A 100-Year Old Formula To Attract Attention

How I use the formula to market startups

Who is the most influential man you never heard of?

Eddie Bernays.

He influenced millions of Americans to smoke cigarettes, eat bacon, and buy bananas. He’s known as the Father of Public Relations.

On Friday, I dropped a big thread on Eddie; in today’s post, I’m gonna show you how his formula works plus how I use it today to market startups.

Eddie Bernay’s Secret Formula

Eddie Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud. As a young man, Eddie spent a lot of time with good old Uncle Sigmund talking about the human mind and especially about how human desires work. Rather than becoming a therapist like Freud, Eddie applied his knowledge in the business world.

In the 1920s, Bernays worked for the American Tobacco Company. At the time, women really only smoked cigarettes indoors. It was seen as unclassy for women to smoke outside. Bernays' boss wanted him to get women smoking cigarettes outdoors so the company could make more money. How could they possibly break the norm that is all over America?

Bernays had a genius idea. He wanted women to smoke during NYC's Easter parade. If there were photos in the newspaper of women smoking cigarettes outside, it would break the norm! So Bernays told models to smoke cigarettes at the parade to show they were equal to men; he then hired photographers to take photos during the parade.

Journalists wrote the models were part of "The Torches of Freedom March". Which cigarettes were they smoking? The ones made by American Tobacco Company of course — Lucky Strikes. They became super popular and are still around today.

Influencers in the 1920s be like

Around the same time, a meat-packing company had an idea: what if we could get people eating meat for breakfast? At the time, people ate small breakfasts of coffee and pastries. How do we get American people to eat our yummy bacon? Enter Eddie Bernays.

Eddie got 4,500 doctors to write that bigger breakfasts are healthier than small breakfasts. He then pitched this story to the newspapers. Headlines across the country read "4,500 physicians urge Americans to eat heavy breakfasts to improve their health" The news generated demand for bacon 🥓😋 and the rest is a very yummy history.

Then in the 1940s, United Fruit hired Bernays to promote bananas. Like Bernays did with cigarettes, he got bananas in the hands of the rich and famous. This was just some basic influencer marketing and Bernays felt he needed to do more to sell bananas.

He thought it'd be good to put a positive spin on the countries growing bananas, so he started the Middle America Information Bureau: an entire agency secretly dedicated to selling bananas! The agency sent updates to journalists about the Central American countries growing bananas, which led to newspaper coverage — and Americans buying more bananas 🍌🍌🍌

Success taught Eddie a priceless lesson. Journalists always want a good story; to get coverage, all you need to do is make a cool event happen. If you’re trying to sell a product, you can’t wait for some random event to drive demand, you need to make shit happen yourself.

Eddie's formula was: Eddie Generates Event → Events Generate News → News Generates Demand. He did this time and time again with 400+ companies over the course of his career.

While Eddie passed away in 1995, I have good news. Eddie’s formula still works in the 21st century.

Bernays’ formula in the digital world

When Eddie was working back in the 1920s, journalism was a gatekeeped industry. Only a select few people were journalists — and they were a big deal.

Now with the power of social media, everyone is a journalist. There’s nothing special about “journalists”. A solid writer on Twitter can get you more views and attention. Just know I’m saying this as an ex-journalist lol.

In today’s world of marketing and PR, it’s not enough to just get official “journalists” talking about an event, you need to get real regular people talking about events and sharing them online. How do you do that?

Let’s remind ourselves what the secret formula is: Generate Event → Events Generate News → News Generates Demand.

Let’s see it in action.

Remember the God Hates NFTs protest?

It was staged by Bobby Hundreds, the founder of streetwear brand The Hundreds and NFT collection Adam Bomb Squad.

He is a media mogul and knew exactly what he was doing.

Generate Event (Protest) → Events Generate News (Articles about protest) → News Generates Demand (Increase in NFT demand).

Game, set, match. Perfect execution.

How I’m using Eddie’s formula:

I host events for startups, the events generate buzz on the internet, and the buzz generates demand for the startup’s product.

Example: A few months ago, I hosted a night of engineering horror stories for a startup called Jam in NYC. While the event didn’t get coverage by “journalists”, it got coverage by citizen journalists (regular people) on Twitter. In the day after the event, we hit all-time highs on Jam’s product.

I do weird viral stunts on Twitter, the stunt gets people talking about it, and the buzz generates demand for my account or my client’s account.

Example: To promote Jam on Twitter, I tweeted out that I’d eat one packet of Smuckers jam for each person that followed Jam. People had to comment a screenshot they were following in order for me to eat the jam. I even live-tweeted photos of me eating the jam on croissants and rolls. Again, this event didn’t get coverage from “journalists”, but it got buzz around Twitter. This led to all-time highs in Jam’s product the next day.

I write post bangers on Twitter, people comment and retweet, and the buzz generates demand for my account and my newsletter.

That’s what’s crazy about today’s world in comparison with Eddie’s. Each post is an event and all the people commenting are the modern version of journalists writing about it — and often, if you post something cool or viral enough, “journalists” will write about it.

In the next few months, you’ll be seeing me use Bernays’ formula a lot to hype up my new book Memes Make Millions. Watch out for more goofy stunts and events. If you want to help me make viral shit, let me know.

Creators Corner

Every week, I curate 3 resources to help you create more cool shit:

📘 Think Eddie’s story is cool? Check out his biography The Father of Spin.

🎙 Check out today’s podcast with writer Dakota Robertson, a ghostwriter with 200,000+ followers on Twitter making 6-figures/month.

🎨 I read an amazing article called Investing in Artists of a Company by a VC named Proby Shandilya. A solid reminder to treat your business like art and your art like business.

Thanks for reading nerds.

Create some cool shit this week.

Jason Levin

P.S. Want to really upgrade your content strategy?

😂 Check out my book on meme marketing Memes Make Millions.

📞 If you want 1:1 advice on your content strategy, book a call with me.

🤖 For monthly brand case studies and exclusive blogs, upgrade to premium.

Until next edition, see you on Twitter and LinkedIn.