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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Public Relations and Marketing

Gail Bambrick

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The Circle's Persuasion Marketing Tactics and Social Media, their Implications and How These Affect our Culture and our Everyday Lives?

Egger's The Circle: could this happen, what marketing/persuasion tactics are being used and why do they work, what are the implications for our culture today.**

Dave Eggers' The Circle, though a fictional novel, incorporates marketing and persuasion tactics that are also employed in our everyday lives in different cultures and countries across the world. Eggers demonstrates how marketing truly is the profession of persuasion. The Circle highlights the detrimental implications that marketing tactics could and perhaps already have on us.

Exploiting the knowledge we have about human psychology, marketing becomes an art of influencing people's will to say yes without thinking first, through the use of certain tactics including commitment and consistency, personality, authority, telling a story, and social proofs. Indeed, Dave Eggers identifies all of these different methods and tactics within The Circle.

The company, the Circle, is unreservedly devoted to maintaining a consistent level of commitment to customer success and satisfaction within their business first and foremost through their websites, the way the websites are designed - with the use of components such as layout, copy and topography, and the incorporation of promotional messages - and the emphasis and focus on the Circle Social life. A distinct brand with an aesthetically pleasing logo, a clean, user-friendly website are well-liked or at least well-received traits. Being well-liked translates to being more naturally trusted. These previously described elements also encourage website visitors to follow certain predesigned pathways on the websites and take certain actions rather than giving these visitors the freedom of choice in how they interact with the website. This can be seen not only within The Circle, as soon as Mae begins her first day at work, but also within our everyday lives. In Mae's case, she has just secured a new job at the Circle, “the most influential company in the world”, created by three “Wise Men”, combining all online interactions (from business or personal communication to social media) into one single online identity. When Mae is still relatively new at the Circle, a woman named Gina sets up Mae's social accounts. Gina, rather offended by Mae's initial indifference to the Circle's social life, incessantly stresses and insists on the importance of maintaining a social community on campus. Gina explains to Mae how to use her Zing account, both the InnerCircle stream for coworkers and the OuterCircle for communication with the outside world, and how to use PartiRank (Participation Rank), which takes into account all action on the InnerCircle. Unimpressed by her current PartiRank score, Mae becomes determined to combine keeping track of her InnerCircle and OuterCircle feed activity into her everyday already extremely busy life. She becomes not only exhilarated but exhausted by this.

This amalgamation of exhilaration and exhaustion is a feeling that I believe many people today can relate to. Whilst trying to manage and manoeuvre our everyday lives, our school work, jobs, families, relationships, chores around the house, whilst trying to live a healthy and happy lifestyle, we are reminded and almost pressurised by the constant buzz of our phones, tablets, and laptops, to respond to emails, stay in touch with friends and family, like people's posts, take a look at where others are travelling to on holiday, and check out the cool new pair of shoes on sale that a subscription has reminded us of. Social media platforms such as Instagram or Snapchat send daily push notifications that pop up on our screens encouraging us to use new features, such as posting stories with amusing affects, reading articles, notifying us when an individual is going live, when a friend has posted something new, or even to check out sponsored adds. I will often get notifications on my phone stating something along the lines of: “John Cooper has posted a new story for the first time in a while! Check it out!”. No offence to John Cooper, a son of a friend's aunt's friend, but I do not need to know what you have been up to. However, because of these distractions and notifications, admittedly I unfortunately often feel compelled to.

Furthermore, receiving reciprocal attention on our own social media profiles, becomes a new goal of ours. If you do not receive enough likes or flattery over a post, this leaves one feeling inadequate or unliked. "Which of them had pushed that frown button, each push of that button the pull of a trigger... she (Mae) felt full of holes as if every one of them had shot her, from behind, cowards filling her with holes.” Eggers uses a metaphor and simile here to describe online interaction in a very violent way. When three percent of people frown online at Mae, she takes this very badly. “I think you think that sitting at your desk, frowning and smiling somehow makes you think you're actually living some fascinating life. You comment on things, and that substitutes for doing them. You look at pictures of Nepal, push a smile button, and you think thats the same as going there. I mean, what would happen if you actually went? Your CircleJerk rating or whatever-the-fuck would drop below an acceptable level!” Mae's friend, Mercer is a character used by Eggers to often criticise the Circle and Mae's obsession with her new job. Mercer points out how Mae becomes so entrapped in her online identity and her position in the Circle that she starts to cultivate and care about her Circle identity and connections more than her real life. This I regrettably believe many people can relate to nowadays. “The tools you guys create actually manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact you're purveying. It improves nothing. It's not nourishing. It's like snack food. You know how they engineer this food? They scientifically determine precisely how much salt and fat they need to include to keep you eating. You're not hungry, you don't need the food, it does nothing for you, but you keep eating these empty calories. This is what you're pushing. Same thing. Endless empty calories, but the digital-social equivalent. And you calibrate it so it's equally addictive.” In this quotation Mercer expresses his clear opinion, addressing the fact that the Circle can so easily adjust itself to any person, which I believe essentially sums up persuasion marketing tactics. The Circle provides various specific groups for different individuals's specific interests, as well as making sure it understands consumer views so that advertisements can be targeted more efficiently. This makes the Circle addictive and frighteningly resembles many of our social media platforms today, whether Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

What's more, the Circle is a company that is marked by a specific personality, something that can truly define them and set them apart from others, whilst being favoured by the majority of people. The Circle's Campus is an example that helps define the company's personality, success and popularity. The very modern campus offers everything from glass cafeterias, lavish parties, new cellphones to doggie daycares. As Mae discovers the campus for the first time, the reader too is able to initially experience and allow themselves to be completely impressed by Mae's new environment. For the modern reader, this campus is not exactly difficult to imagine, as many of its features can be compared to those of big technology companies today, such as Apple and Google. Furthermore, various buildings at the Circle are named after famous time periods, such as the Renaissance, or the Enlightenment, symbolising the start of a new great epoch. This perfect and immaculate campus helps portray the Circle as the ideal company and Mae very rapidly gets sucked into this bubble of a world that has been created for her and thousands of other Circle employees. “Increasingly, she (Mae) found it difficult to be off-campus anyway. There were homeless people, and there were the attendant and assaulting smells, and there were machines that didn't work, and floors and seats that had not been cleaned, and there was, everywhere, the chaos of an orderless world.”  But isn't that the beauty of our earth? The imperfections? The acceptance and tolerance one learns through the diversity of our minds and cultures? The strength, growth and bravery that one achieves through hardships and sufferings? These imperfections provide us with extensive insights to create global dialogues that allow us to discover what we share with others but also the richness of what sets us all apart. This leads to creativity, art, beauty, empathy and compassion among human beings. Mae believes that she is becoming more connected to the world, the real world, by interacting with clients, but this is not real life, these are not real interactions. She is actually becoming accustomed to the Circle's upper-class, gated life, and removing herself more and more from society and the rest of the world. However, the seeming perfection of the Circle's campus deters one from seeing and appreciating earth's true beauty. Employees become reliant on the Circle, and then when faced with the real world, can no longer handle it.

Authority additionally plays a very prominent role within the Circle. Eamon Bailey, one of the three ‘Wise Men' and the public face of the Circle, irrefutably demonstrates that he truly knows what he is talking about. By presenting himself as a leader, clean-cut, well-spoken, dependable, and trustworthy, he communicates that he firmly believes in all people having access to all information for the greater-good of humanity and the people. Bailey is also very self-assured, confident and rather imposing. Mae just about does anything that Bailey asks her to do, including anything she can do to impress him. In fact, she immediately admits upon meeting him for the first time that she has been into his private and personal library before, though she was not allowed to, potentially throwing her friend Annie under the bus.

Moreover, The Circle emphasises the idea of storytelling, as a means of persuasion throughout the novel. Storytelling uses a narrative framework to invoke an emotional and subconscious and emotional response in people, with the goal of leading customers to relate to their company and what it stands for.  An example of this in The Circle is when one night Mae takes a kayak from a kayak rental, even though the store was closed. When Mae arrives back on shore, she is confronted by the police who had seen her taking the kayak from a SeeChange camera, technology created by the Circle. The next morning when she returns to work at the Circle, Bailey, takes an interest in the incident and asks to see Mae. Bailey asks Mae if she would have taken the kayak had she known that a SeeChange camera was posted on the beach. Mae responds “no”. “In a world where bad choices are no longer an option, we have no choice but to be good.” Explains Bailey. That week, Mae speaks alongside Bailey in front of a Circle audience to recount her story about her kayaking experience at night and being caught on a SeeChange camera. Bailey cleverly uses Mae to tell her story because he knows that the rest of his employees will be able to relate to this girl. She is not from a very privileged background, is a young innocent girl looking for success like everybody else, just wants to be seen and heard, and has a family who she cares about dearly. Mae is accepting vulnerability by admitting and confessing a fault, whilst completely revealing and unveiling herself to the audience, something that will trigger feelings of empathy and compassion within the audience for the impressionable girl. After all, we like people who are similar to us and things that are familiar to us. Finally, Mae declares that she will be completely transparent from now on introducing the idea that “Secrets are lies. Sharing is caring. Privacy is theft.”

“I want to be seen. I want proof I existed…Most people do. Most people would trade everything they know, everyone they know - they'd trade it all to know they've been seen, and acknowledged, that they might even be remembered. We all know the world is too big for us to be significant. So all we have is the hope of being seen, or heard, even for a moment.” expresses Mae as an explanation for her transparency.  Unfortunately, I believe that a lot of today's generation can relate to this. Why else do millions of girls, boys, women and men feel the need to post pictures of things as common as foods and meals on their social media platforms, even though the entire world is posting exactly the same thing? After all, the desire to exist and for people acknowledge her existence seems to be Mae's principal incentive in Eggers The Circle and accuses “most people” of having the same motives as her. Eggers is directly addressing the reader so that we too contemplate our commitment to our online personas. It has gotten to the point where we, just like Mae, practically manage two completely different lives, two distinct personalities and maybe even completely dissimilar interests. For example, when a model posts pictures of herself taking a bite out of a glorious looking chocolate cake, this leads young girls all over the world to believe that if she cared to share this with the rest of the world this model must frequently enjoy eating cake, however remains pencil-thin. What the model's followers don't always realise is that she doesn't really live her life like that. This model does not eat cake often, probably has to avoid it, and in fact, probably does not even take a real bite of the cake that she posted a picture of.  

On top of that, the Circle ensures that they have a form of social proof, demonstrating that the company is a popular and growing trend and that it does in fact improve people's lives promoting safety and security. This helps to influence target candidates. Instead of telling people what to do, showing others what others did in situations is the easiest route towards social proof, featuring case studies and online reviews. In the Circle's case, Bailey gets Mae to give another Circle presentation about a new technology, SoulSearch, which targets and identifies criminals in seconds. This works by picking out a photograph of any fugitive criminal and sending all of the Circle's social media followers to find that person. The criminal is then found in approximately ten seconds. Here, Bailey uses real life examples to prove the efficiency, reliability and popularity of the Circle with the use of an already popular figure, Mae, and his many Circle followers to present his ideas.

Needless to say, using Mae as an example of someone who is completely transparent is another form of social proof. Mae becomes very popular with millions of followers very quickly. One technique that human beings use to decide and define what ‘proper and correct behaviour' is is by determining what other people think is proper and correct. The more we see other people performing a certain behaviour in a particular situation, the more correct we believe that behaviour to be. “If popular and borderline famous Mae is using the Circle, then so should I!” We see this behaviour in our world on a daily basis through all kinds of different trends: fashion, foods, public locations or destinations. When observing different individuals' social media feeds we notice the exact same posts: we see bagels, handbags, people in workout gear, and girls in bikinis at beach holiday destinations. Whether we want to admit it or not, the majority of today's population is impressed and admires someone who has thousands or millions of Instagram followers, friends on Facebook, Youtube views, blog reviews and so on. If they post a picture of a bagel, then so will we. If they post a picture of themselves in a bikini after a workout class, then so will we.

Ultimately, as Mae's life becomes more and more transparent, ironically she starts to have to hide more and more. She has to hide in the bathroom to be able to have conversations with her friends and to be able to hide her emotions, as she is having to act at all times for her forever live camera. As Mercer points out:  “We are not meant to know everything, Mae. Did you ever think that perhaps our minds are delicately calibrated between the known and the unknown? That our souls need the mysteries of night and the clarity of day? Young people are creating ever-present daylight, and I think it will burn us all alive. There will be no time to reflect, to sleep, to cool.” In this quote Eggers utilises Mercer once again to question the reader and allow us to reflect on this notion of wanting to know everything. I notice on a daily basis that today people stare at their phones, not only sharing aspects of their day, but also checking what everybody else is doing. I have observed friends, family or even strangers spend hours of their time watching hundreds and thousands of people's Instagram and Snapchat stories, of even the most mundane things (numerous identical selfies, bagels, nightclubs). Why do people care if Helen made eggs for breakfast? Who cares if Bruce is drunk in a nightclub dancing like a monkey? What good does it bring to our lives? Will this make us feel any better? If anything it'll make us feel worse, wishing that we too could be eating that delicious donut Amy posted about or own the handbag that Sarah wore out to dinner.

Finally, I would like to address Mercer's death.

I believe that Mercer's death was somewhat essential for Eggers novel. Eggers wants the reader to see the crime consumers ultimately commit through Mercer's tragic fall to his death. This almost murder is a warning of an end result of desire to know and see all. Eggers must ruin Mae's enjoyment for the sake of a greater awareness of all human beings. He does not allow consumers a seamless and invisible experience of pleasure? In this way, Mercer's death is visualised almost less as a tragic extinguishing of a person but almost as a terrifying punishment for Mae for having… Mae's voice quite literally drives Mercer off the bridge, drive Mercer to his death…

Ultimately, the Circle and its technologies are, not only very possible to create with today's technology, but are also not dissimilar to already existing technologies in our world through companies such as Apple and Google. I think it is essential and of great importance that our society tries to remember and understand that innovation does not lead to the greater good in all occasions. Yes, the Circle promoted and enforced technologies and tactics that reduced crime and violence throughout our world, but ultimately the Circle violated so many more extremely basic human rights in what I believe were very disturbing ways, that we have worked hard to incorporate into our society for centuries and centuries. These rights include the rights to privacy and individual agency. Furthermore, the crime that the Circle commits by violating the privacy of other without permission, in fact ends up being more severely committed by others, the audience, other Circle subscribers, who are willing and who make the choice and decision to observe. The audience and subscribers is guilty here of nothing more than watching the life and death of another person (mercers death). However, the manner in which the viewer has looked and watched this character is motivated by almost …. interests

To me that is a little concerning.  We need to remind ourselves, as Egger's tries to remind Mae and his readers, what we are consuming, how we are consuming and why we are consuming.

Eggers is reminding us not to be blinded my persuasion and marketing tactics. He wants us to remain aware, to try understand why we do, subscribe and buy the things we do.

Eggers manipulates the reader to understand the Circle the way Mae sees the Circle.

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