Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy
by Martin Lindstrom. Crown Business, 2011
In the produce aisles of grocery stores, prices are often written in chalk on small slate signs, a subtle tactic to suggest the fruits and vegetables are farm fresh. Yet most of these signs are not handwritten; they are machine-made and cast in indelible ink. And the apple? It is far from fresh, picked some 14 months earlier.
Although we may think we make purchases for sensible reasons, Martin Lindstrom argues in Brandwashed that the choices we make are anything but rational. In reality, advertising companies convince us to buy things by exploiting our hopes and fears. For instance, the body spray manufacturer Axe planted marketers in bars across the country recently to watch unsuspecting twentysomething males try to pick up girls. In doing so, Axe advertisers stumbled on a niche market: the “Insecure Novice”—the guy who, despite his best efforts, left the bar alone every night. If the story sounds familiar, that is because it was echoed in the company’s popular “nerd-sprays-Axe, nerd-gets-girl” commercials, a campaign that helped to solidify the company’s multimillion-dollar hold on the personal hygiene market.
And did you recently “Like” a product on Facebook? Advertisers also mine publicly shared information to develop powerful marketing tools. Personalized ads, with your seal of approval, may now appear on your friends’ profile pages.
Brandwashed’s downside is that Lindstrom, a world-renowned advertising guru, overvalues neuromarketing functional MRI studies. For example, he writes that he once advised a luxury automaker to design a car that was “sex on four wheels” because experiments have shown that a man’s brain was activated in the same areas when viewing a picture of a horse with a large penis as when ogling an image of his dream car. Many neuroscientists would argue that simply observing that the brain engages similar regions during an fMRI scan does not mean our underlying thoughts and desires are the same.
By Lindstrom’s account, even when you know advertisers’ tricks, avoiding them can be difficult, and he admits being fooled on occasion by sneaky advertising maneuvers. Which may make you wonder: In a free market, exactly how free are we, anyway?