#256 Edward L. Bernays Public Relations, Advertising, & Persuasion

Summary Notes


Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, revolutionized the industry with his understanding of the "science of spin," using psychology and other social sciences to manipulate public opinion. His tactics, as detailed by Larry Tye in "The Father of Spin," included strategic campaigns that linked products like cigarettes and bananas to broader societal values, such as freedom and health. Bernays' influence extended beyond marketing, playing a pivotal role in political campaigns and even foreign policy, notably in the United Fruit Company's interests in Guatemala. Despite his professional success, Bernays' personal life was less exemplary, with a complicated family dynamic and a tendency to spend beyond his means, leaving a surprisingly modest estate upon his death. Bernays' legacy is a complex blend of ingenious strategy and cautionary tales regarding the power of public relations.

Summary Notes

Edward Bernays and Public Relations

  • Edward Bernays is credited with creating the field of public relations.
  • He is known for his influence on American consumer habits, such as women smoking cigarettes and the popularization of bacon and eggs for breakfast.
  • Bernays utilized psychological techniques and strategies in public relations that shaped American thought and consumer behavior.
  • His work in public relations demonstrated the power of influencing public opinion and choices.
  • Bernays left an extensive archive of his work at the Library of Congress, which provides insight into his methods and the impact of public relations on American life.

"Edward Bernays almost single handedly fashioned the craft that has come to be called public relations. He is widely recognized as the man who fathered the science of spin."

This quote highlights Bernays' pivotal role in the creation and development of the public relations industry.

Bernays' Influence on Consumer Behavior

  • Bernays showed that public opinion could be guided and manipulated through strategic public relations campaigns.
  • He linked products to consumer identities, influencing choices from household items to political decisions.
  • The techniques he developed became fundamental to political campaigns and image-making.
  • Bernays' work is crucial to understanding the pervasive role of public relations in shaping consumer culture and politics.

"Indeed, the very substance of American thought was mere clay to be molded by the savvy public relations practitioner."

This quote emphasizes the extent to which Bernays believed public opinion could be shaped by skilled public relations work.

Bernays' Legacy and Documentation

  • Bernays had a long career spanning eight decades, during which he meticulously documented his work.
  • He saved all his professional correspondence and documents, which are now publicly available and provide a detailed account of his tactics and strategies.
  • His archive reveals how public policies were influenced and sometimes founded on deception.
  • Understanding Bernays' life and work is crucial to understanding the evolution of public relations.

"Over a career that spanned eight decades, Bernays saved every scrap of paper he sent out or took in and provided them to be made public after his death."

This quote highlights Bernays' meticulous documentation of his work, which provides a comprehensive record of his methods and their impact.

Bernays' Personal Contradictions and Character

  • Bernays was known for his determination and inventiveness.
  • He was a complex individual with contradictions, such as promoting cigarettes while advocating for national health insurance.
  • Bernays capitalized on his longevity to assert his prominence in the field of public relations.
  • His life is seen as a cautionary tale in the use of public relations and the pursuit of fame and influence.

"Bernays was also a bundle of contradictions. He rode roughshod over his young staffers even as he preached the virtues of tolerance and democracy."

This quote points out the paradoxical nature of Bernays' character, which was marked by both innovative ideas and questionable ethics.

Bernays' Early Career and Unconventional Thinking

  • Bernays had a complicated relationship with his father and initially pursued agriculture at Cornell University, which he disliked.
  • His unconventional thinking and willingness to push boundaries became his trademark.
  • Bernays experimented with various jobs before stumbling into public relations, where he found his calling.
  • His approach to public relations involved indirect promotion by tying private interests to public causes.

"Knowing he didn't fit in with the conventional thinking on campus got him accustomed to thinking unconventionally, to operate at the edge and push the boundaries which became his trademark over a career that lasted more than 80 years."

This quote captures how Bernays' early experiences shaped his approach to public relations, leading to his success in the field.

Bernays' Public Relations Strategies

  • Bernays pioneered the use of psychology in public relations.
  • His strategy involved promoting products indirectly by attaching them to a public cause or issue.
  • He viewed problems as opportunities and was adept at transforming controversies into causes.
  • Bernays' methods included creating content for media outlets and using unconventional tactics to gain public attention.

"The key with damaged goods, the play, he realized, was to transform the controversy into a cause and recruit backers who already were public role models."

This quote explains Bernays' strategy of reframing a product or event as a public cause to gain support and attention.

Bernays and the Use of Psychology in Public Relations

  • Bernays was influenced by his uncle, Sigmund Freud, and applied psychoanalytic theories to public relations.
  • He believed that understanding the unconscious motivations of individuals could help shape the behavior of the masses.
  • Bernays' relationship with Freud provided him with insights that he used to refine his public relations strategies.

"Eddie was convinced that understanding the instincts and symbols that motivate an individual could help him shape the behavior of the masses."

This quote shows Bernays' belief in the power of psychology to influence collective behavior through public relations.

Bernays' Approach to Information and Self-Enlightenment

  • Bernays was committed to thoroughly understanding the subjects he promoted.
  • He believed in self-education and gathering extensive information to become an expert in the field.
  • His approach is aligned with the advice of successful entrepreneurs like David Ogilvy, who emphasized the importance of being well-informed.

"Eddie began by acknowledging that he was as ignorant about ballet as the public he sought to enlighten. Then he set out towards self enlightenment."

This quote illustrates Bernays' method of self-education to gain expertise in the subjects he was promoting.

Public Visibility and Fame

  • Bernays recognized the difference between real value and public visibility.
  • He understood that fame could be manufactured and was often not based on substantive achievements.
  • His insights into the nature of fame are relevant in the context of modern social media.

"When I saw how easy it was for the ballerina to become a national celebrity, I recognized how necessary it was to look behind a person's fame to ascertain whether the basis was real or fictitious."

This quote reflects Bernays' realization that fame can be artificially created and may not reflect genuine merit.

Lessons from Promoting Entertainment to Corporate America

  • Speaker A discusses the evolution of Eddie's promotional strategies from entertainment to corporate America.
  • Eddie learned from promoting a play and a ballet, then applied those lessons to a singer, and eventually to corporate clients.
  • He was fascinated by the public's adoration of Caruso, a European singer, and realized public impressions could be shaped.
  • Eddie understood the concept of celebrity and the public's readiness to accept a new sensation if marketed effectively.

"Eddie was also fascinated by the public's adoration of Caruso. This is this European singer. And in a lesson he learned while working with the ballet that he would apply later on behalf of corporate moguls and american presidents, he realized that such impressions could easily be fashioned or reshaped."

The quote explains Eddie's realization that public perception and adoration for celebrities like Caruso could be manipulated through strategic marketing, a lesson he would later apply to corporate America.

The Power of Public Relations in the Music Industry

  • Speaker A gives an example of how musicians can become famous overnight with the help of the music industry's marketing machine.
  • The music industry ensures wide availability of a musician's work, creating a perception of popularity.
  • The process of making a musician famous can be rapid, as seen with Elvis Presley's rise to fame.

"How many times that a musician you never even heard of all of a sudden is just everywhere. It almost appears like overnight. This person goes from a complete unknown, and the music industry makes sure that they're widely available."

This quote highlights the music industry's ability to quickly elevate musicians to fame by saturating the market with their presence, suggesting a powerful influence on public perception.

Public Creation of Heroes and Celebrity Culture

  • Eddie was intrigued by how the public could create heroes from minimal impressions, elevating them to god-like status.
  • He recognized this phenomenon in both ancient civilizations and contemporary America.
  • Eddie saw the potential to apply this concept to make businesses and their products famous quickly.

"The overwhelming majority of the people who reacted so spontaneously to Caruso had never heard of him before. The public's ability to create its own heroes from wisps of impressions and its own imagination and to build them almost into flesh and blood gods fascinated me, Eddie said."

The quote captures Eddie's fascination with the public's capacity to idolize individuals based on crafted impressions, a tactic he would utilize in his PR strategies.

Marketing Cigarettes and Changing Public Perception

  • The American tobacco industry experienced a boom during World War I when cigarettes were included in soldiers' rations.
  • Cigarettes became associated with manliness and the victory of the war, leading to a surge in popularity among men.
  • The American Tobacco Company aimed to capitalize on this by targeting a new market: women.

"Cigarettes were manly things. Now this was the stuff of warriors. And their use among men soared. So did the profits of the company making them."

This quote illustrates the rebranding of cigarettes as symbols of masculinity and victory, which contributed to their increased acceptance and use among men.

Edward Bernays's Multifaceted PR Strategies

  • Edward Bernays worked for the American Tobacco Company to target female smokers.
  • He used multiple strategies, including positioning cigarettes as a healthy alternative to sweets and integrating them into household norms.
  • Bernays utilized experts and front groups to indirectly promote cigarettes, never revealing the company's involvement.

"Seldom if ever had a publicity campaign been carried out on so many fronts. And seldom if ever again will those responsible make public the details of their orchestrations the way Bernays did when he left to the Library of Congress 24 boxes of records pertaining to the American Tobacco company."

The quote shows the breadth and secrecy of Bernays's PR campaign for cigarettes, which was only revealed through his own records donated to the Library of Congress.

The Ethical Implications of Bernays's PR Work

  • Bernays was successful in his PR campaigns but did not personally believe in the products he was selling.
  • His tactics included manipulating public opinion and disguising advertising as news or social movements.
  • Bernays's approach serves as a cautionary tale about the power of belief in marketing and the ethical considerations of manipulation.

"Bernays himself never smoked. And the man who helped persuade tens of thousands of Americans to give up sweets in favor of cigarettes admitted later he did not like the taste of tobacco. And I prefer chocolate."

This quote reveals the dissonance between Bernays's personal preferences and the products he promoted, highlighting the ethical dilemma of selling something one does not believe in.

Bernays's Campaign to Encourage Women to Smoke Publicly

  • In 1929, Bernays was tasked with encouraging women to smoke in public, overcoming social taboos.
  • He orchestrated a parade with women smoking "torches of freedom" to associate smoking with women's liberation.
  • Bernays carefully staged the event to appear as a genuine social movement, ensuring widespread media coverage without revealing the commercial intent.

"Why not organize a parade of prominent women lighting their torches of freedom? You got to be kidding me. And do it on Easter Sunday on Fifth Avenue."

The quote shows Bernays's strategic use of symbolism and timing to create a powerful public relations stunt aimed at normalizing women smoking in public.

The Impact and Legacy of Bernays's PR Techniques

  • Bernays's tactics were highly effective, often resulting in free publicity and shaping public behavior.
  • His methods were based on aligning interests and creating events that would generate self-sustaining media coverage.
  • Bernays's legacy includes both admiration for his effectiveness and criticism for his manipulative practices.

"The object of the event would be to generate stories that for the first time women have smoked openly on the street. These stories will take care of themselves as legitimate news."

This quote encapsulates Bernays's understanding of how to create events that would naturally attract media attention, turning PR stunts into news stories.

Hiring of Edward Bernays by Bernays Hill

  • Bernays Hill was a formidable and ruthless figure open to new ideas, similar to Rockefeller's business strategies.
  • Bernays was hired by David Schultz, owner of a cigar store chain, without realizing he was being hired by Hill.
  • Bernays was instructed to name his price for handling an unspecified project but was restricted to only advise tobacco interests for Hill's company.
  • Bernays agreed to the terms, severing ties with his previous employer, Liggett, for a 50% pay increase and a longer contract.
  • It took Bernays nine months to discover that Schultz was a front for Hill and that he had been working for American Tobacco without his knowledge.

"You've been on the American Tobacco payroll for nine months. Bernays recalls Hill crowing. You were working for Liggett and Myers, weren't you? And we got you from them, didn't we? And you didn't know anything about it. And that is why Lucky Strike is on top."

The quote reveals how Bernays was strategically hired away from a competitor without his knowledge, contributing to the success of Hill's Lucky Strike brand.

Similarities Between Bernays and Hill

  • Both Bernays and Hill had strong faith in American capitalism and were driven to succeed.
  • They both had demanding fathers and sought to prove themselves, with Hill's father having been the president of American Tobacco and Bernays experiencing fluctuating family wealth.
  • Their personal backgrounds influenced their professional drive, with both aiming to push the boundaries of their evolving profession.

"Both had an abiding faith in American capitalism and the rewards it could offer. Both of them. Both had demanding fathers before whom they were determined to prove themselves."

This quote highlights the shared motivations and backgrounds of Bernays and Hill, including their ambitions and the influence of their paternal relationships on their careers.

Bernays' Innovative Public Relations Strategies

  • Bernays was known for his indirect and roundabout publicity strategies, which proved to be highly effective.
  • He promoted books by encouraging the construction of bookshelves and rebranded the Multiple Sclerosis Society's name to "MS" for easier public recognition.
  • His approach to PR involved selling new ways of behaving rather than directly selling a product or service, which yielded significant rewards for his clients over time.

"Hired to sell a product or service, he instead sold whole new waves of behaving which appeared obscure but over time reached huge rewards for his clients."

The quote summarizes Bernays' philosophy of influencing public behavior as a means to ultimately sell products, demonstrating his indirect approach to public relations.

Bernays' Use of Indirection and Personality

  • Bernays preferred "appeals of indirection," taking unconventional paths to achieve clients' goals.
  • His personality was unconventional, and he believed he was not bound by ordinary rules, often reshaping reality to fit his vision.
  • Bernays' methods combined showmanship and strategic business acumen, creating events that generated news and demand for his clients' products.

"Bernays preferred the phrase appeals of indirection, plotting a path to a client's goal that seemed roundabout but ultimately removed, underlying as well as immediate impediments."

This quote explains Bernays' preference for indirect methods in achieving PR goals, illustrating his unique approach to influencing public opinion and behavior.

Bernays' Controversial Tactics and Self-Promotion

  • Bernays proposed extreme tactics, such as discrediting competitors by spreading negative stories about their product names.
  • He was criticized for being a relentless self-promoter, often embellishing his contributions and successes.
  • Bernays justified his exaggerations as necessary for mass communication and maintaining a public image, and he was prolific in writing and documenting his theories and experiences.

"In an era of mass communications, modesty is a private virtue and a public fault."

The quote reflects Bernays' belief in the importance of self-promotion in the field of public relations, especially in a landscape dominated by mass media.

Bernays' Personal Life and Legacy

  • Despite professional success, Bernays faced criticism for his role as a father and husband, with strained family relationships.
  • He struggled with financial management, resulting in significant monetary losses towards the end of his life.
  • Bernays' personal challenges serve as a cautionary tale about balancing professional ambition with personal responsibilities and relationships.

"The father of public relations may have been a powerhouse at the office, but at the house that he shared with his wife and two daughters, Eddie was regarded as something less than the perfect parent."

This quote offers insight into the dichotomy of Bernays' life, where his professional prowess was overshadowed by his shortcomings in his personal life, highlighting the complexities of his character.

Marital Advice from Anne's Mother

  • Anne's mother endured a difficult marriage and imparted advice to her daughter based on her experiences.
  • The advice suggests a resignation to male dominance and infidelity.
  • Anne's mother's self-esteem was affected by her domineering husband.
  • Despite her husband's public persona of partnership, Anne's mother contributed significantly to his business while also raising children.

When you get in a fight with your husband, he is always right. Remember, Anne, men always sleep with their secretaries.

These quotes reflect the mother's acceptance of male dominance and infidelity as inevitable, likely stemming from her own experiences in a troubled marriage.

Family Friend's Advice

  • Doris, Eddie's wife, once considered leaving him after an incident early in their marriage.
  • Doris advised a young mother, Marianne Pyres, to maintain a balance between work and family life.
  • This advice highlights the importance of not neglecting family amidst a busy life.

Be certain to keep a balance where that little girl is concerned. Be sure not to let her get lost in your busy life.

Doris's advice to Marianne suggests that she may have felt her own children were affected by her and her husband's busy professional lives.

Eddie's Relationship with Relatives and Friends

  • Eddie ended relationships abruptly if they did not align with his expectations.
  • His nephew, Weiner, experienced Eddie's unforgiving nature after declining a job offer.
  • Eddie's long-time friendship with Edmund Whitman ended when Whitman had to relay the news of Eddie's termination from United Fruit.

Eddie's response was to end all contact with his nephew for nearly 40 years, refusing even to acknowledge him when he bumped into him at the train station.

Eddie's harsh treatment of his nephew illustrates his inability to accept rejection and his tendency to sever ties rather than resolve conflict.

Bernays' Work and Influence

  • Bernays was instrumental in orchestrating a coup in Guatemala on behalf of United Fruit and the U.S. government.
  • He linked private interests to public causes, such as associating bananas with health and national defense.
  • Bernays manipulated the media and public opinion by providing ready-made stories and facts to journalists.
  • His tactics included taking journalists on guided tours and hiring experts to support his narratives.

It amounted to couching his clients' private interests behind America's public interests.

This quote encapsulates Bernays' strategy of aligning corporate interests with national concerns to gain public support for his clients.

Bernays' Role in the Guatemalan Coup

  • Bernays warned of communism in Guatemala to protect United Fruit's interests.
  • He orchestrated a media campaign to influence U.S. foreign policy and public opinion.
  • Bernays' efforts contributed to the CIA-backed overthrow of the Guatemalan government.

Bernays warned that Guatemala was ripe for revolution and that the communists were gaining increasing influence over Guatemala's leaders.

Bernays used the fear of communism to rally support for United Fruit and the U.S. government's intervention in Guatemala.

Eddie's Later Life and Legacy

  • Eddie continued working and speaking publicly well into his old age.
  • His relationship with Joan, a much younger woman, ended with allegations of elder abuse and financial exploitation.
  • Despite his success, Eddie's financial decisions led to a modest inheritance for his daughters.

Independence is an important aspect of life, he said.

Eddie's insistence on independence reflects his lifelong approach to work and personal relationships, even as it may have contributed to his vulnerability in later years.

Eddie's Financial Decisions

  • Eddie's lavish lifestyle and preference for renting over owning property impacted his financial legacy.
  • His failure to invest wisely left his estate significantly smaller than expected.

If he had bought his real estate rather than rented in those early years, he might have cashed in on the soaring valuations of Manhattan real estate.

This observation suggests that Eddie's short-term financial decisions did not translate into long-term wealth, leading to a smaller inheritance for his family.

What others are sharing

Go To Library

Want to Deciphr in private?
- It's completely free

Deciphr Now
Footer background
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon

© 2024 Deciphr

Terms and ConditionsPrivacy Policy