“Propaganda” Is For The War Machine, Real Marketers Convey Brand Value

by | May 23, 2013

I’m interested in media literacy and brand authenticity and corporate accountability; therefore, I enjoy seeing media critics take a running stab at Advertising and PR’s heart.

We need quality criticism (from outside the field) to keep us honest, challenge our assumptions and to make us think and think again. Eliane Glaser is one such voice. She’s a writer for The Guardian and author of Get Real: How to See Through the Hype, Spin and Lies of Modern Life. And Glaser has some nasty bite to her criticism:

To read the trade literature of the PR and online advertising industries is to be hit by a tidal wave of guff about authenticity, engagement and two-way conversations. In the “era of participatory public relations”, the story goes, “the people have defeated the corporation”. The objective now is to “make your customers a partner in the selling process”. This is pseudo-egalitarian code for the voluntary circulation of Facebook ads. The notion that propaganda is always a state-run, top-down affair provides a cloak for our complicity. Social media’s veneer of openness and people-power exemplifies western propaganda’s habit of masquerading as its opposite.

I think Glaser is right to question the veracity of marketers’ claims, but wrong to call what marketers are producing on behalf of brands is propaganda.

“Propaganda is obvious, crude and naive, but it’s also subliminal, underhand and insidious,” she writes. I agree, which is why I know the work I do for clients, and have done in the past, is not propaganda. Not one of her six descriptors fit what I or my colleagues do for a living. Regardless, I do want to listen to this group of well educated Brits discuss the topic at length.

Honestly, Glaser’s thinking encourages me. She’s concerned about big companies with deep pockets getting away with lies. She’s also concerned about economic injustice. We share these concerns.

I know many people and media critics think Advertising and PR is a crock. I don’t. I think companies, big and small, need help connecting with their propects and customers. Thus, the real opportunity in marketing communications is not in telling brand fictions. The real opportunity is to find and then intelligently amplify brand truths.