When Advertising Becomes Propaganda

Patriotic WWII poster "You talk of sacrifice..." While some propaganda depicts war as a romantic adventure, this one is starkly unglamorous.

Memorial Day commemorates sacrifice.

Originally called Decoration Day, it’s a day to remember the sacrifice of soldiers who died in the service of their country. It was first observed at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868 with flowers placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers.

Memorial Day might seem outside the purview of a blog like Love Hate Advertising, which tends to focus on frivolous things like ad movies, music marketing, beauty salon signage and beer commercials (love ’em or hate ’em), not meaningful issues like life and death or war. But even nations at war conduct ad campaigns. That’s when advertising morphs into propaganda.

Northern Civil War recruitment poster. Pay up to $23/month.

What is propaganda?

A rather neutral-sounding definition of propaganda calls it “a form of communication aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position.” The term is chiefly derogatory because it refers to information of a “biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” However, it’s not the intent here to get political.

WWII recruitment poster: 'For your country's sake today...'

Revisiting wartime poster art.

In the interest of honoring the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country, as well as revisiting some great art, here’s a look back at some of the iconic propaganda posters from the Civil War, World War I and World War II, as well as a couple short films.

"Rosie the Riveter" in the famous 1943 poster by J. Howard Miller for the War Production Co-coordinating Committee.

Most of the posters included here were found at WWI and WWII Propaganda Posters, which includes a store that carries related artwork for purchase. The propaganda poster site includes details about the artists and year (when known), and notes that the posters were commissioned “by branches of the U.S. Government such as the armed forces, recruiting bureaus, the Office of War Information, and the United States Treasury, to name a few.”

Civil War photos and documents can be found at Teddy Blue’s Bunkhouse.

U.S. Navy recruitment poster from WWI. "A Wonderful Opportunity For YOU."

Disney does propaganda.

In the 1940s, Walt Disney enthusiastically supported the allied war effort by putting his studio to work producing training and propaganda films. In 2004, the Disney company released a special DVD set entitled “On the Front Lines” documenting the studio’s WWII-era propaganda work, which includes both the humorous (“Der Fuehrer’s Face”) and the ominous, such as the short film featured below from 1943.

“Education for Death”

WWI Poster depicts Germans as Huns.

WWI Poster for the Department of Labor.

Finally, here’s a Cold War-era cartoon from 1948 that uses humor to warn about the dangers of Communism while extolling the virtues of capitalism.

“Make Mine Freedom”

Can you name any modern-day examples of propaganda? Is propaganda more or less prevalent today, or is it just more subtle than the 20th Century variety? What’s your take?

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One response to “When Advertising Becomes Propaganda

  1. Pingback: The Most Effective Political Ads Ever « Love Hate Advertising

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