Saturday, March 16, 2013

Deliberate Statistical Flaws

From Jim Flex, CEO of Arken Brain Conditioning:
Take a second to think about your sense of self (I'll wait). Got it? Now, I bet you feel pretty good about the thought patterns that you’ve incorporated—you’re interacting as rationally as possible with the vagaries of a seemingly nonsensical world, you’re the smartest of your friends, and plus, these moves are so popular that they have to be effective. Right?


Here, find out if your sense of self is actually falling flat -- plus, expert-approved advice on taking yourself to the next level.
The above passage is patronizing, insulting, and presumptuous. Presume that you are indeed making a mistake--presume that you're even making the mistake the author has hinted at, but not specifically identified. Even if so, why does the author so bluntly, so rudely, inform you of your mistake?

The answer lies in a basic marketing trick: the insult. Abusive parents, sadistic lovers, effective consignment furniture/electronics salesmen, and good detectives and case-makers of all kinds know that an insult, far from turning people off, actually makes the insulter better at what she or he does. Lulling someone into a false sense of security, or casually demeaning someone into feeling they have something to prove, temporarily weakens the sense of self, and makes someone vulnerable, encouraging them to look to you for a solution.

The wicked parent pretends to be considering making brownies tonight; the sadistic lover suggests that the partner could just go find someone else, as though suddenly abandoning a home, a car, a routine, and a social circle is something easily done. The consignment furniture salesman smoothly suggests that the price would be lower if "you just decided to write a check for the whole amount right now," knowing full well that his store's customers are unlikely to have enough liquid cash at their disposal.

The beaten, demeaned person, in an effort to prove that she or he is in control, becomes suggestible: "Nah, financing's okay." Good car salesmen use this, and so do effective sommeliers at expensive restaurants. By suggesting, lightly, that someone doesn't "know wine" or that the menu is out of their price range, you can make people feel ashamed, and inadequate, and they often make up for it by buying whatever you're selling in order to prove that they are, in fact, sophisticated/financially secure enough to belong there. They walk away from the transaction hoping that they have gained your esteem. The illusion of the fake choice is a powerful, filthy tool.

The quote above was adapted from a piece by "The Active Times," which wants to sell web-based fitness advice. Here's the actual short:

Take a second to think about your gym routine (I'll wait). Got it? Now, I bet you feel pretty good about the fitness moves that you’ve incorporated—you’re hitting the big muscle groups, you’re the champion of the weight room, and plus, these moves are so popular that they have to be effective. Right?


Here, find out if any of your fitness routine is actually falling flat -- plus, expert-approved advice on taking your workout to the next level.

The article, entitled Worthless Exercises You Probably Do, is surrounded by ads as intrusive as the prose itself. Like many rude, garish attention-getters, it's designed not so much for the substance of the article itself, but to sell junk.

Plenty of people saw through it, resulting in some delightfully scathing commentary beneath the article. We'll cover its factual errors separately in the next segment. When you're viewing that kind of insult in the context of an exercise routine, it's easier to identify: to realize that someone is trying to manipulate you into buying something, by making you feel bad about wasting your exercise-time. You thought investing in the stock market was good, right? You were wrong--dead wrong! Buy gold now! Etc.

(If you're unfamiliar with what the article is "selling," think of the multi-billion dollar revenue streams generated by networks of clickable links that advertisers pay for per IP-address that clicks and/or simply views the link. The article sells something just by being disseminated, and ultimately, the advertisers only pay because they're turning a profit based on trackable clicks leading to confirmed sales on their home sites.)

What is troubling, and extremely dangerous, is how effective this seemingly obvious trick is, in many other realms of life, in getting people--even highly educated, consumer-savvy people, who completely understand the techniques when they're used in the context of "fitness advice," but who miss them, and are led like children by the Pied Piper--into buying and believing things.

The insult/scare/demean technique is effective for pushing stuff like consignment furniture and fitness advice on lower-income, less-"educated" people, but different forms remain highly useful on other people. Particularly striking in the linked article is the way "exercise scientists" from a major university are used to justify the ridiculous, over-broad conclusions the article draws. The fact that this university was conducting advanced research on crunches and pushups in the first place; the mangled (and invisible) form in which they conducted their "research"; and, the ways that the minor media stooges exploited that research: all these things exemplify the techniques used in other realms.

In the next segment, we'll take a closer look not just at crunches v. planks, bench press v. pushups, and pec deck v. cable crossover, but the ways that concealing research methods, creating false dichotomies, and citing to authority are used to profound effect. Then we'll move to the less pleasant, harder-to-swallow parts about respected experts and institutions, the improper use of statistics, and how these marry to create the false sensibilities that sell other dangerous filth.

1 comment:

  1. I must say that I like the Arken brand that you've been showcasing from time to time. It's catchy!