In an email to the readers of my newsletter, I shared with them "The Heist," a show aired on British Television that demonstrates the power of persuasion, manipulation, motivation and more. If you haven't watched Darren Brown in The Heist yet, go here and watch it then read the rest of this post, it will make more sense.
I decided to provide my analysis as a blog post so that you can comment and discuss your feelings as well. I strongly encourage you to post your thoughts here as this is where I'll be responding.
Much of what Darren Brown does is missing. They demonstrated pieces of what he did but you have to remember that this conditioning took place over an extended time. The outcome would not have been the same at the end of a day for example.
These people were carefully selected from the initial group and narrowed down to those people most susceptible to actually taking the actions that were anticipated. There is a strong sales and marketing lesson here, it is much easier to influence those people who you've carefully screened (you do have criteria for the people who can work with you, right?) and who demonstrate further interest in changing their views. He attracted a certain kind of person by using an advertisement that promised that they'd learn his techniques.
Notice that from the very beginning Derren sets up tests to see how they'll respond. He also watches the participants as they interact, watching for body language and social clues. He has to narrow down the group quickly to find those most likely to take action. He also begins to condition them, having a security guard hassle them from the beginning. Note that the security guard's jacket is the same color as the security truck in the actual heist. Virtually everything that Darren does is conditioning, testing and reconditioning. From a marketers point of view, this is a powerful statement around brand and brand recognition. You must provide a series of cues that people are anchored to that they can react to at a later date. This is why having the exact colors in your ad or logo when reproduced is very important for example.
Derren then points out that he is going to teach them some of his skills peppered with a dose of pop psychology. What he is really doing here is teaching them a piece of a bigger skill, and reinforcing how it will work by tying in pseudo social proof. He knows that people easily accept pop psychology in this case Neuro Linguistic Programming or NLP, because it is water cooler conversation and easy to swallow . . . it is also designed to help people feel good and lower their resistance. It does not take a lot of proof for people to draw the conclusion that they think that they should, especially when reinforced with facts. As a marketer or salesperson, you should be exploring how you can leverage facts and supportive "psychology" in your advertising and presentations.
Green remains an important element in the conditioning, look at the name tags of the people as they first gather around the table and meet Darren. Look at the screen behind him on the wall.
Next comes memory strategies, teaching them a linking strategy to remember a list of things to do and he uses very specific language when quizzing them. "X leads you to Y leads you to Z." This is a use of metaphor in language and also a very specific process for getting them to follow instructions and to follow procedures specifically.
He then moves them further into the use of metaphoric language and continues to condition them through the use of metaphor. You notice that this area is brushed over pretty quickly in the show because it is one of the keys to this kind of program. I teach a way of using metaphor in my book Persuasion: The Art of Getting What You Want when I talk about storytelling. Metaphor is a very powerful persuasion tool because people build bigger meanings internally when listening to and applying the metaphor to themselves than you can by outright telling them what to think or how to interpret something.
Note the color of their ink pens.
Next, when he explains anchoring a key NLP term, he talks about it as "Stealing an emotion, stealing a response." He is using anchoring and embedded language very effectively to tie stealing together with change and emotion. He is anchoring stealing to the process of learning a core principle. They are completely unaware. Anchoring is very powerful in advertising and rarely used effectively. Firing powerful emotional anchors can initiate automatic responses in people. If you don't believe it, think about the Twin Towers for a moment or the Kennedy assassination for a second and notice how you feel. You immediately reconnect with the feelings you had that day. By deeply connecting emotions and anchoring those emotions with your marketing messages, you are able to effectively take connect with people's emotions.
Bear in mind that this is taking place over a long period of time, two weeks, they are being systematically conditioned.
He then gives them a gun and a CD that he says they must listen to that he says contains subliminal messages that will reinforce their learnings. He is building on their beliefs and their belief in him. Research shows that auditory subliminals have no real impact on behavior, but what does is belief. If you believe that something is true it becomes true as you act on the belief. People for example who hold a belief about spontaneous healing or spiritual healing are much more likely to experience those outcomes because of the belief. When you identify people's beliefs and you build on those beliefs and link (there is that word again) their beliefs to new beliefs, the new beliefs become equally powerful.
Maybe the most disturbing part of the program for most people was the recreation of the Milgram experiment where people are told by authority figures to shock others who are actors (but they don't know it). The original experiment was conducted by Dr. Stanley Milgram, a social psychologist who studied obedience. This portion of the program was disturbing because of the psychological implications of their belief that they'd actually shocked someone up to a potentially lethal level just because someone in a lab coat told them to. In the original Milgram experiment they anticipated that 1/10 of 1% of people would actually go all the way, in reality, more than 50% did. From a marketing standpoint, this shows you the tremendous power of using authority figures in your persuasion efforts. It also shows why many people do outrageous things in the name of God when given direction by an authoritarian leader with an alleged better connection to "God" than the worshiper.
Notice how after the Milgram experiment Derren very carefully evaluates each individual (also notice that he did not give a concise overview of what he was looking for) to determine the people most likely to take the action he wants them to take. This is a very important key in marketing and in developing a cult like following. If you intend to develop people who will be complete converts and who will stop thinking and just take the actions you suggest, you must select the most highly suggestible people. From there, they become your ardent supporters and leaders, evangelists if you will, that will provide the crucial social proof for others to easily follow.
Now that he has narrowed down the group, he continues to anchor states, combine states and deepen the triggers. This is and should be done in all of your advertising and persuasion efforts. You don't have to be nearly as overt as Derren is to be effective. I teach this in my advanced influence programs and how to do it ethically.
Also note, how these people are driven back to the idea that they are learning these things for the betterment of themselves. They've already closely identified with Derren by wanting to understand how he does what he does, they in effect want the same level of control and are promised that very thing when they are selected to be part of the group. From a cult perspective, this is exactly what happens, at some level, people identify with the leader or his ideas and want to be more like him, to have secret knowledge imparted to them, and through adherence to ritual, practice and knowledge, they are moved closer and closer to the "truth" or "enlightenment."
One of the biggest exposures to this truth is during the "Chi" demonstration, they really do believe that they are transferring their energy and knocking the other person down, this is a strong reinforcement that they are "learning" what Derren knows. In reality as Derren clearly points out, the people who fall are the victims of their own beliefs, they believe that it is possible and they are victims of the suggestion, their own minds cause them to fall and nothing else. This from your standpoint as a marketer and a persuader is important to understand. If you tell your customers what they should expect to happen, it will, they'll find a way to make it true. The interesting thing about this is that it won't work with an outright lie. There has to be an area of "it could happen" to it so that they can make the connection between what could happen and what does or does not happen.
Ultimately, the people in the show take a very predictable action, they rob the truck at a rate of 75%, a much higher rate than the success of most marketing or persuasion efforts. It works because they are specifically conditioned, they are narrowed down and provided with more information and then all of the triggers that have been put into place are fired and they take action.
This film is a great review of what is possible with your marketing, advertising, influencing and persuading when you follow a detailed plan and properly identify and condition your audience.
Note: I got this note from Dr. Signe Dayhoff and reader and social psychologist:
"In Milgram's experiments there were those who suffered tremendously during the experiment, torn between doing what they felt was right and humane and what the authority figure demanded. Afterward there were a number of people who suffered from emotional problems because they had been introduced to a side of themselves that was ugly and didn't match their sense of self/identity. While the last individual in the video, who didn't attempt a heist, said he felt good about himself, that he was "a good person," I worried about the lasting effects on those who attempted the heist. How would they reconcile what they had done with their own definition of being a "good person."
To have Derren Brown and a psychologist "deprogram" them didn't seem sufficient. Knowing that (1) someone could manipulate you that easily to do (2) something you wouldn't do under normal circumstance or would have thought you could not do is most discomforting, as well as challenging to who you really are as an individual.
Those Milgram experiments, as well as the Prison Studies of Philip Zimbardo, are the reason that informed consent of subjects came into required use."
I agree, when you use persuasion, coercion, manipulation, and influence for an end that is not ethical, there is great concern about the health of the person on the receiving end. That is why we focus on the line between persuasion and manipulation which is intent.
There is a lot more to this that I'd like to discuss and will in future blog posts about how to use the techniques you saw ethically and appropriately in your advertising and persuasion efforts.