Manipulating consciousness with advertising strategies

e.g. 'biotech' instead of 'genetic engineering'

Ingeborg Woitsch

Translation of an article which appeared in Das Goetheanum - Wochenschrift für Anthroposophie (No. 30, 26 July 1998, pp 441-443)

The majority of people at present are against manipulating life. This arises from an assortment of motives: an inner sense; religious conviction; direct personal concern or from the prospect of unpredictable consequences. This strong rejection of genetic engineering (GE), especially with foods, has prompted the European genetic engineering industry to engage the globally active public relations agency, Burson-Marsteller (B-M). This American advertising company is expected to use its resources to bring about public acceptance of genetically modified foods and support for genetic engineering in Europe. B-M's advertising strategy was first used in the preparations for the 'First European Bioindustry Congress' in Amsterdam in 1997, organised by EuropaBio,1 the umbrella organisation of the European genetic engineering industry to which belong, amongst others, Bayer, Hoechst, Monsanto, Hoffmann-La Roche and the food producers Nestlé, Unilever and Danone.

Burson-Marsteller's recent activities unfolded in the background of the Swiss referendum campaign on the genetic security initiative which on 7 June 1998 was rejected by a majority of 66.6%. For example, here the 'Genetic Protection Initiative' was renamed the 'Genetic Prohibition Initiative' by its opponent organisations such as Gensuisse and Interpharma in consultation with B-M. In fact a large part of Swiss biomedical research would have been affected by the Initiative's proposals. They wanted to ban the production, acquisition and transfer of transgenic animals. Patents would no longer be permitted on genetically modified (GM) plants and animals and their components. All releases of GM plants would have been forbidden. But the scare kept within limits. Christophe Lambs, spokesman for Ares Serrono, the Swiss biotech company, said 'We'll most probably move our laboratories into France, a few kilometres beyond the Swiss border.' And the loss of patenting would have been relatively insignificant for the transnational companies because EU patent rights are assigned at the European Patent Office in Munich. It is estimated that the Genetic Protection Initiative had 5 million Swiss francs at its disposal as against the 35 million which the chemical and food industry could invest on its lavish publicity for achieving a 'victory for gene research on cancer, Alzheimer's and BSE'.

Presentation replaces reality

There is an awesome logic in that genetic engineering's advance in laying hold of the physical basis of life calls for a few millions worth of know- how for manipulating the basis of consciousness. 'Perceptions are real' says B-M's motto on its home page on the Internet. 2 But these 'perceptions' are intended to divert attention from reality. Here the 'presentation of reality' is supposed to correspond with reality. Following this line, to be truthful it should really say 'presentations are real'. We are dealing with an attempt at constructing reality through emotion provoking language. 'Perceptions are real. They color what we see ... what we believe ... how we behave. They can be managed ... to motivate behavior ... to create positive business results.' It is all a matter, so we are told, of how one looks at a thing.

A B-M internal strategy document that reached the public via Greenpeace, 3 lists four principles as to how the public's attitude to GM foods should be manipulated in favour of the GE lobby:

Stay off the killing fields: Any contentious issues (killing fields) to do with the industry should be avoided. So called 'risk discussions' for instance on ecological or health dangers of GE should not be entered into.

Create positive perceptions: The positive and beneficial characteristics of GM products should be put to the media, e.g. ecological advantages or the creation of jobs. Discussion should centre on the benefits of the product, not the technology itself. 'Producing positive perception' of course depends on appropriate use of the language. Thus the following GE vocabulary is recommended: instead of 'cloning', 'propagating identical offspring'; instead of 'genetically manipulated', 'genetically modified'; instead of 'genetic engineering', 'biotechnology'. Following this linguistic strategy 'harvests are secured with care for the environment' by genetic engineering, 'cultivable areas are extended' and 'unfavourable localities are made useful'. It is better to call experts 'specialists', and corporations sound friendlier as 'enterprises'.

Fight fire with fire: This means that the actual battle is conducted at the emotional level. Critics of GE should be discredited by showing that their rejection of it can be traced to the purely emotional level, for instance to fear. Instead, positive feelings like hope, care and optimism should be evoked in connection with GE. To achieve this powerful symbols will be used because they speak not to logic but to people's feelings.

Create service-based media relations: B-M is developing the following strategy for its customer EuropaBio: 'EuropaBio must turn itself into the best and most reliable source of biotechnology/bioindustries inspiration and information -- the first-stop help-desk where they get not industry propaganda but practical editor-pleasing, deadline-beating connect to interesting stories and personalities -- even adversarial -- relevant to their readerships.' Through such a media service the press should be supplied with purposeful information, above all 'good stories, stories - not issues'. Neither trade nor industry should publish their own statements on GE but let them all pass through the media service. This amounts to a monopoly of information.

Examples of Burson Marsteller projects

Burson Marsteller has worked for several years in Germany on the BSE issue. It got the contract from the English Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC). The MLC was founded by the British government and had the task during the BSE crisis of 'optimising' the marketing of British meat products. This aim was pursued for specialist groups and consumers under B-M's guidance with the help of market information and scientific publications.
East Timor, Indonesia
At the end of 1991 B-M was hired by the Indonesian government. The firm was supposed to avert the damage to President Suharto's image which threatened his foreign politics after his army carried out the massacre in Dili. Indonesia occupied East Timor in 1975. Amnesty International announced: 'since the invasion about 200,000 inhabitants of East Timor, a third of the original population, have been killed, disappeared or fallen victim to torture...' At the end of 1996, B-M was engaged once again by the government as the leaders of the East Timor opposition, Jose Ramos-Horta and Bishop Carlos Belo, got the Nobel Peace Prize and the Suharto regime was criticised worldwide for the crimes in East Timor.
Bhopal, India
Following an accident at the production plant of the chemical company Union Carbide in 1984 about 2,000 people died and 200,000 were injured. After the catastrophe the Union Carbide leadership got together with representatives of B-M to work out a plan for the ensuing PR strategy.
GE soya, Europe
The export by Monsanto of GM soya was heatedly debated by the European public in autumn 1996. Advised by B-M, Monsanto thereafter set up in Germany and other European countries a 'Soya Information Bureau', which has since become their 'Biotechnology Information Bureau'.

B-M is part of the American advertising company Young & Rubicam, the third biggest in this sector in the USA. Within the organisation, B-M specialises in worldwide 'crisis communication for industry and politics'. B-M is active in over 30 countries and has become known for its aggressive media strategies with politically explosive issues. Whether it is industry or politics, B-M offers appropriate image management advice as a complete PR package with comprehensive strategies and forward planning to its customers amongst whom are authoritarian regimes, chemicals transnationals and British beef exporters.

Disguising the realties by manipulating word usage is of course aimed primarily at the young, the future consumer. The comic strip A little trip through biotechnology financed by Swiss state funds, Nestlé, Monsanto, Roche and Novartis, and distributed free around schools, depicts a little Biotech-Hero extolling the research of the future with carefully picked words.

It is a massive undertaking involving subtly- working, but in the last analysis, primitive means of deception. But with consistent cultivation of one's senses through both devoted responsibility for the word and the power of clear thinking it can be disarmed wherever it is encountered.

1. European Association for Bioindustries (EuropaBio) with its headquarters in Brussels.


3. Information: Genetic Engineering Campaign, Greenpeace e.V., D-22745 Hamburg, Germany. Tel. +49 40 30618 386.

Translated by David J. Heaf with permission. To order 'Das Goetheanum - Wochenschrift für Anthroposophie' contact Helga Otto

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