The Engineering of Consent

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For the documentary series episode, see The Century of the Self.

"The Engineering of Consent" is an essay by Edward Bernays first published in 1947.[1] He defines "engineering consent" as the art of manipulating people. It maintained that entire populations, which were undisciplined or lacking in intellectual or definite moral principles, were vulnerable to unconscious influence and thus susceptible to want things that they do not need. This was achieved by linking those products and ideas to their unconscious desires. Ernest Dichter, who is widely considered to be the "father of motivational research," referred to this as "the secret-self of the American consumer."[citation needed]

In other words, consumer psychologists have already made the choice for people before they buy a certain product. This is achieved by manipulating desires on an unconscious level.

The central idea behind the engineering of consent is that the public or people should not be aware of the manipulation taking place.

The "Engineering Consent" chapter of Christopher Bryson's book The Fluoride Deception describes how Bernays helped the water fluoridation campaign in the USA.

"Engineering of Consent" is also a book by Edward Bernays published December 1969 by Univ of Oklahoma Pr (first published 1955).

Women’s smoking[edit]

As a practical example of Edward Bernays’ theory, detailed in his essay, George Washington Hill, president of the American Tobacco Company, hired Edward Bernays in 1928 to lead a campaign to entice more women to smoke in public.[2] The campaign is believed to have helped converting attitudes towards women’s smoking from a social taboo to a more socially acceptable act.[2] Bernays did this by associating women’s smoking with the ideas of “power” and “freedom” which he did by using the slogan “Torches of Freedom” during a famous parade in New York City.

The idea of “Engineering of Consent” was motivated by Freud’s idea that humans are irrational beings and are motivated primarily by inner desires hidden in their unconscious. If one understood what those unconscious desires were, then one could use this to one’s advantage to sell products and increase sales.


The Engineering of Consent also applies to the pioneered application of Freudian psychoanalytic concepts and techniques to business—in particular to the study of consumer behavior in the marketplace. Ideas established strongly influenced the practices of the advertising industry in the twentieth century.

The techniques applied developing the "consumer lifestyle" were also later applied to developing theories in cultural commodification; which has proven successful in the later 20th century (with diffusion of cultures throughout North America) to sell ethnic foods and style in popular mainstream culture by removing them from geography and ethnic histories and sanitizing them for a general public.

Ernest Dichter applied what he dubbed "the strategy of desire" for building a "stable society," by creating for the public a common identity through the products they consumed; again, much like with cultural commodification, where culture has no "identity," "meaning," or "history" inherited from previous generations, but rather, is created by the attitudes which are introduced by consumer behaviors and social patterns of the period. According to Dichter, "To understand a stable citizen, you have to know that modern man quite often tries to work off his frustrations by spending on self-sought gratification. Modern man is internally ready to fulfill his self-image, by purchasing products which compliment it."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Edward L. Bernays (1947), The Engineering of Consent, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 250 p. 113.
  2. ^ a b 1929 Torches of Freedom, The Museum of Public Relations, retrieved March 11, 2014