Don’t trust the crowd, it’s most likely hired/manipulated

The point of adding this to the film (in my opinion) is, “Look at the political corruption and manipulation! Isn’t it shocking?”

But the reality is, this is now happening regularly in the United States as well.

A large group of people rallying
“Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” by Cliff, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

During the documentary “The Act of Killing” about the horrors that took place in Indonesia, one of the subjects of the film decides to run for office. He goes around handing-out business cards and the people respond with renditions of “that’s it?” because they are so used to being bribed with more. They also make a point to talk about how the political rallies are filled with paid people. The point of adding this to the film (in my opinion) is, “Look at the political corruption and manipulation! Isn’t it shocking?”

But the reality is, this is now happening regularly in the United States as well.

  • Political campaigns hire fake crowds
  • The Pentagon has been paying sports teams for patriotism
  • Photography is regularly used to make crowds seem larger than they are
  • Colleges and other organizations utilize rent-a-crowds too
  • Television shows (I know this from personal experience) sort audience members to ensure the people sitting closest to the actors are diverse and meet the demographic they want to watch the show.
  • Some people argue that police may be using riot gear to make a crowd look more violent than it is.
  • A couple of years ago, I went to a talk by a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Myself and two young men were escorted to the very front row. After we were seated, one of the young men looked at the crowd, mostly age 50+ and said to me something like “I don’t think we should be in the front row. I’d prefer some of these older folks get a better view.” I told him, while I agreed with him, we were seated there intentionally. They wanted us within camera shots to show that the younger generation was there, even if the reality was, there were only three of us out of 350.

Why is this happening?

For this, I turn to Social Norms Theory. People go along with what the social norm is, and crowds often signal social approval. Think about this as an illustration: You and a friend are walking to a concert. You’re positive you know the way to the concert. But you keep seeing tons of people, who also seem to be going to the concert walking the opposite way. What do you do? At the very least, you start to second-guess yourself. And, most likely, you will determine the crowd is most likely right, you’ve mistaken, and turn and follow them.

How do you combat this?

The best response is identification; whenever you see a crowd, just assume that it’s manipulated in some way. If it helps, do a quick mental exercise, using the examples above and others, to think through what possible ways the crowd could be manipulated to serve a purpose. This will keep you from thinking the crowd is the norm and falling into the subconscious social norms patterns of thinking the crowd is right.

What should we do about it? Our consumer and marketing response to the new documentary on sugar, “Fed Up”

I recently saw Katie Couric and Stephanie Soechtig’s new food documentary, Fed Up an I completely agree on the message of it; we are too dependent on sugar in this country. We put it in everything, bread, yogurt, everything.

My concern is how we as consumers and marketers will respond to this.


The first that I hope we don’t do this time around is scapegoating. Yes, the amount of processed sugar we eat is contributing to our poor health an it should be controlled better, but it’s one of many factors, including lack of exercise, eating too many meals away from home, sodium intake, etc.

King of the Hill did an episode a while ago titled “Trans-Facism.” In it, Bill cuts out all trans-fats, but continues to eat terribly. The gag is, he was gaining weight and couldn’t figure out why. The episode really points out the problems with scapegoating one aspect of our food; we don’t get healthier.


Ladies and gentleman, let’s not forget how the sugar got there in the first place; it got there because we made the food companies remove trans-fats, so they added sugar. If Fed Up really takes off, we should expect to see a wave of food marketers trying to capitalize on the fad with a wave of sugar-free products (most of which, by the way are really “no sugar added” not sugar-free). But again, this isn’t where the issue lies, the issue doesn’t lie in eating sugar-free cookies (which probably have the sugar replaced with chemicals anyway, making them actually less healthy), but the fact that we need to cut down on cookies.

I’m recommending our food marketing response be to take-out the excess sugar and go to a no-sugar added model. No-sugar added bread, no-sugar added crackers, no-sugar added yogurt. This will still accomplish the goal of selling more, but in a productive-for-our-society way. As consumers, I’m recommending we take a good hard look at what we can do, including reducing our sugar intake, to improve our health.