Is it a coincidence that the Vienna Neue Freie Presse published an essay on new American propaganda methods on May 14, 1933, the day of the "" (Türkenbefreiungsfeier)? While the Austrian Homeland Protection (Heimatschutz) was holding a rally in the , on which numerous newspapers, , and reported, the bourgeois paper's Sunday edition featured a long article about the "analyst of the mass psyche Edward L. Bernays," who had developed "indirect advertising" in the style of the circus pioneer and businessman P.T. Barnum into a scientific service. The New York-based counsel on public relations, as Bernays himself described his profession, may have seemed particularly interesting to the Neue Freie Presse because he was related to Sigmund Freud. "The uncle in Vienna reveals the subconscious in the individual's instinctual life; the American nephew analyzes the unsatisfied desires of the masses," the article's author Arthur Rundt says of the familial and intellectual connection between the founder of psychoanalysis and this "expert in public opinion."
Presumably, it was a coincidence that the publication of the article entitled "Humbug, Bluff, and Ballyhoo" coincided with the "Turks Deliverance Celebration." Although the Neue Freie Presse took a rather critical stance on the rally of the Home Guards (Heimwehren) in Schönbrunn in the leading article, it is unlikely that an association with the advertising techniques of Edward Bernays was intended. It is equally unlikely that , the federal leader of the Austrian Homeland Protection and the initiator of the event, was familiar with the books and campaigns by the American PR counsel. Nevertheless, parallels can be observed. After all, Starhemberg had the anniversary of Vienna's liberation from the Ottoman siege in summer 1683 marked on May 14, 1933, even though a state "Turks Deliverance Celebration" had already been planned for the actual 250th anniversary of the relief on September 12, 1933. It was a gratuitous event that was intended to cause a public sensation and hence propagate the political idea of . This idea was communicated through a series of historical stereotypes: of the city of Vienna as a Christian stronghold, of Austrian Germanness, of the threat of barbarism from the East, of aristocratic war heroes.
Both strategies—the creation of pseudo-events and the targeted use of stereotypes—were part of Edward Bernays's PR arsenal. His family had emigrated from Vienna to the USA in 1892, the year after his birth. The agriculture graduate and former journalist had studied works on mass and social psychology by Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter, and later by Walter Lippmann, whose theories he translated into specific campaigns in his New York public relations agency from 1919. In his books Public Opinion (1922) and The Phantom Public (1925), Lippmann described among other things the criteria according to which journalists selected news stories and how public opinion could be influenced by emotional symbols. Bernays offered to the political and economic elites that, in exchange for a fee, he could apply this knowledge in order to steer the masses, who elected parties and chose products, in certain directions. To advertise his services in the 1920s, he published not only numerous articles, but also the books Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) and Propaganda (1928), which reported on social-psychological findings and demonstrated using practical examples how they could be applied in everyday PR.
A campaign that is named by way of example in both books, as well as in the essay in the Neue Freie Presse, aimed to sell bacon by the Beech-Nut Packing Company. The company from the state of New York commissioned Bernays in the early 1920s with increasing demand for its sliced bacon. Instead of running advertisements that promoted the product as particularly good value or tasty, he asked a doctor friend of his if he could send letters in his name to doctors throughout North America. In the letter he asked whether it was healthier to eat a hearty meal of bacon, eggs, oats, and fruit in the morning or to start the day with coffee and toast. Bernays had the outcome, according to which three quarters apparently advocated a substantial breakfast, printed in a medical journal for which he had worked as a journalist:
Already communicated beforehand through press releases, this "finding" was reported by several newspapers, including the New York Times and the New York Post, who proclaimed a comeback for old eating habits. It had looked as though the small European, so-called continental breakfast would also become established in the USA, commented the Post. Now, however, a return to the "traditional American breakfast" could be recommended.
Bernays's campaign for the Beech-Nut Packing Company is instructive because it illustrates the basic principle of his public relations at the time. "Ballyhoo teaches that the masses are most surely steered when 'group leaders' are won over for the cause whom the lower-ranking group will gladly follow," reported Rundt in the Neue Freie Presse. Bernays emphasized this technique on several occasions in his book Propaganda: those who want to steer public opinion in a specific direction should influence the relevant target groups via their opinion leaders. In the case of the bacon campaign, office workers' eating habits should be changed through the expert advice of medics. That means that it was not about advertising a particular article over the competition. Rather, Bernays aimed to create lifestyles that associated behaviors with commodities. The "perfect breakfast" in this sense was truly American, comprising produce from Beech-Nut in Canajoharie, New York, as an advertisement—created around 1930—from the company archive illustrates: the caring wife serves her husband a hearty meal of eggs and bacon in the morning, which not only tastes good, but is also medically recommended for modern daily life in the office.
Another example of this lifestyle marketing is the campaign for the American Tobacco Company that has come to be known as "torches of freedom." From 1928 Bernays was hired by George Washington Hill, the president of the company who wanted to encourage more women to smoke Lucky Strike. The PR counsel did not follow the cigarette brand's traditional advertising slogan, "It's toasted," which was intended to emphasize that "Luckies" tasted especially good and went easy on the throat due to their unique manufacturing process, but rather attempted to position cigarettes as a fashionable accessory. He had special cigarette holders sent to models and photographers, a tactic that was entirely consistent with the new advertising slogan: "Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet!" Smoking reduced feelings of hunger, went the argument, and helped women to look slim and gamine, as was now fashionable.
As part of this campaign, Bernays staged a protest at the Easter parade in New York City on March 31, 1929. He convinced or paid roughly a dozen young women, who were supposed to look attractive but not like models and included his secretary Bertha Hunt, an employee of the fashion magazine Vogue called Nancy Hardin, and the women's rights campaigner Ruth Hale, to smoke in public on Fifth Avenue on Easter Sunday and tell passersby that they were lighting up "torches of freedom." After all, they claimed, it was a ridiculous taboo that it was considered indecent for women to smoke in public but not for men. In their reports on the traditional parade, the New York Times and many other newspapers mentioned the pointedly smoking women, who had walked back and forth between St. Patrick's Cathedral and St. Thomas Church after the Easter Mass. Photographers, whom Bernays had sent to the right place at the right time, provided the press with pictures of the good-looking, well-dressed women and their "torches of freedom" that were printed throughout the country.
The staged protest demonstrates very clearly how Bernays created and dramatized events to attract public attention. While it is disputable just how much of an influence the campaign actually had on women's smoking behavior, the dozens of newspaper articles in which the event was described or illustrated cannot be argued away. However, the press not only reproduced Bernays's story of the feminists smoking as a symbol of liberty but also pointed out that the parade participants had hardly concerned themselves with them because women smoking in public had long been commonplace. This means that it was in fact a pseudo-event, which only took place for the media and in the media, with the aim of associating smoking with emancipation in the public consciousness. According to this PR concept, a woman fighting for her freedom no longer had to climb the barricades as Eugène Delacroix had depicted in his famous painting La Liberté guidant le peuple from 1830, but merely walk confidently down Fifth Avenue—in high heels and a matching hat, with a leather bag under her arm and a "Lucky" in her hand. The cigarette was supposed to be reminiscent of the torch of the Statue of Liberty, erected in New York's harbor in 1886, which embodies the Roman goddess of liberty, though without the revolutionary gesture of the Libertas by Delacroix.
According to his autobiography, the idea of marketing cigarettes as "torches of freedom" came to Bernays after a conversation with Abraham Brill, a psychoanalyst who had emigrated from Austria and was now practicing in New York. That modern propaganda had to understand and influence the subconscious motives of human actions, for example by portraying smoking as an emancipatory act, was highlighted multiple times by Bernays in his writings around 1930. He referenced the findings of depth psychology and never tired of mentioning his relative Sigmund Freud. Although Bernays emphasized that public relations had its origin in science, in truth his campaigns were based on intuition and personal relationships. Furthermore, his correspondence with Freud makes clear that his Viennese uncle thought little of his New York nephew's profession. When Bernays sent him the book Crystallizing Public Opinion, Freud responded disparagingly that it had interested him as being "truly American."
While Bernays claimed for purposes of self-promotion that he was applying psychological methods in public relations, in Vienna there was a group of young scientists who really were conducting motivation research in this sense. This group of researchers emerged at the Department of Psychology at the University of Vienna, which was run by Karl and Charlotte Bühler, and operated as a non-university association under the name (Wirtschaftspsychologische Forschungsstelle) from 1931. Although the plan to earn money with market research largely failed in Vienna, these sociologists and psychologists were laying the methodical foundations for their future success in the USA. The research center was founded and run by Paul Lazarsfeld, who had a doctorate in mathematics and who traveled to New York on a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1933. There he wanted on the one hand to get to know new methods of social and market research and on the other to make known the techniques already developed by the Center of Economic-Psychological Research in Vienna. He summarized these findings in two essays, which were published in the mid-1930s and went on to form the foundation of motivation research in American marketing.
Lazarsfeld's article "The Art of Asking Why," which was published in an American Marketing Association journal in 1935, explores the formulation of questionnaires in market research. To find out why a certain product was being purchased, it was necessary to question selected consumers at length and in depth. This kind of survey could not be conducted using standardized forms but only with the aid of psychologically trained interviewers whose skillful and patient conversation techniques were capable of discovering the true motives of purchasing actions. The concept of "motive" is also at the heart of the article "The Psychological Aspect of Market Research," which Lazarsfeld published in the Harvard Business Review in 1934. Motives should not be confused with the queried reasons for buying an item but were to be understood as "concepts of connection" in the statistical analysis of the collected data. According to Lazarsfeld, the act of purchasing comprised a complex interplay of internal impulses (e.g., hunger), external influences (e.g., advertising), and attributes of the commodity (e.g., packaging). Applied economic psychology analyzed this relational setting, which differed from case to case, and advised companies how to find the appropriate advertising means for each product.
In both articles, Lazarsfeld criticized the then common practice in American market research of compiling masses of superficial data and basing their analysis on universal motives. Instead, he advocated the use of qualitative interviews and the development of consumer typologies. Hierarchies of needs were useless in this regard, says a typescript by the Center of Economic-Psychological Research, because people's desires depended on social and cultural circumstances. After all, the paper argues, a glass of water had a different value in the desert than in the city. To be able to generalize despite this, "worlds of needs" had to be formed: "According to the principle of environmental research, one constructs a world comprising a group of people and a real or spiritual object and attempts to identify the fundamental relationships (and potentially those most responsive to intervention): the vinegar market, the world of the boy, etc." What Lazarsfeld describes in these typescripts written in Vienna around 1930 corresponds to the lifestyle marketing known as public relations that had been practiced by Edward Bernays in New York since the 1920s.
In contrast to the intuitive approach of the PR counsel, Lazarsfeld and his colleagues created scientific methods to define and be able to influence psychological motives and social target groups. This development started in the Center of Economic-Psychological Research and went via the to the Bureau of Applied Social Research at Columbia University, where not only was target group and motivation research conducted, but the concept of opinion leaders applied by Bernays was also empirically proven. In a study led by Lazarsfeld on the American presidential campaign of 1940, the results of which were published four years later under the title The People's Choice, it was verified by using the panel method, i.e., the repeated questioning of selected individuals, that the impact of media coverage on the population's voting behavior was not direct, but took place via "opinion leaders." This theory of a two-step flow of communication seriously called into question the notion of omnipotent mass media and conversely emphasized the importance of personal relationships and the activity of the audience.
Lazarsfeld subsequently concentrated more on the quantitative methods of sociology, but the qualitative tradition of Viennese communication and motivation research was continued by some of his colleagues, above all Herta Herzog and Ernest Dichter, who had previously been active at the Center of Economic-Psychological Research. From 1943 Herzog worked as a market researcher for the New York advertising agency McCann-Erickson, where she applied in-depth interviews, focus groups, and projective methods like the Rorschach test to create commercial product images. Dichter opened his own Institute for Motivational Research in New York in 1946, which also specialized in psychological marketing techniques and was extremely successful in the postwar period. He marketed products as extensions of people's personalities, supposedly enabling consumers to realize their full potential. In his book The Psychology of Everyday Living from 1947 Dichter predicted:
Neue Freie Presse editorial offices
Publication of "Humbug, Bluff, and Ballyhoo"
How to Use Reason:
How to Capture Life:
How to Speak Up:
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