Sigmund Freud's Nephew Used His Uncle's Theories To Create Modern Advertising As We Know It
Sigmund Freud's Nephew Used His Uncle's Theories To Create Modern Advertising As We Know It
Sigmund Freud remains one of history's best-known psychoanalysts, and his theory that the unconscious part of the human mind can drive action and behavior is still influential. One very specific way it's influential is its use in advertising, public relations, and propaganda.

Sigmund Freud remains one of history's best-known psychoanalysts, and his theory that the unconscious part of the human mind can drive action and behavior is still influential. One very specific way it's influential is its use in advertising, public relations, and propaganda.

One of Freud's nephews was Edward Bernays, who grew up to put some of his uncle's theories to unexpected use in the US. Bernays first repurposed Freud's theories during World War I, where he worked on propaganda for President Woodrow Wilson. As scholar Richard Gunderman explained:

Drawing on the insights of his Uncle Sigmund - a relationship Bernays was always quick to mention - he developed an approach he dubbed "the engineering of consent." He provided leaders the means to "control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it." To do so, it was necessary to appeal not to the rational part of the mind, but the unconscious.

After the war, Bernays used those theories to manipulate the human mind through advertising and PR. Among his feats: marketing cigarettes to women by making the act of smoking an expression of freedom. In other words, Bernays appealed to emotions and desires to sell products. His interventions gave American consumerism some useful new tools.

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