield to others’ efforts to change such beliefs. We generally resist changing all our beliefs because we gain comfort in clinging to the familiar and because all our beliefs, as Rokeach tried to suggest, serve highly important functions for us.
MAKING INCONSEQUENTIAL BELIEFS APPEAR TO BE CONSEQUENTIAL
The advertising man, while he has a psychological advantage over other persuaders specializing in changing more central beliefs, still has to find economical ways of changing the less consequential beliefs in which he specializes. This he has often tried to do by developing methods for shaking the consumer loose from his belief regarding the inconsequential virtues of a particular brand over a competitor’s in order to make him believe instead that the difference does make a difference. He tries to convince the consumer that there are important benefits to be gained by changing brands, that deeper beliefs and needs will be better satisfied. The advertising industry has frequently been successful in achieving this aim and, sometimes, miraculously so.
How does the advertiser reach his goal of changing beliefs? In line with his analysis, Rokeach suggested that the advertiser’s goal is achieved by associating the fifth kind of belief, Type E – the inconsequential beliefs – with other kinds of beliefs tapping psychologically more consequential beliefs and wants.
But what are the other kinds of beliefs which are more frequently associated with Type E beliefs? Theoretically, it is possible to associate the inconsequential beliefs with Type D, or C, or B+, or B-, or A beliefs, but the advertising industry does not use all these combinations with equal frequency. The associations which seem to come up most often in competitive advertising are those between Types E and C (the authority beliefs, as in testimonials) and between E and B- (as in the old Lifebouy ads on B.O. or in the more sophisticated Maidenform Bra ads which exploit primitive fears or primitive self-conceptions concerning insufficient femininity).
BEHAVIORISM AND PSYCHOANALYSIS
Why should these two combinations come up more often than the other possible combinations? Rokeach suspected that this is due to the fact that the advertising industry has been heavily influenced by two theories in psychology – behaviorism and psychoanalysis – both having in common an image of a man who is fundamentally an irrational creature, helplessly pushed around on the one hand by irrational guilt, anxiety, self-doubt, and other neurotic self-conceptions (B- beliefs) and, on the other hand, helplessly pushed around by external stimuli which, through reward and punishment, he is conditioned to from arbitrary associations. Advertising has borrowed from psychoanalysis its laws of association and from behaviorism its principles of conditioning. Psychoanalysis tells you what to associate with what, and behaviorism tells you how to stamp it in. It would suggest that it is because the advertising profession has taken over such an irrational image of the man from behaviorism and psychoanalysis that the inconsequential beliefs have been so often associated with the authority beliefs (Type C) and with the primitive beliefs (Type B-). In doing so, the advertising industry has come in for a great deal of criticism – to Rokeach’s mind, justified – from various sources for a style of advertising which encourages conformity, which is exploitative, debasing, lacking in taste, and insulting to the dignity of man.
IRRATIONAL MAN VS. RATIONAL MAN
Since the end of World War II, an increasing number of distinguished psychologists have revolted against the image of Irrational Man which behaviorism and classical psychoanalysis have both helped to build. Contemporary psychoanalysts talk more about the conflict-free sphere of ego functioning. The Gestalt psychologists have, for a long time, emphasized man’s search for meaning, understanding, and organization. Carl Rogers has emphasized the drive for growth and maturity within all individuals. Abraham Maslow has familiarized us with man’s drive for self-actualization. Gordon Allport and the existentialists talk about being and becoming. Robert White, Harry F. Harlow, D.E. Berlyne, Leon Festinger, and many others, have pointed to the fact that man has a need to know, to understand, and to be competent.
One of the major ways in which contemporary psychology differs from the psychology of twenty years ago is that Man is now seen to be not only a rationalizing creature but also a rational creature – curious, exploratory, and receptive to new ideas.
But the irrational image of man still predominates in the advertising world. The more inconsequential the benefits of one brand over a competitor’s the more desperately the industry has harangued and nagged and, consequently, irritated its mass audience. It’s not easy work to convince others that psychologically inconsequential matters are consequential. The fact that the advertising industry attracts such highly talented people, pays them fabulous salaries, and puts them under such terrific pressure – these can all be attributed to the kinds of beliefs it specializes in changing.
There are both great opportunities and great difficulties in the profession of advertising. Advertisers, like all persuaders, must face up to their social responsibility, search for conviction, and have both courage and conviction to behave appropriately.
Go through a mass-market magazine that has popular advertisements. Identify the types of beliefs being appealed to in the advertising. Bring a copy of your magazine to class, so you can share what you discovered with your classmates. Turn in to me one typed page with the following information:
The name of the magazine you examined.
The following information about at least three ads that focus on different beliefs:
Level of belief being appealed to
Explanation of why the ad appeals to that belief
Milton Rokeach found that people have a system of beliefs that can be divided into five different types of beliefs: Type A (primitive about reality), Type B (primitive about the self, either positive or negative), Type C (authorities we trust), Type D (the peripheral beliefs we get from our authorities), and Type E (inconsequential beliefs).
It is harder to change inner beliefs than it is to change the outer ones.
Advertisers will often use associations to inner beliefs to help change outer, inconsequential ones.
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