Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

"If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools."

– Plato


Monday, March 29, 2010

Who's In Control?

From subtle symbolism to outright brainwashing, the techniques used to control people have always fascinated me. Our last election proves that if we are not a nation of sheep, we’re well on our way. Marketing experts know this and they are experts at pulling money out of your wallet or pushing votes in the booth.

Ads on TV use symbols and images to elicit subliminal connections to sell products. Retailers even study the traffic patterns of shoppers; which way most people turn when entering a store and how to move you through aisles of temptation in your journey to the most popular products. Naturally the higher priced items are displayed at eye level. Books could and probably have been written on marketing techniques. Speaking of books, bookstores will turn a book so that the full cover is displayed if a favorable deal has been struck with the publisher while only the spine is displayed on others.

There’s no more obvious place to witness the effective use of hidden persuaders than in gambling casinos. The motivation to gamble is a psychological study in itself, so let’s just use that as a “given” and move inside the casino. What an exciting environment. Lights, bells, mirrors, people, music, bright colors, entertainment and money everywhere. You want to get in on the action. It’s almost irresistible.

Take the slot machines. Blue-haired women with cigarettes hanging precariously from overly painted lips, sit for hours pulling a handle or pushing a button waiting for God to bless them with a jackpot. Why don’t they give up? Here’s why: The most difficult behavior to extinguish is when the reward is based on an irregular and random basis. If the player won something on every tenth pull and suddenly the winnings terminated, so would the behavior of pulling the handle. But because there’s no pattern and the player never knows when a winner will hit, play may continue until the ‘puller’s’ arm falls off.

Did you know that the musical chord that the slot machines ring is a C major chord, which is a pleasant, reassuring and comforting sound? If there was any dissonance, like a dominant 7 chord, nobody would stick around. But this pleasant C major chord tells you that all is well, you are happy and content, even though you just lost a thousand bucks.

And how many times have you tried to find your way out of one of those places? They are purposely designed that way. Again there’s no obvious pattern for entrance and exit, with mirrors adding to the confusion. They don’t want you to leave, so rather than to look like a moron wandering this way and that, you sit at a table or slot machine until you get your bearings and you order another drink. And they do want you to drink, especially at the tables. The less alert you are, the better they like it.

Have you noticed that there are no clocks in casinos to remind you of how much time you’ve wasted? Hells bells…you can’t even tell whether it’s day or night outside, because it’s always bright and cheery inside. And the pretty women delivering drinks can make a guy linger a little longer. When you finally run out of money and crawl out, after six days without food or water, you can no longer see in the dark, so you lay on the sidewalk until sunrise or until someone in a uniform picks you up. But if it’s daytime when you crawl out, the shock of the bland real world may drive you back inside where the action is. There is much more to say, but that’s enough to think about for now.


  1. As you know I love this topic too. You may recall that Vance Packard's "The Hidden Persuaders," a classic on subliminal advertising, first was published when we were in college back in the dark ages. I think there may be a "50-yr" revived edition just recently out. This book got me started in thinking about advertising as a career.

  2. Rog -
    I remember the book well and used that phrase, "Hidden Persuaders" because the book made a great impression on me too back in the 60's. It might have been a factor in my interest in psychology. I wonder if I still have the book somewhere in the garage. I didn't know it led to your career in advertising. Interesting.

  3. By thunder Ralph get onto finding that book! This might be the single unassailable justification for your not cleaning the garage out. Gayle may never recover.


  4. Thanks for you support, Malcolm. That's a good point. I'm going to use that as my primary defense and see what else I can hide out there.

  5. I've noticed a number of churches operate this way too! No windows :-)

  6. Rick - I hadn't thought of that...

  7. Malcolm - I'm going to take your advice.