Tony Schwartz has come to most of the important findings in the communication literature by experience. The rest of us have read it, we've theorized about it, then we've conducted experiments -- we found out it's true. And so we know it. But we know it as academics know things. Tony has lived the world in a different way than we have. And he comes to the same kinds of conclusions. And it's astonishing. There's a concept in communications that goes back to Aristotle which says that persuasion is empathematic. What that means is audiences participate in creating the communication. You don't hand someone the message for maximum impact, you let the audience invest itself in the message. And that co-creative process gives you your highest level of persuasion. More recently we've learned that to the extent that you can involve the audience you'll have long-term effects rather than short-term effects with persuasion.
Now Tony hasn't read Aristotle, he hasn't read the communication literature, but he's developed the concept of "responsive chord" from his experience listening to audiences. When he asks, "who's your choice to be a heartbeat away from the presidency?" he's applying communication theory that he's intuited and that he's learned. That's an extremely important concept. Many people know that concept and then don't practice it. They hand people messages as if you're supposed to swallow the whole message instead of help create it.
Tony's messages involve listeners and viewers in an intricate and subtle dance, that ultimately leaves you in a partnership. And so, in the typical Schwartz message you're left feeling very involved. And you're also left with powerful residual impact. The reason people read Goldwater into the "Daisy" commercial was because everything in that ad is speaking to their fears about nuclear weapons, and everything in the campaign was magnifying Goldwater's stands about nuclear weapons. And so you naturally invest that into an open message that invites those fears. That makes that the most powerful ad of that campaign. It also makes it the cleanest ad of the campaign. Because to the extent that Goldwater is in the ad he was invested there by the audience. And the audience isn't going to indict itself for dirty campaigning. Tony's ad is absolutely clean.
The first thing he has contributed then is, he understands how audiences should be involved in the process of communication, and he practices it ad by ad, move by move. Secondly, he understands the extent to which media should not determine your message. He understands the intricate interrelationship among the various media, and uses it with extreme sophistication: using print to trigger phone-calling behavior, using radio ads to get television news coverage, using paid channels of communication--advertising--to get unpaid channels of communication. The man is a genius in his understanding of the media environment. Finally, he hears the world the way it is rather than the way we think it should be.
There's a sense in which I think one understands Schwartz best, by knowing that he went out into New York very early in his life, and tried to capture what New York sounded like--and brought those records back. In the process he made a very important cultural contribution, but what his move suggested was he understands that people may not sound and talk the way we think they ought to sound and talk. The strongest part of the "Daisy" commercial in terms of intrinsic credibility is the fact that that little girl doesn't count 1,2,3,4,5,6 ... but counts out of order. Now I can't tell you up front if you say to me I want a little girl counting--that little girls count that way. I don't hear what's actually there, I hear what should be. I want my son to count in a linear order because that's part of functioning in the world.
Tony hears the way children actually sound, he captures actual sound. And when he's in an environment in which he actually needs to use that he plays back the world the way as it is to us. Most people play back the world as they think itought to be, or they think it is, and as a result Tony's result has an authenticity. Because it's based on lived experience. And we're not conscious that that's part of what makes the "Daisy" ad effective--that's part of why it's effective, we're not conscious of it. But there's a moment of identification that's very real, because all of us have experienced children counting that way. We counted that way ourselves.
So Tony has three major moments of genius in my judgment, without any formal knowledge of communication literature he's come to some of our most pivotal concepts. And then, where the rest of us preach them, and apply something else -- he applies them. Viewer involvement in the creation of communication being one of those very important ideas. He also understands the extent to which the world ought to be taken on its own terms and used on its own terms. And it's on those terms that he integrates the media in any way that's useful to him in order to create impact.
Marshall McLuhan, a major communications theorist who was controversial in communications circles, had a great deal of respect for Tony Schwartz. And in part, the reason is obvious: they both conceive the world in some very, very similar ways. But Tony was living what McLuhan was theorizing about. And so, Tony taught McLuhan things, and McLuhan taught Tony things. It was a classic match of the real world and the academic community -- some place in the middle of 56th Street in New York. What I see as Tony's contribution to the academic community is to provide first, exemplary instances of communication that functions as effectively as our literature says communication can function at its best. We learn things by listening to his messages. Because what we're seeing is the best possible embodiment of all the things we've learned from the literature.
Secondly, he's got a unique sense of history. Most of us don't step back enough from our daily experience to see how things like media are shaping who we are. And as a result we tend to teach in very abstract ways. Now, my typical move when trying to teach the impact of radio is to talk about its invention, and then to indicate when the number of sets increased enough so that a President could actually speak to a somewhat national audience, and then to talk about Roosevelt's style -- it's pretty dry, abstract academic stuff. Tony instead talks about going to the grocery store and what difference did it make to be sent to the grocery store having heard radio rather than having your mother's list in hand. He works from a lived experience then steps back and says, "what did that do culturally?" Most of us aren't able to do that. In some senses he lives more really in the real world than we do.
I view Tony Schwartz as someone who is constantly gathering information from everything around him and assimilating and assimilating and assimilating. And so he can step back and provide a kind of on-going history of the impact of the various media. And it always turns out to be based on historical data and his personal lived experience. He's also managed to record some very important personal lived experience. Across his studio he has tapes that would otherwise not survive historically. He's interviewed participants. We, in the academic community, have a leader bias. We tend to go to the head of a movement, in order to find out what the movement believes in. Tony is as inclined to ask the person standing on the side shouting the protest movement's slogan. And he's inclined to get that slogan articulated by the person, and then talk about how that person got there, and what it means.
As a result when he put together a tape --for example, on the nature of evil -- he had instances of real human beings, not famous powerful people but the kind of person we rub up against in the subway talking about experiences that have changed their lives. He's captured a world that academics find elusive --because our bias is toward some other form of data -- and then more important, he's preserved it. And he's captured it asking questions that are really very central. The question "what is evil?" for example, is one that's preoccupied philosophers as long as we've had philosophers. Tony answers that question with audio illustrations of evil that force you to think through that concept in a contemporary age. And that's a very important contribution. He's, to some extent, an applied philosopher. To some extent, he's every academic's dream subject, because he gives you the experiences that you can carry back into your classroom to hand people to let them live a history they didn't live themselves.
If one takes Tony Schwartz's philosophy of communication seriously then he will never be able to use communication to persuade you to hold something you don't already believe. Essentially he believes that we have an aggregation of experiences and attitudes that advertising can bring to the fore, can make more salient -- or that advertising can push back, can force into the background. And that advertising is not the process of putting things there, but drawing things out. If that philosophy of communication is correct, then he's absolved from any responsibility as an evil, Machiavellian dictator, unless we are in fact evil, Machiavellian-prone audiences.
From a taped interview conducted by David Hoffman.
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