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Buying In,9780812974096

Buying In

Format: Trade Paper
Pub. Date: 1/5/2010
Publisher(s): Random House Trade Paperbacks


"Fascinating ... A compelling blend of cultural anthropology and business journalism." Andrea Sachs,Time Magazine "An often startling tour of new cultural terrain." Laura Miller, Salon "Marked by meticulous research and careful conclusions, this superbly readable book confirmsNew York Timesjournalist Walker as an expert on consumerism. ... [A] thoughtful and unhurried investigation into consumerism that pushes the analysis to the maximum..."Publisher's Weekly (starred review) Brands are dead. Advertising no longer works. Weaned on TiVo, the Internet, and other emerging technologies, the short-attention-span generation has become immune to marketing. Consumers are "in control." Or so we're told. InBuying In,New York TimesMagazine "Consumed" columnist Rob Walker argues that this accepted wisdom misses a much more important and lasting cultural shift. As technology has created avenues for advertising anywhere and everywhere, people are embracing brands more than ever beforecreating brands of their own and participating in marketing campaigns for their favorite brands in unprecedented ways. Increasingly, motivated consumers are pitching in to spread the gospel virally, whether by creating Internet video ads for Converse All Stars or becoming word-of-mouth "agents" touting products to friends and family on behalf of huge corporations. In the process, theywehave begun to funnel cultural, political, and community activities through connections with brands. Walker explores this changing cultural landscapeincluding a practice he calls "murketing," blending the terms murky and marketingby introducing us to the creative marketers, entrepreneurs, artists, and community organizers who have found a way to thrive within it. Using profiles of brands old and new, including Timberland, American Apparel, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Red Bull, iPod, and Livestrong, Walker demonstrates the ways in which buyers adopt products, not just as consumer choices, but as conscious expressions of their identities. Part marketing primer, part work of cultural anthropology,Buying Inreveals why now, more than ever, we are what we buyand vice versa. Praise forBuying In "Walker ... makes a startling claim: Far from being immune to advertising, as many people think, American consumers are increasingly active participants in the marketing process. ... [He] leads readers through a series of lucid case studies to demonstrate that, in many cases, consumers actively participate in infusing a brand with meaning. ... Convincing." Jay Dixit,The Washington Post "Walker lays out his theory in well-written, entertaining detail." Seth Stevenson,Slate "Buying Indelves into the attitudes of the global consumer in the age of plenty, and, well, we aren't too pretty. Walker carries the reader on a frenetically paced tour of senseless consumption spanning from Viking ranges to custom high-tops." Robert Blinn, Core77 "Rob Walker is one smart shopper." Jen Trolio, ReadyMade "The most trenchant psychoanalyst of our consumer selves is Rob Walker. This is a fresh and fascinating exploration of the places where material culture and identity intersect." Michael Pollan, author ofIn Defense of Food "This book has vast social implications, far beyond the fields of marketing and branding.

Author Biography

Rob Walker writes the weekly column “Consumed,” a blend of business journalism and cultural anthropology, for The New York Times Magazine. Previously, he created and wrote the popular “Ad Report Card” column for Slate, and he has contributed to a wide range of publications, from Fast Company and Fortune to The New Republic and AdBusters. Walker continues to write about the secret dialogue between what we buy and who we are at his own website, He lives in Savannah, Georgia, with his wife, photographer Ellen Susan.

Table of Contents

introductionp. xi
The desire codep. 1
The Pretty Good problemp. 3
The Straw Man in the Gray Flannel Suitp. 21
Rationale Thinkingp. 35
Ignoring the Jonesesp. 51
murketingp. 71
Chuck Taylor Was a Salesmanp. 79
Rebellion, Unsoldp. 96
Clickp. 115
Very Realp. 134
The Murkiest Common Denominatorp. 145
The Commercialization of Chitchatp. 165
The Brand Undergroundp. 189
invisible badgesp. 209
Murketing Ethicsp. 215
What's the Matter with Wal-Mart Shoppers?p. 230
Beyond the Thing Itselfp. 249
acknowledgmentsp. 263
additional source notesp. 265
indexp. 275
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


Chapter One

The Pretty Good Problem

Rational Thinking . . . Fifty-three Pretty Good Kitchen Ranges . . .The Commodity T . . . Ecko Unltd.'s cul-de-sac cred . . .The "projectability" of Hello Kitty . . . The Hundreds

Rational Thinking

Imagine that you're naked.

Or maybe it's better to put it this way: Imagine that you need some sort of clothing. This may not be a biological imperative like thirst, but wearing something is still pretty much a baseline acceptable social behavior. How, then, do you choose to meet this authentic consumer need?

Cram as many responses to that question as will fit into the two million square feet of exhibition space at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and you have Magic. Magic is a twice yearly trade show for the apparel industry, a place where makers of clothes gather to display their wares for the benefit of retail buyers-the people who decide what boutiques and department stores all over the world will make available to consumers. Most every brand that you could think of is here (from Polo to True Religion Jeans, from Jhane Barnes to Timberland), along with many brands you probably could not think of.

The geography of Magic is the geography of consumer demographics: Sections are labeled Young Men's, Magic Kids, Active Lifestyle, Casual Lifestyle, Women's Sportswear, Dresses and Outerwear, and Streetwear. The mode of Magic is mercenary tribalism: buyers and sellers roaming the floor in their signifying outfits (there's a couture guy, here's a hip-hop girl, there goes a Japanese hipster kid), cutting their deals, while the trend prospectors and fashion editors study the action, looking for the smallest flicker of a pattern change in the garment zeitgeist. The language of Magic is an endless babel of logos and brands.

Part of the reason for my first trip to Magic, in early 2005, was to connect with Bobby Kim, otherwise known as Bobby Hundreds. I had met him in Los Angeles some months earlier, and he seemed likely to be a great help to me as I worked to understand what was changing in the consumer marketplace. He was twenty-five years old, a Korean American who grew up in multicultural Los Angeles and was into hip-hop, punk, and skateboarding. He was the kind of person the youth-obsessed marketing industry chases relentlessly, and he knew it. But he scorned mainstream efforts to speak to his generation. I'd been struck, for example, by an essay on his Web zine blasting the "commercialized" version of skateboarding culture that he saw in the X Games or on MTV as a "big-industry ruse."

So that's Bobby Hundreds: He is hard to impress. I'm making him sound like a cynic, but that's not the case. He's a smart guy with a lot of hustle; he has the highest standards, the greatest expectations, the biggest dreams. He's the new consumer, the nightmare of the brand managers and retail buyers who make Magic hum. We'll spend more time with him later; but for now, all you need to know is that when Bobby Hundreds looked around Magic, it was with a knowing smirk. He saw through the whole charade-just as the experts said he should. All these brands have no meaning; each one was, he said, "just another clothing line."

If brands and logos are mere symbols, empty of meaning, then choosing among clothing lines-or anything-becomes a largely rational affair. There are probably four, or maybe four and a half, factors to consider. One, of course, is price. Another is convenience. A third is quality. The fourth rational factor, I think it's fair to say, is pleasure. The half factor is ethics, which I'll leave aside for now but return to later, in this book's final section.

Needless to say, these ideas not only collide, but bleed into one another: You can derive pleasure from the simple fact of a bargain's low price, for example. To borrow a term from economics, the goal of the rational consumer is to "maximize utility"-the usefulness,

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