Purposeful Influencing

The term purposeful influencing probably conveys a negative image since we are inundated by such crass commercial influence today. We might think of influencers starting with social media, but the use of endorsements began in 1760 when Queen Charlotte of England endorsed Wedgwood China.

The role of endorsements greatly increased when early radio serials featured commercial products as part of the dialog between performers in the long-running stories. Today we call these serials soap operas but may not realize that the main purpose of the radio broadcasts was to influence the purchase of houseful products.

Celebrity influencers became a part of our lives with Michael Jordon’s deal with Nike to promote his own brand of basketball shoes. Not only were influencers endorsing products, but the products were developed for them. Thus Air Jordan was developed.

But there is a more subtle form of influence that has gone largely unnoticed. This form of influencing is focused on how we act and how we accept social change. Jay Winsten, a faculty member in the Harvard School of Public Health has been successful in what he calls social marketing.

In the 1980s, Winsten was able to introduce the concept of designated drivers with the support of the broadcast industry. Popular TV shows featured designated drivers in their scripts. More than 160 shows participated. The designated driving concept is widely accepted today.

Think about how other social transformations have resulted from this form of subtle influencing. Certainly, racial acceptance has been aided by integrated sports teams. Henry Aaron, an African American, broke the all-time homerun record of Babe Ruth, a white man, in the state of Georgia. The roar of the crowd and broadcaster Vin Scully’s call of the homerun made all of us proud that a black man could be so revered in a southern state.

When movies and TV shows have scripts showing same-gender or interracial loving relationships, we no longer react to them with surprise. We are probably more surprised by a character smoking a cigarette.

Just imagine why such subtle social marketing seems to be more effective than in-your-face advocacy. Could it be the repetitive messaging that leads to acceptance? It’s striking that few of us can recall the person who influenced our beliefs. We are more influenced by seeing societal changes in neutral settings than what we are told by a social influencer.

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“Influence is about being genuine.” – Johnny Hunt (Pastor)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.