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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: June 2016

5 - Fifty Shades of Manipulation


It ranks among the most powerful scenes in the history of American television. Don Draper, the star of the series Mad Men, is charged with producing an advertising campaign for Kodak, which has just invented a new slide projector, with continuous viewing. It operates like a wheel. Using the device to display scenes from a once-happy family (as it happens, his own, which is now broken), Draper tells his potential clients:

In Greek, “nostalgia” literally means, “the pain from an old wound.” It's a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn't a spaceship. It's a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It's not called the Wheel. It's called a Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around, and back home again … to a place where we know we are loved.

The Kodak clients are sold; they cancel their meetings with other companies.

Now consider the following cases:

A parent tries to convince an adult child to visit him in a remote town in Nebraska, saying, “After all, I'm your father, and I raised you for all those years, and it wasn't always a lot of fun for me – and who knows whether I'm going to live a lot longer?”

An automobile company advertises its new vehicle by showing a sleek, attractive couple exiting from it before going to a glamorous party.

In an effort to discourage people from smoking, a government requires cigarette packages to contain graphic, frightening, even gruesome health warnings, depicting people with life-threatening illnesses.

In a campaign advertisement, a political candidate displays highly unflattering photographs of his opponent, set against the background of frightening music, suitable for a horror movie. An announcer reads quotations that, while accurate and not misleading, are taken out of context to make the opponent look at once ridiculous and scary.

In an effort to convince consumers to switch to its new, high-cost credit card, a company emphasizes its very low “teaser rate,” by which consumers can enjoy low-cost borrowing for a short period.

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