Propaganda is one of my favourite marketing disciplines. When you think about it, social media done well is pure propaganda.
As such I read as many propaganda books as I can get my hands on!
The same laws that are applied to influencing entire nations of people are equally as compelling when applied online.
In fact this has lead to an entire field of marketing study.
There are some brilliant books on propaganda as well as some great documentaries, so without further ado;
Here’s my top 10 propaganda books
1. Propaganda – by Edward Bernays
Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, who had a MAJOR impact on propaganda. So much so that he ought to have all 10 spots! But, his work had to be applied to the art of manipulating men, so I’ve kept him out of my list.
If they say that the devil’s in the details, then these are the details. This is the first, and most honest, recount of how to manipulate public opinion. Bernays was a maestro and became a VERY wealthy man from his ability to manipulate. Not all liked him though (look up his work for Beech-Nut, and the CIA. Bad stuff. Not to mention his promotion of smoking for women as “Torches of Freedom.”)
Reading this, you will see propaganda at work in just about everything. Read this short book and then follow the news cycles. You’ll surely gain more insight as to how propaganda is used and will be able to more easily separate the 99% b.s. from the truth.
2.Crystallizing Public Opinion – by Edward Bernays
Yes that’s 2 for Ed, but in my defense, this is a damn good book!
In his 2nd book Bernays crystallises his thinking to two propaganda pillars. First, he recognises that “the public, …due to the spread of literacy and democratic forms of government (feels) that it is entitled to its voice in the conduct of these large aggregations, political, capitalist, or labor, or whatever they may be”. Therefore, any organisation in society, no matter if it is a political entity, a company or a non-profit organisation, is looked at as some sort of public service. To succeed they will have to recognise this demand and communicate accordingly.
Second, Bernays regards the “average citizen (as) the world’s most efficient censor. His own mind is the greatest barrier between him and the facts. His own ‘logical proof compartments’, his own absolutism are the obstacles which prevent him from seeing in terms of experience and thought rather than in terms of group reaction” (p. 133).
This leads him to conclude that PR is of no use unless it has something to say which the public, consciously or unconsciously, expects to hear. PR is thus not primarily about authenticity or believability, as many current observers put it, PR is merely a communications effort which functions as a catalyst of change if it resonates with the public. As such, PR may bring order to what is otherwise be conceived as chaos.
3.The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda – Noam Chomsky
It’s slightly dour in nature and although short, it’s a brilliantly written piece.
Chomsky shows how real power is applied to the masses for their own gain. It’s powerful stuff that will have you angry in places and amazed in others.
If you you would like to know what the role of the media is in contemporary politics (and open your mind to new ways of thinking if you are not familiar with Propaganda) this is a book for you.
Well worth reading.
4.Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear – By Dr. Frank Lutz
I love this book!
This is a modern day take on political influencing and the tell all style will make you gasp in places.
Luntz has great pedigree, having advised many of the Fortune 500 on their PR strategies, as well as many political campaigns.
Some of the shocks in store for you:
1. Gender can obstruct understanding.
2. It’s about the children.
3. How you define determines how you are received.
I won’t go into detail but suffice to say, it’s a forthright book that has a no BS feel.
5.Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes – by Jacques Ellul
Ellul’s masterpiece is required reading for anyone who wishes to fully comprehend the toxic combination of technology and mass media as it seeks to manipulate the human mind. To his credit, the author anticipates techniques and practices that are more relevant today, 43 years after this book was published.
Our drive towards social media has opened up a whole new area of propaganda, and this book gives insights in how to use that medium and the effects on it.
If you THINK you understand propaganda, you MUST read this book — maybe twice — to fully understand the nature of this art of “manipulating TO manipulate.”
This is not a ‘how-to’ book. If you’re looking to acquire knowledge from the dark side, read Bernays (see above).
If your intention is to insulate and protect yourself as well as educate others, THIS IS the book for you.
If you want to truly understand how you’re being manipulated then this is your book.
Get this just for chapter 8, “Address Psychological, Spiritual & Social Needs”, This is a brilliant chapter and I think the most important part of the book.
Here it is that you’ll learn the aim of all propaganda is to answer for its targets the existential question, “Who am I, when in the dark, alone?” Every person needs to know who he/she is, where he/she belongs, and what is his/her purpose for living.
My experience has taught me that facing that question alone and in the dark causes one to vacillate between two answers – “I am EVERYTHING” and “I am nothing”.
Very cool book that’s well worth your time to read.
7.The New Rules of Marketing & PR – By David Scott
I am a big fan of the author of this book. He really opened my eyes to online marketing possibilities, both in his books, his blog, and speaking appearances.
Now whether you are an experienced corporate marketing pro, or just starting out in life with your own one person shop, no matter, this all applies.
Of course, to understand “new rules” we must make mention of the “old rules,” which is typically a one-way communication with potential customers via publicity campaigns or buying ad space. The “New Rules” are about harnessing the infinite capability of social media — blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and so on, to connect and interact directly with your customers. It seems so obvious once you “get it” (more so now that I have thousands of prospects reading my monthly articles), but for many people, it’s a big conceptual and cultural leap. This book is the stepping stone across the chasm.
The New Rules of Marketing and PR covers the many ways one can use these new tools to reach your customers, build your brand, and let customers search for you instead of the other way around.
I caution you, this is NOT one of those “light reads” with one idea and a lot of filler. Your brain will be spinning when you start to see all the avenues of marketing possibilities that you never thought of before!
So there you go my top 7 books on Propaganda 🙂
My final Neily Bonus is a great video all about early propaganda called The Century of the Self:
”1984” (George Orwell), people are controlled by inflicting pain.
”Brave New World” (Aldous Huxley), people are controlled by inflicting pleasure.
Orwell feared that our manipulated fears would ruin us (the stick).
Huxley feared that our manipulated desires would ruin us (the carrot).
Unfortunately we have both.
And the voters have all been to willing to exchange their Constitutional Rights for their pleasure/creature comfort rights.
The Century Of The Self explains how it was done: