The 7 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Propaganda Campaigns
Propaganda is what happens when a marketing campaign is run by the most transparently manipulative people in the world, namely politicians. We sort of expect propaganda to be a little stupid to begin with, but there are some examples that go beyond all our expectations and into the land of the hilarious. Like ...
China Pays Army of Internet Article Commenters
In the mid-'00s the government of China faced a great challenge: They knew they couldn't block every single website or censor every single dissenting opinion on the Internet (as much as they'd like to) but they were also not crazy about people having the chance to say things like, "You know what? This whole communism thing kinda blows." Their solution: convince everyone that everything's fine by hiring masses of fake Internet commenters to tell them so.
Why didn't we think of this sooner?
This massive Internet army is colloquially known as the 50 Cent Party, since they are purportedly paid 50 Chinese cents (about $US 0.07) for each comment made in support of the government. They mostly stick to news, city and college campus websites -- basically, their job consists of trolling dissenters into oblivion. The Guardian claims there are around 300,000 people working for the 50 Cent Party, at least a few of which had signed up under the wrong impression.
"I'm advancing the party line of a communist nation like it's my birthday."
Sometimes the 50 Centers are given specific missions or targets. For example, when a man in the city of Jiaozuo posted an "unfavorable comment" about the police on a local website, more than 120 fake commenters were sent to contain and change the direction of the debate. And it worked: within 20 minutes, most users were condemning the original poster. That's 20 minutes since the comment was first posted (at which point an alarm probably went off in their headquarters and they went into emergency mode).
"Quick! Something insignificant has happened to a single disgruntled citizen!"
Commenters also trained in classrooms and are given directives on how to deal with current situations. When two high ranking Chinese officials were accused of corruption in 2009, the commenters were instructed to focus on how great the government is at fighting corruption (rather than how corrupt these guys were in the first place).
"If all else fails, bringing up Hitler or 9/11 will almost always derail the conversation."
"If we are democratized, there will be bunch of groups. America would support one, Russia another and Japan another...haha. ... I am satisfied with the way things are. Does America have no dark side? ... Not everyone gets along in America, either: why do you think there's so much crime there?"
"BoobGuurl69 really stuck it to the Imperialist Pig-Dogs."
The FARC rebels are a violent separatist group in Colombia who are really keen on bringing communism to the country, which they hope to accomplish by kidnapping people and blowing shit up. Obviously they're a very serious problem for Colombia, so in December 2010 the government finally came up with a cunning plan to force the rebels to surrender: by showing them Christmas trees.
Not booby-trapped Christmas trees. Regular Christmas trees.
Fancy regular Christmas trees.
This was an official military operation, by the way. It consisted on infiltrating FARC held territories, locating large trees in strategically positioned walking routes and then dressing said trees with Christmas lights. Again: regular, non-electrocuting Christmas lights. The area around the trees (there were 10 in total, all across the country) was rigged with motion sensors that would cause the lights to turn themselves on whenever a FARC rebel wandered by at night, thereby overwhelming them with Christmas cheer (assuming they didn't immediately shoot the trees to shit).
"Colombian Santa Claus" isn't a euphemism for "coke dealer." Huh.
Oh, and just in case the message wasn't clear enough, they also left signs with phrases like "At Christmas everything is possible" and "If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home." Apparently they hoped the FARCs would be so baffled by the fact that someone put a Christmas tree in the middle of the jungle that they would be confused into surrendering, kind of like an anti-terrorist version of the Chewbacca defense.
The FARC responded with a statement asking where the fuck were the presents.
What's even more ridiculous is that Operation Christmas took almost 200 Special Forces Operatives, at least two Blackhawk Helicopters, and the motion sensor technology and intelligence work we already mentioned. You couldn't think of a more efficient way to use all those resources against a terrorist group, Colombia? Seriously? They probably realized this the moment after they were done hanging the lights.
"Shut up, just shut up. You're ruining Christmas!"
Still, as silly as this whole thing seems, apparently it worked: according to the government, 331 guerrillas surrendered that Christmas, plus an undisclosed number of wandering jungle bears.
Operation Cornflakes (Has Nothing to Do With Cereal)
During World War II, U.S. intelligence officers devised an ingenious plan to trick the German post office to deliver anti-Nazi propaganda for them. Since the goal was to "place American propaganda on the German breakfast table each morning," the plan was codenamed Operation Cornflakes. That's not the most ridiculous thing about it.
"We'll swoop in, destroy things and then act innocent. We're calling it Operation Puppy."
Every single step of the plan was carefully planned and executed. The OSS (the CIA's predecessor) produced mail bags and envelopes that looked exactly like proper Nazi-made ones, addressed them properly to real German and Austrian homes, and air-dropped them near mail trains that were bombed specifically for this plan. The idea was that during the clean-up, the German post office workers would mistake the fake mail for real Nazi correspondence and deliver the propaganda.
Or just toss it all in the river.
Also, these weren't just leaflets with the words "HITLER SUCKS" in giant bold letters accompanied by gratuitous drawings of dongs (which is totally what we would have done) -- these were made to look like real German newspapers, complete with sports news, puzzles, columns and such. The jabs at the Nazis were all very sneaky, since the propaganda was meant to demoralize them rather than insult them. This was actually a pretty clever and well thought out plan.
Except for one small detail.
The whole plan hinged on the mail looking authentic, and that's why they also created fake Nazi stamps:
Worth good money now to the Reich bidder.
Just like the real stamps, the falsified ones depicted Hitler with the words "DEUTSCHES REICH" ("GERMAN EMPIRE") and ... wait, what's wrong with the third one?
Some stamps are made from paper. This one is pure metal.
Huh. So let's get this straight: the OSS goes through all the trouble of putting together this whole operation ... only to risk everything by making Hitler look like Skeletor outside the envelopes? If we were Nazi postmen, we'd dump these in the trash. Also, this doesn't even make sense because why would Hitler still have his mustache if his skin is gone? Did he always have another one under there? Nice going, OSS.
China Feels the Need ... the Need For Speed
A big part of propaganda is periodically reminding other countries that you have weapons and know how to use them. It's the only reason we have military parades, air shows and all that crap. Some countries, however, take the ongoing pissing match to bizarre levels, even in this day and age. At this point it should be obvious that we're talking about China again.
"Our main square has way more suppressed history than your main square!"
In January 2011, China's state television (CCTV) revealed footage of the J10 fighter jet, one of the country's most advanced aircrafts in service. The drilling exercise included impressive images of the jet shooting and destroying another aircraft.
Here's the full video. If for some reason those images make you think of cheesy guitar solos and Kenny Loggins, you're not the only one: once the footage was released, it didn't take long for the Internet to realize that parts of it looked strangely familiar ... because they were stolen from Top Gun.
There's a rich irony in China, the largest bastion of communism in the modern world, trying to imitate a movie that's basically one hour and 50 minutes of condensed America. You can practically feel the capitalism oozing out of those pictures. Check it out:
Above: the Danger Zone.
That's the movie on the left and the "drilling exercise" on the right. If you think that's just a coincidence, here's that breathtaking explosion again:
Metal something something, ba-da-da-da touch and goooo ...
As soon bloggers and YouTube users started pointing out the obvious similarities, CCTV quickly censored the story without explanation. The government made no more references to the supposedly important exercise they were hyping a few days ago, although some of the same pilots were later shown in a strangely homoerotic game of beach volleyball.
Wow, Chinese people sure are looking more white and Tom Cruisey these days.
Britain Convinces Germany That Carrots Give You Powers
Of course, boasting about military strength is what you do to prevent war. But once war has started, you want to do the opposite -- you want to hide your true capabilities from the enemy, so they can't counteract them. So, for instance, during World War II the British were in that position of being the proverbial guy who has to convince the other guys he has a small dick.
"I need tweezers to masturbate."
During the Battle of Britain, the Germans started noticing that a crapload of their planes were getting shot down in instances where the British shouldn't have seen them coming. It was almost like they had some sort of radio device that could detect the presence of incoming objects -- actually, it was exactly that: Britain had perfected the radar and didn't tell anyone about it. Obviously the Brits couldn't let the Germans know they had access to this new technology, otherwise they could bomb the shit out of it or, even worse, try to create their own Nazi version. With the Germans getting increasingly suspicious, something needed to be done fast.
Britain's solution? Carrots.
British papers published a story about a RAF pilot called John "Cat Eyes" Cunningham who had shot down 20 enemy planes thanks to his superhuman night vision, an ability he achieved by eating lots of carrots. Other carrot-eating pilots followed, and soon the British government began publicizing the fact that carrots improve night vision -- which, of course, is complete bullshit. Carrots might help your vision not get worse, but they won't make it any better either. The pilots were winning the war thanks to radar technology, not by eating filthy plants.
Next - how bread crusts make your hair curly while actually it's just your terrible genes.
Still, the propaganda campaign worked so well that the British people began growing and eating their own carrots so that they could see better during the blackouts (running-into-walls related deaths went up 70 percent that year). The authorities knew they were lying, but it was all part of the ruse to fool the Germans. And as a result, some of you reading this had your mothers tell you to eat your carrots, because they were good for your eyes. All thanks to one bullshit propaganda campaign.
"Don't worry, our housewives are way better at picking out BS than the Nazi High Command."
Soviet Russia Was Not Afraid of a Little Ludicrous Exaggeration
The USSR's Stakhanovite Movement followed a pretty simple ideal: encouraging workers to over-achieve at their jobs out of love for the fatherland, by following the example of one great worker. The greatest Stakhanovites even received medals for "Soviet Valor" and were personally greeted by Stalin at the Kremlin.
Here's the thing, though: it was all bullshit.
The movement got its name from Aleksei Grigorievich Stakhanov, who in 1935 became a celebrity by breaking the highly specific record for amount of coal mined in 5 hours and 45 minutes with the winning total of... 102 tons.
If that sounds like a lot, you don't know that half of it. That's the equivalent of lifting the weight of three elephants per hour, or nine Honda Civics. One guy.
That's one elephant every 20 minutes, or the time taken for someone to Photoshop this.
Stakhanov's record exceeded the daily average for a normal, human minor by 1,400 percent, which meant he was clearly some sort of Russian Superman. Even the Americans were impressed by his coal-shoveling powers, as evidenced by the fact that he made the cover of Time Magazine.
"Cover story: Absolutely Fucking Nothing Happened this Week. Also Unicorns."
Of course, this was all part of a propaganda campaign: the mine was actually giving Stakhanov credit for the work of the whole mine, not just himself. Basically, by agreeing to become the poster boy for a new state campaign he was fucking his co-workers over, since they now had to follow his impossible standards once Stakhanovism became a thing. Anyone who spoke up against the unfair conditions was labeled a betrayer.
"You're supposed to work around the bodies."
And then shit got really stupid: a few months later, another worker called Nikita Izotov shattered Stakhanov's record by hewing 240 tons in the same amount of time, which at this point is 10 or 15 times what the real record probably was. It's like a guy claiming to have scored 1,300 points in a basketball game. And other sources claim it was actually 607 tons, but it might as well have been 5,000, since it was a fake record anyway. Basically, whoever could think of the highest number won.
Nikita Izotov, having just mined eleventy billion tons.
Stakhanovism found its way to other industries like automobile, textile, timber, railroad, agriculture and even shoe-making. Since the whole thing was Stalin's baby, though, as soon as the guy died all of it was officially declared bullshit.
North Korea Declares War On Long Hair
Oh, North Korea. No list about crazy propaganda would be complete without you. So what did they do this time? Well, see for yourself:
In case you couldn't tell what was going on in that video (which would speak well of your mental health), that's North Korea's hit TV show Let's Trim Our Hair in Accordance With the Socialist Lifestyle (an actual thing), part of an ambitious propaganda campaign exclusively devoted to fighting the evils of long hair while informing people of the acceptable hairstyles. Here are two examples of state-sanctioned hairdos, as shown on Korean TV:
"These men are pictured from the neck up. Because they're chest deep in bitches."
According to the campaign, not only does long hair embody capitalism, it also decreases intelligence by robbing the brain of essential nutrients. Presumably they're not encouraging Koreans to completely shave their heads because a race of super-intelligent beings would be a lot harder to oppress. Men must keep a hair length between 1cm and 5cm, and must have it cut every 15 days. If they don't, they run the risk of being named and ridiculed on national TV.
You see, the campaign actually spanned several shows, one of which involved a fun reality TV aspect: hidden cameras would catch unsuspecting people whose hair did not fit the state's specifications, giving out their names and addresses as punishment. A North Korean equivalent of Ashton Kutcher would then come out and harshly confront them and demand explanations with a stern, disappointed expression. A lot of people would escape as soon as they saw him, possibly crying in fear.
"... and bitchin' sunglasses."
The campaign did allow men over 50 to have hair longer than 7cm so that they can hide their baldness (they are not monsters) while offering no justification whatsoever for Kim Jong Il's shameful past.
To be fair he didn't find out he wasn't a woman until he turned 41.
For more terrible pieces of propaganda, check out 6 Acts of Propaganda That Backfired Hilariously and The 17 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Propaganda Posters.