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Structures of Persuasion

by Chris Maher  |  
July 29, 2003

Not two weeks ago, I was sitting at a small table eating breakfast at the Marriott closest to San Francisco Airport. If you get the chance, travel there some day. Take your breakfast at one of the picture windows with a view of the bay and peninsular runway. There's always something to see.

While the mind strives for fixedness, the eye chases movement. At breakfast, it was the comings and goings of planes as observed from about a mile's distance. (Somewhere, just out of frame: all our fears of planes wrenched off their routes and turned against us.)

At high tide, the marsh is, inch by inch, overtaken—a development followed with great interest by teams of nervous little shorebirds intent on plucking what looked like worms or snails from the muck.

At sunset, your eye catches the by-turns-comical and breathtaking aerobatics of seabirds, most fully themselves, pivoting, stopping mid-air, then plummeting down for glinting silver fish. Or the sight of water rippling fabric-like in a chill wind. God bless our eyes.

I was sitting there with my poached eggs on toast and the morning's newspaper. The sound system piped in that category of music that is often called (somewhat derisively) “light jazz.”

I did precisely what you are not supposed to do in these situations: actually listen to the music that is meant to be a generic category without specific features. As it turned out, though, it wasn't the usual, breezy jazz that accompanies our awkward, head-down moments in elevators and the downtime before a public company's conference call. This jazz had more interesting, more muted tones. Parts of it might have been a soundtrack from a film, when the lead character is at a crossroad in life or separated from the one that the plot, by its structure, must return him/her to.

Yes, there I go again—observing the structure and flow of the experience, rather than just living it. (That's not good, I know. It's as though I'm peering through a running crawl of text, the filter of thoughts that can keep the world at arm's length.)

This is an occupational hazard. Because let's face it, friends, as marketers we are in the business of mindfully structuring appearances and messages to create an attractive experience that is calculated to persuade.

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Chris Maher is president of Fosforus, an Austin-based, business-to-business marketing, media, and interactive design firm. Reach him at

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