A Book You Should Read Right Now

Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are by Rob Walker

Normally my book recommendations fall heavily into the writing,  
words, fiction-esque category (Richard Price) or the magazine writer  
anthology category (David Samuels), which makes sense, because those  
are the things I do, friends. And you are what you read/eat. But I am  
adding another type of book to that list. And it’s on–gasp– murketing?

Rob Walker–the Consumed columnist for NYTimes magazine– wrote a  
book that takes some of the major ideas of his articles and columns  
over the last few years and brings them together to help try and  
understand how consumer culture, trends, and marketing have changed  
over the last decade or so. And the book is kind of awesome. Now,  
this is more than just a passing interest of mine. I need to know  
about trends. I want to know about trends. I read RSS feeds about  
trends. I wear distressed jeans and tees made of ringspun cotton and  
write about wallets from Singapore (Property Of!) and bags made out  
of truck tarp and bike inner tubes by Swiss dudes (Freitag!). I’m  
kind of a tool. But even if you’re not in this mix, the book does an  
incredible job of defining and naming what is going on with (the more  
clever) marketing and advertising schemes of nowadays and why–
despite our feelings that we are smart enough to no longer be tricked  
by companies– we still get tricked by companies (into buying their  
bejeweled Ipod holders, etc).

The books rocks that Malcolm Gladwell Tipping Point story style–the  
“here is a random, yet interesting anecdote lede that’ll hook you in,  
but won’t let you figure out where I’m going, which’ll further hook  
you in”– and recounts stories of why the iPod sold even though it  
wasn’t the first with the technology or even with the types of  
improvements that it made on that existing technology, why Timberland  
boots sell in the urban markets despite being marketed for scrappy  
dudes who work outside, how Pabst Blue Ribbon re-made themselves by  
accident, mostly thanks to bike messengers in Portland, Oregon, why  
Red Bull would spend $100 million dollars on non-advertised kite  
surfing trips to Cuba and Scion cars (by Toyota) would have parties  
where the guests of honor were from edgy artsy small, small mags like  
Art Prostitute, etc.

The main idea centers around this “murketing” term that Walker coined  
to mean murky marketing that’s blurred the line so that we can’t  
really tell we’re being marketed to… and also drops a ridiculous  
chapter about word-of-mouth marketers… people hired to read a book  
on a subway and start small talk about it, or bring chicken sausage  
to a neighborhood BBQ and casually talk it up, and a bunch of other  
semi-creepy things that’ll have you questioning your sister’s next  
recommendation for Shake N Bake… is she actually being paid by the  
Shake N Bake company? Does Shake N Bake even exist anymore? Will it  
make a nostalgic resurgence, not unlike the shoe brand British Knights?

Regardless of the paranoia that may ensue post-reading, the book  
makes you think hard and long about what and why you consume what you  
do, and at least lets you feel kind of smart about it, even as you  
walk down the supermarket aisle in a trance, searching for the Shake  
N Bake for no good reason.

Oh yeah, and the Olympics are on… like all the time on MSNBC… and  
I can’t stop (won’t stop?) watching. Speaking of which, I need to  
go… China vs Poland, women’s volleyball is on right now and it’s  
the crucial third game.

If there are any comments, speak now or forever write your piece.

Black Hole,
Sun

Soundgarden

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13 thoughts on “A Book You Should Read Right Now

  1. Christine

    Oh, what a world, what a world. I have to give my grandma this–she’s good. I haven’t suspected her all these years. I’ve been under the spell of her meatball sandwiches, totally oblivious to her mind tricks. I’m now officially boycotting everything she’s ever recommended. I’ll show her!

    Thanks for opening my eyes, Kevin (or shame on you for soiling my grandma’s sweet, little, old lady image).

    Christine

  2. Christine

    As if there aren’t enough conspiracies to worry about! Now I’ve got to narrow my eyes suspiciously at my little old grandma when I take her to the supermarket and she tells me how wonderful Bounty paper towel is. Does she really think it’s wonderful? Is she looking out for my best interests, my paper towel needs? Or is she working for the man, peddling his goods, cashing in on his two ply quicker picker upper? Can I ever trust Grandma again?!

  3. MikeH

    I was acutally searching for this book on Amazon.uk (incidentally, over here, its called "I’m with the Brand" – leave it to the Brits to come up with a pun) and I thought, "Wait a minute, is Kevin getting paid to talk this book up?" I’m already paranoid, and I haven’t even read the book yet.

  4. Joanne

    Okay, wait. I didn’t get the blog email until this morning (Wednesday) at 8am. I always wondered how there could be so many comments made before I even see the blog. I’m confused. And paranoid.
    Interesting that "marketing" has come up two blogs in a row and whether it is corporate marketing or marketing yourself, to me it is all the same thing. Someone is trying to get you to do something or buy something or believe in something (politics). It is like snake oil salesman. I have no idea what to believe anymore because I don’t know what the truth is. I find myself questioning more and more, particularly when I try to explain all this to my young, impressionable kids. Overall, marketing many times has the opposite effect on me, I run in the other direction. Oh! Unless that is what THEY want me to do! Crap! (and I just typed in carp instead of crap, and burst our laughing at my exclamation of fish).
    Joanne

  5. Tom

    Kev’n,

    Yep, the blog was up late in the evening on Monday. It honestly did mess with my head for a second, because it even said "Tuesday, August 12" at the top of it. Yes, it was weird. Somehow I managed to get over it, though. I’m a tough one in crazzy blogging situations. Remember that.

    Slanguage – a friend of mine threw that out in the middle of a rant about the trend toward purposeful mispellings with today’s youth. I still envy him that moment of exasperated brilliance.

    Fictionary – I wish I’d invented this word. It’s a personal dictionary (most often residing only in a person’s head) for made-up words, ones that sometimes only the creator has assigned any meaning to.

    Genevieve,

    Someone, somewhere has made a coffee mug out of coffee. I’m not that original. However, I gleefully accept credit for things I haven’t done if it means I’ll gain more power, prestige, or cash. So, yeah, I invented the internet.

  6. Genevieve

    Kevin- You poor delirious soul. I didn’t know there was a term for "sort of editing, and sort of just reading old work" but now I can finally put a word to what I spend embarassing amounts of time doing each day. All your coffee cups are made out of RAYON?? Hee, hee.

    Tom- A coffee mug that is made out of coffee…why it’s brilliant! Why have I never thought of this before! To hell with my corn-based plastic eco-smoochy mug. You know what a coffee mug made out of coffee means? That’s right! More coffee!

    Casey – Yay for books indeed.

  7. casey

    yay for books. i am so all about writers who are readers.

    This book "Buying in" reminds of “Raj, Bohemian”
    by Hari Kunzru. Y’all can still read it on Newyorker.com under the fiction archives.

  8. Kevin Alexander

    oh, and other words to make up (LOVE slanguage):
    Readiting– when you are sort of editing, and sort of just reading old work.
    Dantsy– when a person dances with another person but they really want to leave the situation that they’re in, and are antsy and uncomfortable about the dancing.
    Internets– more than one Internet.

    Ok, ok, ok… Now I’m seriously done.

  9. Kevin Alexander

    IT was up yesterday? What? I have no control of when my blog goes up, actually, so I just assume it drops on Tuesday and go in and link to my music vids and get out… that’s weird. Perhaps it had something to do with marketers….?

    And Tom, all of my coffee cups are made of Rayon, which strangely enough is also sponsored by the Scion. Watch out for those cars. They get into all the hot clubs.

    I have to write a 4000 word piece for Boston Magazine right now, which explains my sudden enthusiasm in doing everything else. Which is why i’ll probably just continue watching this USA v Australia women’s softball game for a sec…after all they’re having a very interesting convo about changing the mound back to 43 feet from 41… Ok. Stopping.

  10. Tom

    Yeah, she owns bamboo shirts, but that’s nothing compared to her coffee mug that’s made out of corn. My coffee mug is just made out of clay. Does anyone here have a coffee mug that’s made out of coffee?

    "Murketing." It is my goal to one day create some word that falls into the popular lexicon. I want a "murketing" or a "slanguage" that can be attributed to me. Is that too much to ask?

    This is freaky stuff. I was at an art opening a few months ago. It was a local gallery, a casual sort of place, nothing fancy in any way. In one corner of a hallway there was a table with a bunch of leaflets, stickers, flyers, whatever. One of the giveaways was a CD of music that was sponsored by the Scion. I thought, "What kind of obvious and corny attempt at marketing is this? The people in these studios can’t afford used cars let alone new ones. How stupid!" Maybe I was wrong about that. But if I am wrong, apparently they are so sneaky at marketing that I’ll never know it.

    Am I being subconsciously manipulated? Are the monolithic corporations winning? Will the clocks soon be striking thirteen??????!

    Oh yeah, and what was up with today’s blog being up yesterday. That totally screwed me up. I thought I’d missed a day of my week!

  11. Kevin Alexander

    Bamboo? No way. I think what you meant to say was Rayon. Fantastic, organic Rayon. Nothing beats it!
    (…and that whole comment made me do the thing where you laugh out in a public manner. There is no shorter way to express that)

  12. Genevieve

    Oh Shake and Bake chicken, where have you gone? I think this was my favorite line: even as you walk down the supermarket aisle in a trance, searching for the Shake N Bake for no good reason.

    It sounds like an interesting book that would make me incredibly paranoid. I’m trying to be a smart, trendy consumer. I have two shirts that are made of 70% bamboo/30% cotton, which are indredibly soft by the way – a must buy. Am I pitching for the tyrannical bamboo industry? You’ll never know! Mmmhahahaha!

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