Buy-ology by Martin Lindstrom

Assaulted as I am all day with non-fiction in the form of a feed aggregator, sitting down to read more in book format is often a challenge. This book held my attention.

Lindstrom describes himself as an expert on brands and branding. He approaches his question: why do we buy certain things? with an interesting blend of “the old way”–“the science” and a dollop of curiosity. This works well for the reader, who knows a little about traditional advertising and has that curiosity but not the science.

Lindstrom explores the neurological results of advertisements–studying how ads, product placement, etc cause our brains to react and influence our behavior.

He brings a lot to the table and I have to give him credit for a lot of end notes. There are explorations of product placement, our desire to have what others have (how Apple has sold all those Ipods), religious influences on purchasing, sex in advertising, and a lot of interesting points about what isn’t and doesn’t work. It was particularly interesting to see how one advertiser is being edged out of American Idol fan brains because they use only “traditional commercials” rather than product placement as well as how one cell company’s classic ring tone triggers all sorts of negative brain reactions. Oops.

Lindstrom leads you along, promising ever more information and I was kind of expecting a big reveal at the end. I didn’t really feel there was one, though he does a nice job of summarizing. But I enjoyed what he was exploring.

One thing that struck me particularly was his research into warning labels on cigarette packs and anti-smoking ads. Though logically our conscious mind knows that the anti-smoking ads are meant to discourage picking up a cigarette. What was shown neurologically was that watching one such ad actually triggered a craving for a cigarette. It trigged a story I’d been told by a former smoker, who said that she was ususally fine but that anti-smoking ads started a craving.

Lindstrom looks at where advertising is headed and, while some of it is a little scary with the idea that adverstisers can read your mind and make you neurologically and unconsciously react in a positive way to purchase something–one must keep in mind, that’s what they’ve been trying to do for years. Certainly we must continue to be skeptical of why we’re purchasing things but, haven’t we always?

An engaging read and a thoughtful look at what may influence your shopping cart.