All of us enjoy some kind of image, positive or negative. Everyone from entrepreneur to businesses to celebs needs to be aware of our public image. I’ll talk about the history of PR and how it has changed over the years, starting from the very beginning.
If you know about PR then you might have heard about Edward Bernays, often called the Father of PR and Propaganda. Let’s get to know why he is considered such an iconic figure and what he has done for this field.
Who was Edward Louis Bernays?
Born in 1891, Bernays was an Austrian-American entrepreneur known for his work in the field of propaganda and public relationship. He was considered one of the most influential Americans of the 20th century by Life and was even the subject of a biography called The Father of Spin.
Born in Vienna, Austria, he was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, a popular Viennese psychoanalyst. His family moved to the US in the 1890s. He graduated in agriculture and decided to join journalism.
He started to work for the National Nurseryman journal after completing his education from Cornell. He then moved to work as a medical editor where he worked with an actor who wanted to work in a controversial play around the venereal disease. This was Bernays’ first opportunity to show his skills. He works with the team and changed the play into a cause. It turned out to be a success.
He continued to work for different companies around the world, but got his major break when he got back to New York and opened a PR business that quickly found immense success.
Starting His Journey
Advertising was quite well-established by the time Bernays entered the field. But, what Bernays brought to the table was different.
Instead of promoting a product and asking people to purchase it, he went on to work on building public image and improving the goodwill of a brand or product. This had a positive impact on sales and his clients started to grow in numbers.
Not all his campaigns were successful though. In fact, some failed and many even criticized his approach but he was persistent.
Some Successful Campaigns
Here are some of his most impressive campaigns:
President Calvin Coolidge
He worked on a project for the president who was seen as a humorless and stern man. Bernays worked extensively with him and hired a number of performers, such as Al Jolson, to visit the president at his office.
He spread pictures of the president with people known for being friendly and humorous. This move helped change Coolidge’s image and people started to look at him as a fun person. As a result, he got a victory in 1924.
Procter & Gamble
P&G is a brand that needs no introduction. The company worked with Bernays on a number of campaigns but one of their most successful projects was the campaign for the Ivory Soap brand.
Bernay came up with a strategy that involved soap carving competitions to help children and adults like soap. The contest turned out to be a major success and thousands were awarded in prize money. Many professional artists also took part in these contests.
The company continued to host such events for decades. In fact, you will still find soap sculpture instructions in P&G promotions.
The American Tobacco Company
This was a controversial project to work on due to the nature of the campaign. He took on the project in the late ’20s when smoking was becoming common among women. Back in the day, women who had the habit of smoking were often looked down upon.
Bernays worked to make smoking acceptable but populating the idea that smoking was a substitute for desserts and candy. He also educated people about the benefits of tobacco.
The project took a turn when he started a new campaign that linked smoking to freedom. The idea came to him after discussing smoking and women with a local psychoanalyst who helped him understand women wanted more freedom and respect. In order to attract more people, he hired young women to smoke while strolling in popular locations in the city.
He also hired photographers to shoot the images. The stunt paid off and a number of publications, including the New York Times, published stories about women opting to smoke as a way to achieve freedom.
The campaign, though controversial, proved to be a major success and sales began to increase in no time.
What Can We Learn From Edward Bernays
Bernays adapted many of Freud’s theories to achieve success. He used psychology to get people to do what he wanted.
Bernays has written several books and is considered one of the best authors in the field of PR and propaganda. One of his most popular books is “The Engineering of Consent”, in which he mentioned that:
“When trying to reach consent, themes must appeal to the motives of the public. Motivation is the activation of both conscious and subconscious pressure created by the force of desires.”
Unlike other experts, his concept is based on desires and not needs. He taught us to tap into the unconscious desires of the masses.
Bernays is a well-recognized name but he’s also controversial and often criticized for manipulating the masses. Most of his successful campaigns included image makeover and propaganda to increase sales and today almost every successful brand uses his tactics in one way or another.
Have you or your company understood the value of looking beyond numbers? Business, after all, is about understanding the human needs and desires to build long-term and everlasting impact that will drive both profit and success.