I’m reading Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are, by Rob Walker (about whom I’ve written in the past). As a result, I no longer trust myself — or at least, I no longer believe I understand my motivations for the things I do.
I’d already begun having doubts about the tricks my mind plays on me, thanks to having read a bit about another current book, Dan Ariely’s Predictably/Irrational. Ariely’s book provides all sorts of evidence that people act on motivations they don’t know they have and make up plausible explanations that have nothing to do with the real causes. Seem impossible? Check out a few demonstrations, and you’ll see what I mean.
Buying In is similarly full of simple but startling revelations (although also equally entertaining). Here’s a sample:
Here, then, is the real problem with the argument that this new generation sees right through traditional advertising and therefore is not fooled by its messages: Everybody sees right through traditional advertising. You’d have to be an idiot not to recognize that you’re being pitched to when watching a thirty-second commercial.
But recognition is not the same thing as immunity. And what’s striking about contemporary youth is not that they are somehow brandproof, but that they take for granted the idea that a brand is as good a piece of raw identity as anything else. These are the consumers, in fact, who are most amenable to using brands to fashion meaning for themselves — to define themselves, to announce who they are and what they stand for.
If you’ve struggled to understand what has made the iPod such a success, why Pabst Blue Ribbon is enjoying a sudden surge in popularity despite the company never paying for television ads, and what it means for everyone to become a brand unto themselves, you’ll enjoy this book.