If Johnny told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it? If you’re susceptible, like most people, to garden-variety social influence, then the answer is likely to be yes.
Nearly 60 years ago, Vance Packard wrote in The Hidden Persuaders of the power of psychologically shrewd advertising to induce desires for things we didn’t know we needed. Drawing on decades of later research, Berger (Marketing/Wharton School, Univ. of Pennsylvania) picks up where his Contagious: Why Things Catch On (2013) left off to explore why we desire what we do—and more, why we act as we do, politically, socially, economically, and emotionally. Though we enjoy independence, writes the author, we respond to social influence. Our tastes shift to accommodate the opinions of others, and the more time we spend with others, the more our opinions change—until, that is, we reach a saturation point, whereupon familiarity can breed contempt, challenging those who profit from our patterns to keep things interesting, since “the more complex the stimulus, the less likely the habituation.” Some of us are likely to change things up when they’re not interesting, but others habituate, and still others habituate while trying to stand out a little. As Berger writes, newly minted attorneys often reward themselves with BMWs, status symbols par excellence, but one wishing to signal independence will buy an orange one. Should we pick lawyers by the color of their fetish objects? Perhaps, but if we’re influenced to value daring, the legal eagle with the bright ride may be the one to snag. Influenced, we might guess, by genre conventions, Berger doesn’t avoid the gee-whiz tropes of pop science (“But science doesn’t just happen in fancy labs. It’s happening all around us, each and every day”). Still, he does a good job of distilling scientific insights into easily understood object lessons on social psychology.
Of particular interest to those selling messages of various stripes—marketers, advertisers, etc.