Buy-ology; How Everything We Believe About Why We Buy Is Wrong
By Martin Lindstrom
Buy-ology takes a scientific look at our decision-making process around buying, in a series of tests they examine the connection between advertising and sound, advertising and religion, advertising and sex. It comes up with some interesting conclusions.
The research was done using fMRI and SST, two brain scanning techniques that have been used to “map” brain activity to show which parts of the brain are active on specific tasks and in response to specific stimuli. Work has already been done on which areas of the brain are linked to various emotions and Linsdstrom connects that research to our reactions to various advertisements to examine whether warnings on smoking packets work (no), whether adverstising/shopping gives us anything like a religious experience in terms of brain chemistry (yes). And other critical marketing questions such as product placement.
Does product placement work? Are we more likely to buy a certain product when we see it on screen in a movie or tv programme. Well no and yes. Let’s take the no part of the story first.
We’re very very good at filtering out excess visual information, we have to be to cope with the thousands of advertising visuals we see every day. So when a product is in a movie, the character chooses a particular softdrink for example, the event won’t register. Our brain might recall that there was a drink, but we won’t remember details.
The yes part of the story; when the placement is an integral part of the story and is seen clearly in that context we remember and we buy. When Reese’s peanut butter cups in their distinctive wrapping were used to lure ET out of hiding in 1982 sales tripled and for the first time Reeses started to be stocked in concession stands at movie theatres.
It’s a fascinating trip into our own minds, and although there’s some necessary explanation of the neuroscience behind it all this isn’t laboured and the book is readable.
I do have one quibble, in the chapter relating to religion the concept of ritual is discussed in some detail, and defined as “not entirely rational actions and the belief that one can somehow manipulate the future by engaging in certain behaviours”. It’s a fair definition. He goes on to make a connection to our purchasing decisions, and here it gets a little murky. I can agree that there is a ritual involved with pouring a good pint of Guinness (and a certain amount of skill, as I learnt when I worked as a bartender), but I’m not sure it extends to all purchase decisions. For example on Sunday afternoons I like to have a proper cup of tea, made in the pot from tea leaves, and poured gently into a teacup resting on a saucer. It’s a slow down moment in a busy week. It’s a ritual and I am particular about what tea leaves I have. But I’m relatively unaware of what other brands are in my fridge (I just tried to name the brand of 10 ingredients I know exist in my kitchen, I got 5 right).
Lindstrom goes on to call the ordering process at Subway a ritual; you’re asked the ingredients (type of bread, type of meat, sauce etc) in the same order every time. I don’t think so, I think it’s a routine, which is defined as “habitual or mechanical performance of an established procedure”. I think some of the habits Lindstrom describes as rituals are merely routines, performed unthinkingly and with the simple goal of making things a little easier. They lack the meaning that would transform them to a ritual. I think it’s a distinction worth making because I suspect the brands we use in rituals have a different value to us than those used in routines, so the way they’re marketed needs to be different.
In any case Buy-ology is an interesting and thought provoking book, challenging a lot of current thinking on how we experience brands.