By Sam Bradley
What happens when a self-described “quirky, eclectic, original songwriter” meets a data-driven mass communication theory? With all due respect for creative license – and not nearly enough respect for avoiding wordplay – a newcomer’s capacity to encapsulate every nuance in song is, well, limited.
A catchy and lively tune, musician Whirli Placebo’s work captures several aspects of the theory with the mouthful of a lyric, “The Limited Capacity Model of Motivated Mediated Message Processing.” This more recent update of the theory swells the title with the addition of “motivated,” which made its formal debut in 2006 in the Journal of Communication.
Motivation, however, largely escaped the lyrics of this song, which appear to focus on the central concepts of encoding, storage, and retrieval from the earlier 2000 Journal of Communication piece.
Seemingly absent from the song is the idea that some information in the mediated (and real, of course) world is processed differently due to motivational relevance in the evolved appetitive and aversive motivational systems. We process certain information preferentially because doing so helped our ancestors survive and reproduce. The motivation exists in the individual rather than the message, an important distinction not among the lyrics.
Rather than concentrating on this biological basis, the song embraces the flavor of a protest song, focusing contempt upon the advertising industry with hints of subliminal persuasion. For students of the discipline, the song seems to take Annie Lang’s theory for the proverbial “hypodermic needle” or “magic bullet” of the past. Although modern marketers may yearn to convert minds so easily, a casual survey of the articles citing LC4MP show that many mass communication scholars struggle with the theory’s nuances. Advertisers are a far cry from being able to use the theory to craft stealthily persuasive messages.
Most importantly, however, the song accomplishes an important goal of a song: it entertains. Taken at this level, the song and accompanying video succeed. For someone with assumingly limited exposure to the theory – Placebo’s CV does not appear to be available online – the song makes clever use of key concepts of the theory and follows songwriting conventions (e.g., rhyming). If the purpose was to deliver a likable tune that strikes a chord among the theory’s fans and critics, then it is quite well done. However, graduate students would be well advised not to attempt a literature review based upon the YouTube video.
Sam Bradley (Ph.D., Indiana University) is Associate Professor and Zimmerman Advertising Program Director, University of South Florida.