I WOULD never have written a book about advertising had it not been for the keen interest that students took in the topic in my course on "Mass Media and Society" at the University of Chicago. When I told them of social science research that indicates there are limits to the power of the communications media to mold thought and action, they were skeptical. When I suggested that people attend to messages they already agree with, perceive primarily those parts of complex or ambiguous messages that fit their preconceived ideas, and rely on trusted friends and relatives to develop opinions about the world, my students quickly responded: "But look at advertising!" So I looked. And I found that advertising, too, is as capable of dramatic failures as of remarkable successes. My students heard me out but insisted, "Businesses wouldn't pour so much money into advertising if it didn't work." To that, I did not have an adequate response. Coming up with an answer became an extended research project and this book is the result.
Well-launched on my study of advertising with the help of a Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellowship in 1979-80, I moved from Chicago to the University of California, San Diego,