Ed Bern

#1 Public Relations Enemy

Edward Louis Bernays November 22, 1891 − March 9, 1995) was an Austrian-American pioneer in the field of public relations and propaganda, referred to in his obituary as “the father of public relations”.

Bernays was named one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century by Life. He was the subject of a full length biography by Larry Tye called The Father of Spin (1999) and later an award-winning 2002 documentary for the BBC by Adam Curtis called The Century of the Self.

This is the guy that ‘sold’ the Nazi solution of creating a stable state to the Americans in the 1920. He had no faith in humans, espousing the view that a ‘ruling elite’ should use propaganda techniques to  ‘manage’ the masses. An authoritarian to the core, he seems to have been the person who changed politicians view of people from citizens to consumers.

Bernays’ client, George W. Hill, president of the American Tobacco Company, had asked him: ‘How can we get women to smoke on the street. They’re smoking indoors. But, damn it, if they spend half the time outdoors and we can get ’em to smoke outdoors, we’ll damn near double our female market.

Bernays began to ponder. How best to employ the theories which had already proven so effective in his public relations campaigns: Gustave Le Bon’s principles of mass psychology, Wilfred Trotter’s herd instinct theses and, above all, the hidden drives of human beings that Sigmund Freud – Bernays’ ‘Uncle Sigi’ in Vienna – spoke about?

Bernays needed advice and consulted the psychiatrist A.A. Brill, who had been one of Freud’s pupils. ‘What’, he asked Brill, ‘is the psychological basis for a woman’s desire to smoke?’ ‘Cigarettes which are equated with men’, came the reply, ‘become torches of freedom.’ That was Bernays’ inspiration. His campaign? To get young feminists to light up cigarettes – torches of freedom – in public as an act of emancipation during New York’s Easter Parade. This, he believed, would make its way into the nation’s newspapers.