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Propaganda in Peacetime
The Advertising Campaign to Make Women Smoke

Propaganda in Peacetime
  • Public Relations, Edward L. Bernays and ... 
  • Psychopathology of Everyday Life (by )
  • Psychanalysis: Its Theories and Practica... (by )
  • Free Thought and Official Propaganda (by )
  • Propaganda in Its Military and Legal Asp... (by )
  • Russian propaganda Report (by )
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Propaganda used to be special. It used to only exist in wartime for the purposes of boosting morale and contributions to wartime efforts. It used to be sacred.

Then Edward Bernays came along and set it loose.

Inspirations from the first world war preceded him. Bernays says in his essay “Propaganda”: 

It was, of course, the astounding success of propaganda during the war that opened the eyes of the intelligent few in all departments of life to the possibilities of regimenting the public mind … It was only natural, after the war ended, that intelligent persons should ask themselves whether it was not possible to apply a similar technique to the problems of peace. 

By the time the World War I ended, Bernays was lit. He would soon combine these strategies with psychoanalysis, first developed by his uncle, the one and only Sigmund Freud. “Man’s desires must overshadow his needs,” Bernays said. His revolutionary ideas marked the beginnings of the business of public relations.

His methods would prove to be extremely effective in first advertising campaign to get women to smoke. In the early twentieth century, male-established laws and customs had made it taboo for women to smoke. New York City even passed a municipal law for a short time called the Sullivan Ordinance which banned women from smoking in public places. Tobacco companies realized that they were missing out on profits from half of the market and reached out to Bernays for a solution. Bernay’s in turn recruited the help of American psychoanalyst Abraham Brill, who told Bernays that the cigarette represented male sexual power, and that women would smoke if Bernays could advertise cigarettes as a challenge to that power. 

He hired actors to attend an Easter Sunday parade where they posed as women suffragettes in rebellion, smoking openly. He leaked to the press that a group of women would be coming to the parade to protest, and he already had a lead for the symbol of cigarettes: "torches of freedom."

He created an emotional connection between women and cigarettes as well as the illusion of independence from men. This dominated necessity. "Man's desires must overshadow his needs,” Bernays said. Bernays furthered the campaign to sell cigarettes to women through product placement in movies. 

For extra reading on propaganda, check out Bertrand Russel’s Free Thought and Official Propaganda.

By Thad Higa



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