In order to engineer or influence a specific way of thinking in any group, one must feed the concept of doubt. “John W. Hill set his staff to identifying the most vocal and visible skeptics of the emerging science of smoking and disease. These scientists (many of whom turned out to be smokers themselves) would be central to the development of an industry scientific program in step with larger public relations goals” (Brandt. Inventing Conflicts of Interest: A History of Tobacco Industry Tactics. P). Through my studies in grad school, I’ve learned that throughout history, PR was utilized to alter perceptions, actions and events. Through research, it is easy to conceptualize one central aspect of public relations influence: doubt.
Despite warnings of health risks in the 1950s, tobacco industry executives did not want to relinquish their product. Therefore, they gathered every scientist they could find to place doubt in the minds of the public about scientific facts. The purpose was not to directly debate the health risks reported with smoking, but instead to prompt debate which would increase doubt.
In politics, if a candidate desired to decrease their opponent’s credibility, they offer alternative theories to increase doubt. The concept of doubt can even impact the mental state of an individual, altering their emotions and actions uncontrollably. Licensed Clinical Social Work Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. stated, “One of the driving forces of (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is chronic doubt. Doors, windows, locks and other things must be checked repeatedly because of the fear that something has been overlooked despite repeated efforts” (Schwartz, Allan. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Plagued by Doubt. 2008. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-plagued-by-doubt/).
Although facts can sometimes raise doubts when skewed, being direct with consumers can also have an alternate impact and suppress them. The Shenango company was taking substantial monetary hits during a downturn of the economy in 1974. After Interpace took over the company, they ran an ad that stated, “We had problems last year. You know it. We know it. From here on, we’re not going to make fancy promises. We’re just going to deliver” (Vincent. It Takes More Than A Little Parsley). While consumers had doubts about the state of the economy and how it would impact their finances, the company’s matter-of-fact statement accepted the doubts and encouraged consumers to push through them. “Interpace recognized that appealing to a new start for clients could also be an appropriate moment” (Vincent. It Takes More Than A Little Parsley).