Edward Louis Bernays (November 22, 1891 – March 9, 1995) was the father of public relations and an American pioneer in the field of psychological operations. Combining the ideas of Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter on crowd psychology with the psychoanalytical ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, Bernays was one of the first to attempt to manipulate public opinion using the subconscious.
He felt this manipulation was necessary in society, which he regarded as irrational and dangerous as a result of the “herd instinct”. Bernays was named one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century by Life Magazine.
- In the 1920s, working for the American Tobacco Company, he sent a group of young models to march in the New York City parade. On his signal, the models lit Lucky Strike cigarettes (“torches of freedom”) in front of the eager photographers. The New York Times (1 April 1929) printed: “Group of Girls Puff at Cigarettes as a Gesture of ‘Freedom'”. This helped to break the taboo against women smoking in public.
- Bernays used his uncle Sigmund Freud’s ideas to help convince the public, among other things, that bacon and eggs was the true all-American breakfast.
- Bernays helped the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) and other special interest groups to convince the American public that Water fluoridation was safe and beneficial to human health. This was achieved by using the American Dental Association in a highly successful media campaign.
- In the 1930s, his Dixie Cup campaign was designed to convince consumers that only disposable cups were sanitary.
In Propaganda (1928), his most important book, Bernays argued that the manipulation of public opinion was a necessary part of democracy:
- The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.
- Source: Wikipedia
- * Quote attributed to Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter