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Twenty Ads That Shook the World    by James B. Twitchell order for
Twenty Ads That Shook the World
by James B. Twitchell
Order:  USA  Can
Three Rivers, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

It's probably impossible to write about advertising without at least touching on psychology: ads, after all, are designed to put ideas in our minds. In this fascinating book, Twitchell has selected twenty advertising campaigns that illustrate just how persuasive ads can be. From P.T. Barnum (often described as the father of modern advertising) to the Marlboro Man to Michael Jordan pitching Nike products, the theme is always the same: buy our products, the advertisers say, and you'll feel better, or happier, or richer, or more successful. Or, if you boil it down even further: give us your money, and we'll give you self-worth.

Unlike some books about advertising, though, this one isn't about manipulation and double-dealing and ominous mind-control. It isn't a book about the 'bad side' of advertising. It's about the power of advertising: how it changes the way we think, the things we believe in. How did the use of a particular painting make Pears soap a competition-killer? How did Santa Claus help sell Coca-Cola? What did Clairol really mean by 'Does She ... Or Doesn't She?'

The book does pretty well as an instruction manual, too. How do you sell a product that's pretty much indistinguishable from its competitors? Find something common to all the products and play it up as though it's unique to you (Tetley Tea may have 'tiny little tea leaves,' but so does everybody else). If you can't find anything to say about your product that people haven't already heard, then talk about its packaging (its handsome wooden finish, for instance) or the feeling you get from it.

Twenty Ads That Shook the World could have been thicker, or more analytic. It could have spent more time on the 'evil' side of advertising, could have warned us about all its potential dangers. I'm glad Twitchell went the way he did with it, though. He's given us a useful, informative, and accessible book that introduces us to some of the basic techniques of advertising. We need a few more books like this one.

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