Edward Bernays and How He Changed My Perspectives on Marketing

Edward Bernays and How He Changed My Perspectives on Marketing

Last night I watched half of the movie Ethos by Woody Harrelson (An Amazon Prime movie) . The description was, “Ethos lifts the lid on a Pandora’s Box of systemic issues that guarantee failure in every aspect of our lives, from the environment to our democracy and our own personal liberty.” I origin
ally hesitated watching it, but continued. And, I’m glad I did.


What originally caught my attention was quotes from Noam Chomsky who was referred to in the movie Captain Fantastic.  If you haven’t seen Captain Fantastic, I highly recommend it. So, I became more interested in the movie and continued to watch.

Then, the movie shifted towards Edward Bernays and his theories on public relations. The more I heard, the more I realized, I have been living a live based on wants and not needs.

Here is a list of Bernays’ techniques and my interpretations

Third Parties

My interpretation follows

Referenced from Wikipedia.

Bernays argued that the covert use of third parties was morally legitimate because those parties were morally autonomous actors.

“If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway,” he said.

In order to promote sales of bacon, for example, he conducted research and found that the American public ate very light breakfast of coffee, maybe a roll and orange juice. He went to his physician and found that a heavy breakfast was sounder from the standpoint of health than a light breakfast because the body loses energy during the night and needs it during the day. He asked the physician if he would be willing, at no cost, to write to 5,000 physicians and ask them whether their judgment was the same as his—confirming his judgment. About 4,500 answered back, all concurring that a more significant breakfast was better for the health of the American people than a light breakfast. He arranged for this finding to be published in newspapers throughout the country with headlines like ‘4,500 physicians urge bigger breakfast’. while other articles stated that bacon and eggs should be a central part of breakfast and, as a result of these actions, the sale of bacon went up.

Describing the response to his campaign for Ivory Soap, Bernays wrote: “As if actuated by the pressure of a button, people began working for the client instead of the client begging people to buy.

Businesses found these covert methods irresistible. Strother Walker and Paul Sklar wrote in Business Finds Its Voice (1938) that Bernays had offered a solution to popular skepticism of business which arose in the depression: better “to implant an idea in a group leader’s mind and let him spread it than to write up an idea and send it to the papers as a release, in the old-fashioned way…

My interpretation

Really, I thought eating a big breakfast with bacon and eggs was scientifically sound. Of course, I may be naive to believe this, and maybe there is some legitimacy. But, it points out that our original habits were to have a light breakfast, but instead marketing drove us to have larger breakfasts. And, we’ve trained ourselves to believe this. And, if we don’t have a big breakfast, then we have to explain that to ourselves.

So, what do you believe? It comes back to what you probably feel like you should do and forget any previous knowledge or articles.

Our weakness today is that information is everywhere. So, techniques like this are even more abundant. So, even though we may disagree, we may be influenced.

For me, as I market, I’m going to use this technique…. I would assume surveys would help provide any data needed to persuade.


My interpretation follows

From Wikipedia

“As is evident from the description of his campaign to publicize the Dodge cars, Bernays had a particular gift for the marketing strategy called the “tie-up” or “tie-in”.

In this strategy, one venue, opportunity, or occasion for promoting a consumer product, for example, radio advertising, is linked to another, say, newspaper advertising, and even, at times, to a third, say a department store exhibition salesroom featuring the item, and possibly even a fourth, such as an important holiday, for example Thrift Week.”

My Interpretation

This of course seems obvious when you look at yesterday’s holiday, July 4th. What comes to mind? For me, it’s hotdogs, hamburgers, chips, drinks, etc. This is all deep inside my core. If I go to a party where those items aren’t there, it’s odd. This is all marketing.

So, for me, as I market, I must tie in holidays, events, etc to help distribute and support an evergreen solution for future sales.

Scientific Approach

My interpretation follows

From Wikipedia

Bernays pioneered the public relations industry’s use of psychology and other social sciences to design its public persuasion campaigns: “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it? The recent practice of propaganda has proved that it is possible, at least up to a certain point and within certain limits.” He later called this scientific technique of opinion-molding the engineering of consent.

Bernays explained in his 1947 essay “The Engineering of Consent”:

This phrase quite simply means the use of an engineering approach—that is, action based only on thorough knowledge of the situation and on the application of scientific principles and tried practices to the task of getting people to support ideas and programs.

Bernays expanded on Walter Lippmann’s concept of stereotype, arguing that predictable elements could be manipulated for mass effects:

But instead of a mind, universal literacy has given [the common man] a rubber stamp, a rubber stamp inked with advertising slogans, with editorials, with published scientific data, with the trivialities of tabloids and the profundities of history, but quite innocent of original thought. Each man’s rubber stamp is the twin of millions of others, so that when these millions are exposed to the same stimuli, all receive identical imprints.

The amazing readiness with which large masses accept this process is probably accounted for by the fact that no attempt is made to convince them that black is white. Instead, their preconceived hazy ideas that a certain gray is almost black or almost white are brought into sharper focus. Their prejudices, notions, and convictions are used as a starting point, with the result that they are drawn by a thread into passionate adherence to a given mental picture.

Not only psychology but sociology played an important role for the public relations counsel, according to Bernays. The individual is “a cell organized into the social unit. Touch a nerve at a sensitive spot and you get an automatic response from certain specific members of the organism.”

My Interpretation

This goes many ways, and I may come back to it later as I need to let this concept sink in more.

Initially, I think of all the discussions where people don’t know the 100% truth, and they discuss it in length. Because we don’t know something is 100%, it allows us to be manipulated. So, if you can convince one person of something, then you can convince millions of others. It’s just a matter of reaching them.

So, for me, when marketing. I have to find the grey area, what is not 100% sure and tie in an answer. Then, once found, replicate it!

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