#1: After the War, I Could Really Use A Cigarette
Following the Great War, Edward Bernays and his contemporaries use the power of propaganda to forever change marketing, and all of western culture.

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[Propaganda compilation]

“This is the best day ever. It is the best day ever. So is yesterday. And so is…”

“That's how the US Army has succeeded since the founding of this country.”

“Since the founding of this country…”

“This nation will rise up.”

“This ability may someday make man master of all he surveys.”

“A socialist or communist and their followers would like to see the American spirit…”

“This is your brain on drugs.”

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

“Yes, we did. Yes, we can. Thank you. God Bless.”Propaganda is all around us. Sometimes it's well hidden and malicious by design, working to implant dangerous ideas. The kinds of ideas that enable evil men to rise to power and great atrocities to occur.

[President George W. Bush on September 11, 2001, in his Address to the Nation:] “Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts.”

When you heard the word propaganda, that's probably where your head immediately went. We tend to see propaganda as a political instrument governed by this wicked morality; a way to sell something like fascism, not something like auto insurance or breakfast cereal.

[Ad] “What do we always say, son? Liberty Mutual customizes your car insurance.”

“They only pay for what you need.”

“That's my boy.”

The belief is that the manipulation techniques behind propaganda are separate and more dangerous than the techniques behind the brands we engage with daily. However,
this perception in itself was born from a lie. A lie that began a century ago and has led to a mass delusion about the influence of propaganda in all of our lives today.

This is not a story of the so-called mindless masses being hypnotized by dark figures in the shadows, because the very people who make propaganda today have been duped as well. This is a story about them. Or I should say, about us.

My name is Josh, and I'm joined by my colleague, Malcolm. We both make propaganda as the creative leads at an agency called BRINK. But like everyone else in our profession,
we give it different labels such as marketing, branding, or public relations.

We're setting out to address a lack of consciousness among our peers about what we do, from where it came, and what unintended harm it may be causing. For an industry that prides itself on deconstructing consumer behaviors, we consistently fail to deconstruct our own.

Today, we see a culture marked by rampant consumerism, extreme political division, isolation, apathy, and distrust. What role have we played in creating this, and what role could we play in fixing it? To answer these questions we have to start with understanding how propaganda works and why it's become integral to the modern world.

And it all starts with a man by the name of Edward Bernays, a pioneering propagandist born in 1891 who became heralded as the “Father of Public Relations”.

[Archival sound clip] “How do you introduce a man who is the acknowledged ‘Father of Public Relations’? Who is a counselor to presidents? What more can you say about an individual who to the public relations profession is a living legend?”

The only problem is that's a lie. He wasn't the father of public relations, but his association with that title was one of his career’s crowning achievements – a career spent creating propaganda.

His story, and his rise to prominence, is also the story of how early 20th-century techniques became the foundation of contemporary marketing.

[Interviewer] “It's a pleasure to welcome Dr. Edward Bernays. And what kind of a doctor are you? What are we dealing with? You're the father of public relations.

[Bernays] “What we’re dealing with really, is the concept that people will believe me more if you call me doctor.”

[Interviewer] “Oh, I see.”

This is propaganda.

The year is 1913, the industrial revolution has permanently altered our society. Europe is on the precipice of the bloodiest conflict in human history. Meanwhile, Eddie Bernays, nephew to Sigmund Freud, is promoting Acts on Broadway.

The current play he's promoting is called Damaged Goods, a tragic cautionary tale about a man who contracts syphilis from a prostitute and then fathers a syphilitic child.

Putting aside the promotional hurdle of getting people to see a play this depressing in the 1910s, STDs were very controversial, and discussing sex work was taboo.

[Archival sound clip] “What's troubling you?

“Well, being a medical student, Jack, I thought you could tell me something about syphilis.”

Bernays always recognized the power of controversy. When it was present, he'd lean in. When he was absent, he'd created himself. In the case of Damaged Goods, he decided to put the controversial subject matter front and center. He began pursuing the endorsements of New York socialites, telling them the play was an important piece of media that would help to “educate the masses about the evils of prostitution”.

[Archival sound clip continued] “But this can't happen to me. My entire life is ruined.”

By the time he was finished, he had the vocal support of many influential voices, including the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Damaged Goods was only planned for 14 performances, but due to unexpected demand, it played for 66.

[Archival sound clip] “Remember the horrors that have been revealed to you? Syphilis must be the next great plague to call. That's the one contribution we must make toward a safer and happier world for our children, and their children, to live in.”

Promoting plays on Broadway, Bernays had found his first and most enduring magic trick. Instead of directly promoting the play, he creates an association between the play itself and a deeper desire. “By attending this play, I'm helping to educate the masses about the evils of prostitution.”

It's possible Bernays could have had a lucrative career simply enjoying the bohemian lifestyle of artists and actors if it weren't for an event that would alter the course of both his and millions of other lives: the Great War.

A conflict that would define modern warfare and ultimately claim 20 million lives, World War 1 would also define modern propaganda in the way that you're probably most familiar with. The sitting president, Woodrow Wilson was determined to have America play a big role. However, public support was low. As a result, the Committee on Public Information was formed and charged with creating propaganda to strengthen support for the war.

Edward Bernays promotional efforts in New York had been noticed by people in high places and he was recruited to join the Committee on Public Information. The narrative the committee put forth is one that, by now, all Americans are deeply familiar with: military intervention will help to spread democracy abroad.

[Archival sound clip] “The day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood for the principles and the peace which she has treasured.”

Creating propaganda for the United States during this time influenced the rest of Bernays’ career. Up until this point, he was just promoting plays. It was World War I that fully exposed him to just how potent propaganda could be.

[Noam Chomsky] “He said the major influence on him was his participation in the first state propaganda agency in the United States: Woodrow Wilson's Committee on Public Information. And it succeeded, within a short period of time. The propaganda efforts (they were called propaganda in those days, it was more honest use of terminology) did succeed in driving a pacifist population into raving anti-German fanatics.”

As the war came to a close, Woodrow Wilson's main focus was ensuring that the war to end all wars lived up to its name. His vision for how the world could collectively achieve lasting peace was called the League of Nations. However, Americans didn't want it.

[Archival sound clip] “Americans rejected most of his ideas for building the peace. As I look back now, I think everybody felt a lasting peace was a worthwhile goal, but we just didn't know how to achieve it. Most of us wanted to return to our everyday lives again. The United States did not join the League of Nations.”

A young and idealistic Bernays was devastated by this. He shared Wilson's vision of the league as a solution to a more peaceful and prosperous world. Ultimately, Bernays saw America's failure to join the League of Nations as a failure to manipulate public opinion. This event catalyzed Bernays’ belief that propaganda was not merely a tool, but a necessity for a modern democracy.

[Bernays] “When I got back from the war, I recognized that ideas could be as important weapons as anything and were even more effective than bullets.”

He had no intention of going back to Broadway. Like so many others in his generation,
his worldview had been profoundly changed. This experience would inform what would be his life's work: mastering the art of propaganda so that if there was ever another decision as important as joining the League of Nations, he could do his part to ensure that it would not fail.

[Interviewer] “When you came back from World War 1, what did you do? Did you decide then to pursue public relations?”

[Bernays] “Well, I decided to open a small office and see whether we could not apply what I had learned in the war to peacetime pursuits.”

American production had gone into overdrive to support the war effort, and in the post-war years, this production continued, but with a renewed focus on consumer goods,

There are now too many product choices, and the need to differentiate in a marketplace crowded with identical products demanded a radically different approach to marketing. Bernays and his contemporaries would lead this shift and create the foundation of the industry in which we all work today.

They'd use the same tools they'd used during World War I – not to manufacture consent for conflict, but to manufacture consent for consumption.

[Ad] “How do you feel when you're in love?”

“My gosh, Harry, it's the most wonderful feeling in the world. I float through life on a cloud.”

“And that is exactly the way you feel in the famous Dodge Airglide Ride.”

The result of this was explosive growth, total advertising volume in the United States grew from about 600 million in 1910 to nearly 4 billion in 1930.

However, they had one major challenge: the term propaganda had been tainted, ironically by their own doing.

[Bernays] “When I came back to the United States propaganda got to be a bad word because of the Germans using it. So what I did was to try and find some other words.”

Bernays understood that the words we use carry more power than what they actually represent. Propaganda would need to be rebranded if it were to be used for private industry.

[Archival sound clip] “The 1920s magnified our love-hate affair with big business. We loved what it could give us but worried about its social costs; worried about the concentration of enormous economic power in the hands of the few. A new profession was born into this changing world and Edward Bernays gave it its name: public relations.”

The name would change, but the techniques could remain the same. This new term, “public relations” would be sold to major industries as a service to define and shift behaviors within the public at large, all to more effectively sell them products.

Bernays and others were on the frontier of field within the business world, but Bernays had a secret weapon: his uncle Sigmund Freud's new field of study – psychoanalysis.

[Archival sound clip] “It's hardly surprising given those family ties that Edward Bernays was the first to apply the findings of sociology and psychology to the commercial needs of his corporate clients.”

Before Bernays, mentioning psychological behavior as a marketer was unheard of, which if marketing and propaganda were two totally different things, would make sense. But if the deeper goal of your industry is to shift behaviors and beliefs, then understanding what governs them becomes pretty important. As a result of Bert's contributions to the field, psychology is a cornerstone of the work we do today.

They're called strategists. And one of them just Slacked you saying that she personally loves your idea, but the client's gonna think it's too risky.

After the war, two products were in high demand: propaganda and cigarettes. Prior to the Great War, men preferred cigars and pipes. But in the trenches, cigarettes were more convenient so the US provided them as rations. Post-war cigarette sales among men had exploded and manufacturers were turning their focus to a new demographic.

[Bernays] “Mr. George Hill, President of the American Tobacco Company called me in and said, ‘We're losing half of our market.’ And I said, ‘Why Mr Hill?’ He said, ‘There's a taboo by men that does not permit women to smoke. What can we do about breaking down that taboo?’”

His efforts exemplify another one of his major contributions to the world of propaganda: a term he coined as the “two-lane road”. Bernays was the first to suggest that a good propagandist will scour the cultural landscape for something that's a pre-existing belief or desire or symbol, and then use that to the client's advantage.

What you're searching for is an insight that's already governing behavior. Once you find it, it’s simply a matter of creating an association between it and the products you're selling.

Privacy. That's iPhone.

There's a deep concern that big tech is packaging all of our data and selling it to the highest bidder and that there's nothing we can do about it. Instead of focusing on the features of the iPhone, you focus on the desire the public already has for privacy. They arrive at the conclusion to buy an iPhone on their own, through ideas and symbols you've planted in their mind. It's their own idea, but you made them have it.

Back to Lucky Strike.

Objective: Get more women to smoke cigarettes.

Step 1: Find a desire that's already governing the public's behavior. (Women desire to be thin.)

Step 2: Create an association between the message and this desire.

The result: “Reach for Lucky instead of a sweet.” A campaign aimed at replacing your dessert with a cigarette.

Of course, all the key tactics of a strong marketing campaign were present. There was advertising, and celebrity endorsements, and editorials, but that was just the beginning. The final thing Bernays understood in a way his contemporaries never seemed to was that culture cuts horizontal. To create propaganda that truly moves culture you have to think outside the ad.

Have you ever noticed how in movies bad guys never use iPhones? That's not a coincidence. Apple actually provides the devices for free as props to major studios, but it comes with a caveat: the bad guys can't use them. This rule is actually so widely adhered to that sometimes you can predict plot twists in movies just by seeing what device a character uses.

These ideas that take the campaign beyond brand communications and weave it into the fabric of our world are often where Bernays is at his most visionary, with ideas that, even today, would kick my ass in a competitive pitch.

Yes, Bernays flooded the world with an ad campaign that encouraged people to smoke instead of eating dessert. But he also petitioned every 5-star hotel on the East Coast to begin offering cigarettes on their dessert menu alongside the food. In 1928, the year this campaign was rolled out, Lucky Strike’s profits rose by 32 million.

Thanks to Bernays women were smoking, but they still mostly did it inside their own homes – it was still really taboo. And the American Tobacco Company was convinced that if they could get female smokers to do it publicly, even more women would join in.

Bernays saw that the only way to achieve this goal was to cause a 180-degree shift in public opinion when it came to women smoking. Psychoanalytic studies were conducted on American women with the express aim of understanding their subconscious relationship with cigarettes. The conclusion was that cigarettes represented the phallus, a symbol of masculinity.

[Bernays] “So I said, ‘What could I do with that information?’”

New objective: Make it acceptable for women to smoke outside.

Step 1: Find a desire that's already governing the public's behavior. (Women want equality.)

Step 2: Create an association between the message and the desire within the public's imagination.

The result: “Torches of Freedom”

[Bernays] “It occurred to me that any young woman being discriminated against would be delighted to dramatize the idea that cigarettes were indeed ‘Torches of Freedom’ and to invalidate the taboo against women smoking.”

For this campaign, Bernays would pull off a technique he would later dub “pseudo-events”.
Today we call them guerilla marketing, or psyops, depending on who's doing them. The lengths to which Bernays went to make this event appear both spontaneous and authentic are impressive, and pretty morally questionable, even if the result wasn't giving people cancer.

To start, he wrote a letter to 30 noteworthy debutantes and he claimed he was a prominent leader in the women's suffrage movement attempting to stage a protest.

[Bernays] “I also instructed them to walk from 34th Street to 57th lighting ‘Torches of Freedom’ to protest man's inhumanity to women.”

In the early afternoon on Easter Sunday of 1929, onlookers watched as a parade unfolded. Shriners drove their silly little cars, floats rolled slowly by, most of them probably a little racist, and sandwiched in between the mayor of New York sitting on the back of a pickup truck and a marching band, 30 young women all puffed away at cigarettes with their heads held high in defiance of the patriarchy.

No detail was overlooked. Bernays’ plan included multiple points on the parade route where women would spontaneously join the movement, which ones would have a male escort, which ones would not have matches. And of course, photographers positioned at the most optimal spots. The stunt was covered in virtually every newspaper in the country.

[Archival sound clip] “I hope that we have started something and that these ‘Torches of Freedom’, with no particular brand favored, will smash the discriminatory taboo on cigarettes for women and that our sex will go on breaking down all discrimination.”

This quote was not from a prominent leader in the feminist movement at all – it was Bernays’ assistant. She never mentioned who she worked for or who he worked for. Emphasizing the lack of brand association is an exceptionally inspired, albeit deceptive touch, ensuring that this truly felt like an organic moment within the women's rights movement.

Take a public issue: Feminism.

Tie it to a private decision: Smoking.

If you do it well enough, the public should arrive at its own conclusions, never knowing that the belief had been planted in their heads by someone else.

[Bernays] “Within six weeks without any intercession on my part, the League of Theaters, which had a ban on women smoking, lifted the ban and women were allowed to smoke.”

Bernays had successfully proven his methodology on the world stage. He harnessed women's desire for equality and he redirected it to sell more cigarettes.

[Interviewer] “You know, you got men like Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford, and the masses of America to do what you wanted them to do. Well, I mean, that's not influence, that's power.”

[Bernays] “Well, but you see, I never thought of it as power. I never treated it as power.”

I know it's easy to say, “So a guy used war propaganda to lie about cigarettes, that’s pretty shitty.” But he also did this for dozens of other innocuous products. Plenty of them were less devious than cigarettes.

Propaganda is a powerful tool, and it's the moral responsibility of those who harness it to consider the implications of what they create. By rebranding propaganda as PR, he empowered our entire industry with tools previously only used by governments. And thanks to the power of words, PR goes on to be a totally harmless term, while propaganda is reserved for only the most dangerous messaging coming from the most nefarious actors.

It's IKEA versus ISIS.

Ultimately, all of this was the foundation of what we do today. His understanding of the need for brands to co-opt cultural symbols beyond their products and his use of psychoanalysis to unravel what those symbols mean. If Bernays is the father of anything, it's the way branding exists today.

[Bernays] “Public relations embraces what I call the engineering of consent. Everything depends on the consent of the people.”

In its simplest terms, this is the power of what we do.

Find a desire that's already governing the public's behavior.

Create an association between the product and this desire.

If you do it well enough, the public should arrive at its own conclusions, never knowing that the belief had been planted in their heads by someone else.

This is propaganda.

Cohosts: Josh Belhumeur and Malcolm Critcher
Producers: Jaclyn Hubersberger and Reed Chandler
Story Editor: Matt Decker
Additional Audio Engineering: Paul Injeti
Original music: Josh Belhumeur

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