Books for marketers: a quick review of Freakonomics

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Freakonomics by Stephen J. Dubner & Stephen D. Levitt

Recommended? Oh yes.

books for marketers

Read it. Think it.

Brett believes that Freakonomics should be mandatory reading for marketers. Sadly 98% of marketers, communicators, promoters and persuaders have failed to crack open a copy of Freakonomics, SuperFreakonomics or the latest in the series: Think Like A Freak.

Many haven’t even heard of the series which has sold in the millions, inspired a global community and placed authors New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner and University of Chicago professor of economics Steven D. Levitt as the popularisers of behavioural economics which studies why we really make the decisions we make. It deals with the meta factors behind the way we behave, spend, eat and use our time.

This isn’t a marketing book but there is much to be gained by marketers in learning how to see the world from an economic perspective. It’s rational and results-driven. The first two books in particular are full of case studies looking at social phenomenon with a data-driven economic lens:

  • can we improve under-performing students by paying them for good grades?
  • do politicians get more votes by spending more on campaigns?
  • how do we really turn around crime-ridden neighbourhoods?
  • do cops-on-the-beat reduce crime?
  • how can teen mums break the cycle of poverty?
freakonomics review

Steven and Stephen.

Levitt and Dubner crunch data in an allegedly value-free exploration of these and other challenging scenarios.  This is pop economics. Who else would analyse hundreds of sumo wrestling bouts to uncover endemic corruption? The writing is distinctly funny and free-flowing, without pretension or jargon. Bonus: this book will make you smarter.

Often the data crunched seems to be obscure or disconnected. Most controversial is the claim that the significant drop in inner-city crime in some American cities was not the result of more police on the beat or crime-tracking software but the impact of legal abortions decades earlier.

The books’ references are broad – everything from the Bible and David Lee Roth to stomach ulcers and Churchill. Competitive hot dog eating features prominently.

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Cashing in? Who cares? Great cover.

Gripe: the third book in the series: Think Like a Freak reads like a bit of a moneymaker but is still worth a look if you enjoy Freakonomics parts one and two. For the truly devoted there is also a podcast.

The authors are smart but happily not politically correct. In a society where so many social problems stubbornly persist despite the billions of dollars thrown at them we should cast aside political correctness and progressive orthodoxies to discover what really works. We need to “think like freaks”. After all, the bad guys already do.

Freakonomics website Freakonomics podcast


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