July 19, 2013
Every day we are bombarded by a tidal wave of information. Most of it is irrelevant to our immediate lives, yet it influences our lives. We buy products because we are told they will bring us happiness; make us look younger or healthier. We run to our doctors because commercials suggest that we may have a particular illness, and if we get the latest pill we will be healed. We blog, post to our Facebook accounts and continually talk about issues the media has presented as important.
We never seem to realize that we are allowing someone else to mold our minds and direct our thinking. We also never question the validity of the information we are consuming, and if you happen to have a memory you can become totally confused listening to the experts. One day we are told something is good for us, and the next day we are told it is detrimental to our health and well-being. One day we are told the economy is on the mend, and the next it is nose diving.
We create our reality by what we focus upon, and the media knows how to manipulate our feeling and emotions. It is an art. But where did this whole psychology of manipulation get its roots. It’s time for a little history lesson.
Enter Edward Bernays. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Edward Bernays, he was the father of public relations. Bernays (1891-1995) took the concepts of his Uncle Sigmund Freud and a few other psychologists and developed techniques that would make it easy to manipulate the masses. It was through these techniques that the age of consumerism was born, or perhaps I should say the age of manipulation using subtle suggestions.
Bernays referred to the masses as happiness machines and through various techniques taught us that happiness and success was equated to purchasing products and services. The more you had, the happier you were supposed to be. He shaped not only how we obtain information in our society today but demonstrated how we can be easily manipulated to make purchases of commodities we don’t necessarily need or want.
Bernays was a spin doctor and deliberately taught his corporate clients how to mold the consumer’s thinking. It was he that came up with the idea to use models, socialites and celebrities to endorse products. The rationale behind this move was simple. If these popular and sexy individuals used these products, then through the power of suggestion you would believe that you too could become popular and sexy. It has become a very successful formula.
Another successful invention was the concept of third party endorsements to lend credibility to products and services. It didn’t matter whether or not these individuals actually used the product, supported a political candidate or conducted the research; all that mattered was the endorsement and people would be gullible enough to believe and buy. Bernays proved fabricated little lies work.
Ever wonder why our news sometimes looks to be advertisements for products and services? Well, Bernays had a successful hand in refining and popularizing the use of press releases. He proved that creating news items was much more powerful than advertising.
A famous example of his use of press releases and the use of models was in the 1920s when women were only allowed to smoke cigarettes in designated areas. If they were caught smoking in other areas they faced arrest. Bernays worked with the cigarette industry to stage an event at the 1929 Easter Parade that saw models lighting up Lucky Strike cigarettes. Press releases were issued and it became news. After this event a social taboo was changed and women began lighting up everywhere.
So next time you are looking at purchasing that product or service because you think you will be happier, ask yourself: ‘How am I being manipulated to purchase this? Will this really bring me happiness?’ I think you may come out of the store empty handed.
The other thing you can do is go on a media diet for a week. Don’t read or listen to the news for a week. You might find that you don’t go back.
Here is a BBC Documentary on Bernay’s work. You can find the full 3 hour documentary on YouTube.