Emotional manipulation

The following article was contributed to GM-free Scotland by a member of pro-Natural Food Scotland in 2001. Since then, the only changes in the story are that GM is now promising to save the world from global warming and oil scarcity. Note that the UK government has in the meantime been creating successive waves of 'debate' on the GM issue. Has it realised it needs to make us feel we have an 'informed' opinion on GM?

Here is how it all started ...

Way back in 1997, when the biotech industry realised that there was serious opposition mounting in Europe to the introduction of its unpredictably flawed new GM products, it hired the notorious PR firm, Burson-Marstellar, to come up with a strategy to overcome this opposition.

If you were going to court and had secured legal representation for yourself, it would be foolish of you not to tell your lawyer absolutely everything: the last thing he would want is to be "surprised" in the court room with evidence against you which you had held back from him. In the same way, the biotech industry had to tell their PR gurus the whole truth about their products, otherwise, of course, the mounting opposition would very easily have been able to gain the advantage.

Frighteningly and revealingly, Burson-Marstellar (BM) clearly understood their client's brief only too well. BM produced a forty page consultative report which defined two vital issues which it advised the biotech industry never to debate: ''public issues of ENVIRONMENTAL and HUMAN HEALTH RISK''. In the words of BM, these two issues are ''The Killing Fields'' for the biotech industry and for its products.

The inevitable conclusion is that, like the tobacco industry years ago, the biotech industry (and its PR gurus) are FULLY aware of how dangerous GM products could be.

BM designed and developed the campaign to persuade European and, especially, British consumers, retailers and Ministers to comply with multi-national company demands. A campaign which initially force-fed us with a diatribe of rhetoric about the unproven 'potential' benefits of their products, and then force-fed us with GM food whilst systematically contaminating our country-side with their GM crop trials.

This is how they did it. This is how they cleverly and simply manipulated your emotions and opinion - your mind. After conducting their market research (after studying us) BM advised the biotech industry:

"Fight fire with fire":

"Stories - not issues": ... the selling of complex issues coverage is a difficult task ... because it contains little or no news value. Good stories, on the other hand, go around the world in minutes. That's the way adversaries play. That's the way industry must play.

"Products - not technologies: ... stories must ... focus ... on the products of the new -- technologies, because they are the only way most people connect to the benefits ... Beneficiaries - not benefits: ... benefits must be personified. People stories are always the most compelling."

"Symbols - not logic: symbols ... connect to emotions not logic ... Bioindustries need to respond ... with symbols eliciting hope, satisfaction, caring and self-esteem."

The biotech industry has done just that. It keeps telling us that GM will save the environment from pesticides, save the soil from erosion, save the world from starvation and save Third World children from certain blindness and death. They promise the final solution to global afflictions.

If you bought this argument, don't feel bad - most people did. You were simply the victim of a cleverly concocted, manipulative marketing campaign for the most dangerous products ever to come to market.

A key psychological motivator has been used: they have opened up a debate where none exists. The have 'invented' unproven potential benefits that might not materialise for generations or, indeed, ever. And have therefore 'invented' an argument for acceptance of a product when we should be discussing the science, or rather the absence of scientific investigation into health and environmental effects. As John Hillman, Director of the Scottish Crop Research Institute, said:
'Deliberately pejorative language is obscuring the debate and encouraging people to pre-judge the issues before they have heard all the facts'.
We couldn't agree with you more, John. We don't have all the facts, indeed we have very few. It seems your manipulative marketing has worked a treat. We know that you know these products are unpredictable, untested and unsustainable in any environment, so what debate?

Of course it could be that John really does not understand the fluid and coherent nature of the living genome, or, that he is an unthinking, and therefore blinded, supporter of the reductionist, deterministic thinking in modern "science".

Another powerful psychological ploy of the BM campaign is to allow people to 'feel? we have an 'informed' opinion about the so-called debate. Having stirred our emotions by showing powerfully moving images of skeletal children in the Third World, they seek to empower us to "argue" their case for them over such a worthy ideal. Who amongst us would not want to relieve the suffering of 800 million people?

Please re-read that last paragraph and notice how I am moving your emotions to support my argument. We hope you will forgive us and agree that we are doing so in an open honest and worthwhile way. And notice, that if you feel angry at our suggestion that you are being manipulated, Burson-Marstellar's strategy has worked.