Propaganda, Part II – Edward Bernays


Dan 11:32 Podcast – Episode 3

The word “propaganda” has a decidedly negative flavour to it. It’s associated with totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In the Portuguese language, “propaganda” simply means “advertising.” And that’s what it used to mean in English as well. But the modern definition of “propaganda” is anything but neutral. According to the Britannica Dictionary, propaganda is defined as “ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.” A note above the definition highlights the fact that the word “propaganda” is usually used in a disapproving fashion.

But when Edward Bernays, the American “father of public relations” used the word, he wasn’t employing it in the pejorative sense; he believed propaganda was unavoidable, even necessary, and his lifelong goal was to create propaganda that was as effective as it could be.

Bernays put his considerable skills to work for many decades, promoting everything from cigarettes to bananas. At the age of 93, he even put in an appearance with David Letterman, where he displayed his promotional skills to a new generation:

In 1928, Bernays published his best-known book on his specialty, simply entitled Propaganda. In this episode, we continue our discussion of propaganda by looking at some of the important points that Bernays made about the subject in his book. It is clear that propaganda is not just an activity in which our rivals engage. We live in a propaganda society, and we must be prepared to recognize propaganda in order to avoid becoming victims of the steady barrage of propaganda with which we are bombarded on a daily basis.