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LIES, DAMNED LIES & ADVERTISING


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Vance Packard
The Hidden Persuaders
Pelican, Harmondsworth, 1964
(price: 3/6; 224 pages)

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ES Turner
The Shocking History of Advertising
Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1965
(price: 5/-; 304 pages)

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Graham Turner & John Pearson
The Persuasion Industry
Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1966
(hardback price: 30/-; 256 pages)
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Wilson Bryan Key
Subliminal Seduction
Signet, New York, 1973
(price: $1.95; 206 pages)


Advertising is a perennial favourite theme of, oh, just about everyone really, I'd have thought. I find myself attracted simply because it's the single most corrupt, bastardised art-form ever devised by humanity, and as such it encapsulates all the evil that interferes with the pursuit of freedom of expression. Because, of course, virtually all art gets corrupted at some point by the lure of money and glory and power - anyone who accepts subsidy from the State or from industry or from a private patron is compromised (particularly those who take the governmental shilling) - but advertising occupies a unique place, wallowing naked and shameless in the filth of our society. Creative works that are brought into existence for absolutely no other reason but to sell something else, not even themselves, are surely the reductio ad absurdum of capitalist art.

Of the dozens, even hundreds, of books written on the subject, here's a tiny, random selection.

Vance Packard was for a while the best-selling doom-monger of consumerist America, with a series of populist sociological works like The Waste Makers, The Status Seekers and The Naked Society. The first and most successful of them was this book, The Hidden Persuaders, a million-selling exposé of the techniques and practices of the advertising industry first published in 1957. To be honest, you're going to find virtually nothing here that isn't just general knowledge, but that in itself is tribute to his work - when he wrote about why, for example, Marlboro adopted that dumb cowboy schtick, he was the first to bring the thinking behind campaigns to a general public. However na´ve his stuff sounds now, America in the Fifties wasn't noted for being particularly media-literate, and it's largely thanks to Packard's work that things changed at all. It is, if nothing else, a valuable historical document.

The Shocking History of Advertising and The Persuasion Industry are much more straightforward, uncritical looks at the industry, with the different emphases that the titles would indicate. Quite nice in a period kind of way.

But it's Subliminal Seduction that's the real classic. Picking up on Packard's contribution, it deconstructs a series of advertising campaigns, and particularly focuses on the manipulation of readers and viewers by the use of subliminal imagery. Well, look, this is the kind of thing:


the advert

the detail

You see? (You do see, don't you?) It's a cracking little book, still entertaining, still informative and packed full of stuff still vehemently denied by the advertising industry. Which, since it is the most deceitful, corrupt branch of human creativity, should never be believed anyway.


see also...
Storyboard
John Bowen, Storyboard

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