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Sold on Language: How Advertisers Talk to You and What This Says About You Paperback – February 21, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"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)


"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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 330 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (February 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470683090
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470683095
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #886,662 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Julie Sedivy is a cognitive scientist who has published and lectured widely on the topic of language and the mind. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Rochester and subsequently spent twelve years on the faculty at Brown University. She currently lives in Calgary, Canada, where, in addition to teaching and writing, she skis, hikes, scrambles and climbs in the glorious Canadian Rocky Mountains. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary and is currently at work on a textbook on the psychology of language, as well as a collection of poems.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Diziet on April 29, 2011
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Peg on April 2, 2011
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ian Graham on 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 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.
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Format: Paperback
I found this book to be a surprisingly captivating look at how advertising and advertisers today tap into our conscious and subconscious minds, and also how these persuasive methods apply to political ends. While I expected to be informed on how I as a consumer was affected by ads, I did not expect the level of entertainment I enjoyed while reading.

Sold on Language focuses on choice in a consumer’s mind, whether it is real, and to what extent. It touches on subjects within formal linguistics (such as basic phonetics, aspirated consonants, priming, presuppositions, etc.) in a way that makes them quite accessible to the average reader. The first 7 chapters focus on such subjects as subconscious messages, how advertisers compete for your attention and how this plays into how we divide our attention as humans, and how advertisers use indirect and emotional language to get their intentions across. The final chapter touches on politics, and how everything from the “comfiness” of a politician’s name to the way they give speeches influences our opinions and how we vote.

It’s hard to convey the breadth of this book in a single review. Instead, I will simply identify what appealed to me most. The authors seamlessly transition from and within topics in linguistics, as applicable to the chapter as a whole. The reader is given information that encapsulates their knowledge of the selected broad topics in numerous ways. Each section includes a title that helps guide the reader into what the following text is about and how it will inform the overall topic of the chapter.
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