Chapter 1


Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.

—Tyler Durden, Fight Club, 1999

Edward Bernays

It’s a cold day in New York City in December 1918. World War I has just ended. Twenty-seven-year-old Edward Bernays ducks into a local drugstore to buy a Coca-Cola. As he sits at the pharmacy counter and enjoys his soft drink, he contemplates the new career he is about to begin. Edward is on the verge of a vocation that will impact the very product he’s enjoying—in addition to countless others that sit on the shelves of that drugstore and many other stores in the years to come.

Edward, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, has just completed an assignment working for the war effort as a part of the Committee on Public Information, a group that was instrumental in promoting the American dream of democracy across the world. After many failed attempts to enlist and help out with the war effort, flat-footed and nearsighted Edward finally landed a chance to serve. He managed to secure an interview after his dogged pursuit of Ernest Poole, the head of the Foreign Press Bureau of the US Committee on Public Information. During his tenure with the committee, Edward worked with companies such as Ford, International Harvester, and many other American firms to distribute literature on US war efforts to foreign contacts and by posting US propaganda in the windows of 650 American offices overseas.

Edward’s contributions to the Committee on ...

Get Laddering: Unlocking the Potential of Consumer Behavior now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.