Propaganda Techniques In Todays Advertising Essay

In the article “Propaganda Techniques in Today’s Advertising”, the writer “Ann McClintock” implies that the propaganda techniques target all the generations and are spread throughout the world and will increase in the future. For this reason, she explains what propaganda is and explains it by giving a specific definition and different types of techniques some of which are Card stacking and Bandwagon. According to her, Card stacking is a technique that plays on the distortion of facts by half-true sayings and words that have illusionist meanings. As an example she gives the shampoo that removes dandruff …According to McClintock card stacking is used by advertisers to grab the customer’s attention toward a product at the expense of the other. On the other hand, she talks about Bandwagon, which is another technique of propaganda that affects people psychologically and creates a pressure on people who do not want to be different. She uses the saying “everyone is doing it why don’t you?” to strengthen her definition. As an example, she gives the Pepsi ad that lures customers. If you do not drink Pepsi then you are left out of the Pepsi generation. In the conclusion, the writer asks herself why do these propaganda techniques work? She says that people should think clearly and examining the adverts will help in finding the good and worthwhile adverts from the bad ones.

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Ann McClintock Essay.

Propaganda Techniques in Today’s Advertising
by Ann McClintock

Americans, adults and children alike, are being seduced. They are being brainwashed. And few of us protest. Why? Because the seducers and the brainwashers are the advertisers we willingly invite into our homes. We are victims, content—even eager—to be victimized. We read advertisers’ propaganda message in newspapers and magazines; we watch their alluring images on television. We absorb their messages and images into our subconscious. We all do it—even those of us who claim to see through advertisers’ tricks and therefore feel immune to advertising’s charm. Advertisers lean heavily on propaganda to sell their products, whether the “products” are a brand of toothpaste, a candidate for office, or a particular political viewpoint.

Propaganda is a systematic effort to influence people’s opinions, to win them over to a certain view or side. Propaganda is not necessarily concerned with what is true or false, good or bad. Propagandists simply want people to believe the messages being sent. Often, propagandists will use outright lies or more subtle deceptions to sway people’s opinions. In a propaganda war, any tactic is considered fair.

When we hear the word “propaganda,” we usually think of a foreign menace: anti-American radio programs broadcast by a totalitarian regime or brainwashing tactics practiced on hostages. Although propaganda may seem relevant only in the political arena, the concept can be applied fruitfully to the way products and ideas are sold in advertising. Indeed, the vast majority of us are targets in advertisers’ propaganda war. Every day, we are bombarded with slogans, print ads, commercials, packaging claims, billboards, trademarks, logos, and designer brands-all forms of propaganda. One study reports that each of us, during an average day, is exposed to over five hundred advertising claims of various types. This saturation may even increase in the future since current trends include ads on movie screens, shopping carts, videocassettes, even public television.

What kind of propaganda techniques do advertisers use? There are six basic types:

1. Name Calling. Name calling is a propaganda tactic in which negatively charged names are hurled against the opposing side or competitor. By using such names, propagandists try to arouse feelings of mistrust, fear, and hate in their audiences. For example, a political advertisement may label an opposing candidate a “loser,” “fence-sitter,” or “warmonger”. Depending on the advertiser’s target market, labels such as “a friend of big business” or “a dues-paying member of the party in power” can be the epithets that damage an opponent. Ads for products may also use name calling. An American label of foreignness will have unpleasant connotation in many people’s minds. A childhood rhyme claims that “name can never hurt me,” but name calling is an effective way to damage the opposition, whether it is another car maker or 2 congressional candidates.

2. Glittering Generalities. Using glittering generalities is the opposite of name calling. In this case, advertisers surround their products with attractive—and slippery—words and phrases. They use vague terms that are difficult to define and that may have different meanings to different people: freedom, democratic, all-American, progressive, Christian, and justice. Many such words have strong, affirmative overtones. This kind of languages stirs positive feelings in people, feelings that may spill over to the product or idea being pitched. As with name calling, the emotional response may overwhelm logic. Target audiences accept the product without thinking very much about what the glittering generalities mean—or whether they even apply to the product. After all, how can anyone oppose “truth, justice, and the American way”?

The ads for politicians and political causes often use glittering generalities because such “buzz words” can influence votes. Election slogans include high-sounding but basically empty phrases like the following:

“He cares about people.” (That’s nice, but is he a better candidate than his opponent?)

“Vote for progress.” (Progress by whose standards?)

“They’ll make this country great again.” (What does “great” mean? Does “great” mean the same thing to others as it does to me?)

“Vote for the future.” (What kind of future?)

“If you love American, then vote for Phyllis Smith.” (If I don’t vote for Smith, does that mean I don’t love American?)

Ads for consumer goods are also sprinkled with glittering generalities. Product names, for instance, are supposed to evoke good feelings: Luvs diapers, New Freedom feminine hygiene products, joy liquid detergent, Loving Care hair color, Almost Home cookies, and Yankee Doodle pastries. Product slogans lean heavily on vague but comforting phrases: Kinney is “The Great American Shoe Store,” General Electric “brings good things to life,” and Dow Chemical “lets you do great things.” Chevrolet, we are told, is the “heartbeat of America,” and Chrysler boasts cars that are “built by Americans for Americans.”

3. Transfer. In transfer, advertisers try to improve the image of a product by associating it with a symbol most people respect, like the American flag or Uncle Sam. The advertisers hope that the prestige attached to the symbol will carry over to the product. Many companies use transfer devices to identify their products: Lincoln Insurance shows a profile of the president; Continental Insurance portrays a Revolutionary War minuteman; Amtrak’s logo is red, white, and blue; Liberty Mutual’s corporate symbol is the Statue of Liberty; Allstate’s name is cradled by a pair of protective, fatherly hands.

Corporations also use the transfer techniques when they sponsor prestigious shows on radio and television. These shows function as symbols of dignity and class. Kraft Corporation, for instance, sponsored a “Leonard Bernstein Conducts Beethoven” concert, while Gulf Oil is the sponsor of National Geographic specials and Mobil supports public television’s Masterpiece Theater. In this way, corporations can reach an educated, influential audience and, perhaps, improve their public image by associating themselves with quality programming.

Political ads, of course, practically wrap themselves in the flag. Ads for a political candidate often show the Washington Monument, a Fourth of July parade, the Stars and Strips, a bald eagle soaring over the mountains, or a white-steeple church on the village green. The national anthem or “America the Beautiful” may play softly in the background. Such appeals to Americans’ love of country can surround the candidate with an aura of patriotism and integrity.

4. Testimonial. The testimonial is one of advertiser’s most-loved and most-used propaganda techniques. Similar to the transfer device, the testimonial capitalizes on the admiration people have for a celebrity to make the product shine more brightly—even though the celebrity is not an expert on the product being sold.

Print and television ads offer a nonstop parade of testimonials: here’s Cher for Holiday Spas; here’s basketball star Michael Jordan eating Wheaties; Michael Jackson sings about Pepsi.

American Express features a slew of well-known people who assure us that they never go anywhere without their American Express card. Testimonials can sell movies, too; newspaper ads for films often feature favorable comments by well-known reviewers. And, in recent years, testimonials have played an important role in pitching books; the backs of paperbacks frequently list complimentary blurbs by celebrities.

Political candidates, as well as their ad agencies, know the value of testimonials. Barbra Streisand lent her star appeal to the presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis, while Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed George Bush. Even controversial social issues are debated by celebrities. The nuclear freeze, for instance, starred Paul Newman for the pro side and Charlton Heston for the con.

As illogical as testimonials sometimes are (Pepsi’s Michael Jackson, for instance, is a health-food adherent who does not drink soft drinks), they are effective propaganda. We like the person so much that we like the product too.

5. Plain Folks. The plain folks approach says, in effect, “Buy me or vote for me. I’m just like you.” Regular folks will surely like Bob Evans’s Down on the Farm Country Sausage or good old-fashioned Country time Lemonade. Some ads emphasize the idea that “we’re all in the same boat.” We see people making long-distance calls for just the reasons we do—to put the baby on the phone to Grandma or to tell Mom we love her. And how do these folksy, warmhearted (usually saccharine) scenes affect us? They’re supposed to make us feel that AT&T—the multinational corporate giant—has the same values we do. Similarly, we are introduced to the little people at Ford, the ordinary folks who work on the assembly line, not to bigwigs in their executive officers. What’s the purpose of such an approach? To encourage us to buy a car built by these honest, hardworking “everyday Joes” who care about quality as much as we do.

Political advertisements make almost as much use of the “plain folks” appeal as they do of transfer devices. Candidates wear hard hats, farmers’ caps, and assembly-line coveralls. They jog around the block and carry their own luggage through the airport. The idea is to convince voters that the candidates are average people, not the elite—not wealthy lawyers or executives but the common citizen.

6. Bandwagon In the bandwagon technique, advertisers’ pressure, “Everyone’s doing it. Why don’t you?” This kind of propaganda often succeeds because many people have a deep desire not to be different. Political ads tell us to vote for the “winning candidate.” The advertisers know we tend to feel comfortable doing what others do; we want to be on the winning team. Or ads show a series of people proclaiming, “I’m voting for the Senator. I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t.” Again, the audience feels under pressure to conform.

In the marketplace, the bandwagon approach lures buyers. Ads tell us that “nobody, but all like Sara Lee” (the message is that you must be weird if you don’t). They tell us that “most people prefer Brand X two to one over other leading brands” (to be like the majority, we should buy Brand X). If we don’t drink Pepsi, we’re left out of “the Pepsi generation.” To take part in “America’s favorite health kick,” the National Dairy Council urges us to drink milk. And Honda motorcycle ads, praising the virtues of being a follower, tell us, “Follow the leader. He’s on a Honda.”

Why do these propaganda techniques work? Why do so many of us buy the products, viewpoints, and candidates urged on us by propaganda message? They work because they appeal to our emotions, not to our minds. Often, in fact, they capitalize on our prejudices and biases. For example, if we are convinced that environmentalists are radicals who want to destroy America’s record of industrial growth and progress, then we will applaud the candidate who refers to them as “tree huggers.” Clear thinking requires hard work: analyzing a claim, researching the facts, examining both sides of an issue, using logic to see the flaws in an argument. Many of us would rather let the propagandists do our thinking for us.

Because propaganda is so effective, it is important to detect it and understand how it is used. We may conclude, after close examination, that some propaganda sends a truthful, worthwhile message. Some advertising, for instance, urges us not to drive drunk, to become volunteers, to contribute to charity. Even so, we must be aware that propaganda is being used. Otherwise, we will have consented to handing over to others our independence of thought and action.

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