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New York Times columnist and author (Letters from New Orleans, 2005) Walker makes no pretense at being a master of modern marketing. But he does, through intuitive, savvy observations of human and corporate behaviors, solidify his argument for what brands mean in today’s society. His claim that brands such as Hello Kitty and the iPod, among others, balance our need for both belonging and individuality is not revolutionary. So what’s new here? That Walker is one of the prime analysts dedicated to probing our minds, our behavior, and, specifically, our buying patterns. He addresses the demand for authenticity and the nearly accidental formation of consumer communities, almost in spite of commercial persuasion campaigns, creating a real connection that many Americans are seeking. And thanks to his scrutiny of today’s global companies, his examples, from Toyota’s Scion to the Austin Craft Mafia, prove his point: “You surround yourself only with who you are.” We’d add “and who you want to be.” Easy, colloquial, and passion-driven prose will help this tome reach the top of business booksellers’ lists. --Barbara Jacobs
Rob Walker contributes to The New York Times Magazine and Design Observer, among others. He is the author of Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are, and Letters from New Orleans.
I second what Po Bronson says about "Buying In." This book is much more than a simple, cocktail party business book -- it's an attentive, subtle and entertaining meditation that not only uncovers the latest trends in buying, selling and marketing but also pushes us to consider larger questions beyond these subjects. Personally, since finishing the book, I've taken a harder look at my purchases and what they mean to my larger sense of identity. Not that this is some kind of Chicken Soup for the Marketing Soul, but Walker isn't afraid to follow his many case studies and pieces of hard evidence to wherever they lead, and sometimes that means not only a critique of consumer culture but a look at contemporary American culture as a whole. And that's what I love most about this book -- that Walker dives into consumer culture with such wide, bemused eyes. The reporting reminds me of Studs Terkel -- when a journalist can turn a subject into something wonderful, literally into something "full of wonder." I was happy to follow marketing detective Walker on his tour of energy drink kitesurfing, dive bars, chicken sausage cookouts, underground dance parties, and Lower East Side sneaker boutiques. (As someone who almost got kicked out of an "underground" New York sneaker boutique for merely trying to, um, shop, I was pleased to have Walker pull my coat on this corner of underground brand culture.) And where his tour leaves us, at the end of the gripping final chapter, is in a place that is somewhat contradictory and unexpected and completely fascinating.
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I'm a huge fan of Rob Walker's style and regularly read his 'Consumed' column and mourn his recently departed 'Murketing' newsletter. Heck, I even read his yearly 'zine on departed public figures. That said, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect when reading 'Buying In.'
Unlike typical industry commentators and critics, Walker tends not to add hype to the mix, but rather breaks down products, trends and marketing techniques to almost a scientific level. More text book than hyped book du jour.
If you're looking for a quick easy read with sound bites that will make you sound cooler to your colleagues- this is not the book for you. If you're looking to dig into a book that will make you rethink the branding of your favorite companies while offering insights into the industry in general, you should probably stop reading this review and just order the book--just don't expect to finish it in one sitting.
Walker doesn't have schtick, no funny hair or pretentious wording, just an extremely meaty read that makes me think I should reread it in case I missed anything.
Rob Walker's book is excellent. Since the dawn of the internet age, just over a decade ago, the classic marketing paradigm (brands, 4Ps, advertising etc) have been on a slippery slope, and the only trouble is nobody has been quite sure which way it would all tilt. I have a raft of books talking about the "new marketing" (there was a boom in these after 1998 and the new millennium) but in my view Rob Walker is the first author to really nail the subject. He gets it so right.
I've spent since 1996 doing market research amongst youth brands (mostly amongst energy drinks as it happens, so I feel Rob's discussion of Red Bull and other players is absolutely right on the mark.) In this past decade I've been conscious that the changes we've been seeing are part of a mich bigger pattern. But Walker is the first writer and critic to stand back and really put it all in perspective. His thinking here - wide-eyed, holistic, detailed and entertainingly pertinent - puts you in the right place to see everything and how it all fits. He kind of grabs you by the sleeve to take you there, such is the energy of his writing.
One is left with the interesting question: are brands what the manufacturers make of them? Or are they appropriated by the consumer to reflect what we want of them? The subtle cover art, with the title floating between a bar-code and a thumb print, kind of sums things up. (One of the most subtle covers I've seen since Rita carter's excellent Multiplicity: The New Science of Personality, Identity, and the Self)
Rob Walker presents us with an excellent book for marketers, market researchers, tired media buyers, marketing graduates who think they know everything and anyone who is just plain fascinated by how our society ticks. This is great reading.
I thought this book would give me insights into why people like me buy the stuff we do. After all, the title says "the secret dialog between what WE buy and who WE are." Instead, it was a murky examination of mostly oddball marketing campaigns that successfully launched some products into commercial success. If I got the point - not sure I did; and I couldn't finish the book - it is that the methods discussed are going to be the successful marketing methods of the FUTURE. I think you can get an idea about the focus of the book from some of the chapter subtitles: "pink boots," "rickety bridges," "cool guys," "sexy t-shirts for young people." There may be some great stuff here, but it went over my head.
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