What is Gaslighting?: As Told by a Marketer

You may have heard the word Gaslighting used frequently since this past election and have a vague idea of what it means. It means getting people riled up right? Right. There are specific marketing tactics used on issues that blind us from real truths. This post lays a few of them out so you can more easily tell when you are purposefully being manipulated.

For every off-the-cuff horrible statement that you assume was ‘really tweeted by that celebrity’ there is an actual marketing team who has done research on how far they can go and still never lose their fan base. Marketers find out through polling, internet and social behavior tracking, merchandise and services bought, crossed with lifetime exposure with the celebrity, just how much you are worth to the celebrity and how loyal you are. (If a celebrity responds to you even in the slightest way your loyalty skyrockets and you become more valuable to them throughout your lifetime. They don’t ‘like your tweet’ as much as they like doubling your financial value. See my description of this below.*) There is a reason the current president said he could shoot a man on fifth avenue... a marketer told him that he could.

For the full definition of Gaslighting click here. Today I am going to focus on the a few classic marketing tactics I constantly see online that fall under Gaslighting.

Bringing Up Old Wounds for Misdirection

Watch when a political party brings up really old news to distract from current problems. They do it all the time! They recall old issues and question if the outcome was actually justified or if they are really strategic they will bring out an obscure witness no one has ever heard of before who will ‘shed new light’ on the story. This form of misdirection not only reaffirms old biases to people who believe the outcomes of the past were unjust but it completely muddles the new issue as people argue about the old one all over again.

Three Strikes and A Win

Any press is good press. This is actually true for celebrities. Why? Because as humans, constant familiarity with someone like a celebrity creates empathy. It also makes us believe that we really ‘know that person’ because we hear from them so often. We create loyalties like we do with friends and family without even realizing it. This false loyalty is caused by the serotonin that is released when we are being entertained by that celebrity (tv show, songs, movies, interviews, concerts). Then, when that celebrity does something wrong, they didn’t do it personally to us, so we forgive and forget. All because the past exposure we have had with them was pleasing. Celebrities count on this fondness to do this type of Gaslighting.

1. First they say or do something extremely divisive (they sometimes even bring their children into it or create themselves into a walking spectacle). No matter what, some people will still stand by them (remember the insult isn’t personal to ‘them’). This causes tons of back and fourth fighting between people who are insulted and those with false loyalty.

2. Second, they will get press over the horrible statement or act because it is seen as important if it went viral on the internet. This press starts the process all over again.

3. And then lastly they apologize (or swear to never apologize) publicly to get in the media yet again. The apology (or lack there of) reassures the people who have created the strongest loyalties that they really know this person and that this celebrity has integrity.

There is That Buzz Word Again

One of the most classic Gaslighting practices is to bring up an obscure topic that sounds scary and gets everyone to focus on it. It all comes down to wording. Getting people to say a new buzz word is what marketing is all about. It is why we say Kleenex instead of tissue and why 'Just do it' is a known phrase. In reality this new buzz word isn’t that important and probably has no impact on the audience’s lives. But all of a sudden more and more people in media focus on this topic. By the time someone points out that it doesn’t apply to a majority of people the damage is done. People have heard the word over and over so much that they now have fear associated with it even if it doesn’t apply to them or even if the word isn’t a negative thing. Examples of this are: Antifa, death tax, safe space, and paid protesting.

Another way to achieve the same result is to brand a topic in a way to make it divisive. Rhetoric gets repeated over and over and you can see it in the way people type and talk. They will start saying something straight out of the mouth of someone else.

The ACA was renamed Obamacare so that a large group of people would hate it even if it was beneficial to them. And it worked. That is branding folks! Marketing at its finest.

All the False Analogies

False analogies are stories we are told comparing two things that are supposedly alike to prove a logical outcome. People gravitate towards these stories when they support their own biases because the story is logical. The problem is, they are false. They do not contain the nuance of all the variables the real situation has and therefore are a smoke screen. They are also super hard to argue against because they aren’t real. They are logical but they ARE NOT THE REAL SITUATION. So you are not only arguing about the topic but arguing about a fairy tale made up version of the topic. Exhausting. Skittles have nothing to do with immigration, people drinking in a bar has nothing to do with tax breaks for your family, and trick or treating should not be compared to socialism.

Think about it this way. If you were diagnosed with cancer you would want to know all the facts and the real truth right? Would a story about food coloring spreading in water be a good enough analogy to explain your disease and treatment options? No. No it would not.

Marketers use these false analogies all the time. Ads in magazines of luxurious lifestyles, TV commercials, and almost every meme you share online is a false analogy used to market an idea. Whenever you hear of a lawsuit that involves marketing it is probably because they made a false analogy about a product. The end consumer was promised on thing and the product did not deliver.

The real world isn’t a bunch of happy endings. So remember, they are telling you a story and giving it a happy ending on purpose. The only stories you should listen to are the ones about real people telling you how something effected them. So long story, but if anyone tries to tell a story that isn’t real to explain a real world problem. They are Gaslighting you.

No Snippets for News

Another amazing Gaslighting tactic is to not directly answer a question. Celebrities and politicians do this all the time. But have you ever asked yourself why they do it? Most media we consume now is super short ‘snippets’ of information. Short videos, and quotes of what people said. If you can never get a quote of them acknowledging the issue there is no ‘issue’ as far as media is concerned. And using a really long conversation where a celebrity doesn’t really come out and say something is not good news. A couple of really amazing people to watch doing this are the Kardashians and Kelllyanne Conway. Conway will start her statements using words in the original question to make it sound like she is answering and then she ties that to a preplanned statement that never answers the original question. It is an amazing marketing tactic of misdirection. But in the end, what she said, is the only story snippet you can see. She has just created the content for the news and it is exactly what she wants you to hear.

* Celebrities just like politicians (or celebrity politicians) make their money off of their fan base. The more you see them regularly, the more connected you feel to them, and the more financially valuable you are to them throughout your life. Let’s use a singer as an example. You go to their concert and have a great time and get a picture with the singer. You then share the photo online to all your friends telling them what a great show the singer put on and what a wonderful person the singer is for taking a photo with you. You then follow them on social media and if they retweet you or comment back to you, you share that with all your friends again. You now feel extra special that they noticed you. You buy their t-shirts, rock their albums, take your friends with you to their concerts and constantly let your friends know when they are performing and what the singer is up to. And the next time you go to the show you pay for a VIP ticket and share those front row photos online. You have now become a free walking billboard for them (worth thousands in free advertising dollars) and YOU pay the singer to be that billboard for them by buying that shirt, VIP pass, and music. So now that you see how that works, imagine what can be squeezed out of someone financially throughout a lifetime if they are an internet troll retweeted by the president or worse... they pay to play a round of golf with the president?