*Notes and references for this article.
The Master Manipulator: Controlling your feelings
The experience of dreaming is evidence that our personality has an unconscious component. Early spiritualists believed dreams contained a special message or prediction and that their interpretation would be beneficial. But remembering one's dreams is not always easy.
By the turn of the 20th Century, therapists were using hypnotic techniques to probe the unconscious. The advantage over dreams was that the "dreamer" could converse with the hypnotist and describe feelings and details to explain the symbology and drama. One pioneer in this area was young Jewish neurologist, Dr. Sigmund Freud, with a practice in Vienna.
Having treated many mentally troubled individuals, Freud made observations about how personality was formed and what was the driving force behind our behavior. He cleverly appealed to the public's fascination with dreams by publishing his theories in a book titled The Interpretation of Dreams, followed by Psychopathology of Everyday Life. The books were widely read in Europe, among the intellectuals, but failed to reach the American readers because they were not in English.
Freud had a nephew living in New York named Edward Bernays. To congratulate his uncle, Bernays sent him an expensive box of cigars. Freud responded by sending him copies of his books, which Bernays eagerly read.
Bernays witnessed the irrational behavior of WWI, noting with interest how political leaders could easily motivate large groups of people to do irrational things (i.e. kill each other). Inspired by Freud's books, he wondered if groups of people could be motivated in peaceful times -- for profit.
The secret, which Bernays discovered, was to manipulate the unconscious. He studied the propaganda techniques used by the war department and decided to call his technique, "Public Relations", thereby coining that phrase. His motto was information drives behavior.
So effective were Bernays' techniques that they would be used to change the way consumers are treated, molding our desires to conform with new products and tapping into our vital drives and basic identities to create irrational desires. It's potent stuff. It challenges our concept of free will and, in doing so, undermines the nature of democracy.
You're Not a Citizen -- You're a Consumer!
Before Bernays and his psychoanalytic approach to marketing, manufacturers would talk about the utility and value of their products. They assumed the customer already needed a specific food, tool or appliance and just wanted the best price. But after a while, that approach was losing sales.
After years of being saturated by new, better and cheaper products, consumers were satiated and sales began to drop. The items in demand were those that were somehow different -- not like all the other mass produced stuff. Bernays recognized that people wanted to express themselves and their uniqueness in their purchases, and he learned to pander to these desires.
Manufacturing could only make better and cheaper products if they could be mass produce as identical items on an assembly line. There was little variety available with this method. This was especially evident in the automotive industry, where the sales of new cars had been steadily declining. Bernays approached the problem in a brilliant way -- "branding".
Through endorsements by celebrities and business leaders, Bernays made the General Motors (GM) brand synonymous with the highest manufacturing standards and quality in America. Rather than promote a particular model, he promoted the company itself in such a way that he linked the feeling of American pride and patriotism with the GM brand.
At the 1939 World's Fair in NY, Bernays had GM build a huge model of a futuristic city, with superhighways and overpasses -- symbols of how GM would contribute to a bright future for the nation. Again, it worked because he had found a way to link the product with a feeling -- a feeling that would drive people to buy a particular brand.
When auto makers needed to sell to younger consumers, specifically young men, Bernays used their libido as a motivator. It was the same basic, unconscious stuff... males competing for the best mates. He linked the brand and style of the automobile with the personality of the consumer. For the first time, thanks to Bernays, you could express your identity through your car. It was totally irrational, but it worked.
"You don't need it, but you will feel better with it."
Edward Bernays' biggest impact on the world was still yet to come. Back in Austria, uncle Freud was down and out and in serious debt. He desperately called upon Bernays for help. Not far from Freud, Nazi Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, had noticed Bernays work and was prepared to take the concept to the max. That's next... on viewzone.
© Gary Vey for viewzone