Freudian Slips Into Public Relations

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You wake up, make yourself a coffee and cook some bacon and eggs. The smell of breakfast fills your kitchen. Everything feels right in the world. You have your breakfast, and you are comfortable. But do you ever wonder why things like bacon and eggs make you feel good? The answer comes back to one man, Edward Bernays.

Known as the “Father of Public Relations.” A genius in his own right, he also had family in his corner backing him up. His uncle was Sigmund Freud, the “Father of Psychoanalysis.”

Until the early 1900’s there was the assumption that people are rational beings. That they made choices on what to buy on sound well thought out ideas. In 1905 Freud published “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” and blew that assumption out of the water.

Freud stated that people weren’t rational at all. They acted on instincts and unconscious desires of sex, security, and self-preservation. Bernays often consulted his uncle’s work. He was one of the first to incorporate psychology and social sciences into public relations.

Bernays and Lucky Strike  Bernays and Beech Nut Bacon Bernays and Ivory Soap


Lucky Strike

In 1928 American Tobacco approached Bernays to expand their cigarette market. They wanted to focus on expanding to women smokers. At the time smoking for females was taboo. Also, women hated the green packaging of lucky strikes, which wasn’t viewed as a feminine color. They said if he could crack that market “it will be like opening a new gold mine right in our front yard.” Bernays accepted the challenge and went to work.

Since the packaging had to stay green. Bernays decided right away that the premier color of that year’s fashion shows would be the Lucky Strike green. His “Green Ball Campaign” convinced French designers to incorporate green into their latest designs. The next step was to introduce a “Green Gala” event at the Waldorf Astoria. He invited some of society’s most prominent tastemakers, all wearing green.

Bernays needed to address the problem of women smoking in public as well. His idea was to link smoking to the women’s liberation movement. He arranged for beautiful young women to march down 5th Avenue in NYC during the Easter Sunday parade of 1929. This march was a significant moment for fighting social barriers for women in America and a primary symbol would be what the women would be smoking, “torches of freedom.” In turn, Lucky Strikes became a tool of women’s empowerment, a statement on women’s equality and were more than just a cigarette.


Bringing home the bacon

Bernays influence reaches much farther than selling cigarettes. In the 1920’s Beech-Nut Packing Company approached him. Beech-Nut wanted people to buy more bacon. At the time, simple toast and coffee were the breakfast of choice for most Americans.

Bernays thought about who influences what we eat. He came up with doctors. To get the results he wanted, he asked only one question on a survey to thousands of physicians. Is it healthier to eat a hearty or light breakfast? The answer was a resounding win for hearty.

This “study” of doctors encouraged the American public to eat a heavier breakfast. In fact, it listed eating bacon and eggs as a top choice. Bernays published this study in the leading newspapers and magazines across the country. Just like that the “All American” breakfast of bacon and eggs was born.


Engineering of Consent to Influencer Marketing

From his uncle’s research, Bernays knew that influencing the correct people was key. When done right this could have a massive impact. He is quoted in saying “If you can influence the leaders, either with or without conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway.” He called this scientific technique of opinion-molding the “engineering of consent.”

Everything old is new again. In 2016 engineering of consent is what we call “influencer marketing.” The world has become more and more social media focused. Consumers look at fellow customers to inform their purchasing decisions. Instead of looking at companies, now consumers look at their favorite personalities. Platforms like YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter have shifted who the real influencers are. This new dynamic has brought back life to some of Bernays old tricks.

Companies now must offer the optimal blend of creative content, and relevant influencers. What are the right timing and delivery platforms are key to what decisions marketers face daily. To gain the “viral” traction that everybody is lusting after you have to get these factors right.

People like Devin Super Tramp on YouTube have made a business out of going “viral.” He has almost four million subscribers and sees millions of views on his video’s. He has worked with companies like Mountain Dew, Mercedes-Benz, Pepsi and Papa Johns. When you are getting that many views, you are a huge influence on how people act.


Your Customers are your biggest influencers.

On the opposite side of millions of views is another Bernays trick. He realized that your best customers are always your greatest influencers. Procter & Gamble asked Bernays to get the public to buy more Ivory soap. He had thought that children were one of the biggest users of soap. And not only that, but they grow up to be adults and have more children who buy soap.

Bernays created a contest for school children to carve sculptures using Ivory soap. For 25 years, The National Soap Sculpture Competition inspired children to be creative. Not only did it show them how to express their artistic side, but it sold truckloads of Ivory soap.

Bernays had a huge influence on how we shop, act, and clean ourselves. From bacon and eggs, cigarettes, to Ivory soap and more. You can call the tactics that Bernays pioneered PR, Branding, or Marketing. The lessons he learned from his uncle, Sigmund Freud, about human nature are powerful and still very relevant today. With so many voices bidding for your attention, remember the voice that makes you feel something will always win out.