Opinion: Don't talk left to the right, try FLAP

Chris Graves, global chairman of Ogilvy PR, on the trigger issues that need to be identified depending on who you are trying to communicate with.

Chris Graves
Chris Graves

Whether it is politics or consumers, you may be getting your left and right wires crossed when it comes to communications. Fast-emerging fields of social and behavioural science reveal that we must go way beyond the conventional wisdom of target audiences when crafting messages.

Researches show how different conservatives are from liberals — and why we need to understand this if we intend to get traction with either group.

First, when it comes to core values that each holds dearest, there is a wide divide. In a poll of over 187,000 people between 2007 and 2014 by YourMorals.org, those self-identifying as "very liberal" held the values of fairness and care most morally relevant, but didn’t care much about loyalty, authority or purity.

But those self-identifying as "very conservative" valued loyalty and purity as most morally relevant.

Second, researches found that disgust moves conservatives more than liberals (Conservatives are more easily disgusted than liberals by Inbar, Pizarro and Bloom).

Third, neuroscientists say fear has a bigger impact on the right. Conservatives, they claim, have a larger right amygdala (the emotional fight-or-flight centre that governs fear) versus liberals having more grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex (which handles uncertainty and conflict).

One experiment (Political attitudes vary with physiological traits by Oxley et al) found sensitivity to threatening images and loud noises correlated more with conservatives.

Another (Political ideology, exploration of novel stimuli, and attitude formation by Shook and Fazio) found that conservatives took fewer risks and learned far more from their negative experiences.

So, the right way to appeal to the right? FLAP — fear, loyalty, authority and purity. 

Christopher Graves is global chairman of Ogilvy Public Relations, chair of the PR Council and a trustee of the Institute for PR. Follow or tweet him at @cgraves

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