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Magic Bullet Theory Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 2660 words Published: 12th Oct 2017

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The theory of Magic bullet concept will be critically examine in this paper and its relevance to recent civilization. Historically this theory is an old media communication emanated since 1930’s assessment, which is recently challenged based on its relevance and scholar’s opinion along with the critics, assumptions and application which lead to general conclusion that Magic Bullet theory which as well as known as “hypodermic Needle” with regards to theory of media is still so significant still in this 21st century

Keynotes: Magic bullet Theory, Propaganda, Audience, critics, advertising, Media communication


Scholars projected that Magic Bullet theory on media effect and media behaviors was narrowed down to be passive and made influence in the people’s mind. In relevance to this theory, audience were seen to be homogenized when receiving information from the media. Thus make a great impact whereby contemporary audience is seem to be more differentiated. This foster a debatable augmentations amongst scholars that, this theory was proposed when communication media were still new, so its applications in western society is still very needful. This will also focus on the after effect of advertising on audiences to substantiate its relevance.

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This paper ague that advertising is seen as a form of propaganda tool, which is used by series of organisation or institutes to influence people mostly customers’ buying behaviors or stakeholders. A proposed research questions, methodology review and comparison with relevant literature will be critically examined. This will at the end nurture the relevance of the theory ‘Magic bullet’ and applicability amongst other critics of the theory.

History of the Magic bullet theory also known as “Hypodermic Needle” will briefly be mentioned and propaganda will also be discussed in this paper, with structural argumentative relevance of the theory, using contemporary advertising strategy as an example of how the media inject propagandistic messages to perpetrate behavioral change. Having said these, there will also be a section which explains criticisms towards the theory, focusing on the notion of media effect to the audience. In the conclusive note, the implications of the occurrences will be illustrated.


Research analysis of this paper is aimed at the relevance of Magic Bullet theory in today’s western society, with argument for applicability of the theory and evidence to back up this framework. Series of instances of propagandistic advertising will also be elaborated, based on theoretical framework. Use of scholar’s online journals, taught in class (The Hague University of applied science by Dr. Bruce Mutsvairo) and Mass media relations books is used to put up this paper together.

Literature review

Propaganda Defined

According to Doob (1948) carefully illustrated that it is neither possible nor desirable to have a clear definition of propaganda because it links to complexity of behavior in different times and cultures. However, Jowett and O’Donnell (1992:4) criticized this and define propaganda as the deliberate and systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions and direct behaviour to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist. He specified that without proper identification of the terms it will be highly difficult to analyze it. In the same perspectives, Pratkanis and Aronson (2001) recognized propaganda as the abuse of persuasion and it is regarded as a crafty deception. The basic information delivered by propaganda tends to control public opinion and shape their behavioral patterns.

In view of some scholars propagandistic messages were created to influence the public’s view. In this contexts, this paper analysis contends that advertising is a form of propaganda and it is used by structural establishments to influence their audience.


Magic Bullet theory of communication also known as “Hypodermic Needle” widely believed by media scholars as the oldest mass media communication theories since 1930 during the Second World War (SWW) in both Germany and United states, this made influence in the mind of people. Scholars’ suggestion behind this story and Fourie, 2008 stated that is that media (needle) messages which contains idea, attitudes and value are directly injects in to the minds of audience and psyche, causes change. The Magic bullet theory cause changes in audience behavior towards the message. Audience are passive and they can’t resist the media message, it can penetrate most people defenses and condition them to act in ways useful to propagandist (Stanley B. 2009). During the world war, Harold Lasswell stated that people was a victims of this propagandist messages in which its influences audiences’ behaviour prominently. According to Grossberg et al, (2006) in their findings media messages irresistible influence on the mass of audience.

Another renowned incident of Magic bullet scenario was the radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ novel “War of the Worlds”. The radio broadcast news roused around that Martins had started invading northern New Jersey, as a result there lots of panic and fear in the minds of people to the extent people fled the city and starts relocating. Another example in the same contexts of identical scenario ………………………………………………….????????????????

This two scenario is defines a good example of Magic Bullet theory operate. The audience is given virtually no tribute for being able to discern the actuality from fiction. On the contrary to this theory in 1940 a study conducted by Lazarsfeld called “People’s Choice” about Franklin D. election campaign and the effects of media messages. Through this study it is disapproved by Lazarsfeld that Magic Bullet theory and added audience are more influential in interpersonal than a media messages. This are not really conceived by people because of the stimulus effect it brings.


Figure 1.1 conceptual Model

Source: Katz & Lazarsfeld (1955)


Relevance of Magic Bullet Theory in the 21st Century.

According to great scholars like Jowett and O’Donnell (2012) stated that the modern form of Magic Bullet theory could be view in an unintentional advertising by corporations create media messages in audience mind and how audience react towards the message without any hesitation which stimulate behavioral changes. This scholars – Jewett and O’Donnell (2012) define this kind of advertising as “a series of symbol, appeal and information deliberately designed to influence receiver of the message to act in some specific impulse either negative or positive way or only retain a memory. In light of the definitions of Jowett and O’Donnell (2012, p.55) advertising is “a series of appeals, statements and symbols intentionally schemed to either influence the receiver of the message towards the point of view and act in some precise way or maintain a memory in the mind of the audience”. Meanwhile, Propaganda is inferred to be “the deliberate and systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist” (Jowett and O’Donnell, 2012, p.7). So it will be argue against that advertising is a form of propaganda, and it is used by organizations to influence audiences.

According to argumentative statement made by Exoo (1994, p.258), which was confer by Jowett and O’Donnell (2012) regarding advertising as a form of propaganda in which it was critically deliberated that, advertisers sell sort of ideas and appeals to customers as follows:

  1. Selling the “Good Life”: Advertisers aimed at passing a distinctive message across to the audience, by which products confer to us prestige, sex, power, love and indeed, complete satisfaction of life, which philosophers described as ‘Good Life’
  2. Selling America. Nation loyalty is deduced from advertiser’s perception. The America learned early from this, that patriotism sells. It is capitalism’s idealized America, freedom of choice of product, freedom to life, freedom of speech.
  3. Selling therapy. The revolution of the century brought mindboggling change Americans ways of life. Advertisers make use of this revolution and prescribed capitalism’s own products as the therapy for injuries shaped by capitalism. Advertisement is like a cure for so many buying and selling conceptions.
  4. Sexism: Selling sexism is also deduced by advertisers, portraying women as beautiful creature and as domestic being. The ad industry also goes establishing a voice of liberation; gender equality for women, it’s widely perceived that women does not fit in a leader positions, they are seen as only domestic leaders , according to Bible (1 Cor. 11:3, 8, 9)”as unto the weaker vessel” women was described as weaker being. However, liberation widely spread to give capitalism for women in this regards.

Philosophers articulated a great sense of advice to advertisers to focus more on human insecurities and fantasies, thereby the message will be more irresistible, which created an effect of propagandistic message called ‘Impoverishment of the self’ to consumers, which means “there is self-inadequacy rendered by advertiser; humankind, once thought of as spiritual being – God made, was abridged ‘hardly viable’ without products to cure its woeful inadequacies: corned feet, teeth, bad breath, crumple skin and so on in an endless indictments of uncommodified self” (Ewen, 1974, cited in Exoo, 1994, p.281). Magic Bullet theory, however suggests messages are injected with propaganda that are not able to resist by the audience.

Then the “If….then” strategy has been a wide attempts of deliberations by advertisers. Jasmieson and Campbell (1997) elucidated “A pretty woman uses a certain brand of lipstick in an advertisement, men flocks around her. Without making the argument explicitly define, it illustrated that if you use the product you will be beautiful, and if you are beautiful you will be more attractive to opposite sex in the context, If not….then not” (cited in Baran, 2012, (p.33))

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In this strategy, the ad has injected the message of beauty into consumer mind and will be more eager to purchase the products that will make them more gorgeous and attractive. In other words, Deceptiveness looms in advertisements sphere, which will always create wants in the mind of people. Behavioral effect of advertising, where things such as high expectation, consumerism and materialism McQuail (1987). It is also buttressed by Baran (2012), that America culture in tis 21st century has now become a culture of ‘ad freak’, where consumers depends. More so, Martin Agency in the US Jelly Helm, the ad pundit, see the ad created culture has produced America that is “sick…We work so hard so that we buy things we don’t need, things made by workers who are paid so little and threaded the survival of the earth. Helm, (2002) in addition cited that America will be remember as a culture of disposability and superficiality, a culture of poverty, vain, and violence, Culture of hedonism.

Propaganda practices were seen to be more straightforward compared to its contemporary, which in my view takes the form of subliminal advertising because, Jowett & O’Donnell, (2012) illustrated that it is becoming apparent that advertisers is a form of deception and use a discrete ways to carry out their research, in form of demographic and psychographic analyses of exact target market. Further explained that ‘many thousands of unsurpassed proficient minds have made it a profession to get into collective people mind… to get inside to exploit, control and to manipulate’ (McLuhan, 1951, cited in Exoo, 1994, p.279)

Magic Bullet Theory Critics

It is debatable that media effect in communicating to the audience is reflected specifically based on assumption of human nature and it was not based on any empirical findings from research. The notion prove that audience are powerless to resist the media injected messages. Thus assumed to be homogenous and reaction effect towards this messages. It has been propounded that media effect were “limited by individual differences (for example in intelligence and education), social categories (such as religious and political affiliation), and personal relationships (friends and family)” (Lazarsfeld (1941) as cited by Baran 2012, p.363) Research indicated that Magic Bullet theory was perceived as an oversimplification effect of media, as such that Grossberg et al (2006) stated that “different people responded differently to the same messages and that some people may be more vulnerable to the influence of media messages”. Also the same injection (hypodermic Needle) does not have a static effect whatsoever on every individual, some are healed and some are not whilst some are even passive when receiving the message. Metaphorically speaking Magic Bullet shot, still leaves room for different reactions to a different message to different audience. Just like how someone shot in the head may die but another may live to tell the tale.


I summary, Magic Bullet theory also known as “Hypodermic Needle” still has a huge significant in today’s western society. Though it is deduced


Berger, Arthur (1995). Essentials of Mass Communication Theory. London: SAGE Publications

Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell. (2012) Propaganda and Persuasion. 5th ed. USA, SAGE Publications, Inc.

http://insidepublicrelations.blogspot.nl/2010/01/defining-propaganda-and-pr.html (Assed: 19th Feb 2015)

Stanley J. Baran, Dennis K. Davis (2009) Mass Communication Theory Foundations, Ferment, and Future by 5th ed. Wadsworth Cengage Learning. USA


http://www.12manage.com/description_hypodermic_needle_theory.html(Assessed: 22 February, 2015)

http://www.utwente.nl/cw/theorieenoverzicht/ (Assessed: 24 February, 2015)



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