Marketing gets a bad rep sometimes. Many view the advertising industry as exploitative, manipulative, and dangerous. When I explain to people my role in marketing and advertising, they often winch saying “Aww, you’re just getting people to buy what they don’t need”. Life is not that simple. But this perception remains that advertising is a form of mind control which still skews people’s first impressions.
This perception isn’t entirely flawed as many practitioners exist using what I call “the dark side of marketing and advertising”. People preying on public fears, insecurities, and dreams for their own selfish ends. Examining history shows us one the most insidious marketing and PR campaigns ever perpetrated. The practitioner was none other than Hitler and his Nazi comrades including propaganda minister Joeseph Goebbels.
The creation of the Nazi brand
At the end of World War 1, Germany was an economic wasteland following their seismic defeat. The treaty of Versailles requiring them to pay an enormous sum of financial reimbursement to their adversaries crippled their economic growth. This put a tremendous burden on the German people suffering mass unemployment of between 40-50%. The seeds were thus sown for the Nazi’s rise to power leaving them vulnerable to Hitler’s hate mongering.
The Nazis began as a people movement led by Adolf Hitler. An admirable goal of seeking to make Germany great again masked a more disturbing prerogative. Supremely organized and confident in the beliefs, a desire to free Germany from the leash of their European WW1 enemies was something everybody could believe in. In an era where Germans felt powerless and lost, the Nazi’s strong will and energy was mesmerizing. The red and black swastika symbolizing the blood spilled in their uprising. Red is also a colour we associate with passion and attraction and combined with black forms a highly impactful brand symbol to the German people.
What being a Nazi means
Like many successful brands, the Nazi’s built a brand that was empowering, anti-authoritarian, and exclusive. Being a Nazi not only gave defeated people a purpose again but supplied power to those who previously felt powerless. If you look at Hitler’s speeches, while dictatorial, he always speaks of “We” when referring to his insidious goals. This creates a perception that they are in this together.
“In the last 6 years, we have accomplished amazing goals through our will, our hard work and through our talent… German workers get to work.”
In addition, the Nazi brand was centred on the perception that Germans are a superior race. To people lacking confidence post-war, this made them feel special appealing to fragile egos. In marketing, many brands appeal to our egos. Brands can form expressions of identity for many people. Some wish to identify themselves as better than others. They see status cars, luxury watches and other indulgences as social advertisements of their specialness and superiority. We all have an ego and if left unchecked we open ourselves to the dark side or media exploitation.
It sounds ridiculous but by promoting Nazism as anti-authority, they appealed to people’s rebellious nature and latent anger for the economic constraints imposed on them after their defeat in world war 1. The creation of a siege mentality where Germans thought the world was against them helped bind a nation together. The reality was that the Nazis were authoritarians under the veil of a freedom movement making people unconscious to their mental and physical enslavement to the Nazi doctrine.
The Nazi Mission and Values
Any brand seeking to appeal to the masses, must have a strong mission statement which both their employees and customers can believe in. Having a mission serves to assuage any doubts or misunderstandings we have about the brand. This makes a brand instantly more memorable. The Nazi’s mission was to reestablish Germany as a world superpower. Chillingly, they also sought to eliminate all those “inferior” to them like the jews “tainting” their land.
Love is an empowering emotion imbuing us with sub-human strength and will. Hate, however, can do the same. Hitler sought to create an enemy for the German people, a race for which they could blame all their problems. He chose the jews reflecting his own inner jealousy and bitterness towards this race of people. Jews got the blame for everything wrong with Germany, absolving the Germans themselves of any blame. This gaslighting strategy served to ignite and amalgamate a nation together rallying against a common enemy.
“I will make you masters of the world” - Hitler
Hitler and his Nazi mission statement appealed to fragile German minds and their need to re-establish some feeling of power in their lives. The above statement does not just promise people a better life but literally promises them the world. (FYI if any brand or person promises you the world, to make you a millionaire or cure all your problems… THEY ARE LYING). Dark marketing practices nearly always target people’s egoic goals and need for power or control in their lives. Great marketing is ethical marketing grounded in reality, presenting real results and an honest representation of brand benefits.
Ultimately, the German people followed his vision for Germany one promising a better future.
Advertising the Nazi Doctrine
To promote their agenda, the Nazi’s implemented aggressive advertising and PR campaigns. On rising to power, mass construction of home radios began for the German people. Hitler used these during the war years to brainwash the German people with his toxic beliefs. 70% of German people owned a radio and endless loops playing pro-Nazi propaganda encouraged the population to adopt their beliefs. The Nazi propaganda machine sought to make Germans devoid of any independent thought becoming instead puppets and mindless cheerleaders of the regime.
“I consider Radio to be the most important instrument that exists for influencing the masses” - Hitler
Hitler believed in the use of discreet and covert propaganda. If people felt they were being duped or brainwashed he knew they would rail against it. So as a result, much of their PR campaigns carry secret undertones of Nazi ideology. In Cinema, Nazi films were fanning the flames of hatred against the jews, encouraging Germans to die for the war effort, and entrenching confidence that the Germans are a superior race and an undefeatable army.
“You can prosecute us, you can even kills us but we will never capitulate” - Hitler
Nazi advertising sought to prey on the fears of the German people and manipulate them to become pawns in Hitler and the Nazi’s selfish pursuit of power and vengeance against a world they felt wronged by. Purchasing most of the private newspaper outlets facilitated coverage of pro-nazi news stories. Posters were also erected fanning flames of hatred against the Jewish community and promoting the Nazi’s as saviours of Germany. These posters were very evocative showing the breaking of chains symbolizing freedom under the Nazi reign.
Hitler was also a powerful believer in the power of the spoken word. His rallies in the beginning years of Nazism drew thousands of people. In effect, allowing him direct contact with his audience. People became entrapped by his presence, energy, and strong will. He became a Godly figure in their eyes and he behaved as if a father to the German people. Patting people on the face during meetings, the use of pauses during his speeches, and powerful body language added to his stature as a saviour of the German people and supreme leader.
Controlling the media, distorting reality, and appealing to people’s ego and biases helped Hitler and the Nazi’s rise to power. Using marketing for evil and manipulation allowed Hitler to expose his toxic ideals to a large audience. This audience became immersed in his ideology due to their distressing circumstances. The rise of evil only occurs due to the ignorance of good people. The Germans (while vulnerable) chose to believe Hitler’s lies and flawed logic. Marketing and advertising provided a medium for his poison. But we control the contents of what we choose to let into our minds. Ultimately the German people chose to drink Hitler’s poison.
Similarly, some people will use this blog as a how-to guide for their own quest for personal power over others. While others as a warning of what can occur when we fall prey to group think and living unconsciously. Black marketing practices exist. We see ads all the time highlighting people’s “imperfections” and promising eradication or publicly shaming people for an aspect of their appearance. It’s not something at BXT we engage in but its out there.
Marketing and advertising plays a tremendous role in shaping public opinion. Hitler used marketing for evil. Some brands do the same. But marketing can and should be used for good. All it takes is good intentions and a product or brand seeking to solve people’s problems and make a positive impression on the world.