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Buying in. The secret Dialogue between what we buy and who we are. [Hardcover]

Rob Walker
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Jan 2008
“Fascinating … A compelling blend of cultural anthropology and business journalism.” — Andrea Sachs, Time Magazine

“An often startling tour of new cultural terrain.” — Laura Miller, Salon

“Marked by meticulous research and careful conclusions, this superbly readable book confirms New York Times journalist Walker as an expert on consumerism. … [A] thoughtful and unhurried investigation into consumerism that pushes the analysis to the maximum…” Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

Brands are dead. Advertising no longer works. Weaned on TiVo, the Internet, and other emerging technologies, the short-attention-span generation has become immune to marketing. Consumers are “in control.” Or so we’re told.
In Buying In, New York Times Magazine “Consumed” columnist Rob Walker argues that this accepted wisdom misses a much more important and lasting cultural shift. As technology has created avenues for advertising anywhere and everywhere, people are embracing brands more than ever before–creating brands of their own and participating in marketing campaigns for their favorite brands in unprecedented ways. Increasingly, motivated consumers are pitching in to spread the gospel virally, whether by creating Internet video ads for Converse All Stars or becoming word-of-mouth “agents” touting products to friends and family on behalf of huge corporations. In the process, they–we–have begun to funnel cultural, political, and community activities through connections with brands.

Walker explores this changing cultural landscape–including a practice he calls “murketing,” blending the terms murky and marketing–by introducing us to the creative marketers, entrepreneurs, artists, and community organizers who have found a way to thrive within it. Using profiles of brands old and new, including Timberland, American Apparel, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Red Bull, iPod, and Livestrong, Walker demonstrates the ways in which buyers adopt products, not just as consumer choices, but as conscious expressions of their identities.

Part marketing primer, part work of cultural anthropology, Buying In reveals why now, more than ever, we are what we buy–and vice versa.


Praise for Buying In
“Walker … makes a startling claim: Far from being immune to advertising, as many people think, American consumers are increasingly active participants in the marketing process. … [He] leads readers through a series of lucid case studies to demonstrate that, in many cases, consumers actively participate in infusing a brand with meaning. … Convincing.” — Jay Dixit, The Washington Post

“Walker lays out his theory in well-written, entertaining detail.” — Seth Stevenson, Slate

Buying In delves into the attitudes of the global consumer in the age of plenty, and, well, we aren’t too pretty. Walker carries the reader on a frenetically paced tour of senseless consumption spanning from Viking ranges to custom high-tops.” — Robert Blinn, Core77

“Rob Walker is one smart shopper.” — Jen Trolio, ReadyMade

“The most trenchant psychoanalyst of our consumer selves is Rob Walker. This is a fresh and fascinating exploration of the places where material culture and identity intersect.”
–Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food

“This book has vast social implications, far beyond the fields of marketing and branding. It obliterates our old paradigm of companies (the bad guys) corrupting our children (the innocents) via commercials. In this new world, media-literate young people freely and willingly co-opt the brands, and most companies are clueless bystanders desperate to keep up. I really don't know if this is good news or bad news, but I can say, with certainty, that this book is a must-read.”
–Po Bronson, author of What Should I Do with My Life?

“Rob Walker is a gift. He shows that in our shattered, scattered world, powerful brands are existential, insinuating themselves into the human questions ‘What am I about?’ and ‘How do I connect?’ His insight that brand influence is becoming both more pervasive and more hidden–that we are not so self-defined as we like to think–should make us disturbed, and vigilant.”
–Jim Collins, author of Good to Great

“Rob Walker is a terrific writer who understands both human nature and the business world. His book is highly entertaining, but it’s also a deeply thoughtful look at the ways in which marketing meets the modern psyche.”
–Bethany McLean, editor at large, Fortune, and co-author of The Smartest Guys in the Room

“Are we living in an era of YouTube-empowered, brand-rejecting consumers? Rob Walker has the surprising answers, and you won’t want to miss this joyride through the front lines of consumer culture. A marketing must-read.”
–Chip Heath and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick

“Rob Walker brilliantly deconstructs the religion of consumption. Love his column, couldn’t put his book down.”
–Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 291 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (NY) (1 Jan 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400063914
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400063918
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 2.7 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,148,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Helpful Examples of Below-the-Radar Marketing 8 Aug 2008
By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
Rob Walker's main point in this book is that for most Americans brand choices have become a way to express individuality while still feeling connected to others. Why? Most people don't really do anything creative, but they want to feel better about themselves. They pick brands that reflect an appealing self-image.

This tendency to designer identity carries as far as choosing brands that reflect lifestyles that are symbolic of what you like, but aren't you. In some cases, brands develop such weak images that people flock to the same brand for widely different reasons.

The examples are what make the book fascinating. Mr. Walker has a keen eye for change in fashion and a good ear for listening to what people say about their choices. I've never seen such a simple thesis so thoroughly and interestingly illustrated.

Many brand marketing books avoid the whole realm of using nonadvertising methods to create images and awareness. Mr. Walker dives headlong into that subject and treats it pretty well.

The book's main weakness is that he doesn't get into the various segments that people tend to associate with in any detail. That leaves his examples better reflective of human psychology than marketing.

This book ultimately will provide more insight to consumers than to marketers. If you are a marketer, you'll probably grade this as a two-star book.

Mr. Walker is a talented writer as well. I don't recall having the opportunity to read too many books on marketing that display which a good writing style.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Marketing bookshelf essential 14 Nov 2009
By Mr. G. Carroll VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
I really enjoyed the way Rob Walker takes us deep under the skin of what a brand really means rather than what a marketing manager thinks that their brand is in the book Buying In. Walker decodes one of marketings great mysteries: what is it about Red Bull's marketing that makes it so successful.

Probably the most interesting part of the book however is the amount of time that Walker spends on the concept of authenticity. Authenticity partly comes from the attributes of the business, rather than just the marketing of the business and part of it comes from the way that the consumer interacts with the brand: what values and attributes that they put on it. It is this complex brew that gives a brand authenticity and engenders trust.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was the book that first engaged me in the whole arena of retail branding and the potential power of the marketer to create something magical that a consumer couldn't refuse.

Walker's concept of `magical thinking' describes that transformative power of brands that can be quite intangible and yet enormously powerful.

He leads us through countless engaging case studies of businesses and brands (fashion retail and otherwise) who have harnessed the knowledge of their market and how they create their own identities through purchasing power.

It's fascinating. Think you're immune to marketing and brand loyalty? Prepare to think again.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  38 reviews
33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Energy Drink Kitesurfing 19 Jun 2008
By G. K. Darby - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I second what Po Bronson says about "Buying In." This book is much more than a simple, cocktail party business book -- it's an attentive, subtle and entertaining meditation that not only uncovers the latest trends in buying, selling and marketing but also pushes us to consider larger questions beyond these subjects. Personally, since finishing the book, I've taken a harder look at my purchases and what they mean to my larger sense of identity. Not that this is some kind of Chicken Soup for the Marketing Soul, but Walker isn't afraid to follow his many case studies and pieces of hard evidence to wherever they lead, and sometimes that means not only a critique of consumer culture but a look at contemporary American culture as a whole. And that's what I love most about this book -- that Walker dives into consumer culture with such wide, bemused eyes. The reporting reminds me of Studs Terkel -- when a journalist can turn a subject into something wonderful, literally into something "full of wonder." I was happy to follow marketing detective Walker on his tour of energy drink kitesurfing, dive bars, chicken sausage cookouts, underground dance parties, and Lower East Side sneaker boutiques. (As someone who almost got kicked out of an "underground" New York sneaker boutique for merely trying to, um, shop, I was pleased to have Walker pull my coat on this corner of underground brand culture.) And where his tour leaves us, at the end of the gripping final chapter, is in a place that is somewhat contradictory and unexpected and completely fascinating.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Media Savvy Marketing Commentary 19 Jun 2008
By Rachel C. Weingarten - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I'm a huge fan of Rob Walker's style and regularly read his 'Consumed' column and mourn his recently departed 'Murketing' newsletter. Heck, I even read his yearly 'zine on departed public figures. That said, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect when reading 'Buying In.'

Unlike typical industry commentators and critics, Walker tends not to add hype to the mix, but rather breaks down products, trends and marketing techniques to almost a scientific level. More text book than hyped book du jour.

If you're looking for a quick easy read with sound bites that will make you sound cooler to your colleagues- this is not the book for you. If you're looking to dig into a book that will make you rethink the branding of your favorite companies while offering insights into the industry in general, you should probably stop reading this review and just order the book--just don't expect to finish it in one sitting.

Walker doesn't have schtick, no funny hair or pretentious wording, just an extremely meaty read that makes me think I should reread it in case I missed anything.
36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Walker is the first to nail the new marketing paradigm. 21 Jun 2008
By D. Stuart - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Rob Walker's book is excellent. Since the dawn of the internet age, just over a decade ago, the classic marketing paradigm (brands, 4Ps, advertising etc) have been on a slippery slope, and the only trouble is nobody has been quite sure which way it would all tilt. I have a raft of books talking about the "new marketing" (there was a boom in these after 1998 and the new millennium) but in my view Rob Walker is the first author to really nail the subject. He gets it so right.

I've spent since 1996 doing market research amongst youth brands (mostly amongst energy drinks as it happens, so I feel Rob's discussion of Red Bull and other players is absolutely right on the mark.) In this past decade I've been conscious that the changes we've been seeing are part of a mich bigger pattern. But Walker is the first writer and critic to stand back and really put it all in perspective. His thinking here - wide-eyed, holistic, detailed and entertainingly pertinent - puts you in the right place to see everything and how it all fits. He kind of grabs you by the sleeve to take you there, such is the energy of his writing.

One is left with the interesting question: are brands what the manufacturers make of them? Or are they appropriated by the consumer to reflect what we want of them? The subtle cover art, with the title floating between a bar-code and a thumb print, kind of sums things up. (One of the most subtle covers I've seen since Rita carter's excellent Multiplicity: The New Science of Personality, Identity, and the Self)

Rob Walker presents us with an excellent book for marketers, market researchers, tired media buyers, marketing graduates who think they know everything and anyone who is just plain fascinated by how our society ticks. This is great reading.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Textbook for modern marketing 20 Jun 2008
By Matt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is the perfect textbook for a college-level course on marketing.

Actually, it's the perfect book for the layperson who is interested in how marketing is carried out nowadays.

No - it's really a stinging inditement of modern youth, with their assurances that they are "immune to marketing" going hand-in-hand with their craven embracing of "buzz marketing" - essentially doing the work for the marketers.

Well, it's really a look at how modern youth have subverted the marketing paradigm and, like our culture, broken it into countless little pieces.

...Okay. It's all of the above. And I'm writing the review this way to illustrate another point Walker makes - the point of how megaselling items/brands like the iPod, like "Hello Kitty," like American Apparel, are hugely popular because they represent whatever each individual consumer wants them to represent. Walker's book is very well researched, and examines marketing from multiple viewpoints, with all kinds of examples that readers will recognize - Nike, Walmart, companies billing themselves as "green", the rise in popularity of DIY products and marketing, Etsy.com, and so on. There doesn't seem to be any strident agenda here, except for readers to consider the effects marketing has on them - more self-awareness. Not a great deal of ranting about the deleterious effects of marketing on the wellness of society, nor conservative chest thumping about free-markets, etc. Just a great read about how marketing has moved forward in the age of TiVo and the "informed consumer." Highly recommended.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No Sale 15 Sep 2008
By bnieman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I thought this book would give me insights into why people like me buy the stuff we do. After all, the title says "the secret dialog between what WE buy and who WE are." Instead, it was a murky examination of mostly oddball marketing campaigns that successfully launched some products into commercial success. If I got the point - not sure I did; and I couldn't finish the book - it is that the methods discussed are going to be the successful marketing methods of the FUTURE. I think you can get an idea about the focus of the book from some of the chapter subtitles: "pink boots," "rickety bridges," "cool guys," "sexy t-shirts for young people." There may be some great stuff here, but it went over my head.
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