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The Hidden Persuaders

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  1,008 ratings  ·  78 reviews
"One of the best books around for demystifying the deliberately mysterious arts of advertising."--Salon

"Fascinating, entertaining and thought-stimulating."--The New York Times Book Review

"A brisk, authoritative and frightening report on how manufacturers, fundraisers and politicians are attempting to turn the American mind into a kind of catatonic dough that will buy, give
Paperback, 240 pages
Published July 1st 2007 by Pocket Books (first published April 1st 1957)
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Average rating 3.87  · 
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Oct 08, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Consumers
Recommended to Alan by: CGW
This slim volume, already more than half a century old, remains readable and relevant today, despite largely preaching to the converted about a war that's already been lost.

Its thesis is simple: sometime before the midpoint of the 20th Century, American advertisers began appropriating techniques from the burgeoning fields of psychology and sociology to manipulate us as consumers of goods and services, religions and politics, to a great extent without our knowledge or consent. The effects of such
I remember after reading this around 1969 I scruntinized every print ad trying to decipher how it 'worked'. Especially the alcohol ads, which Vance insisted had death heads images secreted in the photos. I never found them.
In high school journalism class we learned about advertising strategies. I was both fascinated and appalled by advertising. Ten years later I was a promotion copywriter and I Gee whiz, trying to make some boring book marketable to the common reader! Noth
Todd Martin
Jul 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
The Hidden Persuaders was first published in 1957 and is one of the first popular books to describe the psychological techniques advertisers and marketers use to sell their wares. While these techniques have only become more sophisticated in the half century since the book was written, the themes are still highly relevant.

Written in a lively and readable style, the book is both informative and highly entertaining. With quotes from ad-men like:

“You have to have a carton that attracts and hypnotiz
Jun 26, 2012 rated it really liked it

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
Jul 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
An important book in the history of advertising. Dated, yes, but not really if you start digging into what's going on now with "MR" as it was called then. The book was a massive public hit, and changed america's view of advertising forever. It was influential in bringing some laws and regulations to things such as advertising to children, etc. That spotlight, however, caused many of the researchers to go deeper underground and stay more hidden. The techniques are dated, the science has modernize ...more
Irma Walter
Sep 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Intriguing read, because at the time, consumer manipulation was only just beginning. There is a glimpse into a world before mass persuasion was the norm.
I slightly wonder at the conclusion though... just letting people know that they're being manipulated was not going to arm them against the onslaught of P.R. as we now know.
The methods at the time had one big flaw.... one section of the population never made it into the data bases: the ones who didn't like divulging information. Nowadays the d
Clifford Stevens
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Hidden Persuaders is not a new book but it is definitely a classic. I do not know if the book has been updated to include changes in recent decades (e.g. e-commerce and digital advertising), its basic premise of how consumers are manipulated, the various methods companies use to get their message across and get us to buy what they want, and the psychological underpinnings are still valid today. In any case, an important work which throws light on what we as people are subject to, and despite ...more
Mar 18, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cultural-study
Years before Naomi Klein wrote her No Logo, Vance Packard wrote of the way in which marketers were employing the findings of psychology in order to market more aggressively to consumers. For most contemporary readers, this is probably an instance of a conspiracy theory that is no longer a theory nor a secret. ...more
Christopher Miller
Jun 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Have you ever wondered how marketing companies come up with their advertising campaigns? As consumers, we are a mess of contradictions; Motivational Research sorted us out years ago.

According to Wikipedia, Vance Packard "was born in Granville Summit, Pennsylvania, to Philip J. Packard and Mabel Case Packard. Between 1920-32 he attended local public schools in State College, Pennsylvania, where his father managed a dairy farm owned by the Pennsylvania State College (later Penn State University).
This 1957 book is about the growing field of manipulating people from buying products to politicians.

It was no doubt referenced in creating the show Mad Men, and is still frighteningly applicable today. I've always wondered why marketing and advertising techniques weren't taught in high school to make people aware of the subtle, or not so subtle, ways of separating people from their money or appealing to tribal groupthink.

Sure, changing a packaging color because it has positive connotations seem
Simon Dobson
Feb 26, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: bonanza
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 explorati
Daniel Proctor
Dec 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gloriously outdated yet poignantly prescient and relevant. A wonderful insight into the inner workings of the mind and how far marketers will go to influence decisions.

This was the book that tutors told me was vital during my media degree and no doubt fifteen years later it is still regarded as high on the list of 'must reads'.

The epilogue, written in the eighties is possibly more outdated than the rest of the book. A great shame that Packard died in the early nineties and wasn't around to witne
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-english
Superbly written and a warning to the future, which we are now living in.
Lorenzo Barberis Canonico
this also took me a year to read, but mostly bc it was never a priority. I came across this because it's cited in "Mad Men" in an episode. This was one of the earliest books detailing how advertising works behind the scenes (in the 60s), and recounts how psychologists in the Mad Men era made fortunes running market research studies for ad firms. Funny enough, most of the research institutes doing this kind of research were Freudian research centers. It was really interesting to see this investig ...more
Apr 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shhhhh.. It's a secret.
May 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating book about the nascent Mad Men era, when advertisers and marketers teamed with social scientists to tap into the consumer psyche. Packard gives lots of anecdotes but doesn't really give away his own thoughts about the morality of the persuasive tactics and maneuvers on which he reports until late in the book, when he asks, "But when you are manipulating, where do you stop? Who is to fix the point at which manipulative attempts become socially undesirable?"

Of course a lot has changed
Elizabeth Burton
There's really nothing I can say about the content of this classic of social manipulation, other than that it holds up remarkably well after 50+ years. Which I find both sad and frightening.

However, I will warn anyone buying the current mass-market paperback version that it is painfully clear the publisher decided to have the original OCRed and neglected to pay anyone to proofread the final result. That's the only possible explanation for the dreadful level of missing and misspelled words, at le
While outdated in many respects, the basic ideas of this book remain valid, and are still frighteningly relevant. It stresses the idea that corporations and even political parties exploit the fact that consumer buying habits and political choices are primarily ruled by emotion rather than reason. This is a report of the mid-twentieth century efforts of advertising agencies and their corporate clients to manipulate the public. Particularly disturbing is the discussion of the work of Dr. Ernest Di ...more
Michael Miller
Packard's classic look at the methods of psychological manipulation companies used (and still use) to sell products, ideas, and candidates. In retrospect, some of them appear silly and naive, but most were very successful. It's a good reminder to us all that we are constantly bombarded with manipulative marketing messages, and we should all be wary of being overconfident that we are not duped by them. Disappointingly, this edition is full of typographical errors.
Nick Spacek
Jun 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
surprisingly relevant, even sixty years later. there's a lot to learn from packard's book, be it the ways in which packaging is developed, or the various emotions to which advertisers appeal. there's quite a bit of sexist opinion in here, which can readily be discarded, but the buying patterns of the american consumer seem to have changed little since the late '50s.
Jan 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A study from the 1950's on the intersection of psychology and merchandising and how it was affecting American culture and consumerism. It was one of four assigned books for us in my incoming college freshman class to read the summer before we started the fall semester in late August. Discussion classes were held during Freshman orientation.
Jan 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Important and influential text about the methods used by advertisers on a largely unsuspecting public. Some say it's dated, now, but for me it still remains an essential text in how it presented its message in an important and accessible way.
Scott Stirling
Jun 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Subliminal advertising explained, described, exposed and illustrated. This was pretty big in the 70s. It's still around. But this book was huge to me when I read it, in terms of my realization of the cynicism, scope of business and research behind advertising.
Laura Freed
Mar 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Relevant and timeless. A fascinating look from the past that explains the false pretense of motivation research. A great read.
Natty Peterkin
Dec 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Slightly dry but highly informative, and still very relevant considering its age
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
The astonishing thing about this book is that it was written in 1957.

It outlines the commencement of what has become an ongoing campaign to perfect be technique of selling to our unconscious. If recent world events are anything to go by, a campaign that has been successful.

While a significant portion of the book is devoted to anecdotes intended to surprise and amuse, there is more then enough there of chilling presentiment to make it a page turner.

Packard predicts the movement of subconscious
Robert Bogue
I can remember as a child sending off a letter about an idea that I thought was powerful. It came from a story I ran across about a movie theatre that ran subliminal advertising for their concession stand. The idea was that the advertising was conveyed in a single frame. It was too short to be perceived by the audience consciously but apparently was quite effective at selling popcorn. I found a reference to this movie theatre popcorn situation in The Hidden Persuaders. Though Vance Packard, the ...more
Steve Penner
Oct 07, 2019 rated it did not like it
One of our reading group members has been pushing this book on us for years. We finally acquiesced to his desire and now have paid dearly with an incredible waste of time. This book may have had a great impact when it was written in the late 1950's, but not it is simply dated and exceedingly boring. Perhaps because my generation has been raised in a consumeristic culture that was forming at the time, we don't know how life could be any other way. We have been studied and manipulated to the nth d ...more
Oct 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: future-brands
Decent enough with some interesting examples, but on the whole one would not be surprised by the insights being mentioned by the author in 2019. We now live in the era of fake news and manufactured consent, so it is hardly surprising to know the story of its genesis.

What stood out most to me was the chapter on the manufacturing of political messaging, and how the marketing of the political icon began with the Esisenhower-Stevenson election. Again, it seems to inevitably point to the world we see
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