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Sold on Language: How Advertisers Talk to You and What This Says About You [Paperback]

Julie Sedivy , Greg Carlson
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 21 2011 0470683090 978-0470683095
As citizens of capitalist, free-market societies, we tend to celebrate choice and competition. However, in the 21st century, as we have gained more and more choices, we have also become greater targets for persuasive messages from advertisers who want to make those choices for us.

In Sold on Language, noted language scientists Julie Sedivy and Greg Carlson examine how rampant competition shapes the ways in which commercial and political advertisers speak to us. In an environment saturated with information, advertising messages attempt to compress as much persuasive power into as small a linguistic space as possible. These messages, the authors reveal, might take the form of a brand name whose sound evokes a certain impression, a turn of phrase that gently applies peer pressure, or a subtle accent that zeroes in on a target audience. As more and more techniques of persuasion are aimed squarely at the corner of our mind which automatically takes in information without conscious thought or deliberation, does 'endless choice' actually mean the end of true choice?

Sold on Language offers thought-provoking insights into the choices we make as consumers and citizens – and the choices that are increasingly being made for us.

Click here for more discussion and debate on the authors’ blog:
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sold-language

[Wiley disclaims all responsibility and liability for the content of any third-party websites that can be linked to from this website. Users assume sole responsibility for accessing third-party websites and the use of any content appearing on such websites.  Any views expressed in such websites are the views of the authors of the content appearing on those websites and not the views of Wiley or its affiliates, nor do they in any way represent an endorsement by Wiley or its affiliates.]


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Sold on Language: How Advertisers Talk to You and What This Says About You + The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie To Everyone- Especially Ourselves
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Review

"Students and teachers of persuasion would benefit greatly from reading Sold on Language. Other professionals in communication, marketing, change management, sales, negotiation, and politics will find the examples and techniques of influence to be useful as both best practices to emulate and pitfalls to avoid." (PsycCRITIQUES, 11 January 2012)

"The result is a truly enjoyable, ironic and fresh volume, easy and pleasant to read for any type of audience." (Metapsychology, 15 November 2011)

"This is a well-written, entertaining, and penetrating book on advertisers' ubiquitous attempts at persuasion to influence marketplace behaviour, including the basis for an argument that advertisers are bent on making choices for the consumer. . . Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals/practitioners; consumers, general readers." (Choice, 1 October 2011)

"I highly recommend the landmark and must read book Sold on Language: How Advertisers Talk to You and What This Says About You by Julie Sedivy and Greg Carlson, to anyone seeking an open, honest, as well an engaging study into the nature of advertising messages, brands, and the words used to market products. This eye opening book will change the way readers approach advertising messages and the illusion that the market offers real choice." (Blog Business World, 28 April 2011)

"For a university student with nascent interests in language and thought, reading this book might well provide a stimulus to take some philosophy or psychology or language sciences, which would be no bad thing." (Times Higher Education Supplement, 21 April 2011)

Review

"In this wise and witty book, Julie Sedivy and Gregory Carlson use modern research in psychology, linguistics, and psycholinguistics to show us how little of what we choose is the result of reasoned and conscious deliberation. We like to think of ourselves as being in charge of our lives: we're not. Sold on Language may not be for everyone. But if you shop, it's for you. And if you vote, it's for you. Reading this book may be the best defense you have against being manipulated by others."
Professor Barry Schwartz, Department of Psychology, Swarthmore College and author of ‘The Paradox of Choice’, and ‘Practical Wisdom’

"Via engaging prose and scientific evidence, Sedivy and Carlson have made a noteworthy contribution by providing fresh and deep insights into something we thought we'd already understood."
Dr Robert B. Cialdini, Author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Tell most people that advertisers and politicians exploit language to manipulate desire and opinion, and they'll likely respond "So what else is new?" – and then go on to add, "though, mind you, I'm not fooled for an instant." But advertisers eat that self-assurance for breakfast food; they know that no audience is so easy to beguile as one that's smugly confident in its own sophistication. With engaging examples and lucid explanations, Sedivy and Carlson document the persuasive power that inhabits every corner of language – not just in the familiar puffery of adjectives like "new and improved," but the implications hidden in little words like your and the. Whether you're a student of language or just a consumer of it, you'll come away from Sold on Language a bit more humble and a lot more attentive – and by the by, with an appreciation of how much more there is to language than the wisdom we acquired in seventh grade at the end of Sister Petra's ruler.
Geoffrey Nunberg, University of California at Berkeley, Language commentator, "Fresh Air," NPR

Language comes to us brilliantly easily. How else could children be learning new words at the incredible rate of 10 a day? But that ease of learning carries with it the risk that we will be oblivious to the power of words – as written or spoken by others – to control our behavior. To all who might want to protect themselves against that risk, I say: read this book.
Jay Ingram, author of Talk, Talk, Talk, Canada


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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Full of insights April 2 2011
By Peg
Format:Paperback
The human brain is a wondrous thing -- especially that huge subconscious part that hums along without us giving much thought to it. We go through the day without having to think about the mechanics of breathing, digesting our food, walking, running, smiling laughing. We respond to all sorts of stimuli in our environment without having to give them much (if any) conscious thought: when we hear something funny we smile or laugh without first figuring out what makes it amusing or having to think through which muscles in our face we need to move in order to accomplish the task; when we're walking along and reach a set of stairs, we don't have to consciously think about lifting our leg higher; if someone throws a rock in our direction we instinctively duck or move out of the way without having to consciously process the danger of the situation and figure out how to move out of the way. In fact, most of our actions are determined by our subconscious brain. Yet when it comes to language and advertising, most of us operate on the assumption that the normal functions of our subconscious brain are magically suspended. Not so, according to this insightful book.

The authors weave together a broad range of research and examples to demonstrate just how much of our behavior is determined below our conscious minds. They show that our responses to language, non-verbal cues, and emotional images are rarely the result of conscious and reasoned thought, but rather reflexive reactions based on a combination of hard-wiring and our internalized observations of how the world around us operates. Advertisers then use the latest scientific knowledge of our brains' `default' processing mechanisms to hawk their merchandise.
Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars Meet your Mind May 13 2011
By Kate
Format:Paperback
Democracy and the free market are based on the assumption that, given a choice, people tend to act in their own best interests. This book clearly and cleverly points out when and where that assumption fails. Sedivy and Carlson uncover the many ways in which your subconscious brain processes information and forms opinions while your rational mind has its back turned. "Sold on Language" builds an argument on two fronts, citing carefully controlled laboratory experiments and examples of persuasive tricks in their natural environment - political and commercial advertising. This is a clear and compelling read. Accessible to the casual reader but still useful to the psychology student. Invaluable to anyone who wants to take control of their thought processes.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Persuasive techniques hurting democracy April 8 2011
Format:Paperback
Do you think you're immune to deception and manipulation at the hands of advertisers? Sold on Language will show you how you're wrong.

With easy-reading humour and insight the authors use many concrete examples to show us how even subtle shifts in language can have enormous impact on how we perceive the messages of advertisers, especially at levels of consciousness that lie below our rational level of thinking. You will be shocked by some of the techniques advertisers use to mess with our heads.

The final chapter is like a punch in the gut. While it's easy to nod your head when recognizing the influence commercial interests have succeeded in having on your buying habits, it's very distressing to be shown how little public policy content really counts in the voting booth.

We have the capacity to choose. Sold on Language strives to arm us as well as possible with the ability to choose also _how_ we choose.
Was this review helpful to you?
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From Bernays to Obama April 29 2011
By Diziet - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Interestingly, this book starts with a discussion of Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud's favourite nephew and avid reader of his uncle's work. In this, it is similar to John Pilger's 'The War You Don't See' and Adam Curtis' 'The Century of the Self'. All three relate how Bernays effectively 'invented' public relations and also, as a first demonstration of the power of his uncle's theories, started women smoking in public in the U.S.

So why this interest in Bernays? Because of the effects and effectiveness of the vast advertising and media industries that have grown up in this last century of 'extreme individualism'. This book is an attempt to unpack the mainly linguistic 'tricks of the trade' of these industries and, in doing so, to inoculate us against them.

The books main themes centre around the ways in which we are becoming aware of how our minds work and how they may be manipulated. To start with, the authors consider 'The Unconscious Consumer':

'According to Sigmund Freud...we live in constant danger of having our unconscious memories and longings grab us by the throat and lead us down a path of irrational choices...Freud probed these hidden motivators by having people lie on a couch and relate their dreams and memories. Today, scientists of the mind probe them with clever experimental tasks in labs and use expensive devices to measure the gaze patterns of eyes, and the electrical activity and blood flow in the brain. All this technological proliferation just emphasises how elusive our own minds are to us.' (P15)

The authors are linguists and so the evidence they cite is largely linguistically based - but since we have so much of our being in language, this seems eminently justified. And the experiments are fascinating.

They go on to consider the active role of the unconscious in 'The Attentional Arms Race'. It seems that overt attention is not a prerequisite for successful manipulation - in fact, in many ways, it's what you perceive peripherally that has more effect, as this is absorbed into the unconscious for further processing, while our conscious minds are taken up with the task in hand. Yet more experimental evidence backs up this proposition.

The next chapter - 'We Know What You're Thinking' sounds ominously like an Adam Curtis documentary. The authors concentrate on linguistic formulations that can radically alter perceptions of statements. The use of 'presuppositions', of leading questions, manipulation of memories and 'Mindless Agreement and Unconscious Individualism' (P120) make it appear that we have freedom and independence of action whereas in reality, even our much-vaunted individualism may be subverted.

Slowly the book unpacks many of the tricks, traps and tips of the persuasive industries. It is all told in an informal and readable style, but it still packs a punch. However, much of it seems kind of 'anecdotal'. Apart from the initial references to Freud, there is no outline of a consistent theory here. It's as if this science is still in the 'gathering evidence' stage. It's still very interesting, but slightly frustrating at the same time.

Finally, the authors turn their attention to the growing role of advertising-style practices in politics. This, for me, was by far the most interesting section of the book. Even if, after reading up to here, you think you're aware of the techniques used by advertisers, you can't help but feel that it is far too easy for those 'in the know' to manipulate and control us. Thus, it is no surprise to find the authors discussing Plato's reservations on democracy. They talk of 'Democracy in the Age of the Mackerel Mind' (P250) where the 'mackerel mind' refers, if you like, to a 'herd' or 'collective' mind. They examine the increasingly fragmented tribalism of society, the way that beliefs are perpetuated even in the face of completely contradictory and factual evidence (they don't mention it, but I can't help thinking of Obama's birth certificate). But, at the same time, they start to develop Freud's ideas of the unconscious. What they suggest is that, far from being at the mercy of our unconscious, the interplay between conscious and unconscious mind is a far more active, dynamic and two-way affair. As such - and this is really the crucial point - a conscious recognition of the ways in which the unconscious may be manipulated can go a long way in inoculating us against just this manipulation, making us all, perhaps, Philosopher Kings.

All in all, an illuminating, readable and rewarding book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Full of insights April 2 2011
By Peg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The human brain is a wondrous thing -- especially that huge subconscious part that hums along without us giving much thought to it. We go through the day without having to think about the mechanics of breathing, digesting our food, walking, running, smiling laughing. We respond to all sorts of stimuli in our environment without having to give them much (if any) conscious thought: when we hear something funny we smile or laugh without first figuring out what makes it amusing or having to think through which muscles in our face we need to move in order to accomplish the task; when we're walking along and reach a set of stairs, we don't have to consciously think about lifting our leg higher; if someone throws a rock in our direction we instinctively duck or move out of the way without having to consciously process the danger of the situation and figure out how to move out of the way. In fact, most of our actions are determined by our subconscious brain. Yet when it comes to language and advertising, most of us operate on the assumption that the normal functions of our subconscious brain are magically suspended. Not so, according to this insightful book.

The authors weave together a broad range of research and examples to demonstrate just how much of our behavior is determined below our conscious minds. They show that our responses to language, non-verbal cues, and emotional images are rarely the result of conscious and reasoned thought, but rather reflexive reactions based on a combination of hard-wiring and our internalized observations of how the world around us operates. Advertisers then use the latest scientific knowledge of our brains' 'default' processing mechanisms to hawk their merchandise.

Fortunately, just as we can train ourselves to override our reflexes in various spheres of life, we can do the same when it comes to advertising. But in order to do so, we need to be aware of what those reflexes are and make conscious choices to respond differently. I always thought of myself as relatively immune to advertising, but I had no idea just how `sneaky' ads can be, and the degree to which they exploit the hard-wired settings in our brains. If you want true and meaningful choice when it comes to your shopping and voting behavior, I highly recommend you read this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Persuasive techniques hurting democracy April 8 2011
By Ian Graham - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Do you think you're immune to deception and manipulation at the hands of advertisers? Sold on Language will show you how you're wrong.

With easy-reading humor and insight the authors use many concrete examples to show us how even subtle shifts in language can have enormous impact on how we perceive the messages of advertisers, especially at levels of consciousness that lie below our rational level of thinking. You will be shocked by some of the techniques advertisers use to mess with our heads.

The final chapter is like a punch in the gut. While it's easy to nod your head when recognizing the influence commercial interests have succeeded in having on your buying habits, it's very distressing to be shown how little public policy content really counts in the voting booth.

We have the capacity to choose. Sold on Language strives to arm us as well as possible with the ability to choose also _how_ we choose.
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting subject material June 2 2014
By nonegiven12 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The most interesting information was toward the end of the book when it discovered the connections between governance and advertising. Some of the writing is a book folksy with bad jokes, but the information is good.
5.0 out of 5 stars for IB class Sept. 14 2013
By john d wood - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was for my son's IB class. It was just what he needed. Much cheaper than at his school book store.
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