Many individuals and groups employ propaganda—biased and misleading information used to persuade people to certain perspectives—to achieve their goals. Propaganda can use a variety of methods, such as half-truths or fear, to impress specific views onto its audiences. Businesses, politicians, governments, and other organizations all spread propaganda about either themselves or their ideological opponents to bolster their own images.
Groups that Use Propaganda
Persuasion used by businesses is sometimes known as corporate propaganda. The primary goal is to sell products and make profits. Corporate propaganda often involves more than simply advertising a business’s strong points to the public. In many cases, it can be subtle and indirect.
One form of corporate propaganda is product placement in fictional works such as films or television shows. Businesses can pay thousands of dollars to have their products appear in these works, which are then viewed by mass audiences. Seeing characters in films use these products may influence audience members to purchase the products themselves.
Some businesses, particularly those in the food industry, also may use propaganda to create profitable markets for themselves. The Coca-Cola Company, for instance, has paid various American schools millions of dollars for the schools to advertise and sell Coca-Cola products to students. Another form of corporate propaganda involves businesses funding and advertising for politicians so the politicians, in turn, will legislate in ways that help the businesses.
Politicians in democratic countries must convince large numbers of people to vote them into office. Persuading people to certain political perspectives often requires using a variety of propaganda techniques. Political propaganda generally attempts to liken the politicians to their audiences so people will be more receptive to the politicians’ messages.
Politicians first must know their audiences, especially their beliefs and values. This will help the politicians tailor their arguments to the voters they want to attract. The politicians can then agree and empathize with their audiences about concerns. Ideally, these tactics make candidates more appealing to voters.
Rhetorical appeals can play important roles in politicians’ presentations. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, and candidates for public office have many different rhetorical devices at their disposal when arguing their points. For instance, politicians might go to great lengths to appear to be average citizens by being photographed eating in a modest restaurant with voters. Fear is another rhetorical tactic used in political campaigning. Politicians may persuade voters to their points of view by claiming that any other strategies, especially those of their opponents, will lead to disaster.
Governments, even in democratic nations such as the United States, also use propaganda to present reality according to their own views. In the 2010s, under the administration of Democratic US president Barack Obama (1961–), the cabinet members of the US Department of Labor called for raising the federal minimum wage, saying that higher wages would aid American laborers. Officials in the Congressional Budget Office, meanwhile, claimed that raising the minimum wage would reduce job opportunities. Still, the cabinet members of the Obama administration argued that the increase would help the American economy. Regardless of which view was correct, this disagreement represented attempts by one or both parties to influence the American people by presenting only the most convenient facts.
The Communist Party of China was another world government that used propaganda extensively to promote its own agenda. Some giant billboards and posters throughout the country claimed that China was strong because of the Communist Party; others called for long life to the Communist Party. These propaganda outlets were meant to reaffirm the authority of China’s ruling Communist Party.
The use of propaganda by governments is not only a twenty-first-century phenomenon, but also it has occurred in different times and places throughout history. The American Revolution slogan condemning British taxation without American parliamentary representation was designed to rally American colonists around the idea of revolting against Great Britain. Similarly, Nazi propaganda in Germany in the 1940s attempted to turn German people against the United Kingdom and United States by asserting that British prime minister Winston Churchill (1874–1965) and US president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) were pursuing a war of aggression against Germany. The reality in fact was the opposite.