Social Movements: The Swastika and Branding as Public Relations

DISCLAIMER: We have zero tolerance for hate. We condemn everything the Nazi movement stood for; and we condemn what the swastika stands for today. This article is  to inform so we can learn from the perils and lessons of history. This article is based on academic research. 

NSDAP Propaganda Poster(Facing History)

Although Nazi Germany happened close to a century ago, the tragedy surrounding these events is not just some distant reminder of lost humanity. In fact, much of what occurred in Nazi Germany is not only relevant to today’s current events on the societal level but also on the individual level as well.

Every time public relations and propagandist activities are used to influence you, me and society as whole we are all vulnerable to the oppression all Germans experienced under Hitler’s rule.

Did the Nazi movement in Germany rely on propaganda or public relations?

They relied on both.

Hitler’s Nazi movement, beginning in the early thirties, is typically described as propagandist in nature for a number of reasons. Using more than just Nazi-themed posters to encourage civilian participation in a government movement, the imposing military presence comprised of:

  • Rousing, emotional rallies and speeches.
  • A highly visible military presence that included a flag with an insignia.
  • Government-controlled press that used radio, film and print mediums to promote the Nazi agenda.
  • Knick knacks like candy, armbands, stationery and other items advertising the Nazi party platform.

The irony here for the father of public relations….

As a part of getting support for the Nazi party, Hitler used Bernays’ ideas, even though Bernays was Jewish, regarding tapping into the subconscious to get people to buy into ideas they normally would not. The Nazi party relied heavily on disseminating information regarding Jews, communists and other populations Hitler felt threatened the State all for the purpose of public consumption, a public primed to believe anything!

For this reason, in terms of relationships, this communication was primarily one-way.

But the movement also employed public relations as well….

Prior to the WWII, Germany experienced a few events that crippled the country’s economy. In the recent past, the Depression not only left the world’s economy in disrepair, but Germany also experienced the economic effects of the market’s crash in 1929. However, the Depression was not the only event that left the German economy in shambles. Years earlier, the humiliating defeat in WWI and the subsequent Treaty of Versailles further compounded Germany’s economic problems.

These events set the stage for Hitler to persuade the public of the country’s enemies, foreign and domestic. While his platform addresses German Jews as the enemy, as they appeared to live affluent lives, Hitler’s program promoted a white racial leadership that believed that blonde hair, blue-eyed Germans belonged to a superior race, a master race.

NSDAP Propaganda Poster (The Sunday Post)

Nazi Germany’s two-way conversation….

More than just engaging in a one-way conversation that most dictators do with the citizens of their country, Hitler employed some methods of public relations that actively engaged the public in a discourse beyond rousing rallies and emotional speeches.

In fact, under Hitler’s regime, the government sponsored many programs that focused on empowering white, protestant Germans by focusing on their basic needs. At the time of the Depression, Germans were primarily concerned with the high unemployment, not to mention failing economic and social policies.

Hitler’s Nazi government focused on the following:

  • A huge public works program that focused on infrastructural improvements (autobahn).
  • Job programs.
  • Family planning programs.
  • A national healthcare and unemployment insurance.
  • Establishing educational standards.

While the Nazi government engaged in other activities, these are the ones that directly impacted the German masses, especially the programs related to job creation, family planning, healthcare and insurance.

Through public relations….

By engaging the populace and providing quality programs that addressed the population’s need, the Nazi party persuaded the German population to not only believe in the party platform but also to trust the government’s mandates related to anti-Semitism and other racist ideologies


Essentially, by taking care of the people, Hitler was able to engage the populace in a two-way relationship, even if the platform that he used was hate-based.

Okay so, why is the Nazi swastika so relevant to the public relations of Nazi Germany?

While the swastika (originating from the Sanskrit svastika) has come to represent white supremacy and racial bigotry, it has historically been a symbol of peace, and at least 5,000 years before the Nazi party made it an impression upon Post-Depression thirtiesThe symbol literally means good fortune or well-being, but because of its use, the symbol is an intimidating one that calls to mind images of racist ideology.

Let’s back up for a minute….

Not to regress, but one aspect of public relations is the use of symbols to remind publics of their relationships to organizations. Because of the power of this symbol today and in the time preceding WWII, the swastika has become synonymous with Nazi ideology, regardless of its original etymology.

Furthermore, this symbol has come to not only represent the Nazi party of this time, but it also has come to be used by other white supremacist organizations to connect the ideas of the past to present-day platform.

In this way, this symbol has become a part of the branding that is a part of the Nazi ideal, and has so since the Nazi party’s inception.

The press of the Nazi Party in Germany….

The government used a two-pronged approach to influence and persuade the public to endorse its platform. By engaging the public with community-based and government programs that addressed the public welfare, it established a two-way relationship through public relations.

At the same time, it used propagandist media and the powerful symbolism of the swastika to remind the public of the Nazi party platform.

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