The In Crowd: Band Wagon as Propaganda

Circus Parade Band Wagon
Who wants to be chosen last for a team? Or left out of a party? Who wants his life to have meaning? To have his actions be significant? Band Wagon plays on our insecurities and longings: Don’t be left behind! Don’t miss your chance to be part of something big!

From The Institute for Propaganda Analysis:

Propaganda Tricks of the Trade
#7: Band Wagon

Band Wagon has as its theme, “Everybody-at least all of us-is doing it”; with it, the propagandist attempts to convince us that all members of a group to which we belong are accepting his program and that we must therefore follow our crowd and “jump on the band wagon.”

The Band Wagon is a means for making us follow the crowd and accept a propagandist’s program as a whole and without examining the evidence for and against it. His theme is: “Everybody’s doing it. Why not you?” His techniques range from those of the street-corner medicine show to those of the vast pageant.

The propagandist hires a hall, rents radio stations, fills a great stadium, marches a million or at least a lot of men in a parade. He employs symbols, colors, music, movement, all the dramatic arts. He gets us to write letters, to send telegrams, to contribute to his “cause.” He appeals to the desire, common to most of us, to “follow the crowd.” Because he wants us to follow the crowd in masses, he directs his appeal to groups held together already by common ties, ties of nationality, religion, race, sex, vocation.

With the aid of all the other Propaganda Devices, all of the artifices of flattery are used to harness the fears and hatreds, prejudices and biases, convictions and ideals common to a group. Thus is emotion made to push and pull us as members of a group onto a Band Wagon.

“Don’t throw away your vote. Vote for our candidate. He’s winning.” Nearly every candidate wins in every election before the votes are in and counted.

What can we do about the Band Wagon? Here are the questions we should certainly ask ourselves and should answer before we succumb to its wiles:

What is this propagandist’s program ?

What is the evidence for and against his program?

Does his program serve or undermine the interests of the group-my group-that he says favors him and his ideas?

No fair use of the Band Wagon Device can suffer from such questioning. And there is never as much of a rush to climb onto the Band Wagon as the propagandist tries to make us think there is.

[See The ABC’s of Propaganda Analysis].

The propagandist never stops at swaying the individual. Persuasion is not his final goal. Power is the final goal. Band Wagon is a method of putting those individuals together into a group as a means to gaining power.

Charles A. Fleming evaluates Band Wagon: (See Propaganda Shell Games a.k.a. Finding Unicorns for further explanation of General Semantics and these six principles).

Band Wagon. This is a “follow the crowd” device that promotes the idea that everyone else is doing what the propagandist wants the audience to do . It is more comfortable to be a member of the crowd than it is to stand out or to be left out. An example would be an appeal to vote for a particular candidate because everyone else like you is voting for that candidate.

A General Semantics Interpretation

  • Non-identity. Audience members are not the same as other people in the “crowd.” Experiences, motivation, and concerns differ. But the propagandist hopes the audience will respond to the apparent similarities with others and ignore important differences.
  • Non-allness. Even though others like those in the audience support this candidate, this should not be the whole case for or against giving one’s support. But the propagandist wants people to respond without asking questions or realizing there is much more to be considered.
  • Self-reflexiveness. What the “crowd” and audience members have in common is someone’s biased, incomplete abstraction of all similarities and differences. The propagandist hopes the audience will respond to the “similarity” abstraction as if it were a complete, objective picture of the case in support of the politician.
  • Probability principle. At one time persons similar to the audience members may have supported this candidate, but it may not be so anymore. The propagandist wants people to believe that what was so once will always be that way.
  • Symbol-signal reaction. The propagandist wants the audience to react automatically to the “community” idea, the need to be part of the group, without thinking about whether this is best for them, whether it is still that way, and what has not been said.
  • Extensionalization. The audience must look for other evidence of the candidate’s worthiness instead of making a choice based solely on what others do, as the propagandists desire.

From the IPA’s description, it’s clear why it listed Band Wagon as the last of its seven propaganda devices. Band Wagon is the culmination of the propagandist’s work as he uses it to mold people into a group mentality that rejects any critique of the leader and becomes caught up in following him despite warning, despite common sense, and despite destructive consequences.

Do not enter the path of the wicked
And do not proceed in the way of evil men.
Avoid it, do not pass by it;
Turn away from it and pass on.
Proverbs 4:14–15

Here again are the IPA’s concluding words on propaganda.

Our seven ABC’s of Propaganda Analysis and our seven Propaganda Devices are offered…as workable means for aiding Americans to preserve their freedom of choice and with it their other freedoms embodied so largely in the expression… freedom of speech and assembly, of the press, and of religion. In closing, then, let us merely sum up the spirit of our seven ABC’s and seven devices in the following statements:

Don’t be stampeded.

Beware of your own prejudices.

Suspend your judgment until more sides of the issue are presented.

Analyze them.

Propaganda is a planted lie used to shape a perception of reality. It is an illusion designed to make the first domino fall in a cascade of events with planned consequences that will be a means to the end of power.

The Fine Art Of Propaganda; A Study of Father Coughlin’s Speeches” by The Institute for Propaganda Analysis, Edited by Alfred McClung Lee & Elizabeth Briant Lee, and published in 1939 by Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York via Phil Taylor’s Web Site, The Institute of Communications Studies, University of Leeds, UK.
Charles A. Fleming, “Understanding Propaganda From a General Semantics Perspective,” Et cetera, (Spring 1995) 11–12.


2 thoughts on “The In Crowd: Band Wagon as Propaganda

  1. As I read this I thought, ‘Isn’t this technique, the bandwagon appeal, in essence an implied threat of retaliation or exclusion if you don’t get aboard? And if you sense that, doesn’t that tell you there is something sort of dark about guys who want to rule and retaliate? Is that what their vision of what leadership is about? Yuck.’

  2. It’s fairly benign when the Band Wagon sticks to:

    “Don’t throw away your vote. Vote for our candidate. He’s winning.” Nearly every candidate wins in every election before the votes are in and counted.

    The last sentence is amusing—it’s still true some 75 years later!

    I do think Band Wagon can go very dark very rapidly. At its worst it’s about molding a mob that becomes a weapon for power, and then there is an implied threat that quickly becomes real. Anyone who wants to form individuals into group think mode does not have a benevolent purpose in their actions. When I read the IPA’s words I could hear the echo of Nazi leadership. My guess is that as the IPA saw this happening in Germany in the 30’s, the group placed Band Wagon as last because it summarized the effect of all the devices of propaganda.

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