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International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society [ijps] PP359-298134 January 24, 2002 9:57 Style file version Nov. 19th, 1999

International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, Vol. 15, No. 3, Spring 2002 (°
C 2002)

Image and Persuasion: The Machiavellian World


of Advertising and Public Relations
Charles Gattone1

Book review: Image Makers: Advertising, Public Relations, and the Ethos of
Advocacy by Robert Jackall and Janice M. Hirota (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 2000).

In this time of rapid ideological and cultural change, advocacy has


become a central component of the human condition. From the images of
advertisements selling an endless collection of products and services to the
sound-bites and rhetorical appeals of public relations experts subtly woven
into the flow of everyday information, the presence of advocacy is now per-
vasive, undeniable, and in many ways, inescapable.
Media images have come to play a key role in this context, influencing
public perceptions on a wide range of social, political, and economic issues.
The rise of television in the early 1950’s dramatically altered the dynamics of
the relationship between popular beliefs and media messages, transforming
the nature of leadership in modern democracies and placing new demands
on public officials seeking to secure the trust and loyalty of citizens. As elec-
tronic media developed further, the reach of persuasive appeals expanded
tremendously, raising the influence of symbol manipulation in public affairs
and enhancing the power of visual imagery in shaping popular belief. While
modern political endeavors have always involved the management of public
opinion, the state of the mass media in today’s society has raised the stakes
of this older game to a new level of perceptual wizardry.
In this newer milieu, advocacy has become the primary ingredient in
the competition for public attention and support, not only in politics, but in
a host of other spheres as well. Whether selling products through television

1 Address correspondence to: Charles Gattone, Department of Sociology, 3219 Turlington Hall,
P.O. Box 117330, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611-7330.

499
0891-4486/02/0300-0499/0 °
C 2002 Human Sciences Press, Inc.
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500 Book Review

advertisements or marketing alternative worldviews in the latest self-help


books, the newer publicity experts have left no stone unturned. Individuals
attempting to limit this ongoing flood of appeals aimed at their senses often
conclude that resistance is futile and throw up their hands at the prospect
of ever developing insight that is not in some way created and packaged by
behind-the-scenes entrepreneurs acting on the basis of their own insatiable
and interminable will to power.
Media critics who fail to focus on this aspect of communication fall short
in their evaluations of contemporary culture and only touch the surface of
what is actually a more pervasive social phenomenon. Developing a broad
analysis of the construction of popular belief requires an investigation into
the larger range of institutions and actors involved in image management,
particularly those relying on the vast reach of the electronic media as a means
to spread their messages to the public.
The book by Robert Jackall and Janice Hirota, Image Makers: Adver-
tising, Public Relations, and the Ethos of Advocacy, reaches across these
boundaries and delves deeply into the growing interconnections between
advocacy and media. In this work, Jackall and Hirota illustrate the ways
changes in the institutional and cultural composition of Western industrial
societies in the twentieth century created a social environment in which
the selling of messages became the norm. Rather than attempting to re-
duce the dimensions of contemporary culture to any single set of insti-
tutions or social phenomena, these authors extend the scope of their in-
quiry to include a range of factors accounting for advocacy as a universal
phenomenon.
Jackall and Hirota show that today’s techniques in advertising and pub-
lic relations grew out of persuasive efforts emerging during twentieth century
wars. From their point of view, World War I was a defining moment in the
history of propaganda in that it marked the first attempt of government insti-
tutions to manage public opinion on a massive scale. They describe how the
Committee on Public Information brought together experts from a variety
of specializations to sell the war to Americans and outline the ways these
techniques later became standard practices in the industry.1
The propaganda experts of World War I employed a broad range of
strategies designed to shape popular conceptions, passing out leaflets on
street corners, arranging speeches in movie houses, and weaving their mes-
sages into the storylines of novels and popular films. But rather than taking
a “shotgun” approach to persuasion that attempted to influence a broad
audience using a single set of methods, early image makers recognized the
need to develop an understanding of the beliefs and practices of various
segments of the population and target each group differently depending on
its own orientation. This challenge, and the strategies they used to reach
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across ethnic, class, and generational boundaries, provided the groundwork


for the later efforts of advertisers and public relations advocates seeking to
captivate the variety of groups making up the population.
Image makers also learned from the war that the art of persuasion is
not a simple matter of presenting facts in a logical sequence. They under-
stood that people are more inclined to accept the validity of propagandistic
messages if these are in some way connected to their own pre-existing sen-
timents. Organizing campaigns that relied heavily on personalized appeals
or heart-wrenching stories enabled experts to more effectively connect with
the experiences of their audiences. Images of young American men fighting
overseas for the sake of democracy made the war tangible for those at home
and helped to channel the energies of citizens with a strong but unharnessed
sense of patriotism.
Although Jackall and Hirota attest to the powerful influence of pro-
paganda, they refute the idea that persuasive appeals can single-handedly
create new ways of seeing the world. Instead they argue that the work of
advocacy is more often a matter of “molding” existing sentiment to fit a pre-
determined ideal. This practice involves developing a sense of the prevailing
viewpoints circulating among members of a target audience and then con-
structing appeals that resonate with these initial orientations. Image makers
do not do this to simply perpetuate conventional beliefs, but use the common
assumptions of a target population as a starting point through which to guide
in one direction or another the collective sentiment of that group. During
the war, the level of patriotic fervor was so high that propagandists were less
concerned about generating support for U.S. involvement than they were in
channeling this existing energy toward the specific objectives established by
government officials.
Jackall and Hirota take the reader through the interwar period, illustrat-
ing the problems plaguing the world of advertising in the Roaring Twenties
and during the Great Depression, showing that as people became increas-
ingly resentful of business practices in general, public attitudes toward ad-
vertising also spiraled downward. Leaders in the advertising industry sought
to find ways to boost their image in the face of this growing hostility and
ultimately formed an organization called the Advertising Council to counter
this trend. The objective of this new institution was to subtly enhance the
image of advertising by promoting social responsibility on issues that res-
onated with popular beliefs.
The decision to form the Advertising Council took place just prior to
the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States in World
War II. Leaders in the industry saw this development as the ideal opportunity
to put their new strategy to work and they forged connections with military
institutions to help promote the war effort. Working in conjunction with the
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Office of War Information, Council members set out to bring the messages
of government to the public while hoping to improve the face of advertising
itself. At the war’s end, the leaders of the Council continued to tout its image
as a public service organization dedicated to spreading socially responsible
messages.
Jackall and Hirota recount the historical development of the Council to
demonstrate the larger point that it was the first organization to act as the
public relations arm of the national welfare state. As large-scale business
organizations became increasingly connected to the offices of the federal
government during World War II, the result was the formation of a highly
centralized and monolithic set of bureaucratic institutions. The significance
of the Council’s work is that it marks the beginning of an ongoing coop-
erative effort between business and government to manage public opinion
in a rationalized and routine manner. Jackall and Hirota suggest that this
approach ultimately served to divert attention away from these connections
while promoting simplified versions of establishment perspectives.
The irony of this development is that even in the face of such efforts
to boost the image of advertising, attacks against it resurfaced following
the war. Although the rise of television created new opportunities for image
makers, it also led audiences to become increasingly media savvy and critical
of the older, traditional techniques of persuasion. Leaders in advertising once
again found themselves struggling to find ways to sell themselves and their
products while staying on good terms with their target audiences.
Jackall and Hirota contend that William Bernbach managed to stem this
tide of growing antipathy and reinvigorate the face of advertising in the early
years of television. They cast him as playing a key role in developing in the
sixties and seventies new and innovative techniques of advertising. A some-
what charismatic individual with a unique ability to convince others of his
creative talent, Bernbach was highly effective in developing presentations
that captured the attention and esteem of audiences in a variety of media.
His strategy was grounded in a sense of the fast pace of modern lifestyles
and a recognition that in order to influence this crowd, advertisers would
have to develop an approach that cut through the rat-race of everyday life.
A key component of his approach involved reducing ideas to their simplest
form so that very little effort was required to make sense of them. Bernbach
also focused on finding ways to get people to laugh at themselves by taking
ordinary situations and slightly altering them to reveal hidden elements of
absurdity. This switch to simplicity and humor resonated with a public that
welcomed witty and entertaining advertisements. Jackall and Hirota point
out that the introduction of Bernbach’s techniques reoriented the advertis-
ing industry’s practices and transformed the field as a whole. A new era in
advertising had begun.
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This approach remained a staple in the industry throughout the 1970s,


but shifted in response to changes in the 1980s in the institutional structure
of business. The creative spirit that revived the image of advertising in the
eyes of the public came face to face with the rationalizing forces of busi-
ness accounting. As advertising institutions themselves grew to be larger
and more complex in nature, the process of creating ads for clients changed
accordingly. Established agencies grew to become multi-tiered corporate
organizations, dividing internally into various departments with specialized
functions. Each company had its “creatives,” responsible on a routine basis
for developing outlandish and iconoclastic images, and its account executives
who tended to the practical concerns of business and client services. Jackall
and Hirota show that although this newer breed of advertising agency sought
to give creatives the room they needed to think in imaginative and novel
ways, the infusion of cost accounting into this endeavor often undermined
the quality of the final product. Presentations emerging from this organi-
zational arrangement drifted toward the mundane images that had become
characteristic of corporately managed efforts to manufacture spontaneity.
Jackall and Hirota devote a considerable portion of the book to ob-
serving the subtle interpersonal dynamics of creatives, this unique if not
somewhat quirky group of people. The authors raise the fundamental point
that there is no objective set of criteria through which to judge the talent of
the creatives and this not only confounds the job of executives charged with
personnel responsibilities, but also places a rather peculiar burden on them
to continually “sell” themselves to their associates. They are occupationally
required to maintain an image of being somewhat eccentric, irrational, and
given to sudden fits of emotion in the hope that this will convince others of
their sheer artistic genius. One sees in this description the point that the art
of image management begins in the private, interpersonal interactions of the
advertising agency’s staff members who learn to become their own personal
public relations advocates.
Jackall and Hirota suggest that although the creatives in this setting
tend to present themselves as whimsical and carefree individuals, their pro-
fession requires that they develop an intimate familiarity with conventional
forms of behavior and leads them to be very disciplined observers of the
social world. Although they typically conceal this aspect of their trade, cre-
atives are continually engaged in an effort to analytically assess others. In
order to develop advertising ideas that connect with consumers in a personal
way, creatives have to become self-conscious “commercial ethnographers”
of contemporary culture. From this standpoint, they focus on the taken-for-
granted routines of everyday life and play with these to reveal their idiosyn-
crasies and absurdities and bring them to the attention of their clients as well
as that of a media-based audience.
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However, creatives are often at a loss to know which ideas will likely
be meaningful to their target audiences. They typically seek to resolve this
problem by keeping in touch with the basic premises of existing media culture
and the ideas of their fellow creatives, often incorporating current themes
into their own formulations. The requirement that they stay connected to
the latest fads in the media as well as those of their own peers ultimately
leads them to be “other-directed” and easily influenced by prevailing norms.
Image Makers reveals the irony of a scenario in which the very individuals
seen as having the ability to form new ideas in popular culture are themselves
guided by the thoughts and actions of others.
Jackall and Hirota recognize the extent to which advertising techniques
can be influential of target audiences. They touch on some of the ways con-
temporary image makers practice their craft, examining a few of the standard
techniques of persuasion and isolating the common unspoken messages that
are often implied in these presentations. A key example is the implication
of many advertisements that without the benefit of a given product, an indi-
vidual may not be leading a full life. This approach is designed to convince
consumers that only by purchasing a series of products and services can they
achieve socially approved levels of self-fulfillment. This technique plays on
the insecurities of middle-class Americans whose sense of what it means to
live a full life is often uncertain and subject to change. In a world without
a clear set of ideals or objectives, the promise of “secular salvation” can be
attractive to the average consumer.
Jackall and Hirota extend their analysis into the world of public rela-
tions and the techniques of persuasion used to strengthen the image of a
particular institution or set of ideas. They point to the parallels between
these two industries and reveal some of the ways public relations experts
strive to manage perception. In this age of advocacy, many individuals have
grown skeptical of messages emanating from organizations deemed to be
associated with a given cause or agenda. Once the vested interests behind a
campaign are revealed, the legitimacy of their claims may begin to falter and
their impartiality can be called into question. To avoid this scenario, public
relations experts typically create a “front” organization that does not exhibit
any clear connection to the parent institution, providing a means through
which to promote a set of ideas without appearing to be motivated by self
interest. Front organizations can serve as very effective instruments of per-
suasion by hiring celebrities and using morally loaded slogans to project the
impression of dedication to working toward a common set of community-
oriented goals. Receiving funding from private sponsors while maintaining
an image of acting on the behalf of an assumed public interest enables in-
stitutions to reorient popular sentiments on an issue while concealing their
actual intentions.
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Feeding precontextualized information to the news media in order to


promote a given set of images is another technique common in the world of
public relations. The relatively recent explosion of news producing organi-
zations in the United States has greatly expanded the pressures placed on
journalists and their superiors to find stories suitable for public consumption.
Public relations experts are aware of this need and realize that it presents
them with the opportunity to send their preferred perspectives out to a larger
audience. Faxing sensationalized stories to news reporters on a routine ba-
sis enables advocates to weave their orientations into discussions of current
events. Jackall and Hirota argue that, as a result of this practice, as much
as sixty to eighty percent of news stories originate in the offices of public
relations experts.
Image Makers shows that the arena of public relations also includes
strategies employed by social advocates attempting to promote their pre-
ferred set of causes. Although such groups tend to rely on many of the same
techniques as advertisers and corporate public relations specialists, their em-
phasis is on contextualizing social issues in a way that presents their own set
of positions on a given social issue as inherently superior to those of others.
Typically this involves identifying and demonizing one’s opponents and re-
vealing the horrors connected to the latter’s point of view. This strategy often
incorporates representations of one’s group as the metaphorical equivalent
of David fighting a Goliath, with a determined will to fight for truth and
justice.
Jackall and Hirota argue that in these ongoing rhetorical battles for pub-
lic support, the subtleties of each issue can be lost in the exaggerated claims
of members on either side of the ideological fence. While those involved in
social struggles often knowingly project images of reality that are designed
to suit a narrow range of goals, they justify this with the argument that ab-
staining from doing so only hands one’s opponents the opportunity to make
additional gains in the battlefield of ideas. From their point of view, they do
not have the option to refrain from advocacy. This demonstrates the point
that as persuasive techniques become increasingly central to the character
of public debate, any group with a special interest must participate in this
ongoing war of ideas, thus contributing to the proliferation of ideological
messages in contemporary culture.
Jackall and Hirota note that the large and impersonal nature of mod-
ern institutions facilitates a wide range of perspective. While this degree of
ideological autonomy is valuable in the sense that it enhances the potential
for independent thinking, it is also problematic in that it contributes to the
cultural fragmentation of society over time. Within these circumstances, the
ability of opposing groups to achieve a common grounding diminishes and
the likelihood of conflict grows. The make-believe worlds of advertising and
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public relations fit neatly into this condition by strengthening the myths of
each standpoint and creating a fantasy world within which people can es-
cape into the illusions most comforting to them. As individuals sink into the
logic of their respective orientations, they lose the ability to make sense of
the world in ways that do not conform to their narrowly defined framework
of images. Perspectives other than their own seem irreconcilably misguided
and efforts to form mutual understanding become increasingly futile. The
result is a retreat of each group into the safety and security of its own limited
worldview. Jackall and Hirota contend that while the potential to transcend
these boundaries does indeed exist, the routine practices of advocates foster
the development of a society made up of individuals with only a shadowy
sense of the reality within which they are living.
Jackall and Hirota see this problematic trend as part of a larger move-
ment toward postmodern thinking in general, including a reluctance among
intellectuals to accept the possibility of objective knowledge. They are par-
ticularly critical of those who relish the postmodern turn in advertising as
further evidence of the ideological relativity of human existence, and assail
those who have joined the ranks of established institutions to act as their
newest spin masters in what is assumed to be a world of pure image. The
authors conclude that when thinkers of this caliber take the plunge into ide-
ological relativism, individuals outside this group are more inclined to do
so. Under such circumstances, the potential to learn from careful inquiry
falls prey to the allure of obscurantism, pushing sound assessments of the
social world into the margins of public debate. Jackall and Hirota ultimately
reveal their pessimism with regard to the possibility of contemporary society
climbing out of its conceptual rut and see the trends in advocacy as likely to
escalate in the future.
The reader of Image Makers may be surprised by this attack on post-
modernism and ponder its relationship to the larger message of the book.
Although Jackall and Hirota seek to draw the connections between this
conception of knowledge and the mythologies created in advertising and
public relations, they gloss over the complexities of this relationship and
project a relatively one-sided view of postmodernism in general. They are
certainly justified in their criticisms of intellectuals who have jumped on the
bandwagon of relativism to boost their own careers, but this does not take
away from the fact that some aspects of contemporary society can be tied
to the framework of an observer’s epistemological orientation. Even those
in academia who claim to be operating from the point of view of a positivist
tradition frequently find themselves in sharp disagreement over assessments
of existing reality. This is not to suggest that all knowledge is relative or that
all analyses of the social world are equally valid. It is simply to say that in ex-
amining the issues of image and perception, one can be critical of deceptive
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Book Review 507

strategies of persuasion without relying on the foundational assumptions of


a traditional philosophy of knowledge.
Yet the question of postmodernism draws attention to the authors’
more valuable point that the phenomenon of image management reduces
the ability of many individuals to understand the larger institutional forces
shaping their lives. As the techniques of persuasion have become increas-
ingly refined, the tendency of consumers to accept mass-mediated messages
grows. Even those who consider themselves to be above the simplicities
of public discourse occasionally find themselves buying into the logic of
one persuasive appeal or another. Jackall and Hirota show that although
many see today’s world as one of an ever-advancing enlightenment, the re-
ality of this contemporary milieu is that it is fraught with confusion and
misunderstanding.
This is particularly relevant for democratic societies. It raises the ques-
tion of the validity of public knowledge and the growing distance between
everyday perceptions and political decision-making. One can cite many ex-
amples where political leaders themselves have bought into the logic of
contemporary fictions and acted upon these beliefs in setting public policy.
Reading the work of Jackall and Hirota reminds one of the implicit message
of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where an entire civilization is drawn
into the realm of make believe and only a few individuals maintain a sense of
the absurdity of life in this setting.2 Although most members of the American
population have not been seduced to this degree, popular culture continues
to move steadily in this direction and the potential for escape seems even
more daunting than in the recent past. The value of Image Makers lies in its
focus on these trends and their significance in shaping the future directions
of modern civilization.
While the authors of Image Makers offer valuable insight into the con-
nections between advertising appeals and the make-believe worlds of con-
temporary culture, their inquiry into the realm of public relations does not
fully address the power dynamics underlying the influence of the dominant
organizations in today’s global economy. The impression one forms in read-
ing this text is that contenders in the ongoing struggle for public attention
and support routinely compete against one another on an even playing field.
While this depiction may be valid in some instances, institutions at the higher
levels of economic and political power have a greater ability to spread their
images to audiences than those with less clout. Jackall and Hirota touch on
this in their brief discussion of the growing bureaucratic monolith of govern-
ment and business, but they limit their comments to a focus on the tendency
of this arrangement to lead to the proliferation of disparate beliefs among
smaller groups in the population. This analysis does not address the ways
the more powerful organizations making up this monolith use the refined
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techniques of persuasion to maintain their own image of legitimacy in the


eyes of the public. As business institutions grow to transcend the boundaries
of national governments, their actions have come to influence the lives of
many people both in the industrialized world and in less-developed regions.
In order to maintain this advantageous position, leaders of these institutions
go to great lengths to project their preferred images to local and national
populations. Doing so requires relying heavily on the media as a means of
communication and in many cases forming connections with media organi-
zations or purchasing them outright to ensure that their ideal messages are
embedded into the representations they produce. Their subsequent ability
to reach wide segments of the American population in both overt and dis-
creet ways gives them an edge over their less powerful competitors. What
may have been at one time a marketplace of ideas is now evolving into a
more tightly orchestrated arena of managed sentiment, with transnational
business and government becoming increasingly influential of the types of
representations reaching members of the broader population. While there
is clearly room for entrepreneurial creativity in the ongoing competition for
audience attention, public relations efforts are nowhere as pervasive as those
emanating at this level.
Although Jackall and Hirota do not address these issues at length, their
assessments of the dynamics of persuasion offer an essential starting point for
one seeking to better understand the major trends in today’s mass-mediated
society. Image Makers reveals the absurd nature of the present state of affairs
and exposes the underlying factors fostering the ongoing fragmentation of
contemporary Western culture. As citizens gradually become transformed
into consumers, their awareness of political affairs slowly withers away, leav-
ing them with only a vague sense of the larger institutional structures influ-
encing their lives. The incisive descriptions and perceptive analyses of Jackall
and Hirota on this subject provide the essential groundwork needed to de-
velop an informed critique of this rapidly changing facet of contemporary
society.

ENDNOTES

1. Image Makers, pp. 3–27.


2. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, New York: Perennial Library, 1946.