Friday, September 25, 2009

The Power of Labeling

By Chris Parsons

The power of labeling a person, place or thing is a something that can never be taken lightly. Does it really matter, if say, a boy or girl is label as a jock or a nerd, prep or a goth? What does it mean to be called an overachiever or a chronic-slacker? Does a label or title really precede a person if it is spread enough? Do people create a label for themselves or does the label create them?

What is a label? Webster’s Dictionary defines a label as a card, etc, marked and attached to an object to show its contents, (1. Attach a label to. 2. Classify as.) So when we as people label one another we are classifying each other. What is this based on? Is it our actions, words, ethics, work habits or our hobbies? This article will try to look into the power of labeling and how it might be used to persuade us and as forms of propaganda.

Some labels are extremely powerful. You think of a jock and you think of the best looking athlete scoring the game winning touchdown or hitting the home runs. On the opposite side of that a person who is labeled as a geek instantly brings images of suspenders, white button up shirts with pocket protectors and big thick glasses.

However a label is not always a negative thing. To be labeled as a husband, a mother, a teacher, a mentor. All of these are honors and labels are things that people strive to earn and be known as. Positive labeling has proven and long lasting effects just as negative has its. Labeling a child as a prodigy or as a child genius and telling the child this has the effect of them developing into that kind of person even if it wasn’t inherently true to begin with.

As mention earlier even our food choices are steered to a certain outlook because of labeling. A healthy individual who cares about what they eat will stay far away from a food labeled as being high in fat. One week a certain type of food is good for us then the next it is bad and the populace follows those labels like sheep follow one another in the flock.

When a person is labeled, positively or negatively, deservingly or spitefully, the question of whether or not a person can overcome a label that has been given to them. Can a person who is labeled as a slacker become a person who gets their work done in a timely manner? The answer is yes so one of the questions posted at the beginning can be answered. A person does not become their label. A person can overcome and move beyond a label. Whether or not they simply move away from the origin of their label to a place that they are not known or through work and a dedication to remove them from that title they finally overcome it.

By that same notion however it can be said that a person does not create his or her own label. A student who works hard and volunteers to help the teacher can sometimes be labeled a teachers pet and by that standard they are never seen to get in trouble or a bad grade because of that connection, not the work and effort they put into class.

This relates to propaganda and persuasion in a few ways. One such way is Looking at it from another stand point when you go to the supermarket and decide to pick up a piece of steak do you look at the B grade cuts or is it the grade A prime choice cut that has your attention. This is how labeling persuades us in our choices. While most of the time the label is there for your healthy, great tasting needs sometimes the label is there for a purely cosmetic or advertising situations.
A box of cereal label as good for you will sell fairly well. Add to the label of that cereal that it is great tasting and good for you and people will most likely choose the one that is great tasting because the label of the cereal declares it to be so.

The label of something has a profound impact on most decisions or assumptions that a person makes. A manager at a supermarket has two applicants for a job, both of equal skill and all applicable areas. One however is an ex-con who has just been released. Because he is required to make that information known on his application, because it is the label he and society have put on himself he may very well not get the job because of that. That is the power of labeling.

Proof of the above mentioned scenario could be found within the definition of Labeling Theory. Encyclopedia Britannica has the definition as a product of society’s reaction to the individual (Labeling 2009). Which means that the individual, once convicted of a crime, is labeled a criminal and thereby acquires a criminal identity. Once returned to society, he continues to be regarded as a criminal and is consequently rejected by law-abiding persons and accepted by other delinquents. This has been found to be true. Most ex-cons on attempts to start their life anew as a law-abiding citizen are usually shot down because of their label. Which in turn makes them return to the criminal lifestyle and the cycle continues.

The Journal of Food Products Marketing conducted a study. A summary of the study is as follows. “The aim of this study is to identify motives and barriers for the consumption of fresh tropical fruits and their juices. Also the potential role of labeling information, more specifically process-related quality labeling for fresh tropical fruits, and on-label nutrition and health claims for tropical fruit juices, are investigated. This study indicates that pleasure-seeking and hedonism motives are major drivers, whereas high perceived price and unfamiliarity form the most prominent barriers for consuming tropical fruit and tropical fruit juices. Process-related quality labels are considered credible and persuasive, but the expected price premium hampers the purchase of process-certified tropical fruit products. Health and nutrition claims on tropical fruit juices are not believed to be persuasive unless they match well with the perceived naturalness of the juices” (Sabbe, Verbeke, Van Damme, 2009).

In the end the power of labeling seems to be prevalent and will continue its hold over those who are labeled through others or their own deeds. That is why we as a collective should never judge a book by its cover and delve to find those true natures and facts beneath the label.


Labeling theory. (2009). In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved September 21, 2009, from Encyclopedia Britannica Online:

Goldman, Jonathan L. (2000). Webster’s New Pocket Dictionary. Cleveland, Ohio: Wiley Publishing Inc.

Sabbe, Sara, Verbeke Wim, Van Damme Patrick (2009). Perceived Motives, Barriers and Role of Labeling Information on Tropical Fruit Consumption: Exploratory Findings.
Journal of Food Products Marketing; 2009, Vol. 15 Issue 2, p119-138, 20p, 3 charts.
doi: [10.1080/10454440802316750].

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