Hidden Persuaders, The

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HIDDEN PERSUADERS, THE, was the first of a series of best-selling books by Vance Packard, a social critic and former journalist. Published in 1957, the book attacked the advertising industry for using controversial new psychological techniques to influence consumers. Packard's critique sold more than a million copies, a remarkable accomplishment for a nonfiction work of the time, and its three-word title soon became an established part of the nation's vocabulary. The centerpiece of Packard's attack was a consumer analytical technique called motivation research, which had been developed from psychoanalytic theory. Advertisers used the technique, according to Packard, to probe the psyches of American consumers in an effort to identify their unconscious desires. He claimed that the results of these investigations were used to manipulate consumers to buy the products and services being promoted by the advertisers' corporate clients.

Not surprisingly, the advertising industry contested Packard's charges. It claimed that motivation research had played a positive role in advertising by helping it identify the complex motives underlying consumer behavior. Moreover, industry spokespersons argued that Packard had overstated the power of motivation research, a circumstance they contended had resulted from his naive acceptance of advertisers' enthusiastic accounts of their successes with the psychological technique. Despite these industry responses, The Hidden Persuaders hit a responsive chord with many members of the American public in the 1950s who evidently found compelling Packard's Orwellian portrait of the advertising industry as Big Brother, secretly but powerfully exploiting the postwar prosperity of American consumers.


See alsoAdvertising .