Author attempts propaganda in order to sell propaganda manual, doesn’t work so well

If you’re going to write a “hardcore propaganda manual”, then use propaganda to promote said manual – it’s probably a good idea to make sure your campaign works. Goodness knows, no dictator (whether politician or ad executive) wants to buy propaganda manuals that don’t deliver.

Spinfluence: the Hardcore Propaganda Manual for Controlling the Masses is a book about propaganda and emotional communication written and designed by DraftFCB designer Nick McFarlane. To promote his eight-year labour of love, McFarlane took a leaf out of his own playbook and attempted to trick New Zealand’s media into publicising his work for him.

“I’m not an expert [on propaganda]but after eight years of research you become one by reading heavy books. These ideas are predominantly accepted and I’ve distilled them down,” says McFarlane of his book.

With little to no budget and he and group of friends and colleagues (in their personal time) set up a fake demonstration campaign against the visit of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe. This included leaking travel plans by a fake agency to the media, seeding anonymous tips to journalists, hanging No Mugabe Visit banners around Auckland and pasting A3 protest posters on various walls. A No Mugabe Visit website and Facebook page was also set up.

After two weeks the banners and website were replaced by ones which said Mugabe was never visiting, telling the readers they’d been fooled – and revealing it was all part of a ruse to sell McFarlane’s book.

This reporter was one of 20 to receive the initial misinformation. I’d like to say I didn’t pick up the story because it smelled fishy (it’s incredibly unlikely the New Zealand government would let Mugabe into the country), but it was mostly a lack of time to verify the story and having bigger fish to fry.

It seems none of my colleagues in the New Zealand media took the bait. One of McFarlane’s colleagues says Radio New Zealand, TVNZ and the NZ Herald all looked at the story but quickly sniffed it out as a fake. Google searches show that apart from a handful of small overseas news sites and a gay community portal in New Zealand, no media organisations were taken in.

“All they had to do was ask the Department of Immigration if Mugabe was granted a visa and it would’ve been over quickly,” says McFarlane.

“I wouldn’t say my propaganda campaign failed. It still demonstrated the principles of the book … If we’re going to measure success by awareness, then anecdotally we’ve done really well.”

He says the campaign has helped Spinfluence secure a spot in the British Library’s latest exhibition on propaganda. McFarlane won’t reveal how many of the 7000 printed copies have been pre-ordered, but says he’s pleased with the numbers as they stand.

The campaign could have generated much more buzz if it could utilise Twitter, he admits. Attempts to set up No Mugabe Visit account on Twitter failed because accounts with the word ‘Mugabe’ were deleted within 24 hours.

StopPress has asked McFarlane for analytics information on the web and Facebook components of his campaign.

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