Propaganda and modern advertising were both developed in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries due to the rise of mass production and historical political events. Ever since, the importance of both has continued to rise in the United States and worldwide. The ever-expanding communications industry regroups both propaganda and modern advertisements but it is important to understand that both of these notions affect the population’s behaviors and attitudes differently.

Definition of Propaganda

Propaganda has acquired strong negative views in the 20th Century because of its association to manipulative and jingoistic methods and its prominent use during both World Wars. However, propaganda’s original definition is neutral in nature and is simply defined at a form of communication whose main goal is to influence the attitude of a group of people towards a cause or a position that benefits oneself. Propaganda is used to promote a variety of topics such as public health recommendations, encouraging citizens to participate in a census or an election, or other public service announcements encouraging people toward behaviors that are beneficial to the society such as reporting crimes and avoiding drinking and driving.

Modern Advertising Definition

A simple definition of modern advertising is that it is a form of communication used to drive consumers' behavior. It aims to convince viewers, readers or listeners to take action toward a product, idea or service. Advertising is normally paid for by sponsors and can be viewed via myriad media including newspapers, magazines, television, radio, direct mail, posters, websites, text messages and emails. Commercial advertising most often uses “branding,” the repetition of an image and a consistent message, to increase the consumption or use of their client’s product or service. Non-commercial advertisers such as political parties, interest groups, religious organizations and governmental agencies spend funds to advertise ideas rather than products.


Both propaganda and advertising aim to persuade the public to take action. Many of the persuasion methods used in propaganda and advertising campaigns are the same. Knowledge of advertising principles and consumer behavior is essential to an effective propaganda campaign even if no consumer product or service is being sold.


While propaganda presents attempts to influence an audience through emotions, advertising does so through information. In propaganda, a consumer would buy into an idea based on its emotional attachment, while advertising would encourage a consumer to buy a product or a service based on specific, emphasized facts. Propaganda presents facts very selectively to encourage a particular behavior and may use highly emotionally loaded messages to produce a visceral reaction, while advertising aims at creating a rational response from its consumers towards to given information about the product or service. In propaganda, an attitude change is the main aim, while advertising is put in place to promote consumer behavior. Mr. William Randolph Hearst, American newspaper tycoon, said that "legitimate publicity is the spreading of truthful information, or facts, about any cause or condition which is of interest or importance to people generally” while “propaganda is the giving out (or hiring of) opinions, arguments, or pleas to induce people generally to believe what some individual, group of individuals or organizations want them to believe, for the pecuniary or other advantage of the individual, group or organization giving out (or hiring) the propaganda.”