I couldn’t think of a more dramatic title. It’s true to an extent; but the part that isn’t true about it actually proves my point: the internet is a haven for manipulative media. It’s all an attempt to increase brand reputation or business. It’s an attempt to turn us into content-consuming zombies.

Negative and Positive Propaganda

The subject of propaganda can be equated to the possession of a nuclear weapon. All good people regret its necessity and nobody wants to use it, but we must understand it and use its presence in defense of its misuse. It can also be used for good or neutral purposes, but it’s all too true that too much marketing delves into negative propaganda and harmful manipulation.

The old Carl’s Jr. commercials are probably the best example of this manipulative marketing, with commercials featuring sex appeal as the new menu item. Though they’ve since veered away from this strategy following a good deal of backlash, it is an example of how commercials can be abused in order to win us over.

The Abuse of Propaganda

Most students of propaganda have heard of Edward Bernays and his ability to manipulate the public for marketing purposes. Bernays was Sigmund Freud’s nephew and got many of his ideas from his uncle’s teachings about psychology and was the guy who made smoking socially acceptable for women. He also assisted in changing the American perspective about a corrupt South American regime. If his methods seem Nazi-esque, it’s because he watched the Nazi use of propaganda closely. This is an example of the misuse of the power of marketing.

It’s easy to see that anyone who is able to sway the mass public has an incredible amount of power. Propaganda is especially deceptive because it makes those being manipulated think they are in control of their own actions while you have someone in the background pulling, or at least influencing, the strings.

We have to be careful when considering having anything to do with marketing because of the potential for mass manipulation. Thomas Huckin provided us a definition of propaganda that all should live by. We can know if we’re participating in or being influenced by negative propaganda if the content meets all of these standards: (1) it’s misleading, (2) it’s directed toward a mass audience, (3) it’s advantageous for the persuader, (4) it’s disseminated systematically, and (5) it doesn’t invite rational exploration.