“Buying In”

[Available now: via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell's. ]

[Also available in audio book and Kindle formats]

Update: Read interviews with three of the founders of the Austin Craft Mafia (all of whom figure into the book’s final section) about what’s new with them since the reporting on Buying In was completed. If you’ve read the book I think you’ll find it particularly interesting. Here is the link.

[*Corrections.]

One of the five best nonfiction books of 2008 — Salon.

One of the Ten Best Business Books of 2008Fast Company

One of the Best Business Books of 2008USA Today

Reviews:

“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

“Few observers have plumbed the subterranean poetry of marketing as thoroughly as Walker. [H]e argues that our susceptibility to marketing arises from our ignorance of its pervasiveness. Indeed, in recent years the ad industry has adopted an underground method of selling that depends on our complicit embrace of brands. Walker calls it ‘murketing,’ and once you understand it, you notice its footprint everywhere.” — Farhad Manjoo, The New York Times Book Review

Fascinating new book about the dialogue between who we are and what we buy. Salient point: while none of us likes to think of himself as a brand obsessed zombie … our behavior often tells a different story.” –Tony Dokoupil, Newsweek

“Walker fills his richly reported book with insights from cutting-edge marketers, entrepreneurs and artists. … His thinking is provocative.” — Kerry Hannon, USA Today

“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

“A sophisticated and sometimes lighthearted take on how consumers interact with brands, defining and controlling them as companies struggle to keep up.” – Susan Berfield, BusinessWeek

“A compelling look at the state of advertising today … shows why even those who feel like they see through marketing feel attached to specific brands as a way to both project and foster their identities.” — David K. Randall, Forbes

“Walker lays out his theory in well-written, entertaining detail.” — Seth Stevenson, Slate

“It’s enlightening and fun to follow Walker’s metamorphosis … to fascinated explorer of U.S. consumer marketing. He has a flair for branding [and] an affinity for people who seek cultural alternatives. … there’s plenty of substance here, and plenty for marketers to ponder.” — Andrew O’Connell, Harvard Business Review

“Walker makes all this cultural observation compelling; he is a good reporter and storyteller, with a sharp eye for the comic.” — David Billet, The Wall Street Journal

“If you find yourself in this book and don’t like what you see, at least it’s not all your fault. Blame marketing – and thank Walker for the insights.” — Carlo Wolff, The Boston Globe

“Walker takes the reader on a fascinating tour through subversive branding strategies … In Walker’s world, the consumer has been consumed – the stuff owns us.” — Jonathan Birchall, Financial Times

“Do we want to look good? Do we want to be socially responsible? How do our material choices connect with our values? Walker offers a lot to think about in this fast-moving, disturbing book, and that’s a satisfying consumer exchange indeed.” — Susan Larson, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune

Revealing Buying In is more complex than it first appears. … Walker wants us to recognize the personal narratives that are embedded in well-murketed products.” — Carly Berwick, Bloomberg News

Buying In delves 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

“Walker is a deft, entertaining guide who maintains a lively pace without sacrificing depth. … The biggest payoff comes in the book’s culminating chapters.” — Catherine Aman, Corporate Counsel

“Rob Walker is one smart shopper.” — Jen Trolio, ReadyMade

Marked by meticulous research and careful conclusions, this superbly readable book confirms New York Times journalist 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)

If you would like, you can read, free of charge, the first section of the book at this site.


Interviews and articles

* Diane Rehm Show (NPR)

* Marketplace Money. (Interviewed by Tess Vigland)

* Brian Lehrer Show (WNYC)

* Word of Mouth (New Hampshire Public Radio)

* Weekday (KUOW, Seattle public radio).

* Midday (WYPR, Baltimore public radio; link goes straight to audio).

* Afternoon Magazine With Celeste Quinn (WILL University of Illinois public radio)

* Newsweek.com: “Looks at the latest generation of consumers who have been inundated with 360-degree advertising campaigns.”

* Toronto Globe & Mail: “Devotees of Consumed know that Mr. Walker consistently offers an insightful take on consumer culture.”

* San Francisco Chronicle: “Let’s play a little word association….”

* The Anti-Advertising Agency: “Buying In poses an essential question about how we position ourselves in consumer culture, and that question is: what makes you feel real? And knowing you have the power to change it, will you make use of it?”

* GoodReads newsletter Q&A: “Walker reveals some idiosyncrasies of consumer culture and tells Goodreads why he’s in mourning for his Chuck Taylor.”

* Brandweek.com Q&A: “Brandweek editor Todd Wasserman found the opportunity to speak with Rob Walker via e-mail about some of the broader, more contextual questions raised by Walker’s book.”

* Q&A for Alpha Consumer (U.S. News) Book Club: Part One and Part Two.

* Eyecube: “I read him because he’s crazy with the smarts, has his finger on the pulse of what people are buying and why, and presents his ideas in a clever, original way.”

* 10 Questions from Church of the Customer, “about brand-building in today’s hyperconnected world.”

* Q&A with Express Night Out: “What is shopping like for you? Are you just obsessed with studying everything at the mall?” Etc.

* Q&A with Stop Smiling: “While many of us fancy ourselves modern-day Holden Caulfields as we call out the phonies in the world of advertising and marketing, few have articulated their positions with the degree of clarity as Rob Walker.”

* ByDesign (Australia radio): “The relationship now is interactive, between consumer and what is consumed.”

* DC City Paper / Crafty Bastards blog Q&A: “Questions about marketing, Etsy, Hello Kitty and more.


More online/blog reactions, reviews, and riffs:

Seth Godin: “Worth your time: Rob Walker’s (great!) new book on the overlooked triggers of marketing.”

Marginal Utility: “Walker is extremely adept at finding subjects to cover that reveal some subtle wrinkle of consumerism, and [in NYT Magazine column Consumed] he lets the reader draw conclusions from his reporting. Sometimes the reticence frustrates me—I want the implicit idea expanded into a more general theory about consumer behavior. Thankfully, his excellent new book Buying In does just that.” [This is worth reading in full, it's really interesting.]

Andrew Keen: Applies murketing to Ariana Huffington: “To understand Brand Ariana, I turned to Rob Walker’s brilliant new book about brand building in the digital age.”

Gawker: “You think you’re able to use your education, morality, and philosophical beliefs to rise above advertising? Ha! That’s what all the sheep think.”

Jezebel: “Do interesting people have interesting things? Or does having interesting things make you interesting? And if not — surely there are interesting monks, for instance — why do we think possessions make a personality?

Brand New (Gareth Kay):Buying In, is in one way, a smart, readable exposition on the idea of ‘murketing.’ But it is a much more fundamentally important book. … It’s a great read, packed full of interviews and stories about brands from the new and relative underground to the older and relative mainstream.

Secretly Ironic: “Walker doesn’t think it’s possible or necessary for people to stop imbuing consumer objects with meaning, but he wants people to be aware of how and why they do it, and to understand that a symbolic purchase isn’t a substitute for actually having your own identity or being part of a community.”

Kinetic Loop: “Walker deftly guides the reader through this new landscape, where marketing borders have deliquesced and commercial persuasion has become thoroughly integrated into our daily lives.”

William/GoodReads: “Walker uses a conversational, easily approachable, reader-oriented style and, more importantly, rather than just lay out his arguments, he involves readers in his own journey to puzzle out the changes taking place in marketing and consumer culture. The result makes for a warmer read than other books of this type.” [Another really interesting one, includes reviewer's thoughtful account of a recent shopping visit to a J.C. Penney.]

Culture Making: “Walker has that Gladwell-like knack for weaving together anecdotes and first-person reportage, combined with a better-than-Gladwell ability to weave them into a clear arc of careful argument about how consumerism has changed our culture and our sense of ourselves.”

My Brilliant Mistakes: “Full of simple but startling revelations (although also equally entertaining).”

Canuckflack: “Are you the master of your consumer environment, or are you the bitch of marketers, pop psychologists and retail designers?”

Weatherpattern: “What would happen if we unplugged from our brands? How would we and those around us react to separating ourselves from our possessions? Is that even possible? Even better, what stories would we construct about ourselves? Who would we be?”

Lifefilter: “It left me looking deeper into the actual and perceived value of objects.”

Misha Cornes/Threeminds: “A refreshingly jargon-free analysis of the interplay between brands and consumers.”

idUnited: “Funny thing is as I was reading the book I was experiencing Murketing first hand.”

Social-Creature riffs off the book in different ways in three posts: The Empire’s New Clothes, What Ad Agencies Can Learn from Indie Brands and Does Good Matter?.

Seen Reading: “Caucasian male, late 20s, wearing white pressed shirt, blue dress pants, and brown leather shoes, a pale trail of virgin white outlining his freshly shorn hair.”

Witoozy.com: “If you are interested in looking at what makes a brand popular, who determines a brands popularity and why there is loyalty to brands, I’d recommend this book.”

Mixed Mania: “Walker’s understanding of not just consumer culture, but generational differences and general human nature, makes this book a real standout in terms of shedding light on the grey area between authentic culture and manufactured meaning.”

Mark Kingwell/Toronto Globe & Mail: “Marketers now use the levers of criticism against themselves, making branding better by embracing, rather than ignoring, their harshest opposition. On this model, the logic of rebellion is the engine of market success, not a sabot tossed into its machinery.”

– > Early endorsements <–

The most trenchant psychoanalyst of our consumer selves is Rob Walker. ‘Buying In’ is a fresh and fascinating exploration of the places where material culture and identity intersect.
– Michael Pollan, author, In Defense of Food

Rob Walker is a gift. He shows that in our shattered, scattered world, powerful brands are existential, insinuating themselves into the human questions “what am I about?” and “how do I connect?” His insight that brand influence is becoming both more pervasive and more hidden—that we are not so self-defined as we like to think—should make us disturbed, and vigilant.
— Jim Collins, author, Good to Great

Rob Walker is a terrific writer who understands both human nature and the business world. His book is highly entertaining, but it’s also a deeply thoughtful look at the ways in which marketing meets the modern psyche.
–Bethany McLean, editor at large, Fortune, and co-author of The Smartest Guys in the Room

Rob Walker brilliantly/deftly deconstructs the Religion of Consumption. Love his column, couldn’t put his book down.
– Paco Underhill, author, Why We Buy

Buying In has vast social implications, far beyond the fields of marketing and branding. Most importantly, from the policy point of view, it obliterates our old paradigm of companies (the bad guys) corrupting our children (the innocents) via commercials. In this new world, media-literate young freely and willingly co-opt the brands, with most companies being clueless bystanders desperate to keep up. Consuming and interacting with products has become the new turf for the identity politics game, stirring the kind of savage feelings previously reserved for matters of ethnicity and class. I really don’t know if this is good news or bad news, but I can say, with certainty, that this book is a must-read.
– Po Bronson, author, Why Do I Love These People?