Buy-ology


I just finished listening to Buyology by Martin Lindstrom yesterday morning while I was running on the treadmill. A decent book, but this kind of book is really better to read in a paper version so that it would be easier to flip back, and look through the interesting bits again. Having gotten to poke around a friend’s Kindle, in some ways *that* would be ideal – a place to take notes and write in the margins without actually having to write in the margins.

The most interesting part of the book, for me, was the concept of using fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to look inside the brain for activity in various regions, to gain some insight into the ways people are really responding to your input and how they will behave. Unfortunately for me, the science was ‘popularized’ for the book, and so I ended up having a lot of questions about methodology and the interpretation of results.

It’s a little sci-fi big-brother creepy to find out that in many cases looking directly at brain activity can be a better predictor of someone’s behavior than what that someone actually says they will do. But Martin suggests that by knowing how your brain responds to various inputs, will at least make you aware of the tricksy things that Marketers are trying to pull.


Much of the actual marketing advice in the book is old hat, but it’s interesting how the science is making hunches measurable. Some things to think about from the book…

Anti-smoking ads were backfiring, and regions in the brain which control pleasure and cravings were more active in smokers’ brains when they watched those ads, than when they watched neutral ads.

Subliminal advertising absolutely does work. And not just the words flashed on the screen, but associating your brand, the way Marlboro did with red cars, and NASCAR and cowboys, means that when smokers see unbranded red cars, NASCAR and cowboys their brains respond just as if the Marlboro brand was present. Interestingly, in some studies, branded ads were actually less effective in activating these areas as non-branded ads. Martin Lindstrom suggests that we are protecting ourselves from the messaging in ads that we don’t want to give in to when we know that someone is making a pitch, but when it’s just a cowboy riding off into the sunset, the associations that we have between that imagery and cigarettes is unchecked.

Sex sells (no big shock) but sexually charged ads worked less well/were less memorable against the backdrop of a sexy show like ‘Sex in the City’ than they were against the backdrop of a less sexy show, like ‘Malcolm in the Middle”. (Of course, being TV-less, I’ve never seen either of those shows, but I’m sure that makes sense to people who have.)

Product placement is tricky business. Associating Reeses Pieces with ET, or Ray Bans with Risky Business and Top Gun made huge differences for those products, but it’s possible to spend millions of dollars on advertising on a popular TV show, only to have subjects have a lower recall of your brand than if they had never seen the commercials. (This is one of those bits that I’d love to go back through and read again, but I can’t for the life of me find it on the audio book.)

Retailers like Christian Dior are already collaborating with fMRI researchers to tailor their product launches.

There are a ton more interesting tidbits in the book, that I don’t want to go into here, so here is a nice little chapter summary from Martin Lindstrom himself.

One thought on “Buy-ology

  1. Mike

    60 minutes had a show where they show a subject 2 pictures and tried to guess which one they were thinking about bases on MRI patterns. It was 100% acutate.

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