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James Altucher


12 Things I Learned About Persuasion from Eminem

I love the movie, "8 Mile" starring Eminem and based on Eminem's life.

At the end of the movie, Eminem has a rap battle with his nemesis. It struck me that the character (Eminem) used sophisticated persuasion techniques to win the battle in the film.

Here's a link to the scene:

    1. Ingroup Bias

    Notice Eminem’s first line: “Now everybody from the 313, put your motherf***ing hands up and follow me.”

    The 313 is the area code for Detroit. And not just Detroit — it’s for blue-collar, black Detroit, which is where the entire audience, and Eminem, is from. So he wipes away the outgroup bias that might be associated with his race and he changes the conversation to, “Who is in 313 and who is NOT in 313?”

    Now the entire audience is in his tribe. He has “ingrouped” them.

    2. Herd Behvavior

    He said, “Put your hands up and follow me.” Everyone starts putting their hands up without thinking. The brain always assumes there’s a very good reason for everything it does.

    So their brain tells them that they are doing this for rational reasons. The rational reason: They are obediently following Eminem.

    Here’s one experiment behavioral scientists have done: If you are at a hotel and there’s a sign in your bathroom that says, “80% of our guests reuse towels to help the environment,” you are significantly more likely to reuse a towel because you want to follow the herd. Take away the sign and almost nobody reuses the towels.

    3. Availability Cascade

    The brain has a tendency to believe things even more if they are repeated, regardless of whether they are true. This is called “availability cascade.” There is a cascade of information that is available to you, and it’s all the same, so you feel the need to believe it. It must be true.

    Notice Eminem repeats his first line. After he does that he no longer needs to say, “Follow me.” He says, “Look, look.” They are already following him and under his command. So he says “look” because he is about to point out the enemy. He is setting up the next cognitive bias.

    4. Outgroup Bias

    Brains have a tendency to view two things as very different if they are evaluated at the same time, as opposed to if they were evaluated separately. Eminem wants his opponent, Papa Doc, to be evaluated right then as someone different from the group, even though the reality is they are all in the same group of friends with similar interests, etc.

    Eminem says, “Now while he stands tough, notice that this man did not have his hands up.”

    In other words, even though Papa Doc is black, like everyone in the audience, he is no longer “in the group” that Eminem has defined and commanded: the 313 group. He has completely changed the conversation from race to area code.

    5. Ambiguity Bias

    He doesn’t refer to Papa Doc by name. He says “this man.” In other words, there’s “the 313 group,” which we are all a part of in the audience, and now there is this ambiguous man who is attempting to invade us. People tend to prefer things where the brain thinks there is more certainty. In this rap battle, the reality is that the brain knows equal amounts about Papa Doc and the character Eminem is playing (named B-Rabbit). But when Eminem says “this man,” he leaves out information, creating a moment of ambiguity.

    At that moment, without the crowd realizing it, ambiguity bias kicks in and they naturally begin to prefer Eminem.

    Watch presidential campaign debates. A candidate will rarely refer to another candidate by name. Instead, he might say, “All of my opponents might think X, but we here know that Y is better.. The candidate is clustering everyone else into a group of “opponents,” and now there is — very subtly — less information about who the other candidates are. There is the one talking (certainty) and then there is this “other” group.

    If you’re the last person to speak at a conference, you can use this technique. You can say, “I’m the last person speaking. Let’s give a round of applause for all the others who came up before me.” BAM! Ambiguity bias kicks in and for a microsecond, the audience can’t even remember who the other speakers were. You clustered them. Now they will remember you… and “the others.”

    This was the technique that I used when I went back to the conference. Did it work? I don’t know. But I felt very good about my talk and the response to it afterwards.

    You can also use this in sales. You go into a meeting and start off saying, “I know you’ve seen a lot of great presentations before me…” etc. Anytime you can cluster people into “you” vs. “the others,” you are using this bias.

    6. Credential Bias

    Because the brain wants to take shortcuts, it will look for information more from people with credentials or lineage than from people who come out of nowhere. So, for instance, if one person is from Harvard and told you it was going to rain today and another random person told you it was going to be sunny today, you might be more inclined to believe the person from Harvard. I hate to think that’s true, but it is.

    Robert Cialdini, in his book “Influence,” calls this technique “authority.”

    Eminem does this subtly two lines later. He says, “One, two, three, and to the four.” This is a direct line from Snoop Dogg’s first song with Dr. Dre, “Ain’t Nothin But a G Thing.” It is the first line in the song and perhaps one of the most well-known rap lines ever. Everyone in the audience has heard the line and knows exactly where it comes from.

    By using it, Eminem directly associates himself with well-known successful rappers Dr. Dre and Snoop. (Trivia point: Eminem was actually discovered by Dr. Dre, who launched his career.)

    He then uses availability cascade again by saying, “One Pac, two Pac, three Pac, four.” First, he’s using that one, two, three, and to the four again, but this time with Pac, which refers to the rapper Tupac. So now he’s associated himself in this little battle in Detroit with three of the greatest rappers ever.

    7. Ingroup / Outgroup

    Eminem points to random people in the audience and says “You’re Pac, he’s Pac,” including them with him by associating their lineages with these great rappers. But then he points to his opponent, Papa Doc, makes a gesture like his head is being sliced off and says, “You’re Pac, NONE.” Meaning that Papa Doc has no lineage, no credibility, unlike Eminem and the audience.

    8. List the Objections Before they Do

    Any direct marketer or salesperson knows the next technique Eminem uses.

    When you are selling a product, or yourself, the person or group you are selling to is going to have easy objections. They know those objections and you know those objections. If you don’t bring them up and they don’t bring them up then they will not buy your product. If they bring it up before you, then it looks like you are hiding something and you just wasted a little of their time by forcing them to bring it up.

    So a great sales technique is to address all of the objections in advance.

    Eminem’s next set of lines does this brilliantly.

    He says, “I know everything he’s got to say against me.”

    And then he just lists them one by one:

    “I am white.”
    “I am a f***ing bum.”
    “I do live in a trailer with my mom.”
    “My boy, Future, is an Uncle Tom.”
    “I do have a dumb friend named Cheddar Bob who shot himself with his own gun.”
    “I did get jumped by all six of you chumps.”
    And so on. He lists several more. But at the end of the list, there’s no more criticism you can make of him. He’s addressed everything and dismissed them. In a rap battle (or a sales pitch), if you address everything your opponent can say, he’s left with nothing to say. When he has nothing to say, the audience, or the sales prospect, will buy from you.

    Look at direct marketing letters you get in email. They all spend pages and pages addressing your concerns. This is one of the most important techniques in direct marketing.

    9. Humor Bias

    Eminem saves his best for last. “But I know something about you,” he says while staring at Papa Doc. He sings it playfully, making it stand out and almost humorous. There is something called humor bias. People remember things (and like things) that are stated humorously more than they remember serious things.

    10. Extreme Outgroup

    “You went to Cranbrook.” And then Eminem turns to his 313 group for emphasis as he explains what Cranbrook is. “That’s a private school.” BAM! There’s no way now the audience can be on Papa Doc’s side but Eminem makes the outgroup even larger. “His real name’s Clarence. And his parents have a real good marriage.”

    BAM and BAM! Two more things that separate Papa Doc out from the crowd. He’s a nerdy guy, who goes to a rich school, and his parents are together. Unlike probably everyone in the audience, including Eminem. No wonder Papa Doc doesn’t live in the 313, which was originally stated somewhat humorously but is now proven without a doubt.

    11. Credential Bias (again) combined with Sunk Cost Fallacy

    Eminmen says, “There ain’t no such thing as”… and the audience chants with him because they know exactly what he is quoting a song by Mobb Deep, another huge East Coast rap group (so now Eminem has established lineage between himself and both the West Coast and the East Coast). And by using the audience to finish the line with, “Halfway crooks!” we’re all in the same group again while “Clarence” goes back to his home with his parents at the end of the show.

    Also, when the audience finishes his line, they are susceptible to SUNK COST FALLACY. They are taking commands from Eminem at that point. The brain, to try to rationalize why it’s so easily spent that energy on Eminem (the sunken cost), rationalizes by saying, “It must be because we like Eminem.”

    Benjamin Franklin used this technique to win over a political enemy. They were both in the Pennsylvania State Legislature and this enemy of Franklin’s was blocking all of the laws Franklin wanted to pass.

    So Benjamin Franklin asked his rival if he could borrow a book from his rival’s collection. The rival was surprised but lent Franklin the book. A week later, Ben Franklin returned the book. The rival’s brain now thinks, “Oh! I am the sort of person who lends Ben Franklin books (the sunken cost) so I guess I like him.”

    This rival never caused Benjamin Franklin a problem ever again.

    12. Scarcity

    The music stops, which means Eminem has to stop and let Papa Doc have his turn. But he doesn’t. He basically says, “F*** everybody, f*** y’all if you doubt me. I don’t wanna win. I’m outtie.”

    He makes himself scarce. After establishing total credibility with the audience he basically says he doesn’t want what they have to offer. He reduces the supply of himself by saying he’s out of there. Maybe he will never come back. Reduce the supply of yourself while demand is going up and what happens? Basic economics. Value goes up.

    He so thoroughly dominated the battle that now, in reversal to the beginning of the movie, Papa Doc chokes. He doesn’t quite choke, though. There’s nothing left to say. Eminem has said it all for him. There’s no way Papa Doc can raise any “objections” because Eminem has already addressed them all. All he can do is defend himself, which will give him the appearance of being weak. And he’s so thoroughly not in the 313 group that there is no way to get back in there. He can’t rebuild his tribe with the audience.

    There’s simply nothing left to say. Eminem wins the battle.

    And what does Eminem do with his victory? He can do anything.

    Doesn’t it seem silly to analyze a rap song for ideas on how to be better at persuasion and influence? I don’t know. You tell me.

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