The PR BlogPR TrendsNew TechnologiesProgrammatic Brainwashing is Coming Your Way

Programmatic Brainwashing is Coming Your Way

Perhaps Inception Marketing will become a thing?

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

Programmatic brain­wash­ing — this is why GDPR is needed.

Okay, so this should give you the creeps:

The Spinner has launched a ser­vice that allows for pro­gram­mat­ic micro-targeting. 

Where will we go from here?

Media Attention

No one is too happy about The Spinner’s launch; the ser­vice is, to put it mildly, questionable. 

But per­haps these types of pro­gram­mat­ic tech­no­lo­gies hint at the future of online advert­ising. Targetting tiny audi­ences can be done using Facebook:

Facebook also allows advert­isers to tar­get groups as small as 20 users. Max said an advert­iser could, in the­ory, tar­get a single per­son by filling the group with 19 fake accounts. The only real account in the group would be the tar­geted one. […] For example, this how-to guide from December 2017 explains how to get around the 20-per­son min­im­um group size for tar­geted ads.”
Source: abc​.net.

While already a creepy tech­no­logy, it could also get scary.

Many have seen Inception, Christopher Nolan’s block­buster movie star­ring Leonardo DiCaprio. A team of agents breaks into sleep­ing people’s heads to plant ideas with­in their dreams. 1 I’d sug­gest not put­ting this incep­tion tech­no­logy in the hands of David Lynch.

To Spin Or Not To Spin - Programmatic Brainwashing - Spinning Top
To spin or not to spin. That’s the question.

Perhaps Inception Marketing will become a thing?
Or maybe Facebook Sniper Marketing?

As expec­ted, the com­pany is get­ting media atten­tion due to its con­tro­ver­sial nature. 

How about tar­get­ing loved ones to:

  • per­suade a tar­get to quit smoking,
  • get a tar­get to lose weight,
  • encour­age mar­riage proposals,
  • or con­sider breast implants.

The media seems focused on men trick­ing women into sexu­al rela­tion­ships (or set­tling out of court) — a sexu­al “Cambridge Analytica”. Forbes calls it online manip­u­la­tion, and ABC calls it brain­wash­ing.

For all its quirk­i­ness, The Spinner high­lights how easy it can be in the age of fake news and social media to manip­u­late people on the Web. Cambridge Analytica did it. Advertisers and politi­cians do it. “Why not give this abil­ity to the com­mon man?” says Shefler, who wears loose-fit­ting jeans and refused to have his face shown in a photo.”
Source: Forbes.

Programmatic Brainwashing

The pur­pose is to bom­bard a single indi­vidu­al (rather than a group of people) with tailored-to-fit mes­sages. And it could work.

Famous men­tal­ists like Derren Brown have made it their busi­ness to show that sug­gest­ive tech­niques can have effects — mak­ing tar­gets believe that planted ideas are their own.

Traditional mar­ket­ing has always been clear about what products or ser­vices are advert­ised. Still, maybe now we’ll begin to see tri­als in sug­gest­ive tar­get­ing based on the psy­cho­lo­gic­al makeup of individuals.

If the level of detail is too much for most organ­isa­tions, micro-tar­get­ing by match­ing mes­sages with indi­vidu­al psy­cho­lo­gies could instead be a ven­ue for future AI technologies.

Perhaps polit­ic­al cam­paign­ing and pub­lic affairs will be amongst the first to exper­i­ment with micro-targeting.

An Expensive Market

Still, I think that there’s a chance that the mar­ket might pro­tect itself. Honestly, I’d be flattered if a com­pany would decide to pay good money to expose me as an indi­vidu­al with exclus­ive messages.

Micro-tar­get­ing might prove to be an expens­ive space. The pro­gram­mat­ic part could be auto­mated fur­ther, but cre­at­ing con­tent for indi­vidu­als is likely a costly ven­ture — even for enter­prise-level B2B com­pan­ies with few­er poten­tial clients.

There’s a mar­ket for B2B sales, where a sales­per­son, before and after a meet­ing with a poten­tial cli­ent, could run auto­mated cam­paigns to rein­force their pitch. However, this is where we enter GDPR ter­rit­ory; using per­son­al inform­a­tion this way will likely be stopped at an early stage. 2Update: In 2020, BBC repor­ted that The Spinner was banned from Facebook.

The Spinner’s web ser­vice is likely to be writ­ten off as an uneth­ic­al concept, and rightly so. Still, it’s safe to assume that this might be the start­ing point of many solu­tions for indi­vidu­al “Pre-Suasion.” 3For more on Pre-Suasion, I recom­mend Robert Cialdini’s latest book, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, or my blog art­icle, How To Be Persuasive.

Controversy as a PR Strategy

While The Spinner is some­what scan­dal­ous, pur­posely mar­ket­ing itself to stir up con­flict, the tech­no­logy is far from advanced; cook­ie-based pro­gram­mat­ic tar­get­ing is already in wide­spread main­stream use. 

The main takeaway is that con­tro­versy almost always works for punch­ing pub­li­city well above your weight.

But con­tro­versy as a PR strategy is also a thin line between suc­cess and over­step­ping into the we-will-nev­er-recov­er badlands.


Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

PR Resource: The Anatomy of Attention

The Anatomy of Attention

Attention is an essen­tial com­pon­ent of pub­lic relations:

  • An organ­isa­tion, starved of atten­tion, trust, and loy­alty, is com­pelled to wage a per­petu­al struggle for its con­tin­ued existence.

We all seem to crave atten­tion in some form or another:

People want to be loved; fail­ing that admired; fail­ing that feared; fail­ing that hated and des­pised. They want to evoke some sort of sen­ti­ment. The soul shud­ders before obli­vi­on and seeks con­nec­tion at any price.”
— Hjalmar Söderberg (1869−1941), Swedish author

But what con­sti­tutes ‘atten­tion’?

Attention is a com­plex, real neur­al archi­tec­ture (‘RNA’) mod­el that integ­rates vari­ous cog­nit­ive mod­els and brain cen­ters to per­form tasks like visu­al search.”
Source: Trends in cog­nit­ive sci­ences 4Shipp, S. (2004). The brain cir­cuitry of atten­tion. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 223 – 230. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​j​.​t​i​c​s​.​2​0​0​4​.​0​3​.​004

Each of the below terms refers to a spe­cif­ic aspect or type of atten­tion (“men­tal band­width”), a com­plex cog­nit­ive pro­cess. 5Schweizer, K., Moosbrugger, H., & Goldhammer, F. (2005). The struc­ture of the rela­tion­ship between atten­tion and intel­li­gence. Intelligence, 33(6), 589 – 611. … Continue read­ing

Let’s explore dif­fer­ent types of attention:

  • Alertness. This is the state of being watch­ful and ready to respond. It’s the most basic form of atten­tion, rep­res­ent­ing our read­i­ness to per­ceive and pro­cess inform­a­tion from the environment.
  • Sustained atten­tion. This involves focus­ing on a spe­cif­ic task or stim­u­lus over a pro­longed peri­od. It’s cru­cial for tasks that require ongo­ing con­cen­tra­tion, like read­ing or driving.
  • Focused atten­tion. This refers to the abil­ity to con­cen­trate on one par­tic­u­lar stim­u­lus or task while ignor­ing oth­ers. It’s the abil­ity to focus nar­rowly on a single thing.
  • Attentional switch­ing. Also known as task switch­ing or cog­nit­ive flex­ib­il­ity, this involves shift­ing focus from one task to anoth­er. It’s crit­ic­al for mul­ti­task­ing and adapt­ing to chan­ging demands or priorities.
  • Divided atten­tion. This is the abil­ity to pro­cess two or more responses or react to mul­tiple tasks sim­ul­tan­eously. It’s often tested by ask­ing people to per­form two tasks sim­ul­tan­eously, like listen­ing to a con­ver­sa­tion while writ­ing.
  • Attention accord­ing to the super­vis­ory atten­tion­al sys­tem. This concept, derived from cog­nit­ive psy­cho­logy, refers to a high­er-level con­trol sys­tem that reg­u­lates the alloc­a­tion of atten­tion, par­tic­u­larly in situ­ations requir­ing plan­ning or decision-making.
  • Attention as inhib­i­tion. This aspect of atten­tion involves sup­press­ing irrel­ev­ant or dis­tract­ing stim­uli. It’s a cru­cial com­pon­ent of focused atten­tion and self-regulation.
  • Spatial atten­tion. This type of atten­tion focuses on a spe­cif­ic area with­in the visu­al field. It’s like a spot­light that enhances inform­a­tion pro­cessing in a par­tic­u­lar location.
  • Attention as plan­ning. This per­spect­ive views atten­tion as a resource that needs to be alloc­ated effi­ciently, espe­cially in com­plex tasks requir­ing stra­tegic plan­ning and organization.
  • Interference. In the con­text of atten­tion, inter­fer­ence refers to the pro­cess by which irrel­ev­ant inform­a­tion or dis­trac­tions impede the effi­ciency of cog­nit­ive processing.
  • Attention as arous­al. This con­siders atten­tion in the con­text of the gen­er­al level of alert­ness or arous­al. It’s about the read­i­ness of the brain to engage with stim­uli or tasks.
  • Attention accord­ing to the assess­ment tra­di­tion. This refers to meas­ur­ing and eval­u­at­ing atten­tion­al pro­cesses, often in clin­ic­al or edu­ca­tion­al set­tings, to identi­fy atten­tion defi­cits or disorders.

Each type of atten­tion plays a cru­cial role in how we inter­act with and pro­cess inform­a­tion from our envir­on­ment, and under­stand­ing these dif­fer­ent aspects is key in fields like psy­cho­logy, neur­os­cience, and education.

There’s only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
— Oscar Wilde

Learn more: The Anatomy of Attention

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ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 I’d sug­gest not put­ting this incep­tion tech­no­logy in the hands of David Lynch.
2 Update: In 2020, BBC repor­ted that The Spinner was banned from Facebook.
3 For more on Pre-Suasion, I recom­mend Robert Cialdini’s latest book, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, or my blog art­icle, How To Be Persuasive.
4 Shipp, S. (2004). The brain cir­cuitry of atten­tion. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 223 – 230. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​j​.​t​i​c​s​.​2​0​0​4​.​0​3​.​004
5 Schweizer, K., Moosbrugger, H., & Goldhammer, F. (2005). The struc­ture of the rela­tion­ship between atten­tion and intel­li­gence. Intelligence, 33(6), 589 – 611. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​j​.​i​n​t​e​l​l​.​2​0​0​5​.​0​7​.​001
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo has nothing to do with public relations, of course. I share for no other reason that I happen to enjoy photography. Call it an “ornamental distraction”—and a subtle reminder to appreciate nature.

The cover photo has

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