Monday, April 25, 2011

Mad Men Gone Wild: Advertising as Butt-Kicking Propaganda

The imagery of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center is used to make an emotional connection with the viewer.

There are times when advertising and propaganda blend into something virtually indistinguishable.  When that happens, an image combined with a simple slogan grabs the viewer's attention not through the mind but through the heart.  The emotions are triggered.  It is an unabashed appeal to the heart strings--the intellect is ignored.  Thus the message makes an instant connection with the viewer.

"The Century of the Self" is a 235-minute full-length documentary about manipulation of the masses in politics and business.  It tells the story of propaganda, public relations and advertising in the 20th century. Please click here to see the documentary in four parts:

The above ad has the qualities of effective propaganda.  It uses the image of two burning cigarettes as metaphor for the 9/11 attack upon the World Trade Center in New York.  The slogan, "NO More Killing" also hearkens back to the 9/11 attacks.  This ad (or propaganda) demands attention by virtue of its content and message.

The ad copy reads, "It is estimated that one person dies every 8 seconds from smoking.  Stop smoking now!"  It is secondary, however, to the powerful image and slogan.  Two separate concepts are triggered: the 9/11 attack killed many people and smoking kills many people.  That information is in the viewer's mind but it is the emotions that bring it forth.

Saks Fifth Avenue employs Soviet-style propaganda in its advertising.
The capitalist Saks Fifth Avenue department store employed a Soviet propaganda style from 1925 used by the state-run Mosselprom department store chain in order to sell its "slouchy bag" in 2009.  The imagery is simple but dramatic.  The slogan, "ARM YOURSELF WITH A SLOUCHY BAG" is presented in dramatic red and white Soviet style, while the model stands out by being shot in black-and-white. 

This Soviet propaganda poster from 1925 says, "Nowhere else but Mosselprom."
The model stares coldly into the future with her clenched fist raised in the air, a style reminiscent of Soviet propaganda from the 1920s and 1930s.  It could be considered a "socialist realism" advertisement for Saks.  Everything about the ad screams "propaganda" but in a simple but striking manner.  The white slouchy bag stands out in contrast to the black dress worn by the model.  The white bag also matches the color of the slogan, "ARM YOURSELF..."  The slouchy bag ad does not pack an emotional wallop like the anti-smoking ad above, but selling fashion accessories is a much different game than trying to get people to quit smoking. 

This Coke ad from the 1970s presents an effective image and slogan.
Like all effective propaganda, this Coke-a-Cola ad from the 1970s presents a simple slogan and a strong image.  The slogan for Coke, "It's the real thing" was repeated in television and print advertising and point-of-purchase displays.  Thus it was familiar to consumers.  And, like all good propaganda, when repeated enough it becomes "truth" in the mind of the buying public.

 This brief (a little over 2 minutes) East German film is a mix of propaganda and consumer-oriented advertising.  It is in German with no subtitles, but you should get the idea from the images and the tone of the narrative.
The image in the above ad gives the impression that a sweet, syrupy drink is at home with healthy food such as fruit and cheese.  Thus the implication is that Coke is healthy, which it is not.  This is propaganda that presents a slogan and image that persuade consumers that Coke is "good" and "real" and "healthy."

Here is a propaganda film about American capitalism from 1948.
Wait!  Don't go yet!  Before you leave, take a look at "The Marlboro Baby": 
Click here to read about the Marlboro baby now!

Copyright (C) Eric Brothers 2011. All Rights Reserved.


  1. And people accused the Soviets of lying. "Nowhere else but Mosselprom" is the absolute truth propagandized absolutely. Where else could the Soviets go? Macy's? And it's a good thing Stalin didn't use babes like that to sell his Marxist-Leninist paradise, or we'd all be speaking Russian right now. Da? F5

  2. The twin cigarettes also evoke smoke stacks. Thus, a message that is not only anti-smoking, but perhaps anti-capitalist as well. Big business as polluter, as killer, as terrorist. The image of the two burning cigarettes is as powerful as it is simple. Whoever designed it did a masterful job. F5


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