Propaganda shares techniques with advertising and public relations. In fact, advertising and public relations can be thought of as propaganda that promotes a commercial product or shapes the perception of an organization, person or brand. A number of techniques which are based on research are used to generate propaganda. Many of these same techniques can be found under logical fallacies, since propagandists use arguments that, while sometimes convincing, are not necessarily valid. A few examples are: Flag-waving, Glittering generalities, Intentional vagueness, Oversimplification, Rationalization, Red herring, Slogans, Stereotyping, Testimonial, Unstated assumption, and bandwagon.

In order to solidify the meaning of propaganda as distinct from certain types of advertising and public relations, it is helpful to mention Sheryl Tuttle Ross’s Epistemic Merit Model of propaganda. For example, a political campaign aid that in some way alludes to local racial politics visually without making any overt statements in regard to those politics would still be considered epistemically defective and therefore might count as propaganda, even though nothing false or inflammatory was said. Since propaganda can sometimes be subtle and slippery, using the Epistemic Merit Model can aid in analysis and in personal opinion.

In the East, the term propaganda now overlaps with distinct terms like indoctrination (ideological views established by repetition rather than verification) and mass suggestion (broader strategic methods). In practice, the terms are often used synonymously. Historically, the most common use of the term propaganda started to be in the religious context of the Catholic Church and evolved to be more common in political contexts, in particular to refer to certain efforts sponsored by governments, political groups, but also often covert interests. In the early 20th century the term propaganda was also used by the founders of the nascent public relations industry to describe their activities; this usage died out around the time of World War II, as the industry started to avoid the word, given the pejorative connotation it had acquired.

Literally translated from the Latin gerundive as "things which must be disseminated," in some cultures the term is neutral or even positive, while in others the term has acquired a strong negative connotation. Its connotations can also vary over time. For example, in Portuguese and some Spanish language speaking countries, particularly in the Southern Cone, the word "propaganda" usually means the most common manipulation of information — "advertising". In English, "propaganda" was originally a neutral term used to describe the dissemination of information in favor of any given cause. During the 20th century, however, the term acquired a thoroughly negative meaning in western countries, of equalling the intentional dissemination of false, but perhaps "compelling", claims supporting or justifying nefarious political ideologies. This redefinition arose because both the Soviet Union and Germany's government under Hitler admitted explicitly to using propaganda favoring, respectively, communism and fascism, in all forms of public expression. As these ideologies were antipathetic to English-language and other western societies, the negative feelings toward them came to be projected into the word "propaganda" itself. Nowadays nobody admits doing propaganda but, on the other side, everybody accuses the opponent of using propaganda, whenever there is an opponent in question.

At the left, right, or mainstream, propaganda knows no borders; as is detailed by Roderick Hindery. Hindery further argues that debates about most social issues can be productively revisited in the context of asking "what is or is not propaganda?" Not to be overlooked is the link between propaganda, indoctrination, and terrorism/counterterrorism. Mere threats to destroy are often as socially disruptive as physical devastation itself.

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U.S. propaganda poster, which warns against civilians sharing information on troop movements (National Archives)

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