Napoleon Bonaparte: Famous French Strategist

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Napoleon Bonaparte is widely considered one of the greatest conquerors to ever live. Born the son of a noble off the coasts of Italy, it just took him a few decades to rise to prominence during the French Revolution, which began in July 1789. Throughout his life he was always a learner, never stopped acquiring knowledge; he was an avid reader of history, science and philosophy. Aside from his ambitious personality, his studious characteristics also helped him in the conquest of a significant geographic part of Europe. With a track record of over 60 battles fought and only 7 defeats, the success he had in military campaigns was largely due to the key tactics and strategies he used to impair and defeat his enemies. One factor often overlooked however, was Napoleon’s inherent understanding of marketing. He comprehended considerably well how to impact people’s opinions and behaviours, so he used his rhetorical power to shape it for his purposes: he became a master of propaganda and popular manipulation. Through manipulation of information, he amassed even more power by skilfully riding the tide of public opinion. Napoleon is considered one of the greatest pioneers of marketing because without most of the resources we have nowadays to succeed at conveying a message to the general public, or change consumers’ behaviour, he was still exceptionally effective in achieving such tasks. This skill eventually led him to the French throne and consequently, to continue his conquest over Europe. It is for these reasons stated therefore, why I think Napoleon Bonaparte is the greatest marketer of all times.

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From the year 1795 to 1799, France was governed by a 5-member committee called le Directoir. During this time, the French economy was going through a crisis, with paper money fallen to a fraction of its value, falling wages, and soaring prices. These were difficult times in a country that was continuously at war after the French Revolution. It was through the French Revolutionary wars though, where Napoleon Bonaparte began making a name for himself. Following his victory in 13 Vendémiaire Year 4, which was a battle between the French Revolutionary troops and Royalist forces in the streets of Paris, Napoleon was appointed commander-in-chief for the Italian war in 1796. His victory in the Italy campaign was seen as a source of hope for the French people, and he took advantage of this to raise his profile even higher.

As a result, Napoleon then ought to invade Egypt, as he argued this would open and protect French trade interests and war in the Levant and southeast Asia; while simultaneously subverting similar British interests. In order to materialize his desire however, he needed to be granted permission by le Directoir. To secure his authorization, he sent them a letter that marketed to the pride of the 5-men committee, by promising them a speedy conquest that would serve France in its power struggle with Britain.

Napoleon succeeded in convincing le Directoir and went on to invade Egypt. To his misfortune though, the Egyptian campaign was a major disappointment as due to multiple defeats to the British, he eventually retreated the country.

Nonetheless, during his time in Egypt, Napoleon set up the Courier de l'Égypte which was a printed newspaper used for propaganda purposes during his battles, focusing on the matters of war. Through this medium, which was widely available, he managed to chronicle his adventures, boost morale, and paint a good picture of himself for the world. No single press release went out without his supervision. He understood that managing perceptions of the general public, while untrue, was the only way to cement his way as an eventual leader in France. Since the very first release of the newspaper, Napoleon’s victories in Egypt were magnified, while his defeats were attributed to others. The flow of information was essential for these press releases, because these travelled faster than the truth. This meant that when the real news about a lost battle reached the surface of the earth, the French population had already developed positive emotions towards Napoleon. Given this, Napoleon discerned that the flow of information had an important effect in his propaganda.

As time passed by, the true story behind the war in Egypt was beginning to spread around France. Finally, with the country’s defeat to the British during the Battle of the Nile, Napoleon saw this as the perfect opportunity to return to France, without letting anybody know. His second-in-command chief, Jean Baptiste Kleber, was then attributed the defeat in Egypt through the Courier de l'Égypte. People in France truly believed this, which is why Napoleon, in his return, was received by the public as a glorified hero. On the other hand, le Directoir, widely unpopular at the moment due to France’s economic situation, did not appreciate the fact that Napoleon had abandoned the war in Egypt, unnoticed. Given his rising popularity in France however, mainly because of the hopeful chronicles communicated through the Courier de l'Égypte, the final decision made by le Directoir was not to punish Napoleon for his desertion. As demonstrated, the Courier de l'Égypte was quite a powerful tool for Napoleon as it was considered by many the most legitimate source of information at the moment.

For Napoleon, the current situation in France was a zero-sum game, where le Directoir’s loss of popularity was exactly balanced by the gains of his admiration. As such, the political landscape was exactly where Napoleon had planned for it to be, so he manoeuvred to launch a coup d'état on November 9th, 1799. Napoleon achieved his premeditated plan successfully and had become the dictator of France under the title of First Consul. 

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