Sunday, January 20, 2013

Advertising and propaganda - a comparison

After reading the excellent excerpts from section I in the Peters & Simonson text, I decided that I wanted to focus on the two selections regarding propaganda, "The Results of Propaganda" from Propaganda Technique in World War" by Harold Dwight Lasswell and “Manipulating Public Opinion: The Why and the How” by Howard L. Bernays and how these two works relate to the mass media communications world of today.

Often, the word “propaganda” invokes the mass media campaigns of war times when governments would issue paraphernalia to swirl up public support for the troops, raise anti-opposition fervor and just generally influence and sway public opinion. An example of this is seen in the Uncle Sam poster depicted below. Often, it is seen as a form of brainwashing rather than it similarity to advertising, an evil, at times, scheme to get in the minds of the recipients and to make them think or act in a certain way. However, is this necessarily a bad thing? After all, advertising strives to influence public opinion as well, often to feel positively about a product or service, very similar to propaganda’s goals.

As Bernays wrote, “Manipulating public opinion” was as necessary to reduce prejudice as it was to sell fashion and fur hats”. This opinion of the “mass distribution” of ideas is present in a number of social issues facing the United States in 2013 as well as key issues in 2012.

In the digital realm, the Kony 2012 campaign is a recent example of what can be considered propaganda. It framed an issue in a very partisan way and obviously so, Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army are entities which have done nothing but cause grief and chaos in Africa. The 30 minute documentary KONY 2012 sought to not only inform the public of the atrocities committed by Kony, but also to influence them to take action. In this regard, it is easy to see how advertising and propaganda serve the same purpose.

However, a key difference is that propaganda is so very one-sided the majority of the time, which is the case in Kony 2012. Now obviously, it would be difficult to portray the other side of the coin when it comes to Joseph Kony as he is a vile and unsympathetic figure, but often we see opposing viewpoints in advertising, whether the advertiser acknowledges the superior features of the competition or not.

Other social issues which are hotly debated at the moment and use varying degrees of propaganda are gay rights, gun rights, immigration rights, women’s rights, environmental rights (which can be seen in an ad below) and the health care debate. Challenge yourself to view some of the ads and propaganda of today, as well as the ads and propaganda of old, and ask yourself if there is any difference between advertising and propaganda. I think you’ll be surprised at how similar the two ideas are.


  1. The word "propaganda" is such a loaded term, isn't it? The term, "educational campaign" is much less negative. No one wants to feel they've been manipulated and yet I suppose all of are to a certain extent.

  2. This blog is really helpful for my database. It enhanced the area of my thoughts and pushed me beyond the boundaries. Work ethic of every point is different and represent a new way to improve myself.