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The Hidden Persuaders

The Hidden Persuaders

Vance Packard


The classic exposé of advertising. In many ways this book remains fresh, perhaps because of the popularity of Mad Men in bringing 50's advertising culture back to prominence. In others, it hasn't aged well and is clearly a product of its time. If you can get back the casual sexism and references to tobacco's "cancer scare", however, it's still a great read.

I found it impossible to read this book without thinking of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, another exploration of how to affect people's behaviour "for their own good". It's hard to decide which is more insidious. While advertising has undoubtedly had long-term effects on our behaviour in the half-century since Packard wrote, it's also true that many of the techniques being espoused are now so obvious that they've ceased to be effective: I sometimes wonder whether advertising now almost has to be ironic just to get past people's media filters. As a thoughtful introduction from a time just starting to show the complexities of the modern world, though, this book is hard to beat.

3/5. Finished 24 April 2015.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

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