The creature by its name

Even though the hypodermic needle model was thrown away a long time ago, some organizations still make the mistake of pouring out irrelevant messages to their audience. Do they believe their message will be accepted just like that?

The hypodermic needle paradigm is an unclean term for a communication theory that rose to popularity along with the rise of mass media - indeed, a very long time ago - and even then it was already criticized. According to that theory, the message would go from a one-on-one basis from the sender to the receiver, and that would make mass media very effective instruments for mass manipulation.

Fortunately that is not how it works. How it does work with the influence of media on society I will not reveal here, not in the least because there are complete studies concerned with the phenomena and they do not even have a clear-cut answer. Of course everybody knows that you can not just manipulate people to do or believe whatever you want to, and I do not really believe that there are companies that are dedicated to attempt to brainwash humanity.

Yet a mild variant of the model still seems to exist. There are examples abound of companies and organizations that, in their desire to keep communicating in a positive manner, forget that receivers can also think for themselves. They expect you can simply pour out a bunch of nonsense over someone without that person seeing right through it.

That is how everyone that ever travels by train in the Netherlands knows that the NS no longer reports a delay as such. ‘The train will depart in five minutes’, is what it is called, and usually that will turn into ten. Trains that drop out are immediately kicked out of the records, usually followed by an announcement on when the next train will depart. I am not sure whether it works for the NS. Whether people are more positive about travelling by train or not, because they no longer hear the word ‘delay’ on the platform when they will be late for their appointments. But I would estimate my travellers are smarter than that.

How different it could be it an organization would take their audience seriously. The delivery of a product I ordered was delayed. I was not only personally notified, including an apology, I also still received the possibility to opt out of the order. It was not ‘your order will be delivered in two weeks’, but it was ‘your order is unfortunately only deliverable in two weeks because of an increasing number of orders’. I thought it was such a refreshing message that I did not even think about opting out of the order. A small delay is not so bad, especially not if we call the creature by its name. That is also communication.

Originally published by Maud Geerbex under the title “The creature by its name”. Thanks for allowing us to reproduce it.