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The History of Bacon for Breakfast: A PR Success Story

For most carnivores, there is arguably no plate that bacon has become more synonymous with than breakfast and brunch dishes. Few meat eaters can really remember a time when sizzling bacon was not a part of our breakfast of champions. Look no further than this kid trying bacon for the first time — who is, like many of us, sure to forget every bacon-less breakfast before it.

Our culture today has adopted an obsession with bacon. Few other products inspire similar levels of loyalty or devotion. It’s on T-shirts. It’s in ice cream. It is also, without question, one of the greatest public relations campaigns of all time – one that fundamentally changed the way Americans eat, think, feel, and smell about breakfast.

To understand why we experienced this culture shift, let’s go back to the 1920s when Edward Bernays, an Austrian-born nephew of Sigmund Freud, was in his full glory. Bernays was brilliant at understanding the human psyche in terms of what compelled consumers to be swayed by an idea or product.

Bernays was hired by the Beech-Nut Packing Company who wanted to sell more bacon — one of their main products. Through his research, Bernays found that the American public at the time ate a light breakfast: coffee, maybe a roll, and orange juice. After a conversation with his physician, Bernays concluded that a heavy breakfast was healthier for Americans because, the story goes, the body loses energy during the night and needs it during the day.

Bernays asked the physician to write to 5,000 other doctors, at no cost, to see if they concur—and they did. This was publicized in newspapers across the country, with headlines reading in bold text, “4,500 Physicians Urge Heavy Breakfast to Improve Health of American People.” And to the delight of the Beech-Nut Packing Company, many of the doctors were quoted stating that bacon and eggs should be added to the breakfast plate—making bacon sales soar. And unknowingly to the American public almost a century later, this was the turning point for breakfast culture.

Today, you can hear the story of Bernays’ bacon campaign straight from the man himself. While his obituary dubbed him the “father of public relations,” his approach of engaging third parties and other experts to validate a claim and change perceptions proved to be one that PR practitioners would still rely on to achieve their client goals nearly a century later.

Jen Tong is a Director at LEVICK and a contributing author to Tomorrow

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