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on 29 April 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Interestingly, this book starts with a discussion of Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud's favourite nephew and avid reader of his uncle's work. In this, it is similar to John Pilger's 'The War You Don't See' and Adam Curtis' 'The Century of the Self'. All three relate how Bernays effectively 'invented' public relations and also, as a first demonstration of the power of his uncle's theories, started women smoking in public in the U.S.

So why this interest in Bernays? Because of the effects and effectiveness of the vast advertising and media industries that have grown up in this last century of 'extreme individualism'. This book is an attempt to unpack the mainly linguistic 'tricks of the trade' of these industries and, in doing so, to inoculate us against them.

The books main themes centre around the ways in which we are becoming aware of how our minds work and how they may be manipulated. To start with, the authors consider 'The Unconscious Consumer':

'According to Sigmund Freud...we live in constant danger of having our unconscious memories and longings grab us by the throat and lead us down a path of irrational choices...Freud probed these hidden motivators by having people lie on a couch and relate their dreams and memories. Today, scientists of the mind probe them with clever experimental tasks in labs and use expensive devices to measure the gaze patterns of eyes, and the electrical activity and blood flow in the brain. All this technological proliferation just emphasises how elusive our own minds are to us.' (P15)

The authors are linguists and so the evidence they cite is largely linguistically based - but since we have so much of our being in language, this seems eminently justified. And the experiments are fascinating.

They go on to consider the active role of the unconscious in 'The Attentional Arms Race'. It seems that overt attention is not a prerequisite for successful manipulation - in fact, in many ways, it's what you perceive peripherally that has more effect, as this is absorbed into the unconscious for further processing, while our conscious minds are taken up with the task in hand. Yet more experimental evidence backs up this proposition.

The next chapter - 'We Know What You're Thinking' sounds ominously like an Adam Curtis documentary. The authors concentrate on linguistic formulations that can radically alter perceptions of statements. The use of 'presuppositions', of leading questions, manipulation of memories and 'Mindless Agreement and Unconscious Individualism' (P120) make it appear that we have freedom and independence of action whereas in reality, even our much-vaunted individualism may be subverted.

Slowly the book unpacks many of the tricks, traps and tips of the persuasive industries. It is all told in an informal and readable style, but it still packs a punch. However, much of it seems kind of 'anecdotal'. Apart from the initial references to Freud, there is no outline of a consistent theory here. It's as if this science is still in the 'gathering evidence' stage. It's still very interesting, but slightly frustrating at the same time.

Finally, the authors turn their attention to the growing role of advertising-style practices in politics. This, for me, was by far the most interesting section of the book. Even if, after reading up to here, you think you're aware of the techniques used by advertisers, you can't help but feel that it is far too easy for those 'in the know' to manipulate and control us. Thus, it is no surprise to find the authors discussing Plato's reservations on democracy. They talk of 'Democracy in the Age of the Mackerel Mind' (P250) where the 'mackerel mind' refers, if you like, to a 'herd' or 'collective' mind. They examine the increasingly fragmented tribalism of society, the way that beliefs are perpetuated even in the face of completely contradictory and factual evidence (they don't mention it, but I can't help thinking of Obama's birth certificate). But, at the same time, they start to develop Freud's ideas of the unconscious. What they suggest is that, far from being at the mercy of our unconscious, the interplay between conscious and unconscious mind is a far more active, dynamic and two-way affair. As such - and this is really the crucial point - a conscious recognition of the ways in which the unconscious may be manipulated can go a long way in inoculating us against just this manipulation, making us all, perhaps, Philosopher Kings.

All in all, an illuminating, readable and rewarding book.
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on 3 April 2011
The human brain is a wondrous thing -- especially that huge subconscious part that hums along without us giving much thought to it. We go through the day without having to think about the mechanics of breathing, digesting our food, walking, running, smiling laughing. We respond to all sorts of stimuli in our environment without having to give them much (if any) conscious thought: when we hear something funny we smile or laugh without first figuring out what makes it amusing or having to think through which muscles in our face we need to move in order to accomplish the task; when we're walking along and reach a set of stairs, we don't have to consciously think about lifting our leg higher; if someone throws a rock in our direction we instinctively duck or move out of the way without having to consciously process the danger of the situation and figure out how to move out of the way. In fact, most of our actions are determined by our subconscious brain. Yet when it comes to language and advertising, most of us operate on the assumption that the normal functions of our subconscious brain are magically suspended. Not so, according to this insightful book.

The authors weave together a broad range of research and examples to demonstrate just how much of our behavior is determined below our conscious minds. They show that our responses to language, non-verbal cues, and emotional images are rarely the result of conscious and reasoned thought, but rather reflexive reactions based on a combination of hard-wiring and our internalized observations of how the world around us operates. Advertisers then use the latest scientific knowledge of our brains' `default' processing mechanisms to hawk their merchandise.

Fortunately, just as we can train ourselves to override our reflexes in various spheres of life, we can do the same when it comes to advertising. But in order to do so, we need to be aware of what those reflexes are and make conscious choices to respond differently. I always thought of myself as relatively immune to advertising, but I had no idea just how `sneaky' ads can be, and the degree to which they exploit the hard-wired settings in our brains. If you want true and meaningful choice when it comes to your shopping and voting behavior, I highly recommend you read this book.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Our world is defined by language. Ideas are shaped by words, opinions shaped by colours and placement. Our definition of freewill, as such, is an obsolete concept - insomuch as the world we inhabit - and the decisions we make - are formed by information, and the control of that information is often used to influence, shape, or adversely control the only decisions we truly have, which is the decision to participate in our economy, or withdraw - and to what extent. This tome explores that world, and how language is used Orwellianly, to reduce our own choices

To Buy, Or Not To Buy? That is the question.

This text sells itself as one of those more lighthearted, accessable layman texts for train journeys and casual afternoons on the sofa. It is not. It does not explain how to decode the messages of advertising, how to resist the charms of applied psychology, how sales attempts to circumvent your initial resistance, or how to fight the need you didn't know you had until you encountered this Product, Service, or Gimmick.

It is a dense, light-academic work that explores, in a less than casual manner, the seriousness of salesmanship,. And how we are sold to everywhere, everyday, in every manner. For a serious, top-ranking salesman it's probably both manna from heaven - and a magician revealing his curious tricks before pulling the rabbit of profit from an expensive hat. For the casual observer this is a worthy - but difficult, impenetrable read.
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on 2 April 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Anyone who loves reading or writing loves language. We all use language to education, entertain, inform and persuade - but there are some people who specialise in using it to do the latter. And it is these people - advertisers and politicians in particular - whom the authors set out to examine.

The book looks how language is manipulated to get results by people and organisations as diverse as McDonalds, Rolls Royce and Barack Obama. Most of the examples given in the book are from the United States, but they have relevance to the whole of the English speaking world. The authors dissect marketing materials in a scholarly yet accessible and entertaining way, spelling out the subtle ways in which we are all influenced - even when we think we have "free choice".

But much more than the invidious nature of advertising is covered - the book roams through how language evolves and "the great vowel shift", how children acquire language, and even how we can continue be fooled by optical illusions even when we know that is all they are.

I found this book fascinating, and one of the best "popularising an academic field" type of book I've read in a long time.
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VINE VOICEon 29 March 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I initially thought this book would be very similar to a lot of the light hearted, humorous nonfiction around these days, cantered on marketing, economics and business, but it is actually very different. For a start it is densely packed, with smallish print and few pictures. It also cites all sources. In short more of a scholarly textbook. However what sets it apart from most scholarly textbooks is that it is very well written and completely accessible to the layman. It is full of information, case studies and anecdotes, but best of all is not full of the same old tales from advertising that we have all heard a hundred times before. In short a book from which advertising professionals and interested outsiders will learn, and will enjoy.
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VINE VOICEon 28 April 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm probably being a bit cheeky, given authors' expertise in linguistics and their knowledge of the advertising industry, but I can't help feeling this book has been undersold by the subtitle: 'How Advertisers Talk to You'. It's about much more than that. 'How to Stop Politicians Hoodwinking YOU' might have worked better!

Tracing the use of language and the art of persuasion from Plato, through Edward Herman (the originator of the term 'manufacturing consent') and Freud's nephew Edward Bernays, whose seminal 'Propaganda' blazed a trail in working to exploit our unconscious thoughts and desires, to Barry 'the paradox of choice' Schwartz and Robert 'Persuasion' Cialdini, Sedivy and Carlson explore the state of the art in how to market, frame and sell an idea. This is as much about how politicians can connect with the masses to sell ideology as how to sell cars and Macbooks.

With some fascinating detours into the realm of linguistics (and how we may be becoming less rather than more homogenised), the authors elaborate on the underhand/sophisticated/subtle techniques available to those trying to sell both their products and themselves - as they note, Obama was awarded the advertising industry's Oscar for the strength of his advertising campaign (which will pale into insignificance if rumours of his goal of building up a $1bn war chest materialise).

The book aims to counteract the cynicism which underpins the world of advertising by offering some antidote - which is an awareness of the techniques. As they explain we are hard-wired to internalise much of the processing of the visual and linguistic cues which drive our 'choices', and determine how much we are human and how much mackerel(!), but with an understanding of the processes involved, we may be able to wrest back some of the power to choose how we choose!

Unfortunately, the success of that objective depends on how many people read this book.

So, give it a go.
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VINE VOICEon 19 April 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Sold on Language is the work of two professors, so you could be forgiven for thinking it might be stuffy and somewhat exclusive. Gladly, I can report, it isn't. In fact, Julie Sedivy and Greg Carlson do any excellent job of walking that fine line between dense study and engaging text - no mean feat.

Mining the same popular science vein as, say, The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can't Do Without It, Sold on Language is an engaging but serious, yet at times knowingly humorous take on the power of advertising; how both language and images are manipulated to win over our consumerist tendencies. Capable of being read as a soup-to-nuts study book, or merely a dip in and out treasure, this is an invaluable mine of information for anyone interested in either developments (read: the uses and abuses) of language in our modern age, or those who are engaged by the notion and mechanics of advertising.

The authors stretch right out and across their subject, going so far as to investigate the notion that certain word sounds are more attractive than others, and how this can be applied to politicians aiming for the top.

In short, this is a fantastic read; challenging at times, granted, but then, in countenance to the subject matter on hand - sometimes you have to be prepared to work if you want to dig below immediate meanings on offer.

Highly recommended for anyone who may have enjoyed books like The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture
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VINE VOICEon 20 October 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I got this book on a whim. I have no background in advertising and I think my enjoyment of this has suffered as a result.

I can't fault the quality of the research or the writing standard - it is an excellent book. But it is not for the casual observer of these things so be warned if you are not a serious advertising and/or psychology studier don't go for it.
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on 8 April 2011
Do you think you're immune to deception and manipulation at the hands of advertisers? Sold on Language will show you how you're wrong.

With easy-reading humour and insight the authors use many concrete examples to show us how even subtle shifts in language can have enormous impact on how we perceive the messages of advertisers, especially at levels of consciousness that lie below our rational level of thinking. You will be shocked by some of the techniques advertisers use to mess with our heads.

The final chapter is like a punch in the gut. While it's easy to nod your head when recognizing the influence commercial interests have succeeded in having on your buying habits, it's very distressing to be shown how little public policy content really counts in the voting booth.

We have the capacity to choose. Sold on Language strives to arm us as well as possible with the ability to choose also _how_ we choose.
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VINE VOICEon 21 April 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I ordered this book for review because I'm currently studying Psychology with a passion for unconscious communication through language, T.v., adverts etc. When I saw this book, I knew it was for me. The book focuses on the Psychology of advertising and how adverts are used to manipulate our unconscious minds. Although the book is called 'Sold on Language' there are sections within the book that cover so much more. There are sections detailing how advertisers use visual illusions in adverts to convince you to make choices. And that's just the unconscious mind.

The book then goes on to discuss the use of language patterns (Lexical Linkages) , to demonstrate how the conscious mind can also be manipulated, using successful brands as an example. The book also goes on to explain how shapes, sounds and colours are used as attention magnets and how these mental puzzles placed in adverts draw the mind into becoming mesmerized. The book uses adverts (pictures) in the examples of the points that it is trying to make, although most of them are either unrecognisable or way before my time they still do a good job of getting the point across.

I highly recommend this book to anyone that has a passion in linguistics, psychology or advertising/marketing or just wants to learn more about these subjects. It's well written and well researched and is aimed at giving the consumer a base to make an informed decision when in comes to advertising. Most of the scientific jargon has been removed, so it makes for a pretty easy read.
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