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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2008
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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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
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.
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36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
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.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2012
This book was a great beginning point for those who are interested in marketing. Everything stated in a book about effective marketing and whatnot should be taken with a grain of salt because it is never so simple.

This book uses case studies to help prove the authors point. And these case studies lead to some very interesting conclusions about mankind.

Reading this I came across a few lines that I thought would help someone get a feel for this book.

"Branding is really a process of attaching an idea to a product." (8)

"...the key to cracking the Desire Code lay in the object: To attract Consumer Economicus, build something that helps people solve a problem, or do a job, better than before." (36)

"...salience- the mere awareness that a thing exists in the world- is such a big part of what the commercial persuasion industry aims to achieve." (58)

"...these critics say we glom onto symbols and objects as a means of impressing, or even competing with, an audience. It's a never-ending game of 'status-oriented one-upmanship" in which we 'just want to stand out, or at least not look bad, compared to other people,"" (64)

"Rational thinking, one speaker noted that morning, leads to conclusions, whereas emotional thinking, based not on deliberation but on following impulsive gut instincts, leads to actions." (69)

"The simple act of not buying something has always been- and remains- the form of consumer power that brand managers fear the most" (80)

"So to sell something like Axe, he concluded, "you have to become part of pop culture."" (133)

"...lots of people like to tell others what they are reading and what restaurant they've discovered and what gizmo they just bought." (173)

"The implication is that it doesn't matter if you know what you're talking about, as long as you are willing to talk a lot." (179)

"...brands can play a role in the stories we tell about ourselves and help us resolve the tension between individuality and belonging." (213)

"You are what you surround yourself with." (253)

"If you are a terminal materialist, you surround yourself with what you wish you were." (255)

Good luck on deciding whether to purchase this book or not.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2008
This book is the perfect textbook for a college-level course on marketing.

Actually, it's the perfect book for the layperson who is interested in how marketing is carried out nowadays.

No - it's really a stinging inditement of modern youth, with their assurances that they are "immune to marketing" going hand-in-hand with their craven embracing of "buzz marketing" - essentially doing the work for the marketers.

Well, it's really a look at how modern youth have subverted the marketing paradigm and, like our culture, broken it into countless little pieces.

...Okay. It's all of the above. And I'm writing the review this way to illustrate another point Walker makes - the point of how megaselling items/brands like the iPod, like "Hello Kitty," like American Apparel, are hugely popular because they represent whatever each individual consumer wants them to represent. Walker's book is very well researched, and examines marketing from multiple viewpoints, with all kinds of examples that readers will recognize - Nike, Walmart, companies billing themselves as "green", the rise in popularity of DIY products and marketing, Etsy.com, and so on. There doesn't seem to be any strident agenda here, except for readers to consider the effects marketing has on them - more self-awareness. Not a great deal of ranting about the deleterious effects of marketing on the wellness of society, nor conservative chest thumping about free-markets, etc. Just a great read about how marketing has moved forward in the age of TiVo and the "informed consumer." Highly recommended.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2008
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2010
A book about the mysterious power of objects in our lives.

About 75 years ago, the writing was on the wall in Europe. A war was coming and the Jewish people of Europe were at great risk. Many Jewish families left while they could, leaving behind most of the things they owned and those who chose to stay.

Bruno Bettelheim's relatives were among those who stayed. They decided not to leave the possessions of a lifetime behind. They would stay, confront death even. But they would not be separated from the things they owned.

The coming storm had left them on the margins of places that their forbears had lived in for centuries. Still, their things were still theirs. Even as they faced a frightening future, Bettelheim tells us, his relatives clung with passion "to some objects in which they had invested all the meaning they could no longer find in their lives."

Later, in the camps, Bettelheim discovered that objects evoked different meanings, one meaning for the observer of the object, another meaning for the owner of the object. Hornrimmed glasses, utilitarian to him, became despicable symbols of the intelligentsia to SS guards at the camp and they persecuted their wearers with special relish.

Bettelheim who survived the campss wrote later that hornrimmed glasses had become "a fatal insignia."

Meanings, insignias and objects, these are some of the fundamental things that Rob Walker discusses in an aptly subtitled book "...What we buy and who we are." I found his analysis of the Scion's marketing campaign, using social networks, the alternative press and Generation Y identity, enlightening and would not be surprised if it became paradigmatic for marketers in the future, a fairly near future. Walker is certainly on to the new consumer behavior.

The power of things, the rock-like foundation they provide for building a life enmeshed in significance, and the sense of desolation when those things are lost, all this was evident on the other side of that European conflict. After the British bombing of Hamburg in 1943 and 50,000 deaths, a witness, Hans Erich Nossack, writes about the loss of those things.

"Nothing was left, not a single trinket of all the things that we loved and that belonged with us. If there had been such a little something, how we would have caressed it; it would have been imbued with the essence of all the other things."

Joel Agee who translated Nossack reinforces this: "Nothing. This word has a terrible resonance if one conceives it to mean what it does here: the absence of everything familiar, everything we call our own. Everything."

It is mysterious and ultimately enigmatic -- this relationship between people and their things. Walker's description of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's research of this area is intriguing; perhaps this could be treated more thoroughly in a future book. Marked with craving, dependence, yearning, guilt, tainted by money and by anxiety over too much or too little in consumption, things are the central external attribute of our human lives.

No other life form shares this trait. We need things to be who we are. Without them, we are less than fully human.

Siddhartha Banerjee
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2008
Rob Walker has earned a reputation as not only a solid journalist, but also a keen social commentator through his New York Times Magazine column, Consumed, and his Murketing blog. In this book, Walker deftly works his way through the social, cultural and psychological underpinnings of today's consumer.

Through well detailed stories of brands like Red Bull, Pabst Blue Ribbon and American Apparel he paints the marketing landscape of the 21st century with the deft touch of a European Master. But the book also looks inside the underground brands that have arisen as consumer empowerment through technology has taken hold.

I recommend this book to anyone curious about the state of marketing in America today.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2009
This book focuses on what the author calls "murketing", which is where marketing blends into real life. Examples include the way people are invited to become "product advocates" (my term not his) to promote products for corporations, and how brands have become a part of self-identification. Walker is a journalist and it shows from his writing which is clear and not overwrought or stilted.

I found the book to be interesting, although the author was a bit too enamored of the new. Everyone who writes one of these books talks about how the world is changing and has never been this way before. Walker isn't quite that gullible and he even points to the past sometimes, but I found still that he seems to believe that his insights are unique a bit too often. They're not, but that doesn't make the book less worthwhile and it doesn't mean you shouldn't consider it.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Rob Walker's main point in this book is that for most Americans brand choices have become a way to express individuality while still feeling connected to others. Why? Most people don't really do anything creative, but they want to feel better about themselves. They pick brands that reflect an appealing self-image.

This tendency to designer identity carries as far as choosing brands that reflect lifestyles that are symbolic of what you like, but aren't you. In some cases, brands develop such weak images that people flock to the same brand for widely different reasons.

The examples are what make the book fascinating. Mr. Walker has a keen eye for change in fashion and a good ear for listening to what people say about their choices. I've never seen such a simple thesis so thoroughly and interestingly illustrated.

Many brand marketing books avoid the whole realm of using nonadvertising methods to create images and awareness. Mr. Walker dives headlong into that subject and treats it pretty well.

The book's main weakness is that he doesn't get into the various segments that people tend to associate with in any detail. That leaves his examples better reflective of human psychology than marketing.

This book ultimately will provide more insight to consumers than to marketers. If you are a marketer, you'll probably grade this as a two-star book.

Mr. Walker is a talented writer as well. I don't recall having the opportunity to read too many books on marketing that display which a good writing style.
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