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Propaganda as marketing: Conceptual meanings of propaganda and advertisement in Sweden in the 1930s

Elin Gardeström (Södertörn University, School of Social Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden)

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 15 November 2018

Issue publication date: 3 December 2018




This study aims to analyze the use of two concepts, propaganda and advertisement, in two areas of Swedish society during the 1930s; first, their use by the advertisement business, and second, their use by the Swedish Cooperative Union and Wholesale Society.


By adopting a perspective of conceptual history, inspired by Reinhart Koselleck, the author is trying to pinpoint the meanings that were ascribed to these concepts in a 1930s context, the interdependency between these concepts and other keywords that were used in connection with them.


The study reveals how the ambiguous and synonymous use of these concepts served different purposes in the two fields of study. In the 1930s, propaganda was a key concept of communication and was used in manifold ways for selling goods and disseminating ideas. Propaganda was used to explain the newly introduced American marketing terminology. During the 1930s, the field of advertisement was trying to change what previously had been labeled as “idea propaganda” into “advertisement.” The ambiguous use of concepts made it possible for the Swedish Cooperative Union and Wholesale Society to combine advertisement for their produced goods with disseminating ideas of the cooperative ideology. The concepts of enlightenment (upplysning) and propaganda were crucial to hold together the ideological and commercial parts of the cooperative movement.


The interaction of meanings between commercial and political concepts is rarely researched in conceptual history or marketing history, which this article advocates to be an important field of study.



Gardeström, E. (2019), "Propaganda as marketing: Conceptual meanings of propaganda and advertisement in Sweden in the 1930s", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 478-493.



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