Posted by: audreybenenati | June 14, 2010

Dancing with a legend: Edward Bernays, the ‘father of public relations’ – Melrose, Massachusetts – Melrose Free Press


In retrospect, his most controversial client was the American Tobacco Co. In 1928, the company asked Bernays to help expand sales of cigarettes to women. Back then, women smoking in public was frowned upon. Rather than promote the qualities of the brand, Bernays sought to alter the image of smoking in women’s minds. He staged his own “Torches of Freedom” campaign as part of the Easter Parade down New York’s Fifth Avenue with 10 socialites smoking what Bernays liked to call “torches of freedom.” He also enlisted a reputable doctor to testify that smoking was healthy and persuaded restaurants to put cigarettes on the menu alongside deserts. He recruited a willing editor from House & Garden magazine to create menus suggesting cigarettes instead of dessert, and persuaded dance instructor Arthur Murray to say that women should smoke rather than overeat and embarrass themselves on the dance floor. The fact that the American Tobacco Co. was his client was seldom revealed.

In 1934, many women still weren’t smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes because of the brand’s green color, which clashed with their favorite clothing. The client refused to change the color so Bernays launched a national campaign to change the color of fashion to green! His research had showed that green was “an emblem of hope, victory and plenty.” The campaign centered around a Green Ball held at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, attended by the city’s leading debutantes. Officials from the fashion and accessories industries, fashion editors, representatives from department stores, and merchandise managers became part of a national bandwagon. Green became the “in color” that year and Bernays got a bonus.

Years later, when research linking smoking to cancer was finally revealed, Bernays turned around and worked to have cigarette commercials banned from television. In 1972, Bernays told the Boston Globe that when he’d work for American Tobacco, “no one had yet discovered that cigarettes caused cancer. For decades, they were considered ‘kind to your throat.’” (Both Perry Como and Nat ‘King’ Cole had successful television shows sponsored by cigarette companies.)

After his death, however, Bernay’s papers revealed that, as early as 1933, he had alerted American Tobacco on negative medical reports about the cancer-producing effect of tobacco on a rabbit, and warned the client that the nicotine findings were something they should be prepared to answer. He mapped out a strategy to build up a positive portrait of cigarettes with editors around the country so that, when a negative report came along, “they will hesitate to print it because they have been convinced of the contrary point of view.” He was even able to get a physician to send out an article that listed the benefits of tobacco, including mention that that it was a good laxative after breakfast, aided contemplation, helped to console the lonely, and promoted sociability….

Dancing with a legend: Edward Bernays, the ‘father of public relations’ – Melrose, Massachusetts – Melrose Free Press.

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