Edward Bernays - the first spin doctor of the 20th century

Edward Bernays has been called one of the founders of PR, as well as the father of propaganda. He is the author of the groundbreaking book Crystallizing Public Opinion, and his services have been used by celebrities, major companies and even the President of the United States. He believed that the public is not guided by reason, but by drive, habit or emotion, and that this is why it can be efficiently manipulated. Who was the first spin doctor of the 20th century?

Sigmund Freud's nephew left his mark on the entire PR industry. He was the first to use social science, such as psychology and psychoanalysis, to generate persuasion and convince a multitude of Americans of his cause. Although his name is not widely known, his influence on the entire twentieth century was profound. Edward L. Bernays believed that the public was susceptible to manipulation and that the most could be achieved by appealing to the human emotional sphere. He is also the author of the landmark book Crystallizing Public Opinion, in which he articulated the view that the facts people are persuaded to believe should not conflict with their interests - one of the guiding principles of public relations.

At the beginning of 1913, Bernays worked as a press agent, where he helped to create the image of artists and the Russian ballet. The job did not give him complete satisfaction and did not satisfy his ambitions. The opportunity to prove himself came in 1917, when the United States became involved in the war effort. Due to a foot deformity (flat feet), Bernays could not be conscripted into active combat and therefore volunteered to act on the 'Committee on Public Information'. Americans were unconvinced that their country should meddle in a war on European soil, and Bernays' job was to convince them of the validity of these battles and to encourage men to volunteer to enlist. The PR man proved himself to such an extent that after the war ended he travelled with President Woodrow Wilson to the peace negotiations that were to take place in France.

Upon his return, he began to be approached by large corporations, and one of his clients was also Henry Ford. While working for one ham manufacturer, Bernays' goal was to increase sales by changing the breakfast habits of Americans, who had hitherto preferred 'light' meals. To achieve his goal, the PR manager sought the advice of doctors and asked them what a health-appropriate breakfast should look like. Between the various opinions, those recommending 'solid' meals prevailed. Based on these, Bernays prepared the relevant reports and sent them to the media for information. Just like fast food later, eggs on bacon then became a tradition on the table of Americans.

Another of Edward Bernays' tasks was to warm up the image of the then President of the United States. To do this, he began organising lunches at the White House attended by world-famous celebrities. As in the earlier case, he achieved his goal.

The PR man also took one step that PR and marketing professionals describe as a real breakthrough in the world of advertising and mores. It was Bernays who was responsible for the 'Torches of Freedom' action in 1929, during which a group of suffragettes did something that was considered immoral at the time, even forbidden to women - they lit a cigarette in public. This caused even more of a stir because it happened during the annual Easter advice. Naturally, the aim of these actions was to generate revenue for the tobacco corporations, and the media were very quick to take an interest in the subject and publish pictures taken by the 'accidentally' photojournalists there.

Bernays' name can be linked to many companies, or names. It is impossible to mention all of them. In his later period of activity he was mainly involved in politics. He died in New York at the age of 103. He is remembered as one of the founders of PR and the father of propaganda.


Text author: Ola