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Propaganda Techniques, J.A.C. Brown, 1964

Propaganda Techniques, J.A.C. Brown, 1964

The following are some of the more specific techniques employed in propaganda and it will be noted that most of them follow the lines of well-worn channels common to the average human mind (e.g. most people want to feel that issues are simple rather than complex, want to have their prejudices confirmed, want to feel that they ‘belong’ with the implication that others do not, and need to pinpoint an enemy to blame for their frustrations). This being the case, the propagandist is likely to find that his suggestions have fallen on fertile soil so long as he delivers his message with an eye to the existing attitudes and intellectual level of his audience.

  1. The Use of Stereotypes

    It is a natural tendency to ‘type’ people, and in time this picture may become a fixed impression almost impervious to real experience. Hence the stereotypes of the Negro, the Jew, the capitalist, the trade-union leader, or the Communist, and the reactions of members of these groups come to be explained, not in terms of themselves as unique individuals, but in terms of the stereotype. In the early years of this century Sir Charles Goring of the English prison service, who was opposed to the theory of Lombroso, the Italian criminologist, that there is a specific criminal type with certain recognizable physical stigmata, had an artist draw from memory the portraits of many of the inmates of a prison. He made a composite photograph of these and found that it bore a strong resemblance to the conventional stereotype of a criminal. But when a composite picture was made from actual photographs of the same people, it bore no resemblance either to the drawings or to the popular idea of a ‘criminal type’. Clearly the artist had been influenced by his stereotype.

  2. The Substitution of Names

    The propagandist frequently tries to influence his audience by substituting favourable or unfavourable terms, with an emotional connotation, for neutral ones unsuitable to his purpose. Hence ‘Red’ instead of ‘Communist’ or ‘Russian’, ‘Union bosses’ for presidents of the unions, ‘Huns’ or ‘Boches’ for Germans, ‘Yids’ for Jews. On the other hand, ‘free enterprise’ sounds better than ‘capitalism’ in these times, and the writer of advertising copy is often an adept at substituting long and impressivesounding words to conceal the true identity of the relatively simple constituents of patent medicines or cosmetics.

  3. Selection

    The propagandist, out of a mass of complex facts, selects only those that are suitable for his purpose. One would not expect a Conservative politician to go out of his way to mention the Suez incident, nor a Labour one to mention unnecessarily the ‘groundnut plan’. Censorship is one form of selection and therefore of propaganda.

  4. Downright Lying

    From the atrocity stories against the Saracens during the Crusades and the ridiculous tales of Belgian priests used as human bell-clappers or the human soap factories of the First World War to the Hitlerian recommendation of the big lie, falsehood has always been part of the propagandist’s stock-in-trade.

  5. Repetition

    The propagandist is confident that, if he repeats a statement often enough, it will in time come to be accepted by his audience. A variation of this technique is the use of slogans and key words, e.g. ‘Fair Shares for All’, ‘Keep the World Safe for Democracy’, ‘Ein Volk, em Reich, em Führer’, ‘Player’sPlease’, ‘ Guinness for Strength’, and so on. Such phrases, frequently meaningless, play a large part in politics and advertising, yet what are ‘fair shares’? What is ‘democracy’?

  6. Assertion

    The propagandist rarely argues but makes bold assertions in favour of his thesis. We have already seen that the essence of propaganda is the presentation of one side of the picture only, the deliberate limitation of free thought and questioning.

  7. Pinpointing the Enemy

    It is helpful if the propagandist can put forth a message which is not only for something, but also against some real or imagined enemy who is supposedly frustrating the will of his audience. Hence the Nazi campaigns against the Jews and the ‘plutodemocracies’ which, by careful selection of targets in line with the already-existing traditions of the group, had the dual effects (a) of directing aggression away from the propagandist and his party, and (b) of strengthening in-group feelings thus improving party morale.

  8. The Appeal to Authority

    Suggestion, as mentioned above, is of its nature an appeal to authority. The authority appealed to may be religious, that adhering to a prominent political figure, or, particularly in advertising, the authority of science and the professions. For example, ‘Doctors in over a thousand skin tests proved X makes your skin younger, softer, lovelier than ever!’ Which doctors? And how does one test ‘loveliness’? Another form taken by the appeal to authority is the appeal to the crowd, or as the Americans describe it, the ‘bandwagon technique’, which implies that ‘everybody’s doing it’ and therefore that those who are not are outsiders.


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