THE PERSUASIVE POWER OF PROPAGANDA: MIAMI AD SCHOOL STUDENTS AT THE WOLFSONIAN

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GIFT OF STEVE HELLER

This afternoon I was invited by Miami Ad School’s Design Director Monika Pobog-Malinowska to make a presentation to a group of students defining and providing a brief historical background of propaganda, and distinguishing it from other forms of persuasion. As I began to do some research and harvesting of images from the museum collection, I quickly came to realize that the task is not nearly as easy as it sounds, as the lines drawn between political, commercial, and public service propaganda and persuasion have often been arbitrary or downright blurry.

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Most often, when people hear the word propaganda, the word triggers negative reactions as it frequently implies manipulation and deception. This has not always been the case historically. One of the first manifestations of the word can be traced back to 1622, and the evangelical efforts of Pope Gregory XV and his successors’ mission to propagate the faith and save the “lost” souls of pagans, heathens, and heretics. At least from the perspective of the Catholic hierarchy, the use of the word propaganda was intended to connote a positive program. Today, the public is far more likely to think about propaganda in the context of Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, and the Nazi’s insidious campaigns of telling “whopping lies” to manipulate the German masses and to intimidate other nations into capitulating without a fight.

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GIFT OF MARTIJN F. LE COUTRE

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 Rather than trying to “split hairs” or risk getting “bogged down in a quagmire” of questionable distinctions between political propaganda and commercial persuasion, I decided to turn the tables on my audience. Having put together a Powerpoint slide show for the purpose, I bombarded the students with numerous images of posters, postcards, sheet music covers, pamphlets, leaflets, and other printed materials from the Wolfsonian collection.

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As the images flashed across the screen, I talked with the students about some of the strategies used to disseminate an idea (“catchy” slogans, recognizable brands and symbols, subliminal messages), and asked them to characterize the approaches as persuasive, propagandistic, or somewhere in-between.

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For today’s blog post, I thought I would do the same for my readers; consider the images included and decide if you think you are being informed, persuaded, or manipulated.

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~ by "The Chief" on September 6, 2013.

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