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*A Book Review*

Deadly Persuasion

By Jill Kilbourne

by Michael C. Gray

July 6, 2009

As we use the techniques of persuasion for promoting our business, we should be doing it in a socially responsible way.

To some in the advertising profession, this might sound like heresy. They might respond, "Let the buyer beware" or "What harm can this little ad do?"

By itself, "this little ad" might well do very little harm. The problem is all of the "little ads" taken together give powerful messages that impact our culture.

Who are the victims? Our parents, brothers, sisters, friends, children, grandchildren and ourselves.

Every day we are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages. The products may be worthwhile, but the emotional appeals that are being made to sell them may lead to unhealthy results.

Jean Kilbourne is a former beauty queen, former smoker and recovering alcoholic who has made it her mission to take these appeals out of the background and into the forefront. She created an award winning documentary, Killing Us Softly, about the unhealthy messages about sex and personal image in advertising, promoting anorexia and bulimia in our culture. (Check the video out at your public library and watch it with your sister, girlfriend, wife, daughter or granddaughter!)

In Deadly Persuasion, Jean Kilbourne gives an update (in 1999) of the advertising scene relating to personal image, diet, smoking and alcohol. The book is loaded with examples that will be familiar to readers.

She points out the economic power of persuasion exerted by advertisers on the media. There are very few articles in magazines criticizing smoking or alcohol abuse. In one case, an editor was fired for featuring a celebrity without makeup on a magazine cover!

Women are given conflicting messages: "You must be pencil thin to be sexually attractive and acceptable;" and "You deserve it! Indulge yourself with these goodies!" This is a recipe for bulimia.

Photos of female celebrities are routinely "doctored" to remove imperfections or add enhancements so the images that we see are totally unrealistic. But the message is, "You should look like this!"

Alcohol and cigarettes are romanticized, while the deaths from accidents involving driving under the influence of alcohol exceeds the casualties from any war, and lung cancer is a chronic problem.

Most cigarette ads are actually targeted to children! People who reach age 21 without smoking seldom start. Children are given the message, "You will appear grown up, a rebel, and sexy if you smoke."

Have you noticed how much people are smoking and drinking in movies lately?

Have you noticed that many of our young celebrities like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan are smoking?

Have you ever seen a smoker who is out of cigarettes? Did they look like a "rebel" to you? Were they an example of freedom or slavery?

Have you ever kissed someone after they just finished smoking? Did you find it sexually attractive?

I wish Deadly Persuasion was required reading with an annual refresher from grades 4 to 12.

Certainly it’s worth discussing with your loved ones -- especially the children in your family.

Buy it on Amazon: By Jean Kilbourne Deadly Persuasion: Why Women and Girls Must Fight the Addictive Power of Advertising [Paperback].

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Deadly Persuasion, by Jill Kilbourne, shows how advertising messages influence our body images and health.


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Michael Gray, CPA
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