This is how the force works. You are watching television, or most likely busy with something else with television hubbub as background activity. You are drawn to the shriek of an ad, and you lower, by a millimeter, whatever you’re holding, which, until that point, was the foreground activity. You reach for the remote control and increase the volume. A furrow appears on your brow, and ever so slightly, you nod. That nod is invisible to anyone else in the room, because a large part of it happens inside your head.
And with that nod is a hmm, and that, Louis, is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Mind you, that hmm was hard work. Getting that all-important but imperceptible nod from you, the viewer, reader, listener or passerby, is difficult, because the courtship has to be made in seconds: 30 if a TV commercial, a second or two if we’re talking about billboards and you’re behind the wheel of a car.
The nod and hmm is a reaction to a logical proposition. Or hard sell. For instance, this multivitamin brand “has all the essential vitamins and minerals.” You hmm, that may sound good to you. But if I want something larger, I turn it into a common sense.
When a proposition becomes a common sense, it is drenched with emotion. It transcends logic. There is heartsell.
To complete the vitamin proposition then, I add, “a deficiency of vitamins can cause loss of spirit or enthusiasm.
Or heart. Lack of heart makes for poor quality of life, mediocre accomplishments, and sick relationships. The ad can now sing, “not enough vitamins, not enough life.”
It becomes common sense to want the vitamin brand with the most number of supplements.
When it is commonsensical, it is accepted without question. I no longer ask you for an agreement to purchase an idea; I ask you for a willingness to live with it, and—even better—to die for it, an especially important quality if we’re talking about movements, advocacies and candidacies.
Simply stated, my product, service or advocacy is situated in your home and day like a door and dinner. It enjoys an unquestioned existence, and it is conspicuous when absent.
Large, sweeping ideas build a common sense. It is now common sense to take vitamins daily to prevent illness (“Bawal magkasakit”), a practice or idea that is not accepted in many societies.
This brand of generics isn’t just that. It is recognition that consumers have a right to good, inexpensive medicine. Medicine has intrinsic emotion: “Nalulungkot ako pag may nakikita akong bumibili ng mahal na gamot.” So we tell our countrymen, “Bawal ang mahal”—it’s wrong to buy expensive medicine.
For this particular candidate, we could have talked about his concrete projects and accomplishments forever, for they were a-plenty and magnificent. Add heartsell, it becomes common sense to vote for him, to want progress for the poorest of the poor, for the rest of the country.
“Ganito kami sa Makati, ganito sana sa buong bansa.”
More powerful than coercion is the creation of common sense.
Mao was wrong: Power does not come from the barrel of a gun. His Red Book helped him hold sway over a vast nation. And, to this day, his influence is palpable in many lands. When an idea is common sense, then a hegemony is established: more than just winning, it is about holding sway—the maintenance of power or prominence, the domination of a state of things, or a way of thinking.
The philosophy borrows from Antonio Gramsci’s Theory of Hegemony, and Don Schultz, the father of Integrated Marketing Communications. It is a way to influence people, despite today’s difficult media landscape, in the same manner propaganda created beliefs and habits and shaped the bent and behavior of generations.
The word ‘propaganda’ drips with malice. But I love that it denotes the power to affect and infect generations.
Whether we’re selling milk, Marxism, or a better mousetrap, we seek to dominate and we want this hegemony to last, to fight off competing thoughts and products, to quell revolts, be they at town plazas or on supermarket shelves. When it appeals to common sense, your product, service or advocacy becomes difficult to dislodge.
While Hallmark may not have created Grandparents’ Day, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, it perpetuates the common sense to celebrate them with annual events and promotions. You can expect those holidays to be forever.
It is immense, this power to sell and hold sway.
An idea presented as a common sense has the magic of ritual and the sturdiness of tradition and the incontestability of gospel. I remind my copywriting and integrated marketing communications students, far too frequently, I am told, that we must always have a healthy respect for the influence of the instrument, as one would handle a firearm, with care and a little trepidation. For a well-crafted campaign can make feeding cow’s milk to infants the norm, turn old model pickups into market leaders, install and topple governments, sell the Brooklyn Bridge and maybe, just maybe, reverse the earth’s rotation.
The author is chairman of Estima, an ad agency dedicated to helping local industrialists and causes, and co-founder of Caucus, Inc., a multi-discipline consultancy firm. He can be reached through email@example.com.