The Changing Lights / Stacey Kent (Memories in a Song)
Today, my brother sent my sister and me an article with the note: “Millions of old printed photos are sitting in storage. Digitizing them can unlock countless memories.” The words of his note are meant to remind me of the boxes of my father’s family photos in my and that I need to go through them and digitize them. My sister has already done her part and the boxes have been sent to me to do my part.
The words in my brother’s email are an exact copy the headline of the article from the 8/18/23 Lifestyle Section of the Associated Press News. The article is given a personal spin by the author who puts a digitized photo of him with his sister and grandmother at the top of it.
It is an excellent, informative article and does the job of both reminding me of the photos in the basement as well as providing information on how to do this. As I read the article I realized it also offered a textbook example of the effective use of public relations (PR) by someone. In short, public relations can be distinguished from advertising as a non-paid form communications while advertising is a paid for form of communication. Reading the article over again, I realized it was using symbolism and metaphor to breathe life back into objects like “old printed photos” – and – by extension, breathe more life back into those who digitize photos.
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The author of the AP article – perhaps pulling out from some shoebox and viewing the old photo of his family at the top of the article – might have decided to simply write an article about how to digitize photos like this one of his family. But more than likely, he was first contacted by some service or brand, with a financial interest in reminding consumers about digital photo services. Perhaps the contact came from an association promoting digital photos. Or, from one of the leading scanning service companies mentioned in the article. However, it is unlikely it came from a brand of scanning devices as no product or brand is mentioned in the article. In fact, at the end of the article it discourages purchasing a product to “do-it-yourself” by saying “there are ways to do it yourself. But that takes some technical expertise, patience, and the proper equipment.”
Retaining memories for others by scanning old photos and allowing these a new digital life as well as communication of these memories to friends and relatives is probably something most would consider important. It is something we might be reminded of when going through old boxes in our basements, attics, or garages. But this article in the national Associated Press News suddenly “reminds” millions about pulling those old photos out of storage and taking the action of purchasing a service to scan them.
It reminds one that – in our digital age where memory is fleeting, fading, and replaced – digital technology might also be used to preserve memory. (In effect, it might be a PR piece for a part of the entire digital technology industry).
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The legendary founder of the public relations and propaganda industry Edward Bernays would be proud of the use of his theories (and those of his uncle Sigmund Freud) in this article. One of Bernays’ most successful PR campaigns began when he started working for the American Tobacco Company in the late 1920s. Bernays was given the objective of increasing Lucky Strike sales among women, who, for the most part, had formerly avoided smoking.
The first strategy was to persuade women to smoke cigarettes instead of eating. Bernays began by promoting the ideal of thinness itself using photographers, artists, newspapers, and magazines to promote the special beauty of thin women. Medical authorities were found to promote the choice of cigarettes over sweets. Homemakers were cautioned that keeping cigarettes on hand was a social necessity. One of the results of his efforts was to create the Lucky Strike Girl in Red.
The campaign succeeded. Women smoked more cigarettes, American Tobacco Company brought in more revenue and Lucky Strike led the market in growth. However, a taboo remained on women smoking in public. Bernays consulted with psychoanalyst Abraham Brill, a student of his uncle Freud, who reported to him that cigarettes represented “torches of freedom” for women whose feminine desires were increasingly suppressed by their role in the modern world.
In 1929, Bernays encouraged women to march down Fifth Avenue during the Easter parade in New York City, and protest gender inequality. Bernays telegrammed thirty debutantes from a friend at Vogue to participate in the demonstration, encouraging them to combat the prejudice against women smokers.
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The wallpaper of our daily life is “papered” with advertisements and PR, paid and unpaid communications for products or services. The best come across as relatively harmless, helpful and friendly articles like the one above from AP. It is a welcome respite in our modern world where everything is politicized.
Here is something that avoids politics and simply provides a particular nudge to “remember” memory. Everyone has memory. If there is any political direction tone in the article, one could argue that it is more directed at older people who have more photos to digitize (as well as more memories) than younger people who instantly create digital photos on smartphones and cameras today.
In the end, the article possesses a subliminal power of persuasion in its headline. In effect, it gives life to the inanimate objects of “old, printed photos” by suggesting that they are “sitting” in storage. Sitting is a human activity. They have not simply been “placed” in storage. In effect, they have their own life and they are waiting to be bought back to life again.
Like those Lucky Strikes smoked by women in 1929 as “torches of freedom,” the old, printed photos are sitting in a type of waiting room, sitting and waiting to be called back into service as “pieces of memory.”
John is a graduate of UCLA and Loyola Law School. He’s had a career in marketing and has written about media, symbolism and marketing for many publications. He is the author of the book Battle of Symbols: Global Dynamics of Advertising, Entertainment and Media, published by Daimon Verlag, Zurich.