Marketing is Propaganda - The Master of Freudian Persuasion

Marketing is Propaganda

Propaganda is a Latin word meaning 'to spread' - essentially - 'to propagate'. In 1622, it was originally used to describe the mission of a new administrative body in the Catholic Church called the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Congregation for Propagating the Faith). Its activity was aimed at "propagating" the Catholic faith in non-Catholic countries.

Until the 20th Century, its meaning was largely apolitical and amoral. But thanks to Edward Bernays, the power of persuasion became an essential tool in promoting acceptance of WWI.  As Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Bernays had the benefit of insider insights about exploiting human proclivities. WWI was not a popular cause in the US so a government agency called the Committee on Public Information hired Bernays to sway public opinion to support it. 

Referring to his work as “psychological warfare”, Bernays’s WWI propaganda campaign was successful beyond expectation. So, after the war he turned that success into a new field of marketing called Public Relations, focused on producing a pivotal psychological impact. He outlined the methods behind propaganda in his aptly named book, "Propaganda", which is still the foundational textbook of Public Relations.

Though Bernays was a professed Democrat and described his wife as a “feminist”,  he represented clients with any political and/or economic objective. His most cited persuasion campaign is the American Tobacco Company’s effort to increase its customer base by getting women to smoke. 

Its first series of ads used doctors to promote the idea that smoking could replace eating in an effort to stay thin.  Then Bernays succeeded in making lasting cultural change with “Torches of Freedom”, a staged event where a large group of influential Feminist debutantes in the NYC 1929 Easter parade smoked cigarettes along the route. 

Introduced in the 1970's as a "support statement" for Women's Lib, Virginia Slims cigarettes are an obvious example of "propaganda's" enduring power to both shape and capitalize upon social trends. 

So, with that background in mind, here are the opening and defining paragraphs of Propaganda.


The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.

We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.

Our invisible governors are, in many cases, unaware of the identity of their fellow members in the inner cabinet.

They govern us by their qualities of natural leadership, their ability to supply needed ideas and by their key position in the social structure. Whatever attitude one chooses toward this condition, it remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons  - a trifling fraction of our hundred and twenty - who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.

It is not usually realized how necessary these invisible governors are to the orderly functioning of our group life. In theory, every citizen may vote for whom he pleases. Our Constitution does not envisage political parties as part of the mechanism of government, and its framers seem not to have pictured to themselves the existence in our national politics of anything like the modern political machine. But the American voters soon found that without organization and direction their individual votes, cast, perhaps, for dozens of hundreds of candidates, would produce nothing but confusion. Invisible government, in the shape of rudimentary political parties, arose almost overnight. Ever since then we have agreed, for the sake of simplicity and practicality, that party machines should narrow down the field of choice to two candidates, or at most three or four.

In theory, every citizen makes up his mind on public questions and matters of private conduct. In practice, if all men had to study for themselves the abstruse economic, political, and ethical data involved in every question, they would find it impossible to come to a conclusion without anything. We have voluntarily agreed to let an invisible government sift the data and high-spot the outstanding issue so that our field of choice shall be narrowed to practical proportions. From our leaders and the media they use to reach the public, we accept the evidence and the demarcation of issues bearing upon public question; from some ethical teacher, be it a minister, a favorite essayist, or merely prevailing opinion, we accept a standardized code of social conduct to which we conform most of the time. 

In theory, everybody buys the best and cheapest commodities offered him on the market. In practice, if everyone went around pricing, and chemically tasting before purchasing, the dozens of soaps or fabrics or brands of bread which are for sale, economic life would be hopelessly jammed. To avoid such confusion, society consents to have its choice narrowed to ideas and objects brought to its attention through propaganda of all kinds. There is consequently a vast and continuous effort going on to capture our minds in the interest of some policy or commodity or idea.

It might be better to have, instead of propaganda and special pleading, committees of wise men who would choose our rulers, dictate our conduct, private and public, and decide upon the best types of clothes for us to wear and the best kinds of food for us to eat. But we have chosen the opposite method, that of open competition. We must find a way to make free competition function with reasonable smoothness. To achieve this society has consented to permit free competition to be organized by leadership and propaganda.

Some of the phenomena of this process are criticized- the manipulation of news, the inflation of personality, and the general ballyhoo by which politicians and commercial products and social ideas are brought to the consciousness of the masses. The instruments by which public opinion is organized and focused may be misused. But such organization and focusing are necessary to orderly life. 

As civilization has become more complex, and as the need for invisible government has been increasingly demonstrated, the technical means have been invented and developed by which opinion may be regimented.

With the printing press and the newspaper, the railroad, the telephone, telegraph, radio and airplanes, ideas can be spread rapidly and even instantaneously all over the whole of America.

H.G. Wells senses the vast potentialities of these inventions when he writes in the New York Times:
"Modern means of communication - the power afforded by print, telephone, wireless and so forth, of rapidly putting through directive strategic or technical conceptions to a great number of cooperating centers, of getting quick replies and effective discussion - have opened up a new world of political processes. Ideas and phrases can now be given an effectiveness greater than the effectiveness of any personality and stronger than any sectional interest. The common design can be documented and sustained against perversion and betrayal. It can be elaborated and developed steadily and widely without personal, local and sectional misunderstanding."

What Mr. Wells says of political processes is equally true of commercial and social processes and all manifestations of mass activity. The groupings and affiliations of society today are no longer subject to "local and sectional" limitations. When the Constitution was adopted, the unit of organization was the village community, which produced the greater part of its own necessary commodities and generated its group ideas and opinions by personal contact and discussion among its citizens. But today, because ideas can be instantaneously transmitted to any distance and to any number of people, this geographical integration has been supplemented by many other kinds of grouping, so that persons having the same ideas and interests may be associated and regimented for common action even though they live thousands of miles apart.

It is extremely difficult to realize how many and diverse are these cleavages in our society. They may be social, political, economical, racial, religious or ethical, with hundreds of subdivisions of each.

Influence of Landscape on Identity

In essence, the landscape is not just a physical backdrop, but an integral part of how people understand themselves and their place in the world. The lifelong influence of one's formative landscape is a key part of personal identity.


Changing landscape identity—practice, plurality, and power

Landscape has always been in constant flux; yet, historically landscape change was local, gradual, and nested within existing landscape structures. By contrast, contemporary landscape changes are often seen as threatening, characterized as abrupt, unpredictable, and highly dynamic transformations with little relation to locality. Such transformations are driven by interrelated factors including globalization, urbanization, level of accessibility, calamitous events, economic factors, technological development, as well as changing cultural values.

Historically, the environment in which identities form was downplayed in academic studies. However, relationships and connections to others are always geographically located, as in ‘To be human is to have and know your place’. The relations we develop with our surroundings create and establish belonging, meaning, and security.

A significant step in the landscape identity concept is the unique psycho-sociological perception of a place as a spatial-cultural space as both a physical entity and a vessel for existential meaning. Alterations to the landscape affect how people see themselves. If changes are negative or non-democratic, they undermine the relationships individuals and communities have to their surroundings.

Changes to the landscape’s physicality may result in continued connection becoming untenable or only possible to maintain through increased effort, as the practice no longer fits the landscape and results in a ‘tipping point’ to landscape identity where through change new identity forms. Such change has the potential to create ‘landscape induced alienation’ or Solastalgia, homesickness without leaving home. Recognizing the psychological impact can help explain why landscape change arouses resistance. Identities become important when they are perceived to be under threat. As individuals, if we perceive a threat to the landscape, we find the need to defend it as an identifiable space; consequently, new relations to the landscape develop.

Such connections and understanding impact spatial behavior, the extent of which becomes clear when we are faced by people or practices that appear ‘out of place’, bringing into question who is recognized as a worthy or responsible community member. Yet, identity can also be constructed through change with such change having a positive effect if it provides increased self-esteem.

Contemporary landscape identities are situated in a world characterized by mobility where identities undergo a perpetual process of “rewriting”. Disembodied global processes are manifested in local landscapes restructuring localities from outside. The awareness of being part of global flows and systems undermines local place identity.

The uncertainty generated through global flows and resulting landscape change creates a search for identities of resistance, creating tension between globalization and the local. Landscape identity as a local construct is anchored in a specific place while global identities are abstract, generalized, subsuming the specific and the unique. In spite of and also as a response to global drivers, local identities and landscape distinctiveness become more significant as they provide a sense of security.

As such, location-based identities have to be seen as solid and fixed in order to provide anchors where collective practices, traditions, and shared material can form. The identity individuals draw on depends on the issue being addressed as individuals and groups draw on identity from various sources; place of residency, social standing, ethnicity, practices. Consequently, as individuals, we position ourselves on many axes at the same time depending on the issue at hand.

Multiple identities entail power structures, with different value holders vying for recognition, with global community values taking priority over local agendas and informing landscape identity. This raises a need to question the drivers in order to understand what instigates change in identity. Although landscape identity is generally perceived as having positive connotations, joining people together and developing shared values, it also constructs exclusion through the distinction of ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘the other’.

Identity, including landscape identity, becomes utilized as a means for classification, an objectifying scientific tool, masking the conflicts and ignoring the question of who belongs, who has a right to engage in landscape activities, legitimizing their identity in their surroundings. This discussion reframes landscape identity as a political entity, underwritten with power struggles, as all attempt to make their view and position significant. Landscape identity defines who can inhabit the place, who is included and who is excluded, and how people relate to each other.

Waymo Do You See Me?

I recently moved back to San Francisco after a too long time away. My neighborhood has one the oldest historic blocks in the City.  It was certainly built for foot traffic.

A lifelong preference for walking has brought me discoveries and insights that aren't likely to have happened while driving.  Curious turns and anomalies on foot build a sense of all the others who've traced this same path through time.

Pedestrian sensations also give me a comparison to how I feel when driving a vehicle, a machine made to be insulating, controlling, powerful - and even a potential weapon. The walker in me knows the vulnerability of having to trust in the goodwill of random vehicular traffic.

It's up to pedestrians to make safety checks. Look both ways before stepping into a crosswalk.  Make no assumptions about the driver's attention/intentions. Get confirmation that you've been seen.

Living in the AI whirlwinds of San Francisco is an immersive preview of unintended consequences.  Trust may be the most common issue raised in discussions around Artificial Intelligence.  Responses usually involve assurances that misleading "hallucinations" will eventually disappear. But little has been said of how an eroding sense of trust increases alienation in general. I got a flash of that erosion while walking in my historic neighborhood. 

Late at night, alone on Jackson Street near Hotaling Place, I stepping into an intersection as an empty self-driving car turned and came toward me. My immediate reaction was to trust in a fundamental human act of mutual acknowledgment. 

With the wave of my hand, a wave of absolute "aloneness" washed over me.  There was no one to respond when I signaled, "Waymo, do you see me?"

The vehicle did stop but I felt an impact just the same...the meaninglessness of my own human training data. 

Spinning in the Doom Loop

Shock sells news.  Slogans trump truth.  Lies outlast facts.  

The doom loop scenario originated in a November 2022 National Bureau of Economic Research ( working paper entitled "The Remote Work Revolution: Impact on Real Estate Values and the Urban Environment".  The phrase first appeared on page 35 of the report as "urban doom loop", then shortened to "doom loop" twice in the next few paragraphs.  

It summarized a section of the report, Fiscal Implications for Local Governments, which focused on the possible recurring impact of lost tax revenue and used NYC as the primary projection model but stated that conclusions were applicable to the majority of US urban centers.  Yet, Doom Loop now seems to be synonymous with only San Francisco. 

The opening paragraphs of a recent New Yorker story, What Happened to San Francisco, Really?, suggest the reason for this association is based in an American version of schadenfreude (pleasure derived from another's misfortune). 

Since the end of the industrial period, the main path of the U.S. metropolis has been what’s often called urban renewal: transforming old frameworks into beautiful, dynamic settings for prosperous middle-class life. No city excelled at the assignment more than San Francisco.

It invested in lush, landscaped parks, tree-lined boulevards, and world-class museums where there had been none. It grew rich, and seemed to climb out of the Great Recession with both influence and a mandate. “There’s a lot of pent-up envy of San Francisco from a lot of other cities that think of themselves as more important,” one local told me recently.
The reporter paints this backdrop with a very soft brush neglecting to even mention the City's most recent and questionable economic revival effort, the 2011 "Twitter Tax Break".
The late Mayor Ed Lee had bet the tax break, which erased the 1.5% payroll tax for companies that moved into certain Mid-Market buildings, would keep tech jobs in the city and help revive seedy Central Market Street. At the time, half the area’s offices and 30% of the retail shops were empty, according to city data.

Filling vacant buildings with creative tech startups, Lee reasoned, would attract hip, independent retailers...finally ushering in the Market Street revival that had eluded San Francisco mayors since the 1970s.

“We’re on the move,” the mayor said. “This is all for real. No more talk.”
Further down in this 2019 (pre-Pandemic Doom Loop) story, the San Francisco Chronicle offers - Mid-Market: Vision and Reality - an overall assessment of the result:
Despite billions of dollars coming into the neighborhood, retail vacancies plague the street. Thirty months after it was completed, a new 250,000-square-foot mall between Fifth and Sixth streets, branded 6X6, sits vacant, the victim of rising construction costs and apprehension over the drug use, homelessness and filth on the street, its developer said.

Longtime residents and business owners say more drug dealers work the area now than six or seven years ago. Men with wads of cash in hand crowd the corners at Eighth and Market, and Hyde and Golden Gate, openly selling heroin, meth and crack.
Also noteworthy is the fact that Twitter's tax break was about to expire (May 20, 2019) just a few weeks after this Chronicle story appeared and a deepening downtown exodus was once again threatening the City. Of course, a tiny virus intervened, allowing the highest-tech heads to conflab under the cover of quarantine, excluding even the fluffiest news coverage. And now X marks the epicenter of the Doom Loop.

In this 2019 KQED story about the Board of Supervisors assessment of the tax break, 'That's Just Really Sad': Supervisors Lament Results of Twitter Tax Break they seem convinced that the policy was a mistake.
"This policy was poor policy that was poorly implemented by the city," said Supervisor Gordon Mar at a committee hearing on Thursday to discuss the community and economic benefits of the so-called Twitter tax break. "It really just resulted in a handout to the tune of $70 million to a small number of corporations."

The tax credit, officially known as the Central Market/Tenderloin Payroll Tax Exclusion, was championed by city leaders, including then-Mayor Ed Lee, when it passed in 2011 as a way to revitalize the dilapidated Mid-Market and Tenderloin areas -- and simultaneously keeping and attracting corporate tenants like Twitter, which was threatening to move to Brisbane at the time.

In exchange, those tech companies were supposed to invest in the community and provide "robust community benefits," in the words of Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the area and called for the post-mortem hearing on the credit after it expired last month.

But the consensus from supervisors throughout Thursday's hearing, as they heard reports from several city departments on the tax break's impacts, was that the tech companies did not deliver those benefits, in part because the legislation that created the credit did not specifically outline what those benefits should be.

"They got to decide what was important and how they were going to benefit the community," said Supervisor Vallie Brown of the companies that took advantage of the tax break, "and I think that's just really sad because they didn't know the community, and they came in and said, 'This is what we're going to do.' "

..."If we continue to do it this way, we're going to keep getting what we get," said Haney. "A lot of feel-good stuff and a lot of impacts on the community that are often not positive."
The story's opening paragraph even states a strong determination to avoid repeating the same mistake.
It seems unlikely that San Francisco will ever again undertake a corporate tax break like the one that allowed companies to avoid paying payroll taxes in exchange for moving to and investing in the city's Mid-Market neighborhood over the last decade.
So, what's the new magic public benefit Unicorn that San Francisco proposes next? How about a tax break?
In her State of the City address Thursday, SF Mayor London Breed announced a multipart plan aimed at revitalizing the city's beleaguered, seemingly half-empty downtown, and it involves some Twitter tax-break-style tax breaks.
Mayor London Breed Announces Tax Breaks, Other Incentives Aimed at Reviving SF's Downtown
The spin this time is about focusing on small and "sensitive" businesses. A few high-profile well-timed start-up spin-offs should do nicely.

Given the demonstrated repetition of these doom loop cycles, why is nothing done to prevent them?

Like most puzzling questions regarding humans, the reasons are complex and often deeply rooting in our very nature. History, in particular, is especially challenging to unravel. Rather than ferret out causes, effects, and patterns from the past, we prefer to wrap it in a satisfying but simple narrative and move on. Like the title character sang in "Annie": Just thinkin' about Tomorrow, Clears away the cobwebs, And the sorrow 'til there's none. Thus, the drivers of repetition have largely escaped scrutiny. That is, until now.

In 2003, along with an international assembly of colleagues, historian and data-scientist, Peter Turchin, opened a new field of historical inquiry called Cliodynamics - (Clio is the muse of history and dynamics is the process of change). Consolidating the now immense bodies of accumulated historical and evolutionary data, they began a new "mathematical" approach to the dynamics of history. On his website, this paragraph explains the benefits of this method.
Mathematics is not just about quantities (it includes such fields as mathematical logic, abstract algebra, and topology). However, if we are interested in understanding the dynamics of such historical processes as population change, territorial expansion/contraction, and the spread of religions, we must get involved with numbers and rates. Furthermore, a “naked” human mind, unaided by mathematical formalism and computers, is a poor tool for predicting dynamical processes characterized by nonlinear feedbacks, or grasping such complex behaviors as mathematical chaos.
On his website, the results outlined in Turchin's new book, Elites, Counter-Elites, and the Path of Political Disintegration, are summarized as follows:
The lessons of world history are clear, Turchin argues: When the equilibrium between ruling elites and the majority tips too far in favor of elites, political instability is all but inevitable. As income inequality surges and prosperity flows disproportionately into the hands of the elites, the common people suffer, and society-wide efforts to become an elite grow ever more frenzied. He calls this process the wealth pump; it’s a world of the damned and the saved. America, the wealth pump has been operating full blast for two generations.

The book's introduction offers a broad summary of the "wealth pump" dynamic that played out in the 20th Century United States.
Wealth is accumulated income; in order for it to grow, it has to be fed by directing a portion of GDP to the elites. The proportion of GDP consumed by the government has not changed much over the past four decades. The main loser has been the common American.

For two generations after the 1930s, real wages of American workers experienced steady growth, achieving a broad-based prosperity for America that was unprecedented in human history. But during the 1970s, real wages stopped growing. While the overall economy continued to grow, the share of economic growth going to average workers began to shrink. We can index the operation of this wealth pump by tracing the dynamics of relative wages - typical wages (for example, for unskilled workers or for manufacturing workers - it doesn't matter as long as we use the same group) divided by GDP per capita.

Before the 1960s, the relative wage increased robustly, but after that decade it began declining, and by 2010 it had nearly halved. This trend reversal in the share of economic growth going to workers also resulted in the change of the fortunes of the wealthy. It's the Matthew Effect: if you take from the poor and give to the rich, then the rich will get richer while the poor get poorer.

When America entered an era of wage stagnation and decline, it affected not only the economic measures of well-being but also biological and social ones. I'll talk more about it in chapter 3, but for now it is sufficient to note that life expectancies of large swaths of the American population started to decline years before the COVID-19 pandemic. "Deaths of despair" from suicide, alcoholism, and drug overdoses spiked among the noncollege-educated from 2000 to 2016, while remaining at the same, much lower level among those with at least a college degree." This is what popular immiseration looks like.

And popular immiseration breeds discontent, which eventually turns to anger. Popular discontent coupled with a large pool of elite aspirants makes for a very combustible combination, as we have experienced in America since 2016.
Against this backdrop, let's return to why SF is the Doom Loop poster child.

Nowhere in the US, or perhaps the world, has the "wealth pump" consolidated economic power more visibly than in the San Francisco Bay Area. Although Atherton in Silicon Valley near Menlo Park consistently tops the list of wealthiest US communities, it is San Francisco that, with good reason, immediately symbolizes the entire region.

With its exquisite geography, romantic history, and unparalleled examples of Art Deco architecture (the Golden Gate is the most photographed bridge in the world), San Francisco deserves to be the area's designated crown jewel. Yet, since the unprecidented surge in nearby tech wealth, The City has pandered to that cohort with financial incentives and the sprawling expansion of now vacant office space in order to maintain its standing.

Beginning in the 1970's, which Turchin marks as the period where average US worker wages stagnated then declined, Hewlett-Packard, along with cuts in federal capital gains taxes, got the Venture Capital party started in what was then referred to for the first time as Silicon Valley. But in 1995, the VC party became a full on Rave with Netscape's IPO (Initial Public Offering)
Wikikpedia-Netscape On August 9, 1995, Netscape made an extremely successful IPO, only sixteen months after the company was formed. The stock was set to be offered at US$14 per share, but a last-minute decision doubled the initial offering to US$28 per share. The stock's value soared to US$75 during the first day of trading, nearly a record for first-day gain. The stock closed at US$58.25, which gave Netscape a market value of US$2.9 billion.

While it was somewhat unusual for a company to go public prior to becoming profitable, Netscape's revenues had, in fact, doubled every quarter in 1995. The success of this IPO subsequently inspired the use of the term "Netscape moment" to describe a high-visibility IPO that signals the dawn of a new industry...The IPO also helped kickstart widespread investment in internet companies that created the dot-com bubble.
The resulting dot-com bubble mentioned in this excerpt is a notable example of another power "pumping" strategy, sometimes called "pump and dump", where Venture Capital finances and heavily promotes an often shaky business model all the way to a thoroughly hyped IPO, then sells before the stock price falls for retail investors.

At this point, though, with so much wealth amassed at the top, public trading is just too tedious for the Captains of Venture Capital. By focusing solely on Private Equity, they now invite only the worthiest "power players" to a gaming platform from which to truly rule in a Winners Take All finale. As Supervisor Vallie Brown foreshadowed in the earlier KQED quote: "They got to decide what was important and how they were going to benefit the community...they came in and said, 'This is what we're going to do.' "

As part of its latest image enhancement effort, City officials adopted an ad campaign that itself is stirring controversy and even confusion. San Francisco Has a New Slogan, and Not Everyone Is a Fan.

Its theme revolves around the slogan, It All Starts Here SF and, in an interesting coincidence, it launched just a few days before the New Yorker story, cited earlier. That slogan, it turns out, is a good fit for underlining the national fear described in the article. "In San Francisco, the nation saw its dreams, and now it thinks it sees its nightmares."

So, is San Francisco on the verge of a doom loop collapse? No one really knows. But it's worth noting that one of the loudest voices promoting the City's "post-apocalyptic" scenario now occupies a prominent Market Street address (rent free it seems) made possible through the Twitter Tax Cut.

Meanwhile, down in Atherton, the luckiest conehead on Earth spews polemics like the Techno-Optimists Manifesto (Better called the Techno-Opportunists Playbook) from his conscience-free cranium. Unfortunately, San Francisco seems all too eager to once again twist its outstanding potential into a toady role, heavily touting Artificial Intelligence (AI) as its next big impact on our digitally circumscribed  lives.

In land area, San Francisco is actually quite small which could make it an ideal candidate for a this newfound savior: AI as the Ultimate Security Solution - The City as Gated Community! Relentlessly patrolled by darling droids! How safe will that be!

On the other hand, there could be a quake.