Engineering Consent, Documents of Social History and Propaganda Posters

Original French Canadian WWI Victory Bond Poster, Emprunt de la Victoire

At L’Affichiste we often say that posters are documents of social history, and nowhere is this more true than with wartime propaganda posters. In cities like New York and Paris, poster exhibitions of WWI and WWII posters are not infrequent occurrences, and at auction houses the world over, collectors can often find both rare and common examples of French, American and British wartime posters.

Original 1970’s Russian Poster – Hands on Munitions

One of our favourite, unintentionally comic Soviet propaganda posters called, “Hands on Munitions” should be contemplated while listening to appropriately Russian military songs, like this one ….

I was reading up on what Edward Bernays (the man some people call the father of modern public relations and the nephew of Sigmund Freud) called the “engineering of consent”. While you can read more about Bernays’ approach here and here (or listen to podcasts about it here.

1950s Vietnamese Poster, “Let’s Release The South…” – Anonymous

Essentially according to Bernays, “In certain cases, democratic leaders must play their part in leading the public through the engineering of consent to socially constructive goals and values. This role naturally imposes upon them the obligation to use the educational processes, as well as other available techniques, to bring about as complete an understanding as possible.” (Source)

Whether we are talking about rather crudely designed Vietnamese War* posters, like the one above, or American wartime posters which highlight particular aspects of waste management and recycling, “engineering to consent” essentially was the first time someone (Bernays) had put a term to what Orwell and others might call ‘mind control’, and what we, in our politically correct time would call public relations or image re-design. “Engineering to consent” was even used in war-time cartoons, like this one.

1944 Original American WWII Poster, Car Club – Von Schmidt
1939-46 Original British WWII Poster, I Need Your Waste Rubber

*You can find out more about the Vietnamese War here:

You can find out more about Bernays here:

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