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How Sigmund Freud, his nephew and a box of cigars forever changed American marketing.
By Lisa Held December 2009, Vol 40, No. 11 American Psychological Association Link: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/12/consumer.aspx
Who knew that Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis and critic of all things American, was an unwitting contributor to the rise of Western consumer culture? Women sporting cigarettes as a symbol of female empowerment and the ubiquitous bacon-and-egg breakfast were two public relations campaigns inspired by Freudian ideas. The link between theory and practice was Edward L. Bernays, the acknowledged father of public relations and nephew of Sigmund Freud. Bernays was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1891 but grew up in New York City. His mother was Freud's sister and his father was the brother of Freud's wife, Martha Bernays. He maintained contact with his uncle, and the family often joined Freud for summer holidays in the Alps. Bernays began his career shaping public opinion by creating a media campaign to raise awareness of venereal disease and sexual hypocrisy. But his application of psychoanalytic principles to public relations and advertising came only after reading Freud's "General Introductory Lectures," a gift from Freud to his nephew in thanks for a box of Havana cigars. In this case, a cigar did prove to be much more than a cigar. The marriage of psychoanalysis and public relations, facilitated by the box of Havanas, made Bernays a very wealthy man.
Intrigued by Freud's notion that irrational forces drive human behavior, Bernays sought to harness those forces to sell products for his clients. In his 1928 book, "Propaganda," Bernays hypothesized that by understanding the group mind, it would be possible to manipulate people's behavior without their even realizing it. To test this hypothesis, Bernays launched one of his most famous public relations campaigns: convincing women to smoke. In 1929, it was taboo for women to smoke in public and those who flouted convention were thought to be sexually permissive. Bernays' client was George Washington Hill, president of the American Tobacco Company, who envisioned breaking this taboo to broaden the market for his Lucky Strike brand. Bernays asked Hill for permission to consult with New York's leading psychoanalyst and Freud disciple, Dr. A.A. Brill, and was granted this unusual request. This was the first but not the last time Bernays would consult with psychoanalysts to help shape his public relations campaigns. When asked what cigarettes symbolized to women, Brill's response was that cigarettes were symbolic of male power. Equating smoking with challenging male power was the cornerstone of Lucky Strike's "Torches of Freedom" campaign, which debuted during New York's annual Easter Parade on April 1, 1929. Bernays
Bernays wrote about his campaign to increase bacon sales and contrasted Freud's group psychology with behaviorist principles. of course. The "Torches of Freedom Parade" was covered not only by the local papers. p. he knew very little. paving the way for Bernays to convince Americans to swap their usual juice. His veiled sarcasm notwithstanding. "Crystallizing Public Opinion" (1923). In "Propaganda" (1928). Physicians overwhelmingly recommended a hearty breakfast. Bernays asked himself. when facing financial ruin in Vienna. "Who influences what the public eats?" His answer was to survey physicians and ask them whether they would recommend a light breakfast or a hearty breakfast. The Beechnut Packing Company was suffering lagging sales in one of its key meat products: bacon. all-American "hearty" breakfast of bacon and eggs. Freud was forced to ask his nephew for help. When Bernays suggested he promote himself in America by writing popular articles for Cosmopolitan. . But in creating the new Freudian-style campaign. Freud's terse response was "I have received your book. Even the father of public relations couldn't engineer Freud's consent to participate so openly in American popular culture. Bringing home the bacon Given Freud's addiction to cigars. The press was warned beforehand and couldn't resist the story. As a truly American production it interested me greatly" (as cited in Justman. 1994. which provided Freud with much-needed American dollars. his link through Bernays to women smoking is not altogether surprising. but linking smoking to women's rights fostered a feeling of independence. 465).. Understanding Freud's connection to the successful marketing of cured meat is more of a stretch. Was Freud aware of how his nephew was using psychoanalytic principles to. but what he did know failed to impress. . he drew the line at publicity. An "old style" behaviorist campaign would repeat a stimulus to create a habit—inundate consumers with full-page ads and follow up with an incentive or reward by offering discount coupons. Bernays was duly convinced that linking products to emotions could cause people to behave irrationally. as Bernays termed it. Freud was appalled by the idea. women were no freer for having taken up smoking. but also by newspapers nationwide and internationally. And while Freud coveted fame. "engineer consent?" From all accounts. Bernays responded to Freud's request by arranging to publish his works in America. In reality.had procured a list of debutantes from the editor of Vogue magazine and pitched the idea that they could contribute to the expansion of women's rights by lighting up cigarettes and smoking them in the most public of places—Fifth Avenue.. When Bernays sent Freud a copy of his first book. toast and coffee for the now-ubiquitous.