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Advertising and Propaganda


Advertising: in general, any openly sponsored offering of goods, services, or ideas through any medium of public communication.

Propaganda: systematic manipulation of public opinion, generally by the use of symbols such as flags, monuments, oratory, and publications. Modern propaganda is distinguished from other forms of communication in that it is consciously and deliberately used to influence group attitudes; all other functions are secondary. Thus, almost any attempt to sway public opinion, including lobbying, commercial advertising, and missionary work, can be broadly construed as propaganda.

Public relations: activities and policies used to create public interest in a person, idea, product, institution, or business establishment. By its nature, public relations is devoted to serving particular interests by presenting them to the public in the most favorable light. Thus, the goal of the public relations consultant is to create, through the organization of news and advertising, an advantageous image for his client, be it a business corporation, cultural institution, or private or public individual. Although many of the same methods are employed, public relations differs from propaganda, which is generally government supported, international in scope, and political in nature.

Source: Yahoo/Columbia Encyclopedia

War and Peace

During wartime, governments around the world have used various types of media to rally their citizens to the war effort. These campaigns generally attempt to create a clear Us vs. Them situation.

"Our" side is shown as good, strong, energetic:

While the enemy is shown as a blood-thirsty beast:

Of course, the other side (in this case, Germany during World War II) is appealing to their citizens in exactly the same way:

Hitler would be proud

We sometimes think that racist propaganda is a thing of the past, but sadly that's not the case. Here's an example of a billboard installed in Las Vegas by a white supremacy group called National Alliance:

Stop immigration billboard

The color choices and images make their racial message clear and effective.

Another image from the organization's website shows clear echoes of the "Mutter und Kind" German propaganda poster shown above.

Homeland Security: Protection or propaganda?

It's easy to look back on what was done 30, 50, or 100 years ago and recognize it as propaganda, especially what was done during wartime. But how about right now? Is it possible that we're still being influenced by organized propaganda campaigns?

In the Feb. 2004 issue of Voice, the online publication of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), Veronique Vienne said:

Be Ready banner...historians will probably study the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s current propaganda campaign—its color-coded “Threat Advisory System,” its “Get Ready Now” citizen awareness crusade, its “Don’t Be Afraid” website—and wonder how the architects of the program were able to get away with such a blatantly sadistic approach.


Just like in wartime, advertisers and those who oppose what they're trying to sell often use the same images and themes, usually quite deliberately. For example, there's a full-scale propaganda war underway between tobacco companies and the anti-smoking groups. Since satire is often an effective tool in getting people to think, take a look at how the anti-smoking group Truth has used a famous tobacco company symbol (shown on the left) and subverted it:

Here's a satirical look at what a famous underwear company's advertising message is really about, in the opinion of the folks at Adbusters (actual ad shown at left):

Social issues, design & communication

Anti-advertising website - Adbusters

Anti-smoking advertising campaign -

Interactive experiment in communication design- Decoding Visual Elements in News Content

Designers fed up with consumerism - First Things First Manifesto (this article features links to lots of other interesting comments on advertising.

Businessperson uses her success as a platform for other issues - Anita Roddick - Body Shop founder

Design for people in need - Design for the World

Web resources

Extensive collection of print advertising, mostly American -

American Advertising history - Annotated bibliography

Prints & photos from the Library of Congress relating to women and women's concerns.

Posters - Propaganda from around the world. More posters from WWI and WWII.

Propaganda: Nobody does it better than America - interesting discussion of the connection between (American) advertising techniques and propaganda in other countries, including Hitler's Germany.



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