Packard, Vance (1914-1996)

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Vance Packard was born May 22, 1914, in Granville Summit, Pa., and earned his bachelor's degree from Pennsylvania State University in 1936 and his master's degree from Columbia University in 1937. Until 1942, he worked as a reporter, columnist and editor for various newspapers and the Associated Press. He also taught courses in reporting and writing at New York University and Columbia.

Mr. Packard was thrust into prominence in 1957 with the publication of his first book, "The Hidden Persuaders." "The Hidden Persuaders," whose title itself played to cold war fears of wide-ranging conspiracies, was written for an audience of postwar consumers who had seen the supply of available goods expand exponentially and whose incomes had also risen.

Mr. Packard posited that advertisers were guilty of mass manipulation by using knowledge gleaned from psychologically based interviews, or "depth probing," to sell their goods. Marketers had, he contended, "abused" psychology to discover new ways of selling by appealing to consumers' anxieties and aspirations without their conscious knowledge. The book, promoted as a study of "the way most of us are being manipulated-far more than we realize—in the patterns of our everyday lives," was the first published book-length history of motivation research.

In the book, Mr. Packard described the disturbing "Orwellian configurations of the world toward which the 'persuaders' seem to be nudging us," and was concerned that some of the "persuaders" seemed to "fall unwittingly into the attitude that man exists to be manipulated."

The book was a call to morality and ethics on the part of advertisers and to awareness on the part of consumers. Conceding that "some pushing and hauling of the citizenry is probably necessary to make our $400 billion-a-year economy work," Mr. Packard noted that people can "choose not to be persuaded," so long as they are aware of what is going on.

Consumers hailed the new work; advertisers, on the other hand, were not so complimentary. It was discussed in advertising circles, but rarely in glowing terms. Reviewers discredited Mr. Packard on the basis of a lack of scientific evidence for his claims and for his use of generalizations and anecdotal evidence; he was called a "morality huckster" who seemed to make advertisers "unnecessarily sinister."

Mr. Packard's other books were not as successful as "The Hidden Persuaders" but were well received, and some became best-sellers in their own right.

Mr. Packard died in 1996 at the age of 82.


Born in Granville Summit, Pa., May 22, 1914; earned bachelor's degree from Pennsylvania State University, 1936; earned master's degree from Columbia University, 1937; worked as a reporter, columnist and editor for various newspapers and the Associated Press until 1942; wrote "The Hidden Persuaders," 1957; died Dec. 12, 1996.

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