Changing Minds by Changing Words

  Finding the right words – crafting an exact persuasive image – is like using your pen as a surgeon’s scalpel. Of course, you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to craft a strong slogan, but those delicate shifts in word choice can certainly affect how people’s brains process the message.

I’ve purposely avoided political topics in this blog, which may explain my silence over the past week or so. (“If you can’t say anything nice…”) But here are a few interesting shifts in propaganda on hot topics worth noting.

GLOBAL WARMING: Is it getting cold again? The latest Farmer’s Almanac claims that we may have a long, cold winter this season. They cite lots of natural indicators, like early fog and more nuts on the trees than usual.  Globally, there are many scientific sources (from actual meteorologists) who fear that global warming may simply be popularized bad science. My three lousy science classes in college do not really qualify me to form an opinion on this matter – I’m just focused on the words.

So, when it’s February in northeast Ohio, where’s Al Gore when you need him?

Well, it’s tough to host a Global Warming rally in the snow. So the advocates carefully shifted the conversation to “Climate Change.” Smart move, as the climate is always changing. That’s what climates do. How can one argue against that?

The well-crafted shift from “Global Warming” to “Climate Change” helps keep their momentum.

WOMAN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE: Here’s a hot one… the abortion issue. How a bloody means of birth control has been linked to women’s status in our society and their economic well-being is beyond me. But the movement may be taking a more direct approach to their propaganda.

“A Woman’s Right to Choose” as a slogan may be losing effectiveness. To counter that, in comes “A Woman’s Right to Privacy.” From Choice to Privacy. A brilliant shellgame of words that completely changes the argument. After all, who dare take a stand that a woman shouldn’t have “privacy,” when what they really want to say is that they shouldn’t kill their unborn child. It changes the argument completely.

The scary thing is about such propaganda on both topics is that the public may hardly even notice the change in words at all, only that their opinions on the topic may be changing. The power of a strong word choice can be mesmerizing. 

If shifts in words can create shifts in public opinion when it comes to hot topics like these, imagine what a powerful slogan or tagline can do for you when it comes to your business.

You don’t necessarily have to change the argument to win. But the right words can help change minds and grow your base like never before.

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3 Comments on “Changing Minds by Changing Words”

  1. Carol Willis says:

    Patti, thanks for making an important point. Words do have power, to convey or oonfuse the truth. We writers bear the responsibility of using them ethically.

    One business acquaintance asked me, when we first met, what the difference is between what I do and a spin doctor. It made me stop and think. My goal is to move people to action with words but not to manipulate–to convey truth effectively but never to misrepresent. I hope there’s a clear difference. How would you handle a question like that?

  2. Patti Renner says:

    Hi Carol! That’s a great question. There is certainly a difference between persuasion and manipulation. I see “spin doctors” as ruthless manipulators – those who distort the truth to their own gain in an unethical manner, or change the argument in such a way that it takes the conversation completely away from the heart of the issue.

    Of course, not all spin doctors are completely bad. In fact, watch any late-night infomercials and you can see the art of manipulation at its best!

    Bottom line is that you just have to trust your audience. Are you so good that you actually do manipulate them, or are they allowing themselves to be influenced by your words? People have the right – and the ability – to decide for themselves about the actions they take. As long as we stay honest and maintain integrity with our words, we’ll protect ourselves and our clients from the harm caused by a negative spin doctor approach.

  3. Great thoughts on game changing shifts in words. Another good example is The Hemlock Society – you know, the folks who want to pass physician assisted suicide laws across America. They have now rebranded themselves as Compassion and Choices. Sounds really great now, doesn’t it.

    In a similar way Democrats/liberals are now calling themselves “progressives.” If Dems are progressive what does that make conservatives? By rebranding themselves they have effectively rebranded their opponents as well.


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