I came across an interesting book, The Hidden Persuaders, by Vance Packard, circa 1957. On the cover there is a tag line that reads, THIS BOOK GIVES THE STARTLING ANSWERS to hundreds of questions and facts that show how today’s advertising men are using our hidden urges and frustrations to sell everything from gasoline to politicians.
This is a highly interesting book about how advertisers persuade us by nudging us with bold and sometimes imaginative efforts.
It asks, How can you know what to believe? What is the morality of the practice of encouraging housewives to be non rational and impulsive in buying the family food? What is the morality of playing upon hidden weaknesses and frailties? Building a dread of nonconformity and anxieties over not having something, that something being their product. What are the ethics of businesses that shape campaigns designed to thrive on our weaknesses that they themselves have diagnosed? What is the morality in manipulating small children?
The world of fast food and processed food is a world of manipulative advertisers and it is very disrespectful to all of us as intelligent beings. There are no ethical codes to advertising, in fact, if yesterday is any indication, some advertising is entertainment. The marketing of brands and products has formed the society we live in today. Enriching our lives, giving pleasure, the desire for comfort, for luxury and for prestige??? In the book, this is all referred to as a trend; unfortunately it has become a way of life. This abundance of products infringes on our quality of life, there is no doubt about it – it is overwhelming, and I very much hate to use the word, but we have become a slave to the world of consumerism – advertising is channeling our behaviors for its own goal, making us believe that it is our goal to feel how their product will make us feel.
The book was published in 1957, the author could already see that product manipulation was a problem and would only get worse. There was never any effort to reverse this type of advertising.
But certainly our expanding economy can manage to thrive without the necessity of psycho-testing children or mind-molding men or playing upon the anxieties we strive to keep to ourselves. America is too great a nation-and Americans too fine a people- to have to tolerate such corrosive practices.
The most serious offense…is that they try to invade the privacy of our minds. It is this right to privacy in our minds…that I believe we must strive to protect.
It’s up to us to find in ourselves our true desires – distinguish them within the world of production and try our best to find what we truly want without the brand – and be firm in our decision without influence. It’s 2012, is this possible? Is it possible to be a conscious consumer with a firm decision to overlook brands and packaging. Like everything else, it is totally and completely up to us.