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Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  809 Ratings  ·  88 Reviews
Many advertisements these days make us feel as if we have an intimate, even passionate relationship with a product. But as Jean Kilbourne points out in this fascinating and shocking expose, the dreamlike promise of advertising always leaves us hungry for more. We can never be satisfied, because the products we love cannot love us back.

"When was the last time you felt this
Paperback, 368 pages
Published November 2nd 2000 by Free Press
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Community Reviews

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Jul 01, 2009 Kate rated it liked it
Recommends it for: adults; those interested in media studies;
Recommended to Kate by: Consumerist blog
Shelves: nf, media-advertising
Books about advertising and media are always interesting, and this one hits some interesting topics, like the need of corporations for addicts, and the depressing consistency of sexual images in advertising. Also notable is the author's concern about consumer culture and the attraction of being "rebelliously" part of the pack. It would be interesting to discuss this book in light of the increased level of advertising we're exposed to with our increased use of the internet and "free" content. She ...more
Aug 21, 2010 King rated it did not like it
Terrible. An egregious presentation of what is otherwise an interesting thesis. Kilbournes arguments are derived from weak inductive reasoning that devolve into gross conjectures. Her view of people as a passive, hapless, non-participatory audience is outdated and fails on many levels. Indeed, in her first chapter she says "It is virtually impossible to measure the influence of advertising on a culture..." which makes her whole point moot.

The majority of the book is collection of the most degra
Dec 14, 2010 Susan rated it it was amazing
We can’t set foot out of the house without exposure to advertising, even if we don’t watch TV, use the Internet, or read fashion magazines. Advertising is everywhere, from billboards and posters to clothing to shop windows. It is an inconvenient truth that we are indeed affected by advertising and commercialism, even if we don’t believe it.

This book is as much a psychology book as a sociology book. Using examples, statistics, interviews, and her own life experience, Kilbourne covers the connecti
Jennifer Campaniolo
May 20, 2013 Jennifer Campaniolo rated it it was amazing
I thought I understood the tricks of advertising, but Jean Kilbourne gave me a lot more to think about! She offers a balanced argument (with a dash of feminist theory) and lots of examples of how ads:

Make products seem like they're our friends, even lovers
Encourage children to drink and smoke at a young age so they become heavy users later on in life
Normalize the objectification of women--even very young girls

Advertising doesn't cause violence, racism, sexism, ageism, and addiction, but the cumu
Catherine- Isb
Aug 20, 2011 Catherine- Isb rated it really liked it
Can’t Buy My love was a great learning experience for me. I had never truly analyzed how advertisements affect many people in the world. Also I never noticed how advertisements are made specifically to influence people to buy the product. I enjoyed reading this book because it showed me how advertisements do not have trusted information, they are just trying to influence people to buy a certain product. Most of the time people are influenced to purchase products that could be harmful to them in ...more
erin cosens
Sep 07, 2007 erin cosens rated it liked it
i enjoyed this book best as a historical overview of advertisements hailing women from the 1960s to present-day, which is not at all what this book is meant to be. kilbourne's larger analyses of the consequences of advertisements on women come off as hypodermic needle/passive audience media theory that is both alarmist and outdated.
May 19, 2012 Kayla rated it it was amazing
One of my all-time favorites. I was introduced to Kilbourne on her college tour. She visited my school when I was an undergrad and I was lucky enough to have already studied her book in a women's studies class. I gift this book to ANY teenage girl in my life, and recommend it to all women, especially mothers! A MUST-READ!
Oct 15, 2016 Destri rated it liked it

The book had a lot of interesting insight into advertising and a good look at the "behind the scenes". However, some of the messages she derived from the advertisements seemed to be a bit of a stretch and the book was VERY repetitive (especially in the middle chapters). Instead of building on her points and showing examples in different forms of advertisements, she just kept reexplaining all of her points. I also wish the chapter about political ads and advertisements that appropriate liberat
Aug 15, 2012 Heather rated it it was amazing
Outstanding and necessary book though a bit dated. A lot has changed in regards to advertising and technology since this book came out in 1999-2000 (references to Cindy Crawford for example) and obviously the rise of social media and pay per click ads are a huge shift in how marketing reaches their audiences and therefore affect us. However the meat and potatoes of what Jean Kilbourne talks about hasn't changed and that is the level of exploitation advertising does to people, especially women ...more
Nancy Schober
May 13, 2011 Nancy Schober rated it really liked it
I have 30 page markers in this book so I m not really sure where to start- how about with Jean Kilbourne s losing her sense of humor under the barrage of inappropriate ads for booze, cigarettes, junk food and cars?[return][return]Her premise is that advertisers deliberately make us slightly unhappy with out bodies, appearance and our lives and then offer up a product that they say will solve the problem but in the end only makes it worse. She certainly has a point. America does have a culture of ...more
Mar 24, 2008 Danielle rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2008
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 26, 2007 Margaret rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, media
This is the most important critical examination of advertising I have read. I'm especially interested in her discussion of gender representations in advertising. If you've ever heard or made the argument that media and advertising representations are harmless and silly, she will convince you that these representations are actually powerful in our culture.

I think it is interesting that advertising images are so overtly sexualized, but the corporations are selling their product--not intimacy. And
Jun 03, 2013 Dawn rated it really liked it
It's one thing to know that all advertisements always have subliminal messages to target their intended audience in many ways, but I found myself looking at all advertisements differently after reading this. It's not just the subtle and not so subtle messages in ads that affect the way we buy, the way we shop, and what we want, but it's everything--from what's printed in beauty magazines to television shows to movies. Advertising is absolutely everywhere we look. It's in our faces all the time ...more
Mar 28, 2011 Beth rated it liked it
admittedly, this wasn't my favorite book ever. i sometimes felt the author was going a little overboard and i also frequently felt the book listed a few too many ads.

however, i do think it makes some very important points. it's one of those books that made me realize what was right in front of my nose. i mean, i wasn't completely oblivious to the fact that advertisements are a bunch of misleading hype, but this book really drove home just how absurd and, unfortunately, culture-shaping they are a
Jun 17, 2012 Amy rated it really liked it
Informative. Insightful. Once Jean reveals that the intention of every advertising company is the same, it becomes frightening. This book was published over a decade ago, yet its motives and call-to-actions are relevant ever so presently! We believe we are in this Age of Information, but we are all unknowingly bounded by this Age of Advertising. It is a must read for every one integrated into this Western society, as well as those in a Westernized societies.
A slave to alcohol for a large portio
Nov 03, 2015 Paul rated it really liked it
This is an important and critical book. It's a little dated, being published around 2000, but it studies a problem still evident today--the oversexualized images in advertising, and man's inhumanity to woman. It is a depressing read, but it calls out the danger of our consumer society and how advertising promises the happiness that should come from relationships, but in fact compromises relationships.

It is a sobering book, even for a person who doesn't follow popular culture. It also shows that
Danella Shea
Aug 01, 2011 Danella Shea rated it it was ok
I had to take my time with this book, as it is a bit preachy (read 'a lot preachy'). While I don't want to completely blame all advertising for degrading the way 'young girls-then-women' view themselves negatively, Kilbourne does make several good points. However, those points tended to get bogged down by the author's long diatribes. I also disliked the way she took all responsibility away from the individual, as if they have no choice but to become addicted to cigarettes, have a negative self ...more
Jul 14, 2013 stephanie rated it liked it
debating whether i want to finish this--not because it's bad but because, published 13 years ago, it's just not current. i might stick it out a bit longer (i'm about 60 pages in) to see if there are sections that are more relevant and applicable in 2013--but if not, i may move on.

ok, so i did finish this up and really the last chapter was the only one that really hit all the notes i was hoping for re: corporate control of media and public policy. otherwise, it was interesting but not quite
Feb 21, 2013 Jessie rated it really liked it
Only the fools among us still argue that "advertising doesn't affect them", which I think is evidenced by a new generation of highly susipicious consumers. And rightly so. Advertisers have moved on from selling a product to selling an idea, often times playing on our deepest insecurities, and worse, creating brand new insecurities for us to worry about.

Kilbourne's book feels a little outdated and much of her conjectures feel far fetched, but the backbone of this book is hard to deny. Take Kilbou
Apr 23, 2011 Sarah rated it really liked it
I read this when I was about 20 and it absolutely changed the way I think not just about advertising, but also made me more conscious of the ways I articulated a sense of being in the world and more discerning in my consumer choices (am I buying this because it gives me a sense of identity in the world? -- is a question I now often ask myself)

Many of the examples Kilbourne uses are specific to women and I appreciated her articulating the special relationship advertising has with women. It's a ni
Melanie Page
Jun 26, 2010 Melanie Page rated it liked it
I think this book is very important, but a lot of the chapters are the same, although focusing on different products, like cars, cigarettes, alcohol, and food. Each time she makes an argument about one of these products being addictive in its respective chapter, she breaks out the same analysis: addictions like alcohol, tobacco, junk food, disembodied sex, leading to violence against women. I think this phrase is in the text a dozen times. Each chapter alone, though, is interesting. Not to be ...more
Lauren Donoho
Jun 14, 2011 Lauren Donoho rated it really liked it
Shelves: poli-sci, feminism, media
While Kilbourne sometimes gets a little preachy about what she perceives to be the degenerating moral culture in the United States (for example, she seems a lot more upset about young women who are sexually active than I think is warranted), in general her opinions are fascinating. Focusing primarily on feminist issues and public health, she thoroughly deconstructs the way advertising has permeated and influenced American culture, particularly in the latter half of the twentieth century. Even th ...more
Aug 07, 2013 Alexandra rated it liked it
Her book is full of brilliant, sometime shocking, examples. However, I found toward the end of the book that she was repeating certain points again and again. It became tiresome to read, and I wish that instead of beating a quite dead horse that she had extended her last chapter. It covered ways in which we can combat the negative effects of advertising, which left me feeling capable of making positive change. In future editions, I would love to see more about what we can do to change, and more ...more
Sep 11, 2008 Lindabeth rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
A brilliant and accessible analysis of how media images shape the way we feel about ourselves as people, predominately looking at gendered and racialized representations, and also demonstrating how advertising socializes us into the "you are what you buy" mindset. One chapter title summarizes the target of her overarching critique: "Buy me. I'll change your life".

Several very excellent books on this topic have been written in the last 5 or so years, but this one was one of the first content ana
Aug 24, 2008 Emm rated it really liked it
This is a really interesting look at advertising. It's very approachable and simply states things we are aware of, but don't think about until you heard them said. The brilliance lies in Kilbourne's link of advertising as both a product and a contributor of our dangerously disintegrating culture. She illustrates how advertising and the very nature of consumerism trivializes emotions, relationships, and ideals fundamental in a successful life. It's a disconcerting and very important read that ...more
Jul 16, 2010 Laura rated it liked it
Kilbourne's book might seem a little dated, but her argument still stands: advertising tends to encourage addictive behaviors, and discourage real human connection. While I found some of her points a bit simplistic and overreaching, relying more on emotion than fact, her visual analyses of ads were eye-opening and fascinating. And her arguments are worth contemplating. I would just have preferred she make them a bit more rigorously.
Sep 03, 2008 Monique rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone, young people, teenagers, students, teachers
This is an excellent, semi-academic treatise on the impact of advertising on the individual and on the community. I can't recommend this book highly enough. While it's not perfect (Chapter 11 is a disappointingly weak section), there's plenty to keep you reading and thinking, and Kilbourne's arguments are sound.

Reject the "freedom" of consumerism and remember what's really important: your fellow human beings.
Jan 03, 2012 Sherry rated it really liked it
It's kind of disgusting to discover how manipulated we are by the media. I was particularly shocked to see how strong the messages against women are. Most of the stuff she points out (like how females are portrayed) I had noticed, but I hadn't really thought of the implications before.

Her documentaries (Killing Us Softly) are wonderful. The books are just a more in-depth look. Definitely a great read.
May 20, 2007 Anna rated it it was amazing
this is one of those books that sticks in your head like a heavy meal does in your stomach- i was full of these statistics for weeks, and it provided me with a new lens to watch the world through. jean kilbourne has been analyzing advertising for decades now, and makes a very clear argument that ignoring the hidden values and principles that most advertising promotes is ignoring a defining aspect of our culture. read it, then see if you can watch car commercials the same way again.
Sep 13, 2007 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
From Consumer Reports to Jean Kilbourne (the leading researcher on advertising and culture) estimates on the number of advertising messages we are exposed to each day range from 300-1000. No matter what the number is, it's clear that advertising is prevalent and must be analyzed critically by each of us if we are to limit it's mesmerizing effects. Kilbourne spends time looking at the oppressive messages sent over time by advertising, from her heyday in her years as a model to today.
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Jean Kilbourne is internationally recognized for her groundbreaking work on the image of women in advertising and for her critical studies of alcohol and tobacco advertising. In the late 1960s she began her exploration of the connection between advertising and several public health issues, including violence against women, eating disorders, and addiction, and launched a movement to promote media ...more
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“But many people do not fully realize that there are terrible consequences when people becoming things. Self-image is deeply affected. The self-esteem of girls plummets as they reach adolescence partly because they cannot possibly escape the message that their bodies are objects, and imperfect objects at that. Boys learn that masculinity requires a kind of ruthlessness, even brutality. Violence becomes inevitable.” 2 likes
“Our need for social and personal change and power is often co-opted and trivialized into an adolescent and self-centered kind of rebellion.” 1 likes
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