Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are
by Rob Walker, Random House, 291 pages, $25.00, Hardcover, June 2008, ISBN 9781400063918
Standing in the condiments aisle of the grocery store, shoppers are confronted by bottle after bottle of similar items. There is any number of considerations we mull over regarding what we ultimately place in our carts. Those of us on a diet make different choices than do those of us on a budget, for example. Do you buy the store brand mustard, the Grey Poupon or the one produced locally? In Buying In
, Rob Walker shows us how, through this simple act of choosing, we reveal the irony of advertising. Most of us would say that we make our choices based on our needs, because we are capable of seeing through the hype promoted by the various companies' crack marketing teams. But, even if we choose the economical store brand, for instance, we are still making a symbolic statement about what is important to us.
Since the turn of the century, many trend watchers and marketing gurus have declared the age of the advertiser and its lockstep consumers dead. New technology does allow consumers more selectivity and the opportunity to block out advertising messages. But, based on his experience writing the "Consumed" column for The New York Times Magazine
, Rob Walker thinks these pundits are quite wrong. Yes, there has been a change in marketing, but consumers are as susceptible to a company's message as ever because marketers have changed tactics as we have become less affected by their old ones.
To reveal the secret dialogue taking place between company and consumer, Walker says the first task is to crack the "Desire Code"--the reasoning behind our decisions as consumers. Then we must see through the haze created by "Murketing," Walker's "shorthand description of the practices of certain brand managers who aimed to blur the rules of the traditional sales pitch--to make marketing more murky" (78). And finally, we must become aware of just how susceptible we still are to the power of branding and the "Invisible Badges" that we wear as a result of our choices. In a society where desire has replaced need much of the time, Walker asserts that the ethics of our consumption is the new power player in this new age of marketing.
Walker's writing is relaxed, and the stories entertaining and relatable. But don't let the casual dress fool you. The information Walker covers will open your eyes to the unconscious consumerism that we all participate in. There is no "good versus evil" in Walker's book, just a message that "if there is one thing we really ought to be 'in control' of, it's our own behavior" (214).