Of the oddball books that came out in the 1950s, none was nuttier than Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders.

It deserves a spot on the bookshelf alongside the other bound kookiness of that era.

It was a time when a cottage industry churned out published claims of UFOs and evil aliens in our midst.

And despite the premise of some published hysteria back then, yes, Russian spies operated in the U.S., but, no, every third neighbor didn’t secretly work for the KGB.

Published in 1957, The Hidden Persuaders played on people’s fears that already were stoked by the Cold War and daily talk of nuclear annihilation.

Packard claimed scheming advertisers secretly used psychological tactics to induce clueless consumers to purchase products. Do a subliminal number on these suckers, and they’ll buy anything. Really? Just like that?

In reality, marketers struggle to come up with content that connects with customers. It’s hard enough trying to get them to look at and react to your ad, let alone hypnotizing them into buying something.

Advertisers use various ways to try to understand the mind of the consumer. Mind control isn’t one of those ways.

Because mobile devices have become extensions of our arms, marketers are using new technology to be at people’s fingertips at the right time.

A program in the works by the company PlaceIQ would use smartphone GPS to determine if a shopper is at or near a dealership. Using that information, the firm can send timely marketing messages to the person’s mobile device. The person must opt in beforehand.

The technology also can determine the time between a sent message and store visit. 

“This location-based medium allows us to understand how consumers behave,” PlaceIQ CEO Duncan McCall says at a J.D. Power automotive marketing conference. “This is where mobile is headed.”

J.D. Power this year is introducing a new tracking app, Pulse Mobile, to get real-time feedback on consumer dealership visits. People download the app on their mobile devices, create a password and agree to conditions, including GPS mobile-device tracking. 

“Target locations will include any dealership in the country,” Stewart Stropp, J.D. Power’s director-automotive retail, tells me. “The GPS picks up where they are. Once they drive on the lot they’ll get a survey alert. They can do the survey while shopping or after leaving the dealership.”

It’s transparent. “We’ll tell them upfront we detected them on site and would love to get input on their shopping experience,” Stropp says.

Survey results will go to automaker clients, who customize the multiple-choice questionnaires. Typical questions would ask how long someone has been in the market, what type of marketing drew him or her to the dealership and how things went while there.

“You can get information on competitors, too,” Stropp says. “If someone goes to six different dealerships, we’d know about that, provided they are doing surveys.”

Automakers potentially would use the data to gauge the effectiveness of a new marketing campaign. “The same thing applies to the impact of what their competitors are doing,” Stropp says. “We can look at cross-shopping; if one brand’s model wasn’t bought, what brand got the sale? You can also use it to see how well the dealership sales process was executed.”

The system can tell how long someone spent at a dealership and whether they took a test drive, a reflection of how well the sales process went.

PlaceIQ and J.D. Power are doing nothing nefarious. No hidden persuaders are messing with people’s minds.

“We will make it real clear we are using GPS data,” Stropp says. “It shouldn’t be a surprise. And if people get tired of it, they can delete the app.”

McCall says: “PlaceIQ continues to strongly support the industry’s efforts to respect consumers’ privacy expectations.”

Yet, if Vance Packard were alive today, he’d ring in on this topic. He’d probably write another book about devious marketers.

Although it was just plain wrong, The Hidden Persuaders became a best-seller. It received national attention. Capitalizing on that, Packard became a full-time social critic and lecturer. He became rich off it. Talk about manipulation.