Anti-Vaxxers and the Arts of Persuasion

5 min readFeb 6, 2022

People decide with their hearts and then later justify those decisions with their heads.

Once you accept this, then how you approach communications changes because all communication is about persuasion in one way or another. Learning simply to ask the question, “where is the heart in this?” can be powerful, although it can also be depressing to realize that some finely-honed argument you’ve worked on for hours is all head. (Some of my marketers learned this the hard way during creative reviews.)

I’ve been in the Persuasion Biz for a while now (teacher, scholar, writer, editor, marketer, conference programmer, consultant, strategist, researcher, executive, talk show host… all depend on persuasion in different ways), and everything in my experience supports that if you capture the heart, the head will follow.

In a recent board meeting, I found myself sketching out a chart version of this idea with an extra dimension:

The extra dimension is the vertical stack that charts what you’re using to persuade: carrot or stick, benefit or penalty, reward or punishment. The heart responds to fear more than it does to joy. Behavioral Economics teaches us that for most people losing $5 is a bigger blow than finding $5 is a gain. Knowing where your message falls on the quadrant can help you focus that message and make it more powerful.

These are my beliefs about persuasion, but if I’m right then convincing people to get vaccinated against COVID should simply be a matter of saying, “You’re might get a terrible disease and die in a painful and humiliating way, but this free vaccine can save you!”

The good news is that this approached has worked with a majority of Americans: 64% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated (two shots), according to The New York Times (88% for more vulnerable seniors).

Why hasn’t this worked with the other 36%? One answer is that communications don’t happen in isolation. An L.A. psychologist once quipped, “Y’know how in Kung Fu movies the bad guys all stand in a circle around the hero and take turns attacking him? Life isn’t like that.”

Persuasion happens in context, not in a vacuum.

Government mandates don’t work because many anti-vaxxers are conservatives who don’t like government in the first place, so forcing people to do something will only cause them to dig in their heels. We’ve seen this mostly vividly…


Futurist, strategist, researcher, startup advisor, writer, speaker, events veteran & family man.