The Danger of Effective Propaganda

An element of visual persuasion mentioned in chapter four of Visual Communication: Images with Messages is propaganda, a way of spreading an idea to a population. While propaganda is not inherently negative, it has been used to mislead and manipulate for decades. One of the strongest and most effective examples of this is the nazi propaganda before and during the second world war.

I had heard of propaganda, but I did not truly understand
how it could be so influential until visiting the Holocaust Museum in DC. The propaganda used by the nazi party was strategic and creative; so much so, that it played a great part in their rise to power. The average person is not prone to baseless hatred, so the propaganda was used to build fear and intolerance.


“The German Student Fights for the Führer and the People”

The nazis effectively flooded the media with their message. They utilized new technologies, like television and film, alongside traditional mediums, like newspapers and newsletters, to spread their propaganda. They attempted to foster a sense of community, while ostracizing anyone they deemed to be outside of or detrimental to them. Their propaganda was amazingly effective, and played such a large role in their power that the United Nations established laws to combat this manipulation in the future.

Visual communication can be an extremely effective form of persuasion, but with this power there is a responsibility to persuade using truth. Corporations and governments will use propaganda as opposed to ethical persuasion, and it is important that audiences are discerning and critical when consuming the communication. Seeing these historical pieces of propaganda online can be influential, but seeing them in person and being surrounded by them, the way the Holocaust Museum sets up the exhibit, their power is more obvious. Studying these artifacts can help viewers to more critically view the visual persuasion they may be consuming.


Six Seasons and a Movie

As stated in Chapter 13 of Visual Communication, television is becoming less and less of a one-way interaction. Before the rise of the internet, it was difficult for fans of television to have their ideas and opinions heard. However, fans’ social media use has begun to influence television shows more significantly. An early example of this fan/television writer interaction is in the show Community.

Community was an NBC comedy that never had particularly great ratings, but had a strong, enthusiastic fan-base that kept it running for six seasons. The strong fan-base was cultivated by the writers of the show, who embraced both praise and criticism from fans, recognizing their comments through subtle messages written into the show. For instance, one online commenter tweeted, “both Modern Family and Glee are streets ahead of your meta bullshit,” to show creator Dan Harmon. The phrase “streets ahead” became a running joke on the show, as an idiom that Pierce (Chevy Chase) attempts to popularize.


Another instance of this fan interaction are in the chalkboard messages in the background of many scenes. The most notable of these is when the board reads “six seasons and a movie,” a throwaway line from an early episode that became a mantra of fans, hoping for just that from Community.

It is remarkable that this level of fan interaction is possible; 20 years ago these subtleties would be missed completely by the majority of viewers, but are now not only caught, but immortalized through the internet. This sort of fan interaction is a large factor in the show’s success, and will become increasingly prevalent among shows with cult followings.

Psycho for Motion Pictures

The movie Psycho is briefly mentioned in chapter 12 of Visual Communication by Paul Martin Lester as being a classic thriller, and the film definitely lives up to this designation. One reason Psycho is such an intense movie is Alfred Hitchcock’s interesting directorial decisions.

Color, or lack thereof, is an important element to any film, and Hitchcock’s decision to shoot in black and white was done for a variety of reasons. The most basic factor was that it was the least expensive medium and the movie did not have a particularly large budget. Hitchcock set out to make a good quality movie that was done without using a lot of money. In addition to the financial reasons, Hitchcock wanted to ensure the movie not be too much for audiences. He believed that if the now-iconic shower murder scene were in color, it would be too gory. Hitchcock was able to make a powerful, classic thriller, without the element of color.

Hitchcock also made sure that he used the contrast of black and white to full advantage in Psycho. He had Marion Crane shown in a white bra and carrying a white purse in the earlier scenes, to symbolize purity or innocence, but changed these elements to black after Crane stole the money. This subtle change of white to black can enhance the audiences’ perceptions of the character.

Film choices can be the difference between a blockbuster and a dud, whether they are large elements or small details. Hitchcock not only chose to film in black and white, he took full advantage of the method in order to improve the movie.

Faking a Photo

Photography is an art form that can be used to provide the public with information. Photographs can capture a moment, aiding consumers in understanding what has happened during a specific time. Photographs can also deceive their audiences by portraying a scene inaccurately, which leads to ethical dilemmas for photographers. An instance of an inaccurate photograph causing controversy was during the last presidential election season.

This photo of Republican candidate hopeful Paul Ryan was published showing him washing dishes at soup kitchen.

paul ryan







The photograph is not one that appears controversial- it seems to simply be a candidate volunteering on the campaign trail. However, it was discovered that the photo was a “staged photo-op,” leading audiences to feel deceived by both Ryan and those that were involved with publishing the photo.  Witnesses to the staged photo stated that Ryan was only at the soup kitchen for a short time and did not do any volunteer work while there, contrary to what the picture that was circulated showed.

While photographers have been staging photographs for decades, it can be a controversial practice when the goal is deception. The staging of the photo, in this case, definitely led to more negative press than positive.

Cartoon Controversy

Cartoons are an often underestimated form of visual communication. Many people generalize cartoons as children’s entertainment, but cartoons can be powerful, and even controversial, pieces of media.

An example of controversy caused by cartoons is from modern audiences looking back at advertisements featuring The Flintstones. The show was already groundbreaking beyond the world of cartoon, with episodes highlighting issues such as depression, infertility, and adoption. However, a negative controversy that has arisen surrounding the cartoon is due the cartoon characters being used to sell cigarettes.


While The Flintstones was a show aimed primarily at adult audiences, it can be shocking to see cartoon characters, which most viewers associate with children’s programming, selling a product we now know to be deadly. Additionally, one of the primary modern images of The Flintstones is in children’s vitamins, essentially the antithesis of cigarettes.

It is understandable why some audiences would be shocked at cartoon characters selling cigarettes, but cartoons are targeted for adults more than the average consumer realizes.

Voting Infographic

With today being “Super Tuesday,” the day the greatest number of states hold presidential primary elections, there have been many social media posts encouraging voters to go to the polls. While videos, images, and text posts are abundant, I found one infographic particularly compelling.

Infographics “combine the aesthetic sensitivity of artistic values with the quantitative precision of numerical data in a format that is both understandable and dramatic,” according to Paul Martin Lester. This infographic effectively combines words and images in order to convey the demographics that tend to vote in US elections.

This “Take Part” graphic employs statistical elements, such as charts, along with non-statistical elements, like diagrams, in order to show voter turnout variations based on race, sex, age, education levels, income, marriage status, employment status, and geographical region. This is a large amount of statistical information, but due to the use of graphic elements, it is easy to interpret and understand the information.

While I have not fact-checked each element of the graphic, their statistics are cited to the US Census Bureau and Project Vote, each of which are credible sources. Additionally, none of the charts are misleading in how they are set up. The designers also used culturally relevant elements, such as a red, white, and blue color scheme and the recurring Uncle Sam hat image.

This infographic was able to convey a lot of information in an easy-to-understand format. The graphic designers used the infographic effectively and created an effective image.


The way that words are presented can be just as important as the words themselves. Typography, when done correctly, can enhance the messages the words are conveying. This anti-smoking advertisement utilizes many typeface attributes in order to better communicate the message.

The color of the words is one of the most important aspects of this image. The words are colored orange, white, and grey, and this, in combination with the spacing and justification of the words creates the illusion that the words are a cigarette.

The size of the words is also an important factor. At first glance, the image appears to be a cigarette, and the largest word is “NO”. This instantly conveys the “no smoking” message, before the viewer even reads the other words that repeat this message.

The font is the final important typographical aspect. The font is simple and not distracting, and allows the text to be placed close enough together for the viewer to connect the individual words into one, single image.

Indian Stereotypes

One persistent and negative stereotype that is common in American media is that of Indians and Indian-Americans. A fantastic example that shows a plethora of these portrayals is on the Netflix show Master of None. In this, the lead character is an Indian-American actor and finds that he is constantly auditioning for stereotypical Indian roles; like the convenience store owner with a heavy accent.

Due to the fact that this is a pretty new show, the scene is not available online for free. However, the scene takes place during season 1, episode 4.

The representations can be detrimental to the American public’s view of Indians and Indian-Americans. If bases their judgments off of main-stream media, they would assume that Indians all wear turbans and speak with thick accents, which is not representative of the majority of Indians, either in India or America. There are more popular representations recently, though, that may help to shed the culture in a more realistic light. Shows like Master of None and the Mindy Project, which feature Indian-American protagonists, can help to break these stereotypes. These shows are not perfect portrayals, but are certainly better since they are created and written by actual Indian-Americans. 

Gestalt Advertisements

The gestalt theory asserts that human perception is formed as a combination of sensations, not individual sensory elements (Lester, 44). This idea has been refined into categories that are frequently used in advertisements, especially the concepts of similarity, proximity, and continuation.

gestalt exampleGestalt similarity is the idea that the brain groups together similar objects and associates them, but visual interest stems from the breaking of this similarity (44). For instance, this Kia ad shows row after row of the same image- a hamster on a wheel, but at the bottom right there is a bright red Kia car. The contrast and dissimilarity between the gray hamsters and the car draws the viewers attention to the car immediately.



Another example of a gestalt concept in advertisement is in this Pepsi ad. According to the continuation theory, the brain seeks to follow continuous lines (45). In this ad, the eye is most likely drawn first to the woman, and not only is she drinking from a straw that leads directly to the Pepsi can, it appears that she is looking downward at the can, drawing the viewers attention to the product, after viewing the conventionally attractive woman.



Proximity can be used as a visual depth cue; if an image is perceived as being closer, it is enhanced, whereas if two images appear to be equidistant, they are more equal (44). An Indian car company used this concept in their advertisement. The company directly compares a competitor’s car with their own, and in the picture their car is larger and overlaps the other car, making it appear to be closer to the viewer. By using the gestalt theory of proximity, their car should appear better than the competitor’s.





Each of the above advertisements uses the gestalt theory in order to (hopefully) successfully sell a product. Once one learns about the different elements of gestalt theory, it is difficult to find an advertisement that does not use it in some way. The individual parts of advertisements can be analyzed to find more meaning than previously apparent.


Citation: Lester, P. M. (01/2013). Visual Communication: Images with Messages, 6e, 6th Edition.

The Blues

Most people know what colors are. With the exception of those with visual impairments, we interact with color constantly, and these colors have the power to make us feel different emotions. I, for instance, went through a phase in my childhood where I refused to eat anything green (due mainly to my intense hatred of green beans). This was not based on anything other than my personal experience with this particular example of this color, and as I have gotten older I realize that it is ridiculous to cut out an entire section of food based on a seemingly arbitrary component. However, this experience is proof of the power that color can have over people’s emotions and decisions.

According to Lester, “lighter colors tend to be viewed as soft and cheerful, and darker colors have a harsh or moody emotional quality about them” (pg 18). Colors, in an objective sense, are just varying light wavelengths hitting our eyes and being interpreted by our brains. However, as James Maxwell, inventor of color photography explains, the “science of color must be regarded essentially as a mental science” (pg 20).

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype, and even the site used to power this blog, WordPress, are all communication companies that have something in common: blue logos. The overwhelming use of this color in logos is not an accident; the color is neutral enough to fade into the background so the user is not distracted from the content of the site. Blue is also the color that people most often say is their favorite, according to a Forbes article on color psychology in the workplace, and can cause people to feel calm or serene. It seems users are more likely to visit a site and stay on for a long period of time if they have the relaxation caused by the use of the color blue.

Individual reactions to colors can vary based on a person’s memories associated with that color, “most people never associate a color with a formless blob, but with a definite object. For that reason, memory of an object affects the perception of its color” (Lester, 18). However, the general associations with blue are positive or neutral. While a restaurant or store may not necessarily want a logo that grabs attention or stands out, the more neutral blue seems to be a successful color for many companies, especially those that are communication-based.