In his 1928 book, “Propaganda,” Bernays hypothesized that by understanding the group mind, it would be possible to manipulate people’s behaviour without their even realising it.
–American Psychological Association
PR genius Edward Bernays was known for transforming public opinion. He knew how to re-brand everything from bacon to hairnets, publicising and selling any product that he was challenged with by various companies. He was known for being approached by retailers who were hoping to increase the selling power of a product, more specifically, when the product had a low public opinion or was associated with negative connotations.
One brilliant example of Bernay’s work is known as ‘The Green Ball’. This references when American cigarette company ‘Lucky Strikes’, approached Bernay to reconstruct women’s reluctance to buy their product, due to the green and red packaging, which was not in tune with the feminine fashions of the era. In an effort to subvert public opinion, Bernay organised ‘The Green Ball’, a social event held at the luxury Waldorf Astoria hotel, which purely operated to increase the popularity of the colour green. To emphasise this, clothing retailers were advised that the colour green would soon be all the rage and it was made a rule that women attending the event would all wear green dresses, helping to push public opinion towards green being a ‘fashionable’ colour. As with most of Bernay’s projects, it worked, with journalists and newspapers picking up on the sudden surge in popularity of the colour green.
This psychology of marketing is still used by retailers today, despite not quite in the genius ways of Bernay. Retailers are looking into the way colours can influence consumer mood and buying probability, with different colours implying different emotions.
To understand the full capacity of what Bernay’s role entailed, I was required to work in a group to re-brand/market a mundane or unfavourable product. My group was given the standard bagel, which has been left on the side lines by the increase in ‘instagrammable’ food such as the colourful ‘unicorn bagel’. Other groups were challenged with the London pigeon, PDA, witchcraft, Great White Sharks, and meat-eating. Everyone came up with interesting concepts to re-brand, such as using the London Pidgeon as a way of removing pollution by fitting a small device to their bodies. Although a hard and unusual task, it played an important part in helping us understand the difficulty of re-branding something which is ‘unpopular’ or has a stigma surrounding it.
A modern and well-known example of re-branding would be designer brand Burberry, which fell from the ranks of highly considered brands after the signature Burberry check became synonymous with “chav culture”, with reality TV star Daniella Westbrook famously being photographed wearing an entire Burberry look, complete with a checked buggy, just give it a quick search and hundreds of variations of the infamous image will pop up. This was a PR nightmare for Burberry, as it represented the type of client that they did not want to represent and this clientele couldn’t even afford their clothing, leading to a surge in “fakes” of the designer garments. Since 2004 Burberry has managed to climb the ranks again, through excellent branding and marketing, using British icons such as Emma Watson, Cara Delevingne and Eddie Redmayne within their campaigns, carefully monitoring the usage of their brand and who wears it.
It’s not hard to notice that public relations comes into every industry, with it taking years, even decades to build a good reputation and public opinion of a brand or product, however, it can take only seconds to lose this perspective completely.
Have you ever noticed the re-branding of a company or brand? Let me know in the comments below!