On any given day, Americans are inundated with persuasive messages, otherwise known as propaganda, from the time they wake up until the time they go to sleep. These messages—their positive effects and their dangers—were the focus of discussion at a Zócalo/UCLA Anderson School of Management event titled, “Is Propaganda Keeping Americans From Thinking for Themselves?”
Moderator Carla Hall, editorial board member of the Los Angeles Times, started off the event, held before a standing-room-only crowd at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown Los Angeles, by asking the panelists if propaganda can be both bad and good.
Hal Hershfield, a marketing scholar and psychologist at UCLA Anderson said that propaganda isn’t necessarily bad; it can help people “do the things that they say that they want to do.” Consider the campaign to convince people to take 10,000 steps a day did not have scientific backing—it was promoted by a company that made pedometers, Hall said. Whatever the intentions behind messaging, if propaganda is “moving people in the right direction health-wise, is this a problem?” Hershfield asked.
Hershfield said the positive propaganda around participation in retirement plans is similar; such messaging may come from the retirement plans themselves, but it has led to big increases in America’s retirement savings.