He would then go on to promote his theories, greatly contributing to the prominence psychoanalysis assumed in this country. Prominently featured in the 2002 documentary the Century of the Self, Bernays would prove to be one of the most influential Americans of the 20th century. This essay examines Bernay’s influence on society. Edward Bernay’s impact and influence on society is truly astonishing. From an overarching context, Bernays is recognized as implementing Freudian psychological theories as a means of manipulating mass culture. Bernays demonstrated to corporations how they could use people’s unconscious desires to sell products to people that they don’t really want to purchase. From a broader political perspective, Bernay’s recognized that by satisfying peoples’ inner selfish desires it made them happy and docile. Bernay’s first influence and implementation of this theoretical model on social forces occurred during the 1920s as he was working for Woodrow Wilson. Bernays implemented propaganda as a means of presenting Wilson as a liberator of the people, significantly altering Wilson’s public perception. Bernays would later work for President Calvin Coolidge. Bernays persuaded thirty celebrities to visit the White House as a means of shifting public perception about Coolidge. Another prominent impact Bernays had on society was through his development of the field of public relations. Bernays had implemented propaganda techniques during wartime and had understood that these techniques
could be carried over to the business world. As such he changed the name of propaganda, which had received a negative connotation, to public relations. One of his first contributions in this field was changing public perception regarding women smoking in public. Bernays claims to have empowered women by shifting the male dominant nature of smoking as phallus in their favor by coining the phrase ‘Torches of Freedom’. Bernays also revolutionized the nature of product placement, being the first to use movies as a means of advertising. He also foregrounded the idea of paying movie stars to use the products in public, playing into the idea of the product as emotional attachment, not just necessity. The implications of Bernays experiments were broad and profound. Previously advertisers had believed that through providing the facts about a product they would persuade customers. Bernays should that advertisers had to capture the emotions and meanings that are inherent in the product’s use, in-effect revolutionizing the field of advertising and public relations. While Bernays revolutionized the means by which products are analyzed, perhaps even more startling is the contention that he also changed the very nature of the consumer. It’s argued that before Bernays regular citizens rarely purchased items they didn’t need. Bernays changed this as he enacted measures that would shift citizens from need-based consumption to desire based consumption. While Bernay’s ideas on human desire and consumption would have profound implications for advertising, his influence is even more powerful when one recognizes that the very nature of the democratic process was shaped by these understandings. This new version of democracy was of a public that was continually sold a desire and then satiated with a product for this manufactured need. This way the public masses would consistently be happy and satisfied, greatly reducing public strife and unrest.