"The Hidden Persuaders" by Vance Packard--which exposed the secret world of advertising and brands--is now enjoying its 50th anniversary and a new edition from Ig Publishing.
Packard tried to warn Americans of a new mutation in advertising: Powerful admen were working to tap the irrational in the consumer mind, using the applied psychology and sociology supported by the
government during World War II. As more goods came to supermarket shelves, advertisers decided they were no longer selling just products, but malleable brand "personalities."
The weaker parts of Packard's book are those that overemphasize the sinister power of "depth," rather than the greater power of ubiquity. Spam, like direct mail, billboards and the repetition of names, slogans and logos, became the real future of advertising: Overwhelming volume combined with clever placement. Whatever its flaws, "The Hidden Persuaders" is the original inoculation against manipulation. Every once in a while--perhaps especially in this political season--one needs to go back for a booster.