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Propaganda is a form of communication aimed at influencing the attitude of a
community toward some cause or position. As opposed to impartially providing
information, propaganda in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to
influence an audience. Propaganda uses psychological techniques which are
designed to fool the public because they appeal to people's emotions and impulses
rather than their reason. It is designed to short circuit thinking and logic in an effort
to try and force the public into drawing conclusions they normally would not make.
One of the key figures in the development of propaganda was Edward Bernays. In
1928, Bernays published the first book on propaganda and to many he is known as
the “Father of Propaganda”
“Propaganda will never die out. Intelligent men
must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument
by which they can fight for productive ends and help
to bring order out of chaos.”
Propaganda became a valuable tool during the first and
second world wars for rallying the troops and the public.
When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, his government
actually formed a government department called “The
Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda” headed by
Joseph Gobbles who once stated.
“The Nazi Party would never have come to power
without the invention of the radio or the use of
The use of propaganda by the Nazi Party led to one of the
most horrific chapters in human history.
In the 1930’s Edward Filene and others became concerned about the effect
propaganda was having on society. In 1937 Filene helped establish the Institute of
Propaganda Analysis to educate the American public about the nature of propaganda
and how to recognize propaganda techniques. Filene and his colleagues identified the
seven most common "tricks" of the trade.
Assertion is commonly used in advertising and modern propaganda. An assertion is
an enthusiastic or energetic statement presented as a fact, although it is not
necessarily true. They often imply that the statement made is a truth which requires
no explanation or back up, it should merely be accepted as fact without question.
Assertions are easy to spot because the statement lacks evidence. They work
because most people are not likely to search for additional information or differing
opinions. Assertions, although usually simple to spot, are often dangerous forms of
propaganda because they often include falsehoods or lies.
"Four out of five dentists recommend Smiley Toothpaste." Which dentists?
Why do they recommend it? Who did the survey?
Bandwagon is one of the most common techniques in both wartime and peacetime
and plays an important part in modern advertising. Bandwagon is an appeal to the
subject to follow the crowd, to join in because others already have. People
instinctively like being part of the crowd or on the winning side.
However, in modern propaganda, bandwagon has taken a new twist. The subject is
to be convinced by the propaganda that since everyone else is doing it, they will be
left out if they do not. This is, effectively, the opposite of the other type of
bandwagon, but usually provokes the same results.
"Be one of the thousands of people who are enjoying better hearing with the
Zoom Plus hearing aid."
Card Stacking
Card stacking, or selective omission, is one of the most widely used propaganda
techniques. It involves only presenting information that is positive to an idea or
proposal and omitting information contrary to it. Card stacking is used in almost all
forms of propaganda, and is extremely effective. Although the majority of
information presented by the card stacking approach is true, it is dangerous because
it omits important information.
"Electric cars run on clean energy do not release greenhouse gasses." No one
in the industry or the media points out that most of the electricity used to
charge batteries used in electric cars comes from coal and oil fired generating
stations. They also omit the fact the highly toxic batteries used in the cars will
need to be disposed of at some point.
Glittering Generalities
Glittering generalities are “value” words that usually have positive meanings which
are then linked to highly valued concepts. Words such as loyalty, truth, duty,
freedom or honesty are often used because they demand approval without thinking,
simply because they involve valued concepts. When coming across with glittering
generalities, we should especially consider the merits of the idea itself when
separated from specific words.
"The right to keep and bear arms has to be protected because the Second
Amendment is the final guarantor of all our constitutional rights.”
Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann made this statement when speaking to
her supporters.
Lesser of Two Evils
The lesser of two evils technique tries to convince us of an idea or proposal by
presenting it as the least offensive option. Option A may be bad, but option B is far
worse. This technique is often implemented during times of difficulty to convince
people of the need for sacrifices or to justify difficult decisions.
"Better Red than Dead." Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau made this
statement when talking about communism after meeting Cuban Communist
leader Fidel Castro during the Cold War nuclear arms race. It was actually
based the Nazi slogan "Better Dead than Red" possibly coined by Joseph
Name Calling
Name calling occurs often in politics and wartime scenarios, but very seldom in
advertising. It is the use of derogatory language or words that carry a negative
connotation when describing an enemy. The propaganda attempts to arouse
prejudice among the public by labelling the target with something that the public
dislikes. Often, name calling is employed using sarcasm and ridicule, and shows up
often in political cartoons or writings.
"The President of the United States is often called a "Socialist" or a
"Communist" by his opponents knowing that most Americans have a strong
dislike for both socialism and communism.
Pinpointing the Enemy
Pinpointing the enemy is often used often during wartime and during political
campaigns and debates. This is an attempt to simplify a complex situation by
presenting one specific group or person as the enemy. Although there may be other
factors involved the subject is urged to simply view the situation in terms of clear-cut
right and wrong.
American propaganda poster from World War II
Plain Folks
The plain folks device is an attempt to convince the public that views reflected are
those of the common person. Politicians often use this technique that he or she is
one of them and working for the benefit of the common person. This technique is
usually most effective when used in combination with glittering generalities.
When speaking to supporters during the 2012 election campaign for President
of the United States, Mitt Romney told supporters, "I was unemployed once
so I know how it feels.” Mitt Romney grew up in one of America’s richest
families and is one of America’s richest men.
Simplification (Stereotyping)
Simplification is extremely similar to pinpointing the enemy, in that it often reduces a
complex situation to a clear-cut choice often involving racial, sexual or stereotypes.
The simplification technique is often useful in swaying uneducated audiences or when
there is a need to somehow justify immoral acts and ideas.
Julius, a gorilla in the 1968 fill stated all humans were "Natural born thieves."
Testimonials are quotations or endorsements, in or out of context, which attempt to
connect a famous or respectable person with a product or item. Testimonials are
very closely connected to the transfer technique, in that an attempt is made to
connect an agreeable person to another item. Testimonials are often used in
advertising and political campaigns.
In Canada, Canadian Idol judges can always be seen with a fresh cup of Tim
Horton's coffee while their American counterparts always have a class of
Coke- Cola handy.
Transfer is often used in politics and during wartime but is also used in advertising.
It is an attempt to transfer or link the qualities of an object or person to an often
unrelated object. This technique can be used to transfer both positive or negative
feelings and images into the mind of the public.
The Ford Mustang name and logo transfer the ideas, images and feelings of a
wild mustang horse, the Wild West and the American Flag to a sports car.
Propaganda messages are often repeated over and over again delivering the same
message but using various forms of mass media. If people hear the same message
over and over again, after a while they will tend to believe the message.
In Nazi Germany, “The Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda”
controlled all news papers, radio stations, film studios, book publishers and
film production companies. For years, before outbreak of World War II the
German public could not engage in any mass media without being confronted
by an endless stream of Nazi propaganda.
The book shown above was an elementary school text book that among other
things it is implied that Jews will try to molest children and blames the Jews
for the death of Jesus.
Used singularly, these techniques are not propaganda as they are commonly used
methods of expressing ideas and concepts. However, should you find three or more
of these techniques used in a speech, advertisement or other form of media the odds
are you are being subjected to propaganda. Young people and people lacking in
formal education are especially susceptible to propaganda and often fail to recognize
If a person suspects they are being subjected to propaganda or finds people around
them are being influenced by propaganda one of the best tactics one can use to
confront propaganda is to look for and find additional information, opposing views
and errors in the logic and then express an alternative point of view.
In some cases governments will use force to silence views that oppose state
organized propaganda as was the case in Nazi Germany and in Cambodia in the
1970’S. Challenging state organized propaganda meant imprisonment and possible
The creators of propaganda count on fact that few people will bother to challenge the
information while the majority of people will simply accept the information provided.
When propaganda is challenged, the messages and points of view expressed will
often fall apart.