buyology
Book Review, Non-Fiction

Buyology written by Martin Lindstrom

buyology A book that marries branding with neurology, a concept that is catching on fast in the marketing world and also raising a host of other questions, not all relating to selling better – ethical ones primarily. If marketing has always been about second guessing the way we come to a buying decision and thus devising a way to trick us in to believing that we want something even though our logical part says nada, buyology tells us that we have reached a tipping point. Marketers are literally peering into our brains to understand what really turns us on when we look at an object, an image, listen to a sound or smell something. And that is being used to make us open our wallets more and more.

Naturally it raises big ethical questions. Which are not easy to answer at all; the question is – does the book address this very important side effect of this science coupled with marketing?

The book opens brilliantly with promises of lot of jaw dropping revelations. The book starts off with the grandest experiment ever conducted till date on consumer’s brains. And then it makes you settle back for magic.

Except it does not quite appear magical. Somehow it seems to lack the punch. Its not in the narrative. Its more in the final result. The first few revelations were, quite frankly, quite lame and seemed pretty intuitive. I think that any marketer worth his salt would know that overkill of similar visuals lowers attention spans and that product placement within the narrative of a show would achieve much better results. Hell, I am starting out and I knew that before I opened the book. Or the fact that sports are akin to religion in the fervour it causes amongst its followers, however atheist they may be. Or the fact that too much of scatter-brained sexual imagery takes away the customer’s attention from the product itself. Or the fact that emotions sell more than a mere logo. Or the fact that seeing a glittering futuristic design on somebody’s ear or wrist makes you want to own it. You don’t need brain scans to determine that or to know that mirror neurons are at work (in the last case, it is)

However there were some extraordinary revelations, though they were few in number as compared to the ones I described above. The prime among them, I feel, is the insight that the warning signs on the cigarette packs actually results in increasing the craving for nicotine in the smokers. Quite powerfully counter-intuitive and absolutely a death blow to anti-tobacco activists.

That said, there are nuggets of very interesting facts hidden throughout the book which gives new meaning to everyday phenomenon. And IT IS good to give a reason to societal viral marketing – mirror neuron that is. But the most important thing about this book is that it aims to make a precise science of guesswork and learn by experience that marketing is still largely today. No matter what the quality of revelations in the book, the fact is that the science it defines is very much real and is becoming a part of corporate’s marketing arsenal even as I write this. Soon, through numerous experiments, it will soon be known which area of our brains light up when we think about food, clothes, sex etc. and soon we will be sold products and services tailored to light up those precise areas

Which brings us to the most crucial question – the ethical one and the natural fear of a big brother society, which in this case would be dominated by the advertising-political-military complex. Imagine being manipulated into buying (or believing something) just because we cant help it, because our brain is overriding our logical instincts without us being even aware of it. Can it really get so bad, is the first question that pops in your mind as are halfway through the book

The book answers this poorly, lamely informing us that knowledge is power and by understanding how the marketing world CAN manipulate us, we can make our own defences. Can we? I was not convinced. Brain scans are not something at our disposal and nor are we equipped to keep in touch with the latest advances of a phenomenon which is just in the nascent stage.

But WILL it get that bad? Maybe not. Every science has its limitations and human nature cannot be manipulated so completely that someone does not cry wolf for real. But there is always a niggling possibility, no?

A book that is one of the first to talk about this new consumer science should have taken the lead to identify the paths, good and bad that we could be taken on, once this science becomes commonplace.  In this regard the book is a disappointment. But with regards to the science it proclaims on the world, this book is worth a read – especially if you are not that much into marketing yet.

 

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