Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy

Buyology by Martin Lindstrom is a compulsively readable (at least for marketers) account of a research project that spanned three years and cost $7 million. Lindstrom’s team used both fMRI and EEG technologies to study what was really going on in the brains of consumers as they watched commercials, thought about brands, and much more. This body of research is surely the biggest compilation of neuromarketing data ever, and the results are always fascinating and sometimes surprising. Here are just a few examples of what the Buyology researchers found:

Cigarette Health Warnings Stimulate Smoking. While it’s accepted wisdom that printing health warnings on tobacco product packages doesn’t have much of an impact on smoking behavior, the researchers found that the warnings had no effect at all on the cravings of smokers. This applied not only to the rather subtle messages on US packaging, but even packages that included bold text and gruesome disease photos. None, zero, nada. Even worse, they found that the health warnings stimulated the subjects’ nucleus accumbens, an area associated with cravings! The researchers concluded that the warnings not only didn’t help, but triggered a stronger craving. The very warnings intended to reduce smoking might well be an effective marketing tool for Big Tobacco!

Product Placements Almost Never Work. With TV commercial viewing under pressure from TiVO/DVR fast-forwarding, greater viewing of commercial-free DVDs, etc., advertisers are turning to placing their products inside the content of television shows and movies. With this approach, even if viewers avoid watching any 30-second spots, they can still see the stars of the show typing on an Apple Computer, drinking a Pepsi, and so on. Sounds great, but Lindstrom’s research showed that almost all product placements are ineffective. Using EEG testing, they found that typical product placements caused no increase in brand recall. The only product placements that DID produce such effects were those which were heavily integrated into the content and actually made sense in their context. For example, people tended to remember the Aston Martin brand in Daniel Craig’s first James Bond movie, Casino Royale, (perhaps aided by the brand’s association with the series dating back to Sean Connery), but not FedEx or Louis Vuitton whose placements weren’t central to the plot or even related to the on-screen action in any significant way.

Strong Brands are like Religion. When the research team compared consumers’ brain activity while viewing images involving brands, religion, and sports figures, the activity evoked by strong brands was much like that caused by religious images.

Brain Activity Accurately Predicted TV Failure. Using EEG technology, the researchers measured the brain activity of subjects while screening three new television shows: The Swan, How Clean Is Your House, and Quizmania. Of the shows, How Clean Is Your House was found to be most engaging, and The Swan the least. When the shows actually aired in the UK, the ratings the shows developed mirrored the predictions of the researchers. Lindstrom predicts that this kind of successful application of neuromarketing will reduce the number of product introductions that fail, and prove to be a more reliable tool than traditional market research techniques like surveys and focus groups.

The various chapters of Buyology are fleshed out with plenty of data from other research, some of which I’ve covered here in Neuromarketing. Lindstrom integrates the older data with his newly released information in an effective and engaging way. Lindstrom’s voice is clear, and his enthusiasm genuine.

What else could one ask for? I hope the research Lindstrom’s team conducted is also published in a way that opens it up for scholarly review. If there is a problem with neuromarketing today, it’s that there is little or no academic research that validates the ability of brain scans, be they EEG or fMRI, to predict results in the marketplace. The volume of data collected in this study would make it a great starting point for academic critique.

Overall, Buyology is a must-read for marketers. Neuromarketing devotees will appreciate the vast amount of new data, while those new to the field will find the book an excellent primer. Buyology begins shipping on October 21, 2008.

email