Join the Alpha Consumer Book Club

Rob Walker's investigation into consumer culture is the first selection.

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Congratulations to Cathy from the Chief Family Officer blog for winning the second edition of the Alpha Consumer Challenge! She offered her best money-saving tip, which she calls the "drugstore game." She heads to the drugstore armed with coupons and store circulars and estimates she saves hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year.

Cathy will receive a copy of Rob Walker's Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are, which is also the first selection for the Alpha Consumer Book Club. To join the book club, all you have to do is read the book (or, for those who prefer Cliffs Notes, just read about the book). Post any questions you have for the author, or send them to me at alphaconsumer@usnews.com. You can also join the discussion on Facebook by becoming part of the Alpha Consumer Book Club there. From those who post or send me questions, I will randomly select a winner to receive a free copy of the book. Then, Rob Walker will answer the questions on this blog.

Here are some nuggets to get you started: Walker questions whether our attraction to brands can be explained by how we define ourselves and our place in the world. He writes:

When I was in grade school, we watched a lot of films. Perhaps they were a relatively easy way to quiet the children down for awhile. But remembering this period as an adult, I'm struck by the realization that those films all had one of two themes.

One was: Deep down, each of us is different, unique, and special.

The other was: Deep down, we are all just the same.

For years I shared this observation, for laughs, before it finally occurred to me that this was no joke. In fact, it articulated what is more or less the fundamental tension of modern life.

We all want to feel like individuals.

We all want to feel like a part of something bigger than ourselves.

He also points out that some of the most successful brands, such as Red Bull, are curiously vague in their marketing. In fact, he found the energy drink's campaign so vague that he made up a name for it—murketing. Walker writes:

The key thing in the creation of the so-called mystique of Red Bull wasn't so much about what the company did—it was about what it didn't do. There was something oddly unfocused and inconsistent about the Red Bull message. Most notably, nobody ever really explained what the Big Idea was. Red Bull's various sales strategies never involved clearing up the rumors about the drink or defining taurine [an ingredient] once and for all. The company never offered any rational explanation of what the stuff was all about and who was supposed to drink it. It never sent a clear message to the masses.

Please send in your questions for Rob Walker by the end of the month. He will visit Alpha Consumer in early July.