Susan Bryce

All propaganda must be so popular and on such an intellectual level, that even the most stupid of those towards whom it is directed will understand it. Therefore, the intellectual level of the propaganda must be lower the larger the number of people who are to be influenced by it. - Adolf Hitler (1)

Most of us like to think that our own minds and thought processes are impenetrable. We like to think that other people can be manipulated, but not us. We believe that our opinions, values, ideas and beliefs are totally autonomous. Of course, we might be persuaded by the odd advertisement, but it’s others that are weak minded and easily swayed.

Many authors have explored the techniques of mass mind manipulation. Vance Packard's 1957 book, The Hidden Persuaders, studied the psychological tactics used by the American advertising industry in its drive to advance consumerism. Almost half a century on from Packard, this article examines how techniques of mass mind manipulation have evolved and investigates some of the hidden persuaders of the new millennium.

At the dawn of the 21st century, our emotional and mental integrity are continually challenged and manipulated by governments and corporations. The physical body is enshrined and protected by lawmakers, but there are few safeguards against mind pollution. Mind manipulation is used for a variety of purposes from inducing us to purchase consumer products to swaying our political opinions. The manipulation is subtle, covert and insidious. The tactics used often appeal to basic human instincts - hunger, thirst and sex; they are based upon the premise that material presented will not be rationally examined or subjected to logical analysis. Propaganda, images, cliches, and jingles just wash over us, engulfing our mind, body and spirit, expressing powerful meanings indirectly and simply.


One of the principal tools in the mind manipulation arsenal is television, the cultural arm of the established industrial order. Television, the drug of the nation, maintains, stabilises and reinforces ideas, attitudes and behaviours through its programming and advertising. When we watch TV, the brain's left hemisphere, which processes information logically and analytically, tunes out. This allows the right hemisphere of the brain, which processes information emotionally and non critically, to function unimpeded. While the negative impacts of particular television progrrns and advertisements are well known, the overall long4erm effects of watching television are equally as dangerous.

Television programming influences viewers' ideas of what the everyday world is really like. Research conducted in the 1960's by Professor George Gerbner, dean of the Annenberg Schcol of Communications at the
University of Pennsylvania, showed that television has protracted effects which are gradual and indirect, but cumulative and significant. Gerbner (2) found that heavy watching of television cultivated attitudes that were more consistent with the world of television programmes than with the everyday world. For example, television watchers had general mindsets about violence, resulting from an overrepresentation of violence on television. Heavy television viewers tended to develop a “mean world syndrome”, believing that the world was a nastier place than light television viewers. Gerbaer also discovered that television watching cultivated a symbolic message about law and order, (3) with the action-adventure genre reinforcing a faith in law and order, the status quo and social justice (the baddies always get their just desserts). These findings were corroborated by Pingree and Hawkins (4) in their study of 1,280 Australian primary schoolchildren in grades two to eleven. Using viewing diaries and questionnaires, they found that heavy television viewing led to a “‘television-biased’ view of Australia as a mean and violent” place. The children with the bleakest picture of Australia were those who watched mostly American crime adventure programmes.

Before the television, there was conversation around the dinner table or the fireplace. Today this has been replaced with microwaved meals (in)digested in front of the box or the flat screen. Alone or in company, conversation and communication has been reduced to stultifying ‘grabs’ during ad breaks. Technology now stands between us and each other, between people and the natural world. We know our virtual “Neighbours” on television better than our real neighbours next door. As communities and extended family structures decay, the isolated individual becomes easy prey for the mind manipulators. As cathode ray reality becomes genuine reality, public opinion becomes homogenised and mainstreamed, widespread apathy and indifference prevail.

This mainstreaming of opinion is evident in nightly news bulletins, which have become a source of entertainment first and information second. Local television stations all report the same news simultaneously, even using the same footage. Despite the similarities, each claims to be ‘the best’, ‘the latest’ or ‘the most up to date’. In reality, they are hardly different and it is difficult for the public to distinguish one from the other. Commenting on this subtle mind manipulation phenomena, former CIA agent Philip Agee, in his book On the Run, observes: “Television news is show business, designed to entertain and intentionally or not, programmed to keep people ignorant.”

With the advent of ‘reality’ television, the boundaries between the real world and the virtual world have been inextricably blurred by the mind manipulators. The most obvious and obnoxious example of this is the ‘Big Brother’ television show, which draws its title directly from George Orwell's classic novel 1984. Big Brother viewers tune in to see the participants manipulate their housemates, or to find out if any are having sex and with whom. Interest in such prurient details is fuelled by newspapers and radio stations, which devote lengthy discussions to the highlights of each show and run campaigns to ditch certain individuals.

Big Brother is cheap to produce and has proven popular, particularly among younger viewers, the audience most highly prized by the advertising industry due to its purchasing power. Viewers of the programme (and the web site) are plagued by Big Brother's merchandising mania. Items available for purchase include the BB ringtone, the BB icon, the BB game, items from the BB Auction, BB wallpaper, BB ‘Bucks’ and so on. Apart from this overt sales pitch, viewers are surreptitiously subjected to sponsor products that are displayed and used inside the Big Brother house. Furnishings (ironically supplied by Freedom Furniture), white goods, appliances, curtains, pools and spas, home entertainment systems and even stoves are covertly marketed at viewers who instantly become potential customers.

Quite apart from the crass marketing opportunities presented by Big Brother, the program has had another more subtle and nauseating effect: the manipulation of language. In the wake of the programme, searching the Internet for "Big Brother" will turn up thousands of links to the “Big Brother” TV show. Anyone looking for references to surveillance or the totalitarian state will immediately be confronted with the ‘reality’ television phenomenon. The television show has changed the meaning of Big Brother for an entire generation. Big Brother has become an entertaining spectacle, no longer an abhorrent icon of the totalitarian state. Surveillance cameras and microphones have become ‘cool’ tools and Big Brother’s ‘victims’ have become celebrities and prizewinners. The implication is that we should be willing to give up privacy for any amount of fame and fortune.


As real-life experiences are replaced by the mediated experiences of reality and fantasy, gained via television viewing, it becomes easy for politicians and market researchers to rely on a base of predetermined mass experience that can be evoked by appropriate triggers. As the mass mind takes shape, its participants act according to media-derived impulses, believing them to be their own personal choices arising out of their own desires and needs. The passing spectacle of politics, for example, becomes a stage-managed event, the domain of polished performers and public relations (propaganda) gurus -- the era of the virtual politician.

Televised parliamentary debates and door stop interviews have turned political representatives into colour coordinated fashion statements, more concerned with image than intellect and substantial debates. When they're not providing glib, pre-scripted comments via door stop interviews, national leaders languish in front of the teleprompter, a device that gives any politician, regardless of talent, the gift of the gab. The use of teleprompters must surely constitute a fraudulent manipulation of public opinion. Mounted beside the lens of a TV camera or in front of a podium, the teleprompter allows the politician to read speeches prepared by staff writers and PR experts, while appearing to speak ~ The teleprompter has enabled every word, every dramatic pause and even facial expressions, to be crafted for maximum effectiveness. Politicians can appear to speak knowledgeably in public, when in reality they may be ill informed and hopeless at putting across a particular point of view.

Teleprompters are only part of managing the modem political image. Politicians regularly attend media ‘school’, coaching seminars, and training, where they learn how to defray journalists questions – “well, that's not the point”; how to ‘talk’ to the cameras and how to project their voice. There are even sessions on power dressing. Others have their ‘colours’ done to ensure that their designer wardrobes match their hair and skin colour. And in a world where appearance can mean the difference between winning and losing a marginal seat, or even leading the country, politicians of both sexes undergo cosmetic surgery in a futile attempt to meet the glamorous Hollywood standards that ‘society’ demands.


The underlying assumption about human psychology is that the public must be manipulated for its own good. Many advertising strategies involve covert methods to trick the consumer into believing their lives are incomplete and deficient without the promoted product; only through purchasing the commodity will the consumer's life be 'whole' or 'better' again. Mind manipulation feeds upon itself Advertising agencies know that unhappy and worried people are likely to buy more consumer goods in order to feel better, to fill the void created by their dull, robotic lives. This phenomena is known as ‘retail therapy’, and is epitomised by the popular maximum 'when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping'.

Many advertisements send the message 'you're not good enough' unless you drink the right soft drink, buy a new car, use the perfect shampoo or stock up on scented toilet paper. Other messages subconsciously prey upon guilt, anxieties or hostilities. Many people, hundreds of times a day, are hearing or reading subliminally that they're not good enough. This continual suggestion is a major cause of stress, and certainly the cause of much dissatisfaction, anxiety and even illness.

Suggestibility exists constantly within our psyches, determining our state of being, our consciousness and our relationship to ourselves and the world around us. While the power of suggestion is generally exercised unconsciously in our day to day existence, it is exploited deliberately and ruthlessly in the world of advertising. The medical industry, for example, does not want people who would buy and consume according to their own requirements. Rather, they want sheep to buy on suggestion. Many advertisements offer cures for a debilitating array of ills from headaches and backache to constipation, prostate problems and premenstrual tension. The sheer ubiquity of such promised cures convinces us, if only by suggestion, that we must need them, and that we must or should be suffering from the afflictions that they claim to alleviate.


Advertisers frequently make banal appeals based upon the stratification of society, invoking authority, intellect or prestige to sell products. Television and print media advertisements for pain relievers, toothpaste, washing powder and even pet food feature (usually men) in white coats discussing products which have been scientifically formulated, university or laboratory tested and clinically proven. The psychology behind these claims works not only to reassure the consumer that the product will do the job, but also to imply that the product is in some way supenor to its competitors - because science has deemed it so.

In their book, Trust Us, We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future, Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber offer a chilling expose on the manufacturing of “independent experts” or “third parties” and their use in the wider media. The reality is that these third parties are usually anything but unbiased and impartial. They have been handpicked, cultivated, and meticulously packaged to make consumers believe what they have to say. In some cases, they have been paid handsomely for their esteemed “opinions.”

When the US Justice Department launched its antitrust investigations into the Microsoft Corporation in 1998, Microsoft's public relations firm countered with a plan to plant pro-Microsoft articles, letters to the editor, and opinion pieces all across America, crafted by professional media handlers but meant to be perceived as off-the cuff, heartfelt testimonials by ‘people out there.’ In another example, a tobacco company secretly paid thirteen scientists a total of US$156,000 to write a few letters to influential medical journals during the 1990's. One biostatistician received $10,000 for writing a single, eight-paragraph letter that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. A cancer researcher received US$20,137 for writing four letters and an opinion piece to the Lancet, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, and the Wall Street Journal. The scientists didn't even have to write the letters themselves. Two tobacco industry law firms were available to do the actual drafting and editing. Institutional endorsement is another mind manipulation tactic used by the advertising fraternity. An example cited by Baigent and Leigh(6) is the company that deluged American hospitals with supplies of its painkiller at dramatically reduced price - so reduced that the product was virtually given away. Not surprisingly, hospitals began to, use it more frequently than other brands. This enabled the company to advertise its painkiller as the one preferred by hospitals, implying that it was more effective.


Subliminal advertising was exposed in the 1950s when some TV commercials were discovered to be transmitting split-second images that were designed to stimulate a viewer's desire for a certain product. For example, during a soft drink commercial, an advertiser might have flashed the message -I'm thirsty' without the viewer realising it.

Quite apart from selling products, subliminal advertisements can also sell politicians. During the recent US Presidential elections, the Republican campaign ran a television advertisement which showed, when the ad was slowed down, the word “RATS” appearing briefly while a voiceover criticised Vice President Al Gore's prescription drug plan as one in which “bureacrats decide” Republican presidential nominee, and now US President, George W. Bush, told reporters that he believed the appearance of “RATS” in the advertisement was accidental. Mispronouncing the word “subliminal” as “subliminable” several times' Bush said that he was “convinced” the advertisement was not meant to send a subliminal message. The so-called “RATS” ad, costing US$25 million, ran over 4,000 times in 33 markets nationally for about two weeks, before it was pulled from the airwaves.

The power of repetitive advertising is increasingly used by governments to sell unpopular policies. The Australian federal government reportedly spends $20 million per month on programmes such as Work for the Dole and the Natural Heritage Trust. The Opposition Labor Party says it will spend just 15% less on these propaganda strategies, which have become fundamental to running a modem democracy. Likewise certain phrases are repeated continuously, at every opportunity, by ministers and bureaucrats: “we need tax reform”; “we have a mandate”; “free trade is good”; “the economy is on the up” and the all popular mantra of the moment: “globalisation can't be stopped”. Our rulers appear to believe that if these magic words are repeated often enough we will all take our bats and balls and molotov cocktails and go home to sit on our Freedom sofa in our Calvin Klein undies to watch the latest episode of Big Brother through our rose coloured Ray-Bans.


The illusion of choice, of competing brands fighting valiantly for a share of the market is just that -an illusion. All brands of aspirin, codeine and paracetamol, for example, are wholly identical. They are marketed in a finite number of combinations with a maximum dosage limited by law. Yet manufacturers suggest differences between them, when all that is different is the packaging, marketing and the pricing of the item. This is true for many products found at the supermarket, where the illusion of choice and subliminal manipulation can be explored in depth.

To start out, shoppers requisition an extra large, deep trolley, designed to ensure that there is plenty of room for all of those ‘impulse’ purchases. The trolley itself provides a psychological illusion - an empty space waiting to be filled. If a shopper only purchases a few miserable items then the implication - of the big unfilled trolley - is that the person is cheap and nasty. If a child accompanies an adult to the supermarket, then junior will have the opportunity to wheel her or his own junior shopper trolley', complete with fluttering red flag, just in case the child gets lost along the way.

Upon entering the supermarket, shoppers immediately become a few degrees cooler. Even if there is a heat wave outside, the warm air just doesn't make it past the automatic doors. Cold people eat more and a slightly chilly customer will spend more. The shopper then moves forward through the turn-stiles, which might be associated with fun times at the Royal Easter Show, a theme park, or a special exhibition. Once the turnstiles have been breached, shoppers usually hit strategically placed staples such as fruit and vegetables, or the bakery section, effusing a warm, sickly smell. Every day items, milk and dairy products, will be at one extreme end of the supermarket - the opposite end to the entry turn-stiles - meaning that shoppers have to traverse rows and rows of items just asking to be bought. The meat section is usually a long narrow area located at the back of the supermarket so that shoppers have to pass by two or three times as they continue up and down the other aisles. The areas which display staple food items will be narrower or more confined than the 'wide aisles', ensuring that customers have to compete for a piece of the action.

Once the shopper begins navigating the supermarket obstacle course, they are faced with a myriad of distractions. Instore announcements blare over mindless background Muzac. Trolleys, which are deliberately designed to travel at a snails pace, gnash against each other in the fight to secure the right of passage down the aisle. Shoppers stop, staring blank faced at walls of soap powders, dog food, soft drinks, chips or ice creams, overwhelmed by the illusion of choice. It's no coincidence that the leading brands are placed at eye level, and that lollies and dollies are on the lowest shelves where small hands can reach them. The food titans pay very high prices for the conspicuous positioning of their brands on the supermarket shelves.

Brand placement goes hand in hand with brand loyalty, one of the most important factors influencing an item's success or failure in the marketplace. Brand loyalty occurs because the consumer perceives that the brand offers the right product features, image, or level of quality at the right price. Purchasing ‘safe’ and ‘familiar brands’ then becomes habitual for the consumer and profitable for the respective multinational food corporations. In order to create brand loyalty, advertisers must break old consumer habits, help people acquire new habits, and reinforce those habits by reminding consumers of the value of their purchase and encouraging them to buy their products in the filture.

Every advertising crusade tries to ‘win’ consumer’s brand loyalty with products designed to save us from the drudgery of cleaning, cooking and domestic chores. The illusion of competition and choice is quite erroneous. The food titans Nestle and Unilever control a vast plethora of brand names, which 'compete' among themselves and against each other. Unilever's portfolio of leading brands include Continental, Five Brothers, Flora, Magnum Ice Cream, Dove personal wash, Lipton tea, Findus, Birdseye, Becel, Domestos, Omo, Rexona, Organics, Sunsilk, Lux, Vaseline, Ponds, Close Up (toothpaste) and Calvin Klein fragrance. The difference between brands might come down to something as simple as the colour of the packaging, the fragrance of the contents, or even the marketing campaign, culminating in a ridiculous scenario where Unilever's Organics shampoo competes with its own Sunsilk. Similarly, Nestle, which claims to provide “food through out their day, throughout their lives and throughout the world”, owns the brand names Nescafe, Lean Cuisine, Nesquick, Milo, Peters, Aliens, Lucky Dog, Carnation, Crunch, Vittel, Perrier, Friskies, Go Cat, Smarties, Maggi, Kit Kat and Activ.

The packaging of products is a multibillion dollar industry, based upon psychological research which ensures maximum mind manipulation inside the supermarket. Red and yellow have been found to stimulate appetite, and are used extensively in food packaging (and also at hamburger franchises). Blue is a cool colour and green is psychologically associated with freshness. Dairy foods might be packaged in blue and yellow, or green and yellow containers (yellow to stimulate hunger, green or blue to indicate coldness or freshness). Hot chickens are wrapped in red or orange foil bags indicative of heat, the colour doing nothing at all to keep the food hot. Toothpaste packaging might be white and blue or green, with a hint of silver (for sparkling white teeth). Coffee is packaged in brown or black (indicating style) with a touch of gold (for quality).

Weasel words are used to embellish a product, making them sound better than they really are. Words such as ‘extra’, ‘super’, ‘double’ or ‘soothing’ induce consumers to pay a premium for what are usually regular, every day products. Other weasel words are 'natural' and 'lite'. Many food products claim to be made from ‘natural’ ingredients, giving the illusion of goodness or wholesomeness. In reality, 'natural' fruit juice comes from imported fruits, juiced (skins and all) and blended in a factory then squirted into a cardboard box (the box may have been irradiated). This mass produced juice is then advertised as 'fresh' and 'natural'. Another example, in an age of weight consciousness, are the many products marketed as ‘lie’, with less fat. Gullible consumers are merely paying a premium for products that are whipped ‘lite’ with air, extra water and chemical thickening agents.

Another mind manipulation tactic, most recently adopted in
Australia, is the jingoistic appeal to patriotism. This swindle is devised to sell goods by preying on the consumer's love of their country. Products are marketed using the Australian flag and national icons such as the Kangaroo or the Aussie colours - green and gold. The guilt trip is nurtured by lines such as “ensure a future for your children and grandchildren,” “Stop selling Australia out” or “give our kids a job.” Australia was sold out to multinationals long ago and these doubtful attempts to ‘buy back the farm’ equate to no more than profiting from people's insecurities. Consumers are psychologically rewarded with a warm inner glow, thinking that they are 'doing something' to 'help' their country. It also offers an avenue for discontented, disaffected and disgruntled ‘protest’ against multinational corporations, which own the shopping centres, and supermarkets where food is bought. This jingoism is now rife throughout the advertising industry with everything from chocolates to funeral parlours pleading with us to help the ‘little Aussie battlers’.


Advertising and marketing firms have long used the insights and research methods of psychology to sell products to children. Today these practices are reaching epidemic proportions, with an enormous advertising and marketing onslaught that comprises, arguably, the largest single psychological project ever undertaken. A great deal of collusion between some members of the psychology professions, marketing, advertising and entrepreneurial firms occur as they work together to try to understand how best to sell things to young children. Psychologists are regulars at marketing conferences and in magazines such as Selling to Kids and SalesDoctors. Advertising giants like Saatchi and Saatchi brag that their “global review” of child psychology gives them the edge when serving clients. Using psychological principles to sell products to children means not only selling a product, but also a larger value system that says making money and using money to purchase material goods is the road to happiness.


Modern computing power and data mining capabilities are providing the mind manipulators with new tools to delve into our psyche. A growing Internet phenomena is online profiling. This new type of subliminal ad strategy is based upon a profile of the individual that is built up over time. Information about browsing habits is culled from various web sites, then every time the person logs on to the Net, they are immediately inundated with banners based on their profile. Web Site banners suddenly offer products and services that the person is interested in, based upon their profile. Similar subliminal sales tactics will be used as Web-TV becomes widespread.


In many respects, the modern person is increasingly confronted with the face of friendly fascism. Not the jackboots and mass rallies that comprise the popular stereotype of fascism, but rather an insidious, public relations savvy manipulation of power for profit.

The manufacture of consent. The creation of necessary illusions. Various ways of either marginalising the general public or reducing them to apathy in some fashion. This type of indoctrination and entrapment is innocuous and painless, it takes over not by force but by running everyone ragged trying to survive, to keep up with the 'Jones's'. Waking sleep becomes the distraction of choice: the half awake sleep of mindlessly gazing at the TV screen, the mechanical repetition associated with most jobs, the hypnotic trance of being self-absorbed, and the isolated anonymity of being alone, together. The mind is suffocated and the spirit is stifled by corporate imagination killers who offer us everything from anti-aging creams to dog foods which 'produce' less sloppy stools.

In this trance like state, citizens become the easy prey of governments, who rely on the mainstreaming of opinion to propagate apathetic and listless indifference. The complete mind manipulation of the citizen by corporations and government is thus perfected.
Previously published in New Dawn magazine.

1. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kainpf, from Chapter VI: War Propaganda
2. For a discussion on Gerbner's cultivation theory, see “Cultivation Theory” by Daniel Chandler at http//
3. As well as being a cause of more aggressive behaviour among viewers.
4. Cited in Condry, John (1989): The Psychology of Television.
Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
5. Big Brother sponsors in
Australia included products iPrimus, Freedom, Sony Style, Sony Playstation, Shutters Direct, Blue Haven Pools & Spas, Mr Stoves, HPM Industries, Caroma Industries, Stratco, Kleenmaid, Tilec, Emailair Airconditioning Systems
6. Baigent, M., and Leigh, ~ (1997) The Elixir and the Stone, The Tradition of Magic and Alchemy,
Viking, Australia.

Susan Bryce is an Australian journalist and publisher of the newsletter Australian Freedom & Survival Guide. Her interests include global politics, big brother and the
New World Order. Australian Freedom & Survival Guide airs the dirty laundry of big brother, big business and big government, exposing the realities and personalities behind globalisation, genetic engineering, the international surveillance regime, corporate power and military research. AF&SG is available by subscription only. Six issues for $45.OO per year. Sample issue $7.50. Send cheque or money order payable to S. Bryce P0 Box 66 Kenilworth QId 4574 Australia. Email: