Edward Bernays: Social Engineering Example

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Published on January 24, 2009 by

Bernays refined and popularized the use of the press release, following its invention by PR man Ivy Lee, who had issued a press release after the 1906 Atlantic City train wreck. One of the most famous campaigns of Bernays was the women’s cigarette smoking campaign in 1920s. Bernays helped industry overcome one of the biggest social taboos of the time: women smoking in public (Stuart Ewen, Hunter College). Bernays staged the 1929 Easter parade in New York City, showing debutantes holding cigarettes. Bernays created this event as news, which, of course, it wasn’t. Bernays convinced industries that the news, not advertising, was the best medium to carry their message to an unsuspecting public.

One of Bernays’ favorite techniques for manipulating public opinion was the indirect use of “third party authorities” to plead his clients’ causes. “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 a survey of physicians and reported their recommendation that people eat heavy breakfasts. He sent the results of the survey to 5,000 physicians, along with publicity touting bacon and eggs as a heavy breakfast.

Bernays also drew upon his uncle Sigmund’s psychoanalytic ideas for the benefit of commerce in order to promote, by indirection, commodities as diverse as cigarettes, soap and books.[citation needed] In addition to the theories of his uncle, Bernays used those of Ivan Pavlov.

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