Saturday, 13 February 2016

The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard

“What is the morality of the practice of encouraging housewives to be non-rational and impulsive in buying the family food?”

Originally published in 1957, and my particular copy (thanks to a 2nd hand bookstore) with a sparkling new introduction for the 1980s, Packard's "classic study of the American advertising machine" is surprisingly still relevant today. This is an intriguing look at the way consumer psychology is manipulated to fuel our shopping and political choices.

As scary as the  content might have appeared back in the day, when taken into consideration in the digital age with data capture of every transaction and every interaction possible, the bombardment and exploitation of consumers' internal machinations becomes a far more frightening notion. Just this morning, for example, my... oh for the sake of a more appropriate word, "current squeeze" received a text message from Amazon (I think it was Amazon) recommending items for him on the basis he was "looking for love". Boy did that profiling miss the mark, particularly on someone who is "not looking for love right now"; having said that, it shows just how insidious marketing, which trawls through our apps, our social media profiles and all the other bits and bobs we put out there, becomes.

So on this Valentine's Day, my generally most hated day of the year because of its complete manipulation of people's emotions to try and buy others' affections, it seems right to be reviewing this book. It is also quite timely, with David Bowie's recent passing, that my path of discovery to this particular work was through his list of the top 100 books.

If you consider how advanced the advertising industry was in the 50s in terms of consumer manipulation, it is truly terrifying to think of what advances have been made since. The books is jam packed with interesting (at times frightening) examples of the strange and wacky way we respond to various stimuli; from barren, lonely looking cards for spinsters to buy, the re-branding of Marlboro to appeal to the ideal of masculinity, to the "mistress v wife" approach to car sales and the grooming of children as future, loyal customers.

5 out of 5 some books are always persuasive.

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