“We risk being the first people in history to have been able to make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive, so ‘realistic’ that they can live in them.” (p.186) Daniel J. Boorstin made that prophetic statement in his classic The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (1961). Ken Auletta, who wrote best sellers like Three Blind Mice (1991) and GOOGLED (2009), returns with Frenemies (2018). Auletta has followed the advertising industry for decades and delivers a nice history of ads along with an analysis of what today’s social media and technology are doing to us.

Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, invented public relations. Bernays wrote, “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.” (p. 28) So true!

Auletta shows how advertising and messaging changed from the Mad Men and Don Draper days to today’s data driven world. Auletta points out that AMAZON’s Alexa and GOOGLE’s Home monitor millions of people daily. FACEBOOK collects data from pharmacy records, store loyal cards, voter registration, mortgages, pay stubs, etc. (p. 159) GOOGLE collects data from its 3.5 billion daily searches, YouTube usage, and its About Me page offering advertisers your date of birth, phone number, where you work, mailing address, education level, where you’ve traveled, your nickname, photo, and email addresses (p. 159). AMAZON, of course, tracks everything you look at and buy on their web site.

Frenemies is a cautionary book. We’ve seen massive data breaches, stolen identities, and polling data shared with the Russians. More trouble ahead. Have you been hacked? GRADE: A
Introduction 1
1 The “Perfect Storm” 7
2 “Change Sucks” 27
3 Good-bye, Don Draper 39
4 The Matchmaker 51
5 Anxious Clients 75
6 “Same Height as Napoleon” 99
7 Frenemies 119
8 The Rise of Media Agencies 139
9 The Privacy Time Bomb 155
10 The Consumer as Frenemy 171
11 Can Old Media Be New? 187
12 More Frenemies 205
13 Marketing Yak-Yaks and Mounting Fear 223
14 The Client Jury Reaches Its Verdict 239
15 Cannes Takes Center Stage 247
16 Mad Men to Math Men 261
17 Dinosaurs or Cockroaches? 279
18 Good-bye Old Advertising Axioms 293
19 “No Rearview Mirror” 317
Acknowledgments 341
Bibliography 344
Index 346


  1. Todd Mason

    Yup. And from the likes of THE HIDDEN PERSUADERS (which at least hinted at all THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE made more pompous in its focus shortly thereafter) onward, we keep being warned. But it’s difficult to corral these private-sector Orwellians, and certainly the legislatures usually have no interest in doing so. Looks like a useful survey, and I generally like Auletta’s work.

    1. george Post author

      Todd, FRENEMIES shows how FACEBOOK and GOOGLE have changed the world of advertising. One of the experts Auletta quotes say, “With data, we don’t needs ads anymore.” Being able to identify consumers and target them with coupons and perks makes the old advertising model almost extinct.

  2. Patti Abbott

    This is one of the million things that scares me to death. So much as think about a product or a service and it turns up as an ad in hours. Used to just be facebook but now it’s everywhere.

    1. george Post author

      Patti, same here. I do a GOOGLE search for information on a kitchen appliance and suddenly I’m getting tons of email spam about microwaves, refrigerators, and ovens. It’s incredible!

  3. Jeff Meyerson

    Yes. Totally. Jackie is still getting pop ups about some tops she bought at Macy’s months ago! And, of course, Amazon is notorious for this. Every time she checks a hotel price, whether in Florida or elsewhere, we start getting Marriott ads. It never ends. In fact, after Deb sent that Michelangelo’s David/Trump thing, it took two weeks until that image stopped popping up (so to speak) every time we went online!

    I’ve read Ken Auletta for years at the Daily News and New York magazine, among others. I read THE HIDDEN PERSUADERS 40 or 50 years ago.

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, Ken Auletta really knows the advertising business. He’s on top of the new technologies to get people to buy stuff online. After Diane and I booked our trip to New Orleans, a torrent of ads about the Big Easy hit us every time we went online!

      1. wolf

        It’s the same over here in Europe – these companies know exactly what you’re interested in.
        Even if I did nothing but shopping or traveling around the world I wouldn’thave enough time for all their offers.
        I’ve taken to not looking at any ad that’s shown to me (especially if it’s shown several times in different environments) but I know that there are many weak people out there.
        Luckily for me the German Telekom has a quite intelligent spam filter, only two or three per day get through …
        And anyway I prefer ad-free sites – like yours, George! 🙂
        And of course I have ABPlus as adblocker which I switch off (if necessary) only for sites I’m really interested in.

      2. george Post author

        Wolf, many times AMAZON alerts me to books I DO want to buy. I have no objection to “smart” advertising. It’s the spam about products I have no interest in that annoys me!

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