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  • Writer's pictureHannah Hopgood

Marketing in History 101:Torches of Freedom

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

The original influencer [1], the artist of Morden mass marketing and within it manipulation of visual triggering and semiotics within a culture.*The godfather theme tune plays*

One man’s actions that are still echoed nearly two decades later through the realms of public relations are that of the man: Edward Bernays.

Edward Bernays is the godfather of public relations and the ideology of marketing as we perceive it today. So, with that, how did one man create such an impact? Well, this story starts with a client relationship as does every marketing story and that client was George W. Hill, president of the American Tobacco Company.

The challenge with this client is the taboo image of woman smoking in public places. During this time period, it wasn’t socially acceptable for a woman to be seen smoking which in turn harmed the tobacco industry as half their audience couldn’t smoke freely resulting the effect of them losing sales in nearly half their audience due to gender playing a huge issue. [2]

To better understand the thoughts behind this deep-rooted problem a question was proposed, ‘What is the psychological basis for a woman’s desire to smoke?’. The help of psychology came into play and with this none other than Sigmund Freud played his part. To Bernays’s advance, Sigmund was a blood relation, calling him “Uncle Sigi”.

Freud’s psychological analysis behind the semiotics of a cigarette and its relationships when visually paired with women came as “a symbol of male sexual power…” this was largely due to their flaccid representation. [2]

‘Cigarettes which are equated with men, came the reply, ‘become torches of freedom.’ It was this sentence that was the catalyst of an iconic campaign that would take to the streets of New York City during the Easter Parade. The ultimate act of emancipation during this struggling time period for those of the female gender is an exercise in not only their rights but the portrayal of a woman taking control of the narrative in how they are no longer having to be perfect as taboo for their chosen actions and pastimes. [3]

Bertha Hunt (Bernays’ secretary) identified herself as a women’s rights advocate and became the woman behind the “torches of freedom” movement. Rallying like-minded woman Hunt commented, ‘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.’ This spectacle of liberated, smoking women was one of Bernays’ most celebrated publicity stunts and became a legendary milestone in the history of public relations. It acted as a catalyst for change but also for the exploration of women’s power.

And that is the story behind how one man transformed the stigmatised behaviour of female smoking into a socially acceptable and desirable practice, which in turn skyrocketed tobacco sales.

Though we live in an age of digital marketing and social media, never forget the roots of where all marketing is harnessed. Strategy is the catalyst of any marketing, thought behind audiences, meaning and building stories from these are what can make or break a successful campaign.

So, before you go, let me ask you this one small favour.

Think strategy and make it count.

From us here at Fabulatte, thank you for taking the time to read the first in our series of monthly articles. Let us know below your thoughts and reaction on the epic godfather of Public relations and his story.

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