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“A world of unseen dictatorship is conceivable, still using the forms of democratic government.”

— Kenneth Boulding
University of Michigan
from chapter 17: Politics and the Image Builders

The Hidden Persuaders

bookcover The Hidden Persuaders:
What makes us buy, believe – and even vote – the way we do?

by Vance Packard
David McKay Co, 1957; Random House, 1957; Pocket Books of Canada, LTD., 1957, Montreal; ASIN 0-679-50030-8

“In this book you’ll discover a world of psychology professors turned merchandisers. You’ll learn how they operate, what they know about you and your neighbors and how they are using that knowledge to sell you cake mixes, cigarettes, cars, soaps and even ideas.

The Hidden Persuaders casts a penetrating light into the murky world of the motivational researchers. It tells how these shock troops of the advertising world are subtly charting your inner thoughts, fears and dreams so that they can influence your daily living.

“Written with humor and in nontechnical style, The Hidden Persuaders weighs the successes and failures of their persuasion — where they are aiming to take you, and how!”


“This book is an attempt to explore a strange and rather exotic new area of American life. It is about the large-scale efforts being made, often with impressive success, to channel our unthinking habits, our purchasing decisions, and our thought processes by the use of insights gleaned from psychiatry and the social sciences. Typically these efforts take place beneath our level of awareness; so that the appeals which move us are often, in a sense, ‘hidden.’ The result is that many of us are being influenced and manipulated, far more than we realize, in the patterns of our everyday lives.

“Some of the manipulating being attempted is simply amusing. Some of it is disquieting, particularly when viewed as a portent of what may be ahead on a more intensive and effective scale for us all. Co-operative scientists have come along providentially to furnish some awesome tools.

“The use of mass psychoanalysis to guide campaigns of persuasion has become the basis of a multimillion-dollar industry. Professional persuaders have seized upon it in their groping for more effective ways to sell us their wares — whether products, ideas, attitudes, candidates, goals, or states of mind.”

From Chapter 1, “The Depth Approach”

“We still have a strong defense against such persuaders: we can choose not to be persuaded. In virtually all situations we still have the choice, and we cannot be too seriously manipulated if we know what is going on. It is my hope that this book may contribute to the general awareness. As Clyde Miller pointed out in The Process of Persuasion, when we learn to recognize the devices of the persuaders, we build up a ‘recognition reflex.’ Such a recognition reflex, he said, ‘can protect us against the petty trickery of small-time persuaders operating in the commonplace affairs of everyday life, but also against the mistaken or false persuasion of powerful leaders...’”

From Chapter 23, “The Question of Morality”


  1. The Depth Approach

Persuading Us As Consumers
  1. The Trouble With People

  2. So Ad Men Become Depth Men

  3. ...And the Hooks Are Lowered

  4. Self-Images For Everybody

  5. Rx For Our Secret Distresses

  6. Marketing Eight Hidden Needs

  7. The Built-in Sexual Overtone

  8. Back To The Breast, And Beyond

  9. Babes In Consumerland

  10. Class And Caste In The Salesroom

  11. Selling Symbols To Upward Strivers

  12. Cures For Our Hidden Aversions

  13. Coping With Our Pesky Inner Ear

  14. The Psycho-Seduction of Children

  15. New Frontiers For Recruiting Customers

Persuading Us As Citizens

  1. Politics And The Image Builders

  2. Molding “Team Players” For Free Enterprise

  3. The Engineered Yes

  4. Care And Feeding Of Positive Thinkers

  5. The Packaged Soul?

In Retrospect

  1. The Question Of Validity

  2. The Question Of Morality


“Fascinating, entertaining and thought-stimulating!”

— The New York Times Book Review

“A brisk, authoritative, funny and frightening report on how manufacturers, fundraisers and politicians are attempting to turn the American mind into a kind of catatonic dough that will buy, give or vote at their command.”

— The New Yorker

“Book you must not miss!”

— Cleveland Press

Other books by Vance Packard:

Related sites

Book Summary and Critique: The Hidden Persuaders

Vance Packard — Pop Sociologist of Marketing Scams and Much More

“Vance Packard burst upon the scene in 1957 with his best-selling The Hidden Persuaders, a book which is useful to contemplate, both for its revelations of the psychological manipulations used by advertisers and the rise of irony in pop culture.

The Hidden Persuaders sold over a million copies — a stunning achievement for a work of non-fiction at the time and still a pretty fair figure for pop sociology. In THP, Packard revealed that marketers had discovered myriad ways of selling that played havoc with consumers’ brains.”

PR Watch
Public Interest Reporting on the PR/Public Affairs Industry
by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton

“PR Watch offers investigative reporting on the public relations industry. We help the public recognize manipulative and misleading PR practices by exposing the activities of secretive, little-known propaganda-for-hire firms that work to control political debates and public opinion. “Whether the issue is health, consumer safety, environmental preservation or democracy and world peace, citizens today find themselves confronted by a bewildering array of hired propagandists paid to convince the public that junk food is nutritious, pollution is harmless, and that what’s good for big business and big government is good for the rest of us.

“Unlike advertising, public relations is often hard to recognize. ‘The best PR is invisible,’ say industry insiders. To spin the news in favor of their clients, PR firms specialize in setting up phony citizens’ groups and scientific ‘experts’ who spin out contrived research using junk science.”

Six of the most notorious PR propaganda firms are the Rendon Group, Ruder-Finn, Hill & Knowlton, Shandwick, Burson-Marsteller and Ketchum PR.

Media Beat

“Media Beat is the insightful weekly syndicated column on media and politics written by FAIR associate Norman Solomon. It runs in newspapers across the country.

Utne Reader called Solomon one of ‘the fiercest and most articulate media critics around.’ A Los Angeles Times reviewer wrote: ‘The bold, muckraking tone of these columns offers a welcome respite from the decerebrated discourse that too often passes for contemporary journalism.’”

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting — FAIR

“FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. We work to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints.

“As an anti-censorship organization, we expose neglected news stories and defend working journalists when they are muzzled. As a progressive group, FAIR believes that structural reform is ultimately needed to break up the dominant media conglomerates, establish independent public broadcasting and promote strong non-profit sources of information.”

Related books

Toxic Sludge is Good for You!:
Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry
by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton

Secrets and Lies:
The Anatomy of an Anti-Environmental PR Campaign
by Nicky Hager & Bob Burton

The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media:
Decoding Spin and Lies in Mainstream News
by Norman Solomon

Inventing Reality:
The Politics of News Media
by Michael Parenti

Manufacturing Consent:
The Political Economy of the Mass Media
by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky

Pirates and Emperors, Old and New:
International Terrorism in the Real World
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Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy
by Robert W. McChesney

War, Lies & Videotape:
How media monopoly stifles truth
edited by Lenora Foerstel; multiple authors

Derailing Democracy:
The America the Media Don’t Want You to See
by David McGowan

Dumbing Us Down:
The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
by John Taylor Gatto

War At Home:
Covert Action Against U.S. Activists and What We Can Do About It
by Brian Glick

Censored 2000:
The Year’s Top 25 Censored Stories
by Peter Phillips & Project Censored

Body of Secrets:
Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency
by James Bamford

In 1962, U.S. military leaders had a top-secret plan for committing terrorist attacks on Americans in Miami and Washington D.C., while blaming Cuba. Codenamed “Operation Northwoods”, the plan was intended to provide the propaganda necessary to create popular support for an invasion of Cuba.

Deadly Deceits:
My 25 years in the CIA
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Blackshirts and Reds:
Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism
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The Beast Reawakens
by Martin A. Lee

The Fire This Time:
U.S. War Crimes in the Gulf
by Ramsey Clark

Desert Slaughter:
The Imperialist War Against Iraq
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Hidden Agenda:
U.S./NATO Takeover of Yugoslavia
by Ramsey Clark, Nadja Tesich, Michel Chossudovsky, Slobodan Milosevic, numerous authors

What Uncle Sam Really Wants
by Noam Chomsky

Rogue State:
A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower
by William Blum

Apocalypse 1945:
The Destruction of Dresden
by David Irving

Western State Terrorism
Alexander George, editor; essays by Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman, Gerry O’Sullivan and others

Terrorizing the Neighborhood:
American Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era
by Noam Chomsky
Pressure Drop Press, 1991

The Culture of Terrorism
by Noam Chomsky

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire
by Gore Vidal

Democracy for the Few
by Michael Parenti

A People’s History of the United States:
1492 — Present
by Howard Zinn

Lies My Teacher Told Me:
Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
by James Loewen

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