If people were completely predictable, then the National Enquirer would be out of business, all smokers would quit, New Coke would have been the biggest business success of the 1980s and every single one of us would have a Segway in our garage for quick trips. None of these are the case… and that’s whatBuyology is all about.
Using a variety of brain imaging studies as well as existing research, Martin Linstrom’s book,Buyology, creates a compelling case for “neural marketing.” This is the use of technology to gauge the brain’s reaction to stimuli and then predict purchasing decisions based on these reactions. Stimuli that have a particularly strong and consistent effect on purchasing, he labels as “somatic markers.”
The reason this research is conducted based on brain monitoring versus good-old fashioned survey forms is simple. People, no matter how honest, are hardwired to give the answer based on how they see themselves or how they wish they were.
As a result of this research the author makes some rather compelling claims, for example logos, good or bad, may in fact be the least effective part of a company’s advertising. Logos put the brain into a less than receptive this-is-an-ad mode and undermine any intention to buy.
Also, according to this research, sex does not sell—it distracts. Sexual images are more likely to draw the attention of a customer to the ad, but also away from what’s actually being sold. Product recall tests show that the product recall of sex-sells ads was less than half of the product recall of other ads. However, according to the book what does sell is controversy. It claims that this is the actually selling-stimulus of the famous Calvin Klein ad campaigns that often result in consumer protests.
Another claim is that product placement can be either highly effective or the worst waste of money possible, depending on how well the product is actually integrated into a program. For example, while both Coke and Ford spent millions on their product placement contracts with American Idol, Coke’s integrated imagery and use make this placement a winner in the mind of consumers. However, for all the tacked-on, placement tactics to bring Ford into American Idol, Ford might in fact have been better off putting all that money in a big pile and setting it on fire. At least that would have produced some heat.
What is shown to work is giving customers something in which to believe, like a well-crafted tag line such as “Choosy Mom’s Choose Jif” and appealing to their other senses. Even new terminology and completely made-up ingredients can hit the decision sweet spot.
Also, the use of subtle cues is shown to be highly effective. Rather than the use of progressively larger images and brighter visual stimulus, scent and sound alone or in combination with images are shown to be far more effective.
To give the author credit, he does have guts. He presents his predictions with crystal-ball clarity, giving himself no where to hide if they don’t come to pass. Specifically, he predicts a growing spiritual element entering marketing and the rise of fear as a prime tool of advertising. In the world he presents, marketing efforts that once relied upon humor or nostalgia will now offer either spiritual insights or scare the pants off you… maybe both.
The biggest reservation I have about the book is its assertion in the final chapter to take the guesswork out of marketing and advertising with hard quantifiable data. Having worked in advertising and marketing for more than a decade I recognize it as a field where the artistic and the commercial come together in a unique and powerful and each potentially gain from the other to inspire positive actions benefiting the client. I can easily see how the finding of this book might be twisted to try to replace artistic insights with brain scan data. While this data could be helpful to inform the creative process, I doubt even the author would advocate using the data to replace or undermine the important role that artistic insight plays in marketing.
All in all, Buyology is an interesting book and I personally agree with many of the findings, especially when dealing with impulse purchases. However, I would be even more enthusiastic about this if theMartin Lindstrom had also invested effort into investigating the role and importance of these influences on larger purchases or committee decisions, where psychological group dynamics also come into play. This is the case for many of the decisions made in Business-to-Business environments. Until that day comes, I wouldn’t throw out those logo files just yet.
(This book review was originally posted on the website of my former employer, Creative Energy. Founded by Tony Treadway, Sam Barnett, and Teresa Treadway, Creative Energy is a full service marketing agency and a leading national authority on Business-to-Business Foodservice Marketing. )