How to be a dictator and sell cola at the same time

DUF is a Dutch-language book-magazine for 12- to 18-year-olds. It’s a ‘cluster bomb’ of text and visuals. Edition three is out now and acts as a primer in navigating our world’s media insanity. Buy it. It’ll blow your mind and your kid’s. There’s even dirty pictures. Below is my contribution in its original English.



Do you want to lord over your friends, parents and – why not? – the whole freaking world? Learn now how you can become a dictator and sell cola at the same time! In seven easy lessons!

by Steve Korver, for DUF 3 (2012)

What is the difference between advertising and propaganda? Um, good question. Advertising aims to sell a service or product (‘Mmm that’s the best cheeseburger ever!’). Propaganda aims to sell a particular ideology (‘Yippee, we’re the happiest country in the world!’) or goal (‘This war is justified.’) Meanwhile in most Spanish-speaking countries, when people say ‘propaganda’ they mean ‘advertising’.

Both advertising and propaganda tries to influence human behaviour – to get you to open your wallet for a cheeseburger, or to sign along the dotted line at an army recruitment office. They both play on your emotions and not your intelligence. So it’s not ridiculous that both dictators and marketeers use the same box of tricks.

People are sooooooooo stuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuupid! But…
‘There’s a sucker born every minute,’ the American circus showman PT Barnum allegedly said. And it’s true. So keep it simple. But remember that people NEVER consider themselves as stupid. Half the time they are not even aware they are being brainwashed. Yes, humans suffer from overconfidence.

So it’s very important to not make your target audience feel stupid otherwise they will find someone else to get brainwashed by. The easiest way to do this is by dumbing down. Be folksy. Be a regular person who represents regular wants and needs. Be the Joneses or be Henk & Ingrid. In short: posh it down and sincere it up!

Facts are for amateurs!
A friend’s journalism professor always nobly said: ‘Even if your mother says she loves you, never believe her. Always check your facts!’ However, facts remain the arch-enemy of both propaganda and advertising.

The secret of both dictators and manufacturers is: the truth is what you make it. Facts are only important in that they can help make your story more believable. But otherwise telling the truth is not as important as picking the truths that you do tell – and leaving out any nasty details. Sure, you can call your country’s economy ‘resilient’ but don’t mention that it’s based on slavery. And yes, highlight a phone’s ‘sleek and modern design’, but don’t mention it was made in Asian sweat shops. And how long did you say that battery lasts?

In fact you don’t even have to tell any truths, as long as you tell your lies with conviction. Why did US President Bush begin the war in Iraq in 2003? Oh right, because Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. However these weapons were never found. It turned out that the photographs that were used to convince other countries to join the war were made up. But those pictures did look factual!


Join the winning team!

People like to belong to something: a family, a tribe, a movement. So both admen and propagandists work hard to convey a message of ‘come and be cool by joining us and together we can rule the world, you mindless lemmings!’ (But then without calling the target audience ‘mindless lemmings’ – see Big Secret Number 1).

This tendency of humans to want to be on the winning side has many consequences. For example, if a country is taken over by a foreign power there are invariably many more collaborators than resistance fighters. It also means that there are more Coke drinkers than Pepsi drinkers. Social networking has made this much easier by returning both propaganda and advertising to their original roots: word of mouth. There’s no better advertising than friendvertising….

Link to the positive!

Certain people, things and ideas are more naturally shiny and positive than others. Latch on to them! Associate your product or idea with such things as: Freedom! Democracy! Honour! Sustainable! Green! Tiger Woods! Oops, we better think of another example. How about Lance Armstrong? Oops again…

OK then here’s another tip: whenever you have a spokesperson that turns out to be human in some way, drop them like a hot potato. Also if the battle for political gain or market share grows nasty you can also apply the inverse of this rule: link your opponent to nasty words or images. Negativity is always fun! Always remember: one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter!

Fight pure evil! (AKA: Blame the ‘other’!)

In real life there are always two sides to every story, and usually there is no clear right or wrong. But let’s forget about that. Nuance kills sales figures. You want to make a clear message and then stick to it. Assume there is pure evil in the world, and then establish yourself as the lesser evil. After all, who wants to be taken over by Nazi scum? Or be blown up by terrorists? By playing on fear of ‘the other’, you can ask people to make sacrifices. By linking social ills to a specific group, another group can be made to feel superior. By blaming butter for heart attacks, the sales of low fat margarine skyrocket.

Re-re-re-re-peat-peat-peat-peat! Repeat!

Repetition is highly effective. Drink Coke. Drink Coke. Drink Coke. McDonalds. McDonalds. McDonalds. Islam is bad. Islam is bad. Islam is bad. People in the industry often call this process branding – repetition makes the public associate certain qualities to a product or idea. So establish your message and start repeating anywhere and everywhere: commercials, billboards, product placement, social networks, etc, etc. But also be selective and think about where your target audience would most likely absorb and act on your message. But please don’t try to be overly creative. Just keep pounding!


Humour works
Humans don’t like feeling stupid, but they love to laugh. It’s what unifies us. And it can pull the rug out of your opponent. One famous example came from WWII. The Nazis produced endless propaganda films that depicted endless lines of strong and disciplined blonde men marching, marching, marching… It was highly effective in intimidating the UK public. But then a Brit film editor came up with the antidote. By re-editing and playing with the speed of the images, he essentially re-mixed the marching men into a comedic dance act. The moral of the story? Monty Python über alles!

Sex sells.
Of course it does. What do you think? Are you stupid or something?

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Posted in Uncategorized 11 years, 7 months ago at 3:44 pm.


2 Replies

  1. nevena Nov 29th 2012

    excellent work !!! it made me to buy the magazine !!! bravo !!!

  2. Sunny Mar 3rd 2013

    this magazine looks freaking gorgeous. And some proper educating happening there too.

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