By Kristy Littlehale

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our Middle School ELA and High School ELA Categories!

What is Propaganda?

Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell provide a clear and concise propaganda definition in their book Propaganda & Persuasion (2014). They write, “Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist” (7). In other words, propaganda is a systematic method of manipulation, and it’s quite a successful one at that. Propaganda has been employed extensively in the political sphere since the 19th century to further various agendas by politicians, opposing candidates, and special interest groups. Propaganda is utilized to highlight the negatives or positives of an idea, a person, or legislation. Hitler used propaganda extensively to promote his anti-Semitic ideas and his vision for Germany in a post-World War I era. In the United States, propaganda was harnessed to boost morale for the general public during war time and for recruitment purposes.

Propaganda relies heavily on ethos and pathos, and will only use logos if it accesses the other two. Propaganda isn’t terribly concerned with facts, figures, or truth; instead, propaganda relies mostly on the emotional responses of its audience to generate agreement and action. While students may recognize that there are similar techniques used in both propaganda and advertising, propaganda is generally considered to be a negative term, even though it can be applied to achieve positive goals. Advertising is generally not a negative concept, although it does aim to psychologically prompt its target audience into buying a product. Advertising is primarily concerned with increasing sales; propaganda, on the other hand, is more concerned with changing public attitudes and policy.

Propaganda is defined by particular characteristics, which set it apart from straightforward information, and usually reveal hidden or underhanded motives. These characteristics include:

Propaganda utilizes various mediums to gain attention and target audiences. These mediums include:

Visual and Audio Media
  • TV
  • radio
  • cinema
  • documentaries
  • commercials
  • songs
  • news
  • talk shows
  • websites
  • blogs
  • social media
  • social networking
Arts and Literature
  • Paintings
  • posters
  • pamphlets
  • plays
  • performance art
  • comics
  • newspapers
  • magazines
  • rallies
  • political events
  • concerts
  • sports events
  • public squares and town halls

There are very obvious uses of propaganda that many students will be familiar with, such as the anti-Semitic propaganda of Nazi Germany, or the pro-war posters in the United States during World Wars I and II. Check out our Teacher’s Guide of The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck, which was written as a pro-democracy novella for the occupied countries of World War II. Steinbeck’s book was considered a huge success, and was covertly translated and disseminated by underground rebels across Europe.

In response to the rise of propaganda and concern that the general public did not know how to critically analyze information, the Institute of Propaganda Analysis was established in 1937 by Edward Filene, Kirtley Mather, and Clyde R. Miller. The purpose of the Institute was to provide the general public information about the types of propaganda, the tactics used in propaganda, and strategies to analyze it in order to combat the psychological effects and success of such information. It operated until 1942, and it classified propaganda into seven key categories.

Institute of Propaganda Analysis Types of Propaganda


Creates a sense of isolation for audience members who have not yet joined the cause. It appeals strongly to our sense of conformity and longing to belong to a part of a group.


Endorsement by a well-known, well-liked celebrity, political figure, or other entity. This creates a sense of trust and likeability for the cause because of the person promoting it.

Plain Folks

Endorsement by regular, ordinary people, to show how the policy or idea has helped them. This creates a sense of normalcy about the idea that’s being promoted, and shows how its success will fit into everyday life.


Employs techniques that access the audience’s preconceived positive feelings about something, and transfer them to the idea being promoted. It relies heavily on symbolism to connect the audience’s emotions to the idea.


Uses names that evoke a negative emotional response, such as fear, anger, or annoyance. By comparing the person or idea with something else that is hated, the audience creates an association between the two in their minds.

Card Stacking

Utilizes selective information to present only one side of an argument or story. This focus portrays the issue at hand unfairly, and many people may be swayed in one direction or the other because of incomplete information.

Glittering Generalities

Uses strongly loaded words that access the positive emotions of the target audience. Typically, glittering generalities employ the use of slogans, and carefully selected words in the slogans often appeal to the virtues the audience holds dear.

Types of Propaganda
Create your own at Storyboard That BANDWAGON TESTIMONIAL PLAIN FOLKS TRANSFER NAME-CALLING CARD STACKING GLITTERING GENERALITIES • Creates a sense of isolation for audience members who have not yet joined the cause • Appeals to conformity and longing to belong • Endorsement by a celebrity, politician, or other well-known, well-respected entity • Endorsement by an ordinary person who is humble and trustworthy • Makes the purpose of the propaganda seem reasonable and normal • Employs techniques that access the audience's positive feelings about something, and transfer them to the idea being promoted • Relies heavily on symbolism • Using names that evoke a negative emotional response, such as fear • Selective information • Focuses on one side of an argument, such as only the positive, or only the negative • Strongly loaded words that access the positive emotions of the target audience • Employs slogans • Utilizes virtues of audience TYPES OF PROPAGANDA BRECKENRIDGE FOR PRES. SAVE OUR COUNTRY! VOTE LINCOLN! I voted for higher taxes, and my workshop hasn't had to move overseas! We love the new noise ordinances! No more late work mornings because we couldn't sleep all night! Vote for Smith Vote for America Fare increases keep YOU on schedule! Your tax dollars help! Don't let your child get left behind! Save our Schools!


Start My Free Trial

Propaganda Examples

Famous Propaganda Examples
Create your own at Storyboard That Image Attributions: We Can Do It! ( by The U.S. National Archives License: No known copyright restrictions ( Uncle Sam - Original Poster ( by DonkeyHotey License: Attribution ( Enlist ( by MCAD Library License: Attribution ( Mrs Consumer poster ( by Deseronto Archives License: No known copyright restrictions ( Tomorrow... ( by Gruenemann License: Attribution ( 1943 Spendet, Bucher Sammlung der NSDAP fur unsere Wehrmacht ( by keijo.knutas1 License: Attribution ( ROSIE THE RIVETER UNCLE SAM WORLD WAR I: LUSITANIA WORLD WAR II: RATIONS COLD WAR: ANTI-COMMUNISM 1943: THE NSDAP BOOK COLLECTION FOR SOLDIERS PROPAGANDA EXAMPLES