Torches of freedom

Torches of Freedom

We are all searching for a big idea that will define our brand and change the way the consumer thinks. Or at least we should be.

Nobody understood this more than Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays – the ‘father of PR’. His famous work for the American Tobacco Company changed the way millions of people thought and acted.

Back in the 1920s brands would appeal to a person’s rational side. Buy this car, it’s reliable, cheap, well made etc. etc. Edward Bernays knew that people had an irrational side, a side you can exploit by associating a product with a specific feeling. Want to feel like an alpha male? Buy this car. Want to be attractive to women? Buy this car.

The best and worst example of this can be found in Bernays’ work for Lucky Strike – dependent on whether you’re selling or smoking cigarettes.

Cigarettes were big business back then. There was a problem though; cigarettes were considered unladylike.

So, women didn’t smoke and cigarettes were advertised to men. Even with my rudimentary maths skills I can tell you that’s half the market gone. So Edward Bernays went to work with a simple brief… ‘Make women want to smoke’.

Bernays went about banishing the stigma attached to female smokers.

The Easter Parade in New York City would be his stage. He paid a group of women to smoke. He then told the gathering press to expect a suffragette protest in which they would hold up ’torches of freedom’.

The leading ‘protester’, Bertha Hunt, was in reality no suffragette but Bernays’ secretary. This was no feminist movement, but an incredibly effective yet simple marketing stunt.

The controversy garnered nationwide attention. The image of these glamourous women holding up a fag was seen as a contemporary version of ‘Lady liberty’.

This placed cigarettes as a symbol in women’s minds of their desire for gender equality. All bollocks of course, cigarettes had nothing to do with making women equal.

He also stated his belief that women subconsciously wanted their own penises and that cigarettes were a way that they could have them. I told you he was Freud’s nephew…

In truth, it was an immoral mass-manipulation of millions of people.

And it was genius. They then bombarded consumers with advertisements that all subscribed to this big idea. Lucky Strike sales doubled in 1929 and continued to rise in the years following.

Here are a few examples I found to show how prevalent this idea was.




Today women are as free as men to pollute their lungs with dangerous toxins, and we have one man to thank. Edward Bernays.

We can only hope that we are living in more enlightened, conscientious times, yet we should still take inspiration from Lucky Strike and Bernays.

Every brand should strive for a big idea. We can change the way people think, for the better.

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