The estimated reading time for this post is 8 Minutes

Propaganda use in media is far from a new phenomenon in our society. Throughout this course, we’ve reencountered the subject of media platforms used throughout history as a tool to propagate the population. This rooted propagandists’ ideologies into society and gains a following. This led to the success of infamous propagandists such as Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini. This use of propaganda to gain power and a large loyal following is not only sought after by leaders but those in competitive industries as well. Companies in such industries must put themselves ahead of their competition, much as leaders ahead of their enemies. A current source these companies use to propagate is through their advertisements. Ads are encountered in everyday life, and although propaganda is more fleeting in advertisements, it is nonetheless present. One such competitive industry is airlines. This essay will be examining Air Canada and more specifically their “Travel Like a Canadian” advertisement and its use of propaganda through discussing Marlin’s comparison of media and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, examining Ellul’s perspective on timeless propaganda, and juxtaposing Marlin’s guidelines to successful propaganda and propaganda in advertisements. Furthermore, upon understanding what propaganda looks like in this advertisement, it will become fundamental moving forward to learning to prevent being propagated.

Before proceeding, let’s start by discussing what is occurring in this ad. Throughout the ad, the camera follows the American-Canadian actress, Sandra Oh, who is making her way through an airport and then onto the Air Canada plane. She addresses the camera and discusses the ideas of Canada and being Canadian. The ad uses the stereotypes of Canada and its population such as being polite, resolving issues quickly, and referring to products exclusive to Canadians. It does so with humoristic interactions such as Sarah Oh and the woman she runs into by jinxing each other multiple times. As well as resolving an argument between two kids by having them share poutine. However, a comedic advertisement, also emphasizes the positive ideas of Canada and the Canadian population. It does so by using phrases such as “Travelling like a Canadian means being a beacon of peace” and “… respect for everyone and embracing all cultures.”(“Air Canada: Travel Like a Canadian”) Overall, there is a recurring reminder in the ad that this is what it means to be “Canadian/Canada.”

First, this essay will discuss the commercial in regards to the comparison Marlin makes between the media and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave from the lesson ‘Total’. The aim of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave was to “explore the tension between the imagined reality that we think is “real” (shadows) versus the reality that is the “truth” (outside the cave).”(Oshin) Marlin compares media to Plato’s experiment in the way media controls the output, it shows us what it wants us to see. Marlin expresses how the media is made to “distract us” from real issues (COMS361: Total: Various Opinions about Total Propaganda). Another way media successfully propagates is through the use of “repetition, suppression and rationalization” (Huxley) This also keeps the viewer distracted, leaving no time for viewers to reflect. Instances of this commonality in the Air Canada advertisement are played with the stereotypes of Canadians that foreigners have; the ideas they have of how Canada “really” is, and portray the idea of what it means to be Canadian. It repeatedly visits the idea of Canadians being apologetic, suppressing reality through humor such as resolving a problem with poutine, and rationalization the idea of feeling welcomed by Canadians upon flying with Air Canada. Just as Marlin makes the point that the media creates illusions of what’s “real”, this advertisement plays with stereotypes, but it doesn’t make it “reality”. Using the idea of Canada being an easy-going, polite, and humorous place to draw in a clientele for Air Canada.

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Secondly, let’s consider Ellul’s perspective on timeless propaganda and whether it is reflected in the Air Canada advertisement. According to Ellul, what makes propaganda timeless is that it “must be continuous [what is approved today was condemned yesterday] and lasting; beyond any election campaign; fatal for propaganda to proceed in spurts with large gaps in between” (Ellul) Another aspect that makes propaganda timeless as made point by Ellul “is the appeal to base emotions necessitates that we are left with general overall impressions rather than facts.”(COMS361: Time: Ellul’s Perspective on Time (contd)) This idea of appealing to emotions in propaganda is used by ads as brought up in Chapter 2 of Randal Marlin in Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion. It states that the “concentration on emotional impact is used in modern advertising…” (Marlin) Considering these points of timeless propaganda, advertisements are not continuous as companies such as Air Canada, are always coming out with advertisements, making them temporary. These ads follow company guidelines and reflect their morals, yet changed throughout the company’s existence with a changing society. Air Canada has many missions, one of which is “we understand that diversity is fundamental to our success, ensuring that the cultural sensitivities of customers are respected while stimulating creativity and passion in our workforce.”(Air Canada) The “Travel like a Canadian” advertisement reflects Air Canada’s belief in providing a service of travel that will be comfortable for all clients leaving a familiar place. Also portrayed with the TLC acronym for “Travel like a Canadian” at the end of the ad which is also the acronym for “Tender, Love, and Care”. This emotional aspect of needing comfort is known by Air Canada to appeal to clients. This comfort is an emotional need, however, ads also promise to fulfill other needs, which will be discussed further in the next point.

Lastly, we will be comparing Marlin’s guidelines of successful propaganda and propaganda in advertising in the reading for the lesson ́ ‘Trust’. Advertisements share some characteristics of propaganda, however, it does not often share characteristics such as “continuity, the permanence of the message and rooted belief” (“COMS361: Trust: Advertising”) associated with propaganda. Whereas propaganda is designed to be long-lasting and target audiences with a common belief or seeking solutions for problems. Marlin discusses how advertisements are “designed to respond to basic needs and aspirations that are in line with fashion trends in opinion and attitudes. Much research is done to determine what will motivate a target audience.”(Marlin) However, not all humans share the same beliefs, we do share the same set of instinctual needs. The model of these needs is Abraham Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of basic human needs. To understand “what motivates human beings, Maslow proposed that human needs can be organized into a hierarchy.” (‘Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs Explained’) It has five levels: psychological needs, safety and security, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization. The need this commercial offers to fulfill is that of feeling loved and a sense of belonging. This level refers to “involves feeling loved and accepted. This need includes both romantic relationships as well as ties to friends and family members. It also includes our need to feel that we belong to a social group. Importantly, this need encompasses both feeling loved and feeling love towards others. Since Maslow’s time, researchers have continued to explore how love and belonging need to impact well-being.”(‘Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs Explained’) This commercial portrays the sense of acceptance we seek as humans through visuals of a diverse audience and stating “Travelling like a Canadian means respect for everyone and embracing all cultures” (“Air Canada: Travel Like a Canadian”). Much like any advertisement this commercial shares some characteristics of propaganda such as target, trust, and ability to fulfill the audience’s needs.

To conclude, this essay has analyzed Air Canada as a company as well as its advertisement “Travel like a Canadian” and its hidden propaganda. This has been done by discussing Marlin’s comparison of media and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, examining Ellul’s perspective on timeless propaganda, and juxtaposing Marlin’s guidelines to successful propaganda and propaganda in advertisements. Upon now knowing what ways propaganda is present in this advertisement, viewers can be more aware they are being subjected to it. With this new consciousness, audiences can protect themselves from being propagated not only by this ad but by other encounters as well. One must stop and reflect on what appeals to them about becoming a loyal client of that company. Doing so by understanding that the company is offering to fulfill one’s needs, uses emotional manipulation, and portrays ‘real’ suggestions that they want us to hear in ways to be appealing and grow their following. 

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