Magic Words to Penetrate the Filter,
Erase Suspicion and Lower the Guard
It was exactly 10 years ago. I was on the telephone with an 87 year-old man I had been hunting for several weeks. I needed this man’s permission to publish a private letter he had written to America’s Chief of Naval Operations back in 1963. The man’s name was William Lederer.
“Where you calling from young man?”
“I was there recently. Nice town.”
“What brought you to Austin sir?”
“I was there to bury my best friend Jim.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“You would have liked Jim. Everyone did. He once gave me some advice that changed my life.”
“What was it?”
“William,” he said, “the public is more willing to believe fiction than non-fiction.”
Mr. Lederer now had my full attention.
Our bodies contain approximately 100 million sensory receptors that allow us to see, hear, taste, touch and smell physical reality. But the brain contains 10 thousand billion synapses. This means we’re roughly 100,000 times better equipped to experience a world that does not exist, than a world that does.
The first step in persuasion
is to entice your target
to imagine doing the thing
you want them to do.
Four and a half years ago in the summer of 2004, a screenwriter named Eli Attie began creating a persona for a new fictional character that would appear on The West Wing. Matt Santos (played by Jimmy Smits) would be a young congressman, new to Washington, a working-class member of an ethnic minority. Prior to running for public office, our fictional character Santos had been a community organizer in a major city (Houston.)
Screenwriter Eli Attie admitted to The Guardian, a British newspaper, that he was inspired in 2004 by a young Illinois politician – not yet even a US senator – by the name of Barack Obama, a community organizer from Chicago.
As a result of Attie’s attraction to Obama, the 2006 television season showed us a glittering, fictional candidate for the presidency, a happily married, young minority male with 2 children who would run against a moderate Republican opponent from a western state.
The imaginary Republican senator, Arnie Vinick (played by Alan Alda,) was unpopular with his conservative base due to his moderate views. His principal opponent in the fictional Republican primary was the Rev. Don Butler, a Christian preacher. Keep in mind these West Wing episodes aired 18 months before the nomination battle between John McCain and Mike Huckabee.
But wait, it gets weirder.
Ten years ago, Aaron Sorkin admitted that he based The West Wing’s Josh Lyman on Rahm Emanuel, who served in Bill Clinton’s White House. Both Lyman and Emanuel are Jewish. Both are brilliant. Both mail dead fish to opponents who make them angry.
In the 2006 season of The West Wing, seasoned White House staffer Josh Lyman serves as campaign manager for the long-shot, minority candidate. When his candidate wins, Lyman is named Chief of Staff.
Two years later Rahm Emanuel, the real Josh Lyman, will become Barack Obama's Chief of Staff.
Was it all a plot? Don’t be ridiculous.
It’s just an example of how we tend to act out the things we’ve seen in our mind.
By the way, here’s the end of the Lederer story:
“How did Jim’s advice change your life Mr. Lederer?”
“Well, I had written a few books but none of them sold very well. So in 1958 I showed Jim the manuscript for my newest book and he told me to go back and fictionalize the name of the country, the characters, everything. ‘The public is more willing to believe fiction than non-fiction.’”
“How did it turn out for you?”
“Well, that book, The Ugly American, stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 78 straight weeks and sold more than 3 million copies in its first year. Marlon Brando starred in the movie. But of course that’s nothing compared to what Jim did.”
“What do you mean?”
“Jim wrote more than 40 books, sold more than 100 million copies and won the Pulitzer Prize.”
There was an awkward silence.
“I’m sorry sir, but I can’t think of what Jim you might mean.”
“I’m sorry, son. You probably knew him as James. James Michener.”
Roy H. Williams
Tomorrow I speak about Advertising and Marketing to the second-year grad students in the MBA program at the University of Texas. The majority of these students will graduate in May and most plan to return to their homes in Russia, Korea, Mexico, China, India, Pakistan and the Middle East. I'm much looking forward to their international perspective. My hope is that their questions won't be the same ones I've answered countless times before. I'll let you know how it turns out in next week's rabbit hole.
On Tuesday, March 3rd I'll deliver an Advertising Seminar in Tuscan Hall. (8:30AM to 4PM) Austin Area business owners and managers will be treated to the Secret Formulas Advertising Workshop and The 40-Year Pendulum of Society. Sponsored by INSITE magazine, there is no charge to attend and lunch will be provided. To register by phone, call Tamara at 512-295-5700 during business hours. Directions to the event can be found at www.TuscanHall.com This is not a Wizard Academy event.