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Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes…
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Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel

by Jean Kilbourne

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For what it was, it was very good. But I hadn't really expected it to be about addictions and gender roles in advertising--I was hoping more for the psychology of advertising, based on the title. For what it was, 4 stars. For what I expected, 3. ( )
  librarybrandy | Mar 31, 2013 |
There is no greater expert on the subject of how aggressive marketing can degrade the quality of a culture than Jean Kilbourne. As a writer, filmmaker, and internationally recognized expert on advertising, addiction, and women’s issues, it has been estimated that she has given lectures at roughly half the universities and colleges in the U.S. Her unique talent is her ability to see and expose the underlying strategies and tools employed by purveyors of all manner of goods to persuade us—methods that seem all the more shocking when we actually see them. Her book Deadly Persuasion, which has also been published under the title Can’t Buy My Love, is a fascinating study of the power of the ubiquitous ads that surround us in our every waking moment.

(Before I go on, I’ll point out that to oppose the manner in which much modern advertising is performed is not to oppose a healthy capitalistic economy, a system that quite clearly has worked better than any other. This is not a diatribe against the availability of every imaginable trifle, or the competition amongst companies to market a more useful product. It is rather about certain methods that advertisers continue to use that have, Kilbourne asserts, a negative effect on the way we interact and the way we view ourselves, others, and material goods. It is about devaluing the currency of genuine human contact.)

The book considers advertisements in magazines as television, and considers a number of different kinds of campaigns in dedicated chapters. There are individual discussions on alcohol marketing, the auto industry, food, tobacco, and the exploitation of human relationships.

“Advertising encourages us not only to objectify each other but also to feel that our most significant relationships are with the products we buy.” Kilbourne states in her introduction. “Although we like to think of advertising as unimportant, it is in fact the most important aspect of the mass media. It is the point.” She goes on to show how a key goal is to make us insecure about our present lives, for example, as is done in the ubiquitous women’s magazines that juxtapose images of cheesecakes or pies on the cover with articles on weight loss tips and images of skinny models inside. After all, “people who feel empty make great consumers.”

“Advertising… twists the notion that we can recreate ourselves – not through dedicated work, but merely by purchasing the right product… [It] often sells a great deal more than products. It sells values, images, and concepts of love and sexuality, romance, success, and perhaps most important, normalcy… we are surrounded by hundred, thousands of messages every day that link our deepest emotions to products, that objectify people and trivialize our most heartfelt moments and relationships.”

To give some examples of the objectification she cites, I’ll just mention the commodity that receives perhaps the most lavish attention from Madison Avenue: the automobile. Kilbourne devotes an early chapter to the subject of car advertising (Can an engine pump the valves in your heart?), and through a series of oddly similar examples, shows how many ad campaigns aim to humanize their machines: “Rekindle the romance”; “If anyone should ask, go ahead and show them your pride and joy” (this under a picture of a wallet showing two photographs – one of a couple of children and the family dog, the other a Honda); “We don’t sell cars, we merely facilitate love connections”; “Stylish, responsive, fun–if it were a man you’d marry it”; “Drive the new Paseo, fall in love”; “She loves her new Mustang. Oh, and whatshisname too”; “A change from you high-maintenance relationship”; ”It’s not a car, its an aphrodesiac”; “What makes you happy? Is it the sparkle in a lover’s smile? Or the warmth of a goodnight kiss? But could it be a car?”;“While some cars can hug the road, very few can actually seduce it.” And so on. Kilbourne does more than list these and countless other examples: she deconstructs them and their implications.

Another troubling issue that the book addresses is the pernicious effect of advertising that is directly aimed at children. This is even more troubling in light of studies that show that young children don’t differentiate between the shows and the advertisements. The chapter on children led me to wonder how much of our national drug-abuse problem among teens is stoked by the way advertising is generally presented. While certainly the causes are many and varied, I think about my own typical childhood, growing up with hours of television every day. And the ads are still relentlessly telling us that purchasing a product makes wonderful things happen: a man opens a soda and a marching band explodes out of his TV into his room; the interior of an SUV becomes a landscape with waterfalls; wearing the right brand of jeans causes your world to shift into a nighttime city scene where a lovely brunette looks at you longingly. It seems quite rare anymore to see to a commercial anymore where use of a produce does not result in some kind of supernatural effect. Perhaps in the process of growing up, when we come to realize that the implicit, fantastical promises of the ads are not true – perhaps this adds to the appeal of drugs that can help make the world seem as magical as we thought it would be?

In short, if you’ve ever wondered how advertisers try to manipulate us, and what the consequences of the onslaught of false promises might be, I highly recommend Kilbourne’s fascinating book. You will not look at your TV the same again, and you’ll likely come to agree with the author’s observation that “advertising and religion share a belief in transformation and transcendance… [but] in the world of advertising, enlightenment is achieved instantly by buying material goods.” And that although one may “love” their possessions, they cannot love one back. ( )
1 vote Alenthony | Aug 9, 2009 |
I have 30 page markers in this book so I’m not really sure where to start- how about with Jean Kilbourne’s losing her sense of humor under the barrage of inappropriate ads for booze, cigarettes, junk food and cars?

Her premise is that advertisers deliberately make us slightly unhappy with out bodies, appearance and our lives and then offer up a product that they say will solve the problem but in the end only makes it worse. She certainly has a point. America does have a culture of excess where there is never enough. And this leads to pathology. I couldn’t agree more with her admonition to make sure our children are media literate.

Provocative quotes;

“women live in a state of subliminal terror, a state that according to Mary Daly, keeps us divided both from each other and from our most passionate, powerful, and creative selves.”

And;

“Jackson Katz, who writes and lectures on male violence, often begins his workshops by asking men to describe the things they do every day to protect themselves from sexual assault. The men are surprised, puzzled, sometimes amused by the question. The women understand the question easily and have no trouble at all coming up with a list of responses.”

Kilbourne gives voice to all my vague unease from the overly sexual music videos and too violent movies. These things have become main-stream and accepted, her word is ‘normalized’ mine would be ‘inured. Adopting these inappropriate values causes women to be objectified, men to be unable to express themselves, and can lead to addiction.

I don’t believe the true root of the problem is advertisers- they’re in business to make money just like everybody else. The true root of them problem is worshipping the almighty dollar above everything else. ( )
  Clueless | Sep 18, 2008 |
Compelling and crucial examination of marketing and its effects on young women. If you are or were a young woman, or are in charge of one, you must read this book. Know thy enemy! And it is Corporate America! The author does a frighteningly good job of breaking down the tools and techniques of Madison Avenue. A must read. ( )
1 vote montano | Jul 12, 2007 |
As someone who works for an advertising business, I had been avoiding this book on purpose for quite some time before I picked it up. Now I know that this book should be required reading for every female high school freshman. Every woman who has dieted, picked herself apart for her appearance or stared longingly at a magazine layout needs to read this book. It is such a fantastic book. You know you are living under myths and lies to a certain extent but just how many is amazing. I love all the excerpts about how magazines try to pull in major advertising dollars. I have recommened to all of my friends who have young female children. I wonder how much smarter I could have been if this had entered my life as a younger woman. ( )
2 vote HeatherLee | Sep 6, 2006 |
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In 1968 I saw an ad that changed my life.
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"Can't Buy My Love" is the paperback edition of "Deadly Persuasion." The two titles should remain combined as a single work.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0684866005, Paperback)

"When was the last time you felt this comfortable in a relationship?"

-- An ad for sneakers

"You can love it without getting your heart broken."

-- An ad for a car

"Until I find a real man, I'll settle for a real smoke."

-- A woman in a cigarette ad

Many advertisements these days make us feel as if we have an intimate, even passionate relationship with a product. But as Jean Kilbourne points out in this fascinating and shocking exposé, the dreamlike promise of advertising always leaves us hungry for more. We can never be satisfied, because the products we love cannot love us back.

Drawing upon her knowledge of psychology, media, and women's issues, Kilbourne offers nothing less than a new understanding of a ubiquitous phenomenon in our culture. The average American is exposed to over 3,000 advertisements a day and watches three years' worth of television ads over the course of a lifetime. Kilbourne paints a gripping portrait of how this barrage of advertising drastically affects young people, especially girls, by offering false promises of rebellion, connection, and control. She also offers a surprising analysis of the way advertising creates and then feeds an addictive mentality that often continues throughout adulthood.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:27 -0400)

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Discusses the advertising establishment, revealing what advertisers know about human nature and how they exploit it to make a profit.

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