Monday, July 23, 2012


The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard, McKay Publishing, 1957, 240 pp

For anyone born in the mid-twentieth century, The Hidden Persuaders is an intriguing look at the beginnings of advertising and marketing as it influenced our wants and needs, our purchasing decisions, our political views and even (possibly a stretch) led to our current economic situation. I read it as research for my memoir. I was 10 years old when it came out and I remember my dad talking about the book.

Some people call Vance Packard the first Malcolm Gladwell. I have not read Gladwell because I had the idea that he was a sociology-light sort of guy, but perhaps now I will check out one of his books. Packard's book opened my eyes to a sinister trend in which we all participate.

I already knew that after World War II, when American industry was at peak production due to the demands of war, manufacturers needed new markets for products. The answer was to get the American public to consume like never before. The obstacles were our Puritan background and the effects of the Great Depression, both of which created habits of making do on less, making things last and living simply.

So retail sales people and advertising agencies teamed up with psychiatry to use our deepest wants, fears, and insecurities as motivations that would get us to buy stuff. "Planned obsolescence" (you know: you feel you must have the latest smart phone, tablet, car, appliances, not to mention fashion) has led us to a practically obsolete planet.

Though the reprint I read had ridiculous amounts of typos and though Packard's style is pretty dry, it was quite a sobering read.

(The Hidden Persuaders is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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