The British Museum/Propaganda: Power and Persuasion.

by outspokenhistorian

Propaganda: “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view” – Oxford Dictionary.

When most people think of propaganda they think of the negative – and for that reason the most famous – examples. I for one am guilty of thinking straight to Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitic and anti-communist propaganda campaigns which spread hatred of certain groups in society. Obviously as a British national also Lord Kitchener’s “YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU” poster. Which still follows us everywhere we go today and in effect is still being used as propaganda in some circumstances. However I always had in my mind the opinion of my friends who indeed believe that everything is propaganda, and in a sense I now believe that they are right, a lot of things act as propaganda.

Today I visited an exhibition in The British Library; “Propaganda: Power and Persuasion.” It explored propaganda from its early manifestations, (in ancient civilisations through presenting their great leaders and religious figures in architecture, art and on money also grand paintings of heroes and figures of political or military importance such as France’s Napoleon Bonaparte) to more recent variations of propaganda.

The exhibition and workshops main aim focused around: “Propaganda is really trying to persuade somebody to do something or buy something, so why isn’t everything in it’s own right propaganda?” As I went through the exhibition this feeling manifested into a belief that most things we are exposed too in their own right are propaganda but in the modern world more subtle than it ever has been before, especially governmental and political issues, but also medical campaigns, advertising and media influences.

The exhibition gave us a leaflet stating the 7 most important propaganda techniques:

  • Card Stacking – (Telling half truths and only showing the positives of something, leaving out any negatives.) An example of this propaganda would be:

    This WW1 recruitment poster is an example of Card Stacking as it points out the good elements of joining the army; the pay, uniform and weapons and benefits whilst also showing the smartly dressed soldiers being sent off as heroes by women. However doesn’t mention the possible death and the suffering that the soldiers would face on the front-line.



  • Testimonial: (Use of well known or respected people to endorse a product, an issue or idea.) An example of this would be:

A football club such as Charlton Athletic setting up campaigns to encourage their supporters to give up smoking is a effective form of propaganda as people are more likely to conform or do something if it is pushed by somebody or something they respect and the aim of propaganda is to persuade. Another example of this could arguably be Princes Harry and William fighting in the armed forces, the passion and love for the country shown by the princes arguably inspires some people to join the army.

  • Glittering Generalities:

  • (Referring to words or ideas that create a positive response and appeal to positive emotions such as hope, freedom, love ect which build on a human longing for something better.) An example of this propaganda would be:

This is a propaganda poster used by the USA during ww2. It plays on the feeling of togetherness and rallies Americans behind the idea that united they will win.






  • Transfer: (Relating something we like or respect with the idea or product being sold)
    A very recent example of this would be trying to sell products or promote healthy life styles by relating it to the Olympic games that have just taken place in London last year. Because of the happiness and respect for sport generated by the games many companies tried to use it in advertising campaigns.
  • Plain Folk: (“I’m Just Like You” – the idea of being like the common people.) A famous example of this type of propaganda:
    Italian Fascist propaganda posterThis is a famous propaganda poster used by Benito Mussolini during his fascist rule of Italy. He is shown harvesting wheat in front of a church, identifying himself with the common people of his country to try and win support.

  • Bandwagon: (The idea that everybody else is doing it plays on the human nature to desire being on a winning side and not being left out.) An example of this propaganda would be:

This again is a British ww1 propaganda poster depicting everybody rallying together under the Union Jack to fight for the country. The use of both men and women would make people feel like everybody else was part of the war and make them want to be a part of it.

  • Name Calling: (Using names or traits that evoke fear, dislike or hatred for something or someone) An example of this would be:
    This is an Anti-Semitic children’s book used as propaganda in Nazi Germany. The traits of the Jews in the picture and the Jewish man leading away the pretty German girl presumably to rape or hurt her would have made German children scared of and therefore dislike Jews therefore conforming them to Nazi ideals. Another example of this would be the white-feather for cowardice used in ww1, which scared young men into going to war rather than being called a coward.


The past’s propaganda was usually to promote a nation, war or religion. For example an early propaganda was Martin Luther’s bashing of the Catholic church to try convert people to protestantism. Jehovah’s Witnesses use of literature within the organisation has been argued to be a form of brain-washing and therefore propaganda. In the terms of Nation we see it in the use of the flags, national anthems and money used by a nation as it usually consists of something the nation holds dear in it’s heritage. An example of national propaganda is the god-like presentation of presidents of North-Korea. The use of propaganda in war is widespread. It’s used to recruit as well as keep up morale on the home-front.

Whilst wandering around the exhibition I wondered whether or not scratch-cards or lottery tickets are forms of propaganda, and in a way I think they are. They entice people into buying them with wisely chosen words acting as GLITTERING GENERALITIES and pointing out the opportunity of winning substantial amounts of money. However the chances of winning the lottery are very slim, according to the UK National Lotto site, the probability of hitting the jackpot on a single ticket is 1 in 13,983,816. Advertising works in a very similar way, enticing the customer through propaganda-like methods and also play on the bandwagon theme, if everybody has something or does something, people are more likely to want to be in the in-crowd and buy a product. Testimonials are also used widely in advertising with famous people becoming the face of a brand, for example Arsenal Football Club backing reading for young boys, or “Rihanna” promoting a brand at River Island.

Political parties obviously still use propaganda for their election campaigns to win votes, by promoting their own party but also being slanderous and using “Name-Calling” against other parties to prevent loosing votes to opponents. Another form of political propaganda is the media, in specific newspapers. Traditionally newspapers stick to one political party or political alignment and their readers fit into this category. For example, the Daily Mail is a traditionally right wing newspaper. During election time most tabloid newspapers (generally working-class) seem to swing to whichever political party they want to win, by so influencing their readers in the process.

On a more of a positive note, propaganda has beneficial uses, such as public health campaigns. Governments spend a lot of time and money on these campaigns as in reality a poster or advertisement campaign costs a less time and money by keeping the people healthy, as opposed to spending a lot more on treating the repercussions of not staying healthy. Therefore keeping people healthy through anti-STI campaigns and giving information about various health-problems and how to prevent them is obviously very beneficial to the people, but even more so to the authorities.

Lastly, the exhibition’s end gave the impression that social media such as Twitter is the future of propaganda. There was a big screen that showed just how powerful twitter is. The most re-tweeted tweet ever is Barack Obama’s “4 more years” tweet. The screen showed the re-tweets coming in by the minute and it was amazing, but nerve-racking the power twitter actually has in influencing us, and the amount that it allows us to jump on the bandwagon by “re-tweeting.” things.

My trip to the exhibition was a very worthwhile trip and I had a good consider of what propaganda actually is and I believe the Oxford dictionary has got one thing wrong, propaganda is mostly but NOT ALWAYS misleading, and is not always negative. I would thoroughly recommend the exhibition if you go to the British Library to see the Magna Carta or any of the other treasures within it.