Top photo: (c) Janine / Wikipedia
by John Alan Irvin
Next time you order a “hearty breakfast” you can thank (or curse, depending on your waistline) none other than Austrian father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud. How? Through his nephew, the Austrian-American father of modern public relations Edward Bernays. Bernays spent little time in Austria, immigrating with his family as an infant, but his continued contact with his uncle back in Austria gave him an inside track on Freud’s emerging theories on the unconscious psychological motivation behind human behavior.
Once settled on his career as a self-described Public Relations Counsel, Bernays drew from psychoanalysis and other academic theories regarding group behavior in order to apply them to the very practical business of manipulating public opinion in order to sell products or ideas (one wonders how his uncle felt about this). In 1925 Bernays was hired by a meat packing company to promote the sale of bacon. Not content to follow the traditional advertising approach of simply praising his employer’s product or condemning the competition, Bernays sought to promote the sale of bacon by entirely changing public opinion about what constituted a good breakfast. It may be hard to imagine, but up until that time most Americans ate what we would consider a “continental breakfast”, that is, toast or a roll washed down with coffee and orange juice.
Drawing on what he knew to be an unconscious tendency to defer to authority figures, Bernays commissioned a “scientific study” that asked 5,000 physicians whether a “hearty breakfast” was better than a “light breakfast” in replacing lost energy. Not surprisingly, most doctors supported a “hearty breakfast.” Then Bernays went on to define in the public mind what constituted such a breakfast and (again, not surprisingly) bacon turned out to be a vital part. Eggs were included (to the unintentional but welcome benefit of the egg industry) and soon America considered bacon and eggs the natural and necessary elements of a “hearty breakfast.”