Books by Leslie Savan

Released: Dec. 1, 1994

Almost as funny as it is infuriating, this is an impressive collection of pieces about the impact of advertising on American society. Savan, the advertising columnist for the Village Voice (where most of these pieces originally appeared) aims to illuminate the mechanics and psychological ploys routinely used by advertisers to manipulate the public into buying anything and everything. Whether ads are hocking hair products, dog food, or luxury sedans, the goal is the same—to recreate the viewer ``in the ad's image.'' To this end, advertisers invest billions of dollars in market research designed to plumb consumers' psyches. Guilt and fear are particularly effective in targeting women, who are still the primary purchasers and users of household cleaners; kids respond well to images of anti-authoritarianism and nonconformity; and everyone falls for flattery, including the too-hip-and-wise-to-be- fooled Generation Xers (just make sure the ad is ironic and cynical enough to let them know that you know they can't be fooled). Savan illustrates how little ads have to do with reality (e.g., the link they imply between self-image and soda or cigarette brands). Not satisfied with merely getting us to purchase products, Madison Avenue strives to control the very beliefs and desires that make us human. Nothing is sacrosanct: Historical moments such as the dismantling of the Berlin Wall are incorporated into lightbulb commercials; and even the one force that traditionally has battled materialism—religion, often of the New Age variety, symbolized by images of sky and clouds—is co-opted into convincing consumers that buying certain products will exorcise their guilty consciences. As a counterbalance, Savan offers advice on how to read the true messages of ads (follow the flattery, calculate style-to-information ratio, etc.). Though inevitably such a collection is sometimes redundant, this is an indispensable guide for anyone who wants to better understand how advertising presses our buttons while convincing us that we are in control. (Photos, not seen) Read full book review >