Selling sea weed for colored ribbons – the homeopathic communication example

It is a Greek expression which implies someone who manages to make something terrible look good.  For profit.  Hey, isn’t that what all business is about?   Except there are those that do it better and merit our attention.   Steve Jobs, Mr “we burn Pentiums to the ground” one day, on the Intel platform the next, is a prime example.   Homeopathy is even better.

Suppose you run an advertising agency and someone comes to you with this proposition:  “We want you to promote a service which has been around for a few centuries but has never proved it works.”   Like selling strawberry jam which contains no strawberries.   It is an extreme example which has a lot to teach us about how to spread disinformation on the internet.   (Greek articles of mine here and here contain a specific analysis of the official Greek Homeopathy website and what we can learn from charlatans.)

1. Be vague.   Promise nirvana (a “strong” immune system, whatever that means) but never be more specific.   If you read through the Homeopathic texts they manage to convert specific symptoms into something that reads like astrology!   A bit like the whole issue of climate science, mobile phone radiation or cigarette induced cancer.   (Here my post on Machiavellian politics.)

2. Invent an enemy. Are people worried about vaccinations?   Ride on it!  When cornered go for the conspiracy theory.   No matter that there is loads of money spent trying to prove homeopathy works (completely unsuccessfully) pretend that Big Pharma is at your throat.  (They don’t mind, the profit margins selling homeopathic remedies is even better!)

3. Murk the waters.   This is a variation on being vague.  Especially as pertaining to evidence.   Reinterpret it freely, provide plenty proper looking bibliographical details.   Even if they are completely unrelated!  My research shows that absolutely nobody will click on them, read them or bother to understand them anyway.

4. Go for the “middle price” approach. Just like we put a luxury item and a cheap item next to whatever we want to sell on a retail shelf.   People instinctively find it difficult to go “all the way” to one side of an argument, even if the other side is complete nonsense.  (As long as you have dressed it up sufficiently as per points 1-3 first.)

5. Focus on anything they couldn’t really deal with anyway.  Like making Macs a closed system, ie hard to compare with the rest of the world.     Like Tinnitus (here a good article on the advertising of remedies) or anything in which your opponents have no adequate solution.

6. Don’t get into situations where you will be publicly forced to give a concrete answer.  Don’t go on television against even a mediocre journalist who might put  “difficult” (ie self evident objections) questions.

7. When in doubt, just lie through your teeth!   Best communicational defence is attack.   Just don’t give anyone a split second to let it sink in.  Like Bill Clinton, Mr “I did not have sex with that woman”, just throw out your best lie with conviction.   Even if you eventually get caught out, if you insist on your line, most people will follow you in the long term.

So in effect, if you sell homeopathy, your best approach is similar to the Royal Family.  Keep a low profile, dress up fancy and stick to your guns.


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