December 11, 2013

Why we shop

The Hidden Persuaders
by Vance Packard

Published in 1957, this was an exposé of the advertising industry in the United States and its subliminal use of something called motivational research to influence consumer buying habits. 

Motivational research or M.R., as Packard called it, consisted of partnerships between advertising agencies and behavioral psychologists. These scientists attempted to probe people's unconscious desires in order to persuade them to buy this or that or to vote in certain ways. Their often dubious methods sometimes led to laughable results, such as their contention that women liked baking cakes because the act reminded them of giving birth. Therefore, cake mixes shouldn't be too easy; instead of simply adding water, let housewives add both milk and eggs so that they feel pride instead of shame at using a ready-made mix.

Obviously, there was a lot of sexism back then, and the anecdotes revealed here are quite dated. Packard's overly serious tone also makes for moments of boredom. However, fans of Mad Men should find the book amusing.

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