Herd Mentality: OJ Simpson, Trump, 007 & Fantastic Lies

Written by Martin Lucas

Do you remember the OJ trial?

A truly amazing event. Sometimes a moment in time is just perfect for someone. If you analyse that trial, there were three major events going down that caused OJ to walk free.

The first was the cultural bias of race relations and the Rodney King beating by the police. Everyone was (fairly) looking for race-based issues and OJ scored with this perception that the police were out to get him (which the police then helped perpetuate with several inept actions).

The second major event was that this trial was the first (certainly of note in the media) to use DNA. DNA evidence was not understood, trusted or as well-known to the world as it is today. It was not commonplace at all and like all science that is new, it was treated with doubt. This was before CSI, the Internet, mobile phones, social media. It was right before technology took over our lives. The cause and effect was less awareness of tech-based insight, which is what DNA is in a courtroom.

The third event was a classic trick of the eyes; watch this and see what I mean:


Did those gloves fit him? Damn straight.

Did he change the jury’s perception with some magician-like tricks of perception? Damn straight.

And yet, at the time most people believed he was innocent. The more people who believed the police were setting him up, the more who believed he was innocent, and the more that view was shared and on and on it went. A herd mentality was born.

OJ is neither the first or the last confidence trick the world will ever be party to. We just have to recall how the overused term ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ convinced us all that the war in Iraq was justified. There are many, many examples of this (look out for an awesome recommendation for a documentary about this kind of stuff at the end). But what actually causes a mass of people to lower their defences and be convinced that something is true without any real proof?

What causes it

A herd mentality can only happen when, person by person, we all buy into something. It builds into a herd of people, all following in the same direction with blind belief. The reason this phenomenon occurs is that our brain does not always need an absolute truth to believe in something; it just needs evidence that you aren’t alone in your beliefs and the barriers of practical thinking come down.

Consider how you trust the word of your best friend or your partner or your colleague; each has a different context and level of trust in your life. You may, for example, trust your colleague with a work process or a work-based idea but not with relationship advice. Trust is contextual to the person and environment, and sometimes you will reject or doubt what they say. Being able to instinctively accept or reject a point of view is manageable when it is part of a 1:1 interaction. Where the herd is scuffing its hooves - ready to pull you in - is when you are being convinced of something via multiple sources. Let’s go full Trump.

Trump the Wrangler

My American friends are constantly showing their sadness and concern about The Trump Show - it’s a total billionaire mindset ‘don’t tell me what to do, you’re fired’ shit show - and whilst the comms dude’s short reign was nuts, I don’t want to pick on Scaramanga:


Side note: Bring this dude back in new Bond Movies. I foresee Idris Elba (new Bond bet) taking him down.

Instead I’ll share one of the strategies that Trump and his team used to get elected. It will go down as one of the biggest confidence tricks ever carried out. Getting an ex-Democrat with zero political experience elected as Republican POTUS? They had a major challenge, so how to change voters’ perception? What they knew was that fear was playing a huge part among their electorate (after all they had learning points of this from the recent Brexit referendum results). This fear was based on issues like Migration, Income, Uncertainty and all fears were based on  perception vs the truth. The key to creating a herd mentality is allowing anyone in your target market (in this case, the electorate) to feel all their frustrations in life are because of other people, things outside of their control.

You know your friend who likes to bad-mouth everything (the world is against them... oh, if only they had some luck or had this or that, or how they dislike these people or those, and on and on)? <IT’S THAT FEELING>.

If you can zero in on the frustrations people feel and you identify collective perceptions, then all you have to do is light the fuse. Trump's campaign did this using a company called Cambridge Analytica who analysed people on social media (every platform is 100% open to software bots; it’s not currently privacy invasion) and then captured their details (mainly email or address) through a variety of rewards and incentives (like when you complete a survey, your data is then fair game for the provider). They then created letters and emails which had variable content based on what each person was bothered by - Migration - Health - Jobs - Future - Security - Terrorism. Basically they told people what they wanted to hear based on fear and thus made them believe that Trump had their backs. I don’t need to sell his strategy, you all saw Trump’s Wall strategy and the fear he capitalised on under the promise of Make America Great Again.

If you feel we are getting a bit ‘conspiracy theorist’ on this then fair game but that’s the truth and Obama’s campaign was a precursor to this so it’s not political bias on my part. With Obama’s previous election, they engaged differently with different people on social media based on sentiment analysis, not as advanced as Trump but it was super-advanced at the time. The election before that, when he first became president, they engaged at grassroots level on social media, mainly to fund $10-$50 donations to get level with Clinton's big business backing. It’s an eight-year evolution of tech, data science and behavioural-change-based strategies.

When you get enough media on your side, your fans come with you and then more people begin to believe in it as they’re sent messages that resonate with them . Custom letters - custom emails - news - articles - it all mounts up to something that you start to believe in and unconsciously you agree to do this because other people are. Some you know and trust, while others just address the brain's need for perceived proof. We humans follow others by nature, it’s unconscious, we can’t always explain why we do something and it is not until after the event that the miracle of hindsight arrives and we stop to think and ask ‘Why did we all believe in this?’. In Trump’s case, he played an expert game of behavioural marketing.

So What?

I study this stuff relentlessly and thought it was interesting enough to be worth sharing. My second point is that a herd mentality is where your perception gets tricked; you lose trust of your instinct, your mind runs wild and your behaviours change. You follow what others do; you don’t want to look foolish and if everyone else is doing it then you can’t be blamed. You are safe in numbers!

Will it happen to us again? Probably.

Can we avoid it? Maybe.

How can we avoid it? You need to be in control of your own mind.

It sounds easy but the reality in today's world is we all feel short of time and we have so much data to analyse that we don’t feel that we have time to make every decision. We pass our trust onto others and when one person becomes a few people and then a bigger group and then a herd, the scene is set for us all to follow again. ESPN has a wonderful series of documentaries called ‘30 for 30’ - I recommend you watch the one below.

I hear you ask, ‘Why?’

Well, sometimes a herd can be beaten.

Fantastic Lies

Why it is worth watching