Back to School We Go


Well, as I get ready to go back to school to start teaching some of the things I’ve learned over the years as a small business owner along comes this new book called “Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy,” by marketing wizard Martin Lindstrom. The book is based on a research project that Lindstrom conducted over three years. He and his team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) technology to understand what happens in consumers’ brains as they are exposed to advertising and specific brands. This research falls under a body of marketing called neuromarketing. And hold on to your hat because it shatters some previously hardcore beliefs about marketing!

  • Fear sells, sex doesn’t. Our primal instinct as human beings is to survive; therefore, fear and sex are key. Fear relates to our survival: Do I have enough to eat? Will I have enough money when I retire? Is that product safe? Sex relates to procreation. In this respect, Lindstrom claims that political fear-based advertising is effective because it taps into our primal concerns of survival. Sex-based advertising, however, overwhelms us physically, so all we take away is the sexual part and we disregard the brand associated with it.
  • Pass the cigarettes, please. Did you know that global cigarette smoking has increased 13 percent and that warning labels are part of the reason? In fact, Lindstrom’s findings suggested that the warning labels stimulate the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain that increases cravings. Tobacco companies have actually been able to increase sales even though cigarette advertising has been banned in most countries.
  • Forget product placements. This is a hard one to swallow, but according to the research 99 percent of product placements are completely ineffective. What about the 1 percent? The only effective product placements integrate into the content in a completely meaningful way. Here’s a way to test it out: if your brand can be replaced with any other brand and it wouldn’t make any difference, your sponsorship or product placement is probably a waste of money. However, if the addition or removal of your brand would affect the environment’s context, you’re probably on the right track. Think of “American Idol.” AT&T is a good integration, Coca-Cola is ok, but Ford isn’t good at all.
  • Logos are meaningless. In many cases, it’s preferable to not even have a logo on your advertising.
  • Advertising agencies should hire rabbis, priests, and imams as consultants. Lindstrom claims that strong brands are like religions and how a Catholic feels when viewing an image of the Virgin Mary is how a brand evangelist feels when experiencing his brand affinity. Brands should try to create rituals that are similar to religious rituals. Think about green bean casserole and Thanksgiving. The two are so connected that one of the key ingredients, French Fried Onions, probably wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for this holiday and the classic American dish.
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