Perception Management, although coined by the Department of Defense, has migrated into American culture to mold and influence public opinion to everything from political motifs to what kind of insurance you “should” be buying.
Perception Management is also known as “public diplomacy. It is a propaganda strategy originally devised for controlling how a target population views political events refined by intelligence services as they tried to manipulate foreign populations. The practice eventually found its way into domestic U.S. politics as a way to manipulate post-Vietnam-War-era public opinion and into a public relations strategy for corporations and advertising.
Journalist Robert Parry in an article several years ago had this to say, “ [B]y attacking these remaining pockets of analytical resistance, [President]Bush is moving to ensure that his administration can keep much of the U.S. population seeing a near-empty cup as almost entirely full, a concept known in the intelligence world as “perception management.” Bush ensured the elimination of the few government sources of information that could challenge the images he wanted to project to the public. Bush doesn’t want the State Department or the Central Intelligence Agency portraying his Iraq and other foreign policies as abject failures or reckless adventures.”
To further understand Perception Management here is the Department of Defense’s official definition, according to wikipedia:
Actions to convey and/or deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning as well as to intelligence systems and leaders at all to influence official estimates, ultimately resulting in foreign behaviors and official actions favorable to the originator's objectives. In various ways, perception management combines truth projection, operations security, cover and deception, and psychological operations.
Strategies for Perception Management can include a few or all of the following. While you read these think about political advertising, for example. With the upcoming elections there will be the usual blend of positive and negative advertisements. Being able to recognize when you are being manipulated can assist in sorting out the correct information from that which is nuanced, exploited, and even untrue.
To be fair, not all Perception Management applications are sinister. Jeffrey Russell from the University of Wisconsin in his paper Leadership and Management in Engineering says, “ Perception management is hard work; however, we can all grow and develop individually and as leaders as we work at giving and receiving feedback. The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu said, ‘Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment.’ As leaders we need to go beyond knowing others, we need to understand our own strengths and weaknesses.”
Corporate Slavery and Mind Control
The Center for Business and Society, Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado studied the ethics in the film The Corporation that dedicated a chapter to Perception Management. In their analysis they point out in one segment a corporation uses the methodology to reveal contrasting points of view on a company’s public relations campaign. On one hand, public relations give a voice to the corporation, but on the other hand they can mislead the public by casting a potentially harmful corporate event or product in a positive light. The film questions the ethics of these efforts and the industry built up to manage corporate images and communication. They cite keywords: public relations, advertising, brands, perception management, impressions management, and corporate reputation.
Branding is an extension of Perception Management. Branding delivers a clear message of a corporation’s image, confirms credibility, connects the target population to the prospects of the corporation emotionally, motivates the “buyer” of the image, and cements user loyalty.
Emotional connections using images of home, family values, nationalist pride, and brotherhood promise a benefit if you believe in their image or brand. Keep in mind these are tools that can be used to manipulate opinions—and even win elections!
Branding is used by the insurance industry to promote a family image of a corporation of caring, considerate individuals with your best interests at heart.
This is a quote from Insurance Journal. “ Mergers, consolidation and worldwide expansion greatly affect the way the insurance industry does business today. As boundaries collapse and markets change, there is a tool you can use to gain an edge over the competition. It’s a strategy that other industries already embrace. In an era of global competition, you must build your company’s brand to survive—and thrive.”
Have you seen or heard the word “thrive” before? It’s Kaiser Hospital’s motto.
Is it ethical for corporations to hire ‘perception management’ firms to influence public opinion? Do you ever manage perceptions? How? Are these actions about telling truth or the illusion of truth? How can consumers tell when efforts at managing perceptions are in effect to convey reality or deviate from it? When does ‘perception management’ become ‘lying’?
It’s safe to say whenever we are attempting to persuade someone to a particular set of values or beliefs, there is a certain amount of Perception Management, although we might be unaware of it. The ethical determination is whether our arguments are true or manufactured to convince without respect for the truth. The best way to know if your perceptions are being managed is to arm yourself with factual, well researched information whether it is deciding which political candidate to vote for in an election or choosing an insurance policy.
Lao Tzu in his wisdom also says, “There is no greater disaster than greed.”