Propaganda & Mass Persuasion: PR for Dummies

Thursday, March 05, 2009

PR for Dummies

"Crystallizing Public Opinion for Good Government" a book written by Edward L. Bernays, is a guide for public relations agents on how to sway public opinion. Bernays is viewed as the father of modern day public relations and much of his techniques are still used today. Bernays techniques focused on natural irrationality of the public due to our emotions. Bernays states in the section titled "Surveying the Market":
"the dominant though usually inarticulate thought in his community by a survey of what are ordinarily termed " group leaders," that is, the leaders of thought -- whether their influence be for the good or for the bad-- in a given community. The basic reason underlying such analysis is the fact that men's opinions are most often changed by their acceptance of the opinions of those whom they regard as leaders." P2
Bernays realized that the power of a group leader could sway specific groups public opinion. As long as they saw someone that they trusted and related to, no matter what they may represent, the group would follow. Understanding the power of group leaders helped Bernays, to realize that the power was in the group leaders hands. Instead of focusing on the individual, it was best to focus on the characteristics of the group leader because it would lead to mass appeal.

Bernay's later goes on to state in the section titled "Analyzing the Appeal":
"He realizes that the individual and the group are swayed by only a very small number of fundamental desires and emotions and instincts. Sex, gregariousness, the desire to lead, the maternal and paternal instincts, all are dominating desires of the group." P5
This statement shows that Bernays knew that we all shared a common irrationality as a public. This irrationality is controlled by emotions and instincts, allowing the majority to have their opinions swayed based on these emotions. If the group leaders could tap into these fundamental desires, then it was easy for them to target and mobilize their specific groups.

This was a radical idea in that it showed that while we all had our social class/standings, we all were in a sense equal to each other on this basis. Bernays helped to show that even the most rational person's public opinion could be swayed under the right circumstance.

Below is a video of Family Guy in which, the undecided voters represent the irrational public and how easy they could be swayed with the right words that tapped into their fundamental desires and emotions.


Blogger A. Mattson said...

A very good post and a funny clip.

You raised two key points from Bernays article: First, the importance of surveying the market before the beginning of any campaign; second, the "analysis of the appeal" in psychological terms. Bernays was a student of psychology and his understanding of social psychology guided his approach to creating an appeal. Clearly the science of psychology has changed dramatically since Bernays wrote this piece, but the lesson of still applies.

3/18/2009 11:33 AM  

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