Flashback to 1933: US ad industry digs Hitler

Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.


It's pretty well-known that Hitler and his propaganda minister, Paul Joseph Goebbels, looked to American advertising for inspiration. What I didn't realize was how proud the advertising industry was about it. In its July 20, 1933, issue, Printers' Ink, one of the lead advertising trade journals of its time, speaks approvingly of Hitler's methods:

[Hitler] has depended almost entirely upon slogans made effective by reiteration, made general by American advertising methods…[S]logans on billboards and newspapers and in publications of national circulation have made a new Germany which has raised much excitement, made many changes.

Many changes, indeed. And many more to come!

It continues:

"As is well known, the word propaganda in Germany is used synonymously with the word advertising. Although in this country and in Great Britain propaganda has the unfortunate connotation of being free instead of being paid for, this distinction does not exist in Germany."

Ah, yes, that unfortunate connotation of freedom! Interesting that this is the only negative connotation of "propaganda" at this time. In fact, the (American) author makes sure to point out that in the Hitler speech that follows the word "propaganda" should be read as "advertising." Apparently, the trade mag wants credit for schooling the Führer.

The article then goes on to quote Hitler at length talking about something that Americans who worked in advertising at the time already believed: that the masses are morons who respond only to simple messages repeated thousands of times (a perspective I discuss at length in my book).

Seventy-some years later, this belief is as popular with the powers that be as it was in 1933. Which, if nothing else, provides a shred of evidence connecting the makers of the Head-On commercial to the Nazis.