The Hidden (in Plain Sight) Persuaders

"Over the July 4 weekend last summer, at cookouts up and down the East Coast and into the Midwest, guests arrived with packages of Al Fresco chicken sausage for their hosts to throw on the grill," writes Rob Walker. Unbeknownst to most of the other guests, the sausage-bearers were agents of a marketing firm called BzzAgent, which gives people rewards for plugging its clients' products. "This idea - the commercialization of chitchat - resembles a scenario from a paranoid science-fiction novel about a future in which corporations have become so powerful that they can bribe whole armies of flunkies to infiltrate the family barbecue," Walker writes.