[Viewpoint] Mind readers wanted

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[Viewpoint] Mind readers wanted

Vice Admiral James Stockdale was held as a prisoner of war after he was captured during a Vietnam aerial mission in the 1960s.

And for eight years, he endured brutality and torture. However, he persevered and remained defiant, returning home as a decorated war hero

When asked who didn’t make it out of Vietnam, Stockdale replied: “The optimists. They were the ones who said ‘We are going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come and go... And they died of a broken heart.”

He then added, “You must never confuse the faith that you will prevail in the end with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

His attitude toward coping with cruel realities became known as the “Stockdale paradox.”

I have not related this tale as a warning to optimists. Who, after all, can afford to be an optimist when major state affairs — such as Sejong City, the Cheonan sinking and the four rivers project — are forced into an ideological framework?

My point is indifference. Maybe people who are indifferent have adopted Stockdale’s line of thinking to endure the crude realities of everyday life.

In my 30-year career in advertising, the most feared people are not bosses or clients. They are unpredictable consumers.

Brand developers at advertising companies collect data on consumer behavior more than on anyone else on the planet. Marketing departments must conduct surveys on product brands regularly, and companies with many clients sometimes spend an entire year collecting and analyzing such data.

As survey methods advance, we are discovering some surprising consumer responses, and foreign marketing experts have in turn churned out numerous books about consumer sentiment.

Sentiment has, in fact, become a keyword in the industry and the basis of corporate image-making and product advertisements. We see sensibility attached to education, leadership and even politics. But what is sensibility? Is it eye contact and emotional appeal?

Many people were moved by the TV commercials years ago that focused on children telling their parents to install heating systems before the cold of winter set in. But emotions are one thing — actually making a purchase is another matter entirely.

Consumers more or less make purchases based on cool-headed reasoning. In persuasive communication, emotion and reason go hand in hand. One cannot persuade the other solely with grandiose emotional appeals.

Something substantial must be inside.

Today, consumers scrutinize ingredient labels before dropping a product into their shopping carts. Some supermarkets hang magnifying glasses on their shelves to make it easier for consumers to read the tiny print.

Marketers today must therefore be able to read the minds of consumers and win their hearts.

If selling products to consumers is this complex, you can imagine how difficult it is for politicians to sell their policies to the public. Consumers loathe advertisements that criticize rivals. They have a sharp eye for comparing products on their own.

Politicians should take a cue from this and stop fighting with one another. They should listen to the public, which consists of people who can make informed decisions through reasonable comparison and evaluation.

Many observers now equate listening too closely to public opinion with populism.

How can anyone freely represent the voice of the public if such rhetoric is viewed in such a critical light?

Stockdale once said that to prevail we have to confront the most brutal facts of our current reality.

To political leaders, the brutal fact of life at this time is that people are struggling in their everyday lives. With that said, these leaders must find ways to get the public more interested in politics and get them to participate in state affairs.

The new school year for politicians has begun. We pray that the elected leader of our class is not illiterate. In the 20th century, we referred to the illiterate as those who cannot read words. But in 21st century, it means politicians who cannot read the minds of the people.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is CEO of the UCO Marketing Group.

By Yoo Jae-ha
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