Propaganda has been an effective tool to shape public opinion and action for centuries. Since propaganda and public relations both share the goal of using mass communication to influence public perception, it can be easy to conflate the two. Propaganda, however, traffics in lies, misinformation, inflammatory language, and other negative communication to achieve an objective related to a cause, goal or political agenda. Though propaganda techniques can be employed by bad actors on the world stage, these same concepts can be utilized by individuals in their interpersonal relationships. Regardless of how propaganda is employed, these common techniques are used to manipulate others to act or respond in the way that the propagandist desires.
The desire to fit in with peers has long been recognized as a powerful force in society. Propagandists can exploit this longing by using the bandwagon technique to appeal to the public. This common propaganda technique is used to convince the public to think, speak, or act in a particular way simply because others are. The public is invited to “jump on the bandwagon” and not be left behind or left out as the rest of society engages in what they perceive to be correct behavior.
In an attempt to appeal to the general public’s aspiration to belong to society’s high class, propagandists can use snob appeal as a selling technique. This technique involves convincing the public to behave in ways that are agreeable to the propagandists and serve their purposes. In order for this technique to be successful, propagandists have to first position themselves as having a product, idea or opinion that is worthy of elite status. Many publicists in charge of public relations for companies employ a similar technique as a way to maintain the perception that the business creates and sells high-quality goods.
Propagandists sometimes achieve their goal of swaying public opinion simply by using empty words. When employing this technique, propagandists will deliberately use vague terms meant to entice. Examination of the terms, however, can reveal that they offer no real definition or commitment to meaning. The goal of this type of propaganda can be to offer generalities that provoke audiences to expend their energy on interpretation rather than critiquing.
Words have power when it comes to public relations, and it’s no surprise that many propagandists use a technique involving loaded words to sway public opinion. When attempting to convince the public to act, propagandists may use excessively positive words or those with agreeable associations. If the goal is to hinder action, propagandists can select words that are highly negative to communicate with the public such as those that inspire fear, anger, or doubt. A simple and effective means of loaded words usage is the act of name-calling, which many political groups have used to disparage opposition, quell dissent. and scapegoat groups of people.
Propagandists may attempt to associate two unrelated concepts or items in an effort to push what they’re selling to the public. With the technique of transfer, propagandists conjure up either positive or negative images, connect them to an unrelated concept or item, and try to move the public to take action. Commonly, propagandists can associate the glory or virtue of a historical event with their product or the action that they want the public to take. Conversely, transfer can also be employed as a means to convince the public to not take an action, lest they suffer a disagreeable fate.
Propaganda can hinge on the ability of an unrelated person to successfully sell an idea, opinion, product, or action. In modern day advertising, companies may enlist celebrities to help sell their products as part of their public relations efforts. Oftentimes, these celebrities don’t have any personal experience with the products or background with the science utilized to create them, but their testimonial can increase sales simply because they provide a recognizable and sometimes trustworthy face to the public. Viewers of this type of propaganda put their faith in the testimonial rather than judging the product, idea, or company on its own merits.
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