Card Stacking Propaganda – Definition, Examples


To get a better understanding of this topic, we shall break it up into simple terms. Card Stacking means stacking or hoarding enough of the positive aspects, qualities, and advantages of a product that they successfully deceive the customer into ignoring its negative aspects. The term “card stacking” symbolizes those accomplished card players who manage to stack the deck of cards in their favor even while shuffling the cards. Propaganda can be defined as the promotion of misleading information or a biased viewpoint to support a particular political viewpoint or cause. Businesses use different advertising propaganda to influence potential customers and boost their sales. To identify card stacking propaganda and differentiate it from other selling propaganda, we should understand the techniques being used by advertisers.

These are:

  1. Name-Calling Propaganda. This is one of the oldest tricks in the book and not always very subtle. The company tries to lure the customers of a competitor to their side. Brands like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Burger King, and Mcdonald’s have used this technique many times in their hilarious tweets and television advertisements.

  2. Bandwagon Propaganda. Oh, the things we do to fit in! The advertisers bank well on the fear of missing out (FOMO) that we clearly suffer with. They try to portray their product as something everyone around is consuming, and if you want to in, then you must use it too. For example, “visited by 99 billion customers”. The potential customers tend to feel the need to not miss out on something that 99 billion people have tried and thus, jump on the bandwagon.

  3. Testimonial Propaganda. The advertisers try to make their product and/or service claims as believable as possible. The audience is far more likely to believe a chef in an advertisement of vegetable oils than an ordinary person. Similarly, to endorse a hair product, one is more likely to buy the product with a face with more beautiful and voluminous hair. The more people trust the name and face associated with the product, the more likely they are to buy it, just like when St. John’s chose Angelina Jolie to get them out of an identity crisis that they faced with their traditional customers in 2006 and hey, we are going to Mcdonalds if Justin Timberlake is going to be there.

  4. Transfer Propaganda. The word “transfer” is the essence of this propaganda. The advertiser tries to transfer the feelings portrayed in the advertisement to its viewers. This generates a sense of belongingness in the viewers, and the advertisement’s message stays with them. These feelings can be of trust, patriotism, target a certain liking of the viewer, etc. If the advertisement specifies the use of organic materials to manufacture the product, those in favor of organic materials will most likely try the product. Tommy Hilfiger’s fragrance line used the tagline “the true American fragrance.” This is an example of a transfer of feelings of patriotism that convey that a true American will definitely try this fragrance.

  5. Glittering Generalities Propaganda. The idea is to make your product sparkly enough (not quite literally) that the audience is attracted to it. Like Transfer Propaganda, the Glittering Generalities Propaganda also uses the viewers’ feelings to sell their product. Advertisers use fancy and extremely positive words to influence the audience. For example, Coca-Cola came up with the tagline “Things go better with coke. The use of the word better triggers the feeling of hope in the viewers’ minds and those who would not want to make things better. Although the beauty of this tagline is how Coca-Cola never specified “better”, is it the drink, the food, or life? It was open-ended, and viewers could take it as far as they wanted to.

  6. Plain Folks Propaganda. This technique is quite the opposite of Testimonial Propaganda. The advertiser uses the connection that a similar person can build with others of the same age group, income strata, ethnicity, or geographical similarities. They try to sell experiences, stories, or the connection established with the company to influence the viewers to choose their product over some other. Walmart’s display of a mother and her baby in a grocery store allowed thousands of other women to see themselves in that picture. To add more, they advertised by saying “save money, live better” gave the message of saving money through buying groceries from them and utilizing those savings to improve other aspects of life. This strong message attracts a lot of customers, and a celebrity image could not have delivered it. 

  7. Card Stacking Propaganda. It is a technique generally applied through commercials. Most of the time, it is tough to identify the commercials using this technique. The advertisers manage to create a blind spot in the minds of their target audience regarding the negative aspects of the product or service being advertised. Stacking of such partial information gives only a part of the picture to its customers. To understand with a simple example, let’s say that a company manufactures a snack bar that is rich in sugar and contains a large amount of calories. In this case the advertisers may claim that their snack bar is low in fat implying that it may also be low in calories. This kind of assumption that forms in the consumers’ brains is based on partial information, and the insinuation of the advertiser leads to the submission of the customer. Thus, the advertiser has managed to advance his product under implied pretenses and successfully fostered the agenda of Card Stacking.

Card Stacking Propaganda Examples

  1. Burger King. The advertisers of this fast-food giant used terms like “30% fewer calories” to advertise their fries. It is unclear that the amount of calories in their fries is lesser than whom. Assuming that they made a truthful claim of reducing the calories, it is unclear whether reducing calories directly implies a fat reduction. In that case, the negative aspects are voluntarily hidden. Even though the new fries are claiming to be better than the previous ones, they are still rich in fats and contain calories in general, for any human being, is easily omitted. The details of how the taste is promised to be increased are also not clear. This is a classic example of Card Stacking.

  2. Pizza Hut. Now operating worldwide, the American restaurant chain has used the card stacking technique multiple times to mislead or influence their customers. One of the examples of Pizza Hut furthering this propaganda is when they made a promise to give “50% more” with “50% more meat” and “50% more cheese”. This information is misleading as the statistics cannot be proven. The customers cannot identify and verify this promise of “50% more”. The advertisers have successfully managed to present a rosy (or cheesy in this case) picture that presents factual data that can neither be denied nor be verified. They have chosen to rely upon statistics as people are more likely to believe what they see or quantified to look more believable.

  3. Political Advertisements. Card Stacking Propaganda is often used in modern-day political advertisements. Politicians use the facts and figures to amplify what their candidate has done during their last tenure. They also try to focus more on their quantifiable acts as the leader in power or as the leader in opposition, such as the increase in the number of schools or the decrease in unemployment, etc. Political parties list the numerous ways their candidate promises to help their district or constituency citizens. Still, they lay zero emphases on how the candidate may fail to deliver his promises. The advertisers decide not to disclose the reality of what they are offering, but they also conceal the proven negative aspects of their service from the past. If a political leader has already received a chance to stay in power and still failed to perform his duties to the fullest, then those facts must be faded by highlighting misleading facts or through future promises. Some political poles are also conducting by relying on a stacked audience. The people participating in a poll are primarily old and thus have not given up on their notions. Now the results of a poll that was answered by a stacked population are highly likely to be biased.

  4. Registration Advertisements. Certain businesses or channels or vacation spot advertisements require you to sign up for them in advance. They try to stack up the advantages of using their business or the quality of their channel, or the pleasant experience that one may get on their vacation resort or hotels. They will list the perks, show the magnificent views and splendid experiences of people who have used their product or service. They use words like “adventure” “happening” and present an impressive picture. However, the information that may be of more use to certain customers, such as the fact that the subscriber is required to register for an entire month or a waiting list for the next three weeks, is not explicitly stated. They are hidden in the terms and conditions section or stated at the bottom in relatively smaller and less noticeable font size. In the broad spectrum of information, it becomes easier for the advertiser to conceal the facts as per the likes of their business. 

  5. Sun Chips. The now discontinued Sun Chips has also used this advertising propaganda to boost sales of their product. They had portrayed their chips better than the competitors because their chips contain relatively lesser fat (30% precisely). It is not evident if relatively less fat is still healthy or not for the human body. The only information provided is that “the fat is lesser.” The use of numbers and stats will build a picture of a healthier option in the viewers’ minds, and that is exactly the intention behind using these numbers and stats in the advertisement.

  6. Mr. Clean. A brand fully owned by Procter and Gamble is an all-purpose cleaner. This brand attracts the customers by using words like “Magic Eraser,” which leads to an image of an easy and affordable way for customers to clean their floors and tiles. The advertiser also claims that their new variant is “50% stronger than the previous one”—another classic use of stats to create a more believable statement. There is also a possibility that the past variant was not useful, and this is an improvement yet not of much use. Still, the use of words and convincing images adds to making the audience believe in the effectiveness of this particular product and ignore the negative aspects or questionable aspects.

Card Stacking Propaganda has directed purchase decisions for many of us, consciously or subconsciously. This technique has failed to do what most brands promise to do: be truthful to their customers. It is a slightly inconsiderate behavior towards customers on the part of advertisers and their respective companies. Even though buying remains with the customer, they are misled in more than one way.

Thus, as prospective buyers of all the above-mentioned brands and many more, we should be aware of the techniques used by companies to boost their profits. The audiences should try and stay more informed about the pros and cons of the product they are planning to buy. They also need to make a deliberate effort to find out more than what is being represented in advertisements and get to know all the sides to a story and not just rely on partial and stacked information. Let us become more informed and not be manipulated with misinformation and cherry-picking.

Card Stacking Propaganda – Definition, Examples

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