Table of Contents
- The beginning of corporate propaganda
- Present-day propaganda in advertising
- 11 types of propaganda techniques in advertising
What comes to your mind when you think of the word propaganda? You might associate it with the Nazis and their misinformation campaigns.
Because of these wartime and political affiliations, propaganda is generally viewed as something inherently negative. But in the most neutral sense, it’s simply a method to disseminate or promote particular ideas.
Fast forward to today and you’ll find that marketing campaigns are laden with propaganda, too. The question of whether we can recognize them as such is a different matter.
So, how did marketing and advertising meet propaganda? Well, it all started in the 1920s…
The beginning of corporate propaganda
After World War II, Edward Bernays rebranded propaganda as public relations. He used Sigmund Freud’s work on psychological motivations and transformed how advertisers sold products and services to consumers.
His work earned him the title: father of modern mass propaganda or the father of public relations.
Present-day propaganda in advertising
It is also important to note that this method of persuasion is a deliberate act. In Endless Propaganda: The Advertising of Public Goods, Paul Rutherford says, “Propaganda is a conscious act—an accidental propaganda is an oxymoron.”
On top of that, the realization that we are subject to propaganda techniques from brands can seem alarming.
But before you start questioning whether every company is acting like Big Brother, take comfort in knowing that propaganda can also be used for good. It all comes down to intent.
Below, we’ve listed the most common types of propaganda in advertising with relevant examples so you can see the concept in action.
11 types of propaganda techniques in advertising
This form of propaganda uses well-known or credible figures to influence the target audience.
In the 1980s, the folks over at Texas Department of Transportation were spending about $20 million on cleaning up litter on highways.
Their pleas to the people for keeping the streets clean showed no improvement. They then hired Mike Blair and Tim McClure of GSD&M to create a campaign to turn things around.
And that’s how the Don’t mess with Texas legacy began.
The campaign, featuring state heroes, resonated so well with the target audience that littering went down approximately 72% between 1987 and 1990.
This propaganda method highlights stereotypes and then either reinforces or shatters them with the message in the advertisement.
Always’ Like a Girl ad fits into this category of propaganda advertisement and carries positive connotations.
3. Fear appeals
The agenda behind these types of propaganda ads and messages is to scare people into taking the desired action.
PSAs often use this tactic and Embrace Life’s video is another example of propaganda backed with good intentions.
The bandwagon phenomenon creates a sense of isolation and triggers FOMO (fear of missing out) in specific people who long to be part of some desirable group.
Fyre Festival’s marketing campaign shows this technique in action. Billy McFarland, the festival’s founder, got celebrities like Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, and Hailey Baldwin to promote the event.
Although marketed as an exclusive extravaganza, it ended up being a complete farce.
5. Plain folks
Sometimes, seeing seemingly regular people endorse a product or service primes prospects to try it out because they can see it fit into their everyday lives, too. This is the basic idea behind the plain folks propaganda method.
Nutella’s commercial falls into this category and eventually attracted criticism. The brand was sued for marketing itself as a “breakfast food” when it is, in all honesty, just a dessert in a jar.
6. Transfer propaganda technique
The agenda behind this tactic is to irrationally tie the audience’s positive associations to a completely unrelated concept.
Transfer propaganda relies on symbolism to push its target audience to make illogical connections.
Edward Bernays’ Torches of Freedom campaign is a prime example of this concept in action.
Name-calling propaganda is based on putting the other party down. Employing this technique in advertising normally starts brand wars. It can be light-hearted, but sometimes the animosity can get intense.
Here’s an old Burger King commercial taking a jab at McDonald’s.
8. Card stacking
Card stacking presents selective information to paint an incomplete and incorrect narrative to influence people. Companies that partake in greenwashing use this tactic and H&M is often criticized for it.
9. Glittering generalities
Glittering generalities employs loaded words and strong slogans to leave an impact on the audience receiving the message.
In marketing, this plays a big role in brand positioning. Prestigious car brands like Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz often use this tactic in their advertisements.
10. Ad nauseam propaganda
This type of propaganda relies on the power of repetition. Ad nauseam marketing campaigns target audiences at a very high frequency to remain top of mind.
Wix uses this tactic and reportedly has an annual ad budget of more than $100 million.
You’ve probably come across several of their commercials while watching videos on YouTube or browsing other social media platforms.
11. Appeal to prejudice propaganda
This tactic exploits prejudices for the propagandists’ benefit. Fairness cream ads fall under this umbrella.
That covers the most common propaganda techniques and how they’ve been used for both noble and nefarious purposes.
As a marketer, understanding these tactics can help you launch transformative campaigns. But we hope you’ll use your new insight with consideration and care.
If you’re in the market for an impactful promo video for your business and want to launch a video-backed campaign that’ll blow your stakeholder’s socks off, then be sure to hit us up. We’d love to talk strategy.
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