Spotting Those 'Hidden Persuaders'


The other day my daughter Francine, who's in the fifth grade at the local public school, brought home a worksheet that seems to be part of a "media awareness" unit (overseen, naturally, by the gym teacher as part of "health" class). The worksheet instructed her to analyze a magazine ad for "a toy or an athletic shoe," looking for what the worksheet called "hidden persuaders." I've got no problem with teaching kids to be skeptical of advertising (though a subscription to Mad magazine might be more cost-effective than spendng classroom time on it). But I object to the mystification and exaggeration represented by terms like hidden persuaders, which suggest that advertising is both more sinister and more powerful than it really is. According to the worksheet (though not according to Vance Packard), "hidden persuaders" include humor, the use of celebrities, the implication that a product is fun, and the suggestion that it is popular. I pointed out to Francine that there really is nothing "hidden" about these techniques. It's obvious that manufacturers use celebrity endorsements, for instance, to enhance the appeal of their products. "Like when Britney Spears did that ad for Coke," Francine said. Actually, it was Pepsi, which sort of proves my point about the limits of advertising.