The Contradiction of Persuasion Design

For a moment I didn’t want to click on it but since I’ve been thinking about landing pages quite a lot lately, I decided to click on Justin Jackson’s article about tearing down Serial’s landing page. (Serial is a podcast that unfolds one nonfiction story, week by week, over the course of a season.)

I wasn’t surprised to find that indeed it was a tear down of Serial’s landing page. The main critique was against a copywriting mistake they made:

“…they’ve forgotten that when you’re trying to persuade someone, it can’t be about us, it has to be about them. Read it again, and look at the self-focused language:”


He continues:

“…writing has to be focused on the reader. The story we weave can’t be about us; the central character of the story needs to be them.”

He then rewrites the copy.

It seems sound and innocent. But making the story about others is, in essence, making it about us. If we read Justin’s opening statement again, you’ll sense the contradiction: “…they’ve forgotten that when you’re trying to persuade someone, it can’t be about us, it has to be about them. Read it again, and look at the self-focused language.”  It’s actually humorously contradictory. Read it again.

Persuasion is about making people do things you want them to do. There’s very little altruism in persuasion. No matter what story we write, when we want people to donate, buy or click, we will always put ourselves first.

No one puts it better than Victor Papanek:

“There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a few of them…only one profession is phonier. Advertising design, in persuading people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, in order to impress other who don’t care.” Victor Papanek

If we are going to persuade people to do things, the very least we can do is to be real and authentic; not pretending they don’t know we care about ourselves first.

Whether it was intentional or not, I believe that’s what Serial did here…