What is agenda setting, and how does it relate to advertising.
The information portrayed in a way that serves a specific function, like in mass media for the news, is called Agenda Setting. Delivering incomplete facts presented in a biased tone can create a distorted picture of reality. This distortion can influence peoples’ attitudes, and elude them into adopting it as an agenda of their own. What is prominently covered in mass media is perceived to be of major importance. Even when the masses are not convinced of what they see or hear in the media, it doesn’t mean they’re not talking about it. However, people differ in their susceptibility to the influence, due to reasons such as level of education, exposure, or interest in politics. The Agenda Setting theory was developed by Maxwell E. McCombs and Donald L. Shaw in 1954 (McCombs and Shaw, 1972).
How the theory relates to advertising
News agencies can set an agenda that plays an indirect role in helping businesses sell. What L. Martin indicated in his book presents a great example of the relation of mass media and advertisement. The news about the outbreak of H1N1 back in 2009 stirred up fear in peoples’ minds that marketers couldn’t help but take advantage of. Hand sanitizers were inspired by the news and presented as the solution product that reduces the anxiety of the panicking masses; the news represented a convincing form of advertising.
For this next product example, however, the media attention was damaging. We all remember that propaganda concerning the Pokemon game from 16 years ago when the brand was first introduced to the Middle East. I was a kid back then and I was swept in the Pokemon craze along with everybody else. From a Saudi perspective, the franchise flooded the market, Pokemons were what we played, wore and wanted more of. However, that popularity was soon ceased by propaganda accusing the company of insulting God.
Flyers were distributed, attributing blasphemies translations to the names of the Pokemons, and warning parents of the harmful influence it has on children. As the flyer depicts, the word Pokemon itself is claimed to mean ‘I’m Jewish’ when in reality Pokemon is short for Pocket Monsters. Soon after, a religious decree was issued against the game, on the grounds of it promoting of polytheism and evolution (Kottasova, 2016).
The Japanese embassy in Saudi Arabia saw it necessary to clarify this, negating the accusations and properly explaining the actual translation of the character names. This can be seen published in an article on Alsharq Al Awsat newspaper back in 2001. Conveniently to competitors, we can still see today that negative association remains instilled in the minds of many, taking shape in the backlash we saw against the newly popular Pokemon Go.
The strongest and weakest part of this theory
Mass media news has the strongest influence on the most susceptive of masses. It gives people the illusion of having control and being knowledgeable, when what they know is being dictated by the media. Facts and information provided by the media trick the masses into believing they are well informed enough to be persuaded. The agenda setting function is strengthened by the many mediums of news agencies. TV can be most persuasive for visual people (the footage presented can be a strong enough influence) while newspapers can enforce agenda by manner of speech dripping with bias, and images carefully selected to best reinforce their agenda; and today, social media is part of the problem with it combining the speed of news and the credibility of people.
Agenda setting of the masses to the masses can be even more influential. Social media and the general web present platforms that people can use to indulge in discussions. People themselves initiate the agenda setting by talking about the news in their social networks, where anyone and everyone can comment and speculate, and share their own take on the news. In fact, it has a powerful appeal of divergence that keeps enforcing the agendas for a verity of opinions and points of view. (Maxwell McCombs, 2005)
The weakest part of the theory is that media is not as effective when people are well informed. Information has never been as accessible as it is today; people can easily find out more about anything and see past the distortion of the media. Take the Pokemon propaganda I talked about earlier, what do you think really helped it catch fire? The news started talking about it by the year 2001, so the propaganda must have started and spread way before that. If we look at the internet use in the country back in the year 2000 it was a mere 2.2% of the population, and that’s according to the World Bank. People back then weren’t as tech savvy, to say the least, so there was no fear of people fact checking. The people behind it relied on ignorance of the masses to achieve their goal and take back their share of the market with the Pokemon franchise out of the picture. If people back then were as resourceful as we are today, I wouldn’t be even talking about Pokemons right now.
- Martin, “Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy” (2012)
- Maxwell “A Look at Agenda-setting: past, present and future” Journalism Studies. Vol. 6, Iss. 4, 2005.
- Maxwell, and S. Donald, “The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media” The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Summer, 1972), pp. 176-187
- Kottasova, Ivana. “Saudi Arabia Denies It Has Extended Fatwa to Pokemon Go.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 21 July 2016. Web. 15 June 2017. <http://money.cnn.com/2016/07/21/news/pokemon-go-saudi-arabia/index.html>.