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FM 33-1: Psychological Operations

Printed Material

"Printed Material" is based upon "Psychological Operations Field Manual No.33-1" published in August 1979 by Department of the Army Headquarters in Washington DC; and "Psychological Operations (PSYOP) Media Subcourse PO-0816" by The Army Institute for Professional Development, published in 1983


Printed material, which includes leaflets, newspapers, posters, handbills, books, magazines, and such items as novelties, trinkets, and gifts with messages printed on them, is major means of conveying propaganda. A propaganda message printed on substantial material is a relatively permanent document. Once printed and delivered, it can be retained and readily passed from person to person without distortion.

A properly developed and designed message (shape, color, format, texture, and other physical characteristics have been duly considered) can have a deep and lasting effect on the target audience.


  • The printed word has a high degree of acceptance, credibility, and prestige.
  • Printed matter is unique in that it can be passed from person to person without distortion.
  • It allows for the reinforcing use of photographs and graphic illustrations which can be understood by illiterates.
  • It is permanent and the message will not change unless it is physically altered.
  • It can be disseminated and read or viewed by a larger, widespread target audience.
  • It can be reread for reinforcement.
  • Complex and lengthy material can be explained in detail.
  • It can be hidden and read in private.
  • Messages can be printed on almost any surface, including useful items.
  • Printed material can gain prestige by acknowledging authoritative and expert authors. This is particularly important in those societies where the printed word is authoritative.


  • A high illiteracy rate reduces the effectiveness and usefulness of the printed message.
  • Printing operations require special, extensive, continuing logistical support.
  • Dissemination is time-consuming and costly, requiring the use of special facilities and complex coordination.
  • As printed material must be physically delivered to the target audience, the enemy can prevent or interfere with its dissemination.
  • It is less timely than other means of communication.
  • It can be collected and destroyed by the enemy.
  • It can be altered by overprinting.
  • Where prohibited, it can readily be uncovered by search and stringent penalties imposed for possession.
  • Development and design of effective printed material requires trained and knowledgeable personnel.



    Compile catalogs of printed material and make known their existence.

    Use illustrations. They increase the attractiveness of the item, arouse the attention of the target audience, and convey meaningful information in a relatively small space. Illustrations are valuable when they enhance the printed message. The best illustrations are clear and appropriate. Use illustrations that show action.

    Use photographs instead of sketches whenever possible (except when a sketch, e.g., a cartoon, a caricature, etc., will best evoke a desired emotion within the target audience). People regard photographs as positive proof of events being depicted. Thus, credibility can be markedly enhanced by using photographs of the actual scene or person rather than an artist's conception. Use sharp photographs; out-of-focus or blurred photographs reduce audience interest and the credibility of the message.

    Use letters. Letters obtained from defectors, prisoners of war (always adhere to the Geneva Conventions), and other former enemy personnel can be extremely effective. There are, however, a few rules that should be followed:

  • Do not write letters for someone else. A letter that sounds as though it were written by other than the signing party has no credibility.
  • You may suggest possible themes and specific details, but the letter must be written by the signator.

    Among some audiences poetry can be an effective medium for emotional and sentimental appeals. Good poetry elicits highly favorable reactions, but bad poetry elicits unfavorable reactions. In order to assure quality, well-known, popular poets should be employed.


    Do not use long text (particularly in leaflets, posters, and handbills). People in enemy controlled territory may have to read the printed item surreptitiously. A lengthy text increases the possibility of discovery and reduces the likelihood that people will risk reading it. Long texts discourage the average reader, and the poorly educated may not even try to read lengthy items.

    Avoid small print; it discourages readers. Size of print must permit the message to be read immediately.

    Avoid duplication of material. Issue only the superior product.

    Do not distribute obsolete propaganda. Many printed items have a period of maximal impact. If distributed after the time for which they were meant, the impact may be minimal, nil, or adverse. Therefore, carefully watch for and do not reorder obsolete items (leaflets, posters, etc.).


    Printed matter used in psychological operations known as slow media includes posters, pamphlets, books, magazines, reprints, gifts, and other items that contain printed messages. These materials are used primarily in populated and heavily traveled areas.


    Posters include all single-sheet printed and graphic (illustrations, sketches, photographs, and symbols) materials which impart a message by being publicly posted. They are used to inform; their ultimate purpose is to enlist support. Poster is generally emotionally colored, intended primarily to influence emotions and gain emotional support. The message of a poster should be one that can be remembered easily and is free of argument or irritation. It should be clear and normally should occupy the topical center of the poster so that is will be read first. Slogans should be highlighted. The use of pictures and illustrations is fundamental in the makeup of a poster. Pictures not only help to attract an audience, but they increase the audience's understanding of the propaganda message. All such material, however, should be directly related to the main propaganda point of the message; it should add unity, implying support for the message.

    Posters are a universal medium, easy and inexpensive to produce and place-almost any surface is suitable. Since they present their message pictorially, they have a universal audience that includes illiterates. Properly placed, they cannot be avoided. When placed where people congregate, they stimulate discussion, broadening the impact of the message.

    Since the opinions of neutral or other non involved foreign audiences may affect the courses of action of the enemy government, its security forces, or its allied and assisting government, posters should be made interesting and appealing to these foreign audiences.


    Format. Use formats, art styles, and forms that are familiar to and appropriate for the target audience. If possible, produce an art form that people want to possess and display.

    Graphics. Give maximum space to simple graphic productions. They attract an audience and significantly increase the impact of the message. Complex graphics, on the other hand, generally confuse the audience and are subject to ambiguous and undesirable interpretations by the audience.

    Photographs. Use photographs or photomontages. People believe them. The less sophisticated the audience, the greater the belief.

    Symbols. Use symbols, inanimate and animate (including human), that are significant to the target audience. Symbols which have positive characteristics (bravery, integrity, leadership, etc.) to the target add prestige and impact to the message.

    Color. As colors have different connotations in different societies, it is important that colors and color combinations used in posters be appropriate to the culture of the target audience. Improper colors may be counterproductive or, at best, nonproductive.

    Print for a moving target. It may be necessary for people to read the unfriendly poster while on the move. Therefore, the poster should be printed in letters of a size that can be read and seen at distances from 10 to 15 meters. For example, an enemy government may impose stringent penalties on any members of its armed forces or civilian population displaying an interest in enemy posters. Or if an enemy shadow government is active and effective, a display of interest in a poster may result in loss of life or limb, injury to family, or destruction of property.

    Main point. The main point, clearly and immediately stated, should occupy the visual center of the poster so it is seen first. In addition, all textual material must relate to the main point of the message.

    The appeal. Make the appeal positive, emotional, simple, and appropriate to the action desired. The poster is too compact to present complex arguments. Do not inflame emotions to the point of violent actions when such actions are neither appropriate nor desired. Overreaction may result in loss of liberty or life and of PSYOP effectiveness.

    Slogans. Slogans reinforce the graphic art and convey emotional appeals that will be long remembered. They are extremely effective in highly authoritative societies and cultures when related to highly emotional issues. In areas of mass literacy those who cannot read will hear the slogans spoken frequently, ask the literates to explain them, or have readers available.

    Cliches. Cliches, catchwords, and popular and stereotyped phrases may also be featured with somewhat the same effect as slogans.

    Distribution. The following is a list of suggested considerations for the distribution of posters.

  • Posters must be distributed according to a plan. Unplanned, hit or miss poster placement has no place in a campaign.
  • In some operations in friendly countries, the operator must consider the legal status of his operations. In many countries and localities, placarding is governed by laws and ordinances, and may affect PSYOP. Often the PSYOP officer will be working with approval of, or in cooperation with, local authorities. In some countries, it may be necessary to obtain licenses for posters. Occasionally, advance blanket approval of all information materials is obtainable though diplomatic channels.
  • Desirable locations must be identified and given priority according to the intensity of the situation.
  • Posters should be placarded in those areas through which the target audience will pass during the time between the posting and the planned moment of communication.
  • Posters are peculiarly vulnerable to counter propaganda. This factor must guide the operator in the location of the propaganda message. Whenever possible, the operator should carefully choose poster sites in order to reduce the opposition's opportunity to deface the material.
  • Outdated posters should be removed prior to action from the opposition. The operator should, therefore, remove posters based on message timeliness, validity, and credibility.

    Placement. Place and display posters where people naturally and habitually gather, and where they have little or nothing to do for brief periods of time; e.g., bus and tram stops, rail stations and depots, parks, outdoor cafes, etc. Posters so displayed are most likely to be exposed to an audience and read.

    Viewers tend to associate the poster with the area of placement. This is one reason why posters placed in areas dangerously reached (mountainsides, railroad trestles, water tanks, high walls, etc.) evoke admiration and have a high impact. By the same line of audience reasoning, posters placed in demeaning areas lose their effectiveness.


    Posters have several advantages as a vehicle for the propaganda message. They are a mass medium of communication. Their color and sometimes spectacular illustrations attract and hold the reader's attention. They are expedient and their handling requires few personnel. When posters are placed in areas where people congregate, they are read by more than one person at a time and often stimulate discussion, thereby broadening the impact of the message. Finally, posters present their ideas pictorially and hence will have some meaning for illiterates.


    Limitations for posters exist, of course. Production problems may preclude their preparation locally; therefore, the message must be general in content. Posters are subject to weather conditions. They may be easily removed, destroyed, or defaced. Outdated posters may be used in enemy propaganda. Since a weather-beaten, obsolete, or defaced poster is a liability, remove it quickly. This requires frequent visits to poster sites.


    Magazines, pamphlets, and reprints-although differing in length, use of illustrative material, and regularity of distribution-generally have common features as propaganda media:

  • All are relatively expensive to produce and distribute.
  • There is no limitation as to the kind of propaganda messages they can carry.
  • The audience range is unlimited--youth groups, the mass of the population, intellectuals, professionals, etc.

    These materials may be dropped from the air, mailed, delivered by messenger, placed in libraries and public areas, or handed out at meetings and rallies or surreptitiously handed out. The contents may be read and discussed on radio and television.


  • These publications have the basic advantages common to newspapers:
  • They are relatively permanent.
  • A wide variety of material may be presented, such as:
  • Complex and lengthy articles.
  • Technical and professional information and data.
  • News, features, and items of popular interest.
  • Material may be set in a format and edited to appeal to the complete spectrum of audience groups.
  • Colorful (and colored) graphic presentations may be made.


  • These publications also have the disadvantages inherent in newspapers:
  • Production and distribution are time-consuming, complex, and expensive.
  • They are not suitable for targets of opportunity.
  • If national policy or situations change, they can be reminders of past policy and situations and used by the enemy.
  • Magazines and pamphlets require the services of skilled editorial and production personnel.


    General Format and Content. Newspapers must gain acceptance from the audience. Format is very important, e.g., the London Times versus the New York Times. An audience, as anyone else, is most at ease and trusts that newspaper with which it is most familiar. Format is the first indicator of familiarity (or strangeness). If the format is unfamiliar, the audience may ignore the contents. Thus, proper content is essential to the success of a newspaper. Content is limited by available space, but a well-balanced publication contains several or all of the elements listed below:

  • War news. Through special intelligence and other sources, the propagandist can quickly gather reliable news of happenings on the battlefield. This gives the paper a cloak of reliability in its war news which, it is reasonable to assume, many readers transfer unconsciously to home news and feature columns. News about the war is localized to a maximum extent because of its immediate interest to the audience, but information of action on the other and distant fronts would be presented to place the entire military effort in proper perspective and, in addition, to project a favorable image of the host country.
  • Homefront news. News items concerning morale on the home front, political, economic, or social inequalities at home, effects of bombing raids, and similar items help in promoting disaffection among soldiers and civilians.
  • World news. Accounts of events in the world at large are generally of interest to readers but secondary to news closer to home. News of international developments of vital consequence to the target audience, however, will strike a response in the enemy reader. It is particularly important to feature items that show world opinion to oppose enemy policies, practices, and activities. Readers are also interested in prospects for their country after the cessation of hostilities.
  • Spot news. weekly publications should use a spot news column to report important events not covered in detail in a particular issue of the paper. A spot news column serves to summarize the principal news of the week and should be featured by a border of spacing. Items are listed chronologically and, if space permits, should be prefaced by a dateline. Ordinarily, no more than a brief sentence need be devoted to each item.
  • Feature and background articles. To attract an audience and to increase reader interest, newspapers contain special feature articles on subjects of immediate interest and which are helpful to the reader.
  • Other news. Brief news of sports, movies, popular music, etc., may be used as an audience-gaining device as well. Such news has propaganda value when used to laud the achievements of one side and to belittle the efforts of the other. Weather reports for the target area may be printed as long as security is not violated. Latest developments in the weapons field are of interest to both the civilian and the soldier and enhance the theme of material superiority.

    Use of Illustrative Material. Most newspaper readers are interested in newspaper illustrations and photographs. Illustrations and photographs are easily comprehended by all readers. Illustrative materials enhance the appearance and even the prestige of the newspaper. Most frequently used illustrative materials include montage, sketches, maps, caricatures, cartoons, photographic prints, and photographic sketches or portraits. Photographs are preferred over sketches as they are more readily accepted as factually portraying conditions, situations, events, or the environment in general.

    Content in Foreign Internal Defense Operations. The techniques suggested above can be used by propaganda units in FID operations. In such operations, however, emphasis is given to local efforts to combat insurgent actions and causes.


    Objectivity. The propagandist attempts an objective approach in the newspaper, just as he does in other news media. This is generally easy to do when the situation is favorable to us, but obviously more difficult when the situation becomes unfavorable. me propaganda of a newspaper must not be obvious to the target audience. Appeals must be subtle.

    Familiarity. Unless policy objectives dictate otherwise, the newspaper conforms closely to standards with which the target audience is familiar and content should be consistent both with the purpose of the propagandist and with the reading habits of the audience, as must format.

    Makeup. The newspaper must contain serious and light news, good news, and bad news, in reasonable proportions. Overemphasis on bad news has a tiring and even morbid effect upon the reader, causing him to ignore the newspaper. An excessively light approach also fails to have a favorable propaganda effect because it suggests a frivolous approach to the news. Knowledge of the psychological makeup of the target audience and its reading habits will help determine the proper makeup of the newspaper.

    Timing. A close relationship exists between the conflict situation and the nature and timing of newspapers. Those published in fluid situations differ radically in both content and purpose from those produced in static periods. The newspapers must be timely and accurate. Thus, where the combat situation is changing constantly, propaganda concentrates on reporting the news quickly, capitalizing upon the psychological impact of fresh news. When the combat situation is stable or there are no actual hostilities, the tone of a newspaper changes. The propagandist uses static periods to build credibility by shifting emphasis of presentation to material which the enemy can thoughtfully accept, by wider use of nonlocal news, and by occasionally using items which favor the hostile opposition to suggest the enemy is not totally evil, particularly by use of items concerned with facets of enemy culture (art, music, science, etc.) that flourished under friendly regimes.


    Books are valuable when available to the audience, where there is an interest in them, and time is available to read them.

    Manuscripts offered for publication may indicate popular feeling concerning local conditions, the government, the military, etc.

    In the early stages of consolidation of occupied areas, PSYOP units will normally assist in distributing books from US or allied sources. PSYOP personnel may also be called upon to assist in a program to rehabilitate the book publishing industry.

    The use of local publishers makes it easier to establish book translation programs by publishing, in the local language and at prices within the reach of the target group, selected books of friendly persuasion. Production shortages are likely to exist; therefore, paper stocks, ink, photographic supplies, and other material must be issued on a priority basis to approved publishers, concentrating on priority subjects.

    Censorship may be necessary, even of translations of seemingly harmless literature.

    A well-planed book program, including children's books, is of great value, particularly in education (and reeducation) programs. Books on any subject can be provided to all target groups. Popular reading will attract the less educated groups. Other books may help to acquaint the target audience with the achievements, aims, and advantages of the programs, activities, and operations of the United States, allies, or host country. A book written by a member (or ex-member) of the target audience can be most influential.


    A banner is any piece of flag-like cloth, paper, or similar surface on which a message is drawn. A banner may be any size or shape, stationary or mobile.

    They generally have a one-time use in intensely emotional situations. The message is short, hard hitting, and emotional with only one theme; it may be a rallying point for adherents to a cause. Banners indicate commitment on the part of those who make or carry them.

    The major advantages of banners are their symbolism and ability to rally people to a cause. Other advantages are their high visibility and mobility. Banners are a complementary medium, however, and quickly become obsolete.

    Personal items such as buttons, vehicular stickers, clothing (e.g., T-shirts), or jewelry which display a belief or cause indicate a relatively high degree of commitment. If seen in public at different times and places, they give the appearance of strength for the cause the propagandist advocates. People like winners, and this appearance of strength gains adherents.

    Some of the items are relatively expensive, but if attractive, they will be sold. Purchase of expensive items is an indication of strong attachment to the cause represented by the purchased item.


    Gifts and novelties are used in PSYOP to carry propaganda messages. Such items as soap, matches, needles, salt, seeds, and other articles of utilitarian or practical value make suitable gifts acceptable for general distribution. Their psychological effect is subtle and suggestive. Novelties such as puzzles, wall stickers, balloons, greeting cards, and other novel printed matter of no direct utilitarian value may carry brief propaganda messages and may be distributed for psychological purposes. Additionally, the use of novelties may exploit the superstitious inclinations of certain target audiences; e.g., use of voodoo dolls against certain African tribes, etc.


    The use of gifts in propaganda operations should be weighed by the highest operating echelon because:

    • Gifts and novelties are expensive; consequently, they should be used only if there is strong reason for believing that the item carrying the propaganda message will substantially contribute to the psychological mission.
    • The production of these articles or objects requires scarce materials and the use of valuable personnel, all of which, other things being equal, might make a greater contribution if devoted to another priority activity.
    • To be effective, gifts and novelties must be phased into the overall PSYOP program at the proper time and should be used to reinforce other propaganda operations.
  • Content.
    • Gifts add dimension to a PSYOP program when used with imagination. The propagandist can effectively achieve his objective with these items. Although they are usually small in size, the gifts need only contain the known symbol of the sender, such as "good luck," "beware of the secret weapon," "stay away from bridges," etc.
    • The decision to use novelties or gifts and the determination whether they fit the politics, culture, and social conditions of the target should rest with the PSYOP community rather than with tactical units.

    Gifts, being useful items, do not serve well for propaganda, for the impulse of the recipient is to use the gift, ignoring the message. Gifts small in size need only be stamped with or contain the known symbol of the donor, a slogan, or a brief message.

    Gift wrappings or containers are also excellent media for messages, symbols, or slogans.

    Normally, action messages should be avoided on gifts. An urgent warning or demand for serious sacrifices should not accompany trivial gifts.

    The receipt of a useful or amusing item places the recipient in a receptive frame of mind for an accompanying propaganda message.

    The major disadvantage of novelties and gifts is the cumulative expense of mass production and distribution. In addition, such items have only a peripheral, passive effect, seldom if ever moving people to action or changing opinions or emotions. At best, such items complement other media.

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