Editorial: Political Marketing and Propaganda: Uses, Abuses, Misuses
Paul R. Baines, Cranfield School of Management, UK
Nicholas J. O’Shaughnessy, Queen Mary, University of London, UK
For citation: Baines, P. and O’Shaughnessy, N.J. (2014). Political marketing and propaganda: Uses,
abuses, misuses. Journal of Political Marketing, Vol.13, No.1/2, pp.1-18.
Introduction to the Special Edition
Although previous editions of well respected marketing journals (e.g. Revue Française du
Marketing, Psychology and Marketing, Journal of Marketing Management, European Journal of
Marketing) have focused on political marketing, and although there are now journals which
regularly publish papers on political marketing including, of course, this one and the Journal of
Public Affairs, none has focused exclusively on how the techniques developed for use in
electoral and governmental campaigning, in lobbying and party fund-raising campaigns, are now
being used more generally in the military, in public diplomacy programmes and by companies,
not-for-profit organizations and even by terrorist groups, with a focus on ‘winning hearts and
minds’. The aim of this special edition is to seek to fill in this gap in our knowledge and
encourage further research into the political marketing/propaganda interface. In this special
edition, we seek to elucidate the meaning of propaganda and political marketing by exploring
their parameters, both contemporary and traditional.
Uses: Origins and Definitions of Propaganda
The origins of the practice of propaganda lie in the ancient world. For example, Rome, rested on
a masterpiece of spin: its corporate mantra - ‘Senatus Populusque Romanus’ (the SPQR of the
legionnaires’ banner) - was in fact a fib. Rome was not ruled by the Senate and People at all –
after Octavian/Augustus in 31BC (see Tacitus, 1956), it was ruled by the Emperor. But the
charade, that ancient lie remained and was perpetuated (O’Shaughnessy 2004). American
negative political advertising is an example of the operation of propaganda today in an ostensibly
more sophisticated age, although of course the dissemination of propaganda is by no means
solely undertaken in the US. In an article entitled “The power of smears in two American
presidential campaigns”, Morini and Vaccari analyse when the use of smears works – the
operation of making untruthful accusations against a political opponent - looking specifically at
how the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign damaged John Kerry’s chance for presidency
by making false accusations about his Vietnam war record because he did not rebut the
accusations sufficiently early and in the right medium, whereas the ‘Obama is Muslim’ campaign
by various Republican websites was unsuccessful because Obama’s campaign rebutted it
effectively online and early on. Use of smears, and particularly untruthful information, to
damage the image of a political opponent, is propaganda not political marketing. But propaganda
is, in fact, rife in the modern world. It is so rife that it is pervasive, yet it is also invisible.
However, before we analyse its appearance in the modern world, we first need to define it.
The term ‘propaganda’ is very definitely in the category of the ‘boo’ rather than the ‘hurrah’
words. For Schumpeter (1996), it referred in fact simply to any term with which we disagree.
Because, it is part of the lexicon of rhetorical abuse, it is difficult to have an objective discussion
about its meaning. The term now carries vernacular baggage, associated forever in the public
mind with the strident polemics of totalitarian regimes, with World War Two, with Hitler, with
Stalin in the Cold War and in the latter part of the twentieth century with the North Korean
regime and with Al Qaeda, the global Islamist militant organization. This categorization of
propaganda in extremis serves to restrict its operational definition and, in fact, desensitises us to
its subtler, more sophisticated forms.
How does propaganda differ from other sorts of persuasion? Propaganda is often a) simplistic, b)
didactic. Even if these features are not universally true of all propaganda texts, they are common
to most of them. But above all c) the objective is persuasion and not truth, unlike the work of (for
example) a scholar, a teacher or even (in theory) the work of a journalist. Part of the problem
with undertaking scholarship in propaganda studies is that there are a great many different types
of propaganda and many different definitions. Table 1 illustrates just some of the different forms
that propaganda may take.
Table 1: Propaganda Types and their Definitions
Type of Propaganda
Propaganda of Enlightenment
Negation of false information
Propaganda of Despair
The inducement of fear of death and
Propaganda of Hope
Presenting to the enemy the hope of a
better life if they cease hostilities or
Seeking to divide the enemy into individual
groups and attack them separately
Aiming to break down an enemy from
Aims at unifying and reinforcing society.
Aims at fomenting revolution within
Material containing graphic images of an
adversary’s savage or barbaric behaviour
towards the target audience to arouse their
sympathies towards the propagandist.
The penetration of an ideology into a target
audience through its sociological context.
The penetration of an ideology into a target
audience through its political context.
That propaganda which makes use of the
That propaganda made by a central
organisation which disseminates it for use
by small groups.
Sources: Bruntz (1972), Ellul (1965)
Propaganda embodies what Plato most feared about rhetoric, that it could make the worse appear
the better reason. The question of how and in what ways propaganda is distinct from mere
advocacy, or a cultural artefact that happens to be constructed around some social or other
message, is indeed an open one. Perhaps some notion of intensity or commitment is part of the
distinction. The origins of the word lie in the Counter-reformation and the Sacra Congregatio de
Propaganda Fidei (Pratkanis and Aronson 1991) created by a church struggling (to put it crassly)
to retain market share. Thus, the word had different connotations in different countries, more
positive in Catholic lands, more negative elsewhere given its proselytising nature. Perhaps, this is
also a key dimension in propaganda: the zealotry with which a proposition or concept is
proposed is suggestive as well as persuasive – ‘you must believe’ rather than the ‘here’s why you
should believe’ typical of marketing, although in the latter case some have argued, particularly in
its early years, that modern marketing is itself a form of propaganda (Packard, 1956; Baudrillard,
Propaganda is an amalgam of myth (which Barthes, 1957/1992, usefully outlines as false
signifiers commonly accepted as fact), symbolism (when signs express meaning beyond their
obvious content) and rhetoric (mixing word-play and persuasion). The judicious propagandist
gives the most serious attention to all three, recognising that all of them are manufactured; old
symbols can be refurbished, new myths can be fabricated. For an example of a refurbished
symbol, consider the introduction by Belfast City Council of the ‘Titanic: Made in Belfast
Festival’, where tourists and residents alike are asked to celebrate the ship, the city and the skills
of the people who made her – a true example of the attempt at a reversal of a symbol of
destruction (over 1,500 died when the Titanic sunk) into a symbol of artisan skill. An example of
the creation of a new myth, perhaps more obscure but no less powerful an example, is that of the
young Nazi, Horst Wessel, who was killed violently in unexplained circumstances and who
became attributed, through Josef Goebbel’s offices, with the Nazi national anthem, having been
said probably falsely to have written it.
The Effectiveness of Propaganda
The problem of writing about propaganda in history is the perennial problem of writing about
any communications phenomena. How do we prove its effectiveness, where is the objective
empirical evidence? The significance is easy to dismiss because the convincing data is indeed
elusive. It is certainly possible to cite many influential propaganda campaigns. In World War
One, for example, the famous Lord ‘Kitchener’ poster helped recruit a volunteer army of three
million men in the United Kingdom, and has probably become the most famous poster in history.
This example does not, of course, establish the effectiveness of the genre, merely of an
individual campaign. The effects of propaganda however can be wider than the obvious intended
audience. For example, Powell (1967), argues that whilst the Soviet Union’s anti-religious
propaganda was unlikely to change adult people’s religious views, it was likely both to contain
much overt exercising of religion and was also likely to cement the views of existing atheists.
More significantly, the success of various historical movements cannot be detached from the
competence of their acolytes as political evangelists. In a fascinating article entitled, “They come
over here … 300 years of xenophobic propaganda in England”, Croft and Dean outline how
xenophobic propaganda was used in 16th-18th century England by specific groups, and often by
the State, against economic rivals including the Dutch, Roman Catholics, Muslims and Jews,
concluding that propaganda was typically oral, disseminated through such persuasive
contemporary public media as the theatre, and had more powerful effects than their protagonists
often intended, often lasting over generations.
In the twentieth century, Communism and Fascism were proselytising creeds not mere systems
of belief. Proselytisation was fundamental to their meaning and embedded in their practice.
Persuasion is the key political skill. Facts seldom speak for themselves. Always, there exists the
possibility of fresh interpretation. Accordingly, historians have to assess a political figure’s
ability to manipulate myth, symbolism and rhetoric (‘propaganda’) not as a leadership skill but
as the leader skill in order to ‘correctly’ interpret historical events. The example of Britain’s
wartime leader, Winston Churchill, and the British Expeditionary Forces evacuation from
Dunkirk (effectively a retreat turned into a triumph) is an obvious one. To change catastrophic
defeat into a kind of victory via the alchemy of words, stories and symbols ranks as one of the
great achievements in history.
Propaganda might be said to work because of the apoliticality of most people, who look for
heuristics or simple recognition devices to make sense of perplexing political realities.
Enthusiastically or not, the people go along with whatever public orthodoxy has been presented
to them, as many of the American public did during the Iraq war, believing that Saddam Hussein
was personally responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks until the various public enquiries
indicated otherwise. In Britain, the government’s presentation of a case for war, together with an
inherent patriotism in the general public, added to the fact that the troops were successful in their
mission, meant that the general public ended up supporting the troops, even if they did not
support the war (see Baines and Worcester, 2005).
But propaganda is also the special province of the Single Issue groups in history. From the Anti-
Slavery Society to Greenpeace, the impact of their propaganda on the civic menu has been
incalculable, and much that parties place on the agenda today arises from organised agitation, for
example the women's movement. In a most apposite paper entitled, “If seals were ugly, nobody
would give a damn: Propaganda, nationalism and political marketing in the Canadian seal hunt”,
Marland, originally a director of communications for the Newfoundland government’s
department of fisheries and now a political science scholar at the Memorial University of
Newfoundland outlines, in contrast, with Schleifer (also a contributor in this volume and see later
in this editorial), that political marketing and propaganda are qualitatively different. In a
discussion of seal-hunting in Newfoundland, Canada, Marland argues that propaganda in this
context has much to do with nationalism, with both sides - sealers and anti-sealers - using a
nationalist appeal. He explains in his article how political marketing and propaganda
fundamentally differ on an important dimension: propagandists selectively use opinion polls to
support their often vehement ideological arguments.
Historical memory is also a function of propaganda, and often we see the past through the prism
of its own carefully crafted perceptual lens. We see Elizabeth I through the precise and organised
image her artists were told to produce, we see the Third Reich through the depraved art of Leni
Riefenstahl. We see them, in other words, as they would have wished us to see them. Much of
the imagery of the blitz for example derives not from the event but from a 1941 film, Fires Were
Started (Calder 1991).
Forms of Propaganda: Explicit
Propaganda comes in myriad forms and what is usually referred to as propaganda is actually one
variant of it, and possibly the least important because it is the most barefaced. It proclaims its
identity as propaganda (what psychologists of persuasion call perceived ‘manipulative intent’)
and therefore it arouses the cognitive defences of those who seek to preserve their own
intellectual integrity. Explicit propaganda therefore, while it needs to be discussed, might be seen
as the creation of more naive causes and regimes; the propaganda that really matters is the
propaganda that does not proclaim itself as such. A genre that thrives on emotional manipulation
cannot really succeed if that manipulation is obvious to its targets; it is the mysterious,
camouflaged, semi-submersible propaganda that should concern us the most.
The category of explicit propaganda is the public identity of the concept, self-proclaimed, it
repels because the craftwork of manipulation lies exposed. Such characterisation – a parodied
‘other’, two dimensional, excessively symbolic, projected by a sanitised ‘home team’, overly
ritualistic and stylised – all these are indeed the stigmata of propaganda.
However, propaganda is frequently more effective when it is disguised as something else. For
example, only 10% of Nazi films were ‘pure’ propaganda and much of their cinematic oeuvre
was ostensibly just entertainment. Thus, propaganda may be disguised as an action movie, for
example, Goebbels’ film Kolberg, produced in 1943/5 at the cost of withdrawing 30,000 (most
sources say 100,00) troops from a collapsing front (Hoffman, 1996). Goebbels had a particular
belief in the value of historical film. The reasons are not hard to fathom: costume drama and the
iconography of a distant age disguise propagandist intent: intelligent defences which would
otherwise reject an explicit message are less able to do so when a message is re-packaged and
Much entertainment, even in war time, is not of course propaganda. It can be ‘pure’
entertainment although there are even those who see this as propaganda since it celebrates, or at
least fails to interrogate, the existing social order. There are, of course, even those who view all
entertainment as propaganda. The Frankfurt school saw the economic competition origins of
media texts as embodied in their ideological nature. In other words, what capitalism paid for
would invariably celebrate the capitalist order (Kellner, 1995). For the Frankfurt school popular
culture was therefore bourgeois propaganda which rejuvenated the dominant order. Were this to
be accepted of course it would realise that threat of conceptual chaos that any debate about the
meaning of the word propaganda threatens to bring. Isn’t that just like saying everything is
But previously ‘pure’ entertainment vehicles can be hijacked for propaganda purposes: thus
Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Batman, Masked Marvel and Secret Agent X9 were all enlisted in the
cause of anti-facism. Holmes himself discourses with Watson on the virtues of Liberty while
driving through the streets of Washington (Taylor, 1990). Walt Disney himself was even
recruited into the anti-Nazi cause, producing a number of cartoons during the Second World
War, including Der Fuehrer’s Face (Donald Duck as a Nazi) and Commando Duck (Donald
Duck against the Japanese).
Forms of Propaganda: Subtle
It is important to liberate the idea of propaganda from its popular understandings, and from its
conceptual prison; manifestly the categories of explicit propaganda we have discussed have been
important in the history of the genre, manifestly they continue to be. But better educated
populations demand more sophisticated manipulation; less naive, less persuasible, different and
more submerged devices are needed to affect their thinking. Beyond this, states and formations
within them have generally less powers of coercion as democracy advances and matures, and
authority is challenged. A general consequence of this movement is that both the scope of
propaganda and its definition has to be broadened to include agents, agendas and agencies not
normally covered in the textbooks which claim to define the discipline. In addition, some things
like education have always possessed propagandistic elements and drive, yet the scholarship in
the field has really neglected this as part of its operational definition. Our demand is to broaden
the understanding of propaganda both in the contemporary description of its activity and in the
retrospective claims for the extent and comprehensiveness of the field. In other words, there are
all kinds of things we need to consider if we are to have a mature and sophisticated
understanding of what propaganda actually is, both today and in the past. Such claims do not
represent some kind of pedagogic imperialism, attempting to advance the claims of propaganda
to inflate its dimensions, but rather they represent a considered response to the question of what
propaganda really is if we seek to travel beyond the obvious boundaries of explicit propaganda.
In relation to dictatorship and totalitarian systems, this point, the function of education as
propaganda, seems hardly worth making. Everybody knows that under such regimes children are
drilled with wooden rifles, sing hymns to the Great Leader and so on. The propaganda content of
education in a democracy is much less visible, firstly because education is an ostensibly
objective process focusing on the acquisition of technical skills so that the casual observer is not
alerted to the extent of its propaganda content. But education syllabi are subject to state and
therefore political influence since states control the funding of most schools: the very debate over
what children should learn to prepare them for work and society is ultimately a debate about the
sort of society we should be and is therefore political (Loewen 1996). The content of much
secondary education, in terms of what its priorities are, what knowledge is discarded or
excluded, who are the heroes and villains has a definite political dimension which, in certain
particular contexts, can indeed be called propaganda. Education is deeply implicated in
propaganda and it always has been. The debates on what the school curriculum should contain
are the echo of national debates on identity. But they are also a way of election–seeking
politicians to persuade key elements in the voting constituencies by using contemporary
education as a lenitive to soothe the raw wounds of the past. In doing this, the education output
may have little to do with any truths seeking mission and no basis in fact. Education also takes
place in a context, that of the nation state, and it is usually state funded, so that the interests of
that state are reflected in curricula. In no sense is the knowledge purveyed free floating in
curricula. In no sense is the knowledge purveyed free floating and cosmopolitan. One of the aims
of states is to make their citizens believe in them as a pre-condition of a cohesive, contented and
malleable society, what Ellul (1965) called unification propaganda. There are various means by
which governments and political parties can do this but one is through the projection of fear and
the other through the projection of hope (see Table 1). An example case of the former is outlined
by Bove in her article, “For whose benefit? Fear and Loathing in the Welfare State”, in which she
argues that agitation propaganda is used, not by a terrorist group, but by a democratic state, in fact by the
Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in the United Kingdom, to stigmatise benefit claimants and
encourage citizens to inform on those making fraudulent claims in a government social marketing
campaign. Eloquent and persuasive, she posits that the DWP’s communications may actually reduce fraud
less than the cost of undertaking the promotion, and that the key goal is actually to appear symbolically as
if the government is in charge, even when it is not. Bove’s ultimate sentence strikes a real chord in view
of the recent riots in several UK cities and of course itself part of a wider trend around the world and
particularly in the middle east: the government’s approach to welfare … meets, in the form of the
multitude, its projected other and its nemesis, resistant to social-engineering, unidentifiable, non-
representable, swarming, unaccountable, criminal, non-committal, evasive, networked and irreducible.”
The wider ethical question then is to what extent government communications should be employed to
solve social problems. What are the limits of their use and under what circumstances should they be
Other Types of Propaganda
Some films rank as propaganda because the intent of their creators – financiers, producers, and
so on - was propagandistic. Lions of the Desert with Anthony Quinn, about tribal resistance to
the imperial Italian forces of Marshall Gratziani, clearly had Libyan-nationalistic intent and was
rumoured to be financed by Qaddafi. Certainly it had all the visual stigmata of propaganda –
snarling characters, imperialists, atrocities, noble rebels, dictators, and so on. There is also
‘black’ propaganda, with the active employment of forgery and the weapons of deception, such
as Britain’s World War two secret radio station Gustav Siegfried Eins (Newport–Nowordowski
2005); the Tsarist forgery of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion; the 1939 German newsreels
claiming that the Poles were ‘invading’ them; or the alleged British Conservative Party
fabrication in the 1924 general election, of a letter purporting to be from the Communist
International leader, Grigory Zinoviev to the Communist Party of Great Britain urging
revolution, which damaged the re-election chances of Ramsay MacDonald’s first socialist
Labour government (who were trying to advance an Anglo-Soviet trade pact at the time).
Historical and political reality does not, as astute propagandists recognise, exist in some true and
immutable form but is continually re-made. If there were one final interpretation of events then
the craft of history would largely cease to exist. Thus, we possess an ability to actually
manufacture reality. Walter Lippmann, a two-time Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, remarked
that what matters is not the event but the received image of the event, ‘the pictures in our heads’
as he called them (Lippmann, 1921: 1-17). Neville Nolt, a scholar at the Department of War
Studies at King’s College London illustrates, in his PhD thesis, that insurgent groups frequently
purposely plan violent campaigns to maximise their subsequent reporting in the media precisely
in order to affect and reframe the public’s perceived perspective of the history of an issue (Bolt,
2011). Falkowski and Michalak, in a paper entitled, “Backward framing and memory evaluation
in political elections”, outline precisely this phenomenon – defining it as backward framing –
and explain how a subject’s memories – the electorate’s in this case - can be manipulated by the
presentation of novel information, forcing the subject to assimilate that new information into the
old. However, their work also illustrated that their new evaluation is not remembered as new, it
is remembered as the old evaluation. This finding has profound implications; it illustrates the
mechanism by which it is possible to re-engineer people’s opinions, importantly without them
knowing that their opinions have changed.
Propaganda and New Media
But the rise of cyberspace has transformed both the meaning and opportunity for propaganda.
Anyone can be a propagandist with, possibly, an ocean of influence at their command if a
message goes viral. The significance of this cannot be underestimated; no longer is the individual
voice limited by the difficulty of gaining media attention. A stimulating YouTube message, or
outrageous allegations and lies, can likewise escape from the home of the manufacturer and go
global in an instant. One is reminded of Mark Twain’s aphorism, that ‘a lie can go round the
world while truth is still tying up its shoelaces’. Hence, during the last US presidential election, a
US army corporal was able to make an internet speech critical of Obama and see it reach eleven
million hits (‘Dear Mr Obama, An American Soldier Speaks Out’, www.youtube. com). Never
before in history could an ordinary citizen amass such a magnitude of influence. At the same
time, internet propaganda is unmediated and unfiltered. Lies, fictions and hatreds are not
digested through some culture’s media and review system but instead presented raw. The internet
exists with the propaganda product defining the primary space and the contextual criticism, the
‘posted’ critical or adulatory comments, being secondary. Hence all kinds of distortion and false
belief can escape into the larger civic consciousness, including such conspiracy theory beliefs,
for example, that the CIA or MOSSAD were somehow responsible for 9/11, the September 11th
2001 terrorist attacks on the US by Al Qaeda militants.
We can conclude that whereas the first age of the internet was producer driven, so-called Web
1.0, the second age, Web 2.0, is consumer driven. This has given rise to citizen-journalists, since
all that is required is a mobile phone camera and a blog. The Virginia Tech massacre in April
2007, for example, was reported live by student bloggers as the events unfolded (O’Shaughnessy
2009). A case in point is the events of the Arab Spring, where spontaneous revolutions occurred
in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen. At the time of writing, these popular
revolutions were successful in Tunisia and Egypt, put down in Bahrain (with Saudi Arabian
support) and were ongoing in Libya (and which erupted into a full-blown civil war), Syria and
Yemen. Our knowledge of the potential for the use of social media as a revolutionary tool, to
incur regime change, is limited however its influence should not be underestimated. Twitter was
an important means by which Iranian dissidents protested in the turbulence occurring
immediately after the Iranian presidential election in June 2009. Indeed, it was so important that
American government officials asked Twitter executives to delay their site maintenance
schedules, so that Iranian dissidents could continue to use it to register their dissent (Grossman,
2009). In a specially invited commentary article entitled “Revolution 2.0 in Egypt: Pushing for
change, foreign influences on a popular revolt”, Kirsi Yli-Kaitala of i to i research in London,
explains how social media were used to make the case, and agitate, for popular revolution in
Egypt. She explains how social media helped consolidate opposition to the Mubarak
government, co-ordinate resistance and draw in international condemnation. Helpfully, Yli-
Kaitala explains that social media - Facebook, Twitter and the like – are not a panacea for the
public diplomacy, military influence or Psyops officer, or for revolutionary terrorists and social
agitators. They offer no shortcut, in her words, to regime change but they do constitute a useful
tool in a wider array of tools available for influence practitioners. A comprehensive study of the
effectiveness of social media in such settings is not available and represents a useful area for
further research given the likelihood that social media will become more, not less, ubiquitous
within the world including in lesser developed countries.
Abuses: Propaganda Today
It is a moot point as to whether or not propaganda can be abused given the bad reputation the
word now holds, incorrectly in our view. Whether it is good or bad depends entirely on its
application and its applicants, of course. However, we propose that propaganda is not bad or
good per se (something Taylor, 1990, also contends). It is how it is used and its consequences
that are either bad or good. Bernays, that great propagandist for propaganda, certainly felt it
could be abused, in his view” when it is used to over-advertise an institution and to create in the
public mind artificial values” (Bernays, 1928/2005: 145). We therefore take both a deontological
(intentions-based) and a teleological (consequences) perspective and, although we recognise that
there is a need to explore the philosophy of propaganda in much more detail, we sadly do not
have space to consider this important dimension further here. From the above frame of reference,
we posit that propaganda is abused when it is used for the long-term ill of humanity. One very
current example of this is the use of propaganda by Al Qaeda, the global terror organization,
seeking to develop a Caliphate state and revolt against the West and what it perceives to be
Middle Eastern apostate client states. We turn to this case and that of Islamist propaganda more
Al Qaeda and Islamist Propaganda
The notion that liberal democracy is in an ideological struggle against Islamist propaganda is
very relevant today. The idea that a liberal democracy under threat can respond to that threat
using specialist marketing/public relations techniques traces its application back to the father of
the public relations industry, Edward Bernays, who outlined how America should use marketing
and public relations techniques to get people to see the true alternatives between democracy and
Fascism and Nazism (Bernays, 1942). In Britain, during the Second World War, according to
Tatham (2008), The Political Warfare Executive (PWE) ran just such a campaign in the Allies'
fight against Nazi Germany. Tatham goes on to explain that there is an increasing need for
innovative techniques for conflict prevention, in an attempt to head off conflict. A RAND
Corporation study in 2007 (Helmus, Paul and Glenn, 2007) also illustrates the direct application
of marketing in the military setting.
AQ’s propaganda is the most unanticipated consequence of the cyberspace order; few could have
foreseen the propaganda employments of cyberspace, fewer still that a steroidal global terrorism
would be the result. Al Qaeda has manufactured a myth, of a global conspiracy against Islam – a
myth its cyberspace propaganda videos seek to perpetuate and deepen – the only antidote to
which is to perform Jihad, self-defined as either the conduct of a martyrdom operation, the
provision of financial or sympathetic support, or at the very least passive non-engagement with
AQ (as opposed to actively working against them). Its approach is increasingly sophisticated
both in terms of production values and in terms of its symbolic and rhetorical argumentation. Its
audiences are various but include Western citizenry targeted with fear appeals designed to sap
their will and instigate electoral change; Western Muslims with the aim to convert to AQ
sympathisers, supporters and suicide bombers; and similarly Arabs and Muslims (for example in
Pakistan in 2008 and in Syria in 2011); and Western political elites, to goad them and provoke
foreign and security policy reaction and overstretch.
In that sense, the approaches adopted are principally agitation and atrocity propaganda. The aims
are essentially covertly political rather than sociological, but use both vertical (the mass media)
and horizontal channels (small groups of individuals watching the material together in Madrassas
or elsewhere). What is clear overall is that the West faces a sophisticated ideological battle
against AQ propagandists, both in the core group and in their franchised partner groups such as
AQ in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) and AQ in the Arabian Peninsula (AWAP), and the Somali
based AQ-linked Al Shabab. Although we do not consider AQ propaganda further in this special
edition, we urge fellow researchers to investigate both the use of political marketing/propaganda
by Islamist groups, including AQ and its affiliates, and the effectiveness of authority attempts to
counter AQ influence in their own communities and countries.
What the Special Edition Did (Not) Cover
Submissions were sought from a variety of academic fields, particularly including political
science, communications and marketing/business as well as from practitioners. Our stock of
papers in the final selection was from academics from a mixture of backgrounds including war
studies, marketing, and the political science fields. All articles were double blind reviewed with
the exception of the commentary article, which was especially invited and extensively reviewed
by the editors and two reviewers. We would therefore particularly like to thank the following
reviewers for the efforts in helping to put together this special edition:
Dr Ming Lim – University of Leicester, UK
Conor McGrath – Independent scholar and consultant, Ireland
Dr Mona Moufahim – University of Nottingham, UK
Dr Declan Bannon – University of the West of Scotland, UK
Dr David Betz – Kings College London, UK
Dr Dominic Wring – University of Loughborough, UK
Dr John Egan – South Bank University. London, UK
Ann Stow – Dstl / Cranfield University, UK
Nigel Jones – Cranfield Defence and Security, Cranfield University, UK
Darren Lawrence - Cranfield Defence and Security, Cranfield University, UK
Professor Michael Saren – University of Leicester, UK
Dr Ron Schleifer – Bar-Ilan University, Israel
Professor Chris Hackley – Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
Table 2 illustrates the key themes of the original Call for Papers, outlining how the final
selection of articles included in this special edition either met, or did not meet, that call.
Accordingly, we draw some conclusions about where further research might be directed.
Table 2: Key Themes Uncovered and Not Covered in This Special Edition
Author details / Further comments
1. The definition and scope of propaganda and political
marketing, especially by non-traditional political actors.
Marland, Croft & Dean, Schleifer, Morini &
2. Conceptual and applied distinctions between political
marketing and propaganda.
Marland, Croft & Dean, Falkowski &
3. The use of propaganda by NGOs, charities and corporations
to advance a (social) cause, or in the development of a
values-based communication campaign.
Marland, Morini & Vaccari
4. The use of marketing/propaganda methods in
military/wartime environments and/or by terrorist groups.
The political marketing of war. Propaganda as an ancillary
and alternative to military violence.
5. The use of propaganda and political marketing in public
See Kendrick & Fullerton (2004) and Fullerton
& Kendrick (2006) for more on this theme.
Further research is needed in this field.
6. Historical uses and theatres of political
Croft & Dean
7. The employment of political marketing/propaganda as an
alternative to coercion and policing in the various assorted
‘wars’ against drugs, terrorism, smoking, alcohol
8. The use of political marketing/propaganda not just as an
election resource but also as a mode of governing, i.e. the
rise of ‘symbolic’ government around the world.
Falkowski & Michalak
Whilst this edition has to some extent considered the interface between political marketing and
propaganda (all those areas ticked in Table 2), it has only really touched the surface. In
particular, our call for papers on the use of political marketing/propaganda and its use in
terrorism/counter-terrorism is deserving of further research, given it is still a nascent field and
symbolism is so important in this sub-field, as we outline elsewhere (see Baines et al, 2010 and
O’Shaughnessy and Baines, 2009). The use of propaganda by Far Right groups is also on the
rise, particularly in Eastern Europe (see Moufahim et al, 2010, for a discussion of this in the
Belgian context), and as we have tragically seen in the Oslo massacre in Norway in July 2011,
even an apparently stable society is not immune from the Far Right’s influence. Whether or not
propaganda had a role to play in the radicalisation of the perpetrator, Anders Breivik, may come
out in the public enquiry ordered as a result by the Norwegian government. We see therefore in
both the Far Right and the Islamist movement two opposing sides, one adopting an
ultranationalist ideology and the other adopting a Pan-Islamic anti-Western ideology. They
however do not operate in isolation – they have the potential to feed dangerously into the other,
extending its venomous reach. In such an environment what is the role of the authorities, who
seek to harmonise or at least pacify dangerously affected communities? In their political
marketing/counter-propaganda efforts, what constitutes ethical and unethical communication
approaches? These are important questions and ones we urge scholars and practitioners to
consider in future.
The use of political marketing/propaganda is also relevant to the military context, particularly in
the field of psychological operations. In Schleifer’s article in this volume, an interesting parallel
is drawn between political marketing and PSYOPs, where there is very limited published work.
In a paper entitled, “Propaganda, PSYOP and political marketing – The Hamas campaign as a
case in point”, Schleifer argues that propaganda, psychological operations and political
marketing are indistinct, “essentially the same”; that they overlap in times of war. Western
democracies must understand the propagandistic forces that democracies are subject to and
respond accordingly, he argues. Similarly, there is also relatively little published on the link
between marketing and public diplomacy, a related area. This is surprising, particularly given the
famous Carl Von Clauswitz aphorism that ‘War is the continuation of politics by other means’.
Political marketing/propaganda must have particular relevance for NATO in Libya, for example,
in legitimising the role of the National Transitional Council and by the International Security
Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, where there is an attempt to legitimise the role of the
Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) amongst the people of
Afghanistan, particularly in the restive southern provinces. These are only two of the many
current conflicts operating in the world today. We therefore call on scholars to recognise the
potential for the application of political marketing/propaganda to the military and public
diplomacy contexts and to observe and write about their manifestations and potentialities
A further context of the use of political marketing/propaganda is that undertaken by the use of
police forces in countering various social ills. One award-winning campaign in the UK context,
is the campaign run by Trident, part of the (London) Metropolitan Police Service, which won an
Institute of Practitioner’s in Advertising Effectiveness Award in 2008 for its ‘Stop the Guns’
campaign to disrupt gun-crime by black people against black victims across London. Further
research should be undertaken in this context to determine a) what are the limits of
communication vis-à-vis other police tactics b) how can such communications be made to be
more effective? c) where do the ethical boundaries lie in the use of such methods?
Misuses of Propaganda
None of the papers in this edition clearly alluded to the unintended readings generated by much
propaganda in the world today. A message carries a tone as well as a content, and what we
encode is not necessarily what is de-coded; there is aberrant decoding, and propagandists may
fail completely to negotiate the quicksands of public opinion. But beyond this, there are many
texts particularly in mass media that elude any attempt to categorise them as anything. They
operate on numerous levels for numerous targets, and their meaning is essentially fluid,
sabotaging any effort to impose a dominant reading. Their meaning derives from multiple
sources - the self-referentiality of the text within the genre, the uses of irony, the play of gesture
and intonation, the associations of the actor chosen for that role and so on.
Yet an understanding of how propaganda generates such unintended readings is critical to an
assessment of its effectiveness. To some extent, an analysis of the (in)effectiveness of
propaganda communications is possible using semiotic analysis (especially since this does not
require an audience to be investigated rather it takes the communicative text as its unit of
analysis) The use of semiotic analysis in propaganda studies is perhaps more limited than it
should be. Accordingly, we urge researchers to use this method more as an extra means by which
to decode propaganda texts, particularly their cultural implications. Semiotics, particularly
Derrida’s deconstruction technique, is particularly designed to analyse not just ‘what is there’ in
the communication but ‘what is not there’ (Derrida, 1967).
A case in point is that of Sefton Delmer, the famous black propaganda practitioner acting for the
British in the Second World War, who called the generation of intended readings, a ‘boomerang
effect’, where the unexpected consequences of the use of propaganda create a further problem (in
his case, he created the myth of the good Wehrmacht officer (as a foil to the SS), however, after
the war this myth frequently became used as a defence by Wehrmacht officers who argued that
they had been anti-Hitler all along in a bid to retain their previously exalted positions within
post-War Germany (see Delmer, 1962).
The following questions therefore arise: when does a propagandist communication lead to
unintended effects? What are the most common (cultural) contexts, audience and communicator
types? What language needs to be used to best persuasive effect? How can existing persuasive
language used by opponents be effectively countered? These are fundamental questions, which
we’ve not really considered here but which we believe are worthy of further research.
Nobody is ever neutral about the idea of propaganda and there are consequences to its use, both
malign and benign. On the debit side, the drive to persuade can frustrate effective government.
There are serious issues for public policy when public policy is rhetorically driven, since the
policy idea is invested with such persuasive velocity that the focus is taken away from the
feasibility of that very idea. It is surely the case that, outside the realm of Euclid’s geometry, we
are permanently in the realm of persuasion. The value of the word ‘propaganda’ is that it does
duty as a sensitising concept, alerting us to phenomena which we would not see if we did not
possess a word for them, allowing us to create patterns and coherence and therefore meaning
from the apparently disparate. Propaganda however can be effective or ineffective. Its impact is
never fore-ordained, and only creativity can rescue the genre from mediocrity. There is good and
bad propaganda as we see in this volume. One can in fact be overly pessimistic about something
which is really a permanent truth about the human condition. We cannot escape propaganda, it is
all about us, instead we must either seek to understand it and isolate its effects or seek to
assimilate it and be subject to its effects; the key however it that we do not blindly accept
ideological precepts and that we exercise our desire to choose, if not the experience of free will,
at least freer will. We hope the seven papers in this edition help us to understand the operation of
propaganda and its interface with political marketing more and that these excellent papers inspire
you, the reader, to conduct further research in this important field of human communication.
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