Part 1: Objectives

Visual Propaganda

The questions for this week:

  • What is propaganda?
  • Is propaganda inherently negative or wrong?
  • How does visual propaganda work?
  • What makes visual propaganda so effective?

Part 1: To-Do List

  • Blog post relating to last week’s coursework or class
  • Texts
  • Websites to explore
  • Share any links to or actual ads, visuals, memes and videos from this year’s campaigns

Part 1: Overview

This week we look at propaganda and how visuals are a vital component of it.

The term propaganda comes from the word “propagate” (from Latin), and was used by the Catholic Church with the formation in the 17th Century of the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (the “Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith”), the church officials responsible for spreading the Catholic religion and church affairs in non-Catholic parts of the world.

Two centuries later, with the rise of modern mass media such as newspapers, radio, film, and, eventually, television and the internet, the term propaganda took on different connotations as governments and other groups used these media to promote their ideas and values, often during times of stress like war. The term in modern times has almost become synonymous with a negative, suspicious, and nefarious productions and aims due to its associations with the Nazi regime in Germany in the 1930s-1940s and their Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels.

Below is an excellent description of propaganda from a U.S. government pamphlet What is Propaganda? (1944), which covers both the positive, negative, and neutral aspects of propaganda:

Propaganda isn’t an easy thing to define, but most students agree that it has to do with any ideas or beliefs that are intentionally propagated.

“It uses words and word substitutes in trying to reach a goal—pictures, drawings, graphs, exhibits, parades, songs, and other devices.

“Of course propaganda is used in controversial matters, but it is also used to promote things that are generally acceptable and noncontroversial.

“So there are different kinds of propaganda. They run all the way from selfish, deceitful, and subversive effort to honest and aboveboard promotion of things that are good.

“Propaganda can be concealed or open, emotional or containing appeals to reason, or a combination of emotional and logical appeals.”

What is Propaganda gives some historical perspective:

World War I dramatized the power and triumphs of propaganda. And both fascism and communism in the postwar years were the centers of intense revolutionary propaganda. After capturing office, both fascists and communists sought to extend their power beyond their own national borders through the use of propaganda.

“In our modern day, the inventive genius of man perfected a machinery of communication which, while speeding up and extending the influence of information and ideas, gave the propagandists a quick and efficient system for the spread of their appeals. This technical equipment can be used in the interests of peace and- international good will. Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo preferred to seize upon this magnificent nervous system for selfish ends and inhumane purposes, and thus enlarged the role of propaganda in today’s world. While the United Nations were slow at first to use the speedy and efficient devices of communication for propaganda purposes, they are now returning blow for blow.

“The modern development of politics was another stimulus to propaganda. Propaganda as promotion is a necessary part of political campaigns in democracies. When political bosses controlled nominations, comparatively little promotion was needed before a candidate was named to run for office, but under the direct primary system the candidate seeking nomination must appeal to a voting constituency. And in the final election he must appeal to the voters for their verdict on his fitness for office and on the soundness of his platform. In other words, he must engage in promotion as a legitimate and necessary part of a political contest.

“In democracies, political leaders in office must necessarily explain and justify their courses of action to an electorate. Through the use of persuasion, those in office seek to reconcile the demands of various groups in the community. Prime ministers, presidents, cabinet members, department heads, legislators, and other officeholders appeal to the citizens of community and nation in order to make a given line of policy widely understood and to seek popular acceptance of it.

“In peacetime the promotional activities of democratic governments usually consist of making the citizens aware of the services offered by a given department and of developing popular support for the policies with which the department is concerned. The purpose is to make these services “come alive” to the everyday citizen, and in the long run official information and promotion tend to make the average man more conscious of his citizenship. If the public is interested in the work done in its name and in its behalf, intelligent public criticism of governmental services can be stimulated.

“Recent economic changes have expanded the volume of propaganda. Under the conditions of mass production and mass consumption, techniques of propaganda and public relations have been greatly developed to help sell commodities and services and to engender good will among consumers, employees, other groups, and the public at large.”

Visual communication has always been at the heart of modern-day propaganda and remains one of the most effective means of disseminating propaganda–a good example today is the rise of memes on social media!

Part 1: Readings & Texts

  1. What is Propaganda?
    • 17 different definitions of propaganda by various famous people, historians, and critics.
  2. Propaganda
    • This is a good overview of propaganda. It includes principles, types, and how to spot it.
  3. National Archives, Powers of Persuasion
    • This is an online exhibition of U.S. World War II propaganda posters, which were considered an important part of the war effort.
  4. Difference Between Advertising and Propaganda
    • How is advertising different from propaganda? Sometimes it’s a fine line.
  5. Adbusters Spoof Ads
    • Adbusters is a journal with a propagandistic aim. Glance through some of their anti-capitalist, anti-corporate ads.

Digging Down Deeper

If you would like to explore visual propaganda more deeply, check out the resources available on this website:

The Russian Revolution Centenary, 1917-2017: Propaganda

This is part of an exhibition of poster art from the Bolshevik Revolution. Posters were considered an essential tool of the Russian Revolution and the early years of the Soviet Republic to spread the message of the communist revolution to a largely illiterate population.

Part 1: Blog post assignment

Your blog post should cover something about last week’s work on wayfinding and map-making.

Part 2: Objectives

Political Advertising

The questions for this week:

  • What is the relationship between propaganda and political advertising?
  • How does political advertising reflect many of the principles we have been studying?
  • Which political advertisements have made an impact?
  • What makes a political advertisement or campaign stand out?
  • What are the effective principles in a political advertisement campaign?

Part 2: To-Do List

  • Blog post relating to last week’s coursework or class
  • Texts
  • Websites to explore

Part 2: Overview

Political Advertising and Visuals

Last week you learned about propaganda and how advertising is seen as distinct from propaganda. Political advertising straddles the admittedly sometimes blurry lines between advertising and propaganda.

Political advertising, whether buttons, posters, flags, commercials, rallies, or memes are selling you something, but are also trying to persuade you to vote for or against someone and something. Political advertising activates your emotions to try to get you to associate a candidate or an issue with those feelings and emotions. There may be an argument there, but it is the positive or negative emotions that move humans that they are trying to activate.

Watch this video from 2020 that appeared on social media. As you watch, jot down what images you see and what feelings you are having. Think about these questions among others:

  • How does the video use audio?
  • What messages are being transmitted to you the viewer?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • How does this video manipulate your emotions?
  • Is it supporting a candidate or candidates? Or is it more against a candidate or candidates?
  • What does it want from its audience – in other words, what is its purpose(s)?
Citation: [Eleven Films] (2020, Jul. 2) “BREAKING: The Dangerous Ones #VoteForOurLives” [Video File]. Retrieved from

This is just a sample of how, last year, social media became inundated with political content consisting of videos, photos, cartoons, and memes.

While we will be looking more at past campaigns for this unit, I encourage you to post on the Discussion Board anything from this year that you found effective or just want to share with the class.

Part 2: Blog Assignment

Your blog should reflect on last week’s work on propaganda.

Part 2: Readings and Texts

Digging Down Deeper

If you would like to explore or learn more about some of these issues:

Famous visuals from the Obama Campaign:

Fast Company, “What is the best political branding of all time? Experts weigh in,” October 28, 2020

See what the experts say. You might be surprised–or not!

Part 2: Blog Post

Your 2020 Campaign Visual

Please share any visual material (videos, memes, posters, photographs, etc.) that you think have been particularly impressive or interesting from any candidate or campaign from this year. Or post a link.

This is an optional discussion board for any of you who would like to post material that has made an impression on you this year.

You don’t have to agree with the point of view or candidate.

They do not have to be related to the presidential campaigns.

They do not have to be related to the presidential campaigns.

Go To Unit 9