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Episode
449

The Man Who Got Women Smoking

Feb 27, 2024
Business
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20
minutes

He was a master manipulator who transformed public opinion and behaviour on a vast range of topics, from bacon to the acceptance of women smoking.

In this episode, we'll learn about the fascinating story of Edward Bernays, the PR pioneer behind some of history's most influential campaigns.

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[00:00:05] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:20] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a man called Edward Bernays. 

[00:00:26] He was a PR man, a master manipulator, and over his almost 80 year career he can claim responsibility for changing public opinion and behaviour on a huge range of different areas, from bananas to bacon, the ballet to women smoking cigarettes.

[00:00:43] It is a fascinating story, so let’s get right into it.

[00:00:49] In the 1920s, American tobacco companies had a problem.

[00:00:54] They had successfully managed to persuade enough American men to smoke, with around 50% of adult men being daily smokers.

[00:01:02] But it was a different story with women.

[00:01:06] Socially, smoking was still seen as something of a taboo for women. It was a man’s activity, and it was associated with loose morals and even prostitution among women. 

[00:01:20] In other words, good girls didn’t smoke.

[00:01:24] And it wasn’t only a social stigma; in some parts of America it was actually illegal for women to smoke in public, and there was a bill proposed in Congress in 1921 to completely ban women from smoking in the District of Columbia.

[00:01:41] Some women did still smoke, of course, but this was generally done in secret, out of the public eye.

[00:01:49] So, the number of women who smoked was significantly lower than men. 

[00:01:55] The fact that women had a strong incentive not to admit to smoking makes any facts on this hard to come by, but according to one estimate, in 1924 US women smoked about 5% of all cigarettes produced, so men were outsmoking women by a factor of 19 to 1.

[00:02:18] And this was the tobacco companies’ opportunity. 

[00:02:22] There were just as many women as men, and if they could persuade women to smoke to the same degree as men, they could double the number of people who smoked, and therefore double the number of cigarettes that were sold, more or less.

[00:02:37] This was a huge opportunity. 

[00:02:41] The nature of smoking, especially back then, was that if you got a person to start smoking, you had them for life. A smoker was worth a lot to a tobacco company, and women, well they were an untapped market.

[00:02:58] It wasn’t like this was a completely new revelation for the tobacco industry. They had been trying for years to get women to smoke, but none of the messages seemed to stick

[00:03:10] They needed a change in direction.

[00:03:13] And this brought them to a man called Edward Bernays. 

[00:03:18] He was still quite young, in his late 30s at the time, but he had developed something of a reputation for himself as a master of changing public behaviour and opinion.

[00:03:30] He had worked for something called The Committee on Public Information, which was essentially the US propaganda department that was charged with drumming up public support for the First World War.

[00:03:42] During that campaign, Bernays had seen how comparatively easy it was to change public opinion; Americans had started out pretty unenthusiastic about the prospect of entering a European war, and after a carefully coordinated PR campaign, public opinion had done a 180. The war enjoyed strong support from the American public, and millions of young men signed up to fight.

[00:04:11] Bernays had thought, well if it was that easy to get the American public so excited and passionate about something that was for most people so distant and irrelevant to their day-to-day lives, it should be easy to do the same thing about products closer to home. 

[00:04:29] Or, as he would recall in an interview years later, “what could be done for a nation at war could be done for organisations and people in a nation at peace”.

[00:04:40] And after the war, Bernays did exactly this.

[00:04:44] He approached advertising and marketing from a new and up-until-then untested angle - that of appealing to deeper human emotions and unmet psychological desires.

[00:04:58] This was something that US companies hadn’t really done before.

[00:05:03] Up until then, most American advertising had been relatively direct: this is our product and this is what it does. 

[00:05:11] Buy our coffee because it’s delicious and makes you feel good; smoke our cigarettes because they are fresh and have nice packaging, and so on.

[00:05:20] Bernays realised that a message could resonate in a far deeper way if it really touched a nerve, and appealed to inner or suppressed desires.

[00:05:33] So, what could this be for women and smoking?

[00:05:37] It wasn’t that smoking felt good or was what celebrities did or even that it was patriotic, which were some of the messages that had resonated so strongly with men.

[00:05:48] Women needed a different approach.

[00:05:52] Bernays looked at what women really wanted, and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t anything to do with cigarettes or smoking; it was equality with men.

[00:06:04] As millions of American men had got on boats to Europe to fight in the war, American women had picked up the mantle, working in factories, and doing all of the traditionally “male” jobs.

[00:06:18] And it turned out that women were equally capable of all of these jobs, there was no “weaker sex”. 

[00:06:26] After the war was over, and after a long fight to persuade male legislators to finally give in, on the 18th of August, 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed, which gave American women the right to vote.

[00:06:41] Women had shown that they were perfectly capable of doing the jobs that men did, they could now vote, just as men did, they were free, just as men were.

[00:06:50] They could do everything that men could, well, almost everything. 

[00:06:55] Smoking was an exception; it was still taboo, smoking was a man’s activity, not a woman’s.

[00:07:03] And that was the angle Edward Bernays decided to exploit: make smoking about freedom and equality, not about cigarettes.

[00:07:15] He gave his secretary, a lady called Bertha Hunt, a mission. 

[00:07:20] She was to pretend to be a women’s rights activist, and she was charged with getting a group of women to walk up and down New York’s Fifth Avenue puffing on cigarettes, smoking in public.

[00:07:34] If she could do that, Bernays thought, journalists and photographers would descend to cover the march, and this would make national news.

[00:07:44] After all, it was unusual to see women smoking in public, and if these women were smoking as a sign of their liberty, well that would be news.

[00:07:54] Importantly, Bertha Hunt, Bernays’ secretary, was told in no uncertain terms that she was not to reveal any link to Bernays or to his client, the American Tobacco Company, the maker of Lucky Strikes cigarettes.

[00:08:10] She sent a telegram to a group of women, and this is what it read: “In the interests of equality of the sexes and to fight another sex taboo I and other young women will light another torch of freedom by smoking cigarettes while strolling on Fifth Avenue Easter Sunday.”

[00:08:30] End telegram.

[00:08:32] The most important phrase there is the one that would come to be associated with the campaign, and with smoking among women: “torches of freedom”.

[00:08:42] Cigarettes were presented not as a status symbol or way of staying thin or of doing something that celebrities did, but as “torches of freedom”. A cigarette was something that a woman could proudly hold up in public, like the large Statue of Liberty a few kilometres away, to demonstrate her emancipation, and equality with men.

[00:09:08] The telegram worked, and on March the 31st, 1929, Bertha Hunt was joined by a group of young women who strolled up and down Fifth Avenue, lighting up cigarette after cigarette.

[00:09:23] As Bernays had hoped, journalists arrived to cover the story, and it was all over the national news, with journalists falling hook line and sinker for the “torches of freedom” line that had been so carefully crafted by Bernays. 

[00:09:38] Now, as to the results of this one campaign, Bernays was later very happy to claim that it was his genius idea and this publicity stunt that changed the opinion of American women, and from that day on women started to smoke.

[00:09:55] In terms of the numbers, as you will know, the percentage of the female population that smoked continued to climb.

[00:10:03] In 1923 only 5% of cigarettes were bought by women, rising to 18% in 1935 and then peaking at 33% in 1965.

[00:10:16] But the extent to which Bernays can claim responsibility for this has come under some questioning, and it’s probably more realistic to say that this was one of many campaigns that continued to chip away at the stigma of women smoking, not as “the event” that got women smoking.

[00:10:36] Nevertheless, it would go on to cement Edward Bernays’ reputation as a master influencer, and “the father of public relations”.

[00:10:46] He would go on to write a book, called Propaganda nonetheless, which was applauded by the grandfather of psychology and unmet desires, Sigmund Freud, as a “clear, clever and comprehensible book”.

[00:11:00] In fact, Freud didn’t just stumble across this book. He knew all about Edward Bernays, as he had known him his entire life, and had been a huge influence on him.

[00:11:11] The two were related, both through blood and through marriage.

[00:11:16] Bernays’ mother was Freud’s brother, and his father was Freud’s wife’s brother.

[00:11:23] The pair knew each other very well, and although Bernays had emigrated to the US as a young boy, he would spend his summers walking in the Austrian hills with his influential uncle.

[00:11:37] And, as you might expect, Freud’s theories about the irrationality of human behaviour were a fundamental part of Bernays’ approach to public relations.

[00:11:48] As you will know, or perhaps as will remember from episode number 290, one of Freud’s major theories was that, contrary to Enlightenment thought, humans are completely irrational, and cannot be trusted to make decisions based on reasonable arguments.

[00:12:06] And this was exactly what Bernays tried to exploit with his campaigns.

[00:12:13] Now, you’ve heard about the example of smoking, but let me tell you about another famous Bernays campaign, and this relates to breakfast.

[00:12:23] If I had to ask you to imagine what an American breakfast looked like, what would you say? 

[00:12:29] If you closed your eyes and pictured a “classic American breakfast”, what would you see?

[00:12:36] I imagine it might be quite large, and it would probably have bacon in it, right?

[00:12:42] But if we go back to the 1920s, and before Edward Bernays, Americans tended to prefer a lighter breakfast, toast and coffee, more like a continental European breakfast of some kind of light carbohydrate and coffee, not a heavy large breakfast.

[00:13:03] Bernays was approached by a company called The Beech-Nut Packing Company, which sold bacon, and given the task of selling more bacon.

[00:13:13] Now, most PR and advertising companies, if they had been given the task of selling more bacon, would have probably put out advertisements in newspapers, maybe with a picture of a happy family eating bacon around the table, or talking about how healthy and delicious this bacon was. They might have worked, no doubt some people might have seen these adverts and thought, hmm, I’ll pick up some bacon from the shop, I hadn’t thought about bacon for a while.

[00:13:41] But like the mission to get women smoking, Bernays knew that he needed to appeal to something deeper, he needed to get people to change their behaviour because of some inherent feeling that he could create in the minds of the American consumer. 

[00:13:58] His attack vector in this case, his way in, was the traditional, “light”, American breakfast of coffee and something light, toast, perhaps some cereal.

[00:14:10] Now, I could tell you how he did it, how he went about this campaign, but I thought it would be more interesting for him to tell you himself. 

[00:14:21] So here is Edward Bernays, in his own words: 

[00:14:25] Many years ago, our client was the Beech-Nut Packing company. One of their basic problems was bacon. 

[00:14:35] We made a research and found out that the American public ate very light breakfast of coffee, maybe a roll and orange juice. We thereupon decided that the only way to meet the situation was as follows. 

[00:14:58] We went to our physician, found that a heavy breakfast was sounder from the standpoint of health than a light breakfast because the body loses energy during the night and needs it during the day. 

[00:15:19] We ask the physician after telling him why we were talking to him, would he be willing at no cost to write to 5,000 physicians and ask them whether their judgment, uh, was the same as his, confirmed his judgment.

[00:15:40] He said he would be glad to do it. We carried out a letter to 5,000 physicians. Obviously, all of them... We got about 4,500 answers. All of them concurred that a heavy breakfast was better for the health of the American people than a light breakfast. 

[00:16:03] That was publicised in the newspapers. Newspapers throughout the country had headlines saying: "4,500 physicians urge heavy breakfast in order to improve health of American people." 

[00:16:23] Many of them stated that bacon and eggs should be embodied with the breakfast, and as a result, the sale of bacon went up. 

[00:16:35] And I still have a letter from Bartlett Arkell, president of the Beech-Nut Packing company, telling me so. 

[00:16:46] So, did you get all of that? 

[00:16:49] He got his company doctor to write to 5,000 other doctors, 4,500 of whom wrote back in agreement that a bigger breakfast was better, and then Bernays proceeded to publicise this as “4,500 doctors urge Americans to eat a bigger breakfast, which could include bacon”.

[00:17:11] And bacon sales increased.

[00:17:13] Now, when you look back at these campaigns now, perhaps they seem simple and obvious, but they clearly were not at the time. Bernays' reputation grew and grew, helping to grow sales of everything from cigarettes to bacon.

[00:17:31] And, unfortunately, there is evidence to suggest that his mind bending skills were not always used for good. He was later informed that the Nazi propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, used one of his books as a manual for his PR campaign attacking Jews. 

[00:17:50] This must have been jarring for anyone to hear that their work was being used for such vile ends, but particularly so for Bernays, given that he was Jewish and that his uncle, Sigmund Freud, had been forced to flee Vienna to save his life.

[00:18:08] So, to wrap things up, Edward Bernays was one of the most powerful figures in PR and advertising, and can certainly claim some responsibility for a whole range of behaviours that hundreds of millions of people around the world do today, without a second thought as to why.

[00:18:26] While he was alive he embraced the title of “the father of public relations”, but perhaps it might be more accurate to describe him, as one 2019 article did, as “The Original Influencer”.

[00:18:43] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, the original influencer, or simply a man with a keen understanding on how to shape public opinion.

[00:18:55] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:18:59] Are there any behaviours or cultural shifts in your country that were the result of a similar coordinated public relations campaign? What were they, and how did they work?

[00:19:09] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:19:12] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:19:20] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:26] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:05] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:20] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a man called Edward Bernays. 

[00:00:26] He was a PR man, a master manipulator, and over his almost 80 year career he can claim responsibility for changing public opinion and behaviour on a huge range of different areas, from bananas to bacon, the ballet to women smoking cigarettes.

[00:00:43] It is a fascinating story, so let’s get right into it.

[00:00:49] In the 1920s, American tobacco companies had a problem.

[00:00:54] They had successfully managed to persuade enough American men to smoke, with around 50% of adult men being daily smokers.

[00:01:02] But it was a different story with women.

[00:01:06] Socially, smoking was still seen as something of a taboo for women. It was a man’s activity, and it was associated with loose morals and even prostitution among women. 

[00:01:20] In other words, good girls didn’t smoke.

[00:01:24] And it wasn’t only a social stigma; in some parts of America it was actually illegal for women to smoke in public, and there was a bill proposed in Congress in 1921 to completely ban women from smoking in the District of Columbia.

[00:01:41] Some women did still smoke, of course, but this was generally done in secret, out of the public eye.

[00:01:49] So, the number of women who smoked was significantly lower than men. 

[00:01:55] The fact that women had a strong incentive not to admit to smoking makes any facts on this hard to come by, but according to one estimate, in 1924 US women smoked about 5% of all cigarettes produced, so men were outsmoking women by a factor of 19 to 1.

[00:02:18] And this was the tobacco companies’ opportunity. 

[00:02:22] There were just as many women as men, and if they could persuade women to smoke to the same degree as men, they could double the number of people who smoked, and therefore double the number of cigarettes that were sold, more or less.

[00:02:37] This was a huge opportunity. 

[00:02:41] The nature of smoking, especially back then, was that if you got a person to start smoking, you had them for life. A smoker was worth a lot to a tobacco company, and women, well they were an untapped market.

[00:02:58] It wasn’t like this was a completely new revelation for the tobacco industry. They had been trying for years to get women to smoke, but none of the messages seemed to stick

[00:03:10] They needed a change in direction.

[00:03:13] And this brought them to a man called Edward Bernays. 

[00:03:18] He was still quite young, in his late 30s at the time, but he had developed something of a reputation for himself as a master of changing public behaviour and opinion.

[00:03:30] He had worked for something called The Committee on Public Information, which was essentially the US propaganda department that was charged with drumming up public support for the First World War.

[00:03:42] During that campaign, Bernays had seen how comparatively easy it was to change public opinion; Americans had started out pretty unenthusiastic about the prospect of entering a European war, and after a carefully coordinated PR campaign, public opinion had done a 180. The war enjoyed strong support from the American public, and millions of young men signed up to fight.

[00:04:11] Bernays had thought, well if it was that easy to get the American public so excited and passionate about something that was for most people so distant and irrelevant to their day-to-day lives, it should be easy to do the same thing about products closer to home. 

[00:04:29] Or, as he would recall in an interview years later, “what could be done for a nation at war could be done for organisations and people in a nation at peace”.

[00:04:40] And after the war, Bernays did exactly this.

[00:04:44] He approached advertising and marketing from a new and up-until-then untested angle - that of appealing to deeper human emotions and unmet psychological desires.

[00:04:58] This was something that US companies hadn’t really done before.

[00:05:03] Up until then, most American advertising had been relatively direct: this is our product and this is what it does. 

[00:05:11] Buy our coffee because it’s delicious and makes you feel good; smoke our cigarettes because they are fresh and have nice packaging, and so on.

[00:05:20] Bernays realised that a message could resonate in a far deeper way if it really touched a nerve, and appealed to inner or suppressed desires.

[00:05:33] So, what could this be for women and smoking?

[00:05:37] It wasn’t that smoking felt good or was what celebrities did or even that it was patriotic, which were some of the messages that had resonated so strongly with men.

[00:05:48] Women needed a different approach.

[00:05:52] Bernays looked at what women really wanted, and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t anything to do with cigarettes or smoking; it was equality with men.

[00:06:04] As millions of American men had got on boats to Europe to fight in the war, American women had picked up the mantle, working in factories, and doing all of the traditionally “male” jobs.

[00:06:18] And it turned out that women were equally capable of all of these jobs, there was no “weaker sex”. 

[00:06:26] After the war was over, and after a long fight to persuade male legislators to finally give in, on the 18th of August, 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed, which gave American women the right to vote.

[00:06:41] Women had shown that they were perfectly capable of doing the jobs that men did, they could now vote, just as men did, they were free, just as men were.

[00:06:50] They could do everything that men could, well, almost everything. 

[00:06:55] Smoking was an exception; it was still taboo, smoking was a man’s activity, not a woman’s.

[00:07:03] And that was the angle Edward Bernays decided to exploit: make smoking about freedom and equality, not about cigarettes.

[00:07:15] He gave his secretary, a lady called Bertha Hunt, a mission. 

[00:07:20] She was to pretend to be a women’s rights activist, and she was charged with getting a group of women to walk up and down New York’s Fifth Avenue puffing on cigarettes, smoking in public.

[00:07:34] If she could do that, Bernays thought, journalists and photographers would descend to cover the march, and this would make national news.

[00:07:44] After all, it was unusual to see women smoking in public, and if these women were smoking as a sign of their liberty, well that would be news.

[00:07:54] Importantly, Bertha Hunt, Bernays’ secretary, was told in no uncertain terms that she was not to reveal any link to Bernays or to his client, the American Tobacco Company, the maker of Lucky Strikes cigarettes.

[00:08:10] She sent a telegram to a group of women, and this is what it read: “In the interests of equality of the sexes and to fight another sex taboo I and other young women will light another torch of freedom by smoking cigarettes while strolling on Fifth Avenue Easter Sunday.”

[00:08:30] End telegram.

[00:08:32] The most important phrase there is the one that would come to be associated with the campaign, and with smoking among women: “torches of freedom”.

[00:08:42] Cigarettes were presented not as a status symbol or way of staying thin or of doing something that celebrities did, but as “torches of freedom”. A cigarette was something that a woman could proudly hold up in public, like the large Statue of Liberty a few kilometres away, to demonstrate her emancipation, and equality with men.

[00:09:08] The telegram worked, and on March the 31st, 1929, Bertha Hunt was joined by a group of young women who strolled up and down Fifth Avenue, lighting up cigarette after cigarette.

[00:09:23] As Bernays had hoped, journalists arrived to cover the story, and it was all over the national news, with journalists falling hook line and sinker for the “torches of freedom” line that had been so carefully crafted by Bernays. 

[00:09:38] Now, as to the results of this one campaign, Bernays was later very happy to claim that it was his genius idea and this publicity stunt that changed the opinion of American women, and from that day on women started to smoke.

[00:09:55] In terms of the numbers, as you will know, the percentage of the female population that smoked continued to climb.

[00:10:03] In 1923 only 5% of cigarettes were bought by women, rising to 18% in 1935 and then peaking at 33% in 1965.

[00:10:16] But the extent to which Bernays can claim responsibility for this has come under some questioning, and it’s probably more realistic to say that this was one of many campaigns that continued to chip away at the stigma of women smoking, not as “the event” that got women smoking.

[00:10:36] Nevertheless, it would go on to cement Edward Bernays’ reputation as a master influencer, and “the father of public relations”.

[00:10:46] He would go on to write a book, called Propaganda nonetheless, which was applauded by the grandfather of psychology and unmet desires, Sigmund Freud, as a “clear, clever and comprehensible book”.

[00:11:00] In fact, Freud didn’t just stumble across this book. He knew all about Edward Bernays, as he had known him his entire life, and had been a huge influence on him.

[00:11:11] The two were related, both through blood and through marriage.

[00:11:16] Bernays’ mother was Freud’s brother, and his father was Freud’s wife’s brother.

[00:11:23] The pair knew each other very well, and although Bernays had emigrated to the US as a young boy, he would spend his summers walking in the Austrian hills with his influential uncle.

[00:11:37] And, as you might expect, Freud’s theories about the irrationality of human behaviour were a fundamental part of Bernays’ approach to public relations.

[00:11:48] As you will know, or perhaps as will remember from episode number 290, one of Freud’s major theories was that, contrary to Enlightenment thought, humans are completely irrational, and cannot be trusted to make decisions based on reasonable arguments.

[00:12:06] And this was exactly what Bernays tried to exploit with his campaigns.

[00:12:13] Now, you’ve heard about the example of smoking, but let me tell you about another famous Bernays campaign, and this relates to breakfast.

[00:12:23] If I had to ask you to imagine what an American breakfast looked like, what would you say? 

[00:12:29] If you closed your eyes and pictured a “classic American breakfast”, what would you see?

[00:12:36] I imagine it might be quite large, and it would probably have bacon in it, right?

[00:12:42] But if we go back to the 1920s, and before Edward Bernays, Americans tended to prefer a lighter breakfast, toast and coffee, more like a continental European breakfast of some kind of light carbohydrate and coffee, not a heavy large breakfast.

[00:13:03] Bernays was approached by a company called The Beech-Nut Packing Company, which sold bacon, and given the task of selling more bacon.

[00:13:13] Now, most PR and advertising companies, if they had been given the task of selling more bacon, would have probably put out advertisements in newspapers, maybe with a picture of a happy family eating bacon around the table, or talking about how healthy and delicious this bacon was. They might have worked, no doubt some people might have seen these adverts and thought, hmm, I’ll pick up some bacon from the shop, I hadn’t thought about bacon for a while.

[00:13:41] But like the mission to get women smoking, Bernays knew that he needed to appeal to something deeper, he needed to get people to change their behaviour because of some inherent feeling that he could create in the minds of the American consumer. 

[00:13:58] His attack vector in this case, his way in, was the traditional, “light”, American breakfast of coffee and something light, toast, perhaps some cereal.

[00:14:10] Now, I could tell you how he did it, how he went about this campaign, but I thought it would be more interesting for him to tell you himself. 

[00:14:21] So here is Edward Bernays, in his own words: 

[00:14:25] Many years ago, our client was the Beech-Nut Packing company. One of their basic problems was bacon. 

[00:14:35] We made a research and found out that the American public ate very light breakfast of coffee, maybe a roll and orange juice. We thereupon decided that the only way to meet the situation was as follows. 

[00:14:58] We went to our physician, found that a heavy breakfast was sounder from the standpoint of health than a light breakfast because the body loses energy during the night and needs it during the day. 

[00:15:19] We ask the physician after telling him why we were talking to him, would he be willing at no cost to write to 5,000 physicians and ask them whether their judgment, uh, was the same as his, confirmed his judgment.

[00:15:40] He said he would be glad to do it. We carried out a letter to 5,000 physicians. Obviously, all of them... We got about 4,500 answers. All of them concurred that a heavy breakfast was better for the health of the American people than a light breakfast. 

[00:16:03] That was publicised in the newspapers. Newspapers throughout the country had headlines saying: "4,500 physicians urge heavy breakfast in order to improve health of American people." 

[00:16:23] Many of them stated that bacon and eggs should be embodied with the breakfast, and as a result, the sale of bacon went up. 

[00:16:35] And I still have a letter from Bartlett Arkell, president of the Beech-Nut Packing company, telling me so. 

[00:16:46] So, did you get all of that? 

[00:16:49] He got his company doctor to write to 5,000 other doctors, 4,500 of whom wrote back in agreement that a bigger breakfast was better, and then Bernays proceeded to publicise this as “4,500 doctors urge Americans to eat a bigger breakfast, which could include bacon”.

[00:17:11] And bacon sales increased.

[00:17:13] Now, when you look back at these campaigns now, perhaps they seem simple and obvious, but they clearly were not at the time. Bernays' reputation grew and grew, helping to grow sales of everything from cigarettes to bacon.

[00:17:31] And, unfortunately, there is evidence to suggest that his mind bending skills were not always used for good. He was later informed that the Nazi propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, used one of his books as a manual for his PR campaign attacking Jews. 

[00:17:50] This must have been jarring for anyone to hear that their work was being used for such vile ends, but particularly so for Bernays, given that he was Jewish and that his uncle, Sigmund Freud, had been forced to flee Vienna to save his life.

[00:18:08] So, to wrap things up, Edward Bernays was one of the most powerful figures in PR and advertising, and can certainly claim some responsibility for a whole range of behaviours that hundreds of millions of people around the world do today, without a second thought as to why.

[00:18:26] While he was alive he embraced the title of “the father of public relations”, but perhaps it might be more accurate to describe him, as one 2019 article did, as “The Original Influencer”.

[00:18:43] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, the original influencer, or simply a man with a keen understanding on how to shape public opinion.

[00:18:55] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:18:59] Are there any behaviours or cultural shifts in your country that were the result of a similar coordinated public relations campaign? What were they, and how did they work?

[00:19:09] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:19:12] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:19:20] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:26] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:05] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:20] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a man called Edward Bernays. 

[00:00:26] He was a PR man, a master manipulator, and over his almost 80 year career he can claim responsibility for changing public opinion and behaviour on a huge range of different areas, from bananas to bacon, the ballet to women smoking cigarettes.

[00:00:43] It is a fascinating story, so let’s get right into it.

[00:00:49] In the 1920s, American tobacco companies had a problem.

[00:00:54] They had successfully managed to persuade enough American men to smoke, with around 50% of adult men being daily smokers.

[00:01:02] But it was a different story with women.

[00:01:06] Socially, smoking was still seen as something of a taboo for women. It was a man’s activity, and it was associated with loose morals and even prostitution among women. 

[00:01:20] In other words, good girls didn’t smoke.

[00:01:24] And it wasn’t only a social stigma; in some parts of America it was actually illegal for women to smoke in public, and there was a bill proposed in Congress in 1921 to completely ban women from smoking in the District of Columbia.

[00:01:41] Some women did still smoke, of course, but this was generally done in secret, out of the public eye.

[00:01:49] So, the number of women who smoked was significantly lower than men. 

[00:01:55] The fact that women had a strong incentive not to admit to smoking makes any facts on this hard to come by, but according to one estimate, in 1924 US women smoked about 5% of all cigarettes produced, so men were outsmoking women by a factor of 19 to 1.

[00:02:18] And this was the tobacco companies’ opportunity. 

[00:02:22] There were just as many women as men, and if they could persuade women to smoke to the same degree as men, they could double the number of people who smoked, and therefore double the number of cigarettes that were sold, more or less.

[00:02:37] This was a huge opportunity. 

[00:02:41] The nature of smoking, especially back then, was that if you got a person to start smoking, you had them for life. A smoker was worth a lot to a tobacco company, and women, well they were an untapped market.

[00:02:58] It wasn’t like this was a completely new revelation for the tobacco industry. They had been trying for years to get women to smoke, but none of the messages seemed to stick

[00:03:10] They needed a change in direction.

[00:03:13] And this brought them to a man called Edward Bernays. 

[00:03:18] He was still quite young, in his late 30s at the time, but he had developed something of a reputation for himself as a master of changing public behaviour and opinion.

[00:03:30] He had worked for something called The Committee on Public Information, which was essentially the US propaganda department that was charged with drumming up public support for the First World War.

[00:03:42] During that campaign, Bernays had seen how comparatively easy it was to change public opinion; Americans had started out pretty unenthusiastic about the prospect of entering a European war, and after a carefully coordinated PR campaign, public opinion had done a 180. The war enjoyed strong support from the American public, and millions of young men signed up to fight.

[00:04:11] Bernays had thought, well if it was that easy to get the American public so excited and passionate about something that was for most people so distant and irrelevant to their day-to-day lives, it should be easy to do the same thing about products closer to home. 

[00:04:29] Or, as he would recall in an interview years later, “what could be done for a nation at war could be done for organisations and people in a nation at peace”.

[00:04:40] And after the war, Bernays did exactly this.

[00:04:44] He approached advertising and marketing from a new and up-until-then untested angle - that of appealing to deeper human emotions and unmet psychological desires.

[00:04:58] This was something that US companies hadn’t really done before.

[00:05:03] Up until then, most American advertising had been relatively direct: this is our product and this is what it does. 

[00:05:11] Buy our coffee because it’s delicious and makes you feel good; smoke our cigarettes because they are fresh and have nice packaging, and so on.

[00:05:20] Bernays realised that a message could resonate in a far deeper way if it really touched a nerve, and appealed to inner or suppressed desires.

[00:05:33] So, what could this be for women and smoking?

[00:05:37] It wasn’t that smoking felt good or was what celebrities did or even that it was patriotic, which were some of the messages that had resonated so strongly with men.

[00:05:48] Women needed a different approach.

[00:05:52] Bernays looked at what women really wanted, and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t anything to do with cigarettes or smoking; it was equality with men.

[00:06:04] As millions of American men had got on boats to Europe to fight in the war, American women had picked up the mantle, working in factories, and doing all of the traditionally “male” jobs.

[00:06:18] And it turned out that women were equally capable of all of these jobs, there was no “weaker sex”. 

[00:06:26] After the war was over, and after a long fight to persuade male legislators to finally give in, on the 18th of August, 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed, which gave American women the right to vote.

[00:06:41] Women had shown that they were perfectly capable of doing the jobs that men did, they could now vote, just as men did, they were free, just as men were.

[00:06:50] They could do everything that men could, well, almost everything. 

[00:06:55] Smoking was an exception; it was still taboo, smoking was a man’s activity, not a woman’s.

[00:07:03] And that was the angle Edward Bernays decided to exploit: make smoking about freedom and equality, not about cigarettes.

[00:07:15] He gave his secretary, a lady called Bertha Hunt, a mission. 

[00:07:20] She was to pretend to be a women’s rights activist, and she was charged with getting a group of women to walk up and down New York’s Fifth Avenue puffing on cigarettes, smoking in public.

[00:07:34] If she could do that, Bernays thought, journalists and photographers would descend to cover the march, and this would make national news.

[00:07:44] After all, it was unusual to see women smoking in public, and if these women were smoking as a sign of their liberty, well that would be news.

[00:07:54] Importantly, Bertha Hunt, Bernays’ secretary, was told in no uncertain terms that she was not to reveal any link to Bernays or to his client, the American Tobacco Company, the maker of Lucky Strikes cigarettes.

[00:08:10] She sent a telegram to a group of women, and this is what it read: “In the interests of equality of the sexes and to fight another sex taboo I and other young women will light another torch of freedom by smoking cigarettes while strolling on Fifth Avenue Easter Sunday.”

[00:08:30] End telegram.

[00:08:32] The most important phrase there is the one that would come to be associated with the campaign, and with smoking among women: “torches of freedom”.

[00:08:42] Cigarettes were presented not as a status symbol or way of staying thin or of doing something that celebrities did, but as “torches of freedom”. A cigarette was something that a woman could proudly hold up in public, like the large Statue of Liberty a few kilometres away, to demonstrate her emancipation, and equality with men.

[00:09:08] The telegram worked, and on March the 31st, 1929, Bertha Hunt was joined by a group of young women who strolled up and down Fifth Avenue, lighting up cigarette after cigarette.

[00:09:23] As Bernays had hoped, journalists arrived to cover the story, and it was all over the national news, with journalists falling hook line and sinker for the “torches of freedom” line that had been so carefully crafted by Bernays. 

[00:09:38] Now, as to the results of this one campaign, Bernays was later very happy to claim that it was his genius idea and this publicity stunt that changed the opinion of American women, and from that day on women started to smoke.

[00:09:55] In terms of the numbers, as you will know, the percentage of the female population that smoked continued to climb.

[00:10:03] In 1923 only 5% of cigarettes were bought by women, rising to 18% in 1935 and then peaking at 33% in 1965.

[00:10:16] But the extent to which Bernays can claim responsibility for this has come under some questioning, and it’s probably more realistic to say that this was one of many campaigns that continued to chip away at the stigma of women smoking, not as “the event” that got women smoking.

[00:10:36] Nevertheless, it would go on to cement Edward Bernays’ reputation as a master influencer, and “the father of public relations”.

[00:10:46] He would go on to write a book, called Propaganda nonetheless, which was applauded by the grandfather of psychology and unmet desires, Sigmund Freud, as a “clear, clever and comprehensible book”.

[00:11:00] In fact, Freud didn’t just stumble across this book. He knew all about Edward Bernays, as he had known him his entire life, and had been a huge influence on him.

[00:11:11] The two were related, both through blood and through marriage.

[00:11:16] Bernays’ mother was Freud’s brother, and his father was Freud’s wife’s brother.

[00:11:23] The pair knew each other very well, and although Bernays had emigrated to the US as a young boy, he would spend his summers walking in the Austrian hills with his influential uncle.

[00:11:37] And, as you might expect, Freud’s theories about the irrationality of human behaviour were a fundamental part of Bernays’ approach to public relations.

[00:11:48] As you will know, or perhaps as will remember from episode number 290, one of Freud’s major theories was that, contrary to Enlightenment thought, humans are completely irrational, and cannot be trusted to make decisions based on reasonable arguments.

[00:12:06] And this was exactly what Bernays tried to exploit with his campaigns.

[00:12:13] Now, you’ve heard about the example of smoking, but let me tell you about another famous Bernays campaign, and this relates to breakfast.

[00:12:23] If I had to ask you to imagine what an American breakfast looked like, what would you say? 

[00:12:29] If you closed your eyes and pictured a “classic American breakfast”, what would you see?

[00:12:36] I imagine it might be quite large, and it would probably have bacon in it, right?

[00:12:42] But if we go back to the 1920s, and before Edward Bernays, Americans tended to prefer a lighter breakfast, toast and coffee, more like a continental European breakfast of some kind of light carbohydrate and coffee, not a heavy large breakfast.

[00:13:03] Bernays was approached by a company called The Beech-Nut Packing Company, which sold bacon, and given the task of selling more bacon.

[00:13:13] Now, most PR and advertising companies, if they had been given the task of selling more bacon, would have probably put out advertisements in newspapers, maybe with a picture of a happy family eating bacon around the table, or talking about how healthy and delicious this bacon was. They might have worked, no doubt some people might have seen these adverts and thought, hmm, I’ll pick up some bacon from the shop, I hadn’t thought about bacon for a while.

[00:13:41] But like the mission to get women smoking, Bernays knew that he needed to appeal to something deeper, he needed to get people to change their behaviour because of some inherent feeling that he could create in the minds of the American consumer. 

[00:13:58] His attack vector in this case, his way in, was the traditional, “light”, American breakfast of coffee and something light, toast, perhaps some cereal.

[00:14:10] Now, I could tell you how he did it, how he went about this campaign, but I thought it would be more interesting for him to tell you himself. 

[00:14:21] So here is Edward Bernays, in his own words: 

[00:14:25] Many years ago, our client was the Beech-Nut Packing company. One of their basic problems was bacon. 

[00:14:35] We made a research and found out that the American public ate very light breakfast of coffee, maybe a roll and orange juice. We thereupon decided that the only way to meet the situation was as follows. 

[00:14:58] We went to our physician, found that a heavy breakfast was sounder from the standpoint of health than a light breakfast because the body loses energy during the night and needs it during the day. 

[00:15:19] We ask the physician after telling him why we were talking to him, would he be willing at no cost to write to 5,000 physicians and ask them whether their judgment, uh, was the same as his, confirmed his judgment.

[00:15:40] He said he would be glad to do it. We carried out a letter to 5,000 physicians. Obviously, all of them... We got about 4,500 answers. All of them concurred that a heavy breakfast was better for the health of the American people than a light breakfast. 

[00:16:03] That was publicised in the newspapers. Newspapers throughout the country had headlines saying: "4,500 physicians urge heavy breakfast in order to improve health of American people." 

[00:16:23] Many of them stated that bacon and eggs should be embodied with the breakfast, and as a result, the sale of bacon went up. 

[00:16:35] And I still have a letter from Bartlett Arkell, president of the Beech-Nut Packing company, telling me so. 

[00:16:46] So, did you get all of that? 

[00:16:49] He got his company doctor to write to 5,000 other doctors, 4,500 of whom wrote back in agreement that a bigger breakfast was better, and then Bernays proceeded to publicise this as “4,500 doctors urge Americans to eat a bigger breakfast, which could include bacon”.

[00:17:11] And bacon sales increased.

[00:17:13] Now, when you look back at these campaigns now, perhaps they seem simple and obvious, but they clearly were not at the time. Bernays' reputation grew and grew, helping to grow sales of everything from cigarettes to bacon.

[00:17:31] And, unfortunately, there is evidence to suggest that his mind bending skills were not always used for good. He was later informed that the Nazi propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, used one of his books as a manual for his PR campaign attacking Jews. 

[00:17:50] This must have been jarring for anyone to hear that their work was being used for such vile ends, but particularly so for Bernays, given that he was Jewish and that his uncle, Sigmund Freud, had been forced to flee Vienna to save his life.

[00:18:08] So, to wrap things up, Edward Bernays was one of the most powerful figures in PR and advertising, and can certainly claim some responsibility for a whole range of behaviours that hundreds of millions of people around the world do today, without a second thought as to why.

[00:18:26] While he was alive he embraced the title of “the father of public relations”, but perhaps it might be more accurate to describe him, as one 2019 article did, as “The Original Influencer”.

[00:18:43] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, the original influencer, or simply a man with a keen understanding on how to shape public opinion.

[00:18:55] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:18:59] Are there any behaviours or cultural shifts in your country that were the result of a similar coordinated public relations campaign? What were they, and how did they work?

[00:19:09] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:19:12] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:19:20] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:26] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]