The term propaganda means to spread, to propagate. It was first used with reference to the spread of plants and animals. Today the meaning of the word also includes the spread of ideas, with the sole intention of influencing, shaping and changing opinions and behaviour. Propaganda makes you change the way you perceive things, it quietly works on your mind and makes you accept what is given or told to you using special communication methods and tactics.


Read: Where does the word propaganda come from and its history

Dictionary meaning of the term:


1 [mass noun] Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view: he was charged with distributing enemy propaganda

More example sentences


1.1 The dissemination of propaganda as a political strategy: the party’s leaders believed that a long period of education and propaganda would be necessary

More example sentences

2 (Propaganda) A committee of cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church responsible for foreign missions, founded in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV.

And while it does this it also ensures that you don’t learn the other side of the story. Every act of propaganda has a set goal to convert your beliefs, ideas or habits, to what is desired. To sum it up, propaganda is the spread of information that is either “biased or misleading”[1] to promote one way of looking at something.

Governments and political leaders used propaganda extensively during and after the two world wars. That was when its true power in influencing public opinion was realised. Most of the propaganda used at the time was to garner support for war, demoralise troops, or incite one group against and another. All this was done through deception: information would either be the half truth or completely false and misleading.

Propaganda was therefore seen as unethical and undesirable, something that is widely practised but must be shunned. But not all propaganda is necessarily bad. It can be used for social good.


Where do you find propaganda? It is all around us and not easy to spot. Governments use it and so do large companies and organisations.

Let’s take one example of governments using propaganda. Say your state government wants to introduce genetically modified crops and wants to convince farmers, environmentalists and agriculturists that these crops will not cause any great harm. That’s their purpose. So what does it do? It may publish reports on the benefits of using genetically modified crops, it might introduce schemes to help farmers buy healthier seeds at cheaper rates, and at the same time, it might amend a bill to safeguard farmer’s rights, it might allow seed suppliers to label their products differently, to make them more appealing. All of these actions are related. But it may never occur to the farmer that the government has planned all these actions with the sole aim of converting him or her to their viewpoint.

How can a company or organisation use propaganda? Let’s say there is a company that manufactures sanitary napkins. It sees your city or town as a huge market for it, as most women there still rely on cloth. So it prepares a plan to change the way women think about sanitary care. For this it might introduce a cheaper version of their product, they may get a filmmaker to show it being used in the film, they might organise an event to celebrate womanhood, and set up a stall where women can pick up free samples of the product, they can set up a helpline for women’s safety with a local NGO. They can do n number of such things that will gradually make women feel more comfortable about the product being pushed towards them. All this is not to say that there is anything wrong in using indirect means of promoting a cause or product. It is only to understand how propaganda can work.

The point to remember here is this: Propaganda uses special communication methods to reach and convert you. And this is done through the media. Your television, the radio, the internet, films, advertisements or public events, and even songs can be used to change your beliefs and behavior. Propaganda can catch you anywhere and in any form, so the next time you encounter anything that you think is attempting to change your perception or behavior, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the message
  • What is the context of the message
  • Who is the sender of the message
  • What is the intention of the message
  • What channel (or medium) is used for transmitting the message
  • Who is the audience for the message
  • What is the response expected

There are three types of propaganda, based on the source of the message and its accuracy: Black, Grey and White.[2]


Propaganda uses techniques very similar to what advertisers use. These are some of the common ones used[3]:

  • Name calling

Here the propagandist calls his opponent or opposing ideas by names that makes you see it in negative light. You see name-calling in political campaigns when one politician denounces his opponent by labeling him incapable, corrupt. You see it in advertising, where one brand points out flaws in the rival brand’s product.

Name-calling doesn’t let you think rationally. It uses names that confirm your negative feelings. For example, Delhi is often called the rape capital of the country. News reports and the National Crime Records Bureau’s report confirmed these suspicions[4], and now most are convinced that the capital is indeed unsafe for women. We forget to look into it, to question the basis of the claim, instead we simply accept it.

The name-calling technique was first identified by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) in 1938. According to the IPA, we should ask ourselves the following questions when we spot an example of name-calling.

  • What does the name mean?
  • Does the idea in question have a legitimate connection with the real meaning of the name?
  • Is an idea that serves my best interests being dismissed through giving it a name I don’t like?
  • Leaving the name out of consideration, what are the merits of the idea itself?
  • Glittering generalities

This is the opposite of name-calling. It glorifies ideas or objects. Examples of this would be family values, friendship, patriotism.

In Savdhaan India, the television crime investigation show, the host is often seen commenting on the moral implications of a crime committed, and they often make statements about how the criminal failed to understand the value of a relationship like marriage or was a bad example of a parent or friend.

Questions you should ask:

  • What does the virtue word really mean?
  • Does the idea in question have a legitimate connection with the real meaning of the word:
  • Is an idea that does not serve my best interests being “sold” to me merely through its being given a name that I like?
  • Leaving the virtue word out of consideration, what are the merits of the idea itself?
  • Transfer: A device by which the propagandist links the authority or prestige of something well-respected and revered, such as church or nation, to something he would have us accept. Example: a political activist closes her speech with a prayer.
  • In the most simple and concrete terms, what is the proposal of the speaker?
  • What is the meaning of the the thing from which the propagandist is seeking to transfer authority, sanction, and prestige?
  • Is there any legitimate connection between the proposal of the propagandist and the revered thing, person or institution?
  • Leaving the propagandistic trick out of the picture, what are the merits of the proposal viewed alone?
  • Testimonials: a public figure or a celebrity promotes or endorses a product, a policy, or a political candidate. The most common misuse of the testimonial involves citing individuals who are not qualified to make judgements about a particular issue.
  • Who or what is quoted in the testimonial?
  • Why should we regard this person (or organization or publication) as having expert knowledge or trustworthy information on the subject in question?
  • What does the idea amount to on its own merits, without the benefit of the Testimonial?
  • Plain folks: attempt to convince the audience that a prominent person and his ideas are “of the people.”
  • What are the propagandist’s ideas worth when divorced from his or her personality?
  • What could he or she be trying to cover up with the plain-folks approach?
  • What are the facts?
  • Bandwagon: Makes the appeal that “everyone else is doing it, and so should you.” Examples: an ad states that “everyone is rushing down to their Ford dealer”
  • What is this propagandist’s program?
  • What is the evidence for and against the program?
  • Regardless of the fact that others are supporting this program, should I support it?
  • Does the program serve or undermine my individual and collective interests?
  • Fear: It plays on deep-seated fears; warns the audience that disaster will result if they do not follow a particular course of action.
  • Is the speaker exaggerating the fear or threat in order to obtain my support?
  • How legitimate is the fear that the speaker is provoking?
  • Will performing the recommended action actually reduce the supposed threat?
  • When viewed dispassionately, what are the merits of the speaker’s proposal?
  • Bad logic: An illogical message is not necessarily propagandistic; it can be just a logical mistake;it is propaganda if logic is manipulated deliberately to promote a cause.
  • Unwarranted extrapolation: Making huge predictions about the future on the basis of a few small facts. Questions to ask:
  • Is there enough data to support the speaker’s predictions about the future?
  • Can I think of other ways that things might turn out?
  • If there are many different ways that things could turn out, why is the speaker painting such an extreme picture?[6]


Every act of propaganda is intended for a specific kind of audience. For example, if a television sitcom caricatures a person from another country, some might be led to believe that people from that part of the world are actually like that. There was a time when people believed India is a country of snake charmers, some probably still do. Was that propaganda? We cannot be sure. Detecting and analysing propaganda can be difficult. Here is a simple ten-step process[5] you can use to analyse any propaganda:

  • identification of ideology andpurpose
  • identification of context
  • identification of the propagandist
  • investigation of the structure of the propaganda organization
  • identificationof the target audience
  • understanding of media utilization techniques
  • analysis of special techniques to maximize effect
  • analysis ofaudience reaction
  • identification and analysis of counterpropaganda
  • and completion of an assessment and evaluation



[2]Garth Jowett & Victoria O’Donell, Propaganda and Persuasion, 6th Edition, page 17 (Forms of propaganda)

[3] From Institute of Propaganda Analysis,

[4] NCRB data backs Delhi as ‘rape capital’ claim

Gwalior, India’s rape capital, Delhi is no.3

[5] Garth Jowett & Victoria O’Donell, Propaganda and Persuasion, Chapter 6, How to analyse propaganda