University of Chicago Press,
IN 1957 a former Collier's magazine writer named Vance Packard published an investigative report about the American advertising industry's efforts to maneuver consumers into buying goods they neither needed nor wanted. These machinations did not rely on slick imagery, exaggerated claims, or outright deception -- tools whose use had subjected marketers and their minions on Madison Avenue to ridicule or censure since the days of P. T. Barnum. Packard's charge was more specific and startling. Advertisers, he claimed, were using hidden symbols to goad the unconscious mind and the body under its control into the act of acquisition.
"Large-scale efforts," he wrote, are
being made, often with impressive success, to channel our unthinking habits, our purchasing decisions, and our thought processes.... The result is that many of us are being influenced and manipulated, far more than we realize, in the patterns of our everyday lives.
These "hidden persuaders," as Packard called them in the title of his book, took several forms. Some advertising agencies were hiring trained "motivational researchers" to probe deep in the psychological recesses of the mind, and then constructing ad campaigns that exploited the ore found in those canyons of consumerism. Thus did General Foods decide in the 1950s that its photographs of multi-hued, architectural Jell-O desserts were generating inferiority complexes among women, and switch back to depictions of simple, single-layered gelatins. Other marketers were bypassing Jungian archetypes and beaming direct commands into the subconscious mind. Packard reported on an experiment that had allegedly taken place in a New Jersey movie theater in which the order to buy food, flashed at a speed faster than the eye could perceive, had provoked a "clear and otherwise unaccountable boost" in concession-stand sales.