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DEADLY PERSUASION: Why Women And Girls Must Fight The Addictive Power Of Advertising Hardcover – November 15, 1999
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Jean Kilbourne first gained prominence in the 1970s as the maker of Killing Us Softly, a documentary that detailed how the images of women in advertising were destructive for women in real life. In the years since, her thesis hasn't changed much, but the evidence supporting it has accumulated at an overwhelming rate. One of the first points that Kilbourne makes clear in Deadly Persuasion is that advertising does influence people, which is why newspapers and magazines engage in cutthroat competition to convince corporations to place ads in their publications, on the principle that their readership consists of the most valuable demographic. What appear in those ads, though, are images that equate emotional well-being with material acquisition; encourage women--beginning in their teenage years--to work at preserving the one "right" look; and associate rebellion and independence with the consumption of alcohol and tobacco.
Kilbourne is militant on these issues, and some readers may find her positions a bit too extreme, as when she lambastes ads that employ surre alism for imitating a drugged state of altered consciousness or when she declares that most sexual imagery in advertising is "pornographic," elaborating in such a way as to denigrate the very idea of casual sex. And, despite several attempts at grim sarcasm, Deadly Persuasion is ultimately rather humorless. Kilbourne's heart, though, is definitely in the right place, and her demonstration of the extent to which we allow corporations to shape our desires is truly eye-opening. --Ron Hogan
From Publishers Weekly
No longer confined to 30-second TV spots and newspaper and magazine columns, advertisements now find their way into movie plots (as product placements) and high school lessons, onto municipal buses, sports scoreboards, clothing and even food. Kilbourne, best known for her documentary film work (Killing Us Softly; Pack of Lies), has extended her anti-advertising crusade into print in a profound work that is required reading for informed consumers. She adeptly illustrates that advertising encourages buyers to lavish affection on products rather than on other people, and pitches these trivialized relationships most fervently to girls and women. Worse, according to the author, addictive products are touted as outlets of expression and rebellion and are advertised to an increasingly younger demographic. She writes, "Advertising doesn't cause addictions. But... [it] contributes mightily to the climate of denial in which relationships flounder and addictions flourish." Drawing on a combination of psychology, feminist critique and media studies, Kilbourne cites numerous ads that downplay romantic commitment or healthy self-esteem in order to sell these qualities through products like backpacks or diet pills. She exposes the way advertisers take advantage of women's and girls' stifled feelings of rage and loss of control, and cause gender stereotypes to flourish. Likely to spark intense controversy, Kilbourne's passionate treatise is a wake-up call about the damaging effects of advertising in our media-saturated culture.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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One of the best aspects of the book is her use of real ads that illustrate without question the points that she makes. And looking at many of those that I've seen hundreds of times, I felt quite dumb for not really picking up the subtext or looking critically enough at them. The blatant manipulation in many of them is enough to turn me off any number of products for life.
Although I unhesitatingly give this book the highest rating, I must admit that in her conviction Kilbourne is sometimes repetitive, sometimes taking a point ever so slightly too far. But all in all, I find it a quite fair indictment of the advertising industry and its influence on consumers. As a former addict herself, Kilbourne is qualified to judge some aspects of advertising in a unique way, and her most frightening insight is that alcohol and tobacco advertisers understand addiction too, and use this knowledge to create and keep consumers from a very young age (their consumers have a nasty habit of dying off and they need to continuously create new buyers - internal communications from tobacco companies shows this to be a conscious act).
For anyone interested in a look into our current social climate, and the ways in which our thought processes and even beliefs can be influenced by external forces, this is a fascinating read. My eyes were opened in unexpected ways, and I learned a great deal from the book. I have a fantasy - perhaps a result of advertisements I've seen - that everyone will read it and start battling the messages we're sent... but that's just a dream.