February 09, 2017

Eddie Bernays hooked a generation of women on this brand. Credit: Festimb / Flickr Creative Commons

There’s a reason that women smoke. There’s a reason Calvin Coolidge was elected President. There’s a reason that bacon and eggs are a classic American breakfast. Well, there are a lot of reasons. But a big reason was Edward Bernays, the father of public relations. Larry Tye, author of The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations, talks about Bernays’ considerable influence, and how he taught corporations and politicians about the art of persuasion.

Three Takeaways:

  • Perhaps the most power example of Bernays’ influence on American consumerism was his ability to persuade a generation of women to take up cigarette smoking. In the 1920s, smoking was seen as an “unladylike” activity, so Lucky Strikes hired Bernays to expand the market. Using a feverishly-covered public march of wealthy society women, he linked smoking to women’s empowerment and shattered the stigma of female smoking.
  • Bernays wasn’t an advertiser. Instead, he shaped public opinion in more insidious ways. When the booksellers of America wanted to sell more books, he got home-builders to build bookshelves directly into people’s houses. Because if people had bookshelves, they would feel compelled to fill them with books.
  • Early on, it was clear that PR had a role to play in politics. Bernays even helped Calvin Coolidge shed his frumpy image for the 1924 election. And, Tye thinks the modern-day figure who really gets the art of PR is Donald Trump, who Tye says understands which hot-buttons to push and how to craft a magnetic message.

More Reading:

Business, public relations, Larry Tye, Edward Bernays, Kara Miller

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