Bernays Thought, Therefore I Am


Metamodern Culture: Bernays Thought, Therefore I Am.

“In almost every act of our daily lives…we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”

By Solomon Crane
One of Edward Bernays’ first advertising campaigns (above) was to market cigarettes to women, an untapped demographic the tobacco companies had yet to capture before his arrival.

The Metamodern, Metablog. They think, Therefore I Am. Edward Bernays.The field of Public Relations isn’t all bad. As a matter of fact a good public relations department can build bridges of fellowship between the entity they represent and the community they serve. In the fields of politics and advertising no other asset is more valued than a skilled public relations guru.

They think, therefore I am. Edward Bernays was the nephew and a student of Sigmund Freud and is still considered the Father of Public Relations and Consumerism. Bernays took what he learned about psychology and became one of the most sought after propaganda and advertising consultants of the 20th Century. His psychological approach to modern marketing turned advertising and politics upside down.

Up until the late 1800s, early 1900s most Americans were characteristically pragmatic and thrifty. They bought only what they needed and shopped for what they thought was the best value and the most reliable product. They didn’t take too many chances with their money and politically speaking, happy with a more non-interventionist approach to geopolitics and reluctant about getting involved with any armed conflicts in Europe, specifically WWI.

After leaving the Creel Commission, officially known as the government’s Committee on Public Information, Bernays was welcomed with open arms into the business community to share what he had practiced during his service to the commission. Against all expectations, Bernays and his cohorts successfully turned public opinion around and lead the U.S. straight into WWI.


The metamodern, metablog. They Think, Therefore I Am. Edward BernaysBy the end of the war the efficiency of industrialized production had improved greatly and the shift back to a peace time economy brought new economic challenges. There was a need to stimulate more growth markets appealing to post-war consumers that could keep up with the level of production the industries were then able to maintain. A new marketing paradigm had to be adopted. According to Freud, people are influenced by their unconscious desires. Bernays thought that rather than appealing to an individual’s rational thought, appeal to their irrational emotion. Advertising campaigns changed overnight. It was no longer about whose product was better, it became about how the product made you feel.

His accomplishments were the successful marketing of tobacco to women for Lucky Strike, making eggs and bacon a breakfast staple for the pork and dairy industry, convincing middle class Americans to invest in the stock market and according to Noam Chomsky, the public relations efforts behind the U.S. backed coup to overthrow the democratic government of Guatemala.

From reinventing war propaganda and public policy making, to advertising and marketing, Bernays’ book entitled Propaganda became required reading military analysts and public policy makers around the world. Incorporating his understanding of the human condition and using his background in psychology he created the model and set the protocols for the PR industry and all the mass marketing and consumerism we see today.

The Metamodern, Metablog. They Think, Therefore I Am.
Diego Rivera’s “Glorious Victory” depicts the Dulles Brother’s coup in Guatemala. Edward Bernays was responsible for the PR campaign that helped develop the mindset for the U.S. government’s coup to eliminate Guatemala’s democratic leadership in 1954. This was all indirectly at the behest of “Chiquita Banana” formerly known as the United Fruit Company.

Another technician in the development of psychological advertising was Thomas Barrat, who is considered the Father of Modern Advertising. During the early 1900s many books and references were published referencing similar theories to Bernays’ and were widely circulated; creating a new wave in marketing that’s been prevalent in society ever since.

The basic fundamentals of consumerism are influenced by Bernays’ ideas in this way: It wasn’t solely up to the advertising and marketing department to promote the product as something the consumer should want to buy. He created a new position entitled Public Relations Council whose responsibility it was to get inside a person’s head to see how they think and find out what they wanted, or to produce a specific desire through clever advertising and PR campaigns that appealed to the irrational emotions of the consumer. Much scientific research was invested in this with overwhelmingly positive results.

But it doesn’t end there. These techniques are being field tested and employed daily in more than just consumer advertising. As Madison Avenue markets their industrial waste, the politicians and civic leaders are marketing theirs. Through clever PR(opaganda) campaigns personality and image become the key focus for the stylists and PR experts. Personality and celebrity weigh in just as much, if not more than the political platform itself.

The Metamodern, Metablog. Edward BernaysThrough Edward Bernays’ Beech-Nut Packing Company was able to significantly increase its bacon distribution after a successful campaign to elevate bacon and eggs as the new “American Breakfast”. Most people assume that the bacon and egg breakfast was an early staple from 19th Century rural America. Until Bernays’ time most Americans were eating a lighter, more “continental” type breakfast consisting of juice, fruit, oatmeal, breads and other grain based foods.

American politics plays heavily on celebrity status. Actors and musicians are highly vocal in their support of specific candidate. This has a vast influence on public opinion. The public relates to their favorite personality to the point of considering actors as qualified civic leaders, which makes the whole situation even more ironic considering that most civic leaders have been well versed in acting throughout their own political careers.

The popularity gained through an association to pop-culture ads substantially to the idea’s appeal. The concept of using entertainers to promote politics or social agendas is nothing new. Along with the United States, China and North Korea use this approach to manufacturing consent extremely well.

It’s important to note that propaganda wasn’t always considered an element of disinformation. Until WWII propaganda was simply another word for any reliable news or information relayed through credible sources to the general public. It became distasteful only as a metaphor to Germany’s propaganda machine. More irony as history would have it; Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda was an admirer of Edward Bernays and was well-read on his theories; which he deployed as own psychological weapons to engage support for Hitler’s atrocities.

Edward Bernays’ book entitled “Propaganda” was released in 1928. The opening paragraph reads as follows: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”


“Man’s Desires Must Overshadow His Needs.”

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