Thursday, September 16, 2010


PETA and Propaganda Analysis

I recently became interested in the study of propaganda and more specifically the analysis of propaganda in the media and in written/verbal discourse. In searching for sources on propaganda and the analysis of same, I came upon materials developed by the Institute of Propaganda Analysis, Inc. (IPA) This organization, established in 1937 (and dissolved in 1942) in response to the recognition of the impact that propaganda had on populations during the first World War and subsequently in the development of public relations, advertising, and marketing, identified seven techniques that propagandists use to influence individual and group behavior. Six of the techniques are listed here (name-calling, glittering generality, testimonial, transfer, plain folks, bandwagon); the seventh, card-stacking is defined as “…the ordering of facts or falsehoods, illustrations or distractions or distortions, logical or illogical statements, in such a sequence that the best or worst possible impression will be made (Lee & Lee, 1939).” I wanted to see if there was any evidence that any/all of these techniques were still in practice today, some 70 years after their identification. I discovered that they were; in fact, I think it is reasonable to conclude that they dominate much of the political, marketing, advertising, public relations discourse that we are immersed in today.

One example of their application comes from an analysis of a document on the PETA website; itis an argument for the recognition of animal rights. I used a qualitative analysis software package to identify any uses of six of the seven techniques (I conducted this analysis before I learned about the technique of card-stacking; primary source material on the seven techniques developed by the IPA is difficult to obtain). I developed codes (a methodological element of content analysis) for each of the six techniques; they were: PF (plain folks), Tran (transfer), GG (glittering generality), Test (testimonial), BW (band wagon), and NC (name-calling). A screen shot of the coding of the PETA document using the software is below:


Using one of the features of the software package, I was then able to determine the frequency with which each of the codes appeared in the document; this is represented by this graph:


As you can see, the techniques of transfer and glittering generality were used most often. The reason why is probably due to the nature of the argument. Recall that the document is attempting to argue for recognition of animal rights. In other words, the argument is attempting to suggest that animals have rights just like humans have rights. As such, one would expect seeing the technique of Transfer used as there are repeated concerted efforts to get the reader to equate animal rights with human rights, i.e., transfer the notion of inalienable rights, historically associated with humans to animals. Similarly, Glittering Generality is used to make the Transfer easier. This is accomplished by associating “virtue” words that are normally used in reference to human beings with animals. In fact word, “right” is an example of Glittering Generality all by itself.

From this analysis, it is apparent that the propaganda techniques identified by the IPA are still alive and well.

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