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March 23, 2006


Christopher Carfi

Elizabeth...very interesting. We seem to be poking at the same issues today regarding ethics and transparency.

To your question: "How, then, can participatory communications tools like blogging or podcasting, create that possibility (assuming this is still a needed item for persuading people to take action)?"

With respect to "possibility," I think sharing experiences within an internally-referential customer community gets to that. When a pace-setter type customer uses a tool/product/service and is able to do fantastic things with it (for real), that gives others in their peer group the sense of possiblity: "Hey, Janice was able to do that, I bet I could, too!"

With respect to "persuasion," I have this happy, nagging feeling that persuasion (in this case meaning "convincing someone to buy something they don't need, or putting a higher value on something based on its connection with a created 'brand'") may finally be slipping. Instead, we may be moving into an era of more clear and, dare I say, transparent communication based on a different type of ideal: a combination of rational decision-making (based on the "facts") coupled with more real interpersonal relationships. The "value" of a product is more than it's price: price is one aspect, but there are a number of other soft/emotional things that fit into the value as well. In the mass-market era, that emotional differentiator was created via the "brand." I think for the upcoming era that we are entering now (and will be very apparent in the generation that follows us), that differentiator will no longer be with the "brand" ... instead, it will be based on relationships with *people* who are associated with the brand.

Christopher Carfi

(in the last 'graph above, it's = its. was typing too quickly.)

Elizabeth Albrycht

I think you are on to something there Christopher - the (perceived) relationship creates the possibility vs. some type of image-crafting. Interesting and deserves more thought. However, I don't think persuasion is necessarily all the negatives you stated above. There are highly positive persuasions as well (such as convincing someone not to smoke or to lose weight). The question (which might be empirically testable) then comes to - do I stop smoking due to constant exposure to ads and "smoking kills" labels on cigarette cartons or because people I have some type of "relationship" with convinces me to by telling their stories. Of course, choosing something like "stop smoking" is highly complex. Perhaps we should start with something simpler - maybe like using virus protection or something.

Lots to consider here - thanks for commenting!

Elizabeth Albrycht

Olivier Blanchard over at the Corante Marketing Hub has written a great follow-on piece to this about metaphor:

I will have more to say on this!

Julia Jahansoozi

I also agree that persuasion / persuasive communication can be used 'positively' (in the interest of the persuadee) or 'negatively (in the interest of the persuader...which slides closer to the propaganda end of the scale) and I think it is similar with transparency. The thing that is difficult to ascertain is the intent behind the decisions as no matter how transparent the process is the intent remains 'hidden' from observable view.

kathy hale

Elizabeth, I'm very taken with your thinking about the application of the transparency concept to artistry in advertising. I'm pleased that someone is taking the time to "flesh out" how we operationalize these terms. As I see it, an ad about "just the facts" of a service or product is not the only way to be transparent. I think you can have the "possibility" you are concerned about through ads that are open about the story they are trying to tell, the identity they are trying to create, etc. You inspired me to write a bit about it at
(also enjoyed your 05 post about transparency and PR ethics.)
Kathy Hale

Elizabeth Albrycht

Julia - intent is indeed a challenge! I think you are correct in that we cannot ever know for sure (and I suspect even the person taking the action doesn't always have a clear picture of their own intent.). We can certainly make educated guesses about intent by a close "reading" of what we are seeking to judge (which also brings our own intent into the picture) - if we didn't do that, we'd never make any decisions at all! What is important here, I think, is the perception of intent by the "reader", as that is what we make decisions on. As we've always said in PR: "perception IS reality". The question is how to be as transparent/ethical as we can about manipulating what that perception could be.

To be a bit provacative, in some sense it doesn't matter what the original intent was! It is the resulting action that matters. People can create mayhem via good intentions, as we well know!

Julia Jahansoozi

You're right - unless you're party to the decision-making process the only thing you can go on is the observable behaviour. It's the same with interpersonal relationships and no different when it comes to organisational behaviour...and transparency.

The thing that bothers me though is that transparency is often viewed as a quick fix solution that shows in neon signs who is accountable, and while there are indeed loads of positives connected with transparency (accountability, trust, collaboration, cooperation, etc) there are also some negatives. For example, transparency can be a coercive force ... one company becomes 'transparent' and so the pressure is on for its competitors as they either must follow and do the same or deal with the suspicion that they are doing something wrong. The IMF is pro transparency but at the same time acknowledges that it lowers the level (quality) of decision-making and effectiveness of policies. The down side coud be that decision-makers become more concerned regarding how the decision / policy will be framed in the media than whether it is the 'best possible' decision for the long term, so there are implications regarding the resulting actions ...but again you won't really know because the intent is hidden!

But perhaps the huge improvements in practice outweigh this...

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