I really never saw Edward L Bernays drink alcohol. I know he did not smoke. He loved reading the newspaper, and remarking on articles. He loved to send personal notes and letters. In fact, that was his patented advice to young people: Write a letter.
As the man who coined the scientific approach, and the use of third party endorsements – his job seeking advice was pretty sharp. “Write a letter.” He would say that the young person should seek out the leading thinkers in the field they hoped to get into. And then write them and ask them about the top issues in their field, and the secret of their success. Then, he suggested, you would pen an article highlighting what you had learned from these deep thinkers. Once published, the job would be yours!
Bernays knew that enlisting a scientific opinion from a third party whose work was respected would influence the common person. He did it time and time again. And while his work was often compared to propaganda – there was the key difference. By sharing the opinion of others – he molded public opinion. He did not use this for hate, or to separate people – but he did use it in way that could have real consequences. In one case, he changed how Americans ate breakfast.
Quick: What is a real American breakfast? Bacon and eggs? If you said that then you have Dr. Bernays in your head.
You see - those were his words. It was the 1920s, and a perky new breakfast product was all the rage – breakfast cereals, between bread, cereal or even oatmeal – Americans ate a rather healthy breakfast.
Enter the Beech-Nut Packing Company. Now I know this is hard to fathom, but bacon was not a fast selling product back in the 1920s. It is today, and more than 60% of our brethren are obese – so let’s go back to time when bacon was more of a by-product.
Bernays was never one to let the tradition stop him … he saw bacon and eggs for breakfast as a natural way to sell bacon – and his trigger was a classic: He asked leading physicians what type of breakfast would give Americans enough energy? Things like protein and calories were just being understood – and he got those doctors to say that a breakfast rich in protein was a good base of energy. You needed a substantial breakfast: Much better than grains alone. Bacon was… a health food.
Run that in magazines aimed at housewives, convince leading high-end clubs to feature bacon and eggs – and bacon and eggs became the American way to start the day.
It was brilliant!