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Defining, Forming, and Measuring Public Opinion

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Early focus on an issue sways the opinion on an issue for the remainder.   For example, sugar substitutes earned an early reputation for being unsafe despite many scientific studies that have proven otherwise.   A national manufacturer of a popular artificial sweetener developed a consumer education program designed to reassure the public about the product's safety.   Elements of the campaign included print advertising, a radio promotion, a celebrity media tour and personal appearance, a contest and product giveaways at a shopping mall, and a cause-related donation to charity.   A test market was selected, and a wave of telephone polling was conducted to assess consumers' perceptions of the product.   The program was executed and the test market was saturated with positive messages about the sweetener.   Fifteen stories related to the campaign were carried in seven different print and broadcast media over a three-week period.   The radio promotion aired in drive time every weekday of the three weeks.   Post-campaign telephone polling was conducted.   The program succeeded in making consumers who were already favorably disposed toward the product feel even better about it.   However, the prime target audience -- consumers who thought the sweetener was unsafe -- was unaffected.   The campaign was discarded.   Total cost: $250,000.  That real-life scenario underscores the importance of an early focus on the issues as a means of shaping public opinion.   What the artificial sweetener was struggling to overcome were entrenched associations in the minds of consumers with the well-publicized dangers of saccharin.

Numerous official inquiries into the sweetener's safety resulted in study after study, all of which deemed the product safe.   However, such findings did not serve to sway that core segment of the public already convinced that the product posed a health hazard just like saccharin.     When Eastern Airline pilots went on strike trying to bring attention to Eastern’ s unsafe practices, the public already formed an early opinion that pilots were overpaid whiners.   So, any legitimate safety concern was ignored.   Organizations can use this phenomenon to their advantage.

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