In "The Persuaders," FRONTLINE explores how the cultures of marketing
and advertising have come to influence not only what Americans buy,
but also how they view themselves and the world around them. The
90-minute documentary draws on a range of experts and observers of the
advertising/marketing world, to examine how, in the words of one
on-camera commentator, "the principal of democracy yields to the
practice of demography," as highly customized messages are delivered
to a smaller segment of the market.
Take the 2004 presidential sweepstakes for example. Both the
Republicans and the Democrats were prepared to go to extraordinary
lengths to custom craft their messages. "What politicians do is tailor
their message to each demographic group," says Peter Swire, professor
of law at Ohio State University and an expert on Internet
policy. "That means Americans will live in different virtual
universes. What's wrong with living in different universes? You never
confront the other side. You don't have to deal with the uncomfortable
facts that go against your worldview. It hardens the partisanship
that's been such a feature of recent American politics."
FRONTLINE analyzes the 2004 campaign where, for the first time, the
latest techniques in narrowcasting were put into effect. The
antithesis of traditional broadcasting, narrowcasting involves
crafting and delivering tailored messages to individual voters based
on their demographic profiles.
Political marketers are just now discovering new ways to use the
techniques that have long been employed by the private sector.
FRONTLINE visits Acxiom, the largest data mining company in the world,
where vast farms of computers hold detailed information about nearly
every adult in America. Data mining, a practice that predicts likely
behavior based on factors such as age, income, and shopping habits,
has been the gold standard of commercial advertisers. Acxiom promises
its clients a better way to target their messages to individual