Being a political geek has never been this exciting. Regarding policy sure, but also because of the rather handsome male politicians that have been popping up throughout the world. The persuasive trick to use attractiveness in advertising is as old as the advertising industry itself, yet it has rarely been used this bluntly in politics. Let’s look at what you could refer to as the Trudeau-trick, how it has been used, why it’s effective – and problematic.
Taking of the tie
There are a few notable cases worth discussing here. The one it all started with, Canada’s dream-hubby Justin Trudeau, the charming French president Emmanuel Macron, the passionate Dutch MP Jesse Klaver, and the only German politician younger than 80, Christian Lindner. All these men have something in common; they skipped the dusty political slogans and used their looks as part of their political campaigns slogans. Often dressing down a bit, maybe skipping the suit and tie or cuddling with pandas, they all went for something different than the traditional, authoritarian approach.
And it works. Now, of course it is important to note that taking of your tie in a picture does not make you win an election. Yet, the brain has curious ways of processing beauty. It seems as if we can’t really separate the looks from the deeds – something that surely has affected your judgment when it comes to dating, but which also holds true when you’re exposed to a campaign.
The ‘halo-effect’ refers to a mental shortcut (or cognitive bias) that makes our impression of someone influence other evaluations of them. This is also called the ‘what is beautiful is good-principle’. Simply put, when we find someone attractive, we immediately also evaluate the person as intelligent, funny or kind. The persuasive effect of liking a person has not gone unnoticed by the advertising industry, which often relies on people making decisions based on that they like the look of the person advocating the product or service offered.
Another related concept is evaluative conditioning, which means that we are taught to associate a positive stimulus to an otherwise unrelated event. This could be pleasant music and laundry detergent, or an attractive man and his ability to govern a country. The two things are blatantly unrelated, yet they are used to influence us in one of our most important duties as citizens of a democracy: voting.
If you enter a Lidl, you will find loads of product that kind of look like Oreos, Coca Cola and Ben & Jerry’s, but are not quite the real deal. The colours are the same, the typo is similar and they’re called things like ‘Drew & Barry’s’. This is called copycat branding and is used to make us associate a product we like and trust with their cheaper version. Now, Justin Trudeau started a chain of events when he got attention for his looks. For example, he and France’s sweetheart (and halo-effect mastermind) Emmanuel Macron broke the internet when they took a romantic walk.
I could yell ‘copycat’ already, but it gets worse
Now, Dutch politician Jesse Klaver was not hesitant to associate himself with that. Bearing some resemblance to Trudeau, his campaign featured black and white images of him, buttoned up shirt, curls waving in the breeze of a promising future. I could yell ‘copycat’ already, but it gets worse. The German politician Christian Lindner (who kind of looks like Hannibal Lecter to be honest), uses the exact same strategy. Black and white images. Unbuttoned shirt. Copycat.
Proceed with caution
Sadly, all these persuasive tricks make us less careful in our decision making. Fine, maybe I shouldn’t have bought that perfume advertised by the gorgeous Scarlett Johansson. But voting based on psychological shortcuts? That’s problematic. We, the people, should scrutinize what politicians suggest and do, and our obsession with them cuddling animals is not really helping.
Leaving out the arguments and focusing on attractiveness is a trick that should be used with caution in politics, especially in turbulent times like these. Politics can go awfully wrong, and leaving out the arguments, focusing too much on the ‘hype’ around a single politician is not the best way to encourage political knowledge and efficacy among the population. Politics is not simple and cute, and it shouldn’t pretend to be.