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VINE VOICEon 19 December 2009
Vance Packard was a ground-breaking social critic best known for `The Hidden Persuaders', which detailed how behavioural scientists recruited by the American advertising industry were increasingly using psychological techniques to increase sales. Motivational Research aimed to discover the reasons people bought one brand over another, fuelled purchasing `crazes', and generally spent in a seemingly non-logical or irrational way, revealing much about themselves to the observant analyst. Our subconscious attitudes, they discovered, are far from being the entire explanation of our buying behaviour, but manipulating them went a long way to help companies overcome hostility to their products.
Since this information has increasingly been traded, in order to persuade us to buy any number of goods, often in a manner cynically eroding individuality, Packard believed consumers should develop a `recognition reflex', to protect against the merchandising manipulators, or persuaders, because ultimately assuming that Commerce is merely supplying what we, the consumer, demands, is outmoded and simplistic.
Packard believes we are far more cautious about religion and politics, even though both can use alarmingly similar techniques to manipulate. Interestingly, many see the world as comprising these three elements; namely Religion, Politics and Commerce.
Most of us would like to think of ourselves as shrewd, careful, hard-headed consumers, highly individual, informed and enlightened. Ironically, this very image, by appealing to our vanities, is the one most favoured by the agencies persuading us to buy their products, from cars, insurance, foodstuffs, tobacco, clothing and cosmetics (specific products focused on in this book).
In another context, manipulation of our children's minds would trigger a storm of protest, but parents are now familiarly harassed by children into buying heavily advertised brands, starting with relatively low-cost items - fast-food, cereals, toys, but as children grow, advertisers pitch for increasingly expensive items - cars, computers, mobile phones, etc.
Do we only buy goods with our cash? One advertising executive thinks not. He used the example of a 25 cent bar of soap and a $2.50 jar of skin cream. "Why are women so willing to pay for beauty products? soap only promises cleanliness. The skin cream however, promises beauty, youth, success. Women are buying a promise. Cosmetic manufacturers are not selling skin cream, but hope." We no longer buy fruit and vegetables, we buy health and vitality. We do not buy cars, but prestige, not holidays, but travel experiences.
A writer quoted by Packard stated, `We are now confronted with the problem (to commerce), of permitting the average American person to feel moral even when he is spending not saving, taking two vacations a year, and buying a second or third car (not to mention increasing personal debt). How then to give people the sanction or justification to enjoy it, and demonstrate that a hedonistic lifestyle is moral not immoral. This permission... must be one of the central themes of advertising.' Reminded me of Gordon Gecko's motto `Greed is good' in `Wall Street'.
Many of the points made in this book are familiar to us, for example, criticism of tobacco advertising and sponsoring. When this book was published, in 1957, these were revelations. The original message still remains powerful. Packard believed the fundamental threat was to our rights of privacy and choice. Fifty years on is that not even more relevant? As the man said, "I prefer by my own free will not to be logical or rational if I so choose. I do not prefer my spending to be manipulated." I suspect the most sinister manipulation is carried out without any conscious knowledge on our part at all.
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on 11 June 2002
Anyone dubious about consumerism should read this and anyone who supports it cannot morally justify it in light of this staggering book. Packard wrote a meticulously researched, highly readable and shocking account of how the subconcious minds of the American public have been manipulated by the use of psychological testing to sell them mass produced good from the 50s onwards. This book needed to be written and is an unsettling and often sickening account of the lengths to which advertisers have gone to pursuade consumers to buy.
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on 9 September 2013
It is staggering that a book published in 1957 should remain so relevant, vibrant and important over 5 decades later. This is the story of how the consumer society was created by motivating the public to desire, consume and replace what they probably don't need and didn't know that they wanted. All the techniques described continue to be used to manipulate the public and drive an economy based on consumption, built in obsolescence and fad.

This should be essential reading for all young people in secondary school. However, unfortunately, the power of the persuaders is so great and our will, mine included, so weak that even knowing we are being manipulated for other's profit we continue to fall for it over and over again.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 February 2016
Reading this some 60 years after it was written provides a fascinating insight into society, particularly American society, at that time. Smoking was openly promoted despite the health scare as filters were believed to prevent harm. Women stayed at home, men were the breadwinners, and the problem of society was how to keep the economy growing. The answer - more sophisticated advertising to encourage people to buy stuff they didn't really need. This was a time when the average American man had fewer than 2 pairs of shoes, and when fewer than 10 million women worked. The housewife, concerned with the home and her husband and children only, had more time on her hands due to freezers washing machines and the like. But how to make people want more, to keep the wheels of manufacturing turning?

Ah, make people dissatisfied with what they have - and how to do that was through researching motivation. The author was rather appalled by all this change, and by the idea that people might be encouraged to buy what they din't actually need. And yet today we all are doing that whenever can- fashions, variety, new technologies - ever changing mobile phones, and improving TV pictures, drive us on and on to earn and to spend. And more people live longer more fun lives as a result, without half of the population of the developed world being subservient to the other half. I quite like all that, and am off to buy another book i don't need now...great fun reading this though
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on 12 April 2007
A popular phrase entitled 'We have ways to make you think' is fully exemplified in this book written half a century ago. Fast forward to today and we discover that these theories form the crux of Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning (STP) the 3 most important words in Marketing. With a more Politically Correct (PC) society, many of these perceptions have been dispelled but have given rise to others with the rise of the Web and E Marketing. A groundbreaking book on marketing and consumerism.
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VINE VOICEon 21 December 2009
I can't remember where I got the recommendation to buy this book but I know it had something to do with Mad Men, and I was interested to read more about the advertising industry and the history of same. It is a really good book, so grab it if you are at all interested in this subject, because it often goes out of stock, but always seems to remain in print so that speaks volumes about the quality of the book itself even after all this time. Very enjoyable and suprising read about how people can be manipulated into buying just about anything.
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on 28 May 2015
This book was mine back in the '60s and then I lost it. I was delighted to be able to re-read this masterpiece on how the American public is manipulated, and cheated, by commercial interestes. What amazed me was the fact that it is just applicable today as it was back in the 50s, when it was writen.
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A book written in 1957 about advertising which is eerily non academic and filled with anecdotes should have been superseded by 2016. So you would think. However this is still a tour de force and I can see why it hit the best sellers list in the 1950's and how he made his name, ironically by exposing advertising. As the intro states, it details how savvy consumers were before the big inner reflection post 67. The US public was always aware of the manipulation but there was also a sense of agency involved.

This details how the advertising cynicism pervaded everyday life and is a companion to De bord and Vanegeim in their later exposes of the ennui created of everyday life. Packard takes the opposing view to Bernays but manages to still detail the inner workings of the propaganda industry and how consumer projections are marshalled to entice and fit into desire. Within he exposes the cynicism, manipulation, greed and rampant desire to make money from other people's misery. The techniques that advertisers use in making people uncomfortable about their bodies, forming in groups and out groups drawing on Tajifel (1979) or ensuring that people conform similar to Asch (195!) - these are still with us. Except unlike the 1950's many people see advertising as a norm, rather than something to be resisted Once it becomes a norm people adapt to it and the irony of the advert becomes lost.

Packards book is an expose of why you did what you did and buy what you buy, but moves beyond Skinner and Behaviourism - the focus of Bernays, to look at how advertising colonises dreams, aspirations, visions and desires. It is much deeper than stimulus and response but aims to inhabit how the individual thinks about themselves and others. The advert begins to frame existence itself because the individual has few other anchor points.

Therefore for anyone involved in self awareness, this is part of the journey. It is a book you cannot afford not to read. And that says a great deal about its power within the 21st Century, written at a time when consumerism was just taking off big time, post war, after the misery of the 1932 Depression.

So for anyone involved in industrial psychology, situationism or critical studies - this book carries heavy water.
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on 18 August 2011
Vance Packard's book changed the way I thought about marketing, I first read it in the early sixties and it was a revelation.I as a younger man harboured the delusion that business was a profit motivated but benign undertaking that provided us with the goods and services we needed.We have been drawn into consumerism by many influences but marketing has been the chief offender.This book lays the foundations of understanding the processes which have drawn us into the "must have" society
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on 30 December 2011
this book is highly interesting and really makes you think about advertising and the way it influences the mind. A very good read for anyone who wants to avoid being tricked and manipulated by advertisers who are only after your money. Yes it is a little outdated but most of it still applies to today's world. Highly recommended.
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