Two forms of persuasion widely used by organizations in politics and business.
We live in a society in which we are constantly bombarded by advertising and propaganda messages, which seek to alter our behavior and make us seek to get closer to products, services or ideas.
But despite being surrounded and immersed in them, the truth is that sometimes we do not grasp the nuances between the different information that they try to sell us. For example, we often consider advertising and propaganda as synonyms, which despite being related are not identical. Knowing how to distinguish between them is essential to understand the persuasive communication used by companies and organizations in general.
What are the differences between advertising and propaganda? Let’s look at some of the most common throughout this article.
Advertising and propaganda: similar but different
In order to establish potential differences between advertising and propaganda, it is first necessary to be clear about what each of these concepts refers to, which are often deeply related and confused with each other.
We understand advertising as the set of strategies used in order to spread or generate acceptance or attraction of a product or service, through the use of persuasive communications that are usually aimed at generating needs and drawing attention to some type of stimulus, product , entity or reality.
Advertising is subjective in nature and is primarily used in the commercial sphere, seeking to obtain a profit. Despite this, there is also a more social type of advertising, which aims to educate or raise awareness about a worrying or little-known reality.
With regard to propaganda, this can be defined as the set of strategies used in order to generate a substantial change in the ideology and behavior of a person through persuasive communications, generally not having a profit motive and intending to generate modifications through the manipulation of information.
Propaganda tends to have dogmatic connotations, trying to get the recipient of the information to adhere to the ideology or modify their attitudes regarding a specific topic. Despite this, it sometimes seeks to be educational, not having to have a perverse intention behind.
In both cases we are faced with strategies that seek to generate modifications in the subject’s behavior, using messages that seek to persuade the need to follow the message they offer.
Both often use emotionality to achieve their goals, and can misrepresent the truth in order to achieve their goals. In fact, both advertising and propaganda often use elements of the other concept to further their objectives. The distinction between the two is very fine and it is often difficult to find elements that separate them.
Main differences between advertising and propaganda
Although, as we have seen, the concepts of advertising and propaganda share several similarities, deep down they are different concepts that present characteristics that differentiate them from each other. Among these differences we can find the following.
1. The goal of persuasive communication
The main and most notable difference between propaganda and advertising can be found in its objective: advertising is mainly oriented to commercial purposes (to achieve sell or increase consumption), while propaganda aims to modify the ideology or thinking of the target subject, from a dogmatic way.
Advertising seeks to extract economic benefit directly, or to raise awareness about a social reality without trying to change the beliefs of others, while propaganda, despite not being for profit, does seek to modify the cognitions and beliefs of the subject to align them with ideology that it proposes.
2. Topics on which they work
Advertising and propaganda also differ in the type of areas or themes on which they usually work.
As a general rule, advertising refers to services or consumer goods, although they may also seek to promote institutions, companies, ideas or general social realities. Contrary propaganda usually deals with issues such as beliefs or areas such as politics and religion.
3. Content orientation
Another differential aspect can be found in the type of relationship that the message establishes with respect to the content, or in the relationship between the content and the objective of the communication.
As a general rule, advertising is consistent with the material or message it has and seeks acceptance and attraction to its message, with which whoever generates the advertising communication presents information that seeks to increase the approach towards what it sells.
However, propaganda can either seek acceptance or ascription to an ideology or thought or try to reject it and generate a distancing towards a way of thinking contrary to one’s own.
4. Level of inclusivity
Another possible difference between propaganda and publicity has to do with who it is directed to.
As a general rule, propaganda is aimed at reaching a very particular group, having a very limited target with an ideology similar to that of the issuer. Although advertising often tries to generate strategies to attract specific sectors of the population, it generally seeks to act universally, seeking a much more social and community effect.
5. Level of deepening in the psyche
Another great difference between the two concepts can be found in that while advertising only seeks to attract attention to a certain product or idea and perhaps generate awareness of its need (sometimes incorporating emotional elements), propaganda is aimed at awakening, using and even modify emotions, expectations, thoughts, beliefs and perspectives.
In this sense, propaganda seeks to go much deeper into the subject’s psyche in order to convince him to alter his ideology, while advertising interacts with the subject at a more superficial level.
- Eguizábal, R. (2007). Theory of advertising. Editorial Chair. Madrid.
- Méndiz, A. (2008). Conceptual differences between advertising and propaganda: an etymological approach. Advertising Questions, 1 (12): 43-61.