Book Review: Spent – Sex, Evolution, & consumer behavior

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Miller, Geoffrey. Spent : sex, evolution, and consumer behavior. Viking, 2009.

If a $1,200 high-quality replica of the Rolex President watch is difficult to distinguish from the $30,000 original, why do people pay the $28,000 premium for the real one? And why do Americans work long and hard for money to buy status products, when the pleasures they are bring are short-lived? Human evolution offers some answers.

In Spent, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller explains that humans evolved in small social groups in which image and status were important for attracting mates and rearing children. Modern humans possess the same instincts as those early social primates. People still advertise their ability to survive and reproduce, and unconsciously, they use status products to display their biological fitness to one another. The Rolex watch signals that the wearer is wealthy, intelligent and sexy, important traits in a mate.

Miller also discusses the engine of our consumer capitalism – marketing. Marketers use advertising to create psychological links between products and the traits that consumers want to display by hinting in vague terms the possible status and sexual payoffs for buying and displaying premium products.

This short review cannot do justice to the many ideas in this important work. The book is full of challenging insights, and numerous examples. The writing style is clear and entertaining. Miller concludes that by spending less time purchasing goods, humans would have more time to enjoy life and find suitable mates and friends.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.


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