Sold on Language Paperback – 10 Feb 2011
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"Students and teachers of persuasion would benefit greatly from reading Sold on Language. Other professionals in communication, marketing, change management, sales, negotiation, and politics will find the examples and techniques of influence to be useful as both best practices to emulate and pitfalls to avoid." (PsycCRITIQUES, 11 January 2012)
"The result is a truly enjoyable, ironic and fresh volume, easy and pleasant to read for any type of audience." (Metapsychology, 15 November 2011)
"This is a well–written, entertaining, and penetrating book on advertisers′ ubiquitous attempts at persuasion to influence marketplace behaviour, including the basis for an argument that advertisers are bent on making choices for the consumer. . . Highly recommended. Upper–division undergraduates through professionals/practitioners; consumers, general readers." (Choice, 1 October 2011)
"I highly recommend the landmark and must read book Sold on Language: How Advertisers Talk to You and What This Says About You by Julie Sedivy and Greg Carlson, to anyone seeking an open, honest, as well an engaging study into the nature of advertising messages, brands, and the words used to market products. This eye opening book will change the way readers approach advertising messages and the illusion that the market offers real choice." (Blog Business World, 28 April 2011)
"For a university student with nascent interests in language and thought, reading this book might well provide a stimulus to take some philosophy or psychology or language sciences, which would be no bad thing." (Times Higher Education Supplement, 21 April 2011)
"In this wise and witty book, Julie Sedivy and Gregory Carlson use modern research in psychology, linguistics, and psycholinguistics to show us how little of what we choose is the result of reasoned and conscious deliberation. We like to think of ourselves as being in charge of our lives: we′re not. Sold on Language may not be for everyone. But if you shop, it′s for you. And if you vote, it′s for you. Reading this book may be the best defense you have against being manipulated by others."
Professor Barry Schwartz, Department of Psychology, Swarthmore College and author of The Paradox of Choice , and Practical Wisdom
"Via engaging prose and scientific evidence, Sedivy and Carlson have made a noteworthy contribution by providing fresh and deep insights into something we thought we′d already understood."
Dr Robert B. Cialdini, Author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Tell most people that advertisers and politicians exploit language to manipulate desire and opinion, and they′ll likely respond "So what else is new?" and then go on to add, "though, mind you, I′m not fooled for an instant." But advertisers eat that self–assurance for breakfast food; they know that no audience is so easy to beguile as one that′s smugly confident in its own sophistication. With engaging examples and lucid explanations, Sedivy and Carlson document the persuasive power that inhabits every corner of language not just in the familiar puffery of adjectives like "new and improved," but the implications hidden in little words like your and the. Whether you′re a student of language or just a consumer of it, you′ll come away from Sold on Language a bit more humble and a lot more attentive and by the by, with an appreciation of how much more there is to language than the wisdom we acquired in seventh grade at the end of Sister Petra′s ruler.
Geoffrey Nunberg, University of California at Berkeley, Language commentator, "Fresh Air," NPR
Language comes to us brilliantly easily. How else could children be learning new words at the incredible rate of 10 a day? But that ease of learning carries with it the risk that we will be oblivious to the power of words as written or spoken by others to control our behavior. To all who might want to protect themselves against that risk, I say: read this book.
Jay Ingram, author of Talk, Talk, Talk, Canada
Top customer reviews
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.
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
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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