Propaganda Techniques: An Exhaustive List

Propaganda is a planned effort to influence people’s thoughts, beliefs, and actions using strategic messages. This article covers a list of propaganda techniques used in various areas of life.

In Marketing And Advertising

Advertisers and marketers use propaganda techniques to move people along the hierarchy of effects model. The hierarchy of effects model is a theoretical process that a person undergoes as they move from awareness of a product all the way to taking a purchase action. The steps are 1 awareness, 2 knowledge, 3 liking, 3 preference, 4 conviction, 5 purchase. Marketers and advertisers select different tools and messages to move people along this path.

In Literature

Animal farm is a book written by Orwell. It is a story of how animals revolt against a farmer and eventually create the very system of oppression they sought to overcome with the revolt. One character called Old Major uses slogans to unify the animals against the humans like “all men are enemies,” and “all animals are equals.” Symbols are also used like Old Major’s skull to unite and focus the animals on the enemy.

The book 1984, also written by Orwell covers the use of propaganda. Messages are broadcast repeatedly on screens. Music is played to evoke patriotism and support. Stories about what happened in the past were changed and ‘purified’ to better support the narrative.

In Art

Soviet realism was a propagandistic technique used to convey an idealized version of communist values in society. Images like flowers, sunlight, youth, and technology were used to convey a sense of progress and victory.

Paintings of Napoleon showed him in bright colors conquering in battle. The paintings helped spread his image and people’s fascination with him.

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List Of Techniques

  • Bandwagon – this technique uses an appeal to what a group of people are doing to persuade. Humans have a desire to be part of the winning group. Salesmen and advertisers do this when they pressure people to buy to keep up with the times. See also altercasting. Two common examples of this are using the statement “people are starting to realize X,” or “everyone knows Y.”
  • Scare tactics – using words, images, or stories to over emphasize the chances of loss that the person will experience if they don’t act or believe a certain way. News organizations use fear tactics to hold attention and to drive viewer beliefs. See the Nazi Goering’s Nuremberg trial quote “it’s always a simple matter to drag people along… all you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to a greater danger.”
  • Snob Appeal – exploiting the audience’s desire to be wealthy, superior, and prestigious. Just look at any luxury brand’s advertising.
  • Name Calling – using insults and negative branding to persuade people to act or avoid acting in a certain way. For example liberals call conservatives morons while conservatives call liberals whiners. See also general fallacies like ad hominem.
  • Glittering Generalities & Vague Terms – political propaganda uses this technique frequently. The speaker cites a general term with positive connotations in order to rally a group to their cause. For example, citing freedom or liberty or equality. This also happens in the opposite way, like when the government renamed the war department, department of defense. A vague statement would be like saying “I did what needed to be done. I always do what needs to be done.”
  • Transfer – this subliminal technique seeks to transfer the feelings a person has towards a symbol to their group. They do this by associating with the symbol. Religions do this with religious symbols.
  • Testimony – endorsements by famous, successful, or attractive people can persuade people to act. This happens because people want to be like that person. See the makeup industry.
  • Card Stacking – this is when facts are used in a disingenuous manner. Facts are presented but the ones that aren’t favorable are left out. People who debate on television do this on both sides of the isle.
  • Plain Folks – presenting yourself as typical, down to earth, and ordinary by dressing, speaking, or doing certain activities. For example you would start doing activities like the people in your area to blend in, like hunting or fishing.
  • Repetition – this is used to drive in a message. People often mistake frequency of hearing something with truth. At bare minimum repetition can be used to drive increased awareness. At most it can make a story, event, or interpretation seem like a widely accepted fact.
  • Scapegoating – when a group’s negative experience is explained or blamed on another group. The Nazis scapegoated the Jews for their economic position prior to world war 2.
  • Minimizing And Maximizing – this is when the message creator downplays or upplays the effect of an event. For example they might say a border dispute is just a small disagreement, when in fact people are shooting each other. Minimizing is frequently used in interrogations to downplay a person’s actions to trick them into confessing. Maximization is when the consequences are increased to scare people into reacting. Similar to scare tactics listed above. Read more about minimization and maximization in interrogation here.
  • Straw Man – over simplifying an argument or position in order to make it easier to attack and dismiss.
  • Quoting Out Of Context – using a person’s spoken words to convey something they didn’t actually mean. This gives the appearance of legitimacy.
  • Rewriting History – this technique uses a purified version of historical events to create a more favorable narrative. Most countries do this when they write the history of how they came and maintained power.

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