The Age of Persuasion Is A Near Complete History of Marketing

“Advertisers are constantly accused of creating trends, shaping attitudes, and planting new behaviour in consumers. But in fact, the opposite is true: advertising doesn’t set trends, it follows them. Bold new ideas are embraced in advertising only after society has long since appoint them. Advertising is the great mirror of society.” – Terry O’Reilly & Mike Tennant

I first discovered author Terry O’Reilly through his CBC radio program, “Under the Influence.” I remember driving in my car learning about the intention that goes into selling high-end products and how retailers in the luxury goods business approach their brands. I was fascinated by the stories behind some of the planet’s best-known luxury brands. I was also concerned I was becoming a marketing nerd. Who else is riveted by stories about Tiffany’s and Club Med?

Turns out I had simply stumbled across some of the best storytellers in the marketing world; storytellers who were reaching an audience well beyond their own professional arena. I was immediately turned on to the radio series based on the book by Terry O’Reilly and Mike Tennant titled “The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture.”

Even before opening The Age of Persuasion (four years after it was first published) I had heard about some of the case studies and examples featured in its pages, including Volkswagen’s “Lemon” print ad (as featured in Mad Men) and Coca Cola’s Santa super-success. O’Reilly and Tennant’s collection of experience, expertise and study culminated in this “bible” of North American marketing history.

Each chapter opens with a myth that is countered by plenty of examples. Many of the case studies are widely used and known among marketers, so the content feels slightly dated in 2013. At the time the book was written, however, there was still a considerable online/offline dissonance.

Still, the authors succeed in writing delightful, humorous chapters. Diving into a book all about marketing can be, for some, like cracking open the schematics to a truck engine. While its subject matter is niche, a larger audience is reached using humor. The Age or Persuasion presents a series of case studies and marketing examples that nearly anyone can appreciate. It deconstructs each example and often pokes fun at the relationship between the consumer/reader and the product/subject.

The CBC has commissioned a third season of the “Under the Influence” radio series which, no doubt, will deliver examples of story, fallacy, trickery and many more strategies from the marketing world. The new season kicks off on CBC radio one in January 2014. I look forward to hearing O’Reilly’s voice reminding me, once again, why we’re living in The Age of Persuasion.

*The Age of Persuasion was originally a podcast-turned-radio show based on the book that evolved into the new series, “Under the Influence.”


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