Selling the American People
Advertising, Optimization, and the Origins of Adtech
How marketers learned to dream of optimization and speak in the idiom of management science well before the widespread use of the Internet.
Algorithms, data extraction, digital marketers monetizing "eyeballs": these all seem like such recent features of our lives. And yet, Lee McGuigan tells us in this eye-opening book, digital advertising was well underway before the widespread use of the Internet. Explaining how marketers have brandished the tools of automation and management science to exploit new profit opportunities, Selling the American People traces data-driven surveillance all the way back to the 1950s, when the computerization of the advertising business began to blend science, technology, and calculative cultures in an ideology of optimization. With that ideology came adtech, a major infrastructure of digital capitalism.
To help make sense of today's attention merchants and choice architects, McGuigan explores a few key questions: How did technical experts working at the intersection of data processing and management sciences come to command the center of gravity in the advertising and media industries? How did their ambition to remake marketing through mathematical optimization shape and reflect developments in digital technology? In short, where did adtech come from, and how did data-driven marketing come to mediate the daily encounters of people, products, and public spheres? His answers show how the advertising industry's efforts to bend information technologies toward its dream of efficiency and rational management helped to make "surveillance capitalism" one of the defining experiences of public life.
“A superbly researched history of the optimization of everyday life in the name of capitalist efficiency without regard to a media system fit for democracy. This outstanding book shows how our datafied societies arise not simply from technology disruptions but from efforts to shape the future in the interest of profit.”
Robin Mansell, Professor Emerita, London School of Economics and Political Science
“Selling the American People is a major contribution to the political economy of communication and histories of optimization. McGuigan leaves us questioning the consequences of this decades long quest to better discriminate with data and computers.”
Fenwick McKelvey, Associate Professor, Concordia University; author of Internet Daemons: Digital Communications Possessed
“Ready or not, the brave new world of adtech is here!”
The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding and support from MIT Press Direct to Open