How Babbling Morons Influence Millions

The game’s been rigged so that this happens as little as possible.

But once in a while, when a TV pundit wants footage for a highlight reel, they’ll use a little known secret that sends hardened politicians reeling.

"They ask a 'follow up' question."

“They ask a ‘follow up’ question.”

And when you ask a politician about a contradiction in their thinking, they’ll stammer and stutter and eventually just repeat one sentence over and over again like an idiot.

Why the hell does this keep happening? Don’t they know they sound like idiots?

They Don’t Care! They Do What Works.

People LOVE Contradictions.

They can’t stand illegal immigrants but demand a path to citizenship.

They want the rich to pay their fair share but want to abolish the death tax.

They want individual liberty without being “on their own”.

How NUTS is that?

Part of this is just wanting to get stuff out without putting anything in. But it’s also because words and framing have a powerful emotional impact on how we make decisions. We make all of our decisions emotionally, and we don’t care if it makes us sound dumb sometimes.

And that’s good! It makes us human beings. People who are actually “logical thinkers” are usually friendless creeps.

What’s all this got to do with you?

Words Make People Stop And Listen

It makes them feel threatened when someone says “illegal immigrant” and benevolent when someone says “path to citizenship.” It makes their mouths water when a juicy hamburger is thrown onto the TV screen…

Or even when it’s described in a blog post!

If you’re in the selling business, work to pair vivid descriptions of feelings and places with brands, people, and ideas you want your customers to have strong feelings about. People will naturally “mash them together”.

“Imagine how confident you’ll feel when you show off your new body at the beach…”


“You can avoid my book and continue making the same public speaking mistakes that have crippled your career.”

Within seconds, your prospects will think of avoiding the book as synonymous with a ruined career. Or they’ll have a vivid picture of themselves showing off in the surf.

Who Can Use These Techniques?

Practically everyone. For starters, you can look for “accidental associations” – times when you attach negative ideas to your products or personal image. So many freelance artists, writers, and developers freely talk about being broke and being newbies and being desperate and all that. Maybe they don’t exactly understand how the “damaging admission” works. Maybe all these freelance guys think it’s charming to suck. But it isn’t.

Why not raise your value? I read a story online about two street musicians that played on the same corner at the same time of day. One had a rack CD’s next to him on sale for $6. The other guy had a rack of CD’s on sale for $20. Neither of them sold a lot of CD’s, but the $20 dollar guy sold more copies and made way more in tips. What’s the moral of the story?

People don’t buy CD’s anymore! 🙂

The other moral is that attaching value to yourself is a real impact on the respect you get.

You can also attach negative ideas and feelings to your competition or your prospects. But for God’s sakes, do this sparingly, or you’ll come off as a desperate tool. Ashly Lorenzana has a pretty funny blog entry on Microsoft’s attempt to attach privacy fears to the Google brand. Not that any single person’s word is gospel, but the more blatant you are, the more potential for backlash there is.

Finally, you can anchor positive emotions to ideas that you think people should adopt. Concepts like “quality costs more” or “business should be fun” might be a prerequisite for the sale. Don’t just assume your customer feels a certain way about something…

Do the heavy lifting for them.

If a sleazy politician can pull this off, so can you.


  1. Hi Micah,

    I couldn’t agree more with this. When you really get down to it, people who are successful in sales or marketing tend to have a knack for appealing to people’s emotions. That’s really all it is at the end of the day.

    There is, however, a fine line between manipulating emotions and appealing to them. Such is the difference between the ethical and the not-so-ethical marketers out there.

    And you’re absolutely right about how anyone can put these techniques to use.

    I’m also glad you enjoyed my little Microsoft spoof, it was fun to write. 🙂

  2. Nice! This is the best thing I have read all day and you are so right, if the politicians can do it and fool people every day, why can’t we?

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