College of Arts and Humanities
An Analysis of the PR Management of the Centenary Celebrations of the Start of the
First World War, Compared with the Propaganda Implemented at the Time.
This dissertation explores the techniques exploited by British propaganda within the
First World War, and what of its characteristics are shared with modern day PR. It
uses content analysis to examine newspaper cuttings surrounding the Centenary
Celebrations in 2014, discourse analysis to examine propaganda poetry written during
the First World War, and semiotic analysis to compare photographs featured in
articles about the Centenary Celebrations, and posters used for propaganda purposes
during the First World War. It concludes that modern day PR may contain some of
the techniques that were used within the propaganda that was disseminated in 1914;
yet it does not contain the intent to coerce. It also concludes that due to the hindsight
and technology that the British Public possesses, the obvious deception techniques
that were used during the First World War would not function in this day and age.
Supervisor: S. Rees
Academic Year: 2014- 2015
In partial fulfillment for the degree of:
BA Media and Communication
For my dissertation I intend to explore the PR management techniques that were used
within the media coverage of the centenary celebrations of the First World War, and
compare and contrast them critically with the methods used within First World War
propaganda. I chose this area to focus on, because it is a very interesting and prevalent
topic in the news at the moment due to the high profile of Armistice Day. As Lasswell
stated, World War One was a period that was dominated, the first two years
principally, with a word that had ‘come to have an ominous clang in many minds –
propaganda.’ (Lasswell, 1938:2). Additionally, it is argued that PR came about in the
1920s when it was more likely named propaganda or publicity or public education, it
was hypothesised by L’Etang (2006b) that up until 1955, PR and propaganda were
interchangeable. It is from this point of view consequently that we must question
whether propaganda has simply placated, and been labelled PR.
The main focus of my analyses is to discover how the view of the creator is textually
translated and how this has progressed from the early 20th century with the
development of the stigma surrounding the word ‘propaganda’. I hypothesise that the
persuasive techniques used will become much more subtle, and the public voice will
become progressively stronger, I also hypothesise that the use of PR to generate
understanding will be much more prominent now than in 1914-1918. During World
War One, the public was arguably seen as a victim of propagandaistic techniques,
whereas in this day and age, the public are much more involved with the creation of
the publicity, and there is little or no bias. According to Dennis McQuail (1992:191)
in Shoemaker et al, bias is ‘a consistent tendency to depart from the straight path of
objective truth by deviating either to the right or left’ (1996:42). My aim is to attempt
to see what defines propaganda and where it possibly overlaps with the definition of
PR. My research aims are to find wide-ranging answers to the questions; Does
contemporary PR activity contain propagandistic techniques? And How does the
activity in 2014 differ from the activity in 1914? In my opinion, answers to these
questions are imperative to society as ‘the idea of propaganda being financed at the
level of billions of dollars a year to operate in, and on, democracy is not a comfortable
thought’ (L’Etang, 1998:107).
2. Literature Review
There has been a wide range of material written about the differences between Public
Relations and Propaganda over the years. It seems that most sources agree that they
are both means of providing information, yet there are many crucial ways in which
the two differ. According to Perloff (in Gordon.2011:54); Propaganda aims for mass
influence, to affect as many people as possible with its very subjective views,
additionally the connotations attached to propaganda are wholly negative, as opposed
to those attached to PR which can be seen as much more positive due to the nature of
some PR campaigns put forward by the government, ie. Health Campaigns. Perloff
(In Gordon 2011:54) is also cited as stating that propaganda occurs when one group
entirely ‘controls’ what is put across to the public, yet PR allows for the ‘free flow of
information’. This is consistent with the views of O’Shaunessy, specific to war time
propaganda, ‘since propaganda as the rhetoric of enmity aims to persuade people to
kill other people, others must be demonised in a denial that we share a common
humanity’ (2004:110). It could potentially be argued that the quintessential
differences between propaganda and PR lie within the intent of the campaign, and
therefore of the creator, which is the focus of my dissertation.
Tench & Yeomans refer to Taylor when discussing the characterisations of the two;
Taylor (1992) is focussed on ‘intent as a key determinant’. Propaganda is never seen
to be essentially in the public’s interest; above all, it is assumed that the institute is
always wishing to better itself, ‘propaganda deliberately and systematically seeks to
achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist’ (Jowett &
O’Donnell, 2006:48). It is hypothesised by Crofts that the creator is fully aware of the
views of the public and is set on manipulating them in a way that would make the
public share the views of the state, ‘one of the assumptions on which the
government’s economic propaganda was based was; the facts were those that the
public wanted; and that anyone who didn’t want them, ought to want them’ (1989:58).
In comparison, when dealing with PR campaigns, it is supposed that there is a greater
awareness amongst the public as to the persuasion techniques used, ‘public relations
has a much greater interest in dialogue between the organisation and its key
stakeholder groups and publics’ (Varey in Kitchen, 1997:116). O’Shaughnessy
(2004:111) shares this opinion that the defining line between the two is the ‘ideology’
within the campaign, if the ideology is that of the state, then it is propaganda, yet if
the ideology is that of the public, then the campaign can be seen as PR or consumer
marketing. This difference is reiterated throughout a large number the critical
analyses done of the two, and is summarized well by Mitchie cited in Jowett &
O’Donnell, that PR is more ‘mutually satisfying’(2006:32) than propaganda,
highlighting the point that the public are aware of the persuasive techniques within PR
campaigns and therefore free to make their own decisions about the information
presented to them whereas within propaganda campaigns the truth is concealed which
makes it hard for the public to reach a clear and informed conclusion. Bernays (1928)
echoes this crucial point too. In his opinion, it is mans responsibility to spread
information that is truthful, yet when that information becomes corrupted with lies,
yet it is being labelled as truth, then that is when it takes on negative connotations.
PR can generally be seen as a means of generating understanding, although the
majority of PR scholars are concerned that the links that propaganda has had to PR in
the past, may be very detrimental to the credibility of PR in todays society. When
propaganda was first used it was debatably viewed as ‘an established means of
conveying information to the public’ (Taylor, 1982:104). With time, the view on it
has changed dramatically and now propaganda is regarded as a process through which
‘the persuader attempts to influence the persuadee to adopt a change in a given
attitude or behaviour’ (O’Donnell & Kable, 1982:9). The means through which this
change in attitude would be realised, would be through the aid of persuasive
techniques; ‘every conceivable device was used to heighten the emotional experience
of the occasion’ (Taylor 1982:103). The manipulation of the public’s emotions was
key, because according to O’Shaughnessy, ‘propaganda has a highly emotional
foundation to its appeal. For Aristotle, emotion is central to persuasion’ (2004:110).
The exploitation of emotions was one part of the persuasive techniques used;
propaganda was also used frequently in an attempt to ‘manipulate cognitions’ (Jowett
& O’Donnell, 2006:7) of the public, endeavouring to justify their actions so that they
would have public support, ‘propaganda does not try to destroy values, it attempts to
conscript them’ (O’Shaughnessy, 2004:113). This is definitely true for the
propaganda used during World War 1; ‘only the minority of the public appeared to
have access to the facts about the economic state of the nation’ (Crofts, 1989:50). Yet
it is argued by Thompson (1979) in O’Shaughnessy, that the public do have influence
over propaganda as they do with PR, however with propaganda, the state attempts to
mirror the conscious ignorance and suspension of disbelief of the public ‘it is
emotional, deceitful and irrational; it does not ask for belief, rather it represents an
invitation to share a fantasy’ (2004:110). This is where PR must make an effort to
distinguish itself, ‘in order to succeed, public relations must be transparent, free from
bias and demonstrate a two-way dynamic process where the aim is mutual
understanding of the facts, even if there is no subsequent agreement of policy or
ideology’ (Oliver, 2010:154).
The first research method that I propose to use is content analysis; I will focus on 20-
30 media cuttings from both the period of 1914-1918, and also the period of October-
November 2014. The difficulties of content analysis can lie within the bounds of
‘finding a representative sample’ (Hansen et al, 2013:182), however, choosing a
random sample can solve this, therefore avoiding bias. The determination of
‘measurable units’ (Hansen et al, 2013:182) along with ‘operational definitions’
(Hansen et al, 2013:177) can also pose complications, because the definitions need to
be agreed for the rest of the data to be legitimate. These problems however can be
outweighed by the advantages that content analysis will bring to my research; among
other benefits, it is unobtrusive, it is inexpensive and it yields easily obtainable data. It
is a directive method as well as a quantitative method; therefore the data which it does
collect can be translated into statistics, yet also it ‘gives answers to the questions you
pose’ (Deacon et al, 2007:119). My questions must be specific, because according to
Holsti (cited in Deacon et al), the most thought-provoking content analyses will
depend on operational definitions which are exclusive to the data (1969:102). It also
conveys what is ‘highlighted and what is ignored’ (Deacon et al, 2007:20) therefore
we can make specific inferences from the texts. One of the main benefits of content
analysis specific to my research is that it can, according to Weber, ‘constitute reliable
data that may even span centuries’ (1990:10). My main aims using content analysis
are to identify the intentions of the sender, and the way in which I intend to do this, is
through the use of a concise method, stated by Hansen et al;
Decide what you want to find out and offer a hypothesis about what you
intend to find.
Explain what you’ll be investigating and explain why the research is worth
Offer an operational definition of the topic you’re going to be studying.
Explain the basis for your selecting of the specific sample.
Describe the classification system.
Determine the coding system.
Test the intercoding reliability.
Analyse the sample selected.
Present the findings.
Interpret the findings.
I also will look a the layers of coding of the media cuttings with regards to
propagandistic techniques, by using the categories set out by Lee in 1952, which
detect the use of propaganda, cited in Weber’s Basic Content Analysis, ,dix (i). In the
article by Altheide and Grimes, they propose that the data collected should be ‘placed
in an information base and analyzed qualitatively for thematic emphasis and key
words’, following their guidelines shall allow me to interpret the data in a clear and
concise manner. It is also possible to focus on the tone of the article by choosing
specific signs which would signify a certain thing, Altheide and Grimes were
focussing on the Iraq war and American propaganda, and they were able to look
specifically at the ‘thematic emphases, and tone of the report pertaining to the
PNAC's agenda and contributions in moving the United States toward war’ (2005: pg.
625), by choosing the right indicators, I will be able to apply this to my own analysis.
My next research method that I intend to apply is discourse analysis. Due to the fact
that it is a qualitative method, I aim to concentrate on six to eight poems that were
written during the First World War, with the purpose of doing a close analysis of the
lexical semantics in order to analyse the persuasion and propaganda techniques. The
analysis of poetry with relation to the First World War is imperative because it was
one of the most prevalent methods in which the government could ‘achieve a response
that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist’ (Jowett & O’Donnell, 2006:48).
This specific research method has been useful in ‘illuminating different facets’
(Deacon et al, 2007:150) of media texts therefore it can be used to focus on that
language that is utilised within the poems, specifically the tone, and from that, the
propagandist’s intended reaction from the public. As I am studying the intentions
behind poetry, discourse analysis is a relevant method of research for me as ‘CDA
pays much attention to power relations & ideology…which force the reader or listener
to perceive reality in a specific way’ (Renkema, 2004:282). However, as with any
research method, generalisations about the ideology behind the discourse are
inevitable, which Hansen et al deem precarious, as ‘ideologies are inherently
unstable.’ (Hansen et al, 2013:158). Nevertheless the propaganda within the First
World War was emanating from one place; therefore the ideological concepts all
originated from the government. Within my analysis of poetry I will look at the on the
syntactic choices made by the government to disseminate their intended messages,
discourse analysis will aid me in focussing on ‘the interests of a particular conception
of social reality’ (Hansen et al, 2013:151). I am aware that there are structural
constrictions within the methodology, ‘the grammar of a language makes some
combinations and orderings of grammatical forms possible but others not’
(Fairclough, 2003:22), yet as stated by Easthope in relation to the use of poetry as
discourse for mass dissemination, we must consider the signifier as ‘addressed to
someone, grasp them in terms of human intention’ (Easthope, 1983: 31). I will focus
more on the signifier than the signified to recognize the objective behind the writing.
Looking at a specific model of discourse analysis to follow, I intend to mould it to fit
my specific research questions, and also question whether the techniques were
implemented to persuade or coerce. The first model is that from Halliday, developed
in 1980 to analyse the ‘social context of a text which allowed for meaning to be
exchanged’ (Locke, 2004:18), it deals with discourse on three levels; ‘1. The field of
discourse’ which looks at the intention of the text, ‘2. The tenor of discourse’ which
handles the relationship between the participants, and ‘3.The mode of discourse’
which deals with the function of the language and the ‘Rhetoric mode’ (Locke,
2004:18-19). I have also seen, through research into methods utilised within journals,
how according to Altheide and Grimes, ‘One way to study propaganda and the role of
media texts is by "tracking discourse," or following certain issues, words, themes, and
frames over a period of time’ (2005:625) which is what I intend to do through the use
of my two selected models.
My final research method is semiotic analysis, looking in close visual detail at three to
four posters used as part of the propaganda during the First World War and then
compare them to three or four websites containing images used in relation to the
centenary celebrations in 2014. This is a vital research method, as it is a certified way
of penetrating the ‘constant game of hide and seek’ (Deacon et al, 2007:148) that is
PR, as the posters used during the First World War were directly commissioned by
the government. It can be seen as being very parochial in its ability to exclusively
focus on one image, however due to the fact that it is visual material that is specific to
my research, I see it as polysemic. Semiotic analysis has ‘universal relevance and
applicability’ (Deacon et al, 2007:141) due to its ability to be applied to any number
of signifiers. It also is able to distinguish analytically ‘between the signifier and the
signified’ (Deacon et al, 2007:141). This particularly applies to the research that I aim
to do, as my focus is securely on the intention of the creator. As any failing within one
method can be ‘balanced by the strengths of other methods’ (Williams et al, 1988:47),
I will address the fact that discourse analysis, due to language can be seen as
subjective, by focussing additionally on the symbol which can never be arbitrary as
‘there is the rudiment of a natural bond between the signifier and the signified’
(Hansen et al, 2013:38). A difficulty with semiotic analysis highlighted by Burn &
Parker, is that semiotics can have ‘obscure variations’ (2003:2) which have made it
difficult for analysers to look at a text without becoming overcome by repudiation to
see texts as having reasonably governed trails of meaning. This however can be
counteracted by looking at each sign only within the ‘social order’ (Deacon et al,
2007:141) in which it operates. There are limitations to analysing any text when
looking at the true intentions of the creator, however, this is specifically difficult
when looking at a text to which you intend to apply semiotic analysis, because one is
unable to ‘understand a text as the producer knows or understands it’ (Deacon et al,
2007:145). Burn and Parker give some good insight into how to analyse media texts.
In the case of semiotic analysis, it is necessary in their opinion to look at texts ‘with
an analysis of audiences and their engagement with the texts under scrutiny’ yet also
to look at the ‘political, economic and social contexts in which texts are produced’
(2003:3-4). It is imperative to look at the layers of encoding in order to ensure that my
analysis is comprehensive enough to be interesting, yet also to be specific enough to
not disregard the significance and perspective of the text. I will focus on Peirce’s
Trichotomy of signs; ‘icon’, an image which signifies by relevance, ‘index’ an image
in which the sign has a direct effect on the signifier, and ‘symbol’ which is an image
that is dependent on the cultural system (Deacon et al, 2007:193). This trichotomy
will allow me to categorise the texts. Child’s article, ‘The Politics and Semiotics of
the Smallest Icons of Popular Culture’ looks at the semiotics of postage stamps;
however what it articulates is applicable to posters, ‘the semiotic approach to postage
stamps would emphasize the iconographic function and the various messages this
iconography mighty deliver’ (2005: 120).
4. Content Analysis
My first research method is content analysis. There are many advantages in using this
type of analysis, for example, ‘it can deal with current events, topics of present day
interest’ (Berger, 2000:181). This was particularly applicable to the analysis that I
wanted to do as I am dealing with a topic that was recently prevalent in the media,
particularly newspapers, the centenary celebrations of the First World War. It also
allows the analyser to ‘make broader inferences about the processes and politics of
representation’ (Deacon, 2007:119) therefore I was able to limit my focus to
exploring the meaning behind the choice of syntax within each article. However there
were difficulties that I needed to be aware of in order to avoid debasing my findings.
For example, if the ‘sample is not representative, your findings will not be
convincing’ (Berger, 2000:182), consequently it was necessary to select articles from
a variety of newspapers, in order to avoid bias. Another difficulty that I was aware of
was; that if the definitions were not specific, then ‘you could be…neglecting
important matters’ (Berger, 2000:178) which again would render the data that I
My initial intention was to solely focus on the month of November, as it is the month
of Armistice Day, therefore there would likely be a lot of media coverage surrounding
it, I also felt that if I focussed on more than a month I would not have narrow enough
investigation boundaries. However the more I researched, the more I realised that I
had set myself an unachievable task. Due to the centenary of the start of World War
One being on the 28th of July, I decided that I should expand my timeframe to 5
months, July to December 2014. This would allow me to thoroughly analyse the
cuttings written on the subject of the centenary without overlooking any aspect of it.
According to Hansen et al, the first step of content analysis is to ‘decide what you
want to find out and offer a hypothesis about what you intend to find’ (2013:183).
Following these parameters I decided to spend some time selecting my variables in
order to receive data that is relevant to what I wanted to find out. My intention by
selecting a random sample of 30 newspaper cuttings is to discover the ways in which
the media, in this case newspapers, portrayed the centenary celebrations of World
War One. I used a coding grid, Appendix (ii), to assemble my data from my
representative sample of 30 cuttings, and I selected my variables very consciously in
order to gather statistics that would give me quantifiable answers to my research
questions, specifically; Does contemporary PR contain propagandistic techniques?
And How does the activity in 2014 compare to that in 1914? My variables consist of a
variation of words that I believe either are likely to be included in the coverage of the
Centenary Celebrations, or words that I feel are important when discussing the
tragedy of the First World War, which may be omitted. As well as the phraseology, I
focused on the tone of the articles, as this is just as telling as the vocabulary when
focussing on the intentions of the creator. First of all I focussed on the words that I
felt may be absent, for example ‘Germany’, ‘Death’, ‘Horror’, ‘Trenches’. These
words were selected because they are indicative of the horrific reality of World War
One. I centred my focus on words that commonly occur in media articles when
discussing the First World War, such as ‘Remembrance’, ‘Poignant’, ‘Fallen’,
‘Celebrate’, ‘Commemorate’, ‘Tribute’ and ‘Honour’. These were included to
contrast with the words that I assumed would not feature heavily and therefore give
statistics to quantitatively show the focus of the cuttings.
I hypothesised before I initiated my research that I would find that a higher majority
of articles would use the expression ‘Commemorate’ rather than ‘Celebrate’ as I
believe that the connotations of ‘Celebrate’ deal profoundly with glorification and
reverence, this is very much evocative of propaganda from the start of World War
One, whose sole aim was to portray the war as a positive thing. This would not have
been an appropriate inference when reflecting on the loss of so many lives, therefore I
assumed that ‘Commemorate’ would be a more favoured word due to its undertones
of acknowledgement and salutation, ‘Tom Piper co-ordianted 888,246 poppies at the
London landmark to commemorate the centenary of World War One’ (Cross 2014).
This proved to be correct as 47% of the cuttings used the word ‘Commemorate’ and
only 20% used the word ‘Celebrate’. Similarly I focussed on the use of the phrase
‘Servicemen and Women’, which was cited in 20% of the cuttings and was
predominantly substituted for the euphemism, the ‘Fallen’ that occurred in 37% of the
cuttings. Euphemisms are used to avoid using a word that is deemed too blunt or too
offensive to use when discussing something unpleasant. The creator evidently would
not want to offend his readers by speaking frankly of the massacre that was the First
When looking at the emphasis of the cuttings, it was essential to look at how many
cuttings mentioned the words ‘Germany’, ‘Death’, ‘Horror’ and ‘Trenches’.
‘Germany’ was mentioned in 20%, ‘Horror’ in 23%, ‘Trenches’ in 20% and ‘Death’
in only 10% of the cuttings. This does show some discrepancy in the coverage when
compared with the amount of cuttings that used the words ‘Poignant’, ‘Tribute’ and
‘Honour’. These phrases suggest the more moving and reflective side of the War that
I imagined the newspapers would intend to convey, therefore I theorised that the
expressions would have a higher weighting within the cuttings than the ones which
drew to mind the horrors of War. I was however shocked with my results when they
proved my proposition sound, yet only marginally. ‘Tribute’ was mentioned in 20%,
‘Honour’ in 27% and ‘Poignant’ in 27% of the cuttings. Finally I studied the tone of
the cuttings, I found that Patriotism was present in 53%, and Solemnity was equally
present in 53% of the cuttings. However, I believed that Solemnity would be more
prevalent in the cuttings than patriotism, as much of the literature produced during the
final few years of the First World War and the literature produced following its end,
described the war as futile and its occurrence a fault of the government.
These findings suggest that the media coverage of the centenary celebrations of
World War One in UK newspapers does not glorify the war in any way, yet does
allow for more distressing parts of the war to be overlooked. It also contains
propagandistic techniques without revering the war, and displays Patriotism, yet also
5. Discourse Analysis
My next research method is Discourse Analysis. For this, it was my intention to
choose eight poems to analyse critically, yet during my selection process I decided
that selecting six poems would allow me to analyse them more thoroughly. I also
decided to focus on poems that were written between July 1914 and January 1915 to
really get a grasp of the early enthusiasm for the war. Discourse analysis is effective
when looking to get an accurate assessment of ‘the interests of a particular point of
view, a particular conception of social reality’ (Berger, 2000:151), this could be seen
as a very narrow research method, however when applied to what I am aiming to
discover and analyse, whether contemporary PR activity contains propagandistic
techniques and how the activity in 2014 differs from the activity in 1914, this refined
way of analysing material becomes very useful. It also looks at how language
contributes to the assimilation of ‘Social concepts, values, identities and relations’
Within my analysis I focused on three different concepts as set out by
M.A.K.Halliday. They look at the social context of any certain text through which
meaning is exchanged, ‘1. The field of discourse’ (Locke, 2004:16) which focuses on
the intention of the text, ‘2. The tenor of discourse’ (Locke, 2004:16) which looks at
the relationship that the poet has with the subject, and ‘3. The mode of discourse’
(Locke, 2004:16) which deals with the function of the language within the text.
Focussing first on the intention of the text, Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Hardy were
employed by the government to write propagandistically about the War. Rupert
Brooke was known as ‘The Hero Poet’ (Roberts. 1996:67) and wrote five sonnets in
support of the war, his poems were ‘suffused with patriotism’ (Gardner, 1964:170)
which influenced his young contemporarys, including W. N. Hodgson. Hodgson went
on to write equally propagandistic prose after he enlisted when War broke out in
1914. John Freeman is the only one of the poets that I chose, who did not serve in the
military during the First World War. Yet his poetry was described as ‘possibly the
most fervent and deeply felt of all those written at the time.’ (Gardner, 1964:168).
Focussing on the mode of discourse, I needed to analyse the poems to pick out key
propagandistic structural and linguistic techniques. I first looked at metaphors and
how each poet decided to use them. I looked for metaphors which demonised
Germany, these were present in Happy is England now by John Freeman ‘When the
destroying dragon wakes from sleep’, and Rudyard Kipling’s For all we have and are
‘The Hun is at the gate!’ In both poems, derogatory comparisons are used to depict
Germany as aggressive and intimidating; against this it was easy to depict England as
moral and caring. However in other poems that I analysed, the metaphors are used to
glorify the war. In the poem England to her sons for example, W. N. Hodgson uses a
metaphor to portray the men of England as very excited by the prospect of war, ‘I
hear you thrilling to the trumpet call of war’. This is very similar to the exploitation of
metaphor in Men Who March Away by Thomas Hardy, ‘what of the faith and fire
within us?’ which equally implies that the soldiers were happy and enthusiastic about
fighting and dying for their country. Metaphors demonstrating hyperbolic patriotism
are present in The Solider by Rupert Brooke ‘a dust that England bore’ here he is
referring to his ashes should he die, which still belong and are faithful to England, and
The Call by W. N. Hodgson in which he describes England as ‘Arcady’ likening it to
a mythical heaven. All of these metaphors, no matter how they are employed, paint
England in a hyperbolically positive manner in order to glorify the choice made by
the government to go to war.
Personification is utilised in a number of propagandistic war poems, for example in
each of the poems that I analysed with the exception of The Call by W. N. Hodgson,
the personification of England is used in order to manipulate the soldiers into
regarding England as a mother figure, for example in England to her sons, ‘Sons of
mine I hear you thrilling’. This therefore encourages men to enlist and fight for her. A
similar technique is used in Happy is England now, ‘Happy is England in those that
fight, for wrongs not hers’. England is attributed feelings of joy in those that fight for
her, yet she is also again depicted as innocent. This, we know with the advantage of
hindsight, was not the case; therefore the misleading nature of propaganda is
Emotive language and imagery are exploited within the poems that I am focussing on.
It is particularly effective, for example within Happy is England now, hyperbole and
emotive language are used to demonstrate patriotism, ‘There’s no bird singing upon
this bough but sings the sweeter in our English ears’. Similarly, in Rupert Brooke’s
sonnet ‘The Soldier’, he professes that if he should die, that there would be ‘some
corner of a foreign field that is forever England’. This unshaken trust and love for
England propaganda poetry, or poetry that was written at the start of the First World
War due to the fact that ‘The newspapers encouraged recruiting with the confident
prediction that it would all be over by Christmas’ (Roberts, 1996: 48). The imagery
also aids in portraying a heaven-like England in order to persuade men to enlist in
Happy is England now ‘Dark woods, green fields’ and in The Call ‘Woodland
hollows of Green lawn’, this natural imagery creates an image in the readers mind of
an un-corrupted landscape, this device is used in an attempt to demonstrate the
reasons to go to war, to protect something pure and natural.
Finally I focussed on the tone of the poems. It was evident that each of the poems
contained hyperbolic patriotism in a way which glorifies the war, for example in
Happy is England now ‘Is there anything more wonderful that a great people moving
towards the deep?’ this rhetorical question reflects the feeling throughout the poems
that a nation combatting evil is a romantic notion. Out of the six poems that I
analysed, five of them used the first person in order to make the persuasive techniques
more effective. The government in 1914 decided to take the ‘initiative in setting up a
department of propaganda, the Secret War Propaganda Bureau’ (Roberts, 1996:54) to
which several poets, including Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling were enlisted.
When using the Secret War Propaganda Bureau as our focus, we must ask ourselves,
‘why is a given content formulated in the way it is and not in another form?’
(Renkema, 2004:283). In this case, I believe we can see that poetry was a way of
glorifying the war in a manner that lends itself easily to romanticism and
manipulation of emotions yet is also relatable to for the masses.
6. Semiotic Analysis
In my final research method, semiotic analysis, I am looking at the relationship
between the signifier and the signified within four propaganda posters published in
the First World War, and four newspaper cuttings surrounding the centenary
celebrations in 2014. The signifier is the ‘actual material aspect of an artefact, act of
image’ (Deacon et al, 2007:141) that is going to potentially hold some meaning or
signify something. When the concept of the signified is associated with the signifier
the process is complete. Due to the layers of encryption in media texts ‘researchers
need to be alert to all the stages of text making’ (Burns & Parker, 2003:74), that is
why I am using semiotic analysis to ascertain the decision making processes behind
When initially looking at both the posters and the images, it is necessary to call into
question the colour scheme used, because due to the fact that ‘there are decisions’
(Deacon et al, 2007:142) behind every piece of PR, the colours would have been
intentionally used to initially seize the attention of the reader. Focussing on the
propaganda posters that I had selected from the start of the war, the first two (Image
1-Britons wants you! and Image 2- Are you in this?) dealt mostly with colours that
represented the Union Flag, i.e. red, white and blue. This will have been an
understandable choice because it already, in the reader’s mind, is synonymous with
Britain; therefore they are more likely to look at the poster through a patriotic lens.
The third image (Image 3-A wish) was designed as a propaganda poster that, instead
of encouraging people to do their bit for the war effort, as the rest of the posters were,
it was aimed at the soldiers at the front to encourage men to keep fighting with
thoughts of home in mind. Therefore the colour that dominates the poster is green,
which represents purity and nature. The last poster (Image 4-The only road for an
Englishman) was designed as a poster to shock men into signing up. It has a very dark
colour design, and uses mainly black and grey, the poster is using these colours to
depict the dark reality of the war. All of these colours were chosen by the government
to manipulate the opinions of the masses; ‘the technical literature on advertising is full
of the most precise information on the effect of different colours, sizes, shapes and
elevations of outdoor posters on suggestion’ (Lasswell, 1938:210-11). The pictures
from the newspaper cuttings that I selected however, are very different in their choice
of colour. The most noticeable thing that is recognised by someone objectively
looking at the posters, is the sea of red and green that dominates them. When one
should call to mind the way in which the service men and women who died in the
First World War are remembered, it is through the poppies that people are encouraged
to wear. These are present in three out of the four photographs (Images 5, 7 and 8).
The green in the posters comes from the green grass, a representative of nature’s
eternal quality in contrast to the red of the poppy that could be seen as characterising
blood and therefore man’s ephemerality.
Subsequent to this, it is essential to pay attention to the focus of both the posters and
the photographs. Here it is worthwhile following ‘Peirce’s Trichotomy of signs, Icon,
Index and Symbol’, Icons which signifies by resemblance, Indexes which signifies by
cause and effect and Symbols signify by social convention. (Hansen et al, 2013:39).
There are many uses of Icons in the propaganda posters, in Are you in this? (Image 2),
the Union Flag is depicted in the background, as an icon it is commonly regarded as
archetype of Britain. Therefore to include it in a poster which is glorifying the War
could be deemed a manipulative technique. In the same poster, there are many service
men and women illustrated who are working together all with expressions of peace
and happiness on their faces. In contrast in Image 6, the image portraying the soldier
in the trenches, the soldier is wearing a grimace. Here, the propagandistic nature of
the posters at the start of the War is evident, as Image 6 was actually taken during the
war. A photograph is ‘a message without a code’ (Barthes, 1977:17) therefore it is a
more truthful and accurate portrayal of a soldier than the poster (Image 2). In Britons
needs you! (Image 1) there is a large illustration of Lord Kitchener pointing directly
out of the poster. The image dominates the poster and is very imposing, and his stance
immediately engages the viewer. The Icon of a soldier in official uniform is
recognisable as a symbol of the higher powers within the war. When looking at the
photographs for the centenary, we are overwhelmed with the symbol of the poppy. In
contrast to the Icon of a soldier, which is a universal emblem of war, the poppy is
very culture specific and therefore would only be recognised as a symbol for the
fallen servicemen and women within the First World War by a particular public.
Conclusively, one could say that the posters of the First World War work upon the
Icon and the Index. This is due to their need to portray their specific vision to the
public and be explicit, therefore manipulating their thought processes as ‘propaganda
is concerned with the management of opinions and attitudes by the direct
manipulation of social suggestion’ (Lasswell, 1938:9). The pictures that were shown
in the newspapers in 2014 were based on the Symbol of the poppy that has specific
connotations of loss and immeasurable sacrifice. One of the differences between the
two sets of images is that the pictures from the centenary acknowledge and mourn the
lives lost in the First World War, one could say that with hindsight, it would be
impossible not to. Yet the propaganda posters focus on anything but the excessive
fatalities, therefore ignoring the negative realities of the War.
When drawing up my conclusion, it is necessary to refer back to my research
questions; Does contemporary PR contain propagandistic techniques? And How does
the activity in 2014 differ from the activity in 1914? Taking my content analysis and
my discourse analysis primarily, I can see from my findings that there are certain
techniques that are carried forward from the First World War propaganda poetry.
Initially one could look at the PR coverage of the Centenary Celebrations of the First
World War and see it as very respectful or unassuming, however my research shows
how when analysing closely, the techniques used by the creators become clear.
Tench and Yeomans discussed citing Taylor (1992), as I mentioned in my literature
review, ‘that intent is a key determinant’. It is imperative to bear this in mind when
regarding my findings. When looking at my content analysis, the intent of the articles
as a whole becomes clear when we look at the statistics. For example, one obvious
characteristic of the articles was the use of the word ‘Commemorate’, 47% of the time
and the use of the word ‘Celebrate’ 20% of the time. When looking at each word
individually the connotations attached to ‘Commemorate’ signify respect in
comparison to ‘Celebrate’, which suggest happiness and merriment. It seems that the
selection was made about what would the readers prefer to read, this therefore is not a
particularly coercive decision, it was made out of respect by the creators of the
articles as a part of a ‘two-way dynamic process’ (Oliver, 2010:154) in which the
public dictate what they find appropriate.
Similarly, my discourse analysis highlighted the romanticism used within the
propaganda poetry. Due to the fact that I focussed on the field, tenor and mode of
discourse, it allowed me to look at the different ways that affected the manner in
which the poetry was created. I was able to ascertain that through the field and tenor
of discourse that many of the writers were employed by the ‘Propaganda Bureau’
(Roberts, 1996:54), therefore their intention (field) when creating the text was to
create it under the label of propaganda and the relationship to the text (tenor) was that
they were employed to convince people of the worth of the war, ‘every conceivable
device was used to heighten the emotional experience of the occasion’ (Sanders et al,
1982:103). This brings me to the techniques that the writers employed to persuade or
manipulate the readers (mode), ‘propaganda is the effort to influence the opinions of a
public in order to spread a particular belief’ (Tench and Yeomans, 2006:271). This is
explored by my analysis, where I look at the language techniques such as
personification, euphemism, emotive language and imagery. These are used to exploit
the emotions of the readers, as I mentioned in my Literature Review, ‘propaganda has
a highly emotional foundation to its appeal. For Aristotle, emotion is central to
persuasion’ (O’Shaughnessy, 2004:110). There is no doubt that the propaganda
shown in the selected poetry fits all the criteria as set out by Lasswell, ‘1. To mobilise
hatred against the enemy; 2. To preserve friendship of allies; 3. To preserve the
friendship and, if possible, to procure the cooperation of neutrals; 4. To demoralise
the enemy.’(1938:195). The intention of the creator therefore, when contemplating the
results shown within my analysis, is indisputably propagandistic. Finally, looking at
my semiotic analysis, the focus is securely on the intent of both; a selection of
propaganda posters from the First World War, and of photos featured in newspapers
that covered the centenary celebrations in 2014. To do this, I was looking at the Icon,
Index and Symbol as specified in Peirce’s Trichotomy of signs. First I considered the
propaganda posters and attempted to determine the decisions behind each visual
concept of the posters, as ‘striking visual images produced an ideal atmosphere for
recruitment purposes’ (Sanders, 1982:104). I focussed on comparing the use of colour
within the two sets of images; this was very interesting as they were produced a
century apart. It was very noticeable when looking at the two collections as a whole
that in comparison to the propaganda posters, which focus on including colours that
are evocative of Britain and nature, the colours which dominate the photos from the
newspaper cuttings are mainly red and green, both which represent the soldiers that
died during the First World War. Reflectively, looking at the two different
motivations that drove the creators of each sets of images, we can see how the posters
produced in 1914 were aimed to keep ‘the war and the constant need for personal
sacrifice before the British public’ (Sanders, 1982:104). I also looked at the images
demonstrated on the two sets of posters and how the soldiers appeared as icons of
happy heroes on the propaganda posters and on the pictures from the centenary, they
are mostly only represented, as the Symbol for the dead of the First World War, the
poppy. The explicit persuasive techniques therefore appear in the propaganda posters.
When looking at the propaganda with the benefit of hindsight, and taking into account
the 8,689,467 British servicemen and women who lost their lives at the hands of the
war machine, the photos echo the need for lamentation for the immense slaughter of
Within my literature review I also looked at Bernay’s opinion if the difference
between PR and propaganda. It was his belief that the distribution of information is
necessary, yet when that information is corrupted or takes on negative connotations, is
when the authors ‘consciously and deliberately disseminate what they know to be
lies’ (1928:22). This is where I can develop a conclusion for my second research
question, focussing on how the activity in 2014 differs from that in 1914. The
propaganda was publicising falsehoods and manipulations that coerced men to ‘put
their hands to the killing of a man, they have mutilated others and perhaps been
mutilated in return…fooled by propaganda? If so, they writhe in the knowledge that
they were blind pawns in plans…which they neither devised nor comprehended nor
approved’ (Lasswell, 1938:8). Here we can see that the propaganda analysed differs
from the PR management of the Centenary Celebrations. As far as deceptions are
concerned, the knowledge that the public possesses about the war is vast, we are
extremely aware of the amount of British people that died during the War, and
therefore some may say that the government can’t hide the fact that so many people
died; yet they are able to distort their involvement in the carnage. However it is
essential to remember that PR is a ‘constant game of hide and seek’ (Deacon et al,
2007:148), it is not pure a means of distributing facts, as Moloney cited, it could be
called ‘weak propaganda’ (2006:165). Therefore we are not looking for entire clarity,
more that there is no intention to deceive. Within my analyses, it is clear that PR
contains diluted propagandistic techniques, for example when looking at euphemisms
within my content analysis of the newspaper cuttings that surrounded the Centenary
Celebrations, ‘Fallen’, representing those who lost their lives, was present 37%,
compared with ‘death’ which was only mentioned in 10% of the cuttings. The
euphemisms are evocative of the war poetry that I analysed, for example in England
to her sons, W. N. Hodgson uses a euphemism to avoid mentioning death, ‘And if he
wisdom giveth/ Unto his beloved sleep’, this is an example of their presence within
propaganda literature. The presence of euphemisms within PR in 2014, therefore
proves that the custom of using euphemisms to soften the impact of the truth on the
public, is not something recent; it was used 100 years ago to have the same influence
on a public then. One could draw the conclusion, consequently, that propagandistic
techniques are still used within modern PR practice, however, there is not the same
intent, or intentional deceit as the propaganda used during the First World War. What
it is crucial to recall, is that hindsight plays a huge part in how the First World War is
portrayed. We, as a generation 100 years on with much more advanced technology,
are able to look at the propaganda distributed to the public and hardly comprehend
how ‘only a minority of the public appeared to have access to the facts’ (Crofts,
1989:50). Therefore another hypothesis could be; that due to the growing awareness
of the public to manipulative techniques, the government does not have the same
ability to deceive as it did a century ago, ‘we are witnessing the growth of a world
public, and this public has risen, in part, because international propaganda has at once
agitated and organised it.’ (Lasswell, 1938:6). I can appreciate how my analysis is
somewhat limited in its capacity to purely focus on a small amount of British
propaganda created in 1914. If I were to expand my research, I would follow the work
of the ‘Secret War Propaganda Bureau’ (Roberts, 1996:54) throughout the war and
see how the angles of their persuasion changed, as more was known about the realities
of war at the front line. I would also look at the German propaganda, scrutinise its
techniques and compare and contrast it to the techniques that I have already found
within my study of British propaganda.
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9. Bibliography of Newspaper Cuttings, Poetry, Photographs and Posters.
Anon, 2014, ‘Bradford City Players join Carol Service for WW1 commemoration.’
Bradford Telegraph and Argus, 17th December.
Anon, 2014. ‘Mayor thanks town for support after Hailsham World War One
commemoration.’ Eastbourne Herald, 17th August.
Anon, 2014, ‘Artist Act of Remembrance’. The Westmoreland Gazette, 3rd September.
Anon, 2014, ‘Remembrance at Redoubt’. The Eastbourne Herald, 1st November.
Anon, 2014, ‘Villages Union Jack is torn down and burned’. Kent Messenger, 31st
Anon, 2014, ‘We will remember them’. Nuneaton News, 10th November.
Anon, 2014, ‘Silence on Royal Wootten Basset as the town marks remembrance
Sunday.’ Swindon Advertiser, 9th November.
Anon, 2014, ‘Our Duty of care to those who gave their lives for us.’ Western Daily
Press, 8th November.
Anon, 2014, ‘Youngsters remember Great War.’ The Bath Chronicle, 13th November,
Anon, 2014, ‘War through the eyes of the church pastor’. Spenborough Guardian, 5th
Anon, 2014, ‘Anger as memorial stays under wraps’. Romford Recorder. 8th August.
Anon, 2014, ‘From games joy to the horrors of war’. The Sun, 8th August. Pg29
Anon, 2014, ‘Galloway Great war’. The Galloway Gazette, 1st August
Anon,2014, ‘Remembering World War One’. The North Devon Gazette, 30th January.
Anon, 2014, ‘The Muddy truth of War’. The Visitor, 30th January.
Bate, G. 2014, ‘Gun shots and cannon fire mark artillery day in Worcester’
Worcester News. 17th August.
Bunkall, A, 2014, ‘WW1 Diary Reveals Truth of Christmas Truce’ Sky News, 24th
Cameron, L, 2014, ‘Locomotive tribute for War heroes.’ Press Association, (PA
newswire Scotland). 17th August.
Craig, J. 2014, ‘Remembrance service is an emotional day’. Uttoxeter Advertiser, 11th
Cross, B. 2014, ‘Wall of poppies to honor fallen’ Swindon Advertiser, 26th
Douglas, J. 2014, ‘Kirklecs Collage Students help to remove carpet of remembrance
poppies at tower of London’. The Huddersfield Daily Examiner. 24th November.
Gilbert, D. 2014, ‘Armed Police were at cenotaph service’. Swindon Advertiser. 13th
Historical Royal Palaces, 2014, ‘Sea of Red – Tower of London poppies seen from the
air’. The Telegraph, 10th November.
Kettle, L. 2014, ‘“Thoughts will be with the brave” for WW1 centenary’. Walsall
Advertiser, 6th November, Pg6.
Lewis, H. 2014, ‘Remembering the war through art’. York Press, 17th August.
Lidinton, D. 2014. ‘It is right that we honor all those who fought for our freedom’.
The Bucks Herald, 9th November.
Lambert, V. 2014. ‘Row on Row; the poppies flow’. The Daily Telegraph, 9th August,
O’Donovan, G. 2014. ‘Humbling & hypnotic: the pals recall the war; the weekend on
television’. The Daily Telegraph, 4th August.
Rigby, E. 2014. ‘LEST WE FORGET:10 sticking images from remembrance Sunday
and Armistice Day’. Winal Globe, 12th November.
Thorp, L. 2014. ‘Memorial Flowers stolen exactly 100 years after start of world war
one’. The Bolton News, 7th August.
1. Happy is England now, by John Freeman. (Gardner, 1967).
2. For all we have and are, by Rudyard Kipling. (Roberts, 1996:57).
3. England to her sons, by W. N. Hodgson. (Gardner, 1967:).
4. Men who march away, by Thomas Hardy. (Roberts, 1996:55).
5. The Soldier, by Rupert Brooke. (Gardner, 1967).
6. The Call, by W. N. Hodgson. (Gardner, 1967).
Posters and Photographs.
Smyth Baden Powell, R. S. (1915) ‘Are You in this?’ Produced in (Darracott,
Clauson, G. (1916) ‘A Wish’. Produced in (Darracott, 1972:22).
Leete, A. (1916) ‘Britons wants you!’ Produced in (Darracott, 1972:37)
Pryse, S. (1914) ‘The only road for an Englishman’ Produced in (Darracott,
MacDiarmid, p. 2014. ‘First World War Centenary in pictures’. The Belfast
Telegraph, 4th August.
Allegretti, A. 2014. ‘First World War Centenary: Lamps to go out across Britain
to commemorate dead’. The Independent, 1st August.
Spence, A. 2014. ‘BBC rallies its forces to mark Centenary of First World War’.
The Times, 17th November.
Simpson, J. 2014. ‘Armistice Day: Tower of London poppies captured by drone
camera.’ The Independent, 10th November.
A. Techniques of a basic procedure.
1. Selecting the issues
2. Case making
B. Omnibus symbols.
1. Glittering generalities
2. Name Calling.
C. Techniques of identification.
1. Transfer and testimonial
2. Plain folks
3. Band wagon
4. Guilt and virtue of association
D. Strategic techniques.
1. Hot potato
3. Least of evils
5. Shift of scene
6. Change of pace
7. Big Tent
11. Big Lie
13. Person to person
14. Programme of deeds