Common Man / Plain Folks

Common man

The "plain folks" or "common man" approach attempts to convince the audience that the propagandist's positions reflect the common sense of the people. It is designed to win the confidence of the audience by communicating in the common manner and style of the target audience.

Propagandists use ordinary language and mannerisms (and clothe their message in face-to-face and audiovisual communications) in attempting to identify their point of view with that of the average person.

The technique uses a folksy approach to convince us to support someone or something. People are depicted with ordinary looks doing ordinary activities.The Plain Folks technique is similar to the Testimonial technique. Ordinary people are pictured in print ads or appear on television endorsing products. Advertisers use people who reminds of Grandma, the "conventional" family of mother, father, son and daughter, and even adorable babies and pets to help sell the product.

This is also known as the false authority fallacy.

The Institute for Propaganda Analysis has argued that, when confronted with this device, we should suspend judgement and ask ourselves the following questions:
  • What are the propagandist's ideas worth when divorced from his or her personality?
  • What could he or she be trying to cover up with the plain-folks approach?
  • What are the facts?

  • Quite early on the McCanns were critiscised about their "appearances".  Kate's general appearance was not seen to be "normal" considering the circumstances.  Her grooming, careful choice of clothing, make-up and even the "highlights" in her hair were noticed and she was not seen as typical of a mother distraught over the "disappearance" of her child.  Very few photos were published of Kate without make-up or a carefully coordinated outfit.  
  • The reaction to the few photos in which Kate seemed to be genuinely unconcerned with her own appearance were seen by the public as they way a  mother of a missing child would appear - in other words, not focused on herself.  
  • In the most recent interviews (2010), Kate is very obviously "dressed down" and the result is she is seen more sympathetically. 
  • In my opinion, the use of the Plain Folks/Common Man propaganda technique was not employed early on in the McCann case, and would have been helpful to their public image if they had utilized it from the start.  Jogging in their shorts, color-coordinating their clothing, posing for photos (the cover of People Magazine, for example), smiling broadly while holding "Missing Madeleine" tee-shirts, etc. were not wise choices in terms of propaganda.

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