Book Review: Can't Buy My Love (How Advertsing Changes the Way We Think and Feel)

Have I said lately how much I love having a great excuse to read a book? For the last two weeks I told myself "I have to finish that blog post," and I got to read a whole book. As a parent I know it can be hard to make time to read, but this book is worth the effort.

Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel (1999) is by Jean Kilbourne, the woman who brought us great videos like "Killing Us Softly: Advertising's Image of Women (2000)," "Slim Hopes: Advertising & The Obsession with Thinness (1995)," "Spin the Bottle: Sex, Lies & Alcohol (2004)," and "Deadly Persuasion: The Advertising of Alcohol & Tobacco (2003)." As you can see by her other work, this author is about awareness, and as a behavioral psychologist, I know that awareness is the first step in behavior change, and this book brings it on! Have fun reading!

Be warned - this book is dense and hopefully will inflame your sense of decency and inspire social protest! The message of the book is that whether or not we admit it, we are each profoundly influenced by advertising, and our children are growing up in a toxic cultural environment. Adolescents and children are inexperienced consumers, and that makes them prime targets for the power of advertising. This author helps us realize that the messages we get from advertising (about 3,000 a day) are inside our heads, relationships, hearts, offices, and homes. Advertisers use every emotion we have to first undermine our sense of selves, beauty, efficiency, productivity, ability to function as a person, parent, spouse, employee and community member - and then sell us products that transform our weaknesses and make us superior to others.

I think the most disconcerting thing about this book for me was the realization that to the advertising industry, we are all just sheep, being fed to the wolves, particularly, young women. None of us can withstand the pressure to believe in "happily ever after stories," where roses and affection are enough! Who could love us for who and what we are, when there is always someone better out there? Advertising undermines our ability to love ourselves and others. We are constantly told that we are not good enough: our skin, wrinkles, nails and hair are beyond even a dermatologists help, our butts and thighs are way too big, our breasts are never big enough, and we need better cars, homes, clothing, and activities if we want to have a good, long, lasting relationship, which by the way is impossible, because when something gets old, our society replaces it!

If everything we aspire to can be bought, then why are there so many broken hearts? If we can smoke and eat like a bird to be thin, drive the fastest car, "deal" with our fertility using better birth control pills, drink alcohol to make us fearless, rebellious, independent, and invincible, and buy products guaranteed to transform even an old goat into a beauty, then why are our health care costs soaring?

This book brings home the fact that everywhere we look, we are offered false excitement and pseudo-intensity. Not only does this inevitably disappoint us, it also contributes to the general belief in our culture that every moment of our lives should be exciting, fun, sexy, passionate, and intense, suggesting that the things we do everyday for the people we love are worthless, mundane, and "what we settle for," instead of what we value. We are addicts and the messages from the advertising industry is our drug. Without the products they are selling, we will all be isolated, alone, ugly, and depressed.

When will we get it through our thick skulls that Internet, TV, radio, billboard, and print advertising are teaching our children to consume, escape, be greedy and violent? Eating disorders, depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug use, smoking, and cosmetic augmentation are increasing, and the advertising industry is not helping. What can parents, teachers, adolescents, and health care policy do to change this, and when will we demand it?

All of the videos are available at and Ms. Kilbourne's website includes some great resources, as well.

Photo credit: antmoose
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