Living in today’s world without proper and correct information can be scary. Thankfully, we live in an age where everything is connected and finding the truth has become much easier than ever. However, the same connectivity can be used to spread misinformation and to manipulate the great masses of people. Companies and governments have been using propaganda since the beginning of time to influence and mislead people, and some of these propaganda has been so successful that despite access to the truth, people still believe in them. Below is a list of ten such examples of powerful propaganda efforts that we still believe in.
1. The concept of “jaywalking” was introduced by the auto-industries in the early 1920s. It was a part of propaganda to shift the blame of accidents onto pedestrians and to claim the roads for vehicles.
Before the introduction of vehicles, it was common for people to cross roads without following any set of particular rules and regulations. People were free to move however they wanted. But during the early 20th century as cars and vehicles started gaining popularity, the roads became more chaotic. This caused an increase in the number of accidents and people eventually began protests against vehicles. In Cincinnati, around 42,000 people signed a petition to reduce the speed of cars to 25 mph. The petition failed and the auto industry set out to claim roads for vehicles.
“Jay” was a term used to define a silly or unsophisticated person. And so the concept of “jaywalking” was introduced. The local car companies also began to hand out safety information cards to people who started jaywalking. Clowns were used in parades to portray jaywalkers. The efforts were so successful that the news outlets that blamed cars were now blaming jaywalkers for the accidents. (source)
2. Carrots do not make your eyesight better. The myth was introduced by the British Air Force to hide the invention of the RADAR system.
Eating carrots is certainly good for your health, but it does not make your vision better or allow you to see in the dark. The origins of this myth can be traced back to WWII. During WWII, the British invented the RADAR technology which helped them navigate the skies with ease. They were able to spot German pilots from afar and subsequently shoot them down. As the British did not want anyone to know about their new technology, they came up with a propaganda campaign claiming it was carrots that improved their pilots’ vision. While there is no substantial evidence that the Germans bought it, the consumption of carrots by the British definitely increased. (source)
3. The sugar industry handpicked and published studies that shifted the blame of heart disease to saturated fats and minimized the link between sugar and heart health.
It was in the 1960s that the sugar industries funded researches that would highlight saturated fats as the main cause of heart disease. A trade group known as the Sugar Association paid three Harvard scientists to conduct researches on sugar, fats, and heart disease. Later, the group handpicked and published only those studies which minimized any link between sugar and heart disease. The results of this misinformation led to increases in heart patients and cases of obesity. (source)
4. The desirability of perfect white teeth was a propaganda message set up to sell more whitening toothpaste and treatments.
The misconception that white teeth are more strong and desirable is the result of propaganda used by the companies to sell more teeth-whitening agents. As a result of several advertisements and persistent campaigns, people now believe that having yellow teeth is a sign of bad oral hygiene. As a matter of fact, however, studies have revealed that yellow teeth are actually stronger than perfectly white teeth.
The enamel of our teeth is bluish-white in color and the dentine beneath it is yellow. Since the enamel is translucent, our teeth do not look completely white. Whitening procedures and products contain hydrogen peroxide which diffuses through the enamel breaking down the compounds that are causing discoloration. This, in turn, weakens our teeth and our gums and can also cause irreversible damage to our tooth enamel. (source)
5. Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who claimed that autism is caused by vaccines, was paid £400,000 to do so.
The anti-vaccine movement is one of the most concerning topics today. It’s really hard to wrap your head around the fact that people actually believe that vaccination can cause autism, and because of this have stopped vaccinating their kids. The main catalyst of this movement was Dr. Andrew Wakefield.
Dr. Wakefield published a study which blamed the MMR vaccine as a cause of autism. Investigations in the matter later revealed that he was paid about £400,000 to publish that study by a group of lawyers who wanted to sue the MMR manufacturers. Following the investigation, the published studies were retracted, and he lost his medical license in Great Britain. (source)
6. The food pyramid that was published by the US government was heavily altered for the benefit of the dairy and grain industry.
The food pyramid as we all know today was fabricated to sell more proteins and dairy products. The basic idea was to promote dairy and protein-rich diets and minimize the use of fats and oils. The structure of the pyramid is a very good example of lobbyism and how big corporations were able to manipulate the masses into thinking what was important and what was not. (source)
7. The bottled-beverage industry commissioned and publicized a series of studies in the early 1990s to prove that drinking fountains were unhealthy.
The popular belief that bottled water is healthier than tap water was a result of propaganda used by the bottled beverage industries. Companies like Coca Cola, Pepsi-Co, and Nestle have been trying for decades to prove that drinking fountains and tap water is unhealthy. As a result, many of us prefer drinking bottled water. The United States alone consumes around half a billion bottles of water in a week.
It is true that not every place has a supply of clean drinking water, but it is pretty safe to drink tap water in the majority of the towns and cities. In fact, brands like Coca Cola’s Dasani and Pepsi-Co’s Aquafina filter and sell the same tap water that comes out of our taps. (source)
8. Diamonds were introduced as a symbol of eternal love through an ad campaign in the 1930s to raise the descending demand of the precious stone.
It all started with the discovery of diamond mines in South Africa in the late 19th century. Diamonds were now easily available in the markets around the world. The fact that diamonds were not as scarce as they were once proved to be concerning to some British businessmen. They realized that the only way of keeping the prices high was to maintain the fiction that diamonds were scarce and valuable. So, they decided to launch De Beers Consolidated Mines which would control entire diamond trade from South Africa.
In 1938, De Beers hired a New York-based ad agency to further scale their business in the United States. While the practice of giving a diamond ring was already gaining traction, the size of the diamonds was increasingly small. The ad agency started a campaign which emphasized that the size of the diamond was directly proportional to the measure of a man’s love. Following this, there were multiple other ad campaigns which were distributed. The campaigns were pretty successful, and to this day diamonds do hold symbolic importance in our societies. (1, 2)
9. The misconception of keeping your pay a secret was started by the companies so that they can keep the wages low.
It is often believed that you’re not allowed to discuss your wage with others, or that your pay is secret information which should not be revealed. The concept of pay secrecy was introduced by the corporations as it allowed them to maintain low wages. However, according to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, talking about your wage is completely legal in the United States. Even if the employee has signed a non-disclosure agreement, they are allowed to discuss their wages with whomever they please. (source)
10. Breakfast was made the “most important meal of the day,” by two Seventh-day Adventists who wanted to sell their newly invented breakfast cereal.
It all began at a Sanatorium in the late 19th century. James Caleb Jackson and John Harvey Kellogg were both born in the sanatoriums where people were introduced to vegetarian diets and eating bland as a cure for illness. They came up with the idea of the first breakfast cereal and began marketing it as a healthy breakfast. Soon with the help of cereal lobbyists and persuasive marketing, they were able to make breakfast as the most important meal of the day. This influenced people to consume healthier breakfasts and add more nutritional value to their plate as possible.
Introduction of orange juice as a part of breakfast also stemmed from similar belief. Orange juice was not always a breakfast drink. It was heavily marketed as a staple breakfast drink by the farmers who were dealing with large inventories of oranges which were no longer required as a result of the end of WWII. (1, 2)