Summary of the Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard

Topics: Advertising, Vance Packard, Marketing Pages: 14 (5072 words) Published: May 22, 2013
| Book Summary and Critique: The Hidden Persuaders Summary of THE HIDDEN PERSUADERS by Vance Packard          1. The Depth Approach. This book is about the large-scale -- and sometimes impressively successful -- efforts to use insights from psychiatry and the social sciences (and provided all too willingly by cooperative psychologists and social scientists) to channel our unthinking habits, our purchasing decisions, and our thought processes. The use of mass psychoanalysis to guide campaigns of persuasion has become the basis of a multimillion dollar industry. Some of the attempted manipulation is simply amusing. Some of it is disquieting, particularly when viewed us a portent of more intensive and effective efforts that may lie ahead.           The probers and motivational researchers see us as bundles of daydreams, misty hidden yearnings, guilt complexes, and irrational emotional blockages. They're looking for the whys of our behavior, our hidden weaknesses and frailties, so that they can more effectively manipulate our habits and choices in their favor, not only in merchandising, but also in politics and industrial relations. One of them, Louis Cheskin, says that the techniques of Motivation Research [henceforth MR] are "designed to reach the unconscious...mind because preferences are generally determined by factors of which the individual is not conscious."           These depth manipulators are starting to acquire a power of persuasion that now justifies public scrutiny and concern, especially because their activities have seriously antihumanistic implications; they are a setback in our long struggle to become rational and self-guiding beings.          2. The Trouble with People. MR is a response to the difficulties that marketers kept encountering in trying to persuade Americans to buy all the products their companies could produce.           One of these was the consumer's apparent perversity and unpredictability, which cause marketers to question three of their basic assumptions: that people know what they want, that they will tell you the truth about their wants and dislikes even if they do know them, and that they can be trusted to behave rationally.           Another difficulty was that people are too easily satisfied with what they have. In an era of soaring GNP, productivity, and discretionary income, many in business believed that for the good of the economy, people had to consume more and more, whether they wanted to or not. By the mid-fifties, psychological counselors were urging merchandisers to become "merchants of discontent" -- to create wants that people didn't know they had, so that their possessions, well before they actually wore out, would become "psychologically obsolete."           Finally, in a time of increasing product parity, consumer had to be given reasons -- not necessarily rational -- for preferring one brand over another.           3. So Ad Men Become Depth Men. Ad men recognized three different levels of human consciousness: (1) conscious (rational) -- we know what we think and can explain our thinking; (2) preconscious -- we may understand our feelings, sensations, and attitudes (our prejudices, assumptions, fears, emotional promptings and so on) but would not be willing to explain them; (3) subconscious -- we not only are not aware of our true attitudes and feelings but would not discuss them if we could. MR was concerned with exploring the second and third levels.           MR did not take root as a really serious movement until the late '40s and early '50s. The most famous practitioner was Ernest Dichter, PhD, Director of the Institute for Motivational Research. As early as 1941 Dichter was exhorting ad agencies to see themselves as "some of the most advanced laboratories in psychology." He said the successful ad agency "manipulates human motivations and desires and develops a need for goods with which the public has...been unfamiliar -- [and] perhaps may be even undesirous of...
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