Persuasion 101: Lose the ‘Tude

As a student of the persuasive arts, I can’t help but notice how hard it is for “the left” to move people. In fact, politicos are so bad at the art of persuasion, they’re about to be usurped by big business on one of the most important issues of our day–the environment.
One of the the left’s huge mistakes is their weak attempt to use guilt to bring about change. While such base tactics might work on a select few, they won’t move the masses.
Let’s look at a close up of this guilt-tripping as communications strategy in action. Adam Werbach, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi S and author of Strategy for Sustainability, shares a telling story:

I once was at a small art opening at a new gallery in San Francisco filled with svelte smart-looking people who all seemed to be talking about the modern relevance of surrealism, while drinking bright blue cocktails. A forty-something man with a tightly trimmed beard approached me. “You’re Adam Werbach right?” he said, stepping into the space that pegged him as a Seinfeldian close-talker.
“Yes,” I said, stepping back slightly. He stepped in closer. “I heard that you don’t recycle,” he said, loudly and triumphantly as if he were Joseph McCarthy pointing out a known enemy of the state. I think he expected there to be gasps in the room; perhaps a woman feinting dramatically. No one really noticed. He continued to tell me that he had a friend who had seen that I hadn’t put out a blue bin in front of my apartment that week, and he wanted to know how I could be such a hypocrite.

I know the asshat in this story wasn’t consciously trying to sell. But smug superiority is always the wrong tone no matter the context.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. BOTH sides of our political system are using guilt and shame tactics. Even on Facebook, I had a bit of “give and take” with a guy I went to high school about Obama…he became downright accusatory, then starting tossing out some Bible verses. Yikes. People, please get a grip on yourselves. Good post, by the way!

  2. The biggest problem that ideologues of both the left and right have is that they believe they have a monopoly on virtue. They can’t understand how intelligent people of good will could possibly disagree with them.